This is my site where I discuss, share ideas and write about English as a Foreign Language.
At the moment, the menu on the right of the page links to help for students with general English and exam English, as well as teaching resources and tips for teachers. I add things fairly regularly – at least once or twice a week. Take a look and feel free to comment, download, peruse and enjoy!
I hope to get to know people, students or teachers and hear about teaching and learning experiences from as many people as possible.
Starting weight / body fat : 100kg / 23% End Weight / body fat: 98kg / 14% Starting resting heart rate: 58 End resting heart rate: 49 First January run 2018: 3km / 0 ft. incline – felt awful Last run 2018: 22km / 2,339 ft. incline – felt easy Runs over half marathon distance: 22 Runs over marathon distance: 6 Completed Ultramarathons: 4 Uncompleted Ultramarathons: 3 Total runs: 158 Total Elevation: 96,106 feet Total Distance: 2,063km
It feels a little bit odd looking at the numbers above, truth be told. It’s a bit like they belong to someone else. If you’d told me 12 months ago that by the end of the year, I’d have run the equivalent distance of Leeds to Africa and the equivalent height of 3 and a third Everests, I’d have said “Well, yes, that’s the plan”, because I’m a stubborn bastard – but deep down, I’d have known that you were taking the piss. I can vividly remember how hard 5km at a decent pace felt back in January. I can remember the shin splints, because 20 miles in a week was over-training. I can remember the feeling of suffocation after every single run – before an asthma diagnosis and an inhaler sorted me out. I can remember the exhaustion and sheer physical pain of the first ultra – the Calderdale Way – in June; and how I felt afterwards, knowing that I’d have to negotiate three times the incline to complete Lakes in a Day. I can remember the heartbreaking disappointment of then pulling out of Lakes in a Day thanks to a freak storm, after 12 wet, wind-battered hours, 12,000 feet of incline and nearly 50km of brutal, painful slog. And then the disappointment of ending the final ultra of the year 43 miles early, thanks to a tendon injury.
But most of all, I remember the absolute elation of the ultras I completed. The tears of joy after Calderdale. The fist-pumping roars of delight at the end of the 2-day, 60-mile round trip of the Herriot Way. The pride of managing 50 miles in a day in September. The amazement of waking up after Lakes in a Day and reading the elevation stats. Twelve-bloody-thousand?! The hilarity of barely being able to walk because my calves had seized up so much (this happened at least 5 or 6 times). The camaraderie – through beautiful, picturesque sunshine and severe, dangerous difficulty. The £2000 raised for Yorkshire Cancer Research and the wonderful, warming feeling of knowing that each donation carried a show of support along with it. And the vast improvement that this year has made to my mental and physical health.
Oh, and how quickly you get pissed after a long run, and how much food you can pack away, completely free of consequence.
But what have I learnt here? Well, on at least 200 occasions, I’ve learned a new swear word to describe the sheer fucking agony of running when you’re tired or in pain, or the weather is either horrifically hot or abysmally windy, or the incline is making your lungs, calves and thighs burn and scream at you like a deranged leprechaun with a hammer. I’ve also learned that pretty much anything is doable if you’re slightly unhinged, extremely stubborn and have the support of another person. I ran over a half marathon distance 22 times in 2018, but how many of those times was I alone? Once.
On the technical side – for those of you who are interested, I’ve also learned a few very valuable tips for if you want to train for a marathon, or an ultra.
1) Stretching is supremely important, regardless of whether you’ve actually done any exercise that day. 2) Baths are incredible for stopping muscles seizing up. 3) Eating a massive breakfast that takes in every single part of a pig before a long run is a dreadful idea. 4) Carb loading is disgusting and makes you feel awful… 5) …but is absolutely life-changing once you get above 20 miles. 6) Training programmes off the Internet are often made for mentalists, professional runners and people who don’t actually have lives outside of running. 7) Tapering is overrated – it’s far more about how mentally ready you feel, and if that means doing a long run a week before, then do it. 8) Injuries happen. This cannot be avoided. 9) I can’t lose weight. I can just redistribute it from one place to another. 10) There are few things on earth more painful than chafing – get Runderwear, padded cycling shorts and a handy Buttshield roll-on. There is no shame in the world of running. 11) Speaking of which, running makes you fart. A LOT. 12) It takes a wind speed of over 75mph to lift a 100kg man off his feet. 13) You are a lot faster when it isn’t 35 degrees. 14) GPS is great, but it’s fallible – get a paper map, a pen and a compass. 15) Kit is so important. The right shoes for the terrain, 2 pairs of really good socks, the above-mentioned underwear and seriously good but lightweight wind and waterproofs, an awesome bag, water tube thingy, a camel back gloves, a hat and a LED head torch that can blind a sheep from 100m.
16) Running is addictive, but totally illogical.
It hurts, it’s hard work and if you’re doing serious distance but aren’t superhuman, you’re basically in some sort of physical pain for 90% of your life. So why can’t I stop then? Is it the addiction to the post-run feeling? The being outdoors, surrounded by beautiful scenery? The absolutely mindless drivel that gets spouted when there are only two of you plodding around like idiots for hours and hours?
I don’t really know. But what I do know is that I have a calendar for the year that’s already starting to take shape:
January 13th – Trigger (Marsden to Edale – 24.5 miles, 4000 feet) April 6th – Kielder Forest Ultra (62 miles, 4000 feet) April 27th – Yorkshire 3 Peaks Marathon (26.2 miles, 5000 feet) June 1st – Calderdale Cannonball Ultra (53 miles, 7300 feet) July 26th / 27th – The Dalesway (83 miles, 8000 feet) October 12th – Lakes in a Day (52 miles, 11,700 feet)
It’s fair to say that 2019 is already looking suitably idiotic. I hope you’ll enjoy reading about it as much as I’ll enjoy swearing about it. And if you’re interested, I’ll be putting together a training plan for a marathon in the next couple of weeks, that doesn’t mean you have to give up your entire life to running. It even allows for booze. Yeah. Have that, Ryan Hall.
30 days after the event and I suddenly feel the urge to write about Lakes in a Day whilst two hours into a journey from Ha Long to Hanoi. A well-trodden, unspectacular 4-hour ride punctuated by a stop off at the worst service station-cum- tourist trap I’ve ever seen, but I get a pang of need out of the blue and frantically start tapping nonsense into Samsung notes. So here we are.
Weight: About 6 tonnes, according to the Vietnamese tailor who gasped and said “WOW!” when measuring me up for a suit
Number of runs in the last 30 days: 3
Days until next ultra: 25
Failure is an uncomfortable feeling. Regardless of the circumstances, which may be detailed and complex, a broader look back in the imaginary history books only yields one truth: whatever it is you set out to do, didn’t get done.
Ultimately, the black and white truth in this case, is that I didn’t finish Lakes in a Day. I didn’t and other people did – so there can’t be any excuses for that really. 30 miles, 12500 feet of incline and 14 hours into what I can only describe as the worst weather conditions I have ever witnessed, or could ever conceivably imagine, and I was forced to come down from the high peaks for safety reasons, thereby ensuring disqualification. My legs were willing, my heart was willing, but my brain – along with the brains of four other people – took a difficult decision and now here I am, 10 miles closer to Hanoi than when I started writing this, reliving the despondency of the last few moments of descent, before getting into the event minibus and admitting defeat.
I’ll keep the review of the event relatively brief. We started at 8am in wet but easy conditions, following the route we’d recced only four weeks before. The first summit took about 15 minutes longer, due in part to queuing near the start and because of the rain making the going very soft underfoot. The heavier you are, the more your feet are grabbed by the muddy ground as it absorbs all your energy, forcing you to start from scratch with every step. I weighed in at 102kg including my race pack and this began to take a toll towards the top of Blencathra, but as it had done a month before, the knowledge that it would be the last incline for several miles spurred me on.
At the top though, the weather had started to worsen. The steward before Halls Fell right told us it was “like an Italian’s comb” and the wind had really picked up, so we chose the safer option, despite the hefty time penalty it involved. We eventually arrived at checkpoint 1, registering a time that was over an hour slower than our recce day.
