Monday, 25 January 2010

A Long Run and Longer Runs

Three posts in ten days, it won't last, but it does seem to go easier the more you do.

Anyway, the Cheshire Sandstone Trail is a waymarked footpath running from Frodsham on the Mersey estuary in the north of the county to Whitchurch just over the Shropshire border in the south.  It follows the line of an intermittent sandstone ridge with interesting running and great views a lot of the way; there are agricultural sections linking up the hill and forest trails and during the winter months these have their fair share of the sort of ankle-deep pungent slop that makes you unpopular if you bring it home with you, so over the years I've found ways around the worst bits to give a route of 34 miles in total. It wanders up and down between sea level and around 750ft; my Garmin makes the total ascent nearly 4000 feet but I think there's a fair bit of cumulative error on the flatter bits here and there, so I guess it's probably nearer 3000, still hilly enough to make you work at times. It's a good local "one way" outing for me, with a train to the start and a bus back from the finish - much more appealing than a long out-and-back trip - and I get it done a couple of times a year at least, but usually not before the middle of February.

But there's a 50 miler coming up in a couple of weeks and I need to see if I can get the trip, so I'm out at Frodsham at 8 o'clock last Friday morning.  There are no natural water sources along the route and the two cafe/tea huts are not open midweek in the winter, so I waddle off from the station with a bag full of drink, Mars bars, waterproofs, and a dry shirt for the bus trip back. We've lost the clear, crisp weather of the past few weeks, it's grey and drizzles on and off but not bad for running. I take the uphills slowly at first to save some energy, conscious that this is the first time over twenty miles for several months, but get more confidence by halfway, and by the time I reach the final 3 or 4 miles along the canal towpath to the finish I'm still going quite strongly.  6 hours 42 minutes, about 10 minutes slower than February last year but the conditions are never the same twice, good enough. I'm a bit stiff getting off the bus but a shower seems to put that right and we've old college friends arriving for the weekend soon after I get home so an easy time with plenty of calorie replacement opportunities on Saturday is assured.  Sunday I get out for 5 cruisy miles to complete the experience and feel pretty good about it. Maybe this year's starting OK after all.

But then I decide to catch up with the West Highland Way Forum  and its various blogs, which I do every 2 or 3 days or so. I'm staggered by the amount of activity going on, which brings me sharply back to reality. JK and friends have done the same distance as me but along the tougher WHW, after a week's mileage which I would already find more than enough at this time of year. The Subversive Runner, after explaining for some weeks on his blog that he doesn't actually do any running to speak of at present, seems to have clocked off from his shift at work and already completed half of a 40 miler. And best of all, George (Loon Dod, blog on right) has just run the whole length of the WHW from Fort William to Milngavie in 27 hours, in snow, ice, and a lot of darkness. Too good guys, too good, looks like you have a great year ahead!

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Still Crazy (after all these years?)

So what about 2010?

A couple of years ago I exchanged some emails with John K on something or other, and I remember adding that I admired the way he was so open about his plans and targets on his blog, how I was sure I couldn't do that, too nervous, needed to keep my cards closer, that sort of thing. Well time makes a difference, you get into it this blogging business, so here I am about to come clean on my intentions for the year. My first proper ultra was the 2007 Fling so I'm three years down the road and can't really call myself a beginner any more; I know what it feels like now, the ups and downs, the pain and the joy, the pool of the headtorch and the dawn of day, the heat, the rain and the mud, the euphoric completions and the soul-destroying DNF's, the characters you meet along the way. Time to move on, expand a bit, stop gearing the effort to just a few main events, all your eggs in one basket so to speak, and go for a long season of continual interest. I won't get great times in all my races this year, maybe not in any of them, but I guess that's not so much the point for me now, PB's are going to get rarer, passage of time and all that. I'm just going to take in and savour every drop of the experiences this year promises. So with a deep breath, here goes:

February (6th): The Thames Trot. 50 miles along the riverbank from Oxford to Henley. Never covered any of the ground before, really looking forward to starting the year so early but still a bit apprehensive whether I'm fit enough yet - let's assume it's going to be OK. Daughter Julia lives near the finish, an added bonus.

