Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Beefcake

With my knee out of action I need a new focus. In quite a timely way, just before my knee went I noticed I'd developed what could only be described as a runner's frame. Not quite a racing snake, but I'd defnitely lost a lot of my bulk up top. Since my knee fixed itself last August/September, 99% of my training has been for running, and all my upper-body work went out the window. So I'm now quite weedy again.

Time to work on the 'big guns':

Big guns

In order to do this, I've restarted the 100 press-up programme, and my own 50 pull-up programme (essentially, just the press-up programme, with all the numbers cut in half). 

So far...

Press-Ups: 
Max Test 1 - 50
Day 1 - 118 total (28/35/25/22/8 - instead of 35!)

Pull-Ups
Max Test 1 - 15
Day 1 - 40 total (7/9/7/7/10 - but last set I needed a couple of rests to finish)

Failed both my first days, but think I know why: in both cases, I may have got carried away after my max tests and moved too far ahead in the programme. Add to that the fact my first press-up day I did the day after my max test, and it all kind of fits. Will adjust my position in each programme throughout this first week, until I find my level, & then the only way is up. Will also dust off my weights and bench once I've cleared out the garage (a job for a bank holiday, if ever there was one).

Grrr.

Still continuing with my Pilates and ITB work, and halfway through the second week of my enforced rest. Gonna try a little 3.5mi road run, possibly Monday. Watch this space.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

ITB & Sympathy

Turns out my knee is still sulking with me for putting it through the High Peak Marathon.

Following the race, and a bit of waddling about on the Sunday, by the Monday, I was walking fine. I went out for the Tuesday night headtorcher over Pendle with Clayton and was running really strong, up until my headtorch started failing and I planted myself on the ground after a fall at speed, cushioning the blow with nothing but my dodgy knee. Towards the end of the run I started getting a pain so eased off, but after a bit of poking and prodding in the pub afterwards, it turned out to be a bruising pain on the surface rather than the sharp pain just under the surface you get with ITB.

So, given the all clear, I managed to get out for another run on the Thursday: a glorious run in the sunshine over Pendle. Shorts, t-shirt (first of the year), beautiful views, so a very slow one just enjoying the mild weather and the views, but ending once more with a pain in the knee. Again, poking and prodding suggested the bruising, but I might have been using a bit of wishful thinking here.
[Pendle run]

At this point, I think I'm in the clear, so start planning a run round Widdop. A nice 10-12mi loop taking in some dramatic scenery I've been meaning to explore for a while. I drive past this area on the way to the office regularly, and on Thursday it just looked so nice in the sun, I thought why not. So on Sunday, armed with a hand-drawn map (a copy of the 1:25,000 OS map from www.streetmap.co.uk) I start the run in great weather again eager to see somewhere new.

Attempt at a panoramic view over Widdop whilst I was still enjoying myself (they preview in line, anyway).

What a miserable run it was. Started well enough on public footpaths, nice soft grass underfoot, great running. But my route soon took me off-piste and I ended up slogging for what felt like miles up this knee-high heather covered hill which just wasn't runnable at all until you hit a burnt patch here and there. I eventually made it to what was marked as a bridleway, but was just tussocks, with the odd line of bog marking the way. All of this slowed me down; and also, with footing being so uneven, and not being able to run with a regular rhythm and normal gait, ended up with a really sharp pain in my knee which was, this time, unmistakably ITB. Which slowed me down even more. So made the decision to cut it short (with a few miles still left to get back to the car), and finally covered 7mi in about 2hrs...which was our average HPM pace!
[Widdop run]

Next day, the pain was non-existent, so I decide I can run, but just need to take it a bit easier: avoid rough terrain, and anything too long, setting a limit of 15mi. With that in mind, Wednesday I hit the road for a quick but hilly 7mi route. Just shy of 2mi I pull up with my ITB again. Decide to cut it short, again, and shuffle my way home, again. Was agony making my way home, especially getting overtaken by...joggers!! Oh, for shame!
[Aborted run]

So, I've made my mind up: 2 weeks of complete rest, no running whatsoever. Just a focus on stretching my ITB this week, then introducing some strengthening exercises week 2, as well as doing more Pilates at home for my core stability. Then slooooowly back into it after that.

Fellsman looking like a long-shot now. Maybe if I called it iTB I might enjoy it more? Make it sound young, and funky...

Monday, 8 March 2010

All This Way for a Lousy T-shirt?

