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Swimming

As we walked down through the rain and wind from the campsite to the Kerrera ferry I think we all wondered what madness had we gotten involved in, but here we were, as a family, about to be part of the Craggy Island Triathlon from Durty Events.

In a twist to our usual family adventures it was the GingaNinja who was competing meanwhile I and the child would be on volunteering duty at the junior triathlon event. We headed for our crossing to the island about 8.30am and lined up with dozens of other competitors, spectators and volunteers. It was a real electric atmosphere as we waited those few minutes to board one of the many boats that was whizzing people and gear to the registration.

What I can say is that in organisational terms the whole team worked brilliantly and not just Durty Events but also the islanders who help make this happen. Boats moved across the water transporting competitors in a constant sea of movement – it was a magnificent sight and when we arrived on the beautiful Kerrera we were greeted by the brilliant hustle and bustle of the event that was even more electric than the mainland.

Before we had departed the slipway we made our first new friend of the day – a lovely chap called Adrian, who had competed the day before and had come back to volunteer on day two. Myself and ASK chatted with him and others for quite a while as we awaited the beginning of the briefing for volunteers.

At a little after 9.30am (too busy chatting to competitors, so we were a few minutes late) we headed to the volunteer briefing and caught up on where we were supposed to be and what we would be doing. Diane lead the briefing and gave clear and easy instructions and noting any pressure points that might occur during the day. ASK and I had been handed junior stream crossing duty on the bike and run section and we needed to be there for about noon – so we had time to spare and with that we got chatting to other marshals like Linsey and Freya who were both awesome and ambled around supporting the GingaNinja and some of the other competitors as nerves started to get the better of them.

Thankfully the GingaNinja got into the spirit of things and made a few new friends herself including the awesome Pauline and Jane who were competing as a relay team in the triathlon, I had no idea that there would be so many brilliant options for this event and this gave the whole thing a vibe of being super friendly and incredibly inclusive – it had a really welcoming feel that just lifted the spirits even if the rain was bouncing down on top of you.

But with time ticking away competitors needed to head back to mainland for the start of the race – yep that’s right – registration is on the island but the start is on the mainland – you’ve got to swim back to the island to complete the bike and run sections!

What a superb and brutal idea!

Anyway ASK and I took up a spot overlooking the swim exit and cheered everyone into transition while awaiting the arrival of our athlete. The GingaNinja should have been quick in the swim and I was probably expecting a time of about 11 or 12 minutes but as the first swimmers came out and then the next and the next she wasn’t there.

In the water you could see the current was strong and it found swimmers being dragged significantly off course and this was going to be a massive drain on them as they pushed for the slipway. The GingaNinja, who would argue that the swim is her strongest discipline, struggled in the early stages and resorted to breast stroke until she found her footing.

By the time she was in gear and back into front crawl mode she had used up the energy reserves in her legs and lost a bit of the competitive advantage that a good swim would have given her ahead of the sections she wasn’t so confident in.

However, she pulled herself out of the water to a rapturous roar from the crowd, pulled the big girl pants on and managed to jog up the hill into transition where a battle with a wetsuit awaited. ASK and I followed as quickly as we could offering as much encouragement as we could.

ASK and I shouted advice down to her but she looked pretty pissed so I let her get on with it and instead turned my attention to the gentleman who had just approached me. Paul is one of the key organisers of the event along with the rest of the Durty Events team and the awesome Duncan (the wonderful ferryman and also my original co-conspirator in the special reason for being on the island).

What was my special reason for being there? Well, I had contacted the team at Durty Events to ask if they could help me in proposing marriage to the GingaNinja.

On one of of our test trips to the island, in the months before the event, Duncan had identified himself as co-organiser and so when we were there for our final test trip I stopped and asked if he might be able to help. Duncan with his broad smile and a little twinkle in his eye said, ‘leave it with me’.

And now as the GingaNinja was pulling the bike up from the grass to head out on the course, plans were being finalised for me to be able to ask her to marry me front of all her fellow triathletes.

But before any of that could happen there was the business of marshalling the junior race. ASK and I had been stationed at one of the outlier but most beautiful points. So at about 11.45 we, and Adrian, made our way up to our marshalling points, saying hello to the other event volunteers as we went by and cheering the adult race competitors as they hurried past us.

Looking into the sky, the grey had now disappeared and what remained was beautiful, blue sky! This was wonderful and I had no doubt would make marshalling a much easier task (especially with a 7 year old in tow) and also a more mentally enjoyable effort for the juniors.

ASK set herself up by the directional signage, grabbed herself a hot chocolate from the flask I had brought and sat upon her recently purchased inflatable seat (from race sponsor and local Oban outdoor wear store Outside Edge, a really good shop to visit might I add). The only problem, that I wouldn’t discover until we were packing away was that she had planted the seat in the sloppiest sheep shit imaginable!

