Saturday, 22 April 2017

Do as I say, not as I do

I've been hitting the high mileage of late. Upwards of 80mpw most weeks. This has, for the most part, been sloooooow. I'm a fan of the 80/20 approach to training: most of the mileage in L1 to build base, and 2 quality sessions a week to hit speed and hills. This has been working really well for me. Until, apparently, it didn't.

Saturday I did a LSR at Slaley Forest. Nothing extreme. Marathon distance on easy trails, well within L1. Felt fine for the most part, though my right achilles was a bit stiff. Classic runner, I got up the next day and did 12 reps of Causey Hill, which was 1km of vertical gain over 12 miles (sorry to mix units of measurement!). Achilles felt a bit stiffer. Still I ignored it. Monday morning I did my usual 16km. Niggle got worse. Tuesday morning, 10km. Guess what. Tuesday evening, a fell run along Hadrian's Wall with the Harriers. You can see where this is going. Every day I went out, every day it got worse, every day I buried my head in the sand. 

Now, if someone had come to me with the symptoms I had on Saturday and asked if they should do a 12 mile hill session with that amount of vert I'd have said no, do something easy and be prepared to stop. If someone had come to me and said they were having pain on their run on Monday I'd have said to take some time off, rest up, better to be 10% undertrained than 1% overtrained or injured. I definitely wouldn't have suggested continuing to run on it.

Of course, I didn't do that myself, and now my ankle has swollen up like a balloon. Splendid. Not at all inconvenient. A trip to the hospital and I've had a ruptured Achilles ruled out via the Simmons test, and a diagnosis of sprained ligaments likely caused by altering my gait to compensate for the strained Achilles (Tuesday's fell run seems the most likely suspect for that but it was probably a combination of runs). 7-10 days off, which could have been a lot worse. No Pendulum for me next weekend, which makes it harder (though not impossible) for me to fit in all the Championship counters I need. Importantly though, it does look like UT110K is still on.

Next time I should really just take a day or two off.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

It's not me, it's you (Breaking up)

Apologies for the rather emo title of this post. Certain types of running seem to lend themselves, in my head at least, to certain styles of music. Fell-running, for instance, is undoubtedly METAL; the hairier the better (oh, hi there, Mastodon!). Track and XC puts me in mind of American High Schools for some reason, and with that bands like Taking Back Sunday and The Get-Up Kids. In fact, I'm listening to the rather appropriately titled album Four Minute Mile by the aforementioned Get-Up Kids as I type this. Anyway.

As my regular reader will know, I have up until recently been an unashamed Inov-8 fanboy. If you're perceptive, you'll notice the use of 'up until recently'. Things change.

I love the X-Talon 200. Despite some durability issues with my red/neon pair, I got them replaced under warranty and the blue/orange versions have an updated upper which seems much tougher; an impression backed up by Twitter folk. I'm also a big fan of the Trail Talon 250, which appears to be the same last as the X-Talon but with a less aggressive sole for use on trails rather than fells. It was my shoe of choice for Dark Skies and I wore it virtually box-fresh, with just a 10k the morning of the race to check there were no obvious issues. What I was not a fan of at all was the Road Talon, which I foolishly assumed would be the same last as the X- and Trail Talon. Y'know, having the Talon name and all that. Oh no. No no no. It was VERY different, and within 30s of putting it on I hated it. Back it went.

I like a drop in the region of 3-4mm on my shoes. Maybe it's psychological, and I wouldn't actually notice a larger drop (though I definitely felt my heel scuffing when I tried a pair of Asics a few weeks ago), but c'est la vie. Inov-8 didn't have anything else suitable in their limited road range, so I decided now was as good a time as any to explore other options. A quirk of mine is that I get locked into brand loyalty and blinded to other, potentially better, options, so a bit of experimentation would be healthy.

I knew my mate and fellow NFR-er JB ran in X-Talon 200 for fells, and that he had also been a fan of the much-missed Road-X range, so figured he was a good starting point for suggestions. A Twitter DM exchange led to me learning he ran in Adidas Boost for quality sessions and *shock horror* Hoka One One Cliftons for ploddy base mileage. DISMAY! The big marshmallows were the polar opposite to my ultra-minimalist tendencies of the last 7 years or so. Still, he assured me that he had been dubious himself initially, but they were really good. I decided to at least try them, and so off I pootled.

