Thursday 20 December 2012

I wanna see the sunshine after the rain

 So an update from the last month.  As you know I’ve been long-term injured with SI joint dysfunction.  Essentially I can run about 10 miles before SI joint pain, and immobility puts so much wear on the rest of the muscles in the area, and my hamstrings that I my stride length shortens to a little wobble and eventually I stop and can’t run any further. 

I probably caused this problem myself by effectively declaring that I would do very little in 2012.  I think the core strength and flexibility I had built up in 2011 gradually faded away and left me all but crippled, in ultra terms.  So, unable to run, I’ve been very miserable.  These two combined meant that my relationship has suffered as I could not do the weeks we like to do together. I always said I would rehab after Dusk til Dawn which I started to do.  Relationship wise, I’m not going into any further details on here, but I’ve had a really bad few weeks.  Unfortunately in that time my rehab has started to bear fruit and I appear to be running well over short distances, and my speed has improved quite a lot even in the last week.  If I would have been better a little sooner, then I may not be in the same lonesome position I am now. 

So anyway, I have been doing Pilates, Yoga and a circuit training class for about 6 weeks.  This combined with a daily routine of SI joint dysfunction exercises and stretches appears to have worked, so far.  Last weekend I went down to see my friends Anne and Vaughan, with whom I met on La Trans Aq in 2007, and have remained friends with ever since.  We ran a 17.5 mile trail circuit in Warwickshire, from Tanworth in Arden.  It was a route they had done on a night race a few weeks previous, where barely anyone was able to reach the start due to flooding, and only 8 people finishes the course anyway.  On the night, half the course has a raging torrent and they were wading up to their thighs in water quite often!

The ground had certainly improved, but as you can imagine with all the recent rain, it was still very wet for the whole course, still flooded in places, and very muddy and slow going throughout.  The run, walk, stumble, wade nature of the course meant that it suited my current rehab as 17.5 miles is the longest I have run for over 6 months.  My SI joint had more or less had enough by the end but I had got through it and it was a big improvement.  We had a lovely pub meal afterwards, and it was great to catch up with both of them.

I have been doing a weekly 10k through the fields and woods by my house for the last 3 weeks.  There is 1000ft of ascent and countless stiles and “rooty” woodland, and a few floods to get through.  Anyway, I did it in 58:37 3 weeks ago, 57:02 2 weeks ago, and 53:04.  A 4 minute improvement in one week over 6 miles in immense, as I am sure you realise.  I have been doing some speedwork intervals, and 3 mile flat out speedwork, which has really made that difference to my fitness.

This weekend I face a longer distance test.  It’s the Wem Winter Wonderland, a Shropshire based event that I do every year.  It’s getting on for 21.5 miles, somewhat longer than the advertised 20.  I figure that it’s a Christmas bonus!  It is relatively flat, but that is more likely to be a curse given all the rain this week, and that it is forecast rain for the rest of the week and on the day.  So, it could very well be a 21 mile wade over muddy fields.  Still a few of my friends are doing the race, so it will be good to catch up with them afterwards.  I’m looking forward to it, despite the weather.  I’ve run in a lot worse!

Over Christmas I will doubtless get a few long distance runs in, and I’d like to do some hill walking too.  In January I plan to do That’s Lyth on the 27th, which I have done twice before, though it was years ago.  I’ve put together a rehab plan which I hope will mean I can participate in La Trans Aq in June.  There should be no reason why not, as long as I stay diligent with the exercise regime.   

I am having the Beyond Marathon website redeveloped at the moment, and that should launch at the end of January.  Look forward to showing that off to you.  Planning on running several ultra events in 2013, those details will be on the website when it launches.  For now I am concentrating on getting my life, and running (which seem symbiotically linked) back on track.  2013 will be a better year, I know it.

Merry Christmas

p.s title is a relatively obscure 90s dance track.  Answers on a postcard, or comments.

Friday 23 November 2012

Dusk til Dawn 2012

Dusk 'til Dawn took place 3 weeks ago. It was my first event as an organiser.  Obviously I have been a competitor in a lot of races over the years, in many countries, and those experiences have given me what I hope was a keen insight into what makes a good race.  Couple that with owning the Beyond Marathon website, and having a fairly scary knowledge of the hundreds of worldwide ultras and I can cherry pick elements from one race or another to produce my own race that I hoped would have a wide appeal.

So, I had an idea for Dusk 'til Dawn but it was given a purpose when Wendy my girlfriend was diagnosed with Malignant Melanoma, which is the most dangerous form of skin cancer.  Wendy's diagnosis was all the more shocking because she avoids the sun all the time anyway.  It was very likely overexposure to the sun as a child that caused her melanona.  Her melanoma was sufficiently large (1.8mm deep) for doctors to effectively give her 50/50 for survival.  She had her sentinel lymph nodes removal, and wide local excision, which means they remove a large amount of skin from around the melanoma in an effort to stop the spread.  They also removed the three closest lymph nodes to the primary cancer, which is the first place that the cancer spreads too.  Melanoma spreads rapidly, and once in the lymph nodes, the cancer is very difficult to treat.  Secondary cancer's form in the lungs, brain or other organs and many patients die within 1-2 years.  After the first operation, she was left with three missing lymph nodes which has resulted into lymphodaema (swelling) of her right arm.  That's something she will always have to put up with.  She has a 'shark bite'; a chunk of her upper arm missing where the excision took place.  Her lymph node biopsy came back negative, which was a huge relief.  However, every 3 months (for 10 years) she has to go back to the hospital for more checks to see if the cancer has returned.  She then had a subsequent operation to remove more lymph nodes after the doctors found another lump.  This also came back negative.  She is now close to 2 years in remission, but we both still have the 3 monthly worry when the check up time comes around.  Maybe this will get easier in time, but I doubt it for the time being.

Anyway, she has had great support from her Macmillan cancer nurse, so I thought we could use the Dusk 'til Dawn event as a fundraiser for Macmillan Cancer Suport, to raise awareness of skin cancer.  There is no sun at night to burn you, what better time to run a 14 hour race?
So, that being the premise for the race, add to it a few other twists and turns; a chasing 'Grim Sweeper', and the clocks going back that night to give the participants an hour extra before dawn.  So, the ideas came together and the event website was created by me.  I like planning and I like attention to detail.  One element of my day job involves business continuity planning and disaster recovery.  Plan for the worst and hope for the best basically.  My main aim was to send out up to 90 participants out at night, on a very challenging Peak District course, and return them all safely.  With that in mind I wrote the race description, and a FAQ page that I hoped would give everyone all the information they might need to participate.  I created electronic maps and GPS files, and then also organised recces of the course each month from June to September where me or Wendy led participants around sections.

