Friday, 15 June 2018

Race report: The Blaydon Race

The Blaydon Race is a North East institution but, historically, not really my thing. I'd run it once before, in 2012 - though I use the word "run" very loosely as it was a monsoon by the end! - and not enjoyed it at all; I thought the route was dull, and it was incredibly busy, which I don't like. Shortly afterwards I got fully immersed in the world of trail running, and pretty much decided I'd never do that again.

So, it was a weird snap decision to enter it this year. Maybe it's indicative of a general drift back towards shorter distances - like marathons(!) - and a desire to set some decent PBs whilst I still have a chance of developing some leg speed. Whatever the reason, I took advantage of the early entries for club runners, got through the process, and that was that: I was running the Blaydon Race 2018.

Following the McWilliams Round the weekend before, I knew my legs wouldn't be at their best for it - 50km+ of fell running is hardly the most specific training for a 9.5km road race - but, whilst I wanted a decent time, Blaydon was very much a quality session in advance of the Pennine Barrier on 23 June, rather than any kind of A race. The morning of 9 June was spent having, essentially, and anxiety attack, which left me super dehydrated and not in the best shape physically or mentally for racing. It was not shaping up to be a good day.

The forecast had originally been for 16deg and cloud, which would have been ideal for racing, but we were hit with a mini heatwave. My experiences of weather at Blaydon go from the sublime to the ridiculous...! An unexplained (at the time) delay of around 20 minutes at the start was an annoyance, but all of that was forgotten when the gun went.

That morning, Mrs Trails & Tribulations had asked whether I had any goal in mind. I mumbled something along the lines of "If I crack the top 50, I'll have done brilliantly"; given that Blaydon attracts the absolute cream of the North East, including Olympians, and even runners from further afield nationally and internationally, the field is stacked and that was certainly a stretch goal! I had a time in mind - < 33 minutes - but didn't mention that as I thought that was the less likely of the two.

There was the usual irritation at the start of having to pass people who started way too far up the field for their ability. The race website itself describes it as a serious road race, and not for walkers; I'm all for anyone and everyone participating in events but, as a general rule, if you're planning on 10 minute miling you might not want to line up with the East Africans. None of us could figure out the numbering system, so maybe that's a change for the organisers to take forward: predicted finish times, and put into corals accordingly. As well as being irritating for the racers, there's a safety issue with slower runners starting at the front as they're very likely to get run over (unintentionally [most of the time, I hope!]). Better all round to separate the "completers" from the "competers".

Once the crowd thinned out a bit I was able to up my pace to the region of 3:30/km, which was the goal, and get to work. Bugger me, was it warm. In real terms, actually, it wasn't - I was never at risk of doing a Callum Hawkins - but the dehydration made itself known pretty quickly as my tongue glued itself to the roof of my mouth. The legs felt, predictably, like crap, but they were doing what I asked of them and that was enough; they could feel however they liked so long as they propelled me forwards at a pace of 3:30/km!

The course is downhill for the first few km along the Scotswood Road, and I was able to open up a decent amount. The heat really started to take its toll by the water station a little over halfway through, and I actually took a drink; I'd never normally take something for a race that short but I did feel myself wobble slightly and decided to err on the side of caution. I only managed a mouthful, which would have had no systemic effect, but psychologically it helped, and at least unglued my tongue. A nasty little incline known as the Scotswood Bridge(!) slowed my pace a bit, but I clawed it back on the other side and began the stretch of there 'n' back. Spotted JB running with the elite field and shouted some encouragement - he looked at me a bit scared so maybe it wasn't so encouraging?! He ran quickly, so who cares if it was encouragement or fear! - as well as fellow Harrier Adam, who I hadn't realised was running. Mouth drying out again, I couldn't wait to see the finish. I actually managed to kick at the end, and gained a few places (one by little more than a beard hair!), before collapsing to my knees and waiting for my heart to stop trying to crack my ribs.

Chip time of 32:19, 80th place. So, quite a long way from my placing goal, but managed my time goal. That said, you can only race the people who turn up on the day, and that was a stacked field for sure. Other years, 32:19 might have been better; it might have been worse! The plan was executed well, so mission accomplished. And the beer tasted good that evening! Will I do it again? Hard to say. I still think the route is dull, and it actually isn't that fast unless you manage to get right to the front because of all the people you have to dodge and, if I was to go right to the front, I'd be one of the people the racing snakes were complaining had no business being there! No way I should be lining up next to 28:XX runners. So, undecided for now, but not ruled out entirely.