First, a trip to Start Fitness looking for a work-out shoe. JB's Adidas had too much drop for me, so I ran the wall trying everything in my preferred range, eventually settling on the Mizuno Ekiden 11 (after not being able to get them in my size in store, and a disastrous attempt to get an older model online, I did end up buying from Start Fitness. Lesson learned: support your local running store). Then, off to Northern Runner to try the Cliftons. I also tried some Tracers (too narrow) and some Altra (just flat out weird, which disappointed me; they've interested me for some time but whatever it was I tried on I hated and couldn't get off my feet quickly enough). The Cliftons however... I had to admit, running up and down the test corridor, they felt pretty awesome. Swallowing my Tony Krupicka-influenced hipster minimalist pride (and even Tony now runs in not-so minimalist shoes) I paid my money and took my Cliftons home, ready to face the mocking from my wife.

At this point, this becomes a bit of a gear review.

Hoka One One Clifton 3 (288.6km at time of writing)
The Antichrist. Or so I thought. Actually, I really like them, and this surprises me a lot. I had to go up a half size from my Inov-8s, but I'm a whole size up in Nike Frees, so that's not anything to be especially surprised about. They also didn't feel as ludicrously marshmallow-like as I expected. Yes, there's a lot of cushioning - that is after all Hoka's MO - but I didn't feel unstable in the way I expected to, possibly because the sole unit is quite wide, which provides a decent platform. They obviously lack the response of a more minimalist shoe, and I'm not sure I'd want to race in them, though the likes of Sage Canaday have no problem running fast marathons in them. That wasn't my reason for buying them though, and I have to admit that my legs felt remarkably fresh after running my first ever 100 mile week, mostly in the Cliftons.

Things I dislike: mainly, looking like a fucking Spice Girl. Ok, they're not the Bondi (which are ridiculous) but, having gone from low-profile shoes to these, I do feel like I'm in platforms shoes. Actually, the stack isn't quite as high as it appears to be - the looks of the sole are deceiving - but... Yeah. Just call me Hairy Spice. Also, the grip was poor for the first hundred miles or so; I definitely felt some slipping on toe-off just on slightly damp roads. This seems to have lessened as they've got more miles on, so maybe there was just some coating that had to be worn off (I've heard some shoe manufacturers put an anti-microbial coating on the sole for stock purposes). I also got a few blisters initially but these have healed and were probably just teething problems. How long the shoe will last remains to be seen; I ran my Road-X until I could pretty much see daylight through the sole, on the basis that they had no cushioning so there was nothing to compress! If I only get 500 miles out of these then my shoe habit could suddenly become very expensive with my current training.

Mizuno Ekiden 11 (29km at time of writing)
I really like these. Dare I say, they're more minimal than my Road-X... They have a much better grip though. Sizing was tricky; I might have got away with a 9.5, if the upper stretched, but went for a 10 (my usual size) which feels like it may be a wee bit sloppy, especially on my smaller right foot. Probably a 9.75 would have done the trick but, of course, such a thing does not exist. Anyway. First outing for these was a 16km run, middle 12km at marathon pace, and it was like they were begging to go faster the whole time. Took a while to get the lacing and fit sorted but once I got into the meat of the run I pretty much forgot about them, which is what you want from racing flats. I also wore them last night for a workout with the Harriers: 10x2 mins, 1 min off. Again, they were mostly brilliant (see below for the bits that weren't), and even handled a bit of trail getting to and from the stretch of road we were doing the efforts on. I wouldn't take them off-road any more than absolutely necessary but that's because of durability concerns, bearing in mind they're racing flats and not cheap at that.

