Friday, 28 November 2014

Like the Wind

I've just finished reading the 3rd issue of Like the Wind magazine and I thought I'd share the news: this is a magazine with a difference!

I met Simon & Julie Freeman, the brains behind this publication, at the Trail Team selection weekend in the Lake district earlier this year. I must admit when they showed us the magazine I was put off by the price. At £8 it seems like a lot of money.  It took a couple of issues and the accolades of many people online for me to get over myself and buy a copy.

The thing is though this is not your average magazine. Produced on thick, reclycled paper, beautifully illustrated and with not a single advert in a hundred pages, this is a collection of stories, varied in content and style but with a common theme; a love of running.

The variety is impressive, from charity runners competing in fancy dress, to historical pieces on the characters of our sport, poems, opinions on the nature of addiction and one or two star entries: a short piece including a recipe for cinammon buns from none other than Emelie Forsberg and an interview with Killian Jornet by Ian Corless.

Each article is illustrated or accompanied by wonderfully evocative photographs and just long enough to sit over with a cup of coffee.

What you won't find, in addition to the adverts, are those pointless, how to be a better runner in a weekend style recipes for success the more standard magazines are full of. The emphasis here is on quality writing and its a joy to read. And as for the price? Well bear in mind the feature rich content, there is no fluff, just a hundred pages of words and pictures. And the fact that this is a quarterly edition, so a year long subscription is £40 including the postage. 

I think this represents the future of print media; niche markets, quality products, something tactile and lasting that you will want to keep on the coffee table or bookcase.

So am I converted? Well if you hadn't already got that from my comments above lets just say I'll be adding a yearly subscription to my Christmas list this year and leave it at that.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Injury reframed

Following on from my previous post I thought I should give an update on my ongoing achilles injury. Last week I visited a new physio - Paul Coker at the Treatment Centre in Truro. What makes Paul different from previous physios is that he is also an ultra runner which has to be a good thing.

We spent a good bit of time going over my history and when we got to the part where I mentioned my climbing accident and subsequent smashed up Calcaneous on the other (left) leg, Paul seemed convinced that this was where the problem was.

So here's the theory, broken and deformed Calcaneous, lack of movement & flexibility in certain planes of motion, significantly less strength in the left leg overall (Paul measured my calfs and I was surprised how different they were); all adding up to a leg that was not pulling its weight. The right leg therefore has to do a lot more work and probably impacts the ground harder, especially as I tire on longer runs, eventually causing the injury to my achilles.

There followed some massage to my injured leg performed with a kind of metal knuckle duster and without doubt the most painful massage I have ever received! What was really positive though was that in fact I should not be resting but continuing to run, albeit at reduced intensity for now. I have had a feeling, and Paul confirmed this, that the weeks off had made things worse, not better.  I am to continue with the eccentric heel drops but adding weight to make them harder.

For my left leg I need to work on the part of the muscle that prevents me standing right up on tip toe, currently I can only get up about half way as far on my left leg as my right. This I had assumed was a mechanical limitation I was stuck with but Paul thinks I can improve it: I have to hold myself in position for as long as I can, using as much assistance as necessary to stop my heel from dropping. Eventually once I can do this I will extend the exercise to full calf lifts but I'm a way off that right now.  Paul also thinks I can get some of the range of motion back - I currently can't turn my foot in fully. He thinks rather than a bone on bone limitation post-op this is all down to tightened tendons running down the front of my leg so I have some instructions - including a foam roller and pushing my foot into position - to get this mobility back.

And as for running, its ok for it to hurt! Paul asked me to judge my efforts on how sore I am after rather than during my runs, and this is the best news I could have! Its funny how a little confidence boost like this can make so much difference. I was running previously and wincing at every twinge I felt in my achilles. This weekend I ran free of the fear that I was damaging my foot, happy that in fact I was doing it some good - and the next day: no pain. So next weekend my long run will be just that little bit longer!

Its going to be a while before I am fully fit but mentally I am in a much better place and I'm sure I'm on the right track. Watch this space.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Identity crisis

It took a long time for me to call myself a runner. I ran but I wasn't really a runner. It wasn't until I completed my first marathon that I started to think of myself that way. Not because of the distance, that was unimportant; but it took something as big as that for me to change the way I ran. Up until then I just ran. Two or three times a week, usually a bit longer at the weekend.

