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5 Days to Go: All Manner of Swearing

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.

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18 Days to Go: Cramp, Exhaustion and Mental Fatigue

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.

xxx

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72 Days to Go: An Emerging Sense of Belief

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.

Consider yourselves told.

Actual picture of my bag this Thursday evening

 

 

 

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April – Ruinous, Ruinous April

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.

Miles: 75
Target Miles for April: 120

Longest Run: Half Marathon (13.1 miles)
Target Longest Run: 18 miles

Body Weight: 96.5kg
Target Body Weight: 93kg

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:

  1. I will run a minimum of 130 miles in May, with a longest single run of 20 miles.
  2. 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…
  3. 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.

 

 

 

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Weeks 8-10: Variety is the Spice of Pain

Review of Recent Weeks:

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.

U wot M8?

 

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Week 4: Derailed? Not a Bit of It

Week 3 Review:

Miles: 18.5
Miles to go: 1,979
Weight: 99kg
VO2 Max: 46
Emotional State:

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.

And nor I him.

In Memoriam – April 24th 1928-January 20th 2018