Things I dislike: I'm not convinced I got the right fit but, seeing as I intend to wear these up to, and including, marathon distance, I erred on the side of room for swelling. Without living with a shoe for a while it's hard to know about fit, and I don't have the cash to buy a pair in each size! The laces are rubbish. After Sunday's run I replaced them with some from an old pair of Inov-8, which seemed to work much better (though they're still too long). I also noticed that the insole seemed to slip a bit during the Harriers efforts. Didn't cause a major issue but I felt the gap with my toes. Again, I've replaced the insoles as of this morning with some from the same old pair of Inov-8; these are more substantial, so hopefully will slip less, and will also slightly reduce the volume in the shoe, which will help with fit. On the whole though, I'm a fan of the Ekiden so far.

So, there you have it. No longer quite the Inov-8 fan boy I used to be. In fairness, Inov-8 started life as a fell-running brand, and it's not surprising they don't put a lot into their road range, though I simply cannot see any reason at all to use a different last for the Talon range (and it's not even marketed as such!). I still think the X- and Trail Talons are brilliant and plan to continue to use them for as long as they remain as brilliant. On the roads though... I'm sorry, Inov-8; I think we should start seeing other people.

Monday, 27 March 2017

Race Report: Kielder Dark Skies Marathon

I've been wanting to do the Dark Skies Marathon since it first ran in 2015. That year it was too close to the Manchester 'Marathon', and 2016 it was too close to the Kielder 50k for me to risk it. This year, however, it was perfectly placed as my final long run before the Kielder 80k, with the advantage that it was in the same general area as that race and involved practice running on headtorch. The 80k was not to be, of course, but that wasn't going to stop me running Dark Skies at last.

A broken down car might, though. Cue phone call from Mrs Heathcote on Thursday: "There's something wrong with the car..." That something was a pool of diesel underneath it. Marvelous. The AA were called and, fearing the worst, I started desperately trying to figure out a means of getting to the race. A certain Mr Ian Brown came to my rescue, as he was also heading up for the marathon, and so Cinderella was able to go to the ball after all. As it happened, the AA were able to replace the fuel line at the side of the road so I would have been ok, but one less car made environmental and logistical sense.

The journey up covered a number of topics from track marathons to the difficulty getting a place on ultras these days, and flew by; in no time at all we were pulling in to Hawkhirst Activity Centre. Off to register and get kit checked, and then we pretty much parted company until nearer the start. Lots of catching up with mates, nattering, meeting new people, and queuing for the toilet filled the time until the race briefing.

As has been the case for the last few races I've entered, I found myself near the back of the crowd for the briefing, which meant I was near the back when the race started. Less time nattering, more time paying attention if I want to actually race! Sure enough, I ended up caught in a bottleneck. My plan was to just take things as they came for this event, so I wasn't too concerned, beyond being a bit frustrated to not be able to get into a rhythm for the first few km.

The course did a loop around the Activity Centre before heading out onto the Lakeside Way, and by the time we got onto the trail proper I was able to start moving up the field. I was aiming for something in the region of 3.5 hrs, having looked at the top 10 from last year, so had half an eye on my pace but was mostly running to heart rate in the hope of avoiding blowing up. The race starting at 5.30pm meant that it was broad daylight for the first bit, and I actually regretted not having sunglasses on for a while. By about an hour in though the sun was dipping below the horizon, and the water was calm and mirror-like.

I was steadily overtaking people, and feeling really good at the halfway point, coming through 21km in 1:38'36; nothing spectacular for a HM but decent enough on that course and well on pace for my goal time. I held off on getting my headtorch out until just before checkpoint 4 at the Dam, which was about 27km in: it was pretty dark under the trees, but when not in the forest the light remained good enough to see by for quite a long time, and the trail wasn't in the least bit technical, so I enjoyed being a bit 'primal'! Eventually though, I did slow down a bit to get my torch on, seemingly pulling a muscle in my forearm in the process, and also put on some gloves which, being dayglow green, slightly knacked my otherwise 'stealth' outfit of black Helly and shorts, black trainers, black race pack, and my Harriers vest, also black.

I got a bit confused as to where the trail went at the Dam checkpoint, mainly because of all the headtorches and lighting being used by the marshals; completely did for my night-vision (something to be repeated at subsequent aid stations). Made it onto the Dam itself though, and suffered no further issues. Yes, dear reader, you did read that correctly: I managed to avoid getting lost! Testament to how well Tim, Garry, and their band of volunteers had marked the course.