That's unfair. It's actually quite a nice t-shirt, though I could have made off with this without doing the race itself, seeing as I'd handed over my cash and been given the bright red tee before the start. Anyway, I stuck around, and this is what happened...

High Peak Marathon, 5-6th March, 42 miles.

After a last minute reshuffle which saw Emma join Clare's Pussycat Trolls (see last blog entry) we drafted in a late substitute: Kev. A solid ultra-distance runner who finished last year's Fellsman in 20th, and currently in training for this year's Lakeland 100. On the day then, team 34 - Traversers, was made up of myself, Brian, Andy & Kev.

Turning up with a few hours to go before the start enabled Brian and I to get our kit together, and start scoffing some of the plentiful (and free!) cakes, malt loaf & sandwiches, washed down with plenty of sweet tea. Saw the other survivors of last week's recce, gave Clare some Gore-Tex mitts (part of my enhanced kit list after the wild weather last Friday), paid Andy for the pleasure of the next few hours, and got my t-shirt.

I started getting a bit anxious as we neared 10 o'clock and Kev still wasn't to be seen. I mean, what kind of nutter would agree to a 42 mile night time run with just about 48hrs notice? Surely he'd seen sense? But luckily he did show (weirdo), bringing his son along to run with Ian's (our recce navigator) Nuns from Chinley. But at least we had a team. We dumped the last of the stuff we didn't need in the car, and one very thorough kit check later, we were good to go.

Traversers before the off (from l-r): Kev, me, Andy & Brian

The rest of the time was passed drinking and nervously chatting to our fellow runners. Then our team was called up, we dobbed our dibber*, and at 23.24, we were off.

Andy and Kev settled into a fairly quick pace early on, and it wasn't long before we were passing other teams (I think 3 before CP1 at Hollins Cross). At this point the pace was bearable, but I did wonder how long I'd realistically be able to keep it up. I also had to abandon my chest pouch (see pic above) at this point. Bouncing up and down at home and in the village hall it was fine. Running properly, it just kept flapping up and down, so I shoved it in my sack, and redistributed some food to my jacket and the waist straps of my rucksack. Half an hour in, I really started struggling. I developed some bad stomach cramps. After a Paula Radcliffe moment on the climb up to Win Hill failed to alleviate things I was already thinking of giving up, wondering how I could possibly make it round the full route feeling like this. I decided to stick it out for a bit and gradually found myself running more freely, with a bit of nursing round by Kev. As we came into the food stop at Moscar it had reduced to a dull ache, and despite the sickly feeling in my stomach, managed to force some more malt loaf and a cup of tea down.

The gentle run down to CP6 at Cutthroat Bridge on the road seemed to do wonders: it allowed a steady running pace, and gave time for the food to do its work. By the time we hit the rough stuff again at Cutthroat Bridge (the start point of our recce), the stomach was ignorable, and I could just focus on keeping Kev or Andy's heels in view. At this point Brian was beginning to struggle, and he wouldn't really recover for the rest of the race. As he has described it since, he just couldn't take on and keep down the fuel needed, so he settled into a slower plod. The pattern of running then waiting for Brian began to establish itself. This was alright for me as it gave me a chance to get my breath back, or take on a bit of food, but because of the pace I couldn't really allow myself to hang back for Brian too much - I was worried that having found my rhythm I might lose it again - though I did run with him in patches.

Looking back, I should have got Kev and Andy to slow down for Brian. I guess this highlights the danger of a last minute team on such an event: the gap between Andy & Kev, and Brian & me was probably too big. If they slowed for Brian too much, they got cold; by going too fast, Brian and I were drained.

Anyway, the gap was never a dangerous one, possibly until later in the race. All across Bleaklow (which I saw more of by moonlight than during the day last week!) Brian was in touching distance and we were stopping regularly. The gap really started opening after the second food stop at the Snake Pass crossing. At this point Brian and I both insisted we walk while we ate our food: a Marmite butty, and a very tasty slice of some cake or other. After that the run started again on the first really runnable section since Cutthroat Bridge: over the slabs of the Pennine Way to Mill Hill. At Mill Hill I got my camera out for the first time since we started whilst waiting for Brian (not long this time).