In training for the marathon though I needed to follow a plan. Except I didn't do plans, I was all about spontaneity, right? Well, wrong as it happens. In fact I enjoyed following a plan, it took the uncertainty out of things. If the plan said intervals, I ran intervals, if it said hills I ran hills. Easy. And so the training became automatic and I began, slowly, to evolve; over time the act of doing transformed into a state of being; I became a runner.

So what does a runner do when they can no longer run? When the act which defines them can no longer be practised. These last few weeks, months even, I've been out of action with Achilles problems. As the weeks ran into months I started to doubt I could recover. I found this so frustrating, to have trained so hard and come to a new level of fitness only to be laid low, the strength draining from my legs with every day that passed. In my darkest moments I wondered whether I would look back in ten years time on these last two years as a blip, that brief moment in time when I was fit and could do amazing things.

Of course I will recover, I am already on the mend as it happens but it got me thinking, what happens when, as will be the case for us all, I can no longer run or climb, how will that feel; how will I cope with that? I need to work on my patience, that's for sure, or I'm going to have a sad few years stored up in the future. I have to learn to enjoy all the parts of my life equally, take a lay off due to injury as an opportunity to get things done - the little things that slip when everything revolves around training, to revel in a lie in or a lazy lunch break. Time, for now at least, will heal all ills and soon enough I'll be fighting fit and training hard.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Surviving the Plague

This weekend was the 2014 Mud Crew Roseland August Trail - the RAT - and this year I had entered the Plague distance.  To explain: there are four distances on offer - the black, red & white routes, 32, 20 & 11 miles respectively, are linear courses traversing the Cornish coast path along the Roseland peninsular. Depending on your choice of distance you will be taken by bus to the relevant start point and run back to the start. For the really stupid few though a bus would not be necessary. Those of us signed up to the plague would start from the finish and run, overnight, to St Anthony's head, turn around and run back. A total of 64 miles along some of the most brutal and unforgiving terrain the coast path has to offer.

This year Hannah and the girls were joining me - one of the great things about the RAT is that the finish line is also a camp site complete with a bar, food stalls, etc. On the Saturday night there would also be live music. This makes the whole thing like a mini festival for trail runners. 

I spent Friday trying to do as little as possible and even managed to get an hour or two's sleep in the afternoon before we headed up to Porthpean and pitched our tent. We grabbed some food and I got myself registered. There was a talk from star ultra runner and friend of Mud Crew Mimi Anderson, though the children were keeping me busy so unfortunately I missed this. Before long it was time to settle down again and try to sleep. This time I wasn't so lucky, with all the activity going on outside and my mind racing I was wide awake, but at least I was resting. Bronwen & Jenna wanted to see me off but by the time I was heading out to the pre-race briefing they were fast asleep so I said goodbye to Hannah and headed out into the night. I would see them again in the morning, by which time I would be on my way back.

At the briefing

The race briefing revealed to us that each marshal on the course had run at least one 100 mile event and would therefore know exactly what we were dealing with. This was very re-assuring and just another example of the many little touches that make Mud Crew events so good. We each were provided with a puke green "Victim" vest to identify us "plaguers" from the other distances - for our own safety as much as anything - and were all given a glow stick to be worn on our packs for the duration of the night portion of the run.

Then we filed out to the start line and waited for the off. Mimi was given the honours of sending us on our way - as soon as we were off we were stopped though - a narrow path past the toilet block combined with a style meant we all queued up to get going. Still no worries, it was going to be a long night!

Ready for the off

The first 4 miles to Pentewan are probably the most testing of the whole course with numerous steep climbs and many steps. They are also very narrow paths and once in a line there are not many opportunities to pass. Although I was at pains to keep things very slow and easy at the start I quickly realised I had got myself too far back and felt a little held up. Pride always comes before a fall they say and this was the point I twisted my ankle. Aargh! Less than 4 miles into a 64 mile race and this. Luckily it was nothing serious and I kept on running without too much trouble. On arriving at Pentewan I took the opportunity to pass the group I was with, dibbed my timer chip and ran on.

