Monday, 27 January 2014

Plans for 2014

Well, as regular readers will know I'm currently making my way back extremely slowly from a couple of injuries (still not sure that I'll get away without more surgery on one knee) so I hadn't really thought seriously about events for the year to come, even though I had entered quite a few back in last year before my troubles started. January is usually the time for getting some speed in, intervals and suchlike to try to improve (or at least arrest the decline of) the VO2max. But I suspect mine's gone through the floor now as two consecutive miles at 9 minute pace counts as a tempo run at the present time. Sensibly, I should just keep nudging forward one week at a time and forget about events for another couple of months at least. But that would mean missing out on a lot of fun in some nice places. And on the positive side, looking at the diary I see that I've managed to hobble my way around nearly 160 miles in the first four weeks of the year, and I've also made my way wetly up Coniston Old Man and snowily up Helvellyn.

So I've decided that while still taking things much easier than in recent years  -  no real speedwork and running no more than three times a week  -  that I won't be deterred from going to the races. The goal each time will be to enjoy the trip and finish in as good a shape as I can. I will be very slow, just staying ahead of the cutoffs will suit me fine, and at some stage hopefully I'll get strong enough to start back on becoming a runner again. So here's the plan:

8 Feb: South Devon Coast Ultra. I ran the North Devon Coast race in this series last year and thought it was brilliant, well organised and with stunning views, so I wanted to get a bit more of Devon. I've entered the Ultra which is 35 miles, but I can duck out to the "marathon" at around 29 miles if I feel I'm not up for the distance by then.

23 Feb: Grizedale Trail Marathon. Grizedale is one of the best poor weather options in the Lake District, varied forest often opening out to great views. This one should be ok.

22 Mar: Hardmoors 55. I've run this race every year since its inauguration in 2010 and have enjoyed it in a range of conditions from the warm sunshine in 2011 to the near arctic of last year. My best time is a few minutes over 11 hours but I'll be happy to finish inside the 15 hour limit.

26 Apr: Highland Fling. Another not to miss, it was my first attempt at an ultra back in 2007 and I've been every year since.For the past four years I've managed to win the Vet 60 category but no chance this year; although it's a less demanding run than the Hardmoors, usually in much better weather, so I'm hoping that I'll be up for a finish in around 12 hours by then.

3 May: Great Lakeland 3-Day. Although I've done the Welsh 3000's many times and really enjoyed my Wainwright ticking in 2012, I've never tried a "mountain marathon" event, so this year's the time for a new experience. 3 days in the hills and camping overnight, with a choice of route difficulties.

7 Jun: Cheshire Sandstone Trail. Again, I've covered this 33 mile trail many times as it's pretty well on my doorstep, but always alone and always in the winter. Time to take part in the official event, and in hopefully better conditions than I usually experience!

21 Jun: West Highland Way. Unmissable. This will be my eighth in a row, but I won't get near my 2013 PB of 22 hours 23 minutes I'm afraid. I'll have a target nearer the time but I expect it to be around the 26-28 hour mark.

28 Jun: Lakeland 10 Peaks. Only a week after the WHW but after reading about it I couldn't resist this one. The 10 highest tops in the District, based on Keswick. As an undertaking it looks similar to the Welsh 3000's and there is enough time allowed to take it at a walk (which I'll probably do!)

25 Jul: Lakeland 100. The big one for this year. After success in 2011 it was a DNF for me last year, so a score to settle.

29 Aug: Anglesey Ring of Fire. Anglesey is only an hour away for me, so I'd run bits of the coast path over the years, then around 5 or 6 years ago I did the whole thing over two separate days and found it a good trip. I was interested when the race was first started three years ago (it's run over three consecutive days with overnight stops), but it always clashes with the UTMB weekend so I've never entered. This year I'm giving Chamonix a miss and staying in the UK.

4 Oct: Lake District 3 x 3000. Scafell Pike, Helvellyn and Skiddaw with an interesting course linking them. More miles but fewer tops than the 10 peaks. Should be a nice one to round off the year, but of course there still the immaculate Tour de Helvellyn on the last Saturday before Christmas......

Well, that's the plan. If the injuries or their treatment put paid to some of it, then that's life. But it looks pretty good from here. Let's hope for some nice weather.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

"It's running Jim, but not as we know it"

On January 5th I ran 13.1 miles out and back along the peaceful undulating road that follows the East shore of Coniston Water. I took me just under two and a half hours, probably the slowest half marathon on a road I've ever done, but I got back feeling pretty pleased; that's the way it is these days.

I had my final (I hope) visit to the physio on 10th December, after another false start and recurrence of the calf strain I've been trying to shake off since the middle of October. She had another go at it, but the message wasn't great. You've been lucky up to now but sometimes these things take a lot longer than you want. I got instructions for lots of stretches and a final warning to take it easier this time.

I started again on the 18th December, for no other reason that it was exactly a month before the Anglesey Coast Ultra which I'd entered way back, and which I'd still hoped to make. Not a very sensible thought but in practice I did approach things a bit more intelligently this time. My first "run" was three miles  - I walked the first mile then jogged at 12 minute mile pace for 5 minutes in each of the other two. It seemed to work OK.  Each time out I added a bit more distance and a minute's "running" to each mile. At least I was getting good at walking; I can hold a steady 13 minute/mile pace on a flat surface now - might be useful for some event in the future!