Monday, 4 June 2018

What goes a-Round...

Rounds.

Rounds are a fell running Thing. A challenge rather than a race, they involve following a set route or tagging specific peaks in order, and usually involve some kind of time cut-off. The Bob Graham Round in the Lake District is arguably the most famous - 42 peaks covering 66 miles and 27000ft climbing - and, along with the Paddy Buckley in Snowdonia and the Ramsay in the Highlands, makes up the Big Three.

Wooler Running Club and NFR stalwart, Glen McWilliams, has put his name to three Northumberland rounds, and the 'short' round - at 52km (more on that later...!) still an ultramarathon - had been on my mind for a while. My training plan for the Pennine Barrier at the end of June called for an effort of roughly that length, so it was an ideal opportunity. Training on the fells had been virtually non-existent due to an injury, and what training there had been had therefore been mostly road. A perfect precursor, then, to a route that took in Cheviot and Hedgehope...!

I'd originally planned to give it a crack on Saturday, but the forecast was for thunder and I didn't fancy being out on the fells dodging lightning strikes. Plans were changed and Saturday was given over to building flat pack furniture; Sunday was to be the excursion.

Arriving in Wooler to a fine drizzle, I made my way up the steps to the War Memorial that serves as the start and end of the round. Glen was otherwise engaged so couldn't be there to see me off; after a quick selfie to commemorate the moment I let my watch tick to 8am and then set off alone to pick up St Cuthbert's Way.

My 'nav skills' are renowned for being, shall we say, shit. Not having done SCW I didn't get off to the best of starts trying to follow the blinkin' way marked path and ended up taking a few wrong turns getting off the Common and towards Coldberry Hill. Suffice to say, map was in hand for the whole Round. Once I picked up the SCW proper, everything was pretty straight forward, with the exception of taking the wrong fork at one point because I was following the GPX on my watch more closely than the map. Error. Much has been made of the banning of GPS technology by Ambleside A.C., and I'm in the camp that thinks it's a luddite move. However, the technology isn't infallible, nor is the idiot wearing it, and a map, compass, and the skills to use them are mandatory for a reason. Mistake realised, track found, swear words sworn, off we go.

Glen had driven out to Hethpool to meet me on his way to the Yetholm Hill Race, part of the NFR champs this year, which was a nice surprise; we'd not met before, only talked on the phone, so hands were shook, photos taken, and supplies checked. Glen asked if I had a time in mind, and I tentatively said I'd like < 7 hours. This would get me the coveted gold certificate, but I'm realistic about the type of fell runner I am and knew that when the terrain got gnarly I'd slow right down. Glen apologised for the next stretch, which was road: my response was that it would give me an opportunity to bank some time! With that, I was off back into the wilds.

The SCW was diverted due to forestry works around Tom's Knowe, which added a bit on to the distance; it was well marked but much less direct. The thing about an ultra is, each diversion might only be a small amount, but there are more opportunities for them, and so the potential for a greater impact. All these little diversions - both the necessary, like that one, and the unneccessary, due to carelessness or a lack of local knowledge - would cost me by the end.

Crossing the border into Scotland, there's a point where the Pennine Way is forked. The original GPX I downloaded had the runner taking the eastern fork along the fenceline, but the map on the Facebook page had the route going virtually to Yetholm and picking up the western fork before then converging near Black Hag. I didn't want to go to all that effort to find I'd not done the full round, so opted to head to Yetholm and then south, passing the race HQ and getting a few odd looks! In retrospect, I probably should have clarified that route with Glen(!) as, when I told him later that I'd passed the race HQ, he was surprised and thought I may have taken the wrong path. Bugger.

Once on the Pennine Way, the long slog up to Cheviot began. I hit 26km in about 2hrs 45, which was fairly speedy but I knew the second half was going to be a killer. I'd previously walked this route up to Cheviot with my wife and in-laws and knew what to expect. Worryingly, I started to get cramp in my quads and was having to take regular breathers. You can't fake fell running, and I was faking it.

