Wednesday, 30 December 2009

2009 summary: some ups and some downs.

This concludes my first year's running blog. I have Karen MacDonald of Runfurther to thank for persuading me at the Wye Ultra to start it. It has been rewarding and therapeutic, if time-consuming.

For me, 2009 was another great year of pushing personal athletic boundaries and always learning; learning what my body can do, learning some new ways to fail and learning how not to fail against adversity if the carrot is big enough (thoughts of the Runfurther Grand Slam during the Pumlumon Challenge and High Peak 40). It was also another year of meeting old and new running and walking friends and exchanging stories of success and sometimes failure (the latter on my part at least).

2009 started off pretty well. A couple more 10th anniversaries were bagged on the events (Rombald Stride, Anglezarke Amble) and I'm still surprising myself with more PBs, even on a 10th completion. No doubt the frozen and firm conditions early on helped with some results (The Hebden, Two Crosses Circuit, Rombald Stride). Not many weeks later we enjoyed early warmth and sunshine (Wye Ultra, Starkholmes Stagger, Calderdale Hike, and that only brings us up to April).

The first half of the year brought some really good races with satisfying outcomes:
3rd Jan – The Hebden (PB1);
11th Jan – Two Crosses Circuit (PB2);
7th Feb – Rombald Stride (PB fodder but new, slower route);
14th Feb – Anglezarke Amble (10th completion and PB3);
14th Mar – Wuthering Hike / Haworth Hobble (PB4);
21st Mar – Starkholmes Stagger (PB5);
28th Mar – Kipling Kaper (PB6);
18th Apr – Calderdale Hike (big PB7 and highest Runfurther points (805) this year, probably ever);
2nd May – local 5k Parkrun (PB8);
9th - 10th May – The Fellsman (big PB9 by 1hr 34mins);
16th May – Marlborough Downs Challenge (PB10);
6th Jun – Wharfedale Off-Road Marathon (PB11);
13th Jun – Three Rings Of Shap rings 1 and 2 (fastest times on both rings).

This is all getting very boring and repetitive I can hear you say, but fear not. It couldn't possibly continue, especially since I've been at it for just on 14 years and the big ol' five-o isn't far over the horizon now. I must have been on borrowed time for years as it is. Time to come back down to earth. Here are some not-so-good races with less than ideal outcomes:

27th Jun – Western States Endurance Run.
Retired (timed out) at 62 miles after vomiting blood for 34 miles. Nausea was beginning to set in at 19 miles, already forcing me to a walk.
Lesson 1. If you ever do Western States, drink water between the aid stations and only drink GU2O at the aid stations, NOT ALL THE TIME. In other words, do what I always used to do, until this year. Stupid boy :-(
This was my first Hundred DNF. I learned that a Hundred completion is not a given just by slowing down a bit if it gets tough. Sometimes, medical issues can make it impossible, no matter how slowly you go.

25th Jul – local 5k Parkrun (PW).

28th - 29th Aug – Tour du Mont Blanc.
Retired at 77 miles, drained and devoid of leg strength. I was beyond the restorative qualities of food and drink. I had run on empty for too long on the quest for an aid station with food.
Lesson 2. If you ever do the UTMB, do not rely on the aid stations for food when you need it. Be prepared to use your own for regular fuelling. The aid stations sometimes become the back-up, not vice versa as my mind was conditioned towards.
This was my second Hundred DNF. I was beginning to make a habit of this all of a sudden. Now I would not complete a 100-miler in 2009 when originally I had planned to complete three.

12th Sept – Pumlumon Challenge.
I was just recovering from the lurgy and I would not have travelled had this not been a Runfurther event. The Grand Slam was at stake so 'needs must an' all that'. I felt quite perky on the start line but it didn't last long into the race. My finishing time was virtually an hour down on what it should have been. I earned my lowest Runfurther points so far (643). I was too far gone afterwards to face the long journey home. I crashed out in a local hotel to build sufficient strength to return the next morning.

19th Sept – High Peak 40.
Allow me to quote from my running diary: “I have felt tired, lacklustre and disinterested in life all week. It was a chore to even be present at the start. I was only there through Grand Slam obligation.” I love this event and this was to be my 10th completion out of 10 starts. I was shocked at how negative I was feeling. If you read the blog report (linked above) you will realise how close I was to dropping out and shattering the Grand Slam dream. But I didn't. I came back to finish feeling stronger than I felt last week and grab a near-PW for this event and my lowest Runfurther points (606) of the year.

