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.



  1. Bit of a pickle at the start to compliment the roast Ham.

    A well balanced race.

    33 miles more than most have 'normal' folk did at the weekend.

  2. Sounds like a really nice day out Nick. You'll be in good shape for the Lakes 100, no worries.

  3. its hard when life (work life anyway) gets in the way of prep and fitness. combine with that warmth on the day and you got what you got i guess. an off day perhaps admist many on days. see you in the lakes. im staying on the sunday night as are a few others if youre around for more merriment!

  4. Nick-I reckon that travel, jet lag and general weariness from work play a much bigger factor than you suggest. I would argue you weren't rested at all and with no training to speak of it was probably inevitable that you weren't on top form. Full marks for grinding out another finish though!

  5. Chris, I like your "grinding out" phrase. It describes it perfectly. There was quite a bit of grinding-out going on that day by all accounts. Well done to you for another blistering time. You young 'ns with your turn of speed....

    Dave, I am making a long weekend of it in Coniston, so if I survive the Lakeland 100 intact I will DEFINITELY be there for an evening's post-race gut-bash/natter/laugh/chill and whatever else takes our fancy. You and I are a few years overdue for some of that.

    Thanks Ali. I like your positivity. You've been reading Stu's blog, haven't you? ;-) I'll just do what I always do, turn up on the day and do the max that my body allows at the time.

    Thanks Steve. Less of the flattering pickle please. Savour the original flavour without the adulteration of overt acidic tones, I always say.

  6. Hi Nick,

    Thanks for the mention in dispatches!

    I was hanging on a bit when we met so thanks for the support. Mentally ticking off the miles whilst trying to stay upright does offer unique challenges but we've all been there I fear.

    Yes, a hot day and I for one was glad to see the village hall at tea time. Congrats on your "grind", I now understand the meaning.

  7. Nick, jet lag lol, Chris mentions "workplay" i call it lets check out the "Far Eastern Hospitality or wot! while in town! Glad to see you again Nick, and of course "your one mans account of the race, look forward to greeting you lol, at the Lakeland 100.


  8. Howdy Nick,

    Great report. It was far too hot for PB's anyway!

    I'm glad to hear your fitness is already returning too.

    For what it's worth:

    My report.

    Keep up the phenomenal mileage and i'll see you soon no doubt!


  9. Good running. You've now got me worried about my enfoced 4 week 'taper' before the 100! See you in Coniston. Black Bull on Sunday night?!

  10. Whatever you say flanker. Do they have gut bashes on the menu cos I'm sure I'll be in need of something substantial. Is there an escalator to take me there? As I'm not sure of the location and in view of my probable encripplement, you might have to lead me.

    Henry, I've read your well-written report(s). I find them strangely inspiring. I'm sure I'll be seeing you again at a race sometime soon. My challenge is to beat you, but if you get it right I'll have no chance.

    Pat, a firm handshake will suffice in Coniston by way of greeting, but only if I see you first otherwise I'm at your mercy, so God help me ;-0

    Mike, you've got what it takes, seriously.

    1. Hi Nick, my wife found your blog when looking for the results of the 2012 Osmotherly Phoenix. Many thanks for the drink and the advice on electrolyte sports drinks. Although my legs were still suffering from cramps after we met, your drink (and the inspiration of my wife) gave me the boost I needed to push on and complete the distance, something I was ready to give up on.
      I cannot wait till next year, I have a beast to tame, and hopefully a couple more ultra marathons in preparation.
      Again, your support was very much appreciated. Hope to see you on the circuit
      My best regards
      Marc Corner