The Hen Hole and I have a bit of a history, whereby every time I get remotely close I seem magnetically drawn to it and nearly plummet to my doom. Coming off Cheviot during the 2016 Wooler Marathon I had to basically chuck myself on the ground to avoid sliding off the edge; this time, with the clag down and with a mind preoccupied with thoughts of quadriceps, I realised far too late that the ground was about to disappear. Course corrected and back to the trudge. Cheviot summit was gained, via the slippery death that is the flagstone path, and selfie taken, and then it was over the fence to begin the suicide drop down to Harthope Burn.

This part of the route is the second half of the Chevy Chase. Never having done the Chevy, I knew I was at a disadvantage as there's no path; you drop straight off the side of the mountain and then up Hedgehope. Without the local knowledge, I found every possible crap line and none of the good ones. I'm also a right soft lad when it comes to descending; no disengage brakes and brains here! As a result of not letting fly and risking a broken ankle, my quads took a hammering from the eccentric contractions as I tried to hold back the descent. Eventually reaching the burn, I stopped for a moment to take a video of an adder that reared up just as I nearly trod on him, and then it was back to the graft and trying to find a line up Hedgehope.

Whilst still a tough slog, I didn't find it as bad as the north face of Cheviot. Maybe I was just delirious! Summit gained, and selfie taken, I began the descent. I'd been vaguely looking forward to this on account of it being 'all down hill from here', but hadn't appreciated how steep the descent actually was. Once again, the quads took a pounding. For the most part, despite having been warned by Glen about the nav on this section, I didn't have a problem. I knew exactly where I was - always thumb the map, kids - and exactly where I needed to go. My line choice was terrible though. There must have been trods that I didn't pick up, and I lost a good amount of time on bad ground. Despite that, I made it to Carey Burn still well ahead of schedule (or so I thought). My average pace had slowed drastically from when I saw Glen, but it was still on for finishing 52km in under 7 hours.

The trail along Carey Burn is rocky and technical. As my watch beeped at me that I had done 51km, and I was thinking "Umm... There's more than a km to go..." the Trail Gods found me wanting and demanded a blood sacrifice. This they achieved by sticking a rock in my path which I kicked, sending me Supermaning and nailing my right shoulder on an even bigger rock. Luckily, my pack protected my spine, but it still bloomin' knacked. I thought I might have a fracture of the humerus or the elbow but, once the initial pain subsided, things were moving (the way they're supposed to!) but sore, so it was a case of 'cowboy up, buttercup', and get on with it.

By this point I was aware that < 7 hours was getting away from me as I still had roughly 5km to go and, whilst I could easily cover that in the time I had remaining on good trails and without having just done 51km(!), that wasn't the situation I found myself in. Carey Burn continued to be a rocky technical monstrosity that slowed me down in a very picturesque way, and then it was Hell's Path. Least said about that the better, but it's aptly named and not what you want to be confronted with after that amount of running and ascent.

Coming across the Common I tried to hit the afterburners but there just wasn't enough time left and it was with, I admit, a sinking feeling that I watched the clock tick over to 7:00'00. I still gave it the beans back into Wooler - I was going to finish strong if nothing else - and climbed the steps to the Memorial to end my Round in 7:03'47. Gutted. Selfie taken, and then off to the toilets to try and clean up a bit before eating a PBJ and a Clif Bar, and downing some Mountain Fuel recovery.

So. Reflections. Firstly, I would recommend fell and ultra runners giving this a crack. If you love the Cheviots - as I assume anyone who's spent any time in them does - then it's a great route, and Glen's a top bloke who'll talk you through it and answer any questions you might have. Secondly, if you want a fast time you have to recce it, particularly that Chevy section. All things told, an on-sight effort of 7:04 is not bad but I can't help thinking that I lost a good 20-30 mins unnecessarily, which is frustrating. Still, that's fell running!.

I imagine I'll have another crack at it at some point, as that 4 minutes is going to bug me. It won't be this year though, and maybe not next year: I think I need to do some Chevy recces with people that know the lines before I go for a fast effort. I also need to pay attention to the map more than I did and, weirdly, slow down in places: if I'd taken the time to be certain of my route I'd have been quicker than just pushing on.

Needless to say, I'm a bit sore today.

Once again, massive thanks to Glen.

Route trace and stats

Monday, 26 March 2018

Race Report: Brough Law

Sunday saw my second running of the Brought Law fell race. Any excuse to go hooning around in the Ingram Valley! I really need to head up there when I’m not racing sometime...