Next was finding checkpoint (CP) volunteers; people who I knew would take good care of the participants.  That wasn't too hard because I know some great people!
First on board was Mike Perry , a Stoke on Trent Physiotherapist.  Mike has first aid training and is also trained is search and rescue.  A perfect choice really!  Mike was a very enthusiastic volunteer and also a great sports masseur and physio!  Next we had our friends from Shropshire Andy and Yvette.  Andy and Yvette are both excellent fell runners.  They have started a business with their two friends Nick and Karen.  Their business is Farafoot - Bushcraft, Wild therapy and Wild Running.  A fabulous idea which I hope will be very successful.  They are all lovely people who have a good insight into the ultra and fell running world and know how to look after people in the wild outdoors too!  It was decided that they would sponsor and staff CP2 at Earl Sterndale School.  Earl Sterndale School kindly opened their doors to us on a cold Saturday night and were fantastic hosts. 

Checkpoint 4 was another obvious choice.  CP4 was near Cracken Edge which is a high and cold place to be on an October night.  It was near the top of a steep hill, and a 4x4 vehicle would be required to pull up into the space by the stile.  Wendy's friends Debbie and Aaron.  Aaron was in the RAF and has had a lot of involvement in logistical planning.  He also had army medical training too.  As soon as Aaron and Debbie agreed to take on CP4 we knew that it would run like clockwork to the last detail, and it did.
That left CP1 and CP3.  I'm a bit of a fan of spreadsheets and formulas, so I had calculated that because of the race deadlines, we could use the same staff for CP1 and CP3.  Who else did I know with a large 4x4?  My father.  Now, he had never operated a CP before, but he was very enthusiastic and his friend Tony was a lover of the outdoors, so the two of them stepped up to the plate.

Now, I needed to fill the role of the Grim Sweeper, the mysterious figure who would chase down the participants during the night, as well as provide a safety net to scoop up lost, injured or struggling competitors.  50 miles is a long way for 1 person to sweep and to maintain the minimum required speed of 3.5 mph.  So, I decided to split the role between 3 people.  Clive Hevey, a friend of mine, who I met when back in 2005 when I was his personal training client.  Clive knows the Peak District better than I do, and he is a Bob Graham Round finisher.  Clive would be sweeper number 1, from the start to mile 16.  Then Sweeper number 2 would be Andy from Farafoot, who I have already mentioned.  Andy, far too keen as he was, didn't stop after his stint as sweeper, he carried on and joined Sweeper number 3 for his leg.  Sweeper number 3 was James Love.  I have done a fair few events abroad with James; a couple of deserts and Nepal in 2011.  James is a great guy and very reliable.  So the sweeper team was assembled.
Finally, Wendy's sister Amy and her husband Steve.  Amy is another person you can rely on completely.  She would act as road marshal and event photographer, as well as a million other tasks back at HQ; boiling water, preparing food etc.  It's a long list!  Steve would be an extra vehicle, in addition to mine, to be able to react to situations on the course and head out to collect people if necessary.  Steve and Amy did a great job on the night.

Two late additions to the team were Daven and James, two A&E junior doctors from Bournemouth.  Both are half way through a year out from their medical training to get experience in wilderness medicine.  They have both recently returned from several months in Nepal, and are soon to head to Costa Rica for a few months.  They were keen to get involved and offered their support, which I was only too happy to accept.  They were valued members of the team, and looked after a few competitors who returned a little worse for wear, but otherwise ok.
I had decided I needed a venue that offered accommodation.  I had read how British Explorer Ranulph Fiennes had taken part in the overnight High Peak marathon and subsequently fallen asleep at the wheel and crashed into another vehicle.  I'm safety conscious and decided I had to offer accommodation too.  People would come from a long way away to take part, and sending them straight home would be dangerous.  I initially developed a route and approached Gradbach Youth Hostel.  However, their communication wasn't that great, they already had a group booking for one of their buildings and parking was a major problem there.  So, then I approached Castleton who it transpired were moving their location, from the village centre.  They were  in the final throes of refurbishing a Victorian Gothic Mansion, Losehill Hall as the new Castleton Youth Hostel.  We saw the venue, it was perfect.  The image fitted in with the slightly spooky theme too!

I don't think the competitors ever really got time to look around and appreciate the building, it's Lounge and Library etc.  It's a fabulous place and the staff have been fantastic.  It's possibly the best Youth Hostel that I've stayed in.  I decided to use £5 of everyone's £25 entry fee for a Youth Hostel supplied cooked breakfast.  The venue kindly agreed to supply breakfast 2 hours earlier than normal, from 5:30am.  I think the breakfast was well received by all accounts.

As a result of the change in venue, I redesigned some of the route.  I have done a lot of events in the Peak District, as well as a lot of training, so I already knew some key locations that I wanted on the Route.  I wanted the Mam Tor to Losehill Ridge, Cave Dale, Shining Tor, Cracken Edge and the Pennine Bridleway.  Joining the dots between them was challenging.  I changed my mind dozens of times.  Me and Wendy went out and recced many routes, deciding if it would be feasible to navigate them quickly during the night.  I had wanted to use the area around Chrome Hill, South West of what was CP2, but it was simply too difficult to navigate; it's a maze of criss-crossing footpaths. I decided that a Dove Head and Cheeks Hill approach to Axe Edge moor was too remote.  If the weather was bad, or anyone got lost then getting people quickly and safely out of the area would be a major concern.  So, they were out.  The key to a good route is to make it interesting, challenging but also to have a good road network between CPs to enable quick extraction of a participant in the event of a problem.  I also had to factor in disturbing people in houses and farms all night, as participants came through.  So, balancing all of these in the air we finally settled on a route which changed very little in the subsequent months.  We wrote to the landowners and took on board their concerns for closing gates, and other than that encountered no resistance to the route.
Clearly there is a lot more than went into the organisation of the event, sourcing maps, food, t-shirts, reflective tape, glow sticks, hot and cold drink containers, the wristbands, tokens and a hundred more things.  We had set a moderate price with the aim of trying to achieve a profit for Macmillan Cancer Support.  By the time you take away the breakfast, OS maps and T-Shirts etc, you are already looking at around £15 spent for the £25 entry fee.  Items such as the wristbands, tally cards, finish line banner, and the accommodation for the volunteers was paid for by me, rather than the race.  People also donated food, and all of the volunteers have given up their free time, petrol, and all their own contributions of kit, other resources, food and drink.  Call it our contribution, but this will mean that the amount we raise for Macmillan is better than it would be, had we deducted all expenses.  So, there is a lot that went on in the background that will take too long to explain, and you won't find that interesting.  It all got done, that's all you need to know.

