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5

Jan

2020

Parkrun

By ActionGeek. Posted in Action, Running | No Comments »

I’ve known about parkrun for years, but since I’ve never really considered shorter distances my thing, and I tend to like the solitude of running alone with just my thoughts (or maybe a podcast!) I’ve never done one. This week however, my wife mentioned that she would like to give it a try and didn’t really want to go on her own the first time. As it happens, the kids were staying with their grandparents overnight which meant we would be child free on Saturday morning so we signed up and headed off to our local run at Heartlands in Cornwall for a 9am start.

My first parkrunIf you’re somehow unfamiliar, Parkrun is a movement that was started about 15 years ago in the US and how now spread across the glove. With over 1400 regular runs worldwide, it allows runners, joggers and walkers of all ages and abilities to just turn up and run a 5k every Saturday, completely for free. The events are timed, and results are emailed out later that day, and often photos are taken and shared on a social media group. The events are run entirely by volunteers, with the ethos that you “run a few, then volunteer one” and I have to say, I was extremely impressed. It felt very well organised, better in some regards than some of the paid 10k races I used to enter. The course was very well marked and marshalled, the volunteers and the runners were extremely friendly, and the overall vibe was one of positivity and encouragement.

It’s definitely “not a race” – the idea being that it’s very inclusive and the last walker is treated as being just important as the first runner over the line. Having said that, there’s definitely some friendly competition towards the front of the pack, and I overhead the work “personal best” or “PB” many times while runners were chatting before and after the event. I overtook a runner in a spint finish on the final straight, and his reaction was to shout out “You go buddy, finish strong!” and then congratulated me on my finish after we crossed the line. When my wife crossed the line she thanked me to, for getting her out of bed (not a morning person!) and encouraging her to run for the first time in quite a while – all in all, a successful and enjoyable first park run.

Carn Brea Castle

Carn Brea Castle

Now 5k wasn’t going to cut it in terms of distance for my Saturday training schedule, so while my wife jumped in the car to head back for a shower I donned a waterproof jacket and pack and ran back via the carns for a hilly, winding, wet and slippery extra 13km. The thick mist actually cleared as I reached the peak of Carn Brea giving me a great view of the castle and the surrounding countryside including a clear view over to St.Agnes which made me reaslise I’ve never ran from St.Agnes Beacon to Carn Brea or back… will have to work out a route and check the distance on Mapmyrun.com and sort that out!

By the time I got home, my parkrun email had arrived confirming a finish time of 21:48 which put me in 9th place out over 163. Not a bad first time and now I have a goal to beat next time. Checking my data on Strava confirmed what I though which was the first 2 -3 minutes passing slower runners had held me back quite a bit. I’m pretty sure if I start closer to the front next time I could easily get that down under the 21 minute mark, and since I’m doing some speedwork as part of my regular training now anyway, I think a goal of a sub-20 minute 5k/parkrun by the end of the year needs to be added to my list!

If you’ve never done a parkrun before I highly recommend giving it a go. You can sign up for free at www.parkrun.com then all you have to do is print off your barcode and turn up any time you have a free half our on a Saturday morning. We’ll definitely be doing more of them, and I’ll be signing up as an occasional volunteer as well to give something back!

 

2

Jan

2020

2020 – an Ultra Year!

By ActionGeek. Posted in Action, Running | No Comments »

While I’ve had “Complete an ultramarathon” on my list for a long time, 2019 was finally the year I got to cross it off. Wanting to build on that I decided not to sign up for 1 more in 2020, but for 3 of them!

First will be the Cousin Jack Ultra in February. An out and back on the Cornish coast path, starting and finishing at St.Ives with the turnaround at Cape Cornwall for a total of 35 miles. It will be the most exposed route I’ve done so far, and with a night time start the first couple of hours will be done in the dark with a head torch. I’ve been running with a head torch for years so that doesn’t bother me, but I don’t usually run on the coast path in the dark so I want to get some practice in before the event.

Next up is the Classic Quarter. This was actually one of the events that originally peaked my interest in ultra running. It starts at Lizard Point (the most southerly part of mainland UK) and follows the coast path for 44 miles to finish at Land’s End (the most westerly part). It’s a step up from my longest run so far which was 40 miles, is perfectly timed as a “training run” for event 3 of the year, and will likely bring back memories of rolling into Land’s End back in 2003 when I cycled the length of the UK from John O’Goats to Land’s End in 11 days. This one is in early June which builds perfectly into event 3…

The Plague! Part of the Roseland August Trail (RAT) running festival, last year I ran the Red Rat (20 miles) this time I’m skipping past the Black Rat 32 mile option and going straight to the 64 mile (100km) run. Starting at Porthpean (where all RAT runs including the red I ran last year) finish, it’s another out and back this time following a very jagged stretch of coastline south to St.Anthony’s Head and back. It starts at midnight so will be quite a few hours of running in the dark, and is a significant increase in distance so I need to be well prepared.