I hadn't really kept on top of my hydration etc up until this point, and hadn't taken on much in the way of calories either; I had one bottle of Tailwind and one of water, so I'd had a bit, but I was definitely starting to feel a bonk coming on so, reluctantly, slowed to a tactical hike and forced a ClifBar down. I really like ClifBars, but I struggle to eat them during a race unless it's one where the ultramarathon tactic of hike-the-hills-and-stuff-your-face comes into play; I just can't chew them, and my stomach starts to reject anything I try and put in it. As a result, whilst I had energy for the final 10k, I also had nausea and other issues. Every race is a learning experience, and I'll make sure to a) not run out of Tailwind before the race and b) experiment with something more easily consumed like ClifBloks for future races.

It was completely dark by this point, and very atmospheric to see the lights from other people's headtorches snaking around the water. I tried to count the number ahead of me, and could see two, but felt sure there were more. Sure enough, I shortly came across a guy a little further up the trail, and accepted I had no idea where I was in the field, so there was no point worrying... I wasn't racing, remember? *COUGH* I did try to take in the night sky but actually spent most of the final 10k focused on my footing on the trail, and by the final 5k I really just wanted to finish as my stomach issues were getting worse.

A few more walk breaks than I would have liked, and then I was running up the fairy-lit finishing straight. I crashed into the hut in 6th place, with a time on my watch of 3:30'57 (gutted!) so mission pretty much accomplished, despite the slowing of pace towards the end. I then turned a funny colour and gave a few of the marshals a scare as I lay down on the floor with my legs up! A combination of stopping too quickly and dehydration, I think; something similar happened after the Town Moor Marathon in October.

As I was lying on the floor, Ian finished in a brilliant 9th place, 1st V60. Neither of us could figure out where I passed him, as he'd been ahead of me at the one turnaround point on the course because of my bottleneck issues, and I'd been watching out for him as I passed people. Eventually we figured out it must have been the Dam checkpoint; he stopped to fill his water bottle and I was blinded, so neither had spotted the other (Edit: confirmed by the Strava Fly-by). Not a bad result for Tynedale Harriers, all told!

We didn't hang around at the end, and so before long I was sitting at my kitchen table eating pizza and supping on a malted barley recovery drink. A brilliant event that I highly recommend; slick organisation and the views were alreet, like... Chapeau to Tim and Garry of Trail Outlaws, and big thanks to the volunteers involved in set-up and marshaling.


Monday, 13 March 2017

Race Report: Brough Law

Me, Dave, Tricia, and Hels. Photo: JB

Sunday was a beautiful 'bluebird' day in the Breamish Valley. Double figures on the thermometer, and a genuine feeling of Spring having sprung, which seemed to put everyone in a good mood. This year Brough Law was the first counting race for both the NECAA fell championship and the NFR club championship, so the turnout was huge: 167, which I think took everyone by surprise. JB was seemingly unflappable in the RO role, however, and everything appeared to run smoothly during registration.

Being an AS race, kit was 'best practice' rather than mandatory. It being basically perfect conditions, a large number of runners, myself included, decided (with JB's permission, on my part at least!) to ditch the bumbags. I'm not a huge fan of eyeballs-out efforts carrying kit; despite having both a race vest and a bumbag that fit as well as can reasonably be expected, they still feel like they're in the way over shorter distances. Doesn't seem to bother other folk, but I was glad of one less thing to worry about.

There was a sea of purple and green at the start (unsurprising, given it was a counting race for the club champs!), and some of it was being worn by Hels and Tricia, both of whom were making their debut for NFR. Who says bullying-I-mean-peer-pressure-I-mean-gentle-encouragement doesn't work?! Birthday boy Dave completed the quartet pictured above.

Dave and I spent a while talking about the route:

Dave: "You head up here and then across to those woods (as he pointed to the right), at which point it becomes undulating and you'll be able to use that speed."
Me: "Ok... So it's left at the top, yeah?"
Dave: *DISBELIEVING/DESPAIRING* "No, Ben... It's right..."

Yes, the good old Heathcote navigation was threatening to make an appearance! Luckily, or so I thought at this point, it was a clear day and I was certainly not going to be a front runner, so I'd just follow the caterpillar.

