Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Crosslite mods for Lakeland 100

The Lakeland 50 and 100 are nearly upon us. Loads of people I know are doing it. It filled up months ago. It's built a formidable reputation and become one of the must-do world class tough Ultras in only its 4th year in existence. It'll be my third time and I sense big changes towards greatness. I depart on Thursday pm for the final wind-down and sleep in Coniston, ready for the L100 start at 17:30 on Friday. Fell-running legend Joss Naylor will be setting us off on our (up to) 40-hour journey. Race progress can be followed live via Sportident timing at http://www.lakeland100.com/. Please follow us, will us to finish and will the rain to keep away.

Before all that, I have decided to strengthen my new pair of LaSportiva Crosslites before the uppers get a chance to start ripping. Shoe Goo is my strengthener of choice. My first pair has done many hundreds of miles and served me well, but for half of that time my balls (of my feet!) have been peeking out. I'm hoping that this treatment will delay the, ahem, 'exposure'. I'll let you know how it goes.

Old and new with preventive treatment at the ready.

Masked and ready for gunging.

Shoe Goo'd and curing for Friday.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Shining Tor fell race 6mi. 20/07/2011.

I'm back; hope you didn't miss me ;-)

Last Saturday was filled with my first 5k Woodbank Parkrun since last November (finish photo by 'Adythomas'), followed by a pleasant 11-miler from Walker Barn (to be more precise, the top of Bull Hill Lane on the outskirts of Rainow) to show a friend the last couple of sections of the Bullock Smithy Hike. That was completed in 2 hours with a few walking breaks and a couple of visits to the shops near home. Not bad considering we didn't push the pace.

That brings us nicely to yesterday evening, when I did my first Shining Tor Fell Race. It starts from the Errwood Reservoir in the Goyt Valley, on the other side from registration in the sailing clubhouse. There was an impressive turnout. As we waited for the start we fidgeted madly due to the midges, which made our skin itch and burn and left big red blotches after they had taken their fill. Still, it wasn't all bad. We had swarms of bigger flies in our hair to take our minds off the skin irritation.

After a short delay due to late arrivals we were off along the road. We heard distant applause to our left. I looked down to see a couple of people in a small boat on the water.

I thought the start was a little slow but I soon realised why when we turned right and began the climb. Then followed the typical fell race scenario - trying not to walk while not being so enthusiastic that you HAVE to walk. It worked for me this time. The jog was maintained, while marginal respites were enjoyed as we ran in line along single paths with no opportunities to overtake.

We climbed to the top of Shining Tor and I saw views (in the opposite direction) I hadn't seen since the Bullock Smithy Hike changed its route in 2000. The air was calm, mild and damp to just provide enough cooling. Giving my all was feeling good as we went into our first descent across the bouncy, cushioned moor.

The marshals did a sterling job directing us at all the turns, while the occasional red and white tape wafting gently in the breeze confirmed that we were on route. I just followed the people in front. After the initial climb our route undulated up and down until the final descent. The downhills were a joy but on the first gentle descent when it became rocky I found myself to be a tad lacking when heavy breathing closing from behind culminated in one or two others overtaking me. However, later on when the descents became steeper and more technical and my legs were still feeling strong, it became my turn to do the overtaking. 

Before the final descent, the cloud was rolling in like smoke wafting up the valleys to our ridge and it started to drizzle. It was good. It cleared the atmosphere of our tormentors and it helped to cool runners' bodies as they were pushed to their limits.

The final descent to the foot of Errwood Reservoir dam brought the sting in the tail - the right turn and climb up the road to the finish. I had held my own and not got overtaken on the descent despite the foot slaps that had gradually closed from behind as I chased and eventually overtook my own target. The smooth uphill was runnable so I ran, but it wasn't enough. I became the target and finally got overtaken by the foot slapper but just held off one more before the line. (I nearly got caught when I paused to capture a sharp image of the finish. The result was, unbelievably, pants.)

After crossing the line I turned around to photograph my chasers and tormenters, but before I managed to do that I tripped over a boulder and sat down rather forcefully on a bed of thistles. I relaxed and took the picture. Running shorts afforded little protection. I was picking thistle barbs out of my a*se for the rest of the evening.