Windy as owt when we got there and, despite the blue skies, I wasn’t sure about layers. Kit was waived by JB, but a windproof was advisory. I decided to go with “be bold: start cold” on the basis that I knew the first climb would have me hands on knees and blowin’ oot ma arse, so merino was likely to be overkill. I did opt to take my full kit in my bumbag though. Better safe...

Sure enough, that first climb was just as much of a chew as I remembered. Setting off mid-pack, I set about slowly grinding my way to the top and overtaking where I could. I knew there would be plenty of opportunities to pass people on the more runnable sections if I had the legs for it, so was happy with whatever scalps I could get at that stage. 

As the route levelled out, the wind seemed to drop right down and, with the sun on my back, I was happy with my clothing choices. So that was good. Managed to stretch the legs a little bit and was pleased to get a decent pace going; following a high volume week this was an exercise in running hard on tired legs, and I was feeling surprisingly good. 

Dropped down off the top again - descending still not my strong point, I did a bit of leap frog with a guy from Low Fell at this point - and then into the second major climb. More hands on knees, but soon enough at the top and more opportunities to open up. The leaders were well ahead by now, but I went on the hunt and managed to catch up to the First Lady about 1.5km before the end. She was hot on my heels on the final plummet to the new finish line but I managed to disengage brakes and brain on the descent and keep the lead. 

Crossed the line in 10th, so a solid improvement on last year. Really pleased to compete that well with real fell runners, and running in the Harrier League has definitely helped my downhilling; now it’s just terrible rather than abysmal!

A fun morning out with mates. Just what the doctor ordered.



Monday, 5 February 2018

"Endurance running is an old man's sport" - musings on speed and training during a morning shakeout run

I'm not fast.* I've only podiumed once in an event worth mentioning - always the prizemaid, never the prized! - and my PBs, whilst being times I'm proud of on a personal level, are nothing to write home about. My running style which, taking a lead from kung fu, I have named "Badly Co-Ordinated Praying Mantis" does not lend itself to speed: flailing around in the hope that my limbs propel me in generally the right direction is not the epitome of good, efficient form. I'll be puffing around the track on a Tuesday night at a Harriers training session, eyeballs out, straining to hit low 70s for 400m, and some pesky kid will knock out a sub 60 as if they could do it all day. Some of them probably can, or at least for multiple reps.

Coming to the sport as an adult, something I remember from early 'beginner' training plans in the likes of Runner's World is the emphasis on building up distance. Speedwork of any kind was the Devil Incarnate until you started looking at occasionally 'intermediate' plans but, more often than not, 'advanced' plans. Speedwork carries a higher risk of acute injury, it's true, and that's particularly so for the older runner whose muscles and tendons maybe aren't as elastic and resilient as they once were. However, I'm not aware of any reason why that injury risk decreases with experience, other than perhaps that you get better at warming up and listening to your body.

Compare that with my understanding of youth training, and there's quite a contrast. Much more emphasis is put on speedwork, and the distances raced are shorter; the kids learn how to run fast before worrying about learning how to run long. So why do adult beginners get taught to do it the other way around?

I read something somewhere - probably the "World Famous Message Boards" on LetsRun.com, so a hefty pinch of salt may well be needed - that said that top end speed was genetically pre-determined, and the majority of the training a sprinter undertakes is about developing their technique to utilise that. Aerobic endurance, on the other hand, is seemingly limitless in terms of development potential. The general progression of distance runners, with a few exceptions, is to only move up in distance when they've maxed out their performance at the shorter distance. See: Kipchoge, Bekele, Gebrselassie, Rupp, Farah, Radcliffe, Flanagan, Goucher... The marathon is what distance runners retire from.

So, quick summary: kids develop their technique first to best utilise their genetically pre-determined speed, and then undertake the comparatively easier task of developing endurance later on. Adult beginners develop endurance and then rarely work on speed, and the majority almost certainly not with a coach to correct their technique.

Why, then, do we not have adult beginners doing speedwork? Perhaps, because most adult beginners are self-coached and therefore have no-one correcting their form, the risk of acute injury (which is actually pretty low when we're talking about threshold runs and longer intervals) is considered to outweigh the benefits; if all you want to do is complete rather than compete, does it matter how fast you do it? If doing a marathon once is a bucket list event, you're going to PB by default.

