At the end of 2010, which was a very good year as I had finished and won the JOGLE, completed the Lakeland 100 and ran pretty good all year, I took on the Spartathlon and it annihilated me. I knew I could do it, but just had to have good preparation in the proceeding months and get the fluid intake spot on, as this is what broke me. So as soon as I had failed in Greece in 2010, I was itching to enter the 2011 edition. My sights would be aimed at Spartathlon. Everything else would be just stepping stones that would ultimately lead me to the toes of the statue of King Leonidas in Sparta. My opening race for the year was the Thames Trot, a 50 miler held during winter which I was quite looking forward to. I had a really good run with Rob Treadwell, which is great for the pace. We finished together in 6:53. A massive improvement for me. Shortly after this was the Endurancelife Coastal Trail Series Ultra. 33 miles along the incredible coast of the Westcountry. The finest trails in the country I think! I had a great day even if I had turned up over twenty minutes late! I ran hard and even though I had overcooked it near the end I had a good result. Next up was the Wye valley Ultra. Again I had a good race. I wasn’t overly happy with my pacing and nutrition, but I still finished pretty strong and came in joint 4th place. Next up was the Endurancelife Exmoor ultra. This ranks up there as some of the finest scenery and trails to run on. I was very happy to finish in 3rd place seeing as the week leading up to it was a very sickly one for me. The following week was the opening day of Endurancelifes new concept event, Trailblaze. I decided to run the whole thing and was the only person to complete it. In fact as I write this, I am still the only one. I had an amazing day where my parents followed me in the car, and I had support from the Endurancelife team who paddled me across the estuary mouths in a kayak. Awesome! The following week I was in Scotland for the Highland Fling. This amazing event was blessed with incredible weather, which actually became a bit of a hindrance causing dehydration making the end a real struggle. I was happy though to come in the top 40 as the race was a national trail race amongst others so had pulled in a real quality field. My next challenge was to run on the Cotswold Way solo to try and get a black band as this was another Trailblaze course. It was an incredibly tough day but hugely satisfying and successful. I managed over 100km with no support. Then it was the Grand Union Canal Race. I was happy with my preparation and calmness compared to last time and was really chuffed when I finished a whopping 8.5 hrs quicker than the first time I’d done it! A real boost for the ever-looming Spartathlon. Next up was my long awaited success at running the entire 103 miles of the Cotswold Way in one go. I did take just over 24hrs, which is a little frustrating and means I will have to do it again. Drew and I did a decent length run up on the Pennine Way a few weeks after which was awesome. Then maybe my best performance of the year, the North Downs Way. I really enjoyed the day and was very happy with my time and position even though my experimental fast start possibly cost me the win. Then it was Spartathlon. Even though quite a lot of the route is far from inspiring, the whole experience is second to none. I of course made it and had a really emotional finish in Sparta. I can’t wait to return. Last week I received the entry forms for this years race. I will be running across Europe at the time so can’t do it. It’s pretty tough as the race is so special. After this I had the Brecons Ultra. Had a tough day due to dehydration but thoroughly enjoyed it. Then recently there was the Tour de Helvellyn, which was a truly stunning day in the Winter Mountains with my good friend Dave. And my final day was possibly the toughest of them all. My Trailblaze on the Offa’s Dyke was epic and never to be forgotten. I could never have completed it without the tireless support from Lou. Listing out my year of running has made me realise that 2011 was almost certainly my most successful to date. 2010 wasn’t exactly a bad year with my scratch at Sparta being the only blemish on a year that I had my biggest, toughest and most satisfying event yet, my win at the JOGLE. I feel that I have matured as a runner a lot last year. I am in far more control with my training and this in turn feeds my ever-growing confidence to take on the next challenge with a positive outlook. I don’t know where my limits lie, but it has become far clearer over the year (though it will never be clear!). I look forward to gaining a little more wisdom and gaining another year of running under my belt making me a stronger competitor. The year saw me take on not just the races but the personal challenges that I set my self such as the Trailblaze events which have been immensely satisfying. Covering 100 miles alone with support is really tough but with the knowledge that I will recover pretty quickly has enabled me to shoehorn a few of these in wherever there was a gap in my racing schedule. One of these was the Cotswold Way, which was an incredible day. The other 100 was on the Offa’s Dyke just a few weeks ago. There have also been the shorter races I have done which have been loads of fun, and have taught me that doing no speed work for 6 years and just running long and slow hasn’t dulled my speed to much. I also ran in my first two fell races, which were incredible experiences and have added another fantastic dimension to my running. I will be travelling up north more I think! I have also begun to realise just how much running has added to my life and what a positive effect it has had on me. I want to give something back. I will aim to do some race support this year. At the beginning of December I started a lunchtime running group at work that was purely intended to hopefully motivate people to come out for a short run. There is a nice little group who turn up on Tuesdays and Thursdays now. It’s really good seeing these people getting out and enjoying it then coming back for more. I also really enjoy it as it pulls me away from my desk when I would normally mindlessly surf the web. Who knows how it will grow as the seasons change! That brings me nicely onto the year ahead. 