So – 35 miles, 44 miles, 64 miles, seems like a nice solid progression! I have to admit the thought of the 100k still makes me nervous, but that’s half the point isn’t it… if it was easy there would be no point. Competing my first ultra last year gives me confidence, and hopefully completing both the Cousin Jack and Classic Quarter in turn will only build that confidence further. I have what I think is a solid training plan in place (which will no doubt go out the window once or twice along the way when life throws spanners in the work) and I’m raring to go… let’s do 2020!

This is a fantastic short film about a runner’s first entry to the plague. I’ve already watched it twice, no doubt I’ll watch it a couple more times before the event it both gives me confience I can do it, and reminds me how tough it will be at the same time!

 

15

Oct

2019

My First Ultramarathon

By ActionGeek. Posted in Action, Running, The List | No Comments »


I first heard about ultra-running over 10 years ago when I caught part of a documentary on TV which mentioned Dean Karnazes. I grabbed a copy of his book Ultramarathon Man from Amazon and was fascinated. I’ve been running occasional 10Ks for years and had a couple of half marathons and one full marathon under my belt, but the idea of running further than 26.2 miles seemed crazy. I had trained for months to run my first (and at that time only) marathon, the Edinburgh marathon in 2005, and it chewed me up and spat me out. The first half of the race was fine, but it got progressively harder and the last few miles felt like torture. I remember quite clearly telling my sister at the finish line that I would never run a marathon again!

I really had no intention of running a marathon again at that stage, but something about the idea of running an ultra marathon appealed, so I stuck it on my “something I’d like to do one-day” list and half forgot about it.

Over the next decade, my running was very sporadic at best. I bought a house, got married, started a business… basically life got in the way. It wasn’t until 10 years later when I got back into martial arts and realised my fitness wasn’t what it used to be that I started running regularly again, and even then it was just a short run a couple of times a week.

Fast forward to 2018 and my interest in ultrarunning popped its head up again. A few documentaries about running on Netflix got me interested, then I read Scott Jurek’s North about running the Appalachian Trail. I started building up the length of a long run at the weekend, and most importantly found that I was enjoying it… maybe I could give this ultra thing a shot.

In spring 2019 I started looking around for a suitable event. It had been years since I’d even ran a half marathon so I decided to start out slowly. There was a half marathon trail race just a few miles from home in July – perfect. I signed up, and started to train. On race day I got up nice and early, ate some breakfast and got kitted up, and my wife and I started bundling the kids into the car so she could drop me at the start line… but our 2 year old had other plans – there was NO WAY he was getting into the car or being strapped into a car seat. We spent a good 2 minutes in the pouring rain trying everything from bribery to brute force, but he was having none of it, so rather dejected we went back into the house. I could drive myself, but since it was a point to point race I’d then be 13 miles away from the car with no way of getting home, so I did the only logical thing. I opened the front door and started running, and simply ran 13.1 miles on my own. It was the furthest I had ran in years, and unlike the organised half I was supposed to be doing, there were no other runners to pace myself against, no water stations, no marshalls to give encouragement… but I ran my own little half marathon and that evening, feeling rather pleased with myself, I sat down at my computer to search for a longer event. An ultra marathon seemed like a stretch at this point, but I found a 20 mile trail run in about 6 weeks time – perfect! I signed up for the “Red RAT” and carried on training.

I was more than a little nervous by the time race day came. For a start, I’d been Googling the RAT and had found a number of Youtube videos and blog posts, all almost unanimous in the exclamations about how tough it was. “Those bloody steps go on forever” and words to that effect seemed to be a common turn of phrase. I wondered if I had trained enough. Adding to my nerves was the weather – a severe weather warning issued by the MET with winds of 45 MPG which, considering we would be running on the very exposed Cornish cliff path, was slightly worrying. I need not have worried about the wind – it was certainly blustery and I had to hold on to my cap several times to avoid losing it to the English channel, but otherwise the weather wasn’t too much of a problem. I can’t say the same about “those bloody steps” though! The first half of the run led me into a false sense of security – I was feeling strong and probably going faster than I should have. The steps, however, are mostly in the last 8 miles or so, and they do go on, and on, seemingly forever! By mile 17 I was getting cramps in my quads and calves, and feeling exhausted. By the final half mile I really was running on empty, and felt utterly beaten as I crossed the finish line. I collected my finisher’s medal, made a quick call home to my wife (who was concerned about the high winds) and then limped back to the car to drive home. I was in quite a bit of pain for the next 2 – 3 days and all I could think of was the fact that I couldn’t have gone another mile, let alone another 10 to make it an ultra distance… so by midweek I did the only sensible thing, I signed up for one anyway. But not a 30 miler… in for a penny in for a pound so I signed up for a 40 miler!