JB blew what sounded like a dog whistle?! to get everyone's attention, we had a quick briefing, and then the countdown began and we were off. The route starts with a choice of two trods; one goes straight up the hill, and one contours a little bit, making it ever-so-slightly longer but a more runnable gradient. I'd decided to take the longer one, but got myself stuck on the wrong side of the pack so had to cut across to get to it. I don't think that made a huge amount of difference though. A tough climb up out of the valley reduced a lot of the pack, myself included, to the classic fell runner hands-on-knees-blowing-oot-yer-arse pose; big mileage in the week previously, plus a long run the day before, not to mention 2017's injury woes, had not left me with the best hill legs but, once I got to the top, I was pleased to be able to open up a bit, as Dave had said would be the case.

About 3km in there seemed to be a navigation issue with the front runners; apparently they missed a flag (the route was partially marked) and went off-piste. This happened to a group just in front of me too but, fortunately for them, someone shouted them back on course. I'd loaded the GPX into my watch but hadn't been following it until that point, when I decided I'd better have it on display since I would have undoubtedly followed the others if left to my own devices! As a result, I mostly avoided any errors.

Rain the night before had made the route a tiny bit boggy in places. Most of the time this wasn't a problem at all; X-Talons chew that kind of thing up. The only time it did cause me a problem was on the downs. I descend like a big girl's blouse at the best of times; add in slippy conditions and I mince with the best of them. Sunday was no exception; perhaps even more so, I just couldn't be arsed with risking another injury. I know that actually it's better to disengage the brain and the brakes, flow down the hill, etc, but I just couldn't commit. Consequently, I lost a few places, particularly on the final descent back down from the woods. As I wasn't expecting to be particularly competitive, had no real idea where I was in the field, and it certainly wasn't a goal race, I didn't worry too much, beyond my natural aversion to being overtaken.

The only nav error I made during the race was missing the final descent; I spotted one of the trods, and thought it was the one I came up, so was aiming for the second (The steeper one. No idea why, given my aversion to downs!). Turns out the one I spotted was, in fact, the one I'd been aiming for, and the one I eventually did come down was much less steep, but also required doubling back over some rough ground. I probably didn't lose much time though, as I was definitely able to run that route faster than I would either of the other two. By the looks of it, I wasn't the only runner to make that mistake/choice.

Crossed the line in an official time of 45:18, about 3 minutes behind the winner (which sounds more impressive than it is, given that they got lost!), in 20th place, 5th NFR. I was pretty happy with that result, under the circumstances! Most importantly though, I had a fun day out with good people racing on the fells, which is something I've missed these last few weeks. Top job by JB and his gang of helpers.

In non-fell running news, I finally made it to a Tynedale Harriers session on Tuesday, and didn't embarrass myself. Which was nice. Surprisingly, I'd retained a lot more of my track speed, such as it is, than I expected. Nice bunch in Group 1, who made me feel really welcome, and I ran into a couple of them (Phil and Neil) racing in Harriers colours at Brough Law.

Next Saturday is the Dark Skies Marathon at Kielder, which should be awesome. Being a trail race, I'll be wearing Harriers colours for that though. Not sure how I'm going to approach it: long run or something more competitive? We shall see.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Did you miss me?

Things weren't looking too good with the little piggies 48hrs after Hedgehope, so I trundled off to the hospital to get X-rayed.

"Well, Mr Heathcote, the breaks aren't too displaced, given that you ran a fell race two days ago..."

Whoops. Strict orders to do absolutely no sport for a minimum of three weeks, keeping off the foot as much as possible, and to go see my GP at the end of that period if it still hurt. That brings us to today. Since I clearly can't be trusted to make the decision myself as to what's an acceptable level of discomfort/pain, I went to see the GP even though my foot feels largely back to normal, albeit with two toes that are still noticeably larger than they should be. Quick examination confirmed they're healing ok, and I've had the all clear to gently ease back into things, with orders not to run any fells for another couple of weeks. Happily, Brough Law is in 4 weeks time, and that's a counter for the NECAA Fell Running Championship, so I'll be pulling on the purple vest and showing up for NFR, even if I don't expect to be competitive in any way. I'll also be at my first Harriers training session in a couple of weeks, once I've got some base mileage back.