Coming up out of Pentewan are a couple more big hills which went by surprisingly quickly. At Mevagissey I joined up with a small group and chatted to one guy in particular for a while (sorry can't remember your name, I'm crap at this at the best of times!). Before long it seemed we were coming into Gorran Haven and check point 2. I didn't want to be drawn in to spending too much time at the check points - I knew I could run 20 miles on a litre of water and so dibbed and ran again with my sights firmly set on Portloe. This led to me finding myself alone on the trail again and I settled into a good rhythm. The trail from Gorran Haven is gently up hill but mostly not too technical for a fairly long stretch up to Dodman point. 

With the moon out over a perfectly still sea and no-one else around these were some of the most peaceful hours; I passed Hemmick bay, a tiny beach with almost no parking on an equally tiny road and climbed up through some tough terrain before a long run down through woods - difficult in the dark - brought me to Caerhays; a beach with its own castle in residence. Some more steep climbing followed and shortly after the first route finding issue of the night, a field with no exit. A small group of guys behind me caught up at this point and we skirted the hedge looking for an exit before moving on. Not long later we reached Portholland and the infamous rocky traverse. The "path" here runs along a concrete sea wall rocky ledges, ending with a final scramble to safety with a nasty fall awaiting if you place a foot wrong. Normally I am pretty sure footed, but lack of sleep, the exertion of the previous four hours and darkness seemed to conspire to make me feel quite exposed as I hopped over the last section to safety.

Its a big climb from Portholland and from here the ground becomes quite technical. About here I found the first signs of fatigue were setting in and a nagging queasiness was making eating a bit of a chore (though I was still able to eat every half hour as I had from the start). I passed a lady just before Portloe and we agreed this was a tough section in the dark. At the checkpoint I filled up with water before moving straight on. Leaving Portloe I got a bit confused and nearly ran off a cliff! Despite reading the warning about an unfenced section the path appeared to lead straight on but this was clearly a one way option to the sea below. Eventually after some aimless wandering I found the path doubled back on itself and I was away once more.

Not long after I started to recognise the outline of the cliff and realised I was approaching Nare Head. I had set up camp here last year while photographing and remembered watching runners' head torches moving back and forward as they tried to find the correct line. The memory didn't help me much and I did the same, eventually getting myself up onto the headland and being passed by several others in the process.

Beautiful sunrise, somewhere near Portscatho

From Nare Head there is a good view of the remainder of the route and Portscatho - the final checkpoint before St Anthony was lit up and glowing in the distance. I was quite put out at just how distant it was though and there were a fair few hills still to go. Arriving at the beach before the Nare Hotel I met another runner - I remembered her from last year - and we chatted for a bit as we wound our way along the final stretch up to Portscatho. By now the sun was rising and what a sunrise! I certainly got a big boost from those golden rays as they warmed my back and pushed me on.

Portscatho in the early morning sun

Happy to see the sun at last
It was pretty cool to arrive at Portscatho and be greeted by a bunch of Superheros; quite surreal and a great lift. I stopped to fill up with water and watched several runners pass on while I snacked and sorted out moving some food into places I could get at it before once more heading off.

Super marshals, Portscatho

The section from Portscatho to St Anthony is relatively flat and quite runnable and I'd been looking forward to this, however the truth was I was starting to feel knackered by now and it showed on these four miles. Runners were passing me and those that had already turned were heading back, always with an exchanged "well done" for each other. I also saw Charlie Whitton photographing and stopped for a chat for a minute or two. On arrival at St Anthony I rang my support crew and spoke to Bronwen, asking her to pass on my turn around time - 7:30 - and expected return pace. As I was about to find out I was being optimistic about my likely pace on the return leg.

Happy trails, leaving Portscatho

Beautiful views across Carrick Roads to Pendennis & Falmouth

Heading back, even in those first few miles I was really starting to flag. I ran as much as I could though and got back to Portscatho where I intended to have some soup and a sit down. Andy Jukes was there when I arrived and he told me he'd just dropped with a tendon issue in his ankle. I said I'd realised I was running slower than my goal and was a bit pissed off about it and he gave me the talking to I needed - to forget about pace and concentrate on doing whatever I needed to do to finish. The soup was an epic fail unfortunately, I just couldn't face it - the only thing I rejected all day. So it was back to gels and flapjacks and off I went again.

