Thursday 24 December 2009

Stiperstones Seasonal Saunter

Been a few weeks since my last post. I went on holiday for 5 days to New York, which was very cold indeed upon arrival, about -10 with wind chill, the pilot said. Had a nice few days sightseeing and shopping there. I won't bore you with all the photo's, just one of Times Square with a Coca Cola Santa on the board.

Got back a couple of days before the Stiperstones Seasonal Saunter having not run at all for about 10 days. I was working in London for a few days before going to New York and again in London as soon as I got back (straight off the plane!). So, as a result I couldn't pack all my running gear as I had limited room in my case.

My gf drove me to the start of the Stiperstones event, which is in Shropshire, very close to the border with Wales. The village is amusingly called Snailbeach. I'd be interested to know how that got it's name, since it's nowhere near the coast! Upon arrival we had to bring a wrapped present (max value £1) to put in the bran tub. When you finished the event, you got to dip in and get a present out. Lots of people had Santa hats on etc; all very festive. It was a very relaxed event. It wasn't timed, and you could start any time you like between 8:30 and 9:00. There was some hot drinks and snacks available to eat at the time, and friendly staff on hand to dish them out. I hadn't got my GPS with me, so I was navigating totally off the written instructions and map. Thankfully both were excellent and I only made one navigation mistake all day. As a result, I haven't got my usual OS map screen grab to show you, but I did put together this approximation of the course in Google Maps. I did have it available to call upon my iPhone in case I got very lost, but I didn't need it and I wouldn't have been able to make use of it anyway, as you will read.

We've had a cold snap in the last week or so in the UK, and it was around 0C and colder at times during the run. The course was mostly footpaths and fields. The fields were frost covered and "hard as iron" as the Christmas carol goes; especially tricky on the fields where the cows had been, as the hoof prints were all rock solid and made for a good workout for your ankles! The course starts with a long uphill, mostly on road which had turned to ice in place. In several places on the course, where we were on minor country roads, whole sections had turned to ice; 10's of metres at a time, which were tricky to cross. In a car they would have been really dangerous I imagine. My car would have had no chance on those roads. It's rear wheel drive, so there is no weight under the drive wheels, meaning it goes nowhere on even a slight incline on the ice. I took a couple of photo's after the descent from the first hill, in the early morning sunshine.

The route then headed into the small village of Habberly before heading South.

Much as I like my iPhone, it takes crappy photo's in comparison to my last Nokia and Sony phones. It's the latest iPhone model and still the camera is dreadful. It's terrible in low light, it doesn't have a flash either, and it really struggles to take sharp images anytime. Oh, and has one final fatal flaw. I have only a couple more pictures to show you because it was so cold the iPhone touch screen stopped working. The phone itself was fine, but the touch screen would not respond. Ok this isn't flaw unique to the iPhone (all touch screens), but when your "take photo" is a touch screen button, and not an actual button, you are stuffed!

I took these photos just nearing the top of the second climb. One photo looking back down behind me, the other just ahead to the summit.

It was then a jog down some of those quiet country lanes, with a little tentative walking over the icy stretches. Next was the last of 3 climbs in the first half of the course. This is where I made a mistake. Me and a chap I happened to be running near saw people on higher ground above us. Half way up the climb the instructions said to go straight through a gate. The other side of it was an electric fence. The chap convinced me that it was the wrong way and we should continue climbing to the top of the hill (pictured below) and not contour around it which is what we should have done.

I tried to take other photo's after that one, but the screen had stopped working.

We got to the top of the hill and sceptical I got out my compass. I took a bearing and said we are off course. We climbed over a barbed wire fence and headed over the where we both agreed we should be going. We started to head downhill and saw the runners who had been quite a ways behind us, all just ahead, so we knew we had lost time but at least were back on course. It was all steady downhill or flat for the next 3 miles to the first and only checkpoint at the half way stage. I suffered from a bad stomach again, and have determined this is caused by over-tight muscles in the stomach. Can't remember the name of the muscles. They are like a web over your stomach around to your back. Anyway, if they get very tight they can cause you to, well, simulate the effects of an upset stomach and need to toilet. Now I know what is causing this I can stop it happening.

I just grabbed a piece of sponge roll at the CP and left straight away, so 10 seconds later and I was back on my way. I had reached that point in 1:49 despite the navigation screw up. I headed out on my own for the next few miles, so had to navigate it all myself; there was no one to follow. The route headed up the next hill past a farm where the instructions were a little vague, and a few other caught we up as I stood still wondering which way to go. One of the others had GPS, so he quickly resolved the question. There were a group of about 6 or 7 of us all in close proximity for the next few miles. I didn't trust the GPS instructions the other chap had, and headed a different way at one stage, one for the group of them to come back and join the right path later on. You can't place all your faith in GPS, as I have learned in the past! This time, the route description turned out to be more useful than following a line on a screen.

We got fairly close to a winter partridge shoot; slightly unnerving with shotguns going off nearby, but we all escaped un-peppered!

There was an amazing house with a great view. My iPhone screen had warmed up after some emergency skin on skin treatment, but sadly I mistook the lens being fogged for the screen being fogged so the only other pictures I took all came out like this.