Things didn’t improve. As we began to climb Clough Head less than an hour later, Storm Callum took aim, let rip and didn’t stop its bombardment until we called it a day some 8.5 hours later. The wind was so strong it lifted me from my feet several times, the rain was so fierce it was like being tattooed on my face and eyes and visibility dropped quite dramatically. At one point, we were physically unable to walk forwards and had to take shelter. By the time we got to the top of Helvellyn, visibility was about 10 feet, our waterproof bag covers had blown away and I’d briefly lost my partner as, at a good 20kg lighter, he had been simply unable to move. We later found out that one entrant had removed their backpack to retrieve some food and the entire thing had been wrenched from his grasp, disappearing over a cliff shortly afterwards. He sat and waited for mountain rescue for 3 hours and still looked like he’d seen a ghost when he ran into him at the Ambleside checkpoint. Another man suffered a pulmonary embolism and one man we were with near the end started showing signs of early-stage hypothermia as the cold came on strong with the cover of darkness.
Example of what had happened to “streams” – this one at Ambleside earlier in the day before the worst weather had even hit
There was no let up – not even for a minute. The elite athletes had avoided the worst of the conditions by being far quicker near the start. This had never been an option for us and we paid for it in spades. I would set myself at an angle against the wind, legs wide apart, but it would change direction in a second, knocking me off my feet almost effortlessly. On a couple of occasions, especially when it became pitch black, it did occur to me that we were in danger – it turns out that our wonderful supporters at Ambleside were similarly concerned. In the end, as we slid down to Grisedale Yarn, there was only one decision to make. Fairfield and the east side of the horseshoe were far too exposed and narrow in winds that we would later learn had got up to nearly 100mph, so we decided to get off by the most direct route possible.
Of course, that isn’t so easy in the middle of a storm. Our first attempt resulted in us having to retrace our steps. The second involved crossing the tarn, which had turned into a waist-high waterfall – one of our party lost his footing and was almost washed down the mountain. We then passed around Fairfield and tried to descend again, this time being thwarted by a stream crossing I had done a couple of years ago in flip flops being transformed into an un-cross-able force, as impressive as any I’ve seen in the country. We eventually found our way down at the third time of asking, but the two failed attempts had cost us nearly two hours and when we reached the road, there was no time to follow it to Ambleside before being timed out, so we called it in. It was a tough decision which still gnaws away at me a month later.
The 9-odd hours in the middle of Storm Callum were perhaps the most taxing, unpleasant hours of my life. I hated every minute of it. And yet, on Monday 5th November, I was among the first to sign up for the event again – on October 12th 2019. Why? I couldn’t really tell you. There’s something horribly, masochistically addictive about pushing yourself to the limit. I enjoy this level of fitness, the challenge and the feeling when you finish. Also, I’m a stubborn little bastard.
Epic foreboding face (thanks to LIAD for the photo)
To everyone who sponsored us this year – thank you. We smashed our £1500 target, raising over 2 grand for Yorkshire Cancer Research. Cancer is shit – I should think it has affected every single person I know – but I believe that it can be beaten. Apologies for the cheese there, but wouldn’t a world without death from cancer be quite something?
Anyway, up next – Leeds Country Way part II on December 8th. We are recceing the section of the route that caught us out last time seven days before the event, then we’re going to smash it. In winter. In the dark. In potentially sub-zero conditions. 61 miles of smiling then, eh?
Me, smiling. Just to prove that I occasionally do (but perhaps I shouldn’t)
Weight: 93.5kg Body Fat: 18% Resting Heart Rate: 50 Miles Run This Year: 1000 Fear Levels: Through the roof
Well, there’s not a lot more I can do now. The miles have been run, the muscles have been pulled, stretched, repaired and pulled again many times over and I’ve spent about double the amount of sponsorship raised on equipment, proving in the process that a) It would have been better for Yorkshire Cancer Research if I’d just given them the money I have had to spend, and b) the old adage that running is a sport that is accessible to all is absolute rubbish.
But here I am, well into the taper and carb load stage of the year. I like a good carb – at least, I thought I did. I’m pretty sick of them right now though; in fact, I feel sluggish, lethargic and fat. A few hours ago, I got back from my final decent-length run – an 18k jog around the woods and canal of Bramley, Rodley and Calverley. I got in, took off my pack and sweaty vest and discovered an impressive waist strap mark has set up camp right around a little paunch that has developed within a week of eating nothing but potatoes, rice and bread. I think it must only be people in carb loading phases who can stroll around an 18k trail route without really breaking a sweat, complete with pot belly.
Me, recovering in a field on my run today
I imagine that this week will see the commencement of a week-long extravaganza of nervous pooing – and lots of stretching, of course. There will also be the compulsive weather forecast checking – at least five times a day. The current forecast is for pretty much constant rain and 100km winds on top of Blencathra and Helvellyn. Which is nice. I expect to be thoroughly fed up at least 35 miles from the finish – but I will finish, barring injury or exhaustion to the point of collapse. Probably. And then it’s time to relax! Except it isn’t, as I still need to do another couple of hundred miles to reach 1253.93 – or 2018km – for the year. This, of course, includes re-running and completing the Leeds Country Way because I. Just. Can’t. Let. Things. Go.
Suffering from anxiety is exhausting. I know it will be on overdrive this week, playing the role of bastard as it does so well, telling me that I can’t do it and refusing to let me sleep. But when I look back on 2018, I can truly say that it has been the least anxious year in recent times. Part of that is, of course, down to a career change – I will never deny that. The other part though, is undoubtedly down to running and what it has done to my health, my confidence and my perspective on life. I think that this is reason enough to feel proud at this point of the year, regardless of what’s happening in just over 5 days.
In fact, it’s perhaps the best time for me to understand this, so I can remind myself of these words at multiple moments during Saturday, when I catch myself cursing the idiocy of my decisions and I creak and wobble my way along the hardest run I have ever done. Wish me luck!
No joke. This is how far we have to go. So far, that it goes off the edge of a map of the entire Lake District. Shit.
If you would like to sponsor Tom and I as we come towards the end of a truly epic year of ultramarathons, pain and eating, just click here.
Body Weight: 93.5kg Percentage of Body Weight Coming From Thighs and Calves: 99.5% Miles Remaining in 2018: 449
Oh, running. How do I love thee? Every day, I jump out of bed at 6:30 am and engage in a soul-warming ritual of deep breathing and stretches, before feasting on a natural breakfast of nuts and seeds. I float my way through a 20k run, barely even breaking into a sweat, before warming down with some life-affirming core exercises. My mind and body are in perfect harmony, for what is life but a long run that we all take, down our own path?
Oh. Sorry. That’s someone else’s blog. Let’s get back to reality, shall we?
Me, every morning, in my bikini on Leeds beach, doing some weird humming shit
Some time last Monday morning, I was smeared across the bath tub like a fat Jackson Pollock painting, trying to cut and salvage what remains of my blackened toenails, when I realised that I couldn’t get up. My calves were so tight that I had virtually no movement below the knee, and my left hamstring had decided to go into spasm. It’s ok. It’s ok. I’ll just lie here and wait for the water from the shower to wash me down the plug, then emerge somewhere downstream, like some kind of arthritic shit demon. When I eventually did surface, I returned slowly to my routine, which had become the bi-hourly use of an agonisingly painful roller, followed by an inevitable mid-afternoon nap, because the residual exhaustion doesn’t really allow me to get through a full day anymore. And nuts and seeds? I just want pizza. And chips. And beer. And you know what? I’m bloody well having them.
Actual still of me carb-loading
Saturday’s recce, a 22.5-mile slog over 8,000 feet of incline (like doing the Yorkshire 3 Peaks 1.6 times), almost killed me. Two weeks evidently wasn’t enough for my legs to fully recover from the Leeds Country Way, or so my calf muscles told me in no uncertain terms after the first 5 miles of incline, when they started screaming like deranged banshees. The weather, mercifully, was about as good as I could ever hope for, other than the cold invisibility near the end when, close to exhaustion, a final gruelling incline peeked out from behind the clouds and gave me the finger. Other than that though, these are my stand-out highlights:
Starting a 3-mile relentless ascent up Blencathra with soaking wet feet, because the route requires you to cross a 6m-wide river by just wading through it
Discovering that the majority of said ascent was marsh-based, meaning that every single step absorbed all 102kg of my body weight + pack, leaving me to start again each time
Accidentally bagging an extra peak thanks to a navigational error
Descending Halls Fell Ridge just slightly less quickly than a snail with a shard of glass poking out of its midriff
Clough Head. You bastard.