Could have been worse of course she might have dumped herself in it.

Within minutes of our arrival at the marshal point we saw our first bikers, ASK steeled herself for motivational cheers and frantic arm waggling to inform the athletes the direction to go. I on the other hand found myself a little rock amongst the sea of sodden ground and stood just above the stream of water that the competitors would have to get through to continue onwards.

Adrian would later describe my motivational cheering as like an old style PE teacher on steeplechase or cross-country day as the runners were hitting the water! That said I like to think I was a little more encouraging to those that looked like they needed to hear that they could do it! We whooped and hollered at all the young athletes until both ASK had become rather hoarse.

What is undeniable though is that I was incredibly impressed by the skill, speed and tenacity of these young adventurers and I very much admired their abilities – from the youngest to the oldest they all did an amazing job. ASK also really enjoyed being part of it all and wanting to have a go herself. She called over to me at one point as one of the younger athletes came through and said, ‘that boy only looks about 8, I could do this next year when I’m 8’.

Of course I explained she was a bit too young yet to meet the age requirement but when she is old enough she’s welcome to try – but she’ll need to improve her biking skills first because there’s no way she’d get through the mud with her current bike riding.

What I do know is that while the biking was impressive from the juniors it was the running that really impressed me, those who had perhaps fought with the bike a bit, looked sharp in the run, and even on the boggy, muddy, slippery conditions there was real grit shown from everyone. If I had been wearing a cap as I stood on my rock I would have doffed it in the direction of each and every one of them.

With the race all but over ASK and I ate some lunch, a delicious curry pie for me and a macaroni pie for the child. As we were finishing them and with no athletes having been seen for some time we caught sight of the other marshals heading towards us collecting signs and so we joined them, clearing the field of event signage – leaving no trace.

It was a lovely wander back with some lovely people, good chat and Teddy the black Labrador that had been hanging round the food tent earlier and looking to snack on any tasty treat that a careless athlete might have lost.

But now it was back to the real event of the day for me and that was taking place back at the finish line.

We deposited the race signage at the registration tent and then ASK and I set ourselves up at the finish line hoping that the GingaNinja would be here soon. The Durty guys were keeping a special eye out for her so that they could time things as efficiently as possible and this meant that when I arrived back I knew she had already been out on the run for about 45 minutes.

I spoke to Paul and said if she isn’t back in 15 minutes then they should just go ahead with the prize giving – I had no intention of keeping cold, hungry and exhausted triathletes from getting home but the Durty team seemed very relaxed about the whole thing and just played it by ear.

I however, was anxious, very anxious.

Although the GingaNinja knew the deal we agreed many years ago – complete an ultra marathon, a long distance walk of 100 miles or an any distance triathlon and we would get married she would have little or no idea that I would have roped in the help of the event organisers to force her, through embarrassment, into saying yes!

I kept checking my phone to see if she was in trouble but nothing she was still out there. Other triathletes crossed the finish line to great applause and while I was happy for them I was nervous for her and then Paul came over and said, ‘she’s a few minutes away’. My heart started racing but I got myself together and headed down the final strait so that ASK could finish it with her mum and then with prize giving underway I needed to move the GingaNinja and ASK into position quickly without giving the game away.

I stripped her of her soaking kit and hurled her dryrobe on, I gave the child a camera and with just a minute to spare we were settled at the prize giving at which point I was almost immediately called up to the front of what felt like a million people.

Now I had relayed my story and what was about to happen to lots of the people at the event and almost everywhere I looked I saw someone who knew what was about to happen.

With microphone in hand I began.

‘We’ve been on a million and one adventures together… I wondered if you fancied a million and one more… starting with this one…’

At which point I removed from my pocket a ring that had been specially made for us by a wonderful lady called Sally Grant in Burntisland and moved to the traditional single knee position.

‘Will you marry me?’

The GingaNinja moved from the crowd, looking rather sheepish and then whole world fell silent and disappeared. She came, took the ring from my rather trembling fingers, which would refuse to fit on her triathlon fattened sausage fingers and said yes.

I informed the crowd of the answer and there was a cheer to break the silence and more importantly there was an easing of my breathing. Hellfire I even cried, which is most unlike me.

Holy turd. She said yes.

The Durty Stuff
But enough of this you aren’t here for the emotional proposal stuff you’re here because of Durty Events. What I can say is that the Craggy Island Triathlon must be a massive logistical challenge but the team make it look effortless. It was smooth, it was brilliantly executed and it seemed to be very elastic, if something needed to adapt then the team could move with that need. Brilliant.