The next miles along to, and over the top of, Nare Head were increasingly difficult, though by now the black route runners had started catching me up and I was bouyed up by words of encouragement from just about everyone that passed. I didn't feel like I was "doing great" or "looking good" though and struggled to give more than a grunt in return I'm afraid.

Black route runners coming through

Dropping down from Nare head my quads finally started to give up on me and this added to the sense of doom and gloom that I was slipping into. Up until now I was running down hill quite well but all of a sudden it was all I could do to keep up right and hobble my way down the steep bank I was on. Luckily it wasn't far to Portloe; as I got to the top of the hill above the village I heard the starting horn for the red route and saw the runners all filing out on their merry way. Minutes later the welcome sight of Hannah, Bronwen & Jenna waving me in lifted my spirits and I dragged myself into the checkpoint for a bit of a sit down and a change of socks. I had given the kids a list of questions to ask me when they saw me - do you need any food, have you been taking your salt tablets, etc. Of course the only one that interested them was "when did you last pee?" which they gleefully shouted as I arrived. This would be the greeting I received at every check point until the end!  I should also thank the unknown black route runner who handed me some Compeed and plasters to sort out my one blister; once that was sorted and I had loaded up with more food and drank a couple of glasses of coke I was off again.

Although it was a long old way to Gorran Haven and the next official check point (10 miles) I knew there would be a water station at Port Holland and the girls were to meet me at Caerhays so this section would be broken up nicely. I settled in to a steady pace up to Portholland, running a bit with another Plague runner and soon enough we were descending the steep steps into the village. It was good to see Andy Goundry handing out sweets and drinks and we had a little chat before heading off across the rocks. Charlie Whitton was just across the rocks taking photos and I stopped for a quick chat again with him - he later told me I was in a dark place when I spoke to him there - before moving on. I think this section up to Caerhays was my lowest point; I just couldn't get any kind of pace, everything hurt and I was struggling to just keep my mind on the next little section - the enormity of what I still  had to do just kept on rearing up.

At Caerhays the girls walked up the hill and over the fields with me. Just before leaving them I was passed by Justin Lowell; I noticed he was wearing headphones and this reminded me that I too had an mp3 player with me. I whipped it out and stuck on some tunes and the transformation was incredible. The pain in my legs receded, my mood lifted and I was off again (I don't think I was moving any faster but in my mind I was flying!). Before long I was actually enjoying the day again, pumping my fists to the music, singing along, and smiling inside and out.

Vault beach and the start of a lovely long downhill section toward Gorran Haven

After some hard miles over Dodman point there is a lovely long downhill section almost all the way to Gorran. I ran into Gorran Haven on a high and told everyone how much better I was feeling. Gutted to find no Coke left I downed a can of Red Bull which actually went down pretty well and shot off. Hannah didn't want to try and park in Meva so arranged to meet me at Pentewan. I continued in a positive mood for a few more miles, though bizarrely I was becoming unusually emotional. Every time I thought about finishing I would feel like I was choking up, only to be laughing hysterically seconds later. Everything seemed very sharp and intense and I was at times almost euphoric, even though I was hurting. I've never experienced this on a run before.

Port Mellon and feeling it!

oh dear!
At Port Mellon the route moves onto the road and the positive energy I had been riding on started to fall away to be replaced by a feeling of complete exhaustion. By now though I didn't care, as I reached the top of the hill above the harbour in Meva the two marshals there cheered me on and told me what I already knew - "You've got this, its in the bag now". At the other side of the harbour a marshal kindly donated some of her own water as I was sure I hadn't enough to make it to Pentewan without running out. I'd been managing my water well up until then I couldn't imagine running dry on those steep climbs ahead. One of those climbs, an absolute mother of a hill, nearly broke me and I had to dig seep to carry on but again, soon enough I was approaching the check point. The girls ran me in and I got a high five and a pep talk from Fergie about how I had plenty of time and could walk the last bit if I needed to and still get in. I feasted on water melon while Izzy filled my bottles and then I was off to take on those dreaded final sets of steps in the last four miles.

Really? More steps?