Getting to what I thought the top was, to discover that it wasn’t in fact the top
Discovering that I could no longer do descents, about 200m into a 4.5k descent
Anyone for a steep ridge descent? Yeah, no… me neither.
The worst bit though, and probably my most valuable lesson to date, was the way that mental fatigue affects a person. The route we planned outlined 7.512 feet of incline. When we reached that mark, I mentally checked out. I was physically tired – granted – but I could certainly have carried on. But when I switched my brain off and then discovered another 500-foot ascent in front of me only a few minutes later, I almost collapsed into a heap of tears and defeat. In 18 days, I can’t let that happen. I now know how hard the event is – or at least I know how hard 19 miles of the 51 are (the extra 3 were leaving the route and descending to a car park). I also know that time isn’t going to be an issue – we were about 3.5 hours ahead of the cut-off when we finished the recce. I can’t physically do anything now, other than taper and stretch and make sure that I eat the right things in the week leading up to the event (with no beer).
From here, it’s all mental.
A Brief Reminder
This hasn’t all been for fun. The ultimate goal of Lakes in a Day on the 13th, along with the Calderdale Trail, the Herriot Way, the Yorkshire Three Peaks, the Leeds Country Way and all the other 20-mile plus routes this year – and the 2,018km in 2,018 (of which I still have around 700km to do), has all been for Yorkshire Cancer Research. So far, we have raised just over £1000 – and are still hoping to reach £1500. If you have enjoyed reading my blog, or you feel that either our stupidity or the cause itself are enough to warrant a donation, please visit our page here and donate. And of course, a massive thank you to those who already have donated (some multiply) or just passed on encouraging messages – and those who have even visited us during our runs. It all means a lot.
Weight: 94kg Body Fat: 17% Longest Distance Covered: 82km Joints: Starting to give way
If I’m not ready now, then I’m not going to be. In four days, I’ll be slogging my way down the first 22 miles of the actual Lakes In A Day course – 7,500 feet of incline, not much way-marking to speak of, a few GPS black spots and a ridge descent that has claimed a few lives over the years. Not ideal. It’s a recce that will either give me huge confidence, or increase the fear quite considerably. Of course, the main problem is that my body still hasn’t properly recovered from 10 days ago…
The Country Way
I suppose that all these pre-ultra ultras have been a learning experience, but anyone who really knows me will know that setting out to do something, then failing to finish it, is not something that sits very well with me. But that’s exactly what happened on the Leeds Country Way (delete one “o” where necessary). There are positives of course. 1) I ran for 11 hours and only walked for 90 minutes – not something I thought I was capable of. 2) I covered 82km – the main event is roughly the same distance, give or take an extra 8,000 foot of incline. 3) I played squash 42 hours after finishing and ran a 5km the day after – so my recovery is certainly where it should be. 4) My Garmin tells me that I have the VO2 Max of an “excellent 20 year-old”. I don’t really know what this means, but I’m certainly going to milk it.
This fella followed me for quite a while!
But the negatives are that 1) we were ultimately defeated by poor preparation in terms of navigation – as soon as the GPX went wrong, we were completely stuck and, ultimately, had to call it a day – and 2) our head torches were not sufficient at all. So it’s more money on better gear, and some considerable homework on the route. But these are not issues beyond our control at least. And being the stubborn man that I am, I am going to recce the final section of the Leeds Country Way, plot it on a better route map and then redo the entire thing. I might leave it a few weeks after Lakes In a Day though…
The Bottom Line
32 days is not a long time. I’ve been building to this for the best part of 9 months. Obviously, I simply have to complete it, but there’s something else to consider. What comes after something like this? I don’t want to entertain the idea of sitting in a chair and getting steadily fat for the rest of my life. But equally, it isn’t feasible to train like this forever. I do fancy a tilt at a few other things in this country – the Pennine Way, the Dales Way, the Coast to Coast, Hadrian’s Wall, the Leeds-Liverpool canal… perhaps a Bob Graham round attempt?! But I’m not going to compromise the lifestyle that I want just to do them. So, I’m going to lurk on a few forums and find out what people do next – and if anyone has any suggestions, I’m open to them!
Remaining Ultramarathae: 2 Tendons: Shot Body Weight: 94.2kg (14 stone 12) Body Fat %: 19% Confidence Level: 5/10
Don’t be looking at that confidence level the wrong way, y’all; a five is what I aspire to in life as a general rule. This is a good thing. Other than generally ticking over though – not doing any really long runs, but not allowing fitness to drop – I don’t have much to report. I had a lovely jaunt in the mountains to keep the buns steely and I’ve been doing plenty of 10km-ish runs to keep my feet… runny. All that really remains is to summarise what’s left to do and look forward to the main event. I actually booked accommodation for the night before the main event this week, which is like when your recently single mate finally wants to talk about their break-up (which probably happened 8 months ago) – it’s my version of admitting that it’s actually happening.
The Leeds Country Way – Saturday 1st September
If you don’t know, then this is the final pre-ultramarathon ultramarathon, and it’s a biggie. The Leeds Country Way is a 61.34-mile (98.7-km) round of the countryside of Leeds’ outer suburbs. In terms of incline vs. distance, it’s not too bad: just the 4,225 feet of incline. To put that into context, the first 30 miles of Lakes in a Day covers nearly 9,000. So, it’s a distance challenge rather than an incline one. As with most things (for me at least), this is a purely mental exercise. It’s validation that I can cover a really long distance in one sitting. I suppose it’s the last piece of the puzzle, really. Anyway, if you live around the route (see below), then I’ll be posting rough arrival times at the end of the week, so if you want to come and say hi / cheer / heckle / give snacks, then that’d be great. We’re aiming for sub-16 hours, but to be honest I’ll be happy just to finish with both feet mostly intact.
Oh, and don’t worry for those of you with OCD: we’ll be rounding the route up to 100km on the nose.
The Recce – Saturday 15th September
The final marathon-esque distance will be in the form of a recce. We are going to go from the start of the Lakes in a Day route and do the first 23 miles; Calbeck to the Helvellyn summit. It’s about 7,500 feet of incline, which will be awesome training and also includes the only sections I have never done before at some point, so we’re giving ourselves a better chance of not getting lost on the day.
The Main Event – Saturday 13th October
Just a reminder for any of those who want to sponsor us – this is all for Yorkshire Cancer Research. Here’s that link again.
We recently passed the £750 (50%) mark, so massive thanks to everyone who has donated (some more than once, Mum!) It means a lot to be supported in this way – but to be honest everyone has been supportive and encouraging when they’ve spoken to me face to face about it. Loving comments like “You’re an idiot” and “You’re too fat to do this”, or “You eat and drink like a Lord – you can’t do an ultramarathon” have made all the difference.
Ultramarathae in the last 7 days: 2 Remaining toenails: 8 Muscular Pain: Comprehensive Recovery pizzas consumed: 3 Days to Go: 72
It’s taken me until Thursday to be able to properly process the weekend. My assessment has included swollen feet, missing toenails and a stench to rival the red liquid in that old sarcophagus (which I will come to later, perhaps in more detail than you would like), but it has ultimately led me to a realisation: I can actually do Lakes in a Day.
It’s not that I wouldn’t have given it my best shot. Anyone who knows me is well aware that while others are blessed with raw talent and innate inner fitness, I am blessed with raw stubbornness and innate inner bloody-mindedness. But after managing 58 miles spread across two days, with significant amounts of incline and very challenging weather and terrain in parts, I now believe that I can successfully make it to Cartmel before I fall apart, both mentally and physically. There’s still work to be done, though, but for the first time, I feel up to the task. Here’s my assessment of the weekend then:
Cartmel may look pretty, but it is in fact my nemesis.