2012 promises to be by far my most challenging yet. At the beginning of March (soon!) I have the Trans-Gran Canaria which is a 125km run that takes you in a meandering route across the island. The challenging part about this one is the 8000 metres of ascent that has been squeezed in. Then there is the Viking Way Ultra. This is a new race that has been designed by my friend and fellow JOGLE finisher Mark Cockbain. And in true Cockbain style this promises to be an incredible sufferfest! We’re talking about a ‘British Spartathlon’ type of event that will be similar in length and pressure due to tight time cut-offs. But with the added difficulty of being on a trail which means the possibility of getting lost! I don’t think there will be a very high finish rate on this one! Next is the historical Fellsman. This is the 50th holding of the event that is over 60 miles on the Yorkshire Dales. Really looking forward to this one. At the start of June I have the Hardmoors 110. I have heard great things about how hard this race is so can’t wait to get stuck into it, especially as I have recce’d the first 40 miles of it with Drew. Three weeks later I have the Ultra Trail South West. The UTSW is a 100-mile trail run on the South West coast path. I have been waiting for a 100 miler on the dramatic and absolutely brutal coastal path for a number of years so I was very excited when I heard that Endurancelife were going to put one on. Shame it’s not North Devon and Cornwall so I would be near my parents place, but still it will be an incredible experience. A few weeks later I have another Endurancelife event. This time it’s a little different for me, being a triathlon. It is long distance (Ironman) and off-road. So the 2.4-mile swim is in the sea followed by the 112-mile mountain bike ride through the night and finishing off with a nice marathon trail run. Should be quite a mad experience for me seeing as I’ll be doing it for fun and will not be able to really train for the other two disciplines. Then I will rest for 5 weeks before flying out to Denmark where my Trans-Europe race begins. The race is over 4000km long and is spread over 64 days. There are no rest days. The route takes you all the way through Denmark, Germany, France, Spain and finishes on Gibraltar. This of course is my target for the year. Nothing else matters in comparison. Not to say that I won’t put everything I’ve got into my races, as I find it difficult not too, but TE can not, and will not be taken lightly. The race has only been held twice before, in 2003 and 2009. I have heard that Ingo, the race director say that this will be the last. This is taking a lot to finance. I have the race fee, the shoes, then of course the fact that I won’t be working for around 70 days! I need financial support so please excuse me for putting this on my blog, but it’s worth a punt. If there is anyone who could support me in any way, then please contact me. As I say, shoes and money is what I need. I can wear logos if necessary. Anyway, that’s enough of that. Also, I am currently developing (in the loosest sense of the word) my blog. I have already added a shoe review and plan to add more as time goes on, maybe a gallery etc. I’m kind of enjoying it, as I don’t really know anything so it’s a steep learning curve. So, check out my shoe review. There will be another one soonish. I will write again soon. Happy running.
It all was getting a bit too much on the build up side of things. Tuesday at work and I was getting butterflies. Four days before the start of the event! I don’t usually mind getting such feelings as it shows that I’m still in respect for just how tough it will be. Four days early though is just silly!
Finally, Friday came round. All week I’d been faffing around with my bags and equipment, so all I had to do was ride home from work get changed and walk to the train station.
After a couple hours on the train and a 30 minutes bus journey, I was at the Red Lion pub in Birmingham, which was the meeting/signing in point. I signed in, picked up my British Waterways Key so that I could use their facilities along the canal path, and also picked up my T-shirts, which I daren’t put on till after I’d finished.
I then met up with Alistair Parker who I was to share a room with that night at the Travelodge. We sat down and had a pint and a good chat. Was nice and relaxing just waffling away, almost forgetting the impending pain. Got a lift back to the hotel and had a big bag of fish and chips before further faffing around before bed. Alarm was set for 4!
In the morning, we got fully prepped and got a lift down to Gas street for the start an hour later.
It’s always interesting at the start line for races like this seeing just what sort of people have decided to have a go.
Once we’d started at 0600, I settled quickly into my planned pace of running for 25 mins then walking for 5, giving me time to eat and drink every half hour. The sun was already out at this point, but I was still my usual cold self. Hands where losing feeling.
After about 30 mins, Alistair and I decided to stop and take off some of our warm kit. Things where getting very warm already! The pace was sustained as we made our way to the first cp, which was at 10miles. Starting to really buzz off this race now. Really enjoying it, and so grateful to actually be doing it now.
We stuck together as we plugged away with the same pace towards cp2 at 20 miles. Was starting to feel the tiredness setting in as we approached it. Filled up my bladder, picked up some more snacks for the next stage and drunk loads of squash before setting off again. After a couple of hours, I’d slowly pulled away from Alistair, and felt pretty strong.