So, I somewhat nervously advertised the race, unsure if I would even attract 1 person, let alone 90, which I had decided was the limit.  We had 45 places for accommodation and we would match that with places for race place only.  Entries opened and the first one came in, soon after, followed by the second, third.  The entries kept coming in and 4 days later all race only entries had sold out.  There was a lot of chatter on the forums and on Facebook, quite a buzz about the race, it seemed to be capturing everyone's imagination.  The places with accommodation filled up a couple of weeks after that.  The event was advertised 6 months in advance, and of course over that period people got injured, booked holidays, weddings and all manner of things which meant cancellations.  We refunded everyone in full up to 1 month before the event (2 months for accommodation fee, which we had to settle in advance).  In total, almost 60 people withdrew, but testament to the popularity of the event, all of them were replaced from the waitlist!
I decided to organise recces of the route each month from June to September.  Two days each month I would lead up to 8 people around 12-15 mile sections of the course.  It was great to meet them all, and they all benefits from learning parts of the course.  I sent out a monthly newsletter to keep people updates with the latest course information and news.  I produced electronic maps of the course, and GPS files for Garmin users.  I decided to provide laminated 50k OS maps to all entrants, which I had a printer produce for the event, and was granted a free licence from OS.  I also decided to get some glow in the dark silicon wristbands for each participant, which had their race number as well as Dusk 'til Dawn embossed on them. The finish line banner was ordered and delivered.  The asked the competitors what food they would like at CPs via an online poll, and did the final shopping a few days before the race.  We had quite a few people pull out of the race just a few days before (about 5 or 6), with late injuries, or possibly fear of the Grim Sweeper!

Me and Wendy took the day off work on the Friday, the day before the race, and headed out onto the course armed with rolls of highly reflective tape.  We had stated that we would only tape the tricky bits, but we taped a great deal more, and as a result the route was very well marked, though a map would still be required.  We spent the entire day on Friday taping, and still had to get up at 7am on race day and tape the last few miles.  We nervously eyed the weather.  It would be unseasonably cold, 7C lower than usual, and would very likely rain in the middle of the night, though the day and early evening would be sunny and clear.

Race day was a blur, we finished taping by 11am, and headed back to Losehill Hall to begin preparations.  Some participants had already arrived, and some I (or the volunteers) would collect from Hope train station.  I spoke to as many people as I could get around, but still didn't manage to speak to everyone.  I had emailed all of them over the months, so it was nice to put faces to names.  One competitor had flown in with his family from Bahrain, we had 5 from the USA, and also had many participants from the armed forces who had been on recent tours of the middle east, and had trained within military camps on 300m tracks.  Amazing stuff.  Local club the Goyt Valley Striders had turned out in force and were in all customer made high vis bone tshirts "Goyt Valley Stranglers".  All getting into the spirit, of what I hope would be a fun event!
The CP staff arrived for their briefing, which Wendy did.  Some of them started to prepare some of the cooked food, and heat up the water.  At 3:30 registrations opened and I along with the CP staff helped to register everyone.  I had decided to put them through a full kit check, which was very wise, given the weather.  We ticked off all of their items and handed them a race bag with their map, wristband, a glowstick which was tied to their pack, 4 x wooden tokens to drop at set points on the course and got everyone checked in.  We just about got everyone checked in and registered in time for 4:45pm.

At 4:45 I held a participant briefing in the conference room, which has a projector and a 10ft high screen.  I think this was something new for most participants, but something I always planned to do to give participants a walk through of the course and hazards.
I introduced out international participants, thanks our armed forces, and explained that we were all here because of Malignant Melanoma.  Plenty of spontaneous applause which was really nice.  Then, I set to work taking them through a 20 page PowerPoint presentation, punctuated with maps, and pictures to help them navigate. 

 It was a lot of information to take in, but from the feedback it was very well recived and I hope entertaining.  We also gave away a £100 1600 lumen headtorch in a prize draw from race Sponsor, who had come on board quite late. 

Finally at the end of the presentation I introduced them to.... "The Grim Sweeper", who would be chasing them over the course.

I must say that we swapped the 5ft high vintage hay scythe (which I had spent about 8 hours restoring!)  for a smaller lightweight version when Clive set off.  I hadn't fancied bailing Clive out of jail in Buxton for wielding a deadly weapon during the night, so I thought that was wise. The lightweight scythe he carried had a GPS attached, which enabled us and anyone else to track the Grim Sweeper over the course.  The presentation finished just a few minutes over time and we then headed out on the 5 minute walk to the startline.  The Grim Sweeper lined up alongside them.

In the meantime Wendy and James (Grim Sweeper 3) were heading out to put some of the glowsticks and token collection buckets out.

I had everyone snap their glowsticks to light them, spark up their head torches, and I started the race at exactly 17:42, sunset.  The night started clear and moonlit and the view up to the hill was amazing.  I'm told the participants really thought so too.

I'd sent out a couple of marshals for the first mile to keep gates open to prevent bottlebecks.
I headed back to the YHA building to gather things I would need for the nights initial Road Trip.  I then drove to Hope to act as the first Road Marshal.  It was there that I could see a snake of white lights coming down Lose Hill, it looked pretty magical!