All fogged up.. oh well.

I'd loosely teamed up with another guy who turned out to be very interesting. So we chatted as we ran. He was a fell runner who had done the Bob Graham Round and was on his 3rd Paddy Buckley Round attempt. If you don't know what either are, find them on the UK map of my website.

The next section was a very long gradient, some of which we walked. The lack of miles in my legs (and the New York Pizza and Cheesecake!) in the last two weeks I certainly noticed, as I would usually have run it all. I was surprised that the route didn't take us over the actual Stiperstones themselves, but rather around them. This is understand is due to the very rocky ground around them. Some people did apparently go over them instead, which I wish I would have done as well.

We reached the summit of the climb by the Stiperstones and enjoyed great views all around, and into Wales. It had been a very cold but beautifully clear day; perfect winter running conditions. We couldn't have asked for a better day really. The last couple of miles were all downhill and back into Snailbeach. The route I recorded to be 19 miles, with about 3200ft of ascent. It took me 4 hours and 5 minutes, so that is around 4.5 mph average. Not too bad, but my form was definitely off a little. I won some scented (chocolate) candles in the bran tub, and sat down to the very well bite to eat. I had a jacket potato and a little chocolate cake afterwards. Thank you very much to the organisers and helpers. Another amazing value for money, and really well organised and staffed LDWA event. Other event organisers should go along and take notes!

Caught up with my friends Anne and Vaughan at finish, and probably stayed for almost an hour having a chat, while I waited for my gf to come and collect me. Her car windscreen wipers have blown a fuse as they had frozen up when she tried to use them, so she had to wait for roadside repair.

I went for a 10k run a couple of days ago, and I'll be running tonight (Christmas Eve), and I always do an early morning run on Christmas Day (I suspect it's subconscious; anticipating the calories of the Christmas dinner to come!). I hope to do an event on New Years Day as well.

Happy Christmas everyone!

Tuesday 8 December 2009

Rudolph's Romp

This week I did my 8 mile run back from work on Wednesday, but suffered some ITB pain on my right leg. This has been coming on for a few weeks, but is still not yet acute. Just the time to catch it. I booked an impromptu sports massage. I am fortunate that there is a physio as well as separate sports masseur that visit my work a couple of times a week, and the sports masseur had a spare slot the following day. I woke up 30 mins late, which I took to be a signal from my body, so I could only do a 5 mile route into work and not the planned 8 mile route. This was probably for the best as my ITB had a unexpected break. The sports masseur turned out to be pretty good, and focussed on the two areas I highlighted. My right ITB and my left calf. These are my two problem areas as I increase my mileage to around 50 miles or more a week. He gave me a few exercises as well. That evening I did my usual gym session with no problems.

On Saturday I got up at 5:45am and drove to Brantingham, near Hull. It was a fine sunny December day, perfect conditions. I got there at 8am, half an hour before the Rudolph’s Romp event was due to start. I hadn’t anticipated how many people would be taking part (over 400). I ended up being directed to park over a mile from the event centre at the far end of a road, where everyone was parked in a line, bumper to bumper. It was only as I got near the building I remembered I had forgotten my camera, so have miserably failed in my photo blogging in this post. Sorry.

Registration took a while; queuing for about 15 minutes, as they good enough to accept even those who just turned up on the day (I pre-registered), but as a result this held things up a little and the race started 15 minutes late. I think they said they will have to restrict entries next year, such is the popularity of the event now. I have no idea how many runners made up that 400, but I suspect well over half. I couldn’t really hear what the starter was saying, he needs a bigger megaphone! I had a bit of an upset stomach I noted before the race, but hoped it would go away. I also could have made a better shoe choice than my fell shoes. I have no idea why I picked them up in the morning. I guess it was early and I was tired. My knees suffered on some extended road and track sections, as there is no cushioning to speak of on the shoes. Still, I don’t think it affected my pace a great deal, just made my knees sore.

The route begins with a flat first mile, and then a couple of hills before mile 4. There are 10 checkpoints in total on the course, which is a lot more than most events. Two of them were self-clip CP’s, and the rest were a mixture of manned clip and refreshment/water stops, which were all staffed by friendly and helpful people, all giving their time to the event which raises funds for an air ambulance and mountain rescue team. They emailed after the event to say over £2000 was raised, which is a great achievement. The route from 4 to 11 miles was more or less flat; some on minor roads, and some on footpath and forestry tracks. Around mile 8 I started to feel a little unwell; my stomach. I knew I needed the toilet and it wasn’t going to be pleasant! I tried to ignore it, even more so because all of the CP’s were outdoors, so no actual toilets to be had. After the CP at mile 11, the next 5 miles of the course is steadily uphill. I felt a little better during this section, and continued to run it all. As I got to the top of the hill around mile 16 or 17, I started to feel unwell again, to the extent that I walked a couple of hundred yards as I went downhill! You know you are not right when you have to walk downhill! This was just the last couple of hundred yards before a checkpoint. I didn’t stop at any of the CP’s all day, just clipped in and left. I was fuelling myself on food and drink that I carried. I had opted to carry my 32l rucksack, the one that I will be using in the Atacama Crossing, but only carried about 3kg of weight. So I had some baby rice as food and some electrolyte, as well as waterproofs and the other recommended kit.