Location
In terms of location I think Kerrera might be a little hidden gem in Scotland’s arsenal of little gems. The place is full of little secrets to uncover as you explore and it is certainly worth seeing the castle and the views across to Mull and the mainland but there’s so much more to the island. The islanders themselves that I met on my various visits were incredibly friendly and welcoming and there’s a real community spirit about the place. Then you’ve got the event route which the GingaNinja described as ‘absolutely glorious’ and you’d have to agree, it has absolutely everything in it, all muddily packaged in to about 22km of eventing and the junior route was equally exceptional – you don’t get this kind of thing everyday.

This is an event worth doing as a seasoned eventer or first timer – it’s something you’ll never forget and never regret.

Marshalling & Volunteering
As for marshalling? Well I definitely had a pretty easy time of it, I answered a few questions from some of the competitors and spectators, then got a fantastic view of the junior race for a couple of hours – it was a truly wonderful experience. What I can say is that it was brilliant and everyone should try and give a bit back by doing some volunteering and let me assure you that you’ll have a great time if you choose to do it in a Durty Events kind of way. Importantly though any kind of volunteering and marshalling makes a difference in any kind of endurance sport and your participation makes it so much easier for events to take place and for athletes to be supported.

Mountain Rescue
It’s also worth noting that this event also serves as a fundraiser for the Oban Mountain Rescue and I can’t think of a service that deserves your support more, you can donate to them at any time (or your nearest mountain rescue) because without their dedication and commitment, events like this wouldn’t really be possible. We might think we’ll never need their aid or their exceptional skills but on the day we do then I’m glad I’ve donated to keep them going.

Thanks
And now to a few thanks, first of course is to Durty Events and team, not only did they provide a triathlon event that my partner was keen to participate in but they made room for me and my little piece of proposal mischief. Paul & Diane especially you have my thanks.

To Duncan, our wonderful ferryman, co-organiser and all round star I must say thank you for being a brilliant support and a real gentleman, you inspired all of the madness of the proposal at the event! Plus being sped from the island by you was the perfect end to a perfect day.

To Freya, Linsey, Adrian and all the other volunteers and marshals – your company, wisdom and videography skills were much appreciated, I hope we one day come across each other in another muddy location.

To the many competitors who took part, especially those such as Jane and Pauline who we chatted to throughout the event it was a pleasure to share the Craggy Island Triathlon with you. Congratulations to everyone who took part you were amazing snd my apologies if I’ve forgotten to mention you.

To my little munky, ASK, the 7 year old marshal and daughter who managed not to moan at all, despite soggy feet and missing her mum. She was a superstar and came away wanting not to be an ultra runner like her dad but be a triathlete like her mum.

And finally to the GingaNinja – thanks for finishing and for saying yes.

And so that’s one of the Tales of Kerrera, what’s yours? And what will your next adventure be?

Durty Events have lots of lovely looking events to get your teeth into (or volunteer at). I know I’ll be signing up to a first triathlon with them (probably Craggy Island) and the GingaNinja is already eyeing up both the Foxlake and Aviemore Tri events. It wouldn’t surprise me if we become not just durty but filthy regulars because these guys know how to put on a splendid event. You can find out more at durtyevents.com and let me assure you I’m not paid or sponsored to say any of this they are just a brilliant events team.

Apologies if I got a name wrong or if I missed anyone out – it has been a mad few days but thank you to everyone and see you again soon!

Ed Catmur you say? was my reply to the tenacious Sasha…Well I’ll be honest at that point I shit myself but it wasn’t the first time that had happened across a series of recent events.


But let’s roll back a little bit. July 19th and there’s a rap on the door, it’s 8.30am – ‘stick the kettle on son’. It was Pops arriving in sunny Kent to do a bit of babysitting while UltraBoy dusted off the wetsuit and swam the Great London Swim. After a bit of a catch up we headed off to the train station and meandered towards the ‘swim village’. Getting to the Millwall docks was no easy feat with all the improvement work going on there and with a buggy it was remarkably slow progress but we finally cracked the nut and in font of us we saw a succession of Great Swim signage.


We ambled around the start line for a while watching a couple of waves hitting the water and saw that the waves of people entering the dock were rather smaller than I remembered from 2013. I spoke to a chap who had clearly just finished and he confirmed that the earlier waves had been much fuller but that the afternoon had been rather quiet. ‘Bugger’ I decided to head up to the finishing area and see if is was any busier and thankfully there was more happening and swimmers were bimbling about in their wetsuits or stripping themselves out of wetsuits. I sat down on one of the public benches outside the main arena and already having my swimming shorts on simply stripped off and jumped into my wetsuit (using my newly acquired knowledge of putting a carrier bag over my hands and feet to make getting into the wetsuit so much easier).