I had decided that at least part of my problem with cramps was probably due to my nutrition. I was only drinking water, and eaten a couple of cereal bars. I’d also started off too fast for the first few miles, and massively underestimated those hills and steps. I once again revised my training, started experimenting/practicing with nutrition on my longer training runs, and started integrating more hills into my training. This time I had about 8 weeks to go, and my longest training run was around 24 miles – I felt better at the end of that then I had at the end of the 20 mile RAT, but I still felt like I was done by the end, I could have slogged out another mile or two but never another 16.

Race day arrived, I once again had an early breakfast and got dropped to the event without any issues. It was a point to point race this time on the north Cornish coast path starting at Newquay’s Fistral Beach and ending near Hayle. I’d be attempting to run almost twice as far as I’d ever ran before, and I had no idea if I could do it, but I had no intention of quitting. My plan was simple – keep the pace slow at the start, eat regularly and take on plenty of electrolytes… and don’t stop until I reach the end!

I “dibbed in” to activate my timing chip and I was off. Slowly and steady does it. I wasn’t wearing a watch so I simply ran at a pace that felt easy, and it was lovely. The weather was cool and damp but nothing bad, the sea spray over the north cliffs reminded me of boing a child going fishing at Mevagissey and playing in the rockpools at Trevelace and Trevanuance. Those early miles seemed to pass by with ease but I was geld to reach the first checkpoint at Perranporth. I had just about finished my drink which is exactly what I had planned so I felt like I was on target, and now I could stock up and push on. That’s when the marshall told me I was in 9th place – oh crap, I had started out too fast! I did not want a repeat of the RAT so I edged the pace back even further. By the next checkpoint at Chapelporth I was in 12th, still further ahead than I had planned (I had planned to be somewhere near the back) but I had now ran about the distance of the RAT and while I felt tired, I felt like I would make it to the end.

My first ultramarathon FinishPortreath was the next stop. Now I was getting tired. 16 miles or so to go, and from this point on I was much less familiar with the coast path so I took advantage of the aid station and sat down for 5 minutes with a coffee and a cheese sandwich. My legs didn’t really want to get going again, but I couldn’t risk stopping for any longer than 5 minutes and cooling down too much so I headed back up out of Portreath towards Godrevy. As I was running up towards North Cliffs a young couple walking the other way stopped me to ask what the event was as they had obviously already passed several runners. When I explained we were running 40 miles from Fistral to Hayle along the coast path their reaction was incredible – both of them wanted to shake my hand and cheered me on up the hill, that gave me the boost I needed to climb up onto the north cliffs and then started the longest slog of the run that long, relatively flat section of coast seemed to drag on forever, but eventually I made it to the final aid station at Godrevy. At this point I knew I’d make it to the end – I “only” had to run through the dunes and along the beach at Gwithian, round the corner and back up the hill to the finish at the St.Ives Holiday Park. The weather started to take a turn for the worse as I headed down onto the sand and then the dunes went one… for EVER! The rain and mist meant the visibility was really poor and the sand sapped what little energy I had left in my legs, but eventually, I did make it to the Hayle estuary which meant the dunes were behind me, and it was just a short stretch up the hill to the finish line. I actually met another runner at that point (first I had seen in quite some time) who was lost and checking their map. I showed him where we were, and we ran together for a while. Turns out it was his first ultra as well (we’re pretty sure we were the only 2 newbies on the run!) but he was struggling at this point. After a mile or so he excused himself to head into the bushes to relieve himself, though I suspect he just needed a breather. I had however somehow found some extra energy, no doubt from knowing how close to the finish I was, and powered on the last half mile to so up the hill to the finish. My dad was waiting for me at the finish line as he had kindly agreed to drive me home (didn’t seem like a good idea to drive myself on such tired legs!) and it was great to see him and shake his hand as I finished my longest run to date.

I was definitely tired but felt nowhere near as bad as I had just a few weeks previously running half the distance. Could I have gone on for another 10 miles? Yes, I think I probably could if I had to!

Now, the sensible thing to do at this point would be to cross ultramarathon off my list. However, there’s unfinished business! The 20 mile RAT is only one of the distances offered at that event, there’s also a 32 mile and a 64 mile (100km) version, so… I’ve signed up for 35 miler in February, then I have my eye on the Classic Quarter (44 miles from Lizard Point to Land’s End) in June, leading up to the RAT Plague (100Km) in August! Maybe if I manage to complete that one I can tick ultramarathon of my list for good (or maybe not)