Those kids at the club running sub 60 400s - with a few notable exceptions - aren't going to be able to keep up over longer distances; I'd drop them within a few kms. When they mature and develop their endurance at speed, however, that will change completely; they'll be combining technique with aerobic endurance and that, dear reader, beats pure endurance any day of the week. They'll be fast in a way that I am not.

So is speed a case of nature or nurture? Clearly, from the above, I consider it both; adult beginners rarely benefit from the nurture, however, and so nature isn't tapped. I'm sure I'm not the only person to suggest this, but I wonder whether adult beginners should train more like kids, with the grounding in speed, not endurance; learn how to do it right before you try and do it for a long time. Of course, as I've said previously, the problem is that speedwork is harder and more unpleasant than endurance work, even if it pays dividends, and so the attractiveness of the long slow plod, perhaps with friends or in beautiful places, wins out over the lactic acid sufferfest round the track or on the deserted roads of an industrial estate. It's taken me a while to embrace the interval work and threshold runs, but the benefits are undeniable. Unfortunately, neuroplasticity diminishes with age - it literally becomes harder to teach an old dog new tricks - and so technique is a constant battle; the muscle memory just isn't there to keep good form at the end of a long race. Would it be, if I had trained as a kid, or even focused more on it in the early stages of my running career? Almost certainly.

A bit of a ramble, but that's what happens on a dreary Monday morning. Anyone with any kind of background in coaching or sports science who would like to tell me I'm talking nonsense, feel free!





*In an attempt to avoid being "that guy" who makes other people feel inadequate, let me be quite clear that I'm talking about my place relative to people who might reasonably be considered my peers, in dedication to the sport if not actual performance. The serious club runners who are hitting upwards of 100km and who knock out the holy trinity of intervals/threshold/long slow run every week. I wouldn't ever want to put someone else down, even unintentionally; everything is relative and what's slow for me might be a lifetime best for someone else, in which case have a hearty "chapeau!" (the same works the other way, of course... Kipchoge and Bekele run their recoveries at my PB pace!). A very hamfisted and probably patronising attempt at a disclaimer, but hopefully the intention is clear.

Monday, 29 January 2018

My heart's just not in it anymore...

Or rather, I don't know if it is or it isn't. You see, for the last few weeks I've been running without a heart rate monitor; initially because it wasn't working properly and the data I was seeing was bonkers, and then without bothering to wear it at all.

To give a bit of background, round about November 2016 I jumped feet first into training by heart rate: first, by loosely following Phil Maffetone's theory, and then actually working out my zones (approximately) using the Friel protocol. I had my watch set-up to display my HR as the primary field, rather than pace as might normally be expected; my theory was that, as my friend Owain said (though claims not to remember!), the body doesn't distinguish between stresses. What constitutes an easy day can change depending on a variety of factors: sleep (or lack thereof), work stresses, weather conditions, terrain etc.

I was mainly focused on training for ultras at this point, so I was pretty much running long, slow, and with a tonne of vert. My plan was to keep my HR under 148bpm (coincidentally, both my MAF number and the upper limit of zone 1 according to Friel) and if that meant walking, well, so be it; there's nothing wrong with the odd tactical hike in an ultra. The first few weeks I literally couldn't run up an incline at that heart rate but that soon resolved itself and, whilst I still had to slow significantly, I was able to maintain a legitimate running gait.

What did all of that tell me? Basically, for the few years previously I'd had no idea what 'easy' actually meant! Aerobically, I was underdeveloped. I hadn't been doing any actual speedwork, but every run I went on I tried to PB. I was running too hard for easy, and too easy for hard, occupying that grey area of neither recovering nor developing.

Unfortunately, it seems that the Suunto SmartSensor belts are not the most robust pieces of equipment and, having got only 330 hours use out of my second(!) one since 2016 before it started giving me utterly bonkers readings, I decided to ween myself off it on the basis that I didn't want to keep buying new ones! Since starting to train with Tynedale Harriers, and also reading Jack Daniels' Running Formula, I've begun working to pace far more anyway, particularly for workouts. I used to say that running with an HRM kept me honest, in that I couldn't kid myself that I was running easy when I wasn't. Having now trained myself to recognise that feeling - rate of perceived effort, as they say - the HRM is largely unnecessary.