Two races scheduled for March - the aforementioned Brough Law, and then the Kielder Dark Skies Marathon - but otherwise it's largely head-down in prep for UT110k now. Need to try and get the fitness back, and that means training rather than racing, though I'll be doing the Cheviot Hedgehope Pendulum at the end of April (another NECAA counter) and the Lakeland Marathon as a training run in June.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Race Report: Hedgehope Winter Wipeout

Barry, the evil mastermind behind High Fell Events, knows how to make you suffer yet somehow enjoy it?! So, this race was always going to be on the cards, and was my first outing in a Tynedale Harriers vest.

Helz, Tricia, and myself, blissfully unaware of what was to come...


Starting at the Valley Cottage Café in Ingram, we had a quick safety briefing and then everyone started moving. Being fairly near the back, we didn't know whether the race had started or whether we were all just being directed to the start line. Before long I decided we probably had started and set off properly running and trying on make my way up nearer the front.

A short road section soon gave way to rutted double-track, and the uphill slog began. Three weeks of essentially sitting on my arse had made quite a dent in my fitness, and by 5k in I was reduced to hands-on-knees hunched over hiking; nothing in the legs. Not helped, of course, by the boggy ground on the lower slopes and the ice on the rocks at the summit! The plan was to at least run the return leg but my descending wasn't good either and I ended up mincing my way down quite a lot of it.

Disappearing up Cunyan Crags (copyright Reiver Guiding)

Made it back down to the road section after some quad-destruction to be confronted by one of Barry's surprise endings... We had to wade through the river. Well, better than an ice bath and cleaned the shoes off nicely! Made it over the line to pick up my finisher's mug, which was then filled with a rather tasty broccoli and Stilton soup by the folk in the café. 

Good to be out, if a slightly disappointing performance, but it's taken its toll. I thought that my foot had healed enough to be OK, but it turns out that running up and down the second highest peak in the Cheviots isn't great for fractures. Funny that... I came to the frustrating conclusion in the hours after the Wipeout that the only option was complete rest and so I'll be taking February off to hopefully allow it to heal properly. Unfortunately, this means I won't be able to run the Kielder 80k in April, as I would be missing all my scheduled long runs and have no time to safely build back up. Frustrating, especially given how stupid the injury was, but I have to accept that if I don't rest it there's no guarantee I'd be able to run Kielder anyway, and I'd be jeopardising UT110K as well; at least this way I stand a chance of regaining some fitness by July.

Monday, 9 January 2017

Race Report: Kielder Winter Trail

You may remember from my previous post that I currently have one, if not two, probable broken toes. The sensible thing to do therefore would be to rest. Definitely not compete in a trail race.

I was super excited when this race was announced, to the point that I was the first to sign up for it. I love Kielder; it's my happy place, and High Terrain Events put on a good race, so I had a bit of a Month Python Black Knight situation going on. Tis merely a flesh wound, and all that. Right up until the night before I was flip-flopping about toeing the line, and then the buggers posted some photos on Facebook which reminded me just how gorgeous those trails are. So that was that.

I wear Injinji socks at the moment, and so my first challenge was actually getting them on! The nurse had said that, if I taped my toes and could stand the pain, I "wouldn't do any more damage". Taping had been causing me some problems though, and so I decided to risk it without and stick with the tried and tested Injinjis. Bit painful to get on, but doable.

Other kit consisted of my trusty X-Talons, some new Inov-8 debris gaiters, Ronhill Trail Cargo shorts, a merino Helly, my NFR vest, and of course the ever present Buff (day-glo yellow!). The weather was good but I still decided to carry FRA mandatory kit, as much as anything to test out a new bumbag in a situation where the stakes were low, this being a fun race. In the bag, amongst other stuff, was a new OMM Kamleika but this didn't see any action.

Got myself registered, and ran into the ROs, Paul and Ian, on the way back to the car. Stopped for a quick natter then it was into pre-race mode. Also briefly caught up with "HellsBells" (gotta love an AC/DC inspired nickname) before getting changed.

