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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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Weeks 26 and 27: Coming in Hot

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!

 

Muscles adapt…

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.

 

 

 

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Weeks Many-Not Enough: What’s That Brown Stain in my Pants?

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.

  1. Calderdale Ultra – Saturday June 2nd. (30 miles)
  2. Yorkshire 3 Peaks – Saturday June 30th (24.5 miles)
  3. Ingleborough Fell Race – Saturday July 21st (6.2 miles)
  4. The Herriot Way – Saturday July 28th and Sunday July 29th (50 miles)
  5. Yorkshire 3 Peaks (again) – Saturday August 11th (24.5 miles)
  6. 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.

Thanks all xxx

 

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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 6 and 7 – Stepping on Ducks

Weeks 5 and 6 Review:

Miles: 37
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:

  1. Some days, you just feel like shit. These are not days for improvement, these are just days for mileage.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Toot-dle-oo!

PAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARP!
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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