The weather makes a massive difference
The last two months have been like my own personal battle with sweat and dehydration. During the Y3P ultra, I drank 10 litres of water and felt dizzy after a particularly enthusiastic early afternoon 5k stretch of the route. This past weekend though, I drank 3 litres of water per ultramarathon and felt completely fine, cardio-wise, for both days. However, when the weather really hates you, it always has a trump card to play. This time round, it was torrential rain, a lightning storm so close overhead that we had to take shelter, a hailstorm that left me with bruises and a second day full of trudging through mud and over paths that had turned to rivers. While the lower temperature no doubt helped with the cardio, it slowed things down considerably. We didn’t run a single step on day 2. Although this was due in part to…
Once you go significantly beyond 50km, it hurts
I suppose this should be obvious, but the second half of day 2 was purely a mental struggle. A significant, painful swelling developed on my right foot which severely restricted movement and meant that I was relying so heavily on my left foot that I rolled my ankle – fortunately, this was 2 miles from the end. I need to make sure that my body can definitely stand up to 80+ km without a midway sleep, and I would like to “enjoy” the latter stages of the event, so…
The Leeds Country Way
A bonus ultra! Date: TBC. The Leeds Country Way is a 100km circular route that takes in parks, footpaths and countryside around Leeds. It’s only 4,000 feet of incline, which works out as pretty flat when you take in to account the distance. This is the perfect check that my feet can handle it, and if the same areas suffer, then I know which supports to buy ahead of October. Plus it doesn’t involve driving 70 miles in the throes of pain and exhaustion, like I stupidly did at the weekend; instead, I can get an Amber Cab 2 miles back home when I finish.
Coming soon to a masochistic idiot near you…
The Herriot Way is home to a deranged monster
No, really. I’ve never seen so many decomposing rabbit and sheep carcasses in quick succession in my entire life. It was like the aftermath of a live action Watership Down. I could feel General Woundwort’s hot breath on my ankles the whole way round. Come to think of it, his fate does remain a mystery after his fight with Bigwig and the dog…
The comforting mental image in my head the whole way round
Anyway, it’s been a fairly quiet week, all in all. Today, 4.5 days after I finished, I managed 1 hour of circuit training and a slow, 5km treadmill jog on the hill setting. I felt sluggish and physically tired, but I’m sure that next week will be fine and I’ll get back to training and building up to the next challenge. Before Lakes in a Day, there are two ultras left: The Yorkshire 3 Peaks ultra route again, and the Leeds Country Way. There’s also an 18-mile mountain recce of part 1 of the race, and at least 30 pizzas to eat. Other than that, it’s head down and plod on. But before I go…
The most important piece of advice I have ever offered anyone…
Never, NEVER leave your running bag packed with wet clothes for five days. Don’t do it. Unpack IMMEDIATELY. The resulting smell is somewhat intense – it could easily kill a small child, render you bald for life or, alternatively, make you do a little sick in your mouth, both at the moment the stench hits your nostrils, and for several hours afterwards whenever you think about it. I think I heard my dead relatives crying. Seriously: that Egyptian sarcophagus aint’ got nothin’ on 5 days of stagnating sweat and rain after 58 miles of fuckery in the Yorkshire Dales.
Weight: 93.8kg Longest Distance: 28.6 miles July Miles: 125 (including this coming weekend) Fear Level: Intensifying Next Challenge: Back-to-back ultras this weekend (gulp)
You know things are getting serious when you stop counting how many weeks you’ve been training and start counting down to the actual event. 80 days! I can actually count that far. The level of fear I have is directly related to how I feel when I have four or five miles to go of a 25-odd mile training run. It hurts. And if it hurts now, how the hell am I possibly going to manage over 50?! Speaking of over 50, Facebook has taken to trolling me this week, posting a fresh-faced picture of me 7 years ago, next to a picture I took before taking on the Ilkley Skyline round last Sunday. There’s no way around it – the idea that men improve with age is a myth. I blame running entirely; there’s no way this can be remotely attributed to habitual binge drinking, eating curries every week or having an unkempt lazy-man beard at all. See for yourself:
Er… 7 years ago?
Now… yeah, definitely now
I can’t be entirely sure as they’re so unnervingly similar, but I think the one on the left is seven years ago…
Anyway, as per usual, I’ve learned a lot this month. I feel like a sponge, but an old one that smells of damp and has found its way round the back of the toilet. The first thing I’ve learned is that injuries and illnesses are really inconvenient. I’ve struggled through a chest infection over the last couple of weeks that has made training a real pain. I’m also sure that while plants appreciate water, they aren’t so happy to receive sudden bright yellow gobs of phlegm right to the face. I may have turned half of Ilkley Moor into a sticky, contagious desert. Ho hum.
I’ve also been struggling with pain in my big toe. My feet are absolutely disgusting after all this running anyway – more closely resembling Sloth from the Goonies’ face than feet, but this pain has been a new development. Now, while this could oh-so-feasibly be gout, it’s more likely to be tendonitis or something related to massive levels of overwork. I understand how to get rid of tendonitis when it’s in your knees, but my big toe? I’m stumped. So far, I’ve been using the patented “Ignore it and it will probably go away” method. It hasn’t worked yet, but I’m sure that covering 57 miles and 8000 feet of incline over two days will sort it right out.
Which brings me to…
The Herriot Way
This weekend, my running partner and I will be taking on the Herriot Way – a four-day circular route of the North Dales, except that we will be covering it in two days. This means back-to-back 28.5-mile ultramarathons, the first of which will cover 5,000 feet of incline (including Great Shunner Fell, the third highest mountain in Yorkshire), followed by 3,000 on the Sunday – but on knackered legs. This should be a brilliant test of endurance ahead of the “big one”, but is also a significant part of the “5 ultras in a year” part of our fundraising.
As usual, I’ll post photos and a write-up of the event, as well as the Strava logs. If you’d like to sponsor this leg of the fundraising (all for Yorkshire Cancer Research, then go to our fundraising page here – we’re on £590 so far, and are hoping to get up to £1500 by the end of October. Your help means a lot – not just to the charity – but to my own mental state. Every pound represents encouragement, and I need all I can get! To be honest, even if you don’t want to / can’t spare the cash, horribly trite motivational memes involving popular C-list celebrities from the 80s and 90s would more than suffice.
Ultramarathae this year: 2 Ultramarathae remaining this year: More than 0, disappointingly Days until next ridiculous activity: 25 (52 miles, 7,500 feet – but split over 2 days) Number of black toenails: 3 Weight: 94kg
Miles from most recent run: 27.5 Incline: 5,034 feet Time: 7h 45
It’s about 53 hours since the most recent ultra and I’m back: rising extremely gingerly like a phoenix with really tight calves. I’ll not beat around the bush though: take a look at these numbers!
I can’t even begin to explain the satisfaction that can be derived from fisting an entire large Domino’s pizza, complete with stuffed crust, right down your gullet like… I’m not even going to articulate what it was like… and STILL having 5,000 calories and 180g of fat left of your daily budget. And some vague nonsense about pride in doing a long thing with your legs and yada yada.
PIZZA. It’ not even good pizza. It’s basically the pizza equivalent of spitting on an Italian man’s mother and burning down his local church. It’s a soggy disc of shame and regret, made entirely out of Peter Andre, but then, just to make it worse, you’ve stuffed the outside of it with the bits of cheese that even cheese itself wouldn’t eat. And I ate the whole thing and I didn’t even suffer the next day. HA.
But now the pizza is gone. And here I am again, two ultras down and several more to go. Last time, I found it hard to deal with the post-euphoria comedown. This time, it’s very different. Here are my key takeaways (mmm… takeaway) from this latest one.
Motivation is hard
It is so much more difficult to do one of these when you don’t get an arbitrary medal and t-shirt at the end. All I could do for the first 6 miles and 2000 feet of incline was think about how much I didn’t want to be there. When I compare this to the first one, when I had a number awkwardly pinned to my shorts and the (unfulfilled) promise of a free half pint of Magic Rock waiting for me, I can only recall excitement, fear and energy from the first 6-10 miles back in Calderdale.
The heat is a killer
There was no shade whatsoever on the route on Saturday. It had uncomfortably surpassed 20 degrees well before we even began, and went on to rise over 30 for the rest of the day. I applied sun cream four times and still got a bit burnt. I drank 10 litres of water in under 8 hours and have still spent two days with mild heatstroke and dehydration. The run-to-walk ratio was severely affected, because we both thought we would vomit from the heat after one particularly enthusiastic four-mile stretch. This is probably a plus point; the Lakes in October will pose no such problems.
The other noticeable issue with the heat is that it slows you down. As we neared the top of Whernside, the wind suddenly hit and we sped up by several minutes a mile, despite being towards the end of a prolonged, steep incline. Hopefully, we’ll be able to do the route significantly more quickly next time, purely because of more favourable conditions. But then again, just look at the beauty when the weather’s like that….