So what difference, if any, has it made? It's still early days but, other than no longer having patches of eczema on my chest from the strap, it's largely had no effect. I do have to make a conscious effort to hold back at times on easy days, but I recognise that and act accordingly; a much more holistic approach! Hard days it hasn't affected at all, and the only thing I miss is geeking out over/laughing at the data and charts from VO2max workouts and races. My watch now thinks I'm permanently overtrained, but I'm confident that that isn't the case based on old data; I know that a 50 minute 10k is not pushing my system to a PTE of 5.0, whatever it says!

A useful experience, and I'd recommend to everyone who runs to learn how to use, and then experiment with, a HRM at some point. If the kit was more robust, I'd still be using it now, just 'cause. That said, at the risk of some kind of confirmation bias, feeling what is easy and what's hard does seem far more useful than being a slave to numbers.

Monday, 15 January 2018

Race Report: The High Fells of Hedgehope Half Marathon

"Mudkicker kiiiiiiiick... I don't fuck around!"

So snarled Seb Bach, as the closing chords of 'Mudkicker' by Skid Row rattled the car windows. An apt song for Spotify to randomly select from my pre-race playlist, as one thing the lower slopes of Hedgehope have a lot of is mud.

Formerly the Hedgehope Winter Wipeout, and now re-named to form part of the 'High Fells of...' trail series, it's a fairly straight forward "See that big hill? Ye run oop, and ye run dahn, 'n' try not to get ye'self deed!" type of affair. A classic fell race, really, except that it's marked out so there's no route choice or nav required. Having done it last year not entirely structurally sound, I was keen to improve on my 2:16/38th place.

The wind was up when I parked up on the field at Ingram, and that prompted a fair bit of fannying around trying to decide on what kit to wear: do I start off in my waterproof to block some of the wind and risk being 'Boil-in-the-bag Ben'? Decisions, decisions... Pondering this, I had a natter with Tricia, got registered, took the piss out of Helen for a bit, and then generally got ready for the insanity to follow. A few Harriers were milling around though, other than Helen, I only actually spoke to Rachel (who eventually convinced me that my waterproof was overkill, and she was right!).

Outside for the safety briefing, and then it was 10 minutes to the start. I was in a much better spot this year so didn't get caught in the bottle neck when Alison counted us off, and was able to settle into a fairly decent rhythm rather than feeling I had to overtake essentially the whole field in the first km, which I tried to do last year(!)

Bit of road, then onto a rutted muddy track, at which point the fun began. Beyond wanting to improve on last year, I didn't have any goals in mind - I knew I wasn't in contention for honours of any kind in a race like this - so I was happy to steadily make my way up the field. Legs were feeling pretty strong for climbing, which I was pleased about: clearly, the small amount of strength & conditioning work I've been able to motivate myself to do has actually paid off a bit! By about 3k, the lead guys were well ahead and largely hidden by the clag, but I was still in contact with the chase group and in the top 10 (I think). From 5k onwards the classic fell runner 'hands on knees, blowin' oot yer arse' pose was adopted by most of us in that group, as the grind up to Cunyan Crags and then on to Dunmore Hill began. A little bit of slip-sliding on the rocks, but it didn't seem as bad this year as last, so that was nice! A swooping descent from the top of Dunmore Hill is a nice little pick-me-up before the bog-fest that occurs skirting Threestoneburn Wood. Gradually, the bog turned to ice, becoming a full on ice-rink in places. Horizontal sleet/snow and frozen eyelashes added to the experience! The boulder field below the summit was a foot deep in snow in places, making for some interesting postholing but, having run round the flag that marked the turnaround, I reckon that snow actually made the descent easier, once I got over my nerves and committed to it; last year there was little-to-no snow, but the boulders were slick with ice, and the potential for a snapped ankle was high. The crust of the snow was just frozen enough to allow for running over the top this year, which made for a quicker and safer descent.

The return leg past Threestoneburn Woods was fast and fun. At one point, the lad in front of me had his arms out, pretending to be an aeroplane. "Huh!" I chuckled to myself, "Well, I do say 'if yer not flyin' yer not tryin'... OOOFT!" Yes, at this point, with perfect comic timing I hit the deck, landing on my left shoulder and performing a slick little commando roll onto my feet, which then started running again whilst the rest of me wondered what exactly just happened?! You have to laugh really.