Met Chris Winter, also of NFR, around the start area. The purple vest is doing wonders for making me more sociable, which for someone who definitely tends towards introvert is a good thing. Also at the start was fellow NFR man JB, and we had a good catch-up and chat about ultras, in particular the High Terrain Events at Kielder, prior to the briefing.

Briefing done (fairly standard) the countdown began, and we were off. I hung with JB for oh, I dunno, 200m?! which may actually be a PB for me! Still, I was fairly comfortable in the lead group and the foot wasn't doing anything pain-wise that I couldn't ignore. My bumbag took some adjusting on the fly before I got it locked down, which was a big distraction but probably had little overall effect on my performance.

I was surprised to find that, when we hit the first incline, I lost some places. This, despite my Causey Hill sessions. I was never in any real danger of a tactical hike, so the endurance was there, but not the power to get up quickly. Something to think about. This was made worse by hitting a reet clarty climb, at which point I added foot pain to the difficulties. A quick glance at my HR showed I was in L5, so I basically had nothing more to give (I remained L5 all race); it just wasn't as much as I hoped/expected.

At about this point the front runners settled into what was essentially the final positioning. JB had long since disappeared into the distance (no surprise, he won by a hefty margin), followed by second place. I kept eye contact with third and fourth for quite a while, but was essentially in what seems to be my natural position at the moment: ahead of the pack but not in the lead group. Quite lonely at times, as I go long stretches without seeing anyone, making it feel a lot like a time trial!

At the halfway point of the figure-8 course Rachel shouted confirmation that I was in fifth, and then it really became a case of hanging on; whilst I could see third and fourth still I was pretty reluctant to attempt to reel them in: I doubted I had the upper gears to do so anyway, based on my HR, and I didn't want to subject my foot to that kind of abuse unless there was a good chance of success. I instead concentrated on consolidating fifth place and putting a decent gap on sixth, which I seemed to manage. Crossed the line in around 1.11, with a numb foot but having thoroughly enjoyed the race.

Halfway point, I think. Copyright: Paul Wathan

When I got home and cleaned off my kit, I was a bit dismayed to find a tear in the upper of my X-Talons. I think this happened a few weeks ago, when hacking through heather, but I'd not noticed quite how bad it was. It doesn't seem to have gone right through, but it has given me some durability concerns; I've not abused them by any means, and they are intended for OCR/fell racing so ought not to suffer too much. Coincidentally, Asics opened applications for their Frontrunner program (basically, brand ambassadors), and the Fujirunnegade caught my eye recently, so I stuck in an application. I'm tempted by the shoe regardless of the success or otherwise of that, but I do tend towards brand loyalty if I find features and fit that suit me (which Inov-8 generally do, apparent durability issues aside) and am nervous of change. I started running in Asics, so the fit shouldn't be a concern, though one reason for switching from them was how over built most of them are. I definitely prefer a minimal shoe and, whilst the Fujirunnegade seem reasonable in this regard (on paper, at least. Comparable with some heavier Inov-8 offerings), finding a suitable road shoe in the line up looks trickier. I guess the first thing is to see what happens with the Frontrunner application; it's not as if I can afford new shoes this month!

Finally, after spending Sunday afternoon catching up on the Greater Edinburgh International XC (or, most of it anyway, until Xan switched the computer off...), I decided that I actually did want the option to compete in the North East Harrier League, which meant joining a more mainstream running club as well as NFR. As a result, I will imminently be joining Tynedale Harriers. Again, for someone who once regularly described himself as too antisocial to join a running club, this is quite a big step in terms of being more social and dealing with that introvert streak. It's helped by the fact that I know some of the Harriers now; HelsBells, and some other NFR types. I also know the likes of JB (amongst others) who, whilst being a Morpeth Harrier, I'm likely to run into at races. Funny how things change. I'm looking forward to it though. Here's to a 2017 with lots of running of all types: ultra, trail, fell, XC, and even road...?! Probably not competitive track though. God I suck at track.

Oh yeah. The foot. Knacked on Sunday. Funny that... More rest it is then, and plenty of Vitamin I. Fingers crossed for the Hedgehope Winter Wipeout in two weeks.

Littlest crew member. Copyright Rachel Heathcote