Taking a more positive line again, the second half of the year wasn't all doom and debacle at the events. A few more PBs came my way. The best one, which must rank alongside the Calderdale Hike for the rewarding feeling I felt, was the Round Rotherham on 17th October. The event had been brought forward a couple of months in the hopes of killing off the run of bad weather we had endured for the previous two years. It worked. Abnormally dry months leading up to the event produced perfect conditions for PBs all round. My time of 9hrs 13mins was a PB by 58 minutes. I never imagined being able to run a 50-mile trail race that fast. Needless to say I was 15 minutes down on my Snowdonia Marathon time the following weekend but I couldn't care because I was still on Cloud 9.

My running year ended with an early enforced taper and cancelled events due to a dose of 'flu (not the 'man' variety either; this was real) then a cold. The first winter snows provided beautiful running conditions for a few last-gasp runs to work before the overindulgences of Christmas.

Some statistics for 2009.
Miles completed – 1,797 (excludes training runs because I didn't do any).
Personal Bests – 18 (where there was a previous completion to compare against).
Personal Worsts – 1 (where there was a previous completion to compare against).
Number of Ultras – 17.
Total Ultras since 1996 – 115.

Looking forward to next year:

I received a pair of Vibram fivefingers for Christmas. Being an habitual 'bare-footer' I've hankered after a pair of these since they first came out in the US a year or two ago. I have not run in them yet but they feel very comfortable to walk in. I look forward to trying them on my runs into work. I may report on them early in the New Year.

The stark realities of the Western States Endurance Run lottery were brought home to me this month. I did not get picked so I will not be going to Squaw Valley next June to put right what I messed up this year. My 4-year habit has come to an end. Well done to all those who did get in. Do yourselves proud on that course.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Stockport 10 (miles). 13/12/2009

It’s been a month since I’ve done any running thanks to the flu after Dunnerdale requiring five days off work and my first ever sick note for such an occurrence. That has been followed by weeks of gurgling lungs, a lingering cough and a distinct lack of enthusiasm for running. Even my plan to run a 5k Parkrun on Saturday (to remind my body what running feels like) fell by the wayside. My final preparation for the rude awakening and baptism of fire was the consumption of a bottle of red on Saturday evening while watching the X-Factor (go Joe!). I had turned into a sloth and I was beginning to hate myself.

On Sunday morning I cycled to the Stockport Harriers track in the cool winter sunshine feeling a little more delicate than I should have been feeling just before any run, let alone a 10-mile road race. I knew a Personal Worst was a certainty.

The weather gods were smiling on us like they always do for this event. I joined the general massed migration towards Woodbank Park and the running track, where I was greeted by the usual carnival atmosphere of gazebos, stalls selling sporting wares and crowds of runners, supporters and spectators milling around. Much to my shame, this was my first visit to the track since last year’s Stockport 10, yet it seemed like only yesterday since I was there.

After a meet-and-greet session of club mates and other runners seen weeks or months before on various ultra events, I joined the throng on the track to await the instructions, count-down and “GO”. The race was a sell-out, no doubt helped by the always excellent friendly support and the (in)famous goody bag at the end. I wonder what it would contain this year.

The first mile through the park and out onto the minor roads went quite well for me, after which there may have been a slight drop-off in my pace. Don’t ask me why, but the fact that I was rapidly overheating (my head was beginning to boil so my festive Santa hat had to come off) and the fact that the other runners slowly began to overtake me may have had something to do with it. It wasn’t exactly a comfortable or pleasurable experience, more like a case of just holding on and surviving to the end. I rolled my sleeves up, which helped a little more with the cooling.

As we approached the first single file coned-off section along the edge of the busy A-road without footpath, there was a back-up in the traffic caused by a car waiting to turn left but unable to do so because of the stream of runners crossing the side road. I immediately felt guilty like I always do when car drivers are inconvenienced like that. (I always envisage seething tempers and road rage.) I glanced behind me and noticed a small gap in runners. I slowed down to allow the car to turn. The runners behind me didn’t take my cue, and then Bob Hope from Emmerdale, who was manning the crossing, shouted: “No no, carry on”. I was overruled and we had right of way. My feeling of guilt did not abate as I crossed the road like a sheep.

A descent and brief climb up the other side brought us to the top of Bong’s Road and a merciful departure from the traffic. I was officially hot and had to strip right there, so I spent a minute removing vest and long-sleeved top, replacing vest, stuffing top in tiny bum-bag and reattaching bum-bag to waist before setting off down the hill. The improved cooling invigorated me and I felt better able to run.