I think by now I was taking about 25 minutes per mile but was still surprised at how well I climbed the last few hills. With only a mile or so to go my Garmin told me it was low on battery. Checking the time I also reckoned if I picked up the pace a bit I might get in under 17 and a half hours and so that's what I did. I marched up the last hill through Porthpean like a man possessed; in the end the Garmin made it and I crossed the line in 17:31:58. Best of all the girls were there to run the last few metres holding my hands which made it all the better. The post race beer was a beautiful thing to behold; but before long my body was starting to shut down. Having showered and wrapped up in as many clothes as I could find I ate Pizza and shuffled off to bed at about 8:30! Broken but satisfied.

It remains only to thank everyone involved. Ferg and the rest of the team made this such a great event, everything was so well run & having ultra runners manning all the check points meant you got looked after at every point along the way - whether that meant filling your bottles, checking you were eating or just giving you a kick up the backside and telling you to get on with it. That's why these events shine out as some of the best in the country and why people just keep coming back year after year. And thanks as well to Hannah, Bronwen and Jenna, my support crew and long suffering family.

Friday, 1 August 2014

Trail Porn - Lizard

Last week's run was so beautiful that I had to post up some photos, even though I've written about this route before. Enjoy:

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Trail Report: The Saints' Way

This weekend a group of us ran the Saints' Way, from Padstow to Fowey. The idea to do this came from a good friend, Toby, who I have not seen for many years. We keep in touch via Facebook though and when he said he and some friends were going to attempt it and invited me along I jumped at the chance.

The Saints' Way was a route used by early Christian Travellers journeying from Ireland & Wales to Brittany and the rest of Europe. The route starts on the North Cornwall coast and meanders South to finish at Fowey.

Our team was Toby, Matt, Al & Nick. All had run at least marathon distance before, some more recently than others: Nick had run 3:10 at Edinburgh this year, Al had done Marathon Des Sables before but not been running big miles for several years, Toby, a keen runner for many years, had recently come back from knee surgery and Matt, also with several marathons under his belt in the past, was coping with the trials of a newborn baby. So we would run at the pace of the slowest and enjoy the day whatever it threw at us.

At about 8 am we set off from the Church in Padstow, running through town before gaining the trails and heading South close to the River Camel. The route is well signposted, with a selection of large signs and smaller posts carrying a cross emblem. Despite this it wasn't long before we took our first wrong turn and found ourselves thrashing around in dense overgrown woodland. Turning around and re-tracing our steps we were soon back on track, each now suspecting there would be more in the way of wrong turns before the day was done.

The weather reports for Saturday had not looked that great and for the first few hours as we hacked up and down the undulating countryside we were accompanied by a light but persistent drizzle. The terrain was varied throughout, we passed through small villages and found ourselves in woodland, then fields, farm tracks and some small amount of road. After about ten miles and at least one detour as we tried to find our way we arrived at the village of Withiel where we stopped for a few minutes and had a bite to eat.

Noticing the arriving of some sombre patrons at the Church and seeing the black traffic cones along the road we moved on before becoming an unpleasant and unwanted side show at someone else's funeral. After all no-one wants to see a bunch of sweaty middle aged men in shorts amid their hour of grief!

A very steep and rutted field led us out of the village and again we had to consult the map before noticing behind and to our left the requisite post signalling our correct line. On we went, with more of the same. A long climb led us out onto a fairly long stretch of road. Nick and I found ourselves suddenly a long way ahead of the others; as they caught up it was clear Matt was struggling a little, but still in good spirits.

On arrival at Lanivet, a busy village just South of Bodmin, we decided some sustenance was in order so decamped to the Welcome Stranger Cafe for a cuppa. This rapidly turned into lunch with two of our group ordering that well known athlete's meal of egg & chips! The owner of the Cafe was a helpful and friendly guy though his cackle on hearing we were running the Saint's way was concerning: "Which way?" he asked, "North to South" said we, "Haha, you'd better save something for the next few miles then!". We had assumed we were close to a point where it would be "All down hill from here".

All fed and watered - the owner helpfully refilled our bottles - and ready to go we set off, knowing our legs would have stiffened in the intervening period, up the long hill out of the village. And long indeed it was! We were road-bound for some time, passing up towards Helman Tor. At this point we had to make our final decision about the route; there are two options, down toward Lostwithiel and along the banks of the Fowey or slightly further West, via Luxulyan to the coast before heading back East. We decided on the former, it looking shorter and, perhaps a little less hilly. In hindsight I'm not convinced it was.