Pen-y-ghent from a farm near Horton in Ribblesdale
View from Whernside
The summit of Ingleborough. The least impressive of the three, but, crucially, the end of the final incline!
Aside from fairly tight calves, I can genuinely say that I am physically unaffected by Saturday’s jaunt. My quads, glutes and feet feel fine. My back and shoulders are stiff, but in far better shape than last time, when I had to take 8 Ibuprofen during the run itself (this time I took 2 in the pub afterwards). Had it not been for the heat, I could have comfortably managed another 5-10 miles.
…but fitness has its limits (unless you’re a mentalist)
I’m six months in to this now, and I think I’ve earned the right to make some assessments. The first one is the most brutal: I am never, ever going to be fit enough to run up the side of a mountain without stopping. I’m also never going to be fit enough to walk briskly up the side of three in a row, without it hurting a bit. Now, I could make it easier for myself by compromising heavily – no more alcohol, lose 15kg, do the Yorkshire 3 Peaks every day for a year… but I’m also never going to do these things. And that’s OK. This isn’t about pretending to be someone else. This is about being happy with myself, my capabilities and my limitations. Let’s face it: I’ve done two ultramarathons (ultramarathae) in a month – I’m not exactly unfit. I’ll leave the ridiculous sub-3-hour marathons to the experts though. I like booze. I like working out. I like spending my free time socialising with my friends.
A reminder of the challenge
HOWEVER… the fact of the matter is this. Lakes in a Day is equivalent to doing the Yorkshire 3 Peaks twice without stopping, then going up Pen-y-ghent for a third time – both in terms of distance and incline. There are now 103 days until I have to be able to do that, and I am currently some way short. So, I’m going to make the booze and fun-related sacrifices for the month before the event, and in the meantime I’ll keep plugging away. The Herriot Way at the end of the month will be an excellent next step, as it will represent an equivalent distance, albeit with less incline and with a break in the middle for sleeping. I think we’ll find a way to make each day over 26.2 miles though, just so we can say we’ve done two ultras in two days. Because, as I said before, it’s easier when there’s some kind of medal at the end – even if it’s only a conceptual one.
If you enjoy reading my rubbish, or if you feel that Yorkshire Cancer Research is a cause worth donating to, here’s the link to our page.
We’re on £490 so far – I hope we can raise another £1000. The way I see it, it’s £1000 closer to beating cancer.
Miles: Can I measure the distance from the sofa to the fridge? Ultramarathons this year: 1 Days until next ultramarathon: 22 Weight: 95kg Resting heart rate: 52
When I look back on my running log for the first week of January, I can scarcely believe my eyes. Following a particularly unhealthy Christmas and New Year, during which I excelled myself in gluttony, sloth and alcoholism, I struggled to finish a flat 5k at any sort of pace without feeling utterly out of breath. That first week, I managed a total of 7 miles (11km) across three days. Fast forward 22 weeks, and I have just completed a 29-mile ultra over 4,500 foot of incline. Over a period of 9 days, I ran 62.5 miles (100km). I can comfortably run 10k across any terrain whatsoever, and with a few hundred foot of incline, in under an hour, at any time of any day (or night). And, of course, I can summon up the energy to run the final mile of a 29-mile race – the longest run I’ve ever done in my life – and still muster a smile and a jump for joy. I was practically in tears at the end, but they were of relief and pride rather than pain and exhaustion. I can say in all honesty that I almost didn’t finish; there were two points during the race (miles 10-12 and miles 27-28) when I didn’t think I would, for different reasons. But I did, and now I can reflect.
There are peaks, and there are troughs.
This one is a really important one. Just like life, there are highs and lows. After 10 miles, I felt spent, exhausted, like a total and utter failure. 10 miles and 2 and a half hours later, I was running a 9-minute mile and feeling fine. Stick with it, trust your training.
If you’re hungry, stop and eat.
The most important thing I learned. Don’t wait 2 miles until the aid station because it “seems pointless stopping so soon before”. Eat. Do it, you absolute tool. If you don’t, you’ll become exhausted very quickly.
Spend the money on the kit. All the money.
Running these kinds of distances is expensive. Like, high-class hooker expensive (so I’m told).
But here’s the killer. I was 109kg with my 11kg bag. That’s over 17 stone. My shoulders were in absolute agony from mile 10. I had six ibuprofen over the last 18 miles and the lady who gave me my sports massage on Tuesday gasped when she found the knots (although not as much as I did when she set upon them with her unnaturally strong elbows). I now need to buy extremely lightweight waterproofs – not the heavy hiking stuff I had to carry to meet the kit list requirements. I need a smaller bag, smaller camel pack, smaller everything. I can’t carry 11kg over the mountains in October. So, I need to buy specialist lightweight waterproofs, but ones that still have taped seams (£90 + £60), a specially designed bag (£40), a bivvy that meets specific 2018 requirements (£18) and a few other accessories and sundries (another £50), to take my total spend to just over £800, not including upcoming petrol and accommodation costs, of course. But I do need to – I must have looked like a complete idiot to the other 58 runners, all about 9 stone wet through, carrying bags that they nicked off a particularly advanced set of neighbourhood ants.
What “pocket full of cheese” will mean to me forever after bankrupting myself buying lycra and socks
Beware post-race blues
After I finished, I spent two days boozing and eating. And eating. And eating. And, so help me God, eating. But after the initial elation had subsided, and I had stopped creaking like a door out of a horror film every time I moved, I started to feel quite depressed – probably the lowest I’ve felt since starting this whole bizarre business of accelerated one-foot-in-front-of-the-other-ness. You build yourself up and then when it’s over, what is there? I’ve had to be quite mentally resilient and re-calibrate. 22 days until the next ultra. Get back to the training programme – go out, do the miles, the stretches, the sprints. The last one doesn’t mean anything now.
It’s hard – especially if you’re not exactly famous for overwhelming cheeriness. Each time you feel low, it’s an ultramarathon in itself to pull yourself back up – but one of the mind. And, as with running, there are peaks and troughs – moments that you want to give up.
I think this is the point I want to end on. It seems fitting, after the sudden and tragic deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain this week, to remind ourselves that everyone around us is going through battles of their own. Just because you can’t see a physical hill, it doesn’t mean that someone isn’t two-thirds of the way up one, weary, and just about ready to quit. And just as I wouldn’t have made it to the end of my race without people around me, so we need to help – really help – those around us to finish their races, then pick themselves up and move on to the next ones. Because the helplines and the pictures with the ribbons – they don’t help everyone. People help.
May’s Miles: 120 Longest Effort: 22 miles, 2,208 feet Weight at the start of this week: 95.1kg Weight at the end of this week: 97.8kg State of Readiness: Is leaving the country to avoid a marathon a valid way to raise money? Asking for a friend.
Here we are then; the night before my first ultramarathon. Mind you, distance-wise it’s more a marathon plus change. The Calderdale Trail is 29 miles and 4,400 feet of incline – something which my Strava estimates will take me around 6 hours. I’ll be over the moon if we finish in under 6 hours, but I think closer to 7 is more likely, given the terrain and incline. I’ve attempted a short taper – one week rather than 3. This isn’t because I’m an idiot; it’s more that I needed to go close to the full distance quite close to the event, just to prove to myself that I could (that longest effort above was 8 days ago). I will taper more seriously for the 84km runs, but for this one I think the mental boost was more valuable than the potential physical risk. Time will tell if I’m right.
In the 152 days since the start of the year, I’ve been for 90 runs, over a total of 422 miles (or 679 kilometres). I’ve run in the snow, the rain, heat over 25 degrees, up hills (and the odd mountain), along canals and roads, and, most often, on a treadmill. I’ve had shin splints, industrial chafing, leg, ankle, foot, shoulder and lower back pain, and post-long run insomnia. I’ve lost a stone (then gained nearly half of it back in a week thanks to carb loading) and I’ve had a LOT of showers. And now, 18 hours before the start of the first major challenge, I’m pacing around the house anxiously, unable to do any work or focus on anything at all, apart from packing and re-packing my kit bag. Oh, and eating rice.
Thursday night’s meal. I ate three of the chefs too.