At this point my dad, UltraBaby and I headed to the start line but here my family rather than aiding me with my nerves got rather over-excited by the appearance of Brendan Foster, former champion middle distance runner! My dad became giddy with joy and started discussing running and swimming with him – he was a warm and genuine gentleman though and it was lovely to meet him – I just wish it hadn’t been while I was sweating in a wetsuit. I left my dad to his hero worship and entered the acclimatisation area in the water, the water was warm and pleasant and nothing like the last time I had done open water swimming, the concern was that the field of swimmers numbered about 20 and I was going to be slow as I had completed about 20 lengths of a pool since UltraBaby arrived. This mile of open water swimming was looking like an increasingly stupid idea.

Still I did the warm up, abandoned all ideas of pulling out and when the klaxon fired I ran to the water – leaping in and I put on my best ‘freestyle’ swim stroke – that lasted all of 50 metres and I began breast stroking my way to the finish line. Here it got both brilliant and crappy – the water was pleasant, the view was interesting and I’d picked up ‘Bridget’ on the safety boat as my conversational aid. This was the best and worst bit of my day – I was at the back and didn’t have the resources to catch the swimmers in front of me. Less than 200 metres I made the sensible call to adjust my targets. ‘So Bridget, success today is a) finishing and b) not needing to hold onto your kayak’ and then we chatted all the way round and thankfully she was a brilliant and lovely woman.

Without her and that awesome sense of humour I doubt I’d have made it but with the safety boat always within earshot I was able to push on even when the waters were against me.  I was now about 1000metres in and I spotted my dad and UltraBaby on the dockside, they both waved enthusiastically and while my dad was more interested in chatting to the ‘lovely ladies’ he did get me a cheering parade all the way back and I could hear my name being called from far and wide.

With 50 metres to go Bridget and I parted ways – she had seen me safely home and all that remained was for me to haul myself up on to the ramp. I ran up to the chip timing station, waving at ‘my adoring crowd’, as quickly as my weary legs would carry me and thanked the lovely volunteers for their efforts.

There was little more to do now other than collect my medal and shower and as ever the guys at the Great Series had a nice medal and a decent T-shirt. What was missing was my own personal sense of elation, I was tired, I was sore and I’d been last in my wave – but with no training and bad prep what more could I have expected. Thankfully the Great Series of events really is well suited to the novice/under trained as it is to the elite athlete and the amount of safety crew about was s testament to the care they show to their entrants.  I’ll be back for a fourth Great Swim next year because it’s a great event and I might even add in the Great Newham 10km which is where we are headed next…


Pops hadn’t just come down to the South East for a bit of gentle babysitting, no, he’d also come down to run the Great Newham 10km. To add a bit of history to this my dad raced at the Olympic Stadium at one of their 2012 pre games test events and to this day says he beat Usain Bolt by three months (the old ones are the best ones). Now it was 2015 and three years later – a lot has happened in that time, some good things, some bad but Pops wanted to run this one in sight of his granddaughter – UltraBaby. We set off nice and early and arrived at the Olympic Park with both time to spare and time to take some souvenir pictures, especially as both of us were proudly wearing our Virtual Runner UK shirts. As we meandered down to the starting area a voice called out to my dad ‘what are you doing here?’ In typical fashion my dad saw someone he knew – another runner and we all ambled down together to the main thrust of the event, chatting merrily about the run.

‘Tea?’ I offered ‘sun cream?’
‘Both’ was the reply.

It was a hot, sunny day and the start was still an hour away, we mooched around the Start Fitness store, bought a few bits and grabbed as much free lucozade, water and other goodies as our little hands could carry (it was a warm day after all). As the clock ticked down my dad headed to his wave (as he described it ‘the slow wave’). Thousands of runners lined up waiting for their final instructions, words of wisdom from my dads new best pal Brendan Foster rang out over the PA system and Paula Radcliffe offered some encouragement to those about to race BackToTheStadium.  UltraBaby and I ran up and down the crowds in the buggy grabbing photographs and eventually waved a cheery goodbye to Pops as we stationed ourselves about 200metres beyond the start line.

And then it all went off – runners flying towards us – thousands of them in the shadow of the Olympic Stadium. I stood with my camera poised to grab the snapshot of my dad coming through but there was no sign, more runners came through and then more – still no sign. Suddenly in the distance I could see him wandering through – running gently behind a very attractive young lady and his eyes firmly cemented around her bum – it seems he’d found his inspiration to complete the distance. With Pops having passed us by we headed straight to the stadium to soak in the atmosphere. We were politely if inefficiently sent to the ‘buggy park’ were UltraBaby and I deposited the UltraMobile Mk II and then we went off to find our seat. We were housed near the runners entrance into the stadium and either side of us were the big screens displaying the runners names. Pops have indicated that he’d like a photograph of his name in lights – as the chaps back home would never believe him.