March (7th): Barcelona Marathon. Well, it's a long weekend break with Jan really, but while you're there it seems a pity not to.....

March (20th): The Hardmoors 55. A new race, 55 miles over the first half of the Cleveland way. Again, I won't know the course until I turn up on the day.

April (24th): The Highland Fling. 53 miles along the southern half of the West Highland Way. Where it all started for me, this will be my fourth time, wouldn't miss it.

May (30th): The Heart of Scotland 100. Not a race but a 100 mile event through the eastern highlands organised by the Long Distance Walking Association. More new ground but I hope to recce a bit of it while we're on holiday in Kinloch Rannoch the week before.

June (18th): The West Highland Way Race. 95 miles of class, de rigueur absolutely. Completion would give me my fourth crystal goblet, almost enough for a dinner party. 24 hours would be nice (missed by 44 minutes last year) so I'll give this one my best shot.

July (23rd): The Lakeland 100. A hundred mile circumnavigation of the Lake District. I've recc'ed this one, it's going to be tough, but it visits some beautiful country.

August (28th): The TDS (or maybe the SDT now the direction has been reversed) - "Sur les Traces des Ducs de Savoie", 66 miles and a lot of up from Courmayeur to Chamonix. I was unlucky in the ballot for a UTMB place this year but couldn't miss out on the show in Chamonix so transferred to this one. This will be new territory for me too, a bit different from the UTMB where I have covered all of the course at least twice (and some of it four times). But it also comes with a guaranteed entry into the UTMB in 2011 so I'll be back!

October (16th): The Rotherham Round. 50 miles around Rotherham, I've done it twice but missed 2009 when the date change from December to October caused a clash I couldn't manage. For me another "must do" event, for the continually interesting course and the great people of South Yorkshire who make it happen, from the early morning briefing "Ignore the weather forecast lads, it's going to be a lovely day" (it rained from start to finish) to the warm welcome at all the checkpoints "You're going well lad, now get some snap down you, mud's coming up soon".

The list has been building up on my calendar for a few months now, sort of sneaking up on me a bit at a time, and it's made me think twice, writing it all down. Too ambitious? 8 ultras and a marathon, against 5 ultras and 2 marathons last year........what the hell, nothing ventured as they say, may not be able to do this stuff in a few years' time. And I've still got a gap or two in September and November/December, and family affairs like the Great North Run will still get done, and it's always nice to do another marathon in the autumn. And a ski tour and a couple of climbing trips to fit in. And the kitchen extension will get completed this year......... can't imagine how I used to find time for work.

So there it is, written down, no escape now. See you at the races.

Friday, 15 January 2010

The Good News and the Bad News

Well what a start to 2010.

In the cloudless, windless days early in the month in spite of the ice underfoot I couldn't resist one of my favourite winter runs. Out from home, a long, long cycle track, eventually meeting the Dee, then back along  the river bank to Chester and  home along the canal towpath to my village. 24 miles, all but a few hundred yards off road, and flat (mountains can come later!). Cautious because of the ice but still brilliant because of the weather, slow and steady. Then even Chester got its few inches of snow, carpeting the local forest trails and making for wonderfully cushioned, silent running through the trees. Before the year was 10 days old I was in Zermatt, where cloud and falling snow were promised but after a day this turned to clear blue skies, keen dry temperatures, and eighteen inches of near perfect powder if you knew where to look.

The first half of January has been magical. But there is always a but......

The tail end of the festive season then far too much rosti and gluwein has left me around 10 pounds heavier than I ought to be, and while the running so far has been great fun it has been far from testing. A sharp 8 miler this evening on the first dry roads since mid December was hard, I've a bit of work to do. And this in a year where I decided to open the campaign early with the 50 mile Thames Trot in the first week of February. So three weeks to get into shape, just get out there and put in a few miles, maybe it will be OK.
More of the other plans for the year next time.