This bit of rambling is directed towards, how shall I put it sensitively, the more mature pedestrians out there. So if you're under 60, 50, 40 or whatever your personal definition might be, you may want to stop reading at this point. It's a subject that I try not to think about too much and have avoided posting about so far, but three factors are causing a (I hope temporary) change of heart:
1. I set out this year with a bit of discipline to complete three posts a month and May is in danger of sliding by and spoiling my average unless I can think of something to cover which anyone might find marginally interesting.
2. I'm sitting on an apartment balcony overlooking Loch Rannoch. This morning Jan and I drove over to Kenmore, took a short walk for mutual self-justification purposes then had a great lunch. It's now late afternoon, the sun shining over a view I haven't tired of after 8 years of coming to this place, and I have absolutely no desire to get out and run or walk anywhere.(I started this post yesterday, and of course today as I come back to it, it's raining......but then that's Scotland - I'll keep coming back)
3. After the events of the past week or so I probably need to give myself a bit of a talking to, and the message always sticks a lot better if I write it down.
To begin at the beginning. I didn't mean to become a runner, I just took it up at a time when I had some free evenings and no access to the pastimes I had pursued up until then. I ran my first marathon when I was 55 and my first ultra at 58. I didn't expect to do many, it was more of a thing to see if it was possible, tick the box and move on if you like. But as you can see from my comment up on the top right of this page, I found it somewhat addictive. The places you go, the people you meet, and yes, in some ways the sense of achievement you get when you feel you've acquitted yourself fairly well by what for 99% of the population must seem a pretty random yardstick. "You ran a hundred miles? Yes. And finished 67th? Yes. No prizes then? No. A well-known event though, like the London Marathon? Not exactly. But you still feel you had a great run? Yes. Not sure I understand this......" But those of us who play this game do understand, so since those beginnings I've completed 17 marathons and over 50 ultras. It's part of my life now.
When you start in this sport, no matter how old you are you improve. It's about getting the right sort of fitness for the undertaking and learning how to do things efficiently, not making silly mistakes and so on. I ran my fastest marathon (just under 3 hrs 18 min) when I was 60 and my fastest West Highland Way (as an example of a "running" ultra ,in 22 hrs 23 min) when I was 64. I'm now a couple of months off 67 so I'm sure these were peaks; they're times that I'm not going to see again, natural deterioration accelerates as you get older. But in many ways I was lucky starting late. Runners who started out in their 20's may have to face that they are beyond their peak as they hit their 40's or 50's, maybe even younger.
Understanding that you can no longer do what you once could is in no way traumatic; if you haven't got there yet and fear the day, don't worry. If you enjoy what you do (and no-one can effectively explain why, as I said earlier), then you will continue to enjoy it; and it will keep you out of the pub (or maybe justify more time in the pub, whichever you prefer), no problem. At present I'm not setting time targets for any of the races I'm participating in, just turning up and enjoying the day. But there are still events that I want to have my go at, some of which will need all of my capabilities and probably a bit of luck if I am to finish them. The Dragon's Back in less than a month's time, and the Spine next January will be as tough as they come for me. And although I said I was done with the UTMB a while ago, after a couple of years away from Chamonix I somehow don't think I'll turn down my guaranteed entry for next August. I'd also like to run at least a couple more West Highland Way races and a Hardmoors 110 which I've somehow never got around to. The just publicised Coast to Coast looks a great trip. Yes, there still are plenty of adventures out there to keep a not-quite-as-fast-as-you-once-were participant pretty enthusiastic about the future.
I've learned over the last year or so how to finish events without being in the sort of shape I would have once thought necessary, so if I'm sensible I have a chance of completing all the ones I've mentioned. But that's the rub of course, the being sensible bit.
Ten days ago I ran a race in the Lake District. Short for an ultra, just 32 miles, but a bit hilly and with the mix of ground you expect for the area. I ran a couple of long uphills, something I hadn't done for nearly two years - "walk the uphills" had been my mantra. I hammered down a couple of steep rocky descents, overtaking people all the way, because I still know where to put my feet. It all felt good at the time. But a week later aching knees and sore calves were still making any activity a bit problematic. All so unnecessary. I needed a talking-to about this sort of imprudence.
One of the key things I've learned about getting a bit older is that recovery takes longer. You can't feel totally wrecked of an evening and expect to be up and running as good as new the next morning. In fact you can't expect to feel the least bit well-exercised and be good to go the next day. And just because you can still do something, it doesn't necessarily mean that it's in your longer-term best interests to prove it too regularly. So I've written myself a brief set of rules which I hope will, in the words of the old dog food advert, prolong active life........
1. Don't run on two consecutive days. Walking on the other days is OK.
2. Eight minute miles is fast enough. Anything faster leads to pulling things.
3. Stretch every day.
4. Walking in the hills is really good for you; just don't feel you have to travel fast every step of the way.
5. Finish each day knowing you could do the same tomorrow, even if you're not going to.
Racing (well, participating)
6. Plan a time to finish in good shape. Finishing faster and wrecked is failure.
7. Walk all the uphills; the cut-off times allow for this and running uphill is the quickest way possible to run the tank empty.
8. Take technical downhills gently. There are no new knees.
9. Go at a pace where eating is a treat to be anticipated rather than a fuel intake to be managed.
10. Fix any discomfort immediately. You have the time.
So not a long list, and certainly not a list that a runner a few years younger would ascribe to - nothing about pushing your limits and getting your best possible performance here! But hopefully, getting these rules in my head will help me play this game for quite a few years yet. That's the plan.