Running up the hill to Helman Tor we only got as far the the car park before we were heading downhill again. This time a long pleasant run to another section of road, which continued for several miles.

Passing through Lanlivery we were soon in sight of the Fowey over the hill and it was not long after this that our worst detour of the day occurred. Bad enough going half a mile up a road in the wrong direction but when it is about as steep as a road can be and still qualify as drive-able its really no fun to have to retrace your steps. Also slightly demoralising was seeing a sign for Fowey that said five miles. Two miles earlier we had passed one that said six!

Now we felt close though, the banks of the Fowey kept cropping up on our left and, although the sea was not in sight we knew we couldn't be far off. Rather than easing off as we followed the river towards its end the hills seemed to intensify. In addition I made a mistake in missing a turning off the road and into a field - I was ahead of everyone at the time and didn't hear the calls for me to turn around until Nick chased off up the hill after me. Shortly after this we again got it wrong ending up on "Private property you know" as the home owner ventured on our arrival. We had discussed which way to go a fair way back and made the wrong call.

Retracing our steps, running across a couple of fields and out onto the road we arrived at Golant, the last village before Fowey itself. From here we could see boats anchored on the river and, thinking I recognised the inlet across the water, I assured everyone that Fowey itself was just around the corner. So it was again a bit of a blow to find a sign saying three miles at the other end of the village. A lovely run through woodland including an exciting downhill stretch - the best of the day - led us to sea level...and the base of another gruelling climb. Once at the top of this one and out of the woods a further descent led worryingly on and on. Knowing how steep Fowey is I worried that we would have to ascend again before our destination.

Once we had regrouped though we ploughed along the road and into the town, coming in low at the end of the harbour. All that was left was to run through the town, stopping at last outside the King of Prussia. With the taxi due in twenty minutes we had arrived in the nick of time; just long enough for a swift pint before heading back north for more of the same. Some had stiffened up, all were tired, but there was a definite sense that this might be the beginning of something great and discussions turned to what might be next before the night was done.

On a practical note the Saints Way is well sign posted as long as you keep your eyes peeled though there were noticeably less signs in place on the Southern half of the route. We would have been in trouble had we not had the two OS Explorer maps required to cover the route in full. I am assured the route is around thirty miles though with the odd detour we ended up clocking thirty two. Lanivet is almost exactly half way and is a good restocking point, with a Cafe, pub and shop. Most of the other villages we passed had little in the way of sustenance so most of what you need should be carried from the start. All in all its an excellent route and is guaranteed to impress. While hilly its not as consistently punishing as a similar length section of the coast path would be and I would estimate 30-40% is on the road.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Heartbreak hills - Porthpean to Mevagissey

Porthpean beach
Last week, with the Plague fast approaching, I decided it was time to get familiar with the course. So after work on Thursday I headed over to Porthpean. Porthpean to Mevagissey is the first and last six miles of the out and back Plague route as well as the finish for all the other distances. I've run it before - two years ago I ran the red twenty mile course - and it is brutal. The Plague starts at midnight so the first twenty miles or more will be run under cover of darkness; I want to know where I'm going!

Memorial to Al Rowse
From Porthpean beach the coast path is gained via a steady climb uphill, which continues up a track before opening out into fields. A ludicrously steep climb follows and afterwards the first set of steps arrive. These first few climbs are just a warm up though. The coast path pops out onto a road at Trenarren; its easy to get lost here: take the left fork then left again just after a house. If you miss this you will be directed via some very clear signs through farmland before rejoining the coast path in a half mile of so. Get it right though and you will soon gain Black Head, passing a large carved monolith commemorating the life of Poet and Historian Al Rowse.

The path drops down, into woodland, and up again. More steps follow, steep ones, long ones, overgrown ones (at this time of year at least). After about three miles or so though the assault on your quads eases off. From here until Pentewan the path is hemmed in between the cliff and fenced off fields and a lot less hilly.

Looking West from Black Head
On arrival at Pentewan you skirt in front of some attractive houses, not sure but I assume they are holiday homes, then turn sharp left and steeply down into the village, passing through the square and past the Ship Inn. From here its out onto the main road briefly before rejoining the coast path at the entrance to the holiday park.