Doesn’t that all sound fun? I’d be lying if I said it has been. I will admit it’s been generally better than I thought it would be though. Of course, these are famous last words. Ask me again what I think when I’m on the sixth hill up towards 1200 foot, at around the 21-mile mark tomorrow. I suspect my answer will be somewhat different.
Obviously, the longest runs are yet to come – but they all very much count towards our fundraising. Here’s a picture of me, pre-tonight’s head shave, looking nervous as hell in my race top to remind you what this is all about.
Weeks until first ultra: 2 Weight: 95.5kg (15st 3) Longest run: 20 miles Mental State: Blind terror
Well. This has come around a little quicker than I had expected. Of course, I am aware that every single day usually contains 24 hours, but I am also, in a much more real way, even more painfully aware that as soon as you’re putting something off, that figure dips to around 8 seconds. Or at least, that’s how I understand tantric sex really works.
I’d better update you anyway. Last week I managed 43 miles, with a longest excursion of 20 miles. So, at least in one respect, I have achieved what I set out to do in May. In two days, I will climax (non-tantrically) with a 23.2-mile jaunt with 3500 foot of incline thrown in, before then doing something that I have read about called “tapering” for the 9 days leading up to the Calderdale ultra. From what I have read, I gather that tapering = crying and eating crisps in the basement for a week. That being the case, I will have therefore come full circle in six months, right back to where I was in January – a teary-stained, crispy blob who smells vaguely of damp – which makes me wonder what the point of the last six months has really been.
What can I say about 2018 in terms of physical health? I don’t spring out of bed in the mornings in a burst of song. I can run 10km without really breaking a sweat yet I still get disconcertingly out of breath if I run up the stairs to the toilet without giving my brain fair warning. I don’t have a stomach that you could use as a skateboard. Ok, my resting heart rate and blood pressure are both lower than they were at the start of the year, but who actually cares about that? I’ve also discovered that excessive running causes significant amounts of shoulder and lower back pain, as well as some industrial-strength chafing around the lower buttocks, inner thighs and inner arms that makes it very difficult to sleep for a couple of nights after a long run. I now run like a deranged adult baby – grimacing and waddling lop-sidedly while wearing padded underwear and enough vaseline to sustain the entire porn industry. I don’t exactly count this as physical progress.
Mentally, though, I do feel significantly less pull-your-bottom-lip-all-the-way-over-the-back-of-your-head-while-screaming-at-a-lamp-post batshit crazy. And I have to admit that I do get a sense of warm, satisfied smuggery after a run that, if I’m not very careful, almost results in the occasional good mood. So, I suppose that it’s been a good thing overall?
Ok, let’s call it evens for the moment; my left buttock has just started bleeding again.
A Wee Note to my Supporters
Before I finish, I’d like to draw your attention to a few things. Firstly, I’ve finalised my event diary for the months leading up to Lakes in a Day.
Calderdale Ultra – Saturday June 2nd. (30 miles)
Yorkshire 3 Peaks – Saturday June 30th (24.5 miles)
Ingleborough Fell Race – Saturday July 21st (6.2 miles)
The Herriot Way – Saturday July 28th and Sunday July 29th (50 miles)
Yorkshire 3 Peaks (again) – Saturday August 11th (24.5 miles)
Lakes in a Day recce – Saturday September 15th and Sunday September 16th (TBC miles)
And then the big day on October 13th (52 miles).
Secondly, I’m not just doing this for laughs. In fact, I haven’t even laughed once. This is all for Yorkshire Cancer Research: https://yorkshirecancerresearch.org.uk/
And this is my justgiving page: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/simon-richardson-tom-bamber
I’m hoping to raise quite a bit, but you never know. Every little helps anyway.
Hello again! If the frequency of my posts was to serve as a metaphor for the progress of my training, then… well. It does, really. The simple fact is that when life gets in the way, you have a choice to make. The professional athletes of this world might make a different one to mine of course, but if a professional athlete is somebody for whom the company of a lung-busting run is like one of those glorious nights when you stay awake seemingly forever, chatting about utter nonsense to your best friend, then my relationship with prolonged periods of repetitive exercise is perhaps more akin to a small child growing increasingly frustrated with one of those toys where you’re supposed to match shapes to make them fit them together. It’s a kind of unease as those around you wait with baited breath, knowing that at any point you might snap and fling everything across the room, before embarking on a screaming fit so all-consuming in nature that even inanimate objects start apologising. So then, without further ado, here are some telling stats from April.
Level of Self-Shitting: Full written apology to own underwear drawer Target Level of Self-Shitting: Minimally continent
In five weeks, I will embark on the first ultramarathon of the year. The simple act of writing that sentence alone has drained the colour from my face – my normal blotchy red hue replaced with that of a social media mogul being inanely questioned by an assortment of complete idiots on live television. The WordPress spellchecker doesn’t even recognise “ultramarathon” as a word. That’s how ridiculous it is.
“But… I thought it was only five miles.”
Now, anyone who properly knows me, knows that I will complete the race – and all the others. The simple fact is that I’m a bloody-minded, stubborn bastard. But I’m going to have to do two things over the next month, and to help me do those things, I’m going to declare them to the Internet – my particularly unwise confession booth. I tend to find that if I tell people that I’m going to do something, my own internal stubbornness ensures that I absolutely do do it. So, here goes nothing:
I will run a minimum of 130 miles in May, with a longest single run of 20 miles.
I will temper my expectations and understand that running an entire trail ultramarathon in 5 weeks time, no matter how hard I train from this point, is unrealistic. A good portion of the race will be, by absolute necessity, spent walking, protesting, moaning, crying and eating. But…
I will finish it.
Now, I should probably add that it hasn’t been all doom and gloom. Yes, I went to Prague on a stag do that lasted four days and left my body looking like a scene from the Walking Dead. Yes, I had to go to yet another funeral. And yes, these things took up significant chunks of time, leaving less in which to do my work, and therefore less for training. But I have trained on hills and fells twice, including an extremely enjoyable run down Jacob’s Ladder in the Peak District (before my shoes gave in and almost came off my feet), and I have proved without doubt that I can run 10km on virtually any terrain, with plenty of incline (my 10k yesterday took in road, track and mud with a total incline of 600ft, but was completed in just under an hour), and complete a flat half marathon in under 2 hours. So there is progress in terms of fitness and performance, but now is the time to get it together and really kick on, or I’ll be feeling pretty sorry for myself come the evening of the 2nd June. Howey then!
Disclaimer: Body fat percentage and half marathon time may not accurately reflect the author’s true level of performance.
Miles: Plenty Hills: Yes Maximum Distance: 13 miles (21km) Feet: Disgusting
It’s been an odd month, but I’ve certainly spent quite a lot of it on my feet, which now resemble Sloth from the Goonies’ face. I’ve managed five hill days in the Lakes, with some of the actual route thrown in. I’ve also managed to get up to the dreaded half marathon mark in terms of distance. But perhaps the most significant update is that I’ve also discovered that I have exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (or exercise-induced asthma) – and in fact I’ve been needlessly battling it for years. I’ll go into a bit of detail, in case anyone reads this and realises that this could be them too.
Disclaimer: I will not be getting this tattoo
So, for a number of years I have found that during and after exercise, I have felt it hard to breathe. The best way I can describe it is that I can’t get to the top of a breath, as if something is preventing this being a possibility. My chest feels tight and I often have coughing fits after running, especially if it’s in cold air. I have always attributed this to just not being fit enough, but no amount of training seemed to extend my endurance beyond a certain point. It turns out that this is pretty common, and a salbutamol inhaler prior to a run can work wonders. And it has. I can’t believe the difference it makes! I also can’t believe that I’ve been struggling with this for as long as I have, without ever thinking about asthma. To be clear, I don’t have symptoms if vigorous exercise isn’t involved, hence the “exercise-induced” bit. Anyway, I’m now feeling confident that I will be able to continue extending my training runs and power to victory like Chris Froome (but without the probable cheating).
