I was determined that I was going to be a bit more diligent with the blogging (and the running!) this year so was disappointed to discover that after a good start in January and February I had slipped to just one post in March. Not good enough, so here's a bit about my 2018 plan of action to try to kick myself out of the pleasant but rather dubious pastime of wandering along near the back of ultra fields while claiming I'm still some sort of athlete.
The weekend of the 11/13 May this year will see the first running of the Ultra Tour of Snowdonia 50 and 100 mile races. I'm sure that over the next year or two these events will get established as being up there with the very best ultra trail races in the UK, maybe Europe. As with the well-established "Lakeland" races, the 50 takes the second half of the 100 and has a generous time allowance, while the time allowed for the 100 means that it is well beyond "twice as hard" to complete. But the similarity ends there. Both events have more testing ground underfoot than the Lakeland and the height gains are far more daunting; 6000m for the 50, that's the same total climbing as the Lakeland 100, while the 100 matches the UTMB with over 10,000m of climbing. 36 and 48 hours respectively are the time allowances. The challenge is pretty irresistible, but for this year I had neither the fitness nor the right gap in my planned events to consider the 100 - next year maybe - so I signed up for the 50. If you're interested in participating in the inaugural running of a race that I'm sure is destined to become a classic, then get your name down for one of them now, I think there are still places - next year you'll probably need to be quicker on your feet (or mouse-finger) to get in.
But on the application form was a tick box for "Would you be interested in coaching?". I'm not quite sure what led me to tick the box, maybe the feeling that I've reached a bit of a plateau, wondering whether I'm just trying to delay an inevitable decline now, whatever, I decided that an informed opinion and some structure to what I do wouldn't come amiss. The RD for the UTS events is Mike Jones, a runner with two Lakeland 100 wins and an 8th place in the CCC to his name, say no more. As well as organising events, Mike's "Apex Running" also offers the coaching. A bonus for me is that Mike lives just a ten minute drive away from me in Chester, so it was easy to meet and establish whether he thought taking on a near septuagenarian with dodgy knees and suspect muscles would be a worthwhile exercise for either of us. After a couple of hours chat we decided to give it a go.
My "training" over the past few months (years?) had degenerated into three basic sessions. (1) An easy trundle round the attractive but easy-going trails in my local Delamere forest or my other local Borrowdale, (2) Repetitive hill sessions, walking (or on keen days jogging) up one of the local hills and jogging down a number of times, because I've always felt that the ability to carry on bashing out the climbs through to the end is what gets you round the sort of events that I'm mostly interested in, and (3) longish days out in the hills at a walk/jog pace. I had convinced myself that going faster than 9 minute miles would lead to muscle injuries, and that 3 sessions a week was all my dodgy knee would stand. Nevertheless I was still getting out for 30 or 40 miles a week with several thousand feet of ascent, a regime that was seeing me slowly through most of the events that I entered. I sort of knew that if I wanted more then things had to change. I was conscious of two quotes, the first from many years ago by Sebastian Coe who said "Long slow runs gets you long slow runners" and a comment I had from Marc Laithwaite's "Endurance Coach" team quite a few years back, "Well if you want to get better times you're going to have to run faster!". So worth a last shot with Mike I think.
Well I've been at it for just over a month now and my weekly activities have changed fairly dramatically. Six runs a week plus two more exercise-based strength and balance sessions. So far nothing very long or with much elevation, in fact my average weekly mileage has gone down if anything, but in general much faster stuff. Lots of exercises combined with the runs, strides, hill sprints, other drills. Mike is encouraging me to do a Parkrun every Saturday when there is no event on. I did my first with my daughter Julia just before Christmas, when we just squeezed under 30 minutes; this morning at Keswick I managed 23:22. Encouraging but still not much faster than the pace which I was able to sustain for 26 miles when I got my marathon PB just nine years ago. But the real thing is that I seem to be able to run at this pace with no muscle problems, which I am sure is down to a thorough warm-up routine which I'm now sticking to every time I go out.
The strength and balance exercises are hard, as Mike said "you will discover weaknesses" and these are the only sessions which have caused niggles, first with abs and more recently with a quad and I have to be sensible with these so they don't become counterproductive; but realising what one is lacking is a bit of any eye-opener for someone who has up until now just gone out of the door and gone running with no other preparation.
The plan to start with is to improve basic speed for the London Marathon in two weeks time. I entered this just for the experience because I hadn't done it for well over a decade. I had no time ambitions and because my "good for age" time to guarantee entry is now 5 hours I would have been happy to get around in that. The new target is 4 hours (well 3:59 actually, I'm told I have the right first number in focus!) Unthinkable at Christmas, it's now I think a good target though by no means a "gimme" and one that I'll be made up with if I get.
After that I need to start working on the hills again, as the hillier races then start coming on apace starting with the UTS50 in May.
My medium target with Mike is the Lakeland 100 at the end of July. I think this is an event that I know quite well now but even at my age I feel I may have a PB in there somewhere so I want to see if I can get one. As a two-time winner of the event this has some appeal to Mike too, so it has become my "A" target event for the year. I divided all the other events I wanted to do into categories "B" (may have to push a bit to get them done but don't want to come out needing a month off!) and "C" (events which I have an emotional attachment to but won't improve on my PB so would just like to finish with the minimum effort and not interrupt the overall training plan). This seems to be working so far. I found a fairly stern comment on my logbook before the Hardmoors 55 ........ "Remember this is a "C" event - run accordingly!". I remembered, took things easily and so was up for a fairly full week following it.
Early days yet but I'm hopeful and enthusiastic. Whether it makes me a better runner or just an older one time will tell. Watch this space.