I had actually arrived a couple of minutes too late to catch the leaders, but assisted everyone else over the road and directed them to the footpath to Castleton.  Clive, Grim Sweeper 1, eventually arrived.  I relived him of the token bucket, and of the reflective tape he had collected during his sweep, and then got in the car to head towards outdoor CP1, which I have seen by one participant described as "landing strip".  We had sets of arnage lights on the road, and several vehicles.  By the time I got there, CP1 was in full swing with my father, Tony and Andy all very busy, with the first 10 or 20 already through.  I check it was all running ok, and then set off to head for some locations I would place glow sticks.  I placed some more tape at a junction where two of our female competitors were stopped wondering which way to go.  I put then on track and added more tape.  I got a call a few minutes later from a competitor who has in a pub in Peak Forest.  Both of his head torches had failed and he had got lost.  I turned the car round and picked him up.  I did offer to lend him my torch but he decided not to carry on, though was in high spirits and chatted to the organisers into the night!  I dropped him at CP1 so they could take him back, and then headed to Millers Dale.  I put a few glowsticks to guide people over the road, and across a footbridge and up a climb called Priestcliffe.   It is a really stiff climb with a handrail half way up.  About half way up I had put a notice which said "Well done, almost at the top!", then a few metres later another one saying "Just Kidding!".  That is my sense of humour for you.  I drove around and added more glowsticks at various points, acted as a temporary road marshal for one of our volunteers who was helping out at CP1 and running late too.  All the time I was relaying messages between all CP's about people who had retired, so I was a very busy boy.

I went to CP2 which was at Earl Sterndale school.  They had kindly allowed us to use their school and opened it up from 8pm to 11:30pm.  The headmaster and one of the school administrators were both there.  Sadly for the few minutes I was there, I somehow managed not to see them, but I did phone up to say thank you the week after.  CP2 had some hot water, hot chocolate, tea and coffee, and soup, bread and a whole host of other food, just like the other CPs.  Race leader Charlie Sharpe got to the CP 15 minutes before I estimated the fastest person would arrive, but I had the CP setup about half an hour before that as a safety net luckily! nevertheless he still had to tap on the window as they had the door shut!

I set off again, added more glowsticks nearby, and eventually caught up with Charlie Sharpe by Buxton Speedway.  He himself was speeding.  I pulled up alongside and told him I was having to open all the rest of the CPs early because of him!  He looked at his GPS watch and had just clocked a couple of 6 minute miles, 22 miles into the 50 miler.  Unbelievable!  I drove on, finally ahead of the whole field, added more glowsticks and then headed up to CP3 location at the Cat and Fiddle pub.  It would be at least 30 minutes before Charlie would arrive, and texted that to CP3 staff Eddie (father) and Tony.  I saw my fathers Range Rover outside CP3, so I was happy that it would be setup well in advance.  I parked up nearby, grabbed the bucket and associated red glowstick which would be used for the 2nd token drop.  I looked at the car temperature gauge, -2, very cold but not rain just yet (23:00).
I ran a mile and half (3 mile round trip) up to the top of the highest point on the course Shining Tor, and placed the token drop, then ran back down to the car and drive back to the Cat and Fiddle with about 2 minutes to spare before Charlie arrived. Dad and Tony had been joined by a local guy called Colin who had phoned me up and offered his help.  He knew several runners, and so he got to see them as well as help out.

Despite the cold weather, Charlie was still wearing shorts and T-shirt, and would do so all night!  He had a head torch and a waist level torch too.  He didn't stop for long.  I helped him refill his water bottles, he had a few bits of food and then ran on.  2 mins later Tony noticed he had left his race map behind.  With the best will in the world, there was no way I was going to be able to run after him and catch him, especially not with with 2 mins headstart!  The nest place I could drive to was Pym Chair car park, but it's a knarly slow road to get there.  Colin suggested driving down the Goyt Valley.  Technically it is a one way road, but there was virtually no chance of meeting any traffic at that time of night, so I did just that and following 20 mins trip, left Charlie's map attached to a glow stick on the moors, on the route near Pym Chair.  I texted his phone to tell him so and then headed back to the HQ.
I got about an hour indoors, relaying messages back and forth, and then had to go back out to collect some people who had retired at CP3.  The weather was now cold and it was raining.  Add to that the wind chill up there and it was very cold.  We would have used an out-house up there if we had know that other events use it!  About 7 people retired at CP3, a couple at CP1, a couple at CP2, and one at a vehicle marshal point where the doctors were between CP2 and CP3.  We transported them all back. Due to worsening weather, I had also gave instruction to CP3 and CP4 to offer the participants the option to use emergency "red routes" I had marked on the map, which would avoid high ground. 

I got back to the HQ, with about an hour to spare before I got a call from Charlie to say he was nearing the finish.  We were already prepared having calculated his speed from previous CPs.  He came running up the drive and crossed the finish line in 8 hours and 57 minutes.  Very impressive! 

Wendy's sister was the event photographer, and a gallantly stood in the freezing rain and took finishers photos all night.  I welcomed everyone, make them some tea and offered them some food to tide them over until breakfast.  In total 51 people made it back within the 14 hours and 6 minutes time limit.  I had to head out a couple more times to collect people who had retired or who the Grim Sweeper had caught up and retired for their own safety.  One chap had got very cold, but CP4 had been setup by Aaron and Debbie, and had an arctic tent, a bed and had arctic sleeping bags and coats as well as a heater! 

He was put promptly in the bag, and later I collected him along with another participant.  I took them both back and had the doctors check him over.  His fingers were very cold, but he was otherwise OK.  I followed up with a few participants via email to check how they were getting one later in the week.  All ok, it appears!

The weather further deteriorated, to the point where I had to stop people using the hillls in the last 5 miles, and send them along the road.  Tales from early finishers were grim.  Freezing cold, heavy rain, sleet, and zero visibility.  I stand by the decision to send them along the road, and I don't think anyone would disagree.  Although we didn't want to pull anyone off the course in the last 10 miles, ultimately the Sweeper team at that stage (Wendy, Andy and James) had caught quite a few more up and they were told they would be retired at the final vehicle marshal point at mile 45.  No one complained as the weather was truly horrible.  It was vile to drive in, let alone run in!  Everyone who was retired at mile 45 I credited with a technical finish award (Daylight finish).
We checked the finish sheet and cross referenced with the last vehicle marshal, and there was one person missing in the last 5 miles.  I had stopped as  I had drove past him on the road route back, and checked he was ok.  He had been fine, and so I was puzzled about how he had got lost?  Nevertheless, time ticked by and he didn't appear.  I called him mobile number, no signal.  We were worried and contacted his wife to ask her to keep trying to contact him, whilst we went out and looked.  We set a 15 minute timer going to call mountain rescue (though we last saw him on the road!) and then drove off back along the route.  We had barely gone half a mile when there he was running through Castleton.  He had missed a turn in the fog and added about 8 miles onto the 50 mile route!!!  So, we drove back, and let him run on, and got him in his finishers photo at the end.