With baby on one knee and DSLR and giant zoom lense on the other we waited patiently. To fill our time UltraBaby and I tweeted several photographs under the hashtag #BackToTheStadium and sure even the dinosaur clad child appeared giant size on the screens around the stadium but with the race reaching the hour mark we needed to concentrate and wait for Pops. The problem now was that despite all the noise and the general hoopla – El Babio had fallen asleep on my arm and was resting like a dead weight on me.

Bugger. Still she wasn’t going to miss her Pops arrival into the stadium and when he came thundering around the corner I pulled up the camera – grabbed the shot of the big screen, woke up UltraBaby to join in with cheering and then photographed him ambling round the track to the adulation bring thrust upon all the awesome runners. UltraBaby went straight back to sleep. My dad collected his medal and joined me for a little bit atmosphere soaking and he described it as a fun and enjoyable race. It was well organised and well supported and he felt this was a good bookend to his ‘Olympic Park’ running career. I know there was some criticism (especially from long distance runners) that the course was a bit boring but it seemed that mostly people enjoyed it and especially the spectacle of coming into the Olympic Stadium – as Pops said ‘what a feeling, what a roar!’

He may well be back.

Thankfully this was not the end of July running – far from it – there was the little matter of the inaugural Twilight Ultra. The GingaNinja had already advised that I’d be out on my own for this one (especially in terms of getting there) but given the track nature of the event I felt this was a decent final event as I wait for the start of the CCC and so I signed up.

I headed out to Hainault nice and early with the intention of grabbing some supplies and breakfast and then meandering to the start line. However, a succession of train delays and a lack of suitable shops meant I arrived at the Redbridge Cycle Track having not eaten and with only a Cadburys fudge for company. I grabbed a cuppa from the track reception and then signed in. Martin from Nice Work (the organisers) greeted is warmly and advised there was a starting line of 12. Not a great number but substantial enough to make it a bit competitive. We were walked out to the start line of the course as 10am closed in on us and advised that the aid station at the start of each of our 31.5 laps would do there very best to get us whatever we required to finish the race and simply let them know and they’d arrange it for your next lap (a nice little extra I thought).

As the horn was fired to denote the start I saw the blazing sun rising higher and higher and wished I’d been more sensible and used sun cream but I hadn’t and by Sunday I was looking like a well cooked Lobster. I was running with Toby at the beginning and we got to know lots of stuff about each other – we’d never met at any race and had very differing experiences but he was a great runner and we powered well around the course together. At this point we were jostling between third and fourth place behind Ed Catmur who managed to lap us before our third running of the track (what a runner)!

The course itself was basically 0.8km downhill 0.5km flat and 0.8km bitchy uphill with some horrid switchbacks thrown in for good measure – if you followed the running line – I wasn’t quite so good at following the run line and managed to add a couple of extra miles but nothing significant. The real challenge for this was going to be securing your knees on the fast downhill and getting up the hill as fast as you could. Some of the runners described the surroundings as a bit dull but actually I found it an engaging, interesting and pleasantly difficult course with the added bonus of being able to see your fellow runners doing their thing. By lap 10 I was speed walking the top half of the hill and it was proving a mental drain knowing you would have to face it again. But interestingly by lap 10 the marathon runners were ready to join us and this made for a greater degree of enjoyment, it was also an opportunity to final meet the truly awesome Karen Summerville who was taking part in a weekend marathon double.  At about lap 3 I was feeling a little queasy from a combination of heat and a lack of food and I decided that I need to solve my problem quickly. The food selection was decent and I chowed down on a couple of oranges for the juice and kept pouring water over my head and soaking my new ‘Anton’ buff but I needed something else ‘Tea please’ As of lap 4 I drank a cup of tea every lap – much to amusement of the awesome volunteers and spectators but this kept my race alive as I simply couldn’t eat anything solid.

The real problems came mid race though, I turned my ankle at lap 14 and this was quite unpleasant to run on, slowing me much more than I had hoped it would. There was also the added distraction of the queasiness I had felt earlier in the race which, upon returning, made me feel incredibly sick for a few laps near the 30 mile point but thankfully I shot through both of these with some deep breathing, clear thinking and bloody mindedness.  As I was entering the final few laps we were joined by throngs of half marathoners, who all looked fresh and fast, but they soon slowed in sight of that bloody ascent! The arrival of fresh legs gave both the ultra runners and marathoners a bit of a lift and we all pressed that little bit harder for a while. I caught Toby up a bit and we ran together again for a while as he’d had a few rough and ready laps but was looking composed and in good shape.