Photo: Jim Imber

Coming down off Cunyan Crags the temperature rose noticeably and the clag lifted. It's very easy to be head-down focused on the race, but it was worth slowing down a bit to take in that view. A few more undulations and then it was back to the rutted track and the road. And, of course, the fell runner's ice-bath that Barry 'kindly' puts on for us... A zig-zagged fording of the Breamish. Saves cleaning the shoes, anyway!

Photo: Andrew Hewitt

2:03:09 and 13th place, a little over 15 minutes behind the winner. It would have been nice to have got under 2 hours, just 'cause, but I achieved what I set out to do - better last year's performance - so mission accomplished. Got my bling from Barry, then signed back in, collected a t-shirt, and went to get my 'survivors' mug' filled with broccoli and stilton soup by the lovely folk at the Valley Cottage Cafe. That soup tasted just as good as last year! Hung around at the end talking to folk and waiting for Tricia and Helen to come in, then grabbed some lunch before heading home.

Bling

As I walked in the door, Xander started shouting "I JUST WANT TO GO FOR A RUN!!!" so on his shoes went, and we had a jog up our lane. We saw a chicken. "HELLO CHICKEN!!! WE'RE GOING FOR A LITTLE RUN! CLUCK CLUCK!" When we got to the turn around point, a little voice said "Want a carry..." I looked down, and he was staring up at me mournfully with his arms outstretched. Naturally, I said "No chance, mate!" to which he replied "Ok... I'll just have a little walk..." Passed the chicken again. "HELLO CHICKEN! ARE YOU HAVING A NICE CLUCK?!" Re-enthused by the sight of said bird, we started running back down the lane, which was a slight downhill. "RUNNING DOWN THE MOUNTAIN! RUNNING DOWN THE MOUNTAIN! HOW AM I GOING TO STOP?!?!"

Which, coincidentally, is almost exactly what I was shouting coming off the summit of Hedgehope mere hours earlier. The apple didn't fall far from the tree there, like...!

Sunday, 31 December 2017

So long, 2017...

2017 has been a year of high contrast. I’ve had broken bones and angry tendons, but also more than a few top ten finishes. I’ve joined one club, and left another (on good terms!). I’ve run over 100km through the Lake District, and yesterday ran a parkrun for the first time. I’ve seen some incredible sunrises whilst on dawn raids, and been hit with depression and anxiety so hard that I’ve barely managed to make it out of bed and be a Daddy to my little boy. It’s not been an easy year and, to be honest, I’m pretty pleased to see the back of it.

Prudhoe Riverside parkrun.
📷: Janine Calkin 
Instead of ruminating on what’s been and gone, though, I’m going to look forward to what 2018 has in store. Since knuckling down to consistent training sessions with the Harriers, I’ve definitely noticed improvement (once I got that pesky anaemia sorted out!). The last two years of focus on trail marathons and ultras has left me with a pretty sizeable aerobic engine, but top-end speed has left a lot to be desired. Track intervals (which I’ve actually started to enjoy?!), strides at the end of easy runs, and time spent working on my form are all redressing that balance a bit, and I’m hopeful that time spent with weights a couple of nights a week will do some good in terms of resilience and injury prevention.

With the exception of the Pennine Barrier 50, everything I have planned so far is road based, and I think that probably accurately reflects a slight shift in focus. Training for long distances is fairly easy and uncomplicated; if all you want to do is complete rather than compete, you basically just up your mileage and, in the case of ultras, get really good at eating on the move. I’ve been caught up in something of a race to the bottom in terms of the ever-increasing distances of my races, and I’ve realistically maxed out this year with UT110k; training for a Hundred just doesn’t fit into my life at the moment. Training to be fast at shorter distances hurts, but when it pays off it’s a lot of fun. I still want to break 3 for a marathon, and I’d like to bring my half marathon PB down a bit. I’ve no idea what I’m capable of on a road 10km, so that will be fun to discover, and I may yet find my way into a track race... Plus, XC is my latest obsession, and I’m hoping to finish the season having been promoted to the medium pack at some point. I’ll still be doing some of the local fell races of course, but I’m definitely at my worst racing on that kind of terrain, even if I love running on it.

So, here’s to 2018 and, in the words of Sage Canaday, “any surface, any distance”. #backinblack

2017 in summary