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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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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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Week 23: Recovery, Reflection and Regrouping

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.

Pure elation.

Lessons Learned

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).

Trail shoes: £120.
Road shoes: £110.
Supported socks: £12 (x2)
Leggings: £28 (x2)
Running underwear: £18 (x2)
Ankle compressions: £9 (x2)
Running tops: £10 (x8)
Accessories to meet the over-the-top kit list requirements: £47
Camel Pack: £25
Running Bag: £25

Total spend: £541

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.

And, for me, running helps.

 

 

 

 

 

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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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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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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!