Does not fit well in shoes
I’ve also had a couple of people ask me about my training plan – how to get faster and run further – so here’s a quick overview of what I’m doing:
Tuesday: Steady, medium-length run
Wednesday: Speed training – short distance at maximum pace, short recovery (repeat 6 times)
Thursday: Short, race pace run
Friday: Cross trainer, long time
Sunday: Slow, long run
I haven’t put values in, because the idea is that they increase each week. For example, this week I will be doing 6 miles on Tuesday, 6 x 500m sprint + 200m recovery on Wednesday, 4 miles on Thursday, 90 mins on the cross trainer on Friday and 13 miles on Sunday. That roughly totals 32 miles, depending on how far I get on the cross trainer. If I want to up this, I add one or two miles to each regular run, and either 100m to each sprint or an extra repetition of the 500/200 set. When I was starting out, these were 350/100 sets. I have read that throwing in a speed workout each week is crucial to building up your pace, endurance and management of heart rate. Other than that, it’s pretty simple. Get used to running for a long time at a slow pace, and for shorter times at slightly quicker paces. For the big run, I’m aiming to be running at a very reserved pace (for obvious reasons) – around 10:30 per mile. My top 6 mile pace is 7.5 minutes per mile, so it’s all about control.
And that’s all I have to say at this point in time really. The Lakes recces have been really useful in terms of building up my uphill fitness and leg strength (and obviously great because the Lakes is beautiful), and I’m generally feeling OK about the whole thing. This may change in 7 weeks, when it’s only a week until my first ultramarathon of the year, of course. But that’s for Future Simon to worry about. Stupid Future Simon.
Miles: 91 (best week 27 miles)
Longest Individual Run: 11.2 miles
Miles to go: Many. So, so many.
Weight: 98.5 kg
Resting Heart Rate: 56
Amount of Seafood Consumed in Barcelona: I drank so much that I now have a two-second memory, like several of the fish I consumed
I’m writing this the night before I set off on my first proper hill run of the year: The Fairfield Horseshoe. It represents a small section of the actual ultra route in October. I’ve done the Horseshoe before both in full and in smaller sections, but I’ve never run it. What kind of an idiot would do that?! At 11 miles and 3,000 feet of total incline, it represents a quarter of the distance and incline of the Lakes in a Day route, so will be a really good gauge of how I’m doing at the moment. It’s also a mere 2.5 weeks before I join up with my running partner for the first time for a training weekend – again in the Lakes. To be perfectly frank, I’ve expelled larger things than him into the toilet after a heavy weekend’s drinking, so I’m naturally concerned that my endurance levels won’t hold up. I’ve prepared well for the distance; I’ve run 11.2 miles in 1 hour 45, but since then I’ve also abused my body by eating all the octopus in the ocean and drinking too much Vermouth in Barcelona (NB: It is virtually impossible to eat octopodes out of existence; a female octopus lays 200,000 eggs in her lifetime, and, if anything, their species grows at a rate above global fishing. NB#2: The plural of octopus is octopodes. You’re bloody welcome).
3D octopus jigsaw – 50 delicious pieces
The old weight loss has dealt me a hefty (ha!) blow too. Instead of shrinking away, my legs have instead put on substantial amounts of muscle, leading to me not so much losing weight as changing shape slightly while maintaining the same weight as before. If this continues, I will become a triangle – something which I pointedly refuse to do (sorry not sorry – couldn’t resist). I will also encounter serious issues when the mileage jumps up to marathon lengths, something about which I am already a little concerned, even though there are still…SHIT! Ok, let’s scrap the word “still”. There are 12 weeks until our first trail marathon of the year. Bugger me backwards with a barge pole! (As my mother used to say – apologies Mum – Happy Mother’s Day again by the way).
I REALLY hate Particle Man
So, how’s it been so far? Let’s weigh up the pros and cons – I’ll do five, because it will satisfy my OCD.
PRO: I can run a 10k pretty much anywhere, at any time now.
CON: This has no practical use in modern life whatsoever.
PRO: I feel like I am just about on track so far with regards to the year’s training.
CON: I have done the easy bit. Subsequent 10-week training patterns will be significantly longer and more time-consuming.
PRO: I have noticeably lost body fat.
CON: It’s somehow migrated south from my stomach, turning into extra leg muscle. I now have to wear padded cycling shorts to walk to the shops to prevent the most severe kind of chafing.
PRO: AfterI run, I feel virtuous and healthy like some kind of superhuman monk.
CON: Five Guys have just joined Just Eat.
PRO: My brain is sharper; I’m now able to recognise simple shapes and patterns.
CON: The patterns that I have thus far recognised are patterns of binge drinking.
Well, I’m not too sure that was a helpful exercise at all, but as Magnus Magnusson used to say: I’ve farted so I’ll stinish. Odd guy.
Longest Individual Run: 8 miles
Miles to go: 1,900
Weight: 97 kg
Resting Heart Rate: 54
Overall Mood: Violently swinging – like sadistic polyamory
Surely only those of you with the most unbelievably sharp presence of mind will have noticed that this is two posts combined into one. This is partly because it’s been a couple of busy weeks in the world of sofa-based self-employment (no webcams involved), but partly because there has been very little to say. I find this to be quite a pleasing metaphor for such a long training programme with such a steep upward curve. The fact is I don’t always make a discernible improvement every time I run. And now I’m six weeks in, I’m beginning to come to terms with this. In weeks 1, 2 and 3, not only was every single run a tangible step forward, but if it wasn’t then I would be riddled with anxiety, like a corpse at the end of a Western. I’m slowly but surely learning to temper my expectations. They are now as follows:
Some days, you just feel like shit. These are not days for improvement, these are just days for mileage.
I won’t be less knackered than the previous run every time. The very notion is absurd – this is not how anything in life has ever worked.
I will not necessarily be able to run further every Sunday, and I can’t necessarily rigidly follow the training programme I downloaded on the Internet, because it doesn’t take into account my specific fitness, injuries, mental state or work timetable.
I intend to read these back to myself every time I start to feel anxious. Because, as fate would have it, by doing an activity that has proven to be extremely beneficial to those who suffer from anxiety, I’m now anxious about my ability to do it, and do it well. Those who have told you that suffering from anxiety is exhausting are spot on, and this paragraph is testament to the fact. I get anxious that I will have an anxiety attack, before I have had one. How utterly ridiculous the human brain really is.
Charlie Brown is fucking bob on.
So, what of the next few weeks? Well, I have a goal in mind. I would like to get to half marathon distance by March 4th. That gives me two and a half weeks. I’m not going to stipulate whether this should be outside or on the treadmill at this stage, as my shins will dictate that – and I’m not going to panic about it. I’m also not going to set a time to adhere to. I would be loosely happy with two hours, factoring in my new stride pattern and extremely restrained pace, but if I accidentally go more quickly or slowly then so be it. This is part of my resolution not to be beholden to “one size fits all” training regimes. Because LIFE IS NOT LIKE THAT.
Oh, just as an amusing aside to finish on – I did an absolutely tremendous fart while working my way up Beecroft Hill today. It must have changed pitch about seven times – more than an entire Iggy Pop album – and I swear it helped me shave three seconds off my time. I am reliably informed that this is a pretty standard by-product of running. I now need to make sure that the next one I do takes an old lady’s hat clean off, kills a passing crow stone dead, or summons Cthulhu.
Miles to go: 1,959
Lower Body: Glued together with an eye-watering array of tape and supports
Here we are then! It’s time to take a deep breath and start the marathon training programme for real. It’s a spreadsheet of seemingly random words; strides, lunges, recoveries, sprints… fartlek (calm down now), and the numbers next to the days are escalating rapidly beyond the counting capacity of your average young toddler / regular at the Leeds train station Wetherspoon’s. By the time February is over, I will (in theory) be running in excess of 10k four times per week. My Sunday long runs will be as close to full marathons as halves, and I assume, I will have started to get “runner face”. Right this moment though, I’m staring at the training spreadsheet, turning it upside-down and every which way in an effort to make the numbers look less like they are trying to jump off the screen and attack me.
“But I can count to eleventy…”
I’ve made a bit of headway with my shins though… shinway? I’ve drastically reduced my stride length, which has resulted in that weird shuffly run that comes to mind when you think of liquorice-thin, middle-aged distance runners; a kind of wobbly fast walk, with floppy hands bouncing from side to side like a sped-up version of Dale Winton wandering around a shit British supermarket in 1994. I can do that for an hour without stopping now, and with pretty tolerable pain at the end, as long as I stretch for a good 10-20 minutes both before and after the run.
Convincing a generation of children that shoplifting is fine if you do it to dated music.