At lap 26 I called for a change of liquid and requested a chicken cupasoup – which may well have been the stomach settler I needed because I hit the next lap faster and better than I’d run much of the previous few and from here I knew the finish line was infront of me. Soon I would witness Jools and Toby both finish and I wasn’t a million miles behind but as I entered the final lap I gave it some proper welly – even running the final ascent and offering up a sprint finish to cross the line. I quickly grabbed my medal and technical t-shirt (both of which were pretty good) and offered my unending thanks to most of the marshalling and medical team – all of whom had made my finish possible. I even got a little wave from UltraBaby as she had arrived just in time to see me complete the last few laps.

Now a few days later – the ankle is slowly healing and I’m feeling more prepared for the CCC and although I’m underprepared and still not quite right in the glutes I’ll arrive in France with decent self belief.  These three races (and Bewl) have fuelled my desire to do well in my first attempt at an ultra on foreign soil. And thanks to a series of well organised events with lovely atmospheres I go in with a big dollop of positivity. If you get a chance do look up Nice Work  they run races all over the UK and they are beautifully low key, local and fun races and of course if you fancy dipping your toe into swimming I can’t recommend the Great Swim series highly enough.

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Back in training after a decent lay off was ace, I was burning the soles off many new pairs of running shoes, running the UltraMobile with UltraBaby, cycling extensively, swimming – even dropping weight (5kg in just over 5 weeks) and then I pulled my sodding hamstring and despite even more rest it’s still sore.

My awesome physiotherapist, Rosie, has been doing great work on it and she’s been forcing me to stretch and exercise gently to try and get myself up to speed without losing the momentum I’ve been gaining. However, it’s frustrating and with the Winter 100 now just a few weeks away it’s even more so – Rosie is fully aware I’m not pulling out and she appears even more determined than I am to get me to the start line.

So it’s now a race against a time.

On the positive news front I’ve now increased my cycling again and managed a 25.58 ParkRun yesterday and I’ve got my fingers crossed because Winter100 I’m going to try crush the life out of you 🙂 though in all honesty it might be the other way round.

On my day I’m okay at running, I can cycle and I’m pretty shit at swimming, so I thought I’d enter the Virtual Triathlon and see if I could stumble my way to a medal. On Monday of this week I got out the old iron horse, prepared my swim kit and then went to work. The idea was that I’d do the run first then jump on my bike and then off to the pool to finish off before it closed. It started well I did a very hilly 5km in 24minutes, changed swiftly into my cycling shorts and hit full pelt uphill into the wilds of Kent. I was moving swiftly and well and the first 10km couldn’t have been more fun. I charged up the final hill and into a local country park where I allowed myself a lap or three of the car park to ensure I got to swim having done more than 20km. With my distance about right and Movescount keeping track I thundered out of the park for my favourite bit – the fast downhill.

As I did I could feel the first heavy splashes of rain and I knew I was going to have to ‘give it riz’ if I was to avoid the oncoming storm. I pushed on through the now heavy headwind and felt the rain bashing against my face. I could feel that my control wasn’t all it should be and yet despite my lack of skill in cycling I pushed on. I hurled myself into the big downhill, now thundering along and it was here that I was caught with an intense combination of head and cross winds. The bike (otherwise known as Ultrette) dipped into the space between the road and the grass and what control I had disappeared.

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I was in a bit of a heap and bleeding but thankfully not too seriously – as far as I could tell in the darkness! I picked myself up, photographed the scene, called the GingaNinja, switched off Movescount and then ran 3km pushing my bike so I can meet up with transport home. I was cold, soaked and I didn’t know how to reattach my chain (not that my bloodied hands were working!).

I got home and tweeted my experience – and thank you for all the very kind support – but I was deflated. I’d damaged my bike, failed to get to the swim and just plain old fashioned failed. What to do?

The following day I did the swim, I fixed Ultrette and then yesterday I got my arse back out running and cycling.

The sad thing was that the fall dented both my confidence and my body and so it was a slow swim (525metres), a slow cycle (21.8km) and a slow run 5km). When I went out first time I felt really alive – but the second time I felt like I just wanted to get it done. However, this shouldn’t detract from what a bloody awesome idea for an event the VirtualTriathlon is and I would highly recommend getting involved in either the sprint or super sprint distance.

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It has been several weeks since I last posted here and that’s been for a number of key reasons – the primary one is that I’ve been injured, depressingly so and I really didn’t want to be one of those who was constantly banging on about it – which was something I could see I was becoming and that’s not a positive train of thought.

Therefore I have been extensively focusing on my recovery. Physiotherapy, strengthening exercises, swimming, cycling, stretching, dieting and a bit of reflection.

My enforced break also gave me the time to go and find a nice new job which starts in about 5 or 6 weeks, attend some music festivals and even try finishing the preparation for the arrival of UltraBaby so it’s all been pretty positive.