Just before I reached the fourth cp I met an old school friend, Shirley and her boyfriend Mike on the track which was a wonderful sight to behold. I’d been running alone for hours with barely any sightings of other runners, so to see a friend was great! She’d bought me a pasty as well which was great. I stopped briefly then we walked on to the cp together. I stopped there and took on board as much food and water as my stomach would allow. I then said goodbye to the guys and forged on. Such a shame that I couldn’t stop for longer with them seing as they’d travelled for 2.5 hrs! After about half an hour I turned a corner, and there they were again! What a great suprise. They did this two more times which did amazing things for moral and helped kill some time. Sadly they then said goodbye!
As the day drew on I overtook more and more people who said that the heat was killing them and they had given up running. I had been coping with the heat ok, that is till the early evening, when my body starting complaining, and I was desperately willing the coolness of the night.
I got to a cp just as darkness fell. I sat down and ate a baked potato with beans, couldn’t wait for my tea to cool enough to drink, so I put on my headtorch and made my way into the darkness.
Although it had cooled down alot, I was starting to feel really tired now. I found runnng in the night quite exciting, but my head torch was lacking a bit on the power side of things. I’ve ran before with this torch and it is not bright, but perfectly adequate for night running. The problem is that the route takes us back and forth over various bridges changing sides of the canal. These bridges are numbered with a small number, often placed in the centre of the arch. My torch would not always be powerful enough to illuminate these numbers so would have to watch runners lights ahead of me, and hope that they’d gone the right way. Finally dawn approached, and things started to heat up again. I reached the 100 mile point at almost exactly 24hrs which was quite sattisfying.
By this stage though, both my shins, near the bottom were really starting to slow me down. The pain was getting worse and worse and they were swelling quite badly. I pushed out of my mind that if this progressed then 45 miles just might not be possible. I tried not to dwell on what could be the cause of the pain, as my number one uneducated guess was stress fractures, which I’d suffered from before. From this previous experience, I knew that rest was the order, as to carry on was to encourage a complete break!
Keep on plodding, keep on plodding!
I was now turning a little zombie like. The heat was truly beating down again, and I was wishing for rain.
Finally, with much pain, I slowly stumbled into cp8 at 120 miles. A gazebo was up and I gladly slumped into a chair in the shade. My ankles and feet were throbbing. The staff asked me what I wanted, and all I could manage was water. They made me a bowl of cereal with a banana chopped up in it, but I could only manage a couple mouthfuls. I couldn’t think straight. I could fel that the heat was affecting my poor cooked brain. I decided I should try to go, but upon standing, my feet and legs had shooting pains pass through them, I felt very dizzy and fell back into the chair. I tried to compose myself but had waves of nausea pass over me. Then one of the staff informed me that I only had 10 mins left of my maximum allowable rest time before I was disqualified. This was the one time when I truly considered abandoning. Luckily, I gave myself a telling off for letting such a thought enter my mind, slowly got my self up and very slowly staggered off.
Only one marathon left! Normally something that wouldn’t bother me in the slightest. Was really bothering me now though considering my ever slowing pace. Was barely running atall now. Even when I did attempt to, It was slower than some peoples walking. Not great for moral!
What was good though, was that in 13 miles time I would meet my girlfriend Andrea and her cousin Lee, and Lee would guide me in for the final push.
It seemed to take an eternity to finally see Lee and Andrea a few hundred metres ahead. As soon as met up, I gave my rucksack to Andrea which felt amazing. I felt light and relaxed in the upper body. I’d try not to think to much about my lower half. I couldn’t really run by this stage, so Lee made sure he was a little ahead at all times to try and squeeze what speed he could out of me. We had a 15 minute detour through Southall which was an interesting change. Not the nicest looking of places, but plenty to be looking at to keep my mind off of the pain. We rejoined the canal then hit the final cp. Andrea had parked the car here and so I said goodbye, I WILL see her again at the end, I told myself. I drank some juice as I stood in the shade, then pushed on.
Lee pushed as much as my body would allow, but not only was the pain excrutiating, but energy levels were bottoming out. He drip fed me Red Bull in an attempt to kick start me but even when I started running, Lee could usually keep up with a fast walk!
And so I plodded on till we passed Paddington station and I knew I’d done it.
Just as darkness was beginning to fall, My friend Shirley, this time with Lisa, approached and met me! Stunned with just what great support was provided to me. I gave some poor introductions then pushed on, Being told that it was about 15 mins from here.
Finally, after 40 hours and 3 minutes I crossed the line, a happy broken man. My feet and legs were shot and my head was jelly, but I did have around my neck the most amazing medal I have yet to be awarded.
It was so good to have my friends there to see me at this moment and to experience this being my biggest physical and mental acheivement to date.
I couldn’t walk the next day, and three days later I went to A&E to get my shins checked out. They reckon it’s probably tendinitis of the tibialis anterior, though it could possibly be stress fractures, so to be sure, I’ll go back in a week. Since then though, they seem to be recovering pretty quickly. I ride my bike to work, and can walk around for a fair while before I need to put it up. The swelling has largely gone too!
All in all I’m very happy with how things went. My body held up well other than my shins, and mentally I’ve learnt that I have what it takes for at least 40 hours of continual exercise.
Next target…. 24hr track race!