The official time was 1:00:23, which got me 91st out of 182 finishers; pretty chuffed with that. Without the conga lines I might have even been able to knock 24 seconds off ;-) The heart rate was only hitting the red this time instead of the scarlet. I felt strong to the end. Fitness seems to be returning just in time for the Lakeland 100.

You will have gathered I took pictures. You are lucky because this was an eyeballs-out fell race, so you will excuse blurredness, skew-whiffness and any other photographic defect. Note the tormented restlessness before the start.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

The Wizard 5. 14/07/2011.

My recovery from the weekend has been rapid. The short cycle commutes since my return to work on Tuesday have been speedy and energetic and my legs have felt very strong. The knee was already fully recovered.

A work colleague told me yesterday about the Wizard 5 race. I jumped at the chance for a short sharp shock, which I haven't had for a good while. It was going to be the second 5k Sale Sizzler but I did not mind passing that one up, since I'd missed the first one and cannot do the full series. Anyway this sounded much more fun. We drove to the National Trust carpark on Macclesfield Road, Alderley Edge to register and check out the route map - a small loop and a big loop with an out-and-back between them. There would be rocky rooty trails, fields, tracks, narrow enclosed paths, stiles, gates and some country lanes. There would also be some ups and downs but nothing extreme, not like a serious fell race. My Stockport Harriers vest was getting its first airing for a few months. I counted four others.

There was a big turn-out of nearly 200. I chatted with Julian Brown from Macclesfield Harriers on the start line before easing my way a little further back to a more appropriate and discreet starting position. The obligatory inaudible utterances were said and we were set off by the pea-modulated screech of the Acme Thunderer. The first mini anticlockwise loop undulated through the wooded old copper mine spoil heaps and workings. The trail was hard and dry. I wasn't used to the speed but I knew it would be doing me some good. We soon returned to the start point and rejoined the rocky initial outward path before turning right onto the much longer anticlockwise loop.
Once out into the warm evening sunshine and exposed tracks, the dust was getting kicked up.
There were plenty of stiles that provided a welcome few seconds to catch our breath.
Single person width paths between wire fences ensured no overtaking for a brief spell (a bit more recovery).
I found myself automatically in polite LDWA mode and held the hand gates open for the next runner. It would have been rude to do otherwise.
Some short sections of country lane allowed as much 'easy' speed as our wracked cardiovascular systems allowed.
The evening sunshine and lack of wind made it rather warm when a heart rate in the mid 180s suggested that a high intensity workout was underway.
I unclenched my fists and let the sweat evaporate from my relaxed hands to aid cooling.
My breathing rasped through my open mouth and my spittle had thickened. I swallowed. The moisture would do more good staying inside me than in the dust.
A runner close behind had been breathing down my neck rather noisily for some time but he hadn't overtaken. I was trying my hardest to not let it happen. Perhaps he was weakening as well.
Well into the return leg a marshal offered comforting words that we'd soon be back into the woods where it would be cooler. No it wasn't. There was no breeze in the open so certainly none in there. There was no cooling moisture or evaporation to reduce enthalpy. It was just the same.
This was a short race so I could afford not to walk up the final climb with the foot steps trodden into the hillside. My tongue was hanging out and my lungs burning as I gasped for air, but the run had to be sustained. The breathing down my neck had receded but I could not ease off. Sprints to the line are common but they are never from me. I could still get caught.
The final climb delivered us to the homeward stretch with its left turn and gentle downhill to the finish. Be careful, don't trip over the rocks in your weakened state.
Around the right hand bend and there's the timekeeper. Across the line. No-one close behind. I'd pulled away!
0:38:36, 7.77mph, 7:43/mi pace, 80th place. By my standards, not bad. Well chuffed.
Average heart rate 179bpm, max heart rate 187bpm - for a 47yo? Yes, it was a good workout alright. I should do it more often.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Manchester-to-Blackpool 100km bike ride. 10/07/2011.