Looking back to Pentewan
If you thought you had left behind the hills then think again, more steep climbing follows over grassy fields and in the company of cattle. The views, first back to Pentewan and soon across towards Mevagissey are spectacular, so stop a minute to catch your breath as you take them in.

Towards Mevagissey
Entering Mevagissey you'll cross an open green and descend steps to the side of the harbour. Depending on the time of year you may be greeted by a far few tourists at this point. Last Thursday it was quiet though and I stopped for an ice cream and looked at the boats for a bit before heading back.

Mevagissey Harbour

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

My Achilles heel

For a couple of months now I have been putting up with some degree of Achilles Tendinosis. I have a small amout of swelling on the inside of the achilles on my right leg, its tender to touch or to massage and I get some tightness and soreness when I start running which usually eases off as I continue to exercise.

I've been managing the condition while continuing to run, averaging about 40 miles per week. By "managing" I mean largely ignoring the problem to be honest with a few attempts at massage and contrast therapy along the way.

However, since finishing the Marlborough Downs Challenge I decided to take a week or so off running to let the various niggles that have built up subside and to start attacking this tendon issue. My next race is the Plague on the 16th August. At 100k this will be the furthest I've ever travelled (I hesitate to say "run") and so I need to be fit and healthy to do so. This is therefore the last possible chance I have to rehab the Achilles and ease back for a couple of weeks if I am to allow myself time to recover suitably before August.

In the first instance, I have been religiously apply a friction massage, rubbing across the tendon, twice a day for one minute.  

Yesterday I had a physio appointment with Ian Leigh and was treated to a very painful deep tissue massage, confirming my suspicion that the cause of my Achilles problem was firmly rooted in some very tight calf muscles, mostly the Soleus. After happily digging his thumbs into every trigger point and knot he could find, Ian applied a couple of magic wands to the Achilles itself - first Ultra sound and then Laser.  Both of these treatments, through different means, aim to stimulate the tissues to promote healing.

Following this treatment I received a series of stretching exercises, aimed at lengthening the Soleus and some strengthening exercises, to build up strength in the tendon itself.

Finally I left with advice to get, and use, a foam roller - something I keep meaning to do but have never committed to.

Oh and Ian also suggested experimenting with KT tape to support the Achilles while I continue my rehab, sending me off with a length of tape to get me started. I'm going to run today without the tape and then tape up tomorrow so I can see if I feel any difference.

Today will be my first run for ten days and I can't wait. I am also keen to take recovery as seriously as any other aspect of training and was up this morning stretching before breakfast. 

Over the next few weeks I will update the site with my progress and supply a bit more detail on the various methods and what has worked for me

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

The Marlborough Downs Challenge

This weekend I ran the Marlborough Downs Challenge. I'd made it clear I wanted to run it in under six hours, which would have been a significant improvement in pace for me. For anyone wanting to avoid the rest of this post and just find out how I did I managed 6 hours 40 minutes, had a bit of a nightmare, but pulled through. If you want to hear more then read on:

Simon & I had travelled up the night before and camped just outside Marlborough, reasoning that it was just a bit too far to get up there on the morning of the race. The forecast earlier in the week had shown heavy rain; thankfully by the weekend this had been downgraded to strong winds and heavy showers. Small mercies, eh?  Well it certainly rained on Friday night, kept me awake in fact, but soon enough it was morning and the sky was clearing as we ate breakfast and wandered across town. 

The race registration was in the leisure centre and the start was to be in the grounds of Marlborough college, a private school of some repute don't you know, situated just across the road. While hanging around at registration I was surprised by a tap on the shoulder from Martin, another short-listed runner from the Trail Team weekend up in the Lakes. Turns out this was his local patch. Thinking I could follow him round I asked what time he was aiming for - "about 4:15" - err ... okaay ... well good luck with that! Having picked up our numbers we headed over to the start line. 

Entering the grounds of the college, about to get started

Before long we were off. After a steep start and a good few bottle necks we were in the open with room to move as we headed over farmland in beautiful warm sunshine. Trying to keep a reasonable pace I nipped past a few people, feeling good and enjoying being on the go. Soon we passed the first checkpoint and entered a beautiful wood filled with Bluebells. Not long after that we got our first taste of just how muddy our day was likely to be. The muddy conditions combined with a good long hill slowed us all down; the heavy clay sucked at my ankles and soon drained the energy from my legs. 