So, we had got everyone back safe and sound.  That was my primary goal.
I had arranged for a full English breakfast, plus cereals and toast etc for everyone.  It had cost £5 a head but was very well received.  Everyone had their fantastic technical fabric T-Shirts which were made for us by ACWorkwear.

I eventually sat down and had a little breakfast.  I was hungry and dehydrated, and well, really tired.  Here is James, Charlie, Me and a few participants who had not yet gone to bed!
It was both enjoyable and stressful.  Slowly everyone went off to bed or home, and I went and cleaned up the YHA kitchen and collected up the banners, and everything we had taken.  I wouldn't get to sleep after all.   It took me most of the day, and I didn't leave until about 4pm by which time I was utterly destroyed.  Driving home I was more tired than I can remember.  Window wide open, freezing cold as it was, radio on etc.   We got home at 6pm, I had been up for 36 hours.  Pretty soon collapsed into bed.  I went out like a light for 13 hours straight.  The best sleep I have had in living memory.
I spent the next week recovering, doing admin, returning lost property, paying bills and eventually calculating we had raised £1100 for Macmillan.  Well done everyone!

I was literally flooded with great feedback from the event.  Just read down the Facebook timeline here to see for yourself!  To know that I had organised something, which had been so well received was gratifying.  It was all down to the the help of Wendy and the volunteers who had given their time and money too.  Good planning was part of it, but how the participants were treated at the CPs was what made is special.  There were 17 in total.  We need a few more for a silky smooth operation, which would allow me(or someone) to stay at HQ and manage all of the comms centrally. A we need a few more vehicles on standby to collect people who retire.  We coped fine, but better safe than sorry.

I was already being asked about next year.  I wasn't sure going into the event if it would be repeated, but it was such a resounding success despite the unseasonal cold weather that I have decided to run it again and yet again I intend to run it for charity.  However, I can't continue to subsidise it so heavily with my own money.  I spent £500 - £1000 I think, not quite sure exactly.  So, if I am to run Dusk til Dawn next year in October, then I propose to run other events in the year which will run for profit, but effectively allow me to subsidise Dusk til Dawn and still allow it to make a hefty donation to Macmillan Cancer Support charity.
Lot of people said they would love to run the course in the day, so in 2013 the proposal is:
  • May 18th - Dusk til Dawn: Sunlight.  Same course in reverse, but racing until sunset!
  • October 26/27th - Dusk til Dawn.  Same as this year, sunset til sunrise! 
Both events will feature the Grim Sweeper!

Alongside that in 2013 I have a new race "The 12 Labours of Hercules", which will be almost 80 miles, and have different entry categories:
  • Solo participants  - Hercules / Hera
  • Pairs - Titans
  • Argonauts - teams
It is a 24 hour race with 17,000ft of ascent.  Participants will have to visit 12 locations in the Peak District, and in some cases return items or perform tasks when they get there.  The one and only location that I will reveal in advance (because it is so cool!) is that by arrangement with the owners, is that our Hades underworld checkpoint will be in a well known Cave.

The buzz about the new race is already being felt, and I am being asked for advance entry!  Between now and Christmas my entire Beyond Marathon website is being redeveloped, and will get a fresh new look, and be compatible with mobile devices too.  The website will continue to feature hundreds (currently over 700) ultras all of the world, as well as my own events of course. I have a lot of great ideas for races. 

For 2014 keep your eyes open for this one.

So, there's plenty in the pipeline. Alongside all of that I have a winter of strength training and rehabilitation ahead of me to sort out my SI join problems which have effectively stopped me running more than 15 miles very easily in the last 6 months.  I've done a month of yoga so far, I start Pilates next week and am back in the gym too.  Not planning on doing much running until the new year, just focusing on core and lengthening my hamstrings and trying to release my back.  recent x-ray shows it tilted and twisted, so I have work to do.  I'm having a biomachanical analysis with Mark Hines on Dec 2nd in London.  Mark is a well known runner and author.  He's researching for his PHD and he needs lower back pain sufferrers as test subjects (How fortunate!).  Assuming all of that works out I can also begin my 2013 assault on La Trans Aq (May/June), and RacingThePlanet Iceland in August.  I've been performing well in multi-day ultras, so I'm keen to keep up the record.  I will check in more often now I have more time, and keep you all posted on my event organising and my own running.

Have a good week!

Saturday 6 October 2012

Crazy busy and a welded sacroiliac joint

Sorry, I know it's been a couple of months since I posted.  It's a combination of things.

I've started a new job, which for 3 days a week means I have a 2 hour commute each way.  So I get up at 6am, and cycle on a rented folding bike, to the local train station.  I get a train for 1 hour and 15 mins, then a 2 mile cycle to the office.  I get there at 08:40am.  I then do the same in reverse and get home about 7pm each night, if the train is on time.  I then cook, and eat, and perhaps get an hour to do something else before it's time for bed.  I have been doing some short runs during lunch, but nothing when I get back as I'm fairly tired from all the cycling to be honest.  A run at 7pm is the last thing on my mind.

I've still been suffering from the same back pain, and buttock pain.  I think the drop-off of activity has actually contributed and my back is weaker.  It's a vicious cycle.  I can't run long because of my back, and yet I need to increase my activity to feel good again.

As it stands I've not been in a desperate rush to correct it.  After Nepal, almost a year ago, I pretty much wrote of 2012 as a rest year.  I think I did just one or two long events this year, and nothing since April. 

I've been pretty busy organising the Dusk 'til Dawn ultra.  To say I've not been running isn't true, because I have been leading several recces each month over parts of the Dusk til Dawn course for the participants.  I've only been running 12-16 miles at a time, sometimes back to back on a weekend.  So, I have not been totally idle, but I have not been putting in 30-40 mile+ weeks like I usually would.  Not having an event to train for is another factor that reduces the drive to train.  My cardio fitness is actually pretty good, I can run up hills fairly well still, fitness probably aided by all the cycling, but my back is pretty terrible.  My chiropractor says that I'm so misaligned, and my SI joint has so little motion that all my back, groin, and leg muscles are overworking so hard that they are tiring very fast.  This is certainly how it feels.  I can get to about 12-15 miles by which time I am in some pretty serious pain, and my stride length has got so short I'm barely shuffling.  I'm told I need a few weeks worth of treatment, several treatments a week, to put me on the path to recovery just so I can start to re-strengthen.  It's pretty unpleasant to have it very clearly demonstrated just how inflexible my hips are.  I'm am getting 50% less stride length on my right leg than my left, and that just gets shorter as the miles go by.  If you are particularly interested in SI pain, this video will tell you all about it! I seen my uncle who is a Sheffield chiropractor and he has given me some good advice too.