Thousands of cyclists gathered and departed from the world-famous Manchester United football club on a rolling start for several hours from 06:30 onwards. The 100km ride would take us on a winding route in a north-westerly direction on average, but in practice varying between northerly and southerly via Leigh, Atherton, Standish, Chorley, Leyland, Preston, Kirkham, Warton and Lytham St Anne’s.

There was a big assortment of charities being represented by the cyclists, a principal one being Manchester’s Christie cancer hospital. This event is an excellent vehicle for raising funds for many good causes and I was proud to be a part of it.

I work for NXP Semiconductors and our company was once again enabling a large “NXP4C” team (NXP 4 Christie) to raise some valuable funds for that charity upon which so many depend. 87 of us, dressed in our easily recognised, specially printed fluorescent green technical T-shirts, set off at 07:30 to ‘do our own thing’. Speeds and steeds varied greatly but we all had one aim – to complete the journey and do our sponsors proud, which I know we achieved. Whenever the going got tough, our bottoms tenderised or undercarriage chafed, hill too steep, head wind too strong or energy levels low, we could think about the big carrot that was pulling us to the finish. That carrot was the barbecue and drinks on the finishing straight that the company had laid on for us. We were treated like royalty.

In the early stages of our ride we were threatened by a couple of showers, but fortunately they did not last very long. The sun soon came out and the day turned out pleasantly warm for a bike ride. I had done zero cycling practice for many years, the last proper ride being this very event two years previously. However, things seemed to be going relatively effortlessly and before I knew it I was passing Horwich. I had glanced to my right and spotted the communication masts on Winter Hill in the distance, while much closer between the houses I spotted the characteristic shape of the Reebok stadium. Wow, that’s normally an appreciable journey in the car.

From the outset I was surprised by the number of emergency puncture repairs that had to be carried out at the side of the road. I felt sorry for the victims and felt thankful for the tough tyres on my trusty Kona hybrid bike, which although not light or streamlined like a racing bike, feels very comfortable and is a pleasure to ride.

Altogether I had three brief stops, the final one being within a few miles of the finish. Each one was because I could feel my energy levels dropping, causing a slowdown. Having a bite to eat each time soon brought energy back to the legs. It’s just like in ultra running. I had a 2-litre bladder of water in my rucksack so I was able to drink on the go. The rucksack's bulging proportions were helped by extra clothing in case it got cold while we waiting for our return transport. It was never needed.

I spoke to a fellow rider afterwards who complained about how he slowed down and could no longer keep up with me. He told me he didn’t eat anything for the whole journey. He got a lecture from me on the importance of regular fuelling to avoid slowing to a crawl and feeling sorry for oneself. Like many I’ve learned this the hard way in the ultras.

For the most part I had been overtaking earlier-starting cyclists. Some of their machines looked or sounded in no fit state to be doing any distance, let alone 100km. Tyres were partially flat, rusty chains were squealing, gears were grinding and brakes were binding. After we had finished we saw some BMX riders finish. How they managed 100km on their super-low-geared single speeds with ground-level seats and their knees around their ears if they weren’t standing on the pedals, I shall never know. Quad burn probably featured quite highly on their day.

We experienced some long uphill grinds but they rewarded us with some long speedy downhills, which were the only times I used my top gear. I must have exceeded 30mph. I really wanted to activate the 30mph speed limit warning sign on one downhill but it didn’t work. Next time I’ll have to wear a metal jacket and try again.

As I neared the end, increasing numbers of racers, usually in packs, ‘buzzed’ their way past at effortless speed. (Why do expensive road bikes make more noise in their transmission? Surely, more noise equals more wasted energy.) I began to realise that brightness of clothing and machines was proportional to speed; the flashier the faster (usually).

The final 10 miles of this event are the worst. It’s a slog on the flat into a head wind. This is when my knees are getting sore and I slow down and get overtaken the most. However, unlike in 2009 when two sore knees prevented me from cycling for a week, only my left knee was a little sore this time. I crossed the line in 4:02 for an average speed of over 15mph including stops. My time in 2009 was 4:51. How strange that my first PB of 2011 turns out to be a cycling event.