Obviously pulling out of the NDW Run, the NDW100 and (around an hour before it was due to start) the Race to the Stones I’ve been a bit upset but the benefit of the lay off is clear. My groin which was causing me all sorts of grief is much stronger again and although my hips aren’t sorted I feel like I’m on a sensible course of non-surgical action to resolve it.

This weekend I’m off to volunteer at the NDW100 and I’m hugely excited by this, I’ve just entered the Thames Path 100 for the first time, I’m back training – just in time for the Winter100, I’m tweeting again, I’ve entered the VirtualRunnerUK Sprint distance triathlon and 10km race and my new commute to work will include around 14 miles of cycling per day – which should be dangerously exciting.

Life feels like it’s all good and with UltraBaby just three weeks away there’s a lot of positive change (and a bloody giant dinosaur mural to paint).

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Plus the sun is shining, so let’s go have fun. See you out there.

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1. Don’t race too much
The last couple of years I’ve raced on average once every two weeks, this year I’ve raced big distance at around the same amount and what I’ve learnt is that the body doesn’t have time to recover and that training is badly affected because you feel as though you are in constant taper. Worse than that, when your training takes a hit then your race pace drops off. Racing should be part of your running I believe because it gives us targets and opportunities to test ourselves but it shouldn’t be at the cost of regular training.

2. Train enough
One of the things that many runners do is get to a point and suddenly think that’s it, they can do it and they can just continue to do it but the reality is a little different. We need to make sure that we continue to train year round to maintain the continuous health benefits of running. It doesn’t take much to actually feel much better from running but by the same token it doesn’t take much to feel lethargic when we don’t. Your training will be determined by many external factors but it’s worth keeping your running consistent and doing it regularly. Short but often pays bigger dividends than long and occasional.

3. Listen to your body
Believe me your body knows best, listen to it when it calls out for rest, listen to it when it says it go faster. Don’t ignore your body be they good times or bad.

4. You will be your own worst enemy
You’ll become a bit like a petulant child, wanting to do more, achieve more and you’ll push yourself, you’ll go too far either physically or emotionally – I think we all do at some point. Try and listen to common sense, if something sounds stupid then it probably is.

5. Make sure your shoes fit
I’ve spent the best part of my running in shoes that are too small for me. I should be a size 9.5 (UK) but I’ve been running in size 9s, it’s not a lot but what it does in my case is push my toes against the end of my toes and leaves them susceptible to blistering. Over longer distances this is exactly what happens and each person is different – so if you haven’t been fitted, please go and get fitted, there really is nothing worse in running terms than a pair of shoes that just aren’t right.

6. Don’t get caught up in technologies
Calorie Counters, GPS, video cameras, hydration systems, number belts, boosting trainers, minimal trainers … the list of things we apparently cant live without goes on and on. Running stores are constantly offering us new ways to part with our hard earned cash. Sometimes all you need is a pair of trainers and any old clothes. yes having the kit is great (and I’ve got a lot) but there is a lovely sense of getting back to those first few runs when you pick out a comfy pair of runners and hit the trail. Remember the joy of running.

7. Don’t run before you can walk
You know that feeling just after Christmas when you’ve put on a few pounds and you suddenly think it would be a bloody amazing idea to start running? Then you see yourself as a bit of Usain Bolt and that first run you feel like a legend – you probably did a kilometre, maybe two – then it takes you a week to get back out there? I’m not the only one who has been through these various stages. Anyway, the point is that as you come to running it is important that you take things slowly – build up your endurance, your distance, your speed, work on the way you breathe and learn how to get the best out of both body and kit. Plus remember that doing 5km where half of it was walking is still more impressive than sitting on the sofa watching cat videos on YouTube.

8. Eat for the running regime you do
I should listen to my own advice on this one – I’m a terrible eater, I don’t carb load, I barely eat vegetables, I don’t like fruit very much and my one remaining tastebud is targeting Mexican food and Mexican food only but because of this (partly) I can be prone to weight that bounces around and a lack of energy because I haven’t fuelled properly for my runs. Eat properly! Eat enough! Eat the right things!

9. Get to know other runners
Each runner is very individual and we all have our nuances and idiosyncratic ways but we’ve all been there and done it. We know what it’s like to lose toenails, to buy I’ll fitting shoes, to wear neon in public. I turn up to ultras now and there is almost always somebody I know or at the very least have met and chatted with before, infact I’ve raced so much in the last three years that even when I turn up to a 10km race there is a very good chance I’ll meet someone I know. This community spirit is in part why I really love running, but that same community is a great source of information, inspiration and fun. Next time you’re out running maybe just say hello to a fellow runner and see where it leads you.