Dusk til Dawn is on October 27th, after which I've decided to start a strengthening again in November.  I'll train my base fitness all over winter, hit the gym a few times a week, and do some Pilate's or yoga to get the flexibility back.  Hopefully by January I will be able to take part in some 20 -25 mile LDWA's and try and build up from that to ultras by the time that La Trans Aq comes around at the end of May.  That is the only event that I have entered at all so far.  I'll just have to see how things progress over the next few months.  Hopefully I'll get back up to fitness again.  I've done it before, several times...

So, I'm not likely to post in the next three weeks as Dusk til Dawn will keep me crazy busy.

When November roles around, cue the Rocky theme again.

Monday 6 August 2012

It's one short stride for man

I'm in another familiar phase of sem-injury.  I’ve been ticking over doing some short training runs.  I had hoped to do a whole load of events that I typically do each year, including the Peakers Stroll and the Harden Hard’un.  However, I’ve been quite busy organising Dusk til Dawn.  Also, during and  after doing the Coventry Way 40 in April, I’ve struggled quite a lot with back pain, as I mentioned on my previous post.  I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to build up by core muscles again, like I did before Nepal last year.  I think neglecting to do them, or much in the way of running between January and April meant that the muscles wasted and I’m suffering again.

I can run about 12 miles and then I get a fairly sudden onset of pain radiating from the Coccyx, going down the back of my legs, and upwards into my lower spine.  My stride shortens pretty severely over just a mile or two and running becomes pretty much impossible.  It’s the same old story with my lower back.  Unless I keep up a very rigid weekly routine of exercises then I think this will always happen. It’s worse at the moment than I can ever remember it though.  I’m not training for anything specific this year, I always planned to give myself a year off doing anything too serious, however I’ll now use the rest of the year to work on core strength and get my pelvic floor muscles, gluts and adductors back up to strength. I’m reasonably confident that will sort it all out.

Prep for Dusk til Dawn is going well, I have lead a few recces of the course for the competitors.  The recce distances are just about within my distance capability, so I have managed them ok.  We’re doing another couple of recces this weekend.

In other news I've finished my last contract, which has had me working in London for the last 3 years.  I've never specifically spelled it out that I was working there, but my training mostly revolved around running to and from work.  I had the added bonud of being able to use the altitude facility when I had an event coming close.  Apart from that, it was mostly running along streets and sucking in exhaust fumes.  I'm not that sorry to bid it goodbye for now.

I'm back at home in Staffordshire, and not living part time in London as I was during the week.  It's good to be back as it means I can spend more time at home and run around fields and woods ad not roads.  My new contract is near the NEC in Birminhgam.  It's a fairly torturous commute.  To save Money I cycle 5 miles to the train station, get a train for 1hr 20 mins and then cycle at the other end a further 2 miles to work.  I then reverse then in the evening.  So, it's roughly 2 hours and 15 minutes each way!  I have to get up at 6am to get to work for 8:35, and then I get back home about 19:15.  It's a long day and it is wearing me out.  I do that between 3 and 4 times a week, and work at home on Monday or Friday, sometimes both.  In this economic climate you can't really be too choosy about a job, so I'll have to put up with it. 

It's the first time I've cycled since I was a child.  I'm renting one of the Brompton fold up bikes from the local train station for £4 a day, which is a lot cheaper than paying £8 to park, plus paying £10 each way for taxi's every day!  The cycling is actually aggrivating my back however, so it remains to be seen if it is sustainable.  If it wasn't for the discomfort I am quite enjoying the bike.  After 3 weeks I have only narrowly missed being knocked off or killed once, which is probably a good record for cyclists.  Idiot white van man decided to overtake and try and turn left on a roundabout while I was going straight across.  He stopped about 6 inches from me.  I lived to cycle another day this time. I'll keep you updated with the strength programme.  My friend Mike Perry an excellent stoke physio (local to me) is just about to email me a link to an exercise training programme to sort me out!

Hope everyone else is running well!

Saturday 9 June 2012

Runs, hills, waddles, Olympic relay and arse ache

Quite a bit to get through on this post!

First, the running:  Last weekend was a long bank holiday weekend due to the Queen's diamond jubilee.  I had plans to run for most of the weekend, but the weather was very poor on Saturday and Sunday with torrential rain.  I wasn't inspired to go out and get soaked.

However, on Monday afternoon a weather window opened up, so I  jumped in my car and drove to Earl Sterndale, a small Peak District Village that also happens to be checkpoint 2 of Dusk til Dawn in October.  I parked the car amidst the village celebrations.  They were having a kids sports day and activities on the village green and a large steam engine was in attendance.  Lots of people were having a great time and doing what they should have been doing on the holiday; relaxing.

I arrived at 1pm, and set off on the route shown below.

There was an initial steep climb out of the village then a nice steady undulating run over the hills and fields for 5 miles.  It was mostly peaceful, other than passing the High Edge speedway, which was holding a bank holiday noisy stock car race.  I raced past and back to some serenity before heading into an area marked "Danger of fire and explosions".  There is a health a safety lab nearby but sadly no explosions today to add some excitement!  I reached the half way point point and then ran back up to the road then crossed onto a wide track and ran down about a mile to a farm.  From there I hit the first of my main objectives which was a steep ascent of Hollins Hill followed by a fantastic ridge run, almost to it's end.  I then followed a path down and North which faded out and I realised when I got back, wasn't actually access land.  So, I ended up hopping some sets of barbed wire and crossing a stream, and then heading very sharply up the Chrome Hill, which is a very distinctive "dragons back" in the area. 