And I do feel fitter. My lungs feel larger, and I generally feel a bit less depressed – although this could be because January is ending, and we’ve had a few blue skies. I’m also genuinely excited about seeing if I can get myself up to a half marathon in the next four weeks. Ok, maybe “excited” is a little strong. I am far less daunted by the prospect of the rest of the year than I was two weeks ago, though. What’s the word for “slightly better than totally apathetic”? I’ll borrow from 10 Things I Hate About You; I’m whelmed. Let’s hope that I’m not adding a prefix to that by the end of the week.
Just to be clear – I think I’m trying to say that I don’t absolutely hate every single moment of this. I think. Maybe.
Miles to go: 1,979
VO2 Max: 46
It’s been a tough week. You can set out to do things with the best of intentions, but ultimately if something more important comes along, then your intentions have to be shelved. This week, unfortunately, that something was the sudden death of my grandfather. There isn’t much to say about this – we all loved him, he led an incredible, inspiring life, and his four children in particular are understandably devastated. So, I’m going to depart from the usual pattern of petty, sweary humour that is my “level” of intellect for just a second to post a nice photo of him – if you’ll indulge me.
My grandfather David and his wife Jean, with my brother James, and me – 1987
And I’m back in the room. As Flanders and Swann would say: Pee, Po, Belly, Bum, Drawers!
I’ll tell you what, though. He wouldn’t have been impressed that I departed from my running routine so that I could be sad. Oh no. And he certainly wouldn’t condone the kind of moping that would stop me from completing my training program, and the upcoming races. You see, when it comes to the stubbornness (and pedantry) that has worked its way through my entire family, David was patient zero. He was the Uber-pedant. King Stubborn. I have tried – believe me, I have tried very hard – but I still feel as if I can only aspire to hit the heights of the great man. Like so many runners will do over the next 9 months, he has left me trailing in his wake.
So, as the training gets tougher, and my shins become more swollen, I am going to use David as my inspiration. He was unbelievably tough, resilient and unwilling to admit any kind of defeat in life, and I will attempt to follow up the hills, along the paths and through the mud, all in his footsteps. And every time I feel like giving up, instead of summoning up extra courage from within myself, I’ll just imagine him giving me a look that says “Don’t even think about it”. That ought to do it. He’d probably have done all the runs in a better time too – just to prove that he could.
Anyway, this week is the final week of my “ramp-up” training. Next week, the proper marathon programme starts and I’ll be relying on him to help me keep going back to the gym when I’m in pain, or I’m tired, or I simply can’t be arsed. But then, he never let anyone down in life, so I know he won’t let me down now, even in death.
Miles to go: 1,988
VO2 Max: 46
Shin Splints: OUCH
I feel a little bit like Icarus. Well, except for the Greek bit. And my Dad didn’t create a massive labyrinth. And I didn’t try and build wings – who even does that? And I haven’t drowned. But other than that, I feel a little bit… no, exactly like Icarus. Or at least I thought shin splints were like Icarus, in that they were a myth. And now I’m drowning in a sea of pain, choking on the hubris that has led to the only set of wings in my line of sight being those of Nemesis. Woe is me, death befalls us all…
Alright, this may be a slight exaggeration. It fucking hurts though. Like, well bad, innit? It’s like the kind of pain that loan sharks inflict upon you when you don’t pay up. A writhing, baseball-batty kind of a feeling. I’m now on a diet of weird stretches and hobbling, but it also means compression socks, a return to the dreaded treadmill (the dreadmill) and the looming spectre of something even more disturbing emerging from the tarry pit of doom that is any reputable gym; the cross-trainer.
“I will cut you, bitch.”
Anyway, this week I have been alternating between slower and faster runs. I’ve found a decent treadmill pace that I feel I could run at forever (for the purposes of this post, forever = anywhere between 1 and 15 hours), and I actually enjoyed the final two runs of the week, despite one of them being the day after an extremely important staple in any Dry January disciple’s calendar: the accidental-on-purpose beer festival.
I have two more weeks of increasing my workout duration in stages, although some of my mileage will have to be completed on the cross trainer due to the aforementioned shins (not The Shins – they are far less palatable). It’s all about cardio at this stage though – building up a level of endurance and being used to breathing heavily for longer and longer periods of time, like a really persistent stalker. Today, for instance, I’m taking my phone, headphones and some duck / duct tape to the gym. This final ingredient is key; I don’t want anyone thinking I’m not a dangerous kidnapper, and that it’s therefore acceptable to use the machinery directly adjacent to me (note to Interpol, A.K.A my most frequent blog visitors – duct tape will actually be used to secure my phone to the screen of the cross trainer so I can watch Netflix – an hour on the cross trainer is roughly as dull as being locked in a room with Tim Henman, but the walls are all padded, thus removing the most logical route to the sweet release of death, meaning that you are forced to commit suicide by repeatedly lacerating your own temples against his giant teeth).
My “run buddy” and I are training separately until March, so I can’t be entirely sure if he is experiencing any similar issues. My brain has taken over though, and I find myself passing my running time imagining him skipping blissfully over mountains and rivers, singing “Fa la la la la” and “Hey Nonny” and suchlike while all the woodland creatures of the world dance along merrily behind him. He isn’t sweating. Oh no. The only moisture that touches his face is but the gentle morning dew of a crisp spring day as his mind serenades him with the greatest symphonies known to man. I imagine jealously stabbing him in his stupid little trim midget body, but then I realise that instead he’s waltzing off into the distance and I’m sitting naked in a puddle, hitting a nearby plant with a butter knife.
Miles to go: 2,005
VO2 Max: 48
Desire to eat so much cheese that I turn yellow: Ever-rising
Well, here we are. I’d like to thank my fans around the world, all the Kenyans whose achievements I have far outstripped in under a week and, of course, my Mum. Only 2,005 miles to go! And I thought it’d be hard…
I’ve done five short runs this week at a slow pace – I’m trying to focus on the kind of pace I might be able to maintain for the best part of an entire day. Obviously, this requires a carefully calculated, scientific approach, so I tried running with an open, 90%-full flask of whisky for a bit, to see how quickly I could do this without spilling most of it all over myself. It turns out that the answer is roughly a 9-9.5-minute mile, in case, you know, you’d like to “ask for a friend”.
I’ve also been very cautious with my glass knees. I will be doing three of my five weekly runs on the treadmill all month, and two longer, slower runs on relatively flat, forgiving paths alongside canals. I’ve already had to upgrade my weight loss plan by an extra (circa) seventy-three kilos to compensate for the weight of the ludicrous assortment of neoprene supports that will cover various parts of my lower body, the further I run.
Incomprehensibly though, when I looked in the mirror this morning, I was still staring back at myself. I wasn’t Mo Farah yet – this has come as an enormous shock to me, so I haven’t done any running today. On a slightly less stupid level, my resting heart rate has gone up, and I have been sleeping less well. I’m assuming that this is because 13 miles is pretty insignificant, and I’m therefore still just suffering from the same insomnia as before. Or maybe running is bad for us all, and I should instead attempt to kill 2,018 Germans on Call of Duty (NB Object of Call of Duty may or may not be to kill Germans – can not confirm) in one year. Or eat 2,018 steaks. You’d all sponsor me to eat 2 tonnes of meat and write about it, right?
Anyway, on to this week and the rest of January. Each week for the remainder of the month will be the same in terms of structure, but with an extra mile per run each time that day come around again – except for Saturdays, which always stay the same. To be clear:
This week: Tues, 3 miles, Weds 4 miles, Thurs 3 miles, Sat 3 miles, Sun 4.5 miles
Next week: Tues 4 miles, Weds 5 miles, Thurs 4 miles, Sat 3 miles, Sun 5.5 miles
And so on and so forth. The idea is that I will then be running the amount of miles per week required to start proper marathon training come the first week of February, which coincides with it being 16 weeks until the Calderdale Marathon. This also means that I can eat roughly 400 grams more cheese each week without putting on weight. This equates to – roughly – 14 slices of cheese on toast, or two per day. Alternatively, I could carry the one, subtract the number I first thought of, and eat about 97 wheels of Laughing Cow (other fake cheeses also available). Either way, if my calculations are correct, I should be at “CHEESE LEVEL: FRENCHMAN” by January 31st.