After the walk/jog half marathon I gradually got into jogging continuously but have kept with a one mile brisk walk to warm up, a dodge that I think I'll keep to for some time. Last Saturday I managed a very muddy 17 miles on my local Cheshire Sandstone Trail, but you really don't want to know how long it took. On Monday (I'm making sure I always have at least one day off between outings) I did 6 miles in the forest at the heady pace of 9.40 minutes/mile. It was too much, sore again Tuesday morning so an extra day off. Today I waddled round 8 miles at a steady 10 minute pace with no problems. But no chance of the Anglesey run at the weekend; there never was really of course.

So that's the way of it for now. Going to be a longish haul it seems. Long slow jogs and 10 minute miles for speedwork. It may be running Jim, but not as we know it.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Review of 2013

Well now that the partying and holidaymaking is done and we're back in Chester to start a new year, maybe it's not quite too late to look back over the old one. A game of two halves, as the manager often observes.

At the finish of the West Highland Way race
The statistics are pretty simple; over the year I ran a total of 1816 miles, compared with 2119 in 2012. The first time I haven't topped 2000 miles for seven years. The reasons will become clear as we go on. I didn't change my pattern of covering most of those miles pretty slowly though, as I completed

159 miles at better than 8 minute mile pace (compared with 280 last year)
294 at between 8 and 9 minute pace (378), and
1363 at slower than 9 minute pace (1461)
But ultra running for most of us is about long not fast and I completed 24 outings of 20 miles or more.

My intention for the year was to target three main races, the Highland Fling, the West Highland Way and the UTMB, but to run others for training and, well, because I enjoy doing the events. Up to a point it worked, that point being roughly the start of July, but I wasn't really aware of that until later. In brief, the events panned out as follows:

19 January: Anglesey Coast Ultra (33miles)  Part of the Endurancelife Coastal series, this one was cancelled because of a foot or two of snow on Holyhead Mountain. Can't imagine it being called off if it was a Hardmoors or Nav 4 event, but we have to respect that each race director knows his clientele and sets the rules accordingly. Not an auspicious start though.

23 February: Belvoir Challenge Marathon (27miles) An undulating but not hilly trail marathon on a nice course through the Belvoir Estate in Leicestershire. Cold enough for some falling snow at times but not cold enough to freeze the mud. Still, it was a nice enough outing to start the year. Finished in 4:28:20.

9 March: Wuthering Hike (32 miles)  I'd done this one a couple of times before but the day coincided with the worst period of a bad cold that got me for about four weeks, so I didn't bother to go. Another failure.

23 March: Hardmoors 55 (55 miles)  Just about recovered in time for this one. My previous three runs had taken between 11:10 and 11:50 in this event. I had decided to take it easy and planned 12 and a half hours, but the weather had turned very cold again in March giving us sub-zero temperatures, a fierce wind and deep snow on much of the course, so I was happy to get home in 13:21:40.

13 April: Exmoor Coast Ultra (34 miles) I got a free entry into this because of the Anglesey race being cancelled. It was a stunning course, great tracks and views and lots of climbing. I finished in 6:35:29 and got the V60 prize.

27 April: Highland Fling (53 miles) My seventh attempt at this great event. I gave it my best shot, feeling that I could get under 10 hours if all went well. Finished in 9:57:56, just under 3 minutes over the V60 course record.

19 May: Scafell Pike Marathon (28 miles) A trail run to Scafell Pike summit and back by a sort of figure of eight course from Keswick. A tough but satisfying run with climbs (obviously!), lots of technical ground and difficult navigation in the conditions on the day. Finished in 6:30:26

22 June: West Highland Way (95 miles) After a couple of mediocre times in recent years, this was the one I had planned for. We had ideal running conditions on the day and I was able to beat my previous PB by over an hour to finish in 22:23:13. Definitely the highlight of my year.

27 July: Lakeland 100 (105 miles) Having completed this race before, I didn't give it the respect it deserves. After my West Highland Way performance I thought I was a shoe-in for 35 hours at worst. Covered the first half too fast, made hydration and nutritional errors, and ran out of steam near the top of High Kop at about 70 miles, so returned to Howtown and dropped.

31 August: UTMB (104 miles) Even after the Lakeland knockback I was confident of this one, but still couldn't get beyond Champex (75 miles). I've concluded this race is probably too big for me.

14 September: Ultimate Trails Lakeland 100k (66 miles) After the disappointments of the previous two events I needed this one to get my confidence back. I had a good run and managed to get back as 1st V60 in 17:10:58

After this, I had planned to do the Rotherham Round in October, but my perpetually problematic knees were complaining a bit more than usual so I decided to have 4 weeks off. I'm still not sure whether this was a mistake or not. I restarted full of enthusiasm in mid October but in retrospect started to ramp up the speed too fast. My reward was a tweaked hamstring which cleared quickly, then a pulled calf which didn't. I'm only now getting started again very, very slowly after the calf injury, so I also missed out on the Tour de Helvellyn in December which is one of my favourite races. In the last quarter of the year I went 8 weeks without covering any miles at all, and another 4 when I managed 10 miles or less.

So not a great end to the year, and of necessity a slow start to the next one. But that's life, I've been lucky in avoiding injury since I started running in 2004 until now. Here's hoping for a steady recovery in 2014.