I ran the vast majority of it, despite the gradient, and stopped at the summit to admire the view.  A couple of minutes later I was heading sharply down on the wide grassy path at a good pace, and then headed straight back up nearby Parkhouse Hill, which is a much steeper climb; some of it I was on all fours.  So, I didn't run this one, but again enjoyed the great view from the top before a very steep drop straight off the North side to bag an adjoining but must smaller hill at Glutton Grange.  Then, down off that before one final climb up Hytter Hill.  After that it was just a half mile back to the car.  Just over 10 miles and 2100ft of ascent, so a good run out.

That evening I got a phone call and was invited out to run the following day with Mike Perry a physiotherapist in stoke on trent and Clive Hevey, my former personal trainer (he got me in shape for the MDS 2008 from nothing).  Mike said he wanted a 3 or 4 hour run.  This is a bit further than I've done for quite a while, but agreed.  We met at 8:30am the following morning, at the Roaches which is a popular climbing and walking area of the Peak District, and an area I know fairly well.  The route began with an ascent of the Roaches, a run along the ridge to the trig point, then a  pleasant descent to Roach End and run along a lower ridge before we cut downhill through Lud's Church, a small ravine in the forest there, and then down into Gradbach, past the youth hostel.  At this point Clive bid us goodbye as he had other plans and headed back home, while me and Mike continued on with a sharp climb out of the valley then pleasant run over the fields to Wildboarclough, a small village in the shadow of Shutlinsloe (a large hill).  We've both been up that hill enough times, so decided to skip that one and save our legs for the long climb up the always tiring Daneblower Hollow, to the Cat and Fiddle pub, a well known landmark on the road to Buxton. I was feeling pretty good at this point, which was about 13 miles into the run.  We then headed up towards nearby trig Shining Tor, but cut down the hill into the Goyt valley just before it and began what felt like a long climb on the road to Derbyshire Bridge.  Just past the bridge the road turns to a track and heads up a little more steeply to cross the road onto Axe Edge Moor.  We took a slightly wrong turn and ended up on a parallel path which was boggy and difficult to run on. 

We eventually got back on track but by the time we got to Axe Edge End, as it turned out about 15 miles in, and  I was struggling.  I was expecting only to be doing around 15 miles in total, so when I realised this later on I didn't feel quite so bad.   I've had a lot of lower back and arse pain (not to put too finer point on it) for 2 months.  After all the hills I was struggling to get my legs moving one in front of the other.  I just had no stride length.  I'd also ran out of water, and had eaten the couple of snacks I had brought along, and was starting to crash.  To add to my misery I had really bad pain from what I though was my left Achillies or Soleus.  All of this added up to feeling pretty ropey.  Mike was better prepared and gave me some water and a little food to get me through, but the last hour to the car was very tough and slow going.  I was walking all the hills no matter how small, and struggling for any pace on the flat and downhills, but back had just seized up.  Eventually we got back to the car, a little over 4 and a half hours later.  I was pretty ruined at this point, and headed home to revive myself with some Lucozade sport and some food.  I plotted route, as seen below, and it was exactly 20 miles with almost 4000ft of ascent, so quite a lot more than I've done recently.

I phoned up my uncle Kevin, a chiropractor in Sheffield, and explained I'd had a lot of problems for the last 2 months.  I've actually been pretty worried because of the almost constant 'arse pain'. The hypochondriac in my thinking I had bowel or prostate cancer.  I ended getting a health assessment to put my mind at ease.  A prostate test came back negative and the bowel one is outstanding but will also be fine I'm sure.  I'm too young for those conditions and don't really have any of the other symptoms. The only thing the assessment came back with was that my cholesterol was a little high 5.6; probably as a result of not always eating great food in the last few months of working away from home.  I can fix that one pretty easily.  Anyway, none of that has made my painful arse feel any better. 

I had a couple of day rest from running, working in London then got home on Thursday night at 9pm. I went home and got changed into my running gear and waterproof jacket and went to Stoke train station where I picked up the baton for The Real Relay; an attempt to actually run all 8000 miles of the Olympic Torch route all over the UK, unlike the actual Olympic Torch which is driven between towns! I had signed up at short notice for the charity fundraising event, to run the 10.5 mile Stoke to Audley leg, running via a few different (and slightly dodgy at night) areas of Stoke that the Olympic torch route visited.  I collected the Real Relay 'torch' from Abbie, who had run from nearby town Stone wearing Vibrams (brave girl). 

I then set off at 11pm, and first ran into Hanley Park. The baton, as you can see, is quite long like a baseball bat and fitted with a GPS tracker (you can view the route on that website).

The weather was absolutely biblical from about 15 minutes into my 1 hour 45 minute run (I had to run a timed 10 minute mile to keep the whole affair on track).  I ran through Hanley city centre, where a few drunk girls asked if it was the Olympic Torch.  I told them it was but the rain had put it out!  I then ran on through Cobridge and Burslem, through some slightly dodgy areas of the city where ladies of the night were picking up rough looking punters on the streets.  I felt reasonably safe, as I was tooled up with what resembled a hefty baseball bat after all!  I made it out to cross the main A500 road in one piece, and then headed up Porthill bank, through Bradwell, and Chesterton, where my girlfriend joined me to run the last 3 miles.  We climbed up Crackely Bank to the Wedgewood monument which I run to very often.  We tried to take a photo, about 00:30am.  You can just about make me out, and the 20ft stone monument on the hill.  We'd added this bit in just to spice up the route.

From there it was a long 2 mile run, mostly downhill on the road into Audley where I arrived about 2 minutes ahead of time, as I planned, to hand over to a girl called Clare who was then going to run 10 miles to Crewe.

So, 10.5 miles down I was just left with a long painful uphill run, which ended up being a walk towards the top of the first climb, back home.  My back was seizing up again, on that 3 mile run home, rounding off almost exactly a half marathon that night, ending around 1:30 am.  The weather was pretty horrible in worsening weather conditions, with even harder rain and wind.  By the time I got home we both looked like drowned rats, soaked through to the bone despite waterproofs.  Nothing can keep out that much water!