I had 6 hours to kill before we and our bikes got transported back to work. This was spent eating, drinking, chatting and cheering our fellow riders, and others too, to sunny Blackpool promenade. The whole place was buzzing with activity. Among the attractions near the finish line was the Stockport Pantonic steel band – very accomplished, entertaining and amazingly loud (no amplification needed). I watched them for a good while before our 17:30 return coach brought to a close an epic sunny weekend. A big thank-you to all who have sponsored NXP4C this year.

Unlike in 2009 when I had no knee strength and had to wheel my bike home, this time I was able to cycle home relatively energetically on 1.5 leg power. 2 leg power returned within a day. There are no after-effects. Today I spoke to a regular cyclist who mentioned how tough he finds it on the legs to get back to walking or running after not doing it for a while. In contrast, my ultra runner's legs did not suffer at all from a long bike ride on zero practice. Does this mean that trail/hill/fell/mountain running affords better all-round leg fitness and is better for cycling than cycling is for running? Any thoughts from seasoned cyclists out there would be gratefully received.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

White Peak Walk 26mi. 09/07/2011.

The White Peak Walk is low-key and never advertised, but it fills to capacity months in advance.

A sub-5hr and two minutes off a PB. Now there's a pleasant surprise. I'll take that. :-) Heart rate this time averaged at 173bpm and peaked at 185bpm. I'm not there yet but fitness seems to be returning already, otherwise I could not have pulled off this time, even at 173bpm.

It was another beautiful warm sunny day with a cooling breeze at times, and it didn't rain. It goes without saying that the views were gorgeous. How could they not be gorgeous? This is Britain. We are so lucky.

I took pictures but you'll have to be patient. I have no time to upload them now as I have a 04:30 alarm call tomorrow. The 100km Manchester-to-Blackpool bike ride awaits, in aid of The Christie cancer hospital (our sponsor page).
I spoke to yet another person today who is having to make use of The Christie's treatment services.
If it were not for The Christie you would not be enjoying my ramblings and race pictures. :-)

Pictures now uploaded. We had the novelty this year of going through the Headstone Tunnel under Monsal Head now that it's been opened. It allows uninterrupted travel along that part of the Monsal Trail. They'd even laid a road for us.

This picture shows a quintissential English scene, in this case Youlgrave. Spot the increasingly rare red telephone box hiding in the shadows:

Thought for today.

I think I must use Stuart Mills' theory of positive mental attitude while pushing the body to its limits, but there is an important proviso. As long as we accept that everyone is not born equal and that one man's (or woman's) ancestral inheritance may confer vastly different inate PBs, dissatisfaction, frustration, envy, jealousy, bitterness or giving up trying should not arise. We will continue to do our own thing and enjoy the (personal) challenge every time. If you have a competitive streak but you are not blessed with ultimate speed, you can only compete with yourself (and perhaps one or two others whose race times might suggest that they are similarly 'blessed' to you).
For the privileged few with good ancestry (good training is assumed), running an ultra at 70% of their maximum effort will get them a podium finish. For the slightly less blessed it may get them a top 10 placing. For many of us, just to finish within the cutoff time is a major achievement. Make the best of what you've got.

The Western States 100 was run at the end of June. The winning time was 15:34:24 by Kilian Jornet of Spain. He was the first non-US runner ever to win that race. Our very own Jez Bragg finished 4th in 15:55:08. My PB in that event (also a Hundred PB as it happens, and I've run a few) is 27:18. No amount of training could ever have forced a sub-16 out of me.


Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Osmotherley Phoenix 33mi. 02/07/2011.

Race 8 of 12 in the 2011 Runfurther series.

Immediately after Shires and Spires I departed on a business trip to visit customers in South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and China. Fortunately the Chilean volcano dust cloud saved me from a further excursion to New Zealand, which might have proved to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. I returned home just in time for another customer visit in SE England and only made it back to work on Thursday 30th June. I needed to undo the damage of 4 weeks of sitting on aeroplanes, in taxis, stations, trains, offices and at customers. I had planned to run the first 5k Sale Sizzler on Thursday but I still had far too much to do and could not spare the time. I had the entry form filled in and everything. So, come Saturday 2nd July I found myself at the start line of my 4th Osmotherley Phoenix, super rested and racing-snake fit for the best PB of my life. (Who sniggered? No? Must have been me.)