A sunny start

Running through the bluebell woods

So it was good to break free of the mud and get up on the downs. The views were incredible but so was the wind which buffeted and generally caused a nuisance for the next few miles. Soon we joined the Wansdyke, a series of medieval defensive earthworks that run for many miles and make an indelible impression on the land. The ground was undulating but thankfully dry and firm underfoot. 

View from the downs

A sky indicative of things to come

On the Wansdyke Way
Eventually we dropped down through fields and farm tracks towards the canal that would take us into DevizesIt was about now that I realised things were not going quite to plan. I'd been exchanging places for a some miles with a few runners, including one woman who had completed the course six times and seemed to be aiming for a similar time to me. This was great as I could forget about navigation for a bit and just settle into a rhythm; unfortunately as we reached the canal I found I was struggling to hold onto the pace.  Reluctantly I dropped back. As the canal wore on I felt more and more tired; this was meant to be a nice easy section of unchallenging, flat terrain but my legs just felt weak, like jelly. I was prepared to feel crap sooner or later but I wasn't even half way round - this was a real worry. Of course the worse I felt the more negative thoughts appeared in my head and, by the time I left the canal, I felt awful.

The canal

At this point Simon came past. To be honest I was surprised he'd caught me up so quickly and this only added to the downer I was in. Simon hung about for a bit as I told him how I was feeling but it was obvious I wasn't going to keep up with him and soon he was off ahead. Not long after this was one of the biggest climbs of the race. Now normally I march up hills without too much trouble but I could barely walk up this one.  I just couldn't work out what was wrong. Getting to the top of the hill my calfs promptly cramped up and this led me to think about salt intake. I necked a tablet and waddled on. Shortly I was caught by another runner - Nigel it turned out, from Bolton - suffering similar trouble to me. We chatted and matched each other's pace and this helped me take my mind off the problems I was having. Before long I started to perk up a bit and, no longer trying to keep to a particular pace, I found myself enjoying the day again. 

Heading up Cherhill in worsening weather

The weather soon took a turn for the worse. Heavy rain came from nowhere; it looked set in, but the wind was strong enough that within minutes the shower had passed and the sun was breaking through again. This pattern of sun and showers reigned throughout the rest of the day, with the rain generally returning just after I decided to take my waterproof off! We were soon joined by a few more runners (approaching from the rear!) and between us managed some of the more difficult route finding decisions of the day, enduring more muddy trails before finding ourselves at the top of Cherhill overlooking the chalk white horse. 

Climbing up Cherhill. Nigel, from Bolton, on the left
The white horse as the rain returned

At this point I was feeling a little better and soon dragged myself to the front of our little group to take my turn to lead us on. After a couple of miles we hit the A4, the route following the road for a mile or so. Someone else took the lead and we were moving well but I quickly realised I was being dragged into someone else's race at a pace I couldn't sustain. I deliberately stepped aside and let those faster runners go on, lest I find myself in trouble again. At the rear of the group I met my mate from Bolton again and we soldiered on, soon arriving at Avebury.

Stones at Avebury

From here a long gradual hill led up to the Ridgeway and before long to the final checkpoint. The last three miles wound down through a race course and would have been easy going but for the preceding thirty. Still it was all in the bag and I was happy enough. At last the finish line came and we were rewarded with a lovely mug from a local pottery - better than a T shirt I reckon! We were also entitled to a hot meal a drink and a shower. Its a shame we had to run so far to make mundane things like a hot shower seem so good. Refreshed, and only smarting slightly at Simon beating me by half an hour we headed back to the camp site via a brief but enlightening tour of the pubs of Marlborough.

My prize!

On reflection this was a great day. Things had not gone as expected but the course was challenging and led us through some beautiful countryside. The navigation had been easy enough - better than expected in fact. I had spent some time in good company, shared stories and suffered together with people I met along the way. And I had been reminded of another lesson for running ultras; that you will feel bad but if you keep pushing on then sooner or later it will pass. 

Thanks to the organisers, the marshals and all those other souls who helped to make this a great day out. Maybe I'll see you next year for another shot at that sub 6 hour finish!