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An Uncomfortable Truth

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.

Race Review

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.

                         Halls Fell Ridge looking stunning from ten feet away

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)

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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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32 Days to Go: Learning to Fail

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!

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52 Days to Go: Final Preparations

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.

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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80 Days to Go: Infections, Feet and Fear

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:

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.

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Like this…

hYMoJLtH_400x400.jpg

“Team Yorkshire”

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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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Week 22: Putting my Runny Where my Mouth Is

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.

And of course…

Just as I was starting to pack yesterday, a package arrived – Yorkshire Cancer Research tops for this event, and the five subsequent ones. Here’s that link again: https://www.justgiving.com/teams/Simonrichardsontombamber

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.

Catch you on the flipside!!!