I drove up on Friday for two nights' accommodation in the Queen Catherine Hotel. I like relaxed race weekends so I can chill and not be rushed. I like to think it will eke out the best athletic performance but I remain to be convinced. Living on the edge and last minute rushes seem to get the adrenalin pumping more to give better results, from what I can recall.

The weather was superb yet again and I looked forward to yet another warm, sunny event with dry conditions underfoot. My first priority was to hand over the Runfurther sponsors’ flags to Simon, for which I had to wait to be let out of the pub at 07:30. (The poor landlord only got to bed at 02:30.) The flags had been in my possession since the Brecon Beacons 40 because I was in charge of them at Shires and Spires. Then it was time to get registered and bend some ears. It’s one of my favourite pastimes, bending ears. You may have noticed. I was spoilt for choice with such a big reunion – Runfurther Si, Garry from Hardmoors 55, Ian from Calderdale 2009, Henry from Calderdale 2011, Richard from years of LDWA events, Chris, Geoff (a right speed merchant though he’ll always deny it), Mark (who achieved even scarier speed on that day), Rick from most events I’ve done this year, Dave from Shires and Spires, Dave with ‘Charlie’ the Border Collie with the race-ready haircut, the list goes on. I joked with Charlie (the human) over his turn of speed in last year’s YouTube video as he clawed his way across the finish line to gain one over his mate. Pat gave me a slap on the bum on the stage in the village hall by way of greeting. ‘ow do to you too, Mr Mullen ;-)

An announcement went out that we did not need to take waterproof trousers, so I offloaded mine into my bag on the stage and went outside to wait for the start. The instructions had been said (audible only to 10% of the throng; the organisers really do need to get some amplification) and the church clock was about to strike 9 to send us on our way when I suddenly realised I no longer had my route description and printed maps in my hand. I ran back to the village hall to scan tables, floor, my bag and the stage, during which the clock struck. A lady in the hall helpfully informed me that they had started.

I sometimes get disturbing dreams of still faffing around to get ready for a race after it's started. This was one dream I never wanted to live but here it was, happening for real. I still feel mentally scarred ;-)

I could not find my route notes so I ran back outside to ask for another route description sheet from the organisers. I reckoned I would need it for the fiddly navigation across the fields and through the woods and derelict farms between checkpoints 6 and 7. As I set off up the road out of the village to chase the rear of the pack I looked at the sheet of A4 and thought: “That'll never last long”. It didn't. Within an hour it was turning to mush and had acquired several ragged rips in my sweaty hand, aided a little by the odd drip from my hand-held bottle. To avoid any further damage I stuffed it into a waist pouch of my backpack until I really needed it, to let it dry out and recover a bit of strength in its fibres.

In pre-race conversations I had been telling people that I'd probably blow up by 15 miles due to lack of training. Oh how naively optimistic that proved to be. On the initial climb out of the village as I weaved my way slowly through the pack, I sensed a bit of a personal struggle developing. A glance at my heart rate monitor showed 180bpm plus. I don’t know about "blow up at 15 miles", I was already combusted before I'd started! That set the tone for the rest of the day. A jog for more than 5 minutes or a walk up a steep hill had me red-lining. The end result of my best efforts was a Personal Worst by over half an hour. 2011 is turning out to be a good year for PWs. I have yet to gain a PB.

