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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)

 

For many years I’ve had “Create an app that gets 1million+ downloads” on My List and while this doesn’t tick that item off, its at least a step in the right direction… let me explain!

I’ve developed many (well into 3 figures and counting) games over the past decade and a half, which have been published on various platforms. I’ve never had a big break away success though. About 18 months ago my business partner at Art Of Play Games and I became aware of an emerging platform which was growing rapidly: Facebook Instant Games. The idea of Instant Games (IG) is that they are small, usually hyper casual, games which are highly optimised for almost instant loading, and streamed straight from the platform to be played within either the Facebook or Messenger app without requiring a download.

Since the App stores these days are incredibly crowded, and since the vast majority of the games we were seeing on the platform were much lower quality than our own, we decided to invest some time building content to test the platform. The first small game we produced was Battle Bike 3D, a simple steampunk themed arcade game which got played more than 250,000 times in the first three months with virtually no promotion. Not quite the “1 million downloads” but still impressive and enough to validate the platform.

Since then we’ve developed several other small games including General Joyride, Dragon vs Vikings, and a halloween themed game called Curse of the Candy.

I’m not crossing the million downloads off my list yet, in fact we have a couple of projects on the go for launch in 2020 which are much more in depth games for more traditional gaming platforms which I’m quite excited about, but it’s nice to see thousands of people playing and enjoying our games, and leaving positive reviews and feedback!

 

3

Jan

2013

Beating arachnophoboa

By ActionGeek. Posted in Crazy/Weird, The List | No Comments »

Time to cross another item off my list, but this is a strange one… and while I’ve crossed it off, it’s technically still a work in progress and I suspect it will be for some time – beating my fear of spiders!

It’s something which has bugged me (pun intended) for a very long time. I’m not really afraid of anything else (nothing irrational anyway) and I know they are “just little spiders” and that (in general) they can’t hurt me – but I’be always had a profound and deep fear of them. The weird thing is, I’m still not 100% sure what it is about them that has always bothered me. They have lots of legs, but so do crabs and lobsters and I’m fine with them… they are small and fast, but so are crickets and I’m fine with them… they have big teeth, but do does my boa constrictor and my rottweiler!

Anyway, long story short I’ve been wanting to face and beat this fear for a long time, and last year I decided to make it happen – and bought a tarantula after lots of pleading from my wife (her argument was that if I was allowed snakes, she should be allowed a tarantula and I couldn’t really argue with that!)

Over time I became more and more desensitised, and more and more interested in tarantulas and spiders in general. I started reading books, and researching online, and soon one tarantula became two, and then three, and then four…

In fact I’ve become really fascinated by them. I still have that niggling arachnophobia in the back of my mind, but it’s getting less and less every day and now firmly under control. I’ve actually written an article about how I beat arachnophobia over at tarantula-care.com so anyone interested in the subject can head over there to ready the whole story. For now though, that’s one more item ticked on the list ;)

 

What do you get if you mix an extreme 50km foot race and the biggest annual experiment in community, self expression and self reliance?  The new Burning Man Ultramarathon of course!

Going to Burning Man has been on my list for many years now, and I’ve always wanted to run an ultramarathon too so could this be a match made in heaven?  Well you decide – it’s a 50km race which looks set to be one of the toughest and most unique ultramarathons (comparable to the Badwater).  It’s probably the only ultramarathon in the world where there’s a high liklihood of several runners attempting the event naked – though I think some parts are likely to chaff over such a distance!!!

The official FAQ states that each competitor must bring at least 1 gallon of water, sunglasses, a dust mask, goggles and a headlamp!

Their suggestions is to “run slow, eat potato chips, and have  blast!”

It looks like 12 people have signed up to the event so far.  Unfortunately there’s no way I can get to Nevada this yea, but if this becomes a regular event I think I’ll have to add it to my must do list!

Here’s a link to the official Burning Man Ultramarathon web site.

Image courtesy of Aleksander Soender

 

17

May

2010

Yungas Road (Death Road) in Bolivia

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

Death Road - Bolivia

I read an article on BBC news today about “The Worlds Most Dangerous Road” in Bolivia, and instantly had to add mountain biking it to my list!

The Yungas Road (known as Death Road, Grove’s Road, or Camino de las Yungas) is a stretch of road in Bolivia which is known as the worlds most dangerous road. It was built in the 1930s by Paraguayan prisinors during the Chaco war. The road is a dirt track in the mountains, a huge portion of which is downhill, and had vertical cliffs and severe drops along both sides in many places. Combine that with hairpin bends, and breathtaking scenery and it’s easy to see why it has become a mecca for mountain bikers.

The main downhill section drops 11,800 feet over 40 miles making for what looks like a truly awesome days mountain biking. Wikipedia reports that at least 18 cyclists have died on the road in recent years, but before the La Paz-Coroico highroad, when the Yungas road was the only route, there were reportedly 200 – 300 deaths on the road annually.

The picture above is taken from Wikipedia and shows an example of the vertical cliffs and no crash barriers, but a quick search on Google Images shows just how scary the road can be, and how awesome it would be to ride!