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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)

 

2

May

2010

If a grandmother can do this…

By ActionGeek. Posted in Inspiration | No Comments »

Image courtesy of BBC News

I read this hugely inspirational story this morning, about a 63 year old grandmother who has just completed 27 marathons in 27 consecutive days… while pulling a 3 wheeled cart!

Rosie Swale Pope was awarded an MBA in 2003 after pulling the cart around the world on a 20,000 mile run taking almost 5 years, in memory of her husband who died of cancer.  I love reading stories like these, they are great things to think about on rainy days when you have a long training session to do which you’re really not in the mood for, then you remember something like this, pull your socks up and just get on with it thinking “If they can do that, I can certainly do this!”

Read the full story at the BBC News website: Tenby’s Rosie Swale Pope hopes for marathon record

 

29

Apr

2010

Becoming an Ironman

By ActionGeek. Posted in Action, Ironman | 1 Comment »

140.6 miles under your own steam…

A 2.4 mile open water swim, 112 mile cycle and then a full marathon, back to back, with no breaks, has to be completed within a maximum of 17 hours… sounds like a challenge!

I don’t remember exactly when I first heard about the Ironman but it’s been on my list for quite a few years. It’s often called the “ultimate endurance race” and for good reason – it’s a bloody long way!

The first Ironman was a combination of the Waikiki roughwater swim, the around Oaha bike race, and the Honolulu marathon. It was to settle an argument at the time about whether cyclists, runners or swimmers were fittest. Twelve men started that first Ironman race in 1978, 12 finished with Gordon Haller coming in first in 11 hours and 46 minutes. The following year there were 50 entrants, and the event has grown ever since.  Here’s a peek at what’s involved in the modern event:

I’m not sure exactly what it is about the Ironman, but for some reason I’m drawn to it, I want to test myself and see if I can do it.  That video gives me chills every time I watch it, but I feel compelled to try.  As their slogan goes, I want to see if I can “Swim 2.4 miles, Cycle 112 miles, Run 26.2 miles, Brag for the rest of my life!”

There are of course obstacles to completing, or even entering a race like this, some more obvious than others. The biggest is obviously a need to train – it would be almost impossible to complete an Ironman without considerable training, and stupid to try. So that would be a major hurdle, finding the time (many, many hours per week) to train which would increase in duration as the event approached. Then there is a financial cost. Entry to the race itself in the UK is £300 (about $450 USD) but there are also equipment costs (bike, wetsuit etc.) and travel and accommodation for the race itself. Then there’s the big one – I can’t swim!

OK so maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, I can kinda swim a bit! But my normal swimming involved a bit of snorkling, or a quick dip in the pool on holiday, shortly followed by grabbing a beer from the bar and sitting around the pool with a Terry Pratchet novel! So the very thought of attempting a 2.4 mile swim, in deep freezing cold water, quite frankly terrifies me!

Hmmmm… so there are certainly obstacles to this, but if it was easy then it wouldn’t be a challenge so I’m committing to the challenge right now:

I, Billy “Action Geek” Deakin, being of sound(ish) mind and slightly less sound body, do solomnly declare that I have decided to commit to training for, and entering the 2011 Ironman UK.

There, I said it, no turning back now…

Looks like I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me, from planning to training, but in just over a year I’ll be able to cross “Complete an Ironman” off my list ;) Even better, there are a number of other items on my list which I’ll be able to cross off along the way such as learning to swim properly, and maybe running a sub 3:30 marathon! So, let the training begin…