Yesterday I went out for a run from our house which I know is exactly a half marathon distance and got around it in just under an hour and fifty-six minutes - an average of 8 minutes and 51seconds per mile. Well, not much news there, you might think, that's the sort of effort my old granddad can put in after a heavy night out. But it is all relative you see, after wondering back in March whether I would ever see a nine minute mile again, I was really quite chuffed. For the first time this year I got around to thinking that one day I just might be a runner again. How long will it take? There's the rub.
I asked the physio that question when I went to take stock a couple of weeks ago. I saw a guy new to the practice, semi retired I guess but was told (not by him) that he once worked for a premier league soccer team so should know something about getting injured bits to work again. It was an interesting session. Someone prepared to ignore the date of birth implications and just consider the collection of bones, muscles and ancilliary bits in front of him. After he'd found out practically how far things would move, what hurt and what didn't and so on, the verdict. Yes, you're still short of a lot of muscle in your right calf. And by the way, you've still got restricted movement in your right knee, your back isn't very flexible, your balance on both legs is poor, and your core strength is nowhere as good as you think it is. Yes, of course you can fix it, but you'll have to work at it and be patient. With a following wind it might still take a few months. So I have lots of exercises and a plan. By Christmas, a one fifty-six half marathon won't be anything to be proud of.
In the meantime of course, best part of the event season is on us and I do like to have a good day out at regular intervals. My strategy since June of "running extremely slowly" has been successful in getting me through the West Highland Way, the Lakes 10 Peaks and the Lakeland 100 without affecting the overall rehabilitation process, so I decided to keep it going through the rest of the summer. I think I'm now in the transition to the next phase, "running very slowly" (ie running a few of the flat bits, not just the downhills) which should make a few more events accessible. I enjoyed the Lakes 10 Peaks so much that I entered its sister event, the Brecon Beacons 10 Peaks on the first weekend in September and I'm really looking forward to that one. It's an area I don't know well and I won't have time to go down for a reasonable recce so it will be all new on the day. Then a few days ago I also decided to have a go at the Grand Tour of Skiddaw this coming weekend. When I was finding my way around the Wainwrights a couple of years ago, I found the areas to the north of Skiddaw and those to the west of Pillar some of the most uncrowded and unspoilt in the district - go there midweek in November and you can almost guarantee not seeing a soul all day - so an event over the northern fells seemed too good to miss. I don't expect to get very far up the field in either of these events, but I'm sure I'll enjoy them.
Last weekend I was the meet leader for our climbing club's annual "Cloggy" Meet (aka Clogwyn du'r Arddu, the big cliff that you can see easily from Halfway House when you go up Snowdon from Llanberis). Well, as happens quite often, conditions weren't good enough for enjoyable climbing on the big cliff that weekend so the meet members wandered off to other things, climbing at Gogarth or round in Ogwen, or walking to various places. I chose to re-acquaint myself with the "Pen Ceunant Round" - a mountain day out that no-one outside of the Chester Mountaineering Club will have heard of because it was devised by and for club members, based on our hut in Llanberis. It takes in every worthwhile summit in the Snowdon massif while covering only a minimum of ground twice, and though only just over twenty miles in length it packs a punch with almost 10,000ft of ascent. I had done it some years ago in miserable wet conditions and hoped for a better experience this time as though the cliffs were still wet, reasonable temperatures and a nice wind were drying out the ground underfoot. And two weeks after the Lakeland 100 I was ready for a day in the hills again. For those interested, the "round" takes the Llanberis track towards Snowdon but ignores the summit (for now) and takes off along the ridge of Crib y Ddysgl to Crib Goch; a descent of the east ridge then a bit of off piste directly down to Llyn Llyddaw, across the causeway then up and over Lliwedd; by now you've covered most of the Snowdon Horseshoe, but on reaching the Watkin Path you ignore Snowdon (again!) and turn downhill for a few hundred yards until another longer trackless section takes you to the col between the south ridge of Snowdon and Yr Aran; up and down Yr Aran (the only ground covered twice) then up the south ridge to Snowdon summit (at last, but a twenty minute queue for tea and buns in the cafe on my trip due to the huge crowds there!). The crowds diminish as you head off down the Snowdon Ranger track, and disappear completely when you leave it to follow the steeply undulating grassy ridge down to Moel Eilio, followed by a lovely grassy run back down to Llanberis. I had a great day out and was ready to join the others for food and beers at the Heights in Llanberis later that evening. The trip reminded me that compared with the Lake District, where I have spent most of my hill time in recent years, that covering ground in the Welsh mountains is, well, hard. This modest journey had my quads complaining for many days longer afterwards than either the Lakes 10 Peaks or the Lakeland 100.
But these were the hills of my formative years and it's always good to go and spend a day or two there again. Especially now, because I have an entry in for the third running of the Dragon's Back Race, due to be held in June next year. This event covers all the main mountains in Wales, from the Carneddau in the north to the Brecons in the south, in a continuous route over five days. You only get exact route details on a day by day basis, the only thing you know ahead of this is the overall direction and that very little of the ground is likely be covered on what a typical ultra runner would regard as a trail. Got to be one of the best experiences going. I was hoping to get some good "mountain marathon" type events done earlier this year as this is a gap in my CV for entry requirements, but as things turned out this wasn't to be so I just have to go with the experience I can claim so far. The event is certain to be oversubscribed and the organisers' policy is to offer half the available places to those applicants who they feel have the best qualifications, and to ballot the other half among those who have the minimum qualifications to have a chance of finishing. I was hoping to get into the former half but I doubt that I will now. We learn on 30th September if we have a place or not. It's unlikely that the next running will be before 2018 so I guess this may be my only shot at it, but time will tell.
But it's a win-win anyway, because if I don't get in to the Dragon's Back I'll be able to go and run my 9th consecutive West Highland Way race next June. I always had a hope that I might do ten in a row, so that would keep me on target!
So plenty to look forward to as I gradually work my way back to fitness. I have a couple of entries in for races this October, both in the Lakes again. One is the "3 x 3000", which starts and finishes at Keswick and takes in Scafell Pike, Helevellyn and Skiddaw with a lot of interesting ground in between, and the other is the "Lakes in a Day" which goes from Caldbeck to Cartmel taking in Blencathra, most of the Helvellyn range and Fairfield on the way which makes for a great north to south traverse of the district. I'll decide nearer the time whether to run both of them gently or whether I'm ready by then to have more of a crack at one of them.
After that, maybe a month off then the Tour of Helvellyn to get out of the final Christmas shopping in December, before starting on some proper training for next summer.
At last, enough confidence to have a plan!