The following day, I was pretty sore.  Sitting down and running have both been hurting for a while.  Sleeping or walking is not too bad.  My uncle kindly agreed to see me at 8pm last night in Sheffield.  We drove over and he assessed me and found that I have inflammation all the way along my Sacroiliac joint on my right side.  My Ischium (I think it's called) is really sore, it may be a result of trauma from falling on my arse a few months ago and bone flake coming off perhaps.  My hip on the right is also also twisted up and rotated, and "not happy" as my uncle put it.  My gluts were rock solid tight, and my lower all my lower back muscles tight as you can imagine.  Laying on my stomach Kevin pulled my legs upwards to find, not unsurprisingly, that I had very limited range of motion and stride length on my right leg vs the left.  It was in desperate need of attention, and is going to need several treatments to get it back to normal apparently.  I had an hours worth of very painful massage and then some chiropractic adjustments, resulting is very loud and satisfying releases (cracks).  I uncle then found that my left leg issue (Achilles, Soleus) was down to chronically tight popliteus and surrounding areas, so set to work on those, to the howls of pain coming from me!  I felt pretty beat up after the hour, but knew it needed doing.  My left leg feels much better today, but my arse pain is still there, and is going to take some time to fix.  I'm just off to ice it, and take more Diclofenac.  I'm hoping to get 2 more treatments next week to try and get rid of it as it's pretty miserable to be honest.  Sitting down is just plain unpleasant.  Seems, I've done a good job on myself this time, but hopefully in a few weeks I'll be back to normal.

Have a good week!

Tuesday 22 May 2012

Are we ultrarunning to heart failure?

If you're an ultra runner, you will have more than likely read "Born to Run", Christopher McDougall's bestselling book. It's an entertaining read, and I enjoyed it very much. I wasn't sold on barefoot running to be honest, but leaving that aside the book was was hastily consumed. Micah True, or Michael Hickman, or Cabalo Blanco (white horse) as he is know in the book became pretty famous after the book was published. Invited to talk all over the world about his experiences in the Copper Caynons running with the local Indian community there. He started a race in the Copper Canyon's to help raise funds too.

You will also have read that Micah true didn't come home from a run one day in March 2012. The ultra world mobilized in the search effort; Facebook lit up with posts about his disappearance. After a couple of days I thought, it's a shame but he's dead. I wondered what could have killed him. Getting lost and dehydrated? No chance, he knew the area well. Snakebite maybe? A possibility but unlikely, he would have had time to get back and seek help. After I had dismissed those, there really was only one possibility. He'd had suffered a heart attack I thought.

6 days into the search his body was found. Christopher McDougall had gone out to search for Micah. Though he wasn't the one who found the body, he wrote a good account of the search here. The end of the article hazards a guess that he had a heart issue, called Chagas disease. I would have liked it, if that had turned out to be what it actually was. However, I just had a nagging suspicion that maybe there was something more to it. I'd been reading more recently about Athletes Heart, a condition I myself have evidenced in more than one ECG over the years. I'm not knowledgeable enough about the heart's pathology to give you a detailed description. You can find plenty of information online, probably a better source that this Wiki entry, but you'll get the idea. Essentially the heart undergoes changes in response to endurance training, including left ventricle enlargement.

A week or two after his death the coroners report was published. I was pointed at the news story about it that bothered me. I read the title, and already knew what it was going to say. "Autopsy points to heart disease as the cause of ultra runners death". Heart disease I thought? This guy was a daily runner, and no mean ultra distance athlete and he died from heart 'disease'. I read the article and came on the information I hoped not to find. The article calls it heart disease, but the devil is in the detail.

"While medical examiners couldn’t point to the cause of the heart disease, they said True’s left ventricle, which pumps oxygenated blood to the rest of the body, had become thick and was dilated."

It's at times like that when I wish I was a cardiologist. I read it as though his endurance training had caused the left ventricle enlargement, which is ultimately what had killed him, aged just 58. Did he have another condition that contributed, was it another congenital defect not related to endurance training? I don't know? does anyone?

You always get people saying to you as a runner that "you'll ruin your knees", no one says to you "you'll ruin your heart" do they? For balance you have to say to yourself, 'what it I didn't run'? I'd probably die of coronary heart disease sitting on a couch eating chocolate bars right?

I posted the link to the story on the Beyond Marathon Facebook newsfeed and it prompted replies, mostly along the lines of "when your numbers up, your numbers up". It would be lovely if this was the case, but we do make our own fate. We increase our risk of various demises in our everyday lives. Driving a car, catching a tube, being a deep sea fisherman. Essentially what I am saying is that we alone decide what risk factors we introduce to our lives. Deciding to take up free climbing, hang gliding or high altitude mountaineering are inherently going to increase the likelihood of an early death if we do them often enough. Is it the same with running? If we run to keep fit, knocking out a few 10k's a week is that the ideal? On the Facebook feed, one of the 'flipside' replies included a link to a Endurance Corner where an American Doctor writes about Athletes Heart regularly and collects the results of studies. You can read all the articles here. The last and most recent article is perhaps the most interesting. Can too much exercise harm the heart.

Knowing very little about the heart as I do, I still share his conclusion that, like anything, you can probably to do much of a good thing and cause harm.

What I'd love to know, and so would the rest of the world, is what the perfect balance is? Or, if you have endurance trained, how long does it take to become chronic and irreversable, or can you reverse it if you stop after a few years? One of the studies cited, found that 50% of lifelong endurance runners (picked from a ‘100 marathon club’) had arrhythmia, versus 0% in the control group. 50%! There is no statistical insignificance there right?

I think there is probably a "Goldilocks Zone" for endurance training. Too little and the heart doesn't get the stimulation and strengthening it needs. Too much and it overdevelops and can lead to heart failure. Just Right ;there's probably a magical amount of endurance training, that is doubtless different for different people, where we keep the heart in the happy place, dead centre 'in the green' and away from the red zones on either side.

So how does this affect my outlook on running? Well, it does in all truth worry me. I've only been running since about 2006, so maybe if I ease back in a year or so, there is still time to keep my heart "healthy". Also, I don't knock out big distances every week, so maybe I have a little longer. In short, as it stands, no one knows. For the time being all we can do is keep an eye on the research, but with such a relative new sport, and such a small number of people (in comparison to other sports) involved in ultra running, it could be decades before there is enough data to tell us what constitutes "too much of a good thing", and by then it could be too late and half the world's ultra runners are checking out aged 60 or less.

Most of us will try and push this information out of our minds, thinking it'll never happen to us. Dare I draw a comparison to smokers, thinking the same thing about lung cancer?

Make no mistake, I love running and I'm not planning on hanging up my trail shoes anytime soon, but this is food for thought isn't it.

Would love to hear some of your opinions?