10. If the plan isn’t working, change the plan
Training plan says ‘Monday AM – 10km jog’ and you get there and you simply can’t manage it or you don’t feel like it but by Monday PM you are feeling guilty. What to do? Change the goddam plan! No sense in being ruled by your training plan, you are in control and if something hasn’t happened then do something else. Don’t give up because you miss a deadline

11. Enjoy running, if it regularly becomes a chore something’s wrong
We all have days when the wheels have come off and you don’t feel like running and that’s fine but when it’s a regular thing you should perhaps ask yourself if there isn’t something else you can be doing. We run for pleasure (most of us) therefore if it makes you miserable step away from it. I’m the moments when my mojo has deserted me I tend to rock up and watch a race or two and I know that the moment I see runners streaking last me I’ll want to be out there – doing my thing and earning my bling.

12. Vary your training
A necessary evil? Probably. However, mixing up the way you train means that you are more likely to be successful on completing the races you do. For me I’ve found that varying my training has meant that I can roughly retain a respectable pace for a 10km while still running ultra distances. If I focused on one of these things I’d be much better at it but the training variations mean I can keep completing these races even if I’m not a a competitive any longer.

13. Vary your locations
There is nothing more fun that running down a new street, hitting a new trail, finishing up at a new cafe, getting lost in a country that you don’t speak the language in. Whatever you do try new routes, variation – see the world through running eyes because believe me it’s amazing what we miss as we drive to places. I found that I was getting bored of my evening commute from Regent’s Park to my mainline station in the evening and so to jolly it up I remembered that I live in one of the most exciting cities on the planet and so I started looking for memorials, sculptures, signs, famous buildings, infamous places and even culture events to run through, beyond and even in some cases – above. This meant I had to go via different routes, sometimes just a single street but now each night I see something new when I run and that fills me with joy.

14. Leave the GPS at home
I love my Suunto, I love watching running data and yet I love the freedom of not tracking what I’m doing and just running free. During races you can be held accountable to the watch, equally so in training – beating yourself up for not reaching the six minute mile, annoyed because you failed to do the whole 13.1miles, getting only to 13.02 before you’re stood outside the gates of your house. Humph! Leave the GPS at home sometimes and throw off this (very awesome) bind.

15. Do other sports
Running is very much my sport – I love every minute of it, even when I hate it but it does produce a tremendous amount of wear and tear on our bodies and we are susceptible to injury, fatigue and even occasionally a bit of laziness. I’ve found that by mixing up my running with other sports that I gain a better all round fitness.

I tend to find I focus on swimming, hiking, ‘countryside outdoor pursuits’, cycling and Pilates as my other sporting activities but team sports are equally wonderful and all you need do is tap into your personal interests and find something that you enjoy.

16. Run in the dark
Actually this should be ‘run at different points in the day’ but for me not enough runners run at night time and this in my opinion is an awesome time to do it – there’s peace, the roads are quiet and you really get to the heart of your thinking process and focus on the job at hand. For ultra runners the benefit is that we acclimatise to the fears that come during the night time, there is nothing worse than seeing shadows moving and fearing the worst – the dark can be a great friend.

17. Buy last seasons trainers
You want the latest kit? But the truth is that this stuff is usually untested by the majority – by buying last seasons kit not only do we benefit from runners experience and reviews but also it’s usually cheaper.

18. Always save something for the end
Jimmy McKenna, the only man who ever gave me running training (aged 8) left me with a piece of advice that has stuck with me for nearly 30 years. ‘Always finish strong, doesn’t matter how you run but cross that finish line like Steve Cram’. And he was right, I finish my races with a push, arms pumping, chest thrust forward and both feet off the ground. It always makes me feel good.

19. Don’t be afraid of failure or the DNF
Who cares? Well you will when and if it happens, you may well even cry but the important thing is to get straight back in the saddle. A DNF can show a positive attitude to your body, if you’ve pulled up with injury what’s the point in risking more damage by continuing. Equally though knowing when not to DNF is vital as you should try not to give up unless it’s necessary. Some of the most useful learning I’ve had as a runner have come when things have gone wrong, perhaps the most important thing is to learn from this and hope not to repeat it.

20. Have pride in your achievements
Wear your medal, wear your shirts, brag about distance, brag about times – like the manufacturer says ‘just do it’

21. Don’t mull over a slower than expected time
You’ll run pretty crappy times periodically – both in training and in racing – get over it. Don’t let one bad experience ruin a week or month or a years hard grafting on the road. To dispel he myth of bad running I simply adhere to the idea of producing a PW or personal worst, this means I’m always achieving some form of target even if it’s a rubbish one 🙂

22. Don’t forget the back end
Running takes huge swathes of our time in both the training and the getting ready to run. Sadly kit doesn’t clean itself, Suuntos don’t magically upload and races don’t book without you. Running isn’t a hobby it’s a lifestyle.

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Robbie Roberts

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