I bypassed the drinks station at the bottom end of Bong’s Road at around the 5-mile point; my hand-held water bottle was keeping me well supplied with water. The Santa hat which I was also carrying did not bother me because I am used to carrying water bottles and route descriptions for up to 30 hours at a time while out running. I was beginning to get a lot of joking from the marshals about the hat, and why wasn’t it on my head? If it went back onto my head I would surely explode. It made me smile. What a friendly race this is.

I glanced at my heart rate monitor several times as I ran. It was showing 182 – 183bpm every time I looked. I wasn’t surprised it was so fast. It had been raised for weeks. If I survived to the end I was now anticipating a PW of monumental proportions.

The major climb up the other side from the river valley wasn't as bad as some of the road runners would have you believe. After all, if it's a road which cars have to drive as a matter of course, it can't be that bad. It doesn't compare with proper footpaths and mountain trails where cars cannot pass. Some of those HAVE to be walked. I kept the jog going all the way, electing to run on the rough verge to keep the terrain as close as possible to what I'm used to.

I was now holding my own compared to those around me. The bpm feedback might have looked as though my heart should be beating its way out of my chest, but I couldn't feel it and all systems seemed to be just under control, so I carried on giving of my best, offering friendly retorts to the marshals' continued humorous references to my hat. We wound our way left and right, up and down roads to the bottom of New Zealand Road and the second and final climb. I shuffled my way onwards and upwards, trying to push my pelvis forward and resist the temptation to hunch my back to improve my posture and maximise the speed and efficiency of my running, but it was difficult because I was so tired from all the incessant running.

The left turn at the top of New Zealand Road did not bring relief. Still we climbed to the next bend, where we entered the park and our route finally levelled off. I could soon hear the muffled, clipped tones of the PA system at the Stockport Harriers track. I glanced at my watch and simply COULD NOT BELIEVE that a PB was almost in the bag. I gave it all I had through the park as I sprinted towards the athletics track on the far side. Perhaps I should qualify that. My “sprint” would have looked like a recreational jog to any sedentary bystander who could not possibly understand.

I entered the athletics ground and heard my name announced in the fuzzy, compressed style to maximise volume without overt distortion (any audio buffs reading this?). Imagine a butch kazoo if you will: “Number 67 is Nick Ham”. Another runner overtook me as I entered the track but I couldn't give a toss. It's normal at this stage when I'm going flat out. I can only give my ultimate best and I have long since realised that my ultimate best falls well short of what others can muster. I live with it and work around it.

Half a lap of the track and no more overtakings brought me home in 1hr 19mins, a PB by 1min 45secs over last year! That got me a top half placing. What a pleasant surprise considering my less than ideal build-up and my time-consuming striptease at the top of Bong's Road.

The goody bag did not disappoint. The principal prize was a very useful runner's technical T-shirt in fluorescent yellow (for the dark nights) by 'more mile'. I've worn it already on my Monday run to work. It's worth the entry fee alone. In order of increasing quirkiness, further goodies included:
A handful of flyers;
A lolly (“Who loves ya pussy cat?”);
A Penguin biscuit;
A Cadbury STARBAR;
A Stockport 10 sticker;
A mini aerosol of Sanex anti-perspirant;
A sachet of Flexitol deep cooling gel for the feet;
A sachet of Flexitol heel balm (“visible results in 3 days”);
A balloon (brand new, never inflated);
The LoSalt challenge with 5 sachets of the stuff (they forgot that serious sweating from serious exercise needs sodium);
A Robinsons Brewery key ring;
A plastic pouch from Leo Fixings containing two plasterboard fixings;
And finally, 'da piece of resistance', a plastic disposable glove with a pinch of dead meal worms and a pair of eyes (in small, paper sticker form) in one of the fingers.
All of the above was delivered in a Sweatshop carrier bag.

I challenge other races to top this. No wonder the race fills up.

Here are some statistics to amuse and entertain:
Distance – 10 miles on road (undulating – hilly);
Time – 1:19:00 (PB in 4 races since 2004);
Average heart rate – 178bpm;
Maximum heart rate – 190bpm.
Compared to Dunnerdale in the last report, which was bad enough, that heart rate is shocking. Call me an athlete? I laugh in polite derision at such an absurd notion. Ultraplodder by name, ultraplodder by design, ultraplodder by nature.

I took a few pictures, but not during the race, you'll understand.