I took a couple of biscuits from the CP, and walked out for 2 minutes whilst I ate them. I started running again but a little slower, feeling pretty rough now. I seemed to keep overtaking the same group of people who definitely knew the course better than me. In fact I wasn’t navigating as such, I was just following various people in front who were reading from the route description. I could always keep one or two people in sigh to follow, which was useful. There was another climb after that CP and then what would have been a welcome descent through a forest. My stomach was killing me by now at around mile 19, and so I had no option but to head a ways off the course, duck behind a bush and attend to it. It wasn’t pleasant, I won’t go into details! 5 mins later and I rejoined the course, sucked down a lot of juice and ate the rest of my food. Would you believe it, half a mile later I felt fine. So, I had been putting going to the toilet off for 19 miles and suffering as a result, when I should have just bitten the bullet and gone early, and completed the course quicker. Still, you live and learn. The last few miles I completed much quicker. I wasn’t tired and followed a couple of people into the finish striding out nicely in the last mile or so, winding up towards the finish. There was food and drink at the end, but I had to get home as soon as possible to took the long walk back to the car (felt longer on the way back of course), and drove the 2 hours home.

The route was a fraction over 24 miles, with around 2400ft of ascent. I completed it in 4hrs 38 mins, which is 5.1 mph. I was happy with that time, but aware that if I had felt OK from the start I would have done quite a bit better. Still, it was a useful run, some quality miles running with my pack, albeit much lighter than the one I will carry in the desert in March. The event was very enjoyable, and well organised, as are pretty much all LDWA events I have taken part in.
This is now my recovery week, for more reasons than one, which I will tell you about in the next post!

Have a good week!

Tuesday 1 December 2009

Colder Miles

This week saw an increase in my distances, and the highest weekly mileage total (for a week where I am not taking part in an event). On Wednesday night I ran home from work, doing 8.5 miles in the process. The following morning I ran back in to work running just over 8 miles. The distance door to door is only 5 miles, so I now have to get very creative around route planning. I work-in wide arcs or laps of parks to bring the mileage up to the required distance. Because I had to move my runs forward a day, running into work on Thursday instead of Wednesday, I didn’t then run again on Thursday evening. I would normally do a 3 mile flat-out speed run, but instead I just did an hour in the gym. I will pick up these speed-work sessions after Christmas. I am a little wary of doing too much speed work, too soon, at this stage. I think the last 6 weeks before the race will be the ideal time to measure my time, and bring it down week by week.

On Saturday I did a 14.5 mile trail run, my longest non-stop distance for some time. Well, I say non stop, I should have done 14 miles but got lost in a woods; I turned left instead of right. I had not run this area for quite a while, and just took a wrong turn. The path soon vanished and I was left trudging through undergrowth, and slashed and cut by thorns. I picked up a few slashes to the backs of my calves as penalty for my failure to remember the route. I ran for quarter of a mile through very rough woodland, before I realised my mistake, by then up to my waist in thorny plants and near the bottom of a small valley. I knew I was way off course when I heard the traffic from the M6 motorway in the distance, and straight away realised I was headed the wrong way. So, I stopped for a minute or two, to get my bearings, then realised where I went wrong, turned on my heels and headed back up. This time I took the right fork in the path. That little detour probably cost me about 10 minutes. After that I was back on track and got back home. So, 14.5 miles covered with 1500ft of ascent. 90% of it was off road, with more than 50% in fields and woodland. It has been a wet couple of weeks in the UK, with some parts flooded, so the ground was waterlogged everywhere. I was ankle deep in mud for extended parts of the trail, and as a result ended up minus a toenail I noticed after my lovely warming shower. Left me wondering, do we really need toenails? They are just an inconvenience I think!

On Sunday I did an unplanned run in the Peak District with a friend. I was showing him some navigation skills too. So we did a 7 mile run with around 1000ft of ascent in The Roaches area, near Leek, Staffordshire. It was a cold, but clear day, with great views all around. I took a few photos which you can see below.

The rocky paths provide challenging running as your brain is working as fast as your feet to ensure you stay upright and don’t twist an ankle. All in all it was an enjoyable couple of hours.

So around 38 miles covered this week. Next week I am taking part in Rudolph’s Romp; an LDWA event open to runners. The event is advertised as 23 miles, but I entered the route into Memory Map and get it to a little over 24 miles. It looks to only have around 2400ft of ascent over the whole course, which isn’t that much at all. It does have a couple of very steep hills by the looks of the hill profile though. I guess we’ll see for certain next week! The event takes place in Yorkshire, not too far from Kingston upon Hull, so it’s a couple of hours drive from my home.

The weather has become noticeably colder in the last week, with a ground frost some mornings, and the familiar Winter sound of people scraping the ice off their windscreens. I am expecting it to be pretty cold next weekend, which is fine, but I will keep my fingers crossed that it stays dry.

I hope your training is going well, especially if you are doing the Atacama Crossing in March too. Always nice to hear from you, thanks for the emails.

Have a good week!