The effect of prolonged rest (call it enforced slothfulness) is not a big surprise for me. I've been here before. This was yet more proof that rest is counterproductive (even two weeks has a negative effect) and results in a rapid decline in fitness. Conversely, serious weekly ultra-marathons reap dividends in improved speed and cardiovascular fitness (look at my performances up to the beginning of June at the end of some serious consecutive Ultras). To illustrate further, compare my 2007 and 2011 Osmotherleys and lead-ups:

26-27 May. LDWA Cant Canolbarth Cymru. 100 miles. 31:23. (FIT)
16 June. White Bear Way. 21 miles. 3:39. PB. (FIT)
23-24 June. Western States. 100 miles. 27:18. PB. (FIT)
28 June. Sale Sizzler No 1. 5k. 22:48. No noticeable effect of Western States in the legs. (FIT)
07 July. Osmotherley Phoenix.33 miles. 6:45. PB. Ave heart rate 165bpm, max heart rate 178bpm. (FIT).
This will probably be my all-time best at Osmotherley. A heart rate of 165 is my optimum for speed with endurance.

28-29 May. LDWA Housman 100. 100 miles. 28:52. (FIT)
05 June. Shires and Spires Northants Ultra. 35 miles. 6:23. (FIT)
02 July. Osmotherley Phoenix.33 miles. 7:24. PW. Ave heart rate 170bpm, max heart rate 185bpm. (UNFIT).
According to this heart rate, as far as my body was concerned I put in far more effort than I did in 2007.

The fuel's going in but nothing's happening.

I know I can only run (or walk) as I feel able, so I did just that. I was struggling but the day was gorgeous, so the worst that would happen would be a bit more sun tan. As I pushed my personal limits, too far gone to bother about the swarms of flies buzzing around my head, I found my pace to be well matched with Gavin Stewart's. He was a great companion and the conversation flowed freely until the last manned checkpoint, when I shuffled ahead onto the final moor, on the way catching up with Mike Dobson-Hornett. He was suffering from nausea and had a right personal battle going on, but he was persevering to the finish, and finish he did, not far behind me as it happens. I had no idea he was suffering so much until I read his blog report last night. Well done Mike for finishing what you started no matter how bad it felt. You display the true qualities of an ultra runner with that never-give-up attitude.

The sunshine and temperature were showing no signs of abating. At the first self clip and final water station I was roasting (roast ham) so I removed my top to complete the final 5 miles across Black Hambleton and down into Osmotherley 'nekid', save for the bare essentials of shorts, footwear, backpack and Buff as a sweat band to keep the salt out of my eyes. The ventilation felt good. There was a down side to this freedom, though. I felt obliged to run whenever I passed walkers on the trail to avoid appearing a fraud. I even had to resort to creeping up on them before breaking out into a jog to pass. This deceitful practice was necessary because I could not sustain even a downhill jog for many minutes before internal warning sirens started to wail. Just 4 weeks and it’s come to this....

Gavin gives me the thumbs up at the last manned checkpoint.

I was happy to finally cross the finish line and put another one to bed to keep the Grand Slam alive with no harm done. I had enjoyed another brilliant day out in beautiful country with like-minded people. The Osmotherley Phoenix is organised to perfection. Big thanks to Gerry, Julie and all the helpers. It’s also a fast race. I always finish in the bottom half but this was the first time I’d finished in the bottom 20% of finishers. The Ultraplodder has been relegated to Ultrawannabe. In the next 4 weeks I hope to regain all the fitness I’ve lost so dramatically in the previous 4 in time for the next biggie, the Lakeland 100. Eek!

Post-race ear-bending continued where I’d left off with those who were still hanging around. The evening was completed with merriment on the village green until nightfall, where the locals consumed many yards of ale. I'd already had my fill so I just watched and laughed.

Nearly 10pm and Matthew drinks a whole Yard.

Pictures are here.

8 down, 4 to go.......


I'm in no fit state to pull it off, but after the 26-mile White Peak Walk this coming Saturday (where no doubt another PW awaits), on Sunday I will do the 100km Manchester-to-Blackpool bike ride in aid of The Christie hospital. I will be part of a team from work called NXP4C. Because I do no cycling these days I fear a big suffer-fest. In light of my undoubted personal sacrifice and because I have The Christie to thank for being here now (they treated me for testicular cancer in 2003), I and my team mates would truly appreciate any sponsorship you feel able to give. Our JustGiving page is here. Thank you, and many thanks to you generous souls who have already donated.