Photos from Mill Hill (CP16), c/wise from top L: Looking back towards Bleaklow; two of the typicaly chipper students manning the various CPs; ahead towards Kinder and beyond; Kev and Andy looking pleased with themselves, and annoyingly fresh


I was feeling very strong at this point and I waved the team off to start without me while I finished taking pictures and mucked about with some kit. I then had a fairly pacey run to the base of Kinder where I caught up with Brian. Given I was feeling much stronger now, I was happy to stick with Brian knowing I could keep both me and him going. After reaching the top of the Kinder plateau though, this was more forced than a choice, as my knee decided this was the moment to pack in. My old ITB problem reared its head with (I think) 10 miles to go. Probably had a lot to do with the terrain we were running on: the first time it ever went was after running on surfaces where the foot 'squidges' from side to side before biting (like in mud, and ice, and snow), and to this point I'd been running over 30-odd miles of nothing but, well, mud, and ice, and snow! Every step now sent a sharp pain into the outside of my right knee. In particular on the downhill bits. Though on Kinder it undulates quite a lot, Kinder sits c350ft above Edale, with a couple of smaller climbs to (and therefore descents down from) Brown Knoll, Lord's Seat, Mam Tor and Hollins Cross. These last 10mi therefore, hurt. A lot.

Once we caught up with Kev and Andy at Jacob's Ladder (CP17) I then just had to stick with them to get the run over with as soon as possible. Purely a psychological trick: Brian was the dobber, so it still wouldn't end until we all dibbed in at the CPs and crossed the line together. It was also a very poor excuse not to wait for him and it was at this point the gap started increasing, though Kev recognised this and so when the gap got too big, he ran back and stuck with Brian. I've since apologised for this, and my conscience finally made itself heard on the approach to Hollins Cross (the last CP, CP19), where I said that after this point we should all run the remainder of the way together.

If you speak to Brian he was perfectly happy as he knows he can plod for miles and for him it was just a question of fuel, or lack thereof. I don't want to paint him as having suffered too much, but in a team event like this, I just think we should all have taken more care of him.

Anyway, we did do the last bit together, with me swearing all the way down from Hollins Cross to the road, which gave us a nice final trot back to the village hall to warm applause, warm tea, and a delicious warm stew, cooked up by the organisers.

Ian's team (which included Kev's son) came in 3rd in 9h37 - a cracking result (see the write up of this race in Laid Back Fellrunner, below).

We sat and ate our stews, supping teas whilst we cheered home a few more teams, including Sir Ranulph Fiennes'** team, Poles Apart. After a while, it needed more than teas and story swapping to keep us warm, so we headed out to the cars to get into clean, dry clothes. At this point, Brian had the genius idea of heading off to a pub for a hard-earned pint instead of back into the hall. So we did. And by golly did it taste nice! We did get some funny looks from the patrons as we both hobbled in, and answered their curiosity with a brief outline of what the past half a day had entailed. Which resulted in even funnier looks.

Once home, it was in the bath, finish off my two uneaten slices of gala pie, and then to bed for a couple of hours. A big chippy tea and a pint of Snecklifter and I hit the sack again. A couple of hours in the local Spa on Sunday and I was just about getting back to feeling human, and with my knee/feet/leg/underarm(chafeage)/back pains easing off. Remains to be seen how serious my ITB problem is this time, though the last time it went properly I couldn't bend the knee for a few days, so the fact I could from the day after gives me hope. Fingers crossed.

Overall this is a fantastic event, with some great organisation, and well supported by the students of Sheffield University; bravely manning the checkpoints scattered across the moors through the darkest hours, and in the freezing cold. Big thanks to them all. I think I would look to do this again, possibly a bit quicker, but definitely with more of a team ethos. For those into this kind of thing, it comes with my huge recommendation.

Well done to all who made it round, better luck next time to those who didn't. I'm off to put my feet up and wonder why on Earth I chose to put myself through it all...whilst looking up the entries for the 61 mile Fellsman in May!!

For other accounts of the race see here:
Laid Back Fellrunner
Tea & Cake
Donning Studs in May
Just Us and a few friends

*Each team is given a dibber, which at each CP, and the start/finish is dobbed by putting the dibber into the dobber which results in a bleep. You have therefore been dobbed and can continue running. The person with the dibber, is known as the dobber.

**Sir Ranulph Fiennes suffered a bad car crash on the way home from this event. Luckily no-one was seriously hurt. Report here.

Monday, 1 March 2010

I'm Going Outside...I May Be Sometime


Route details: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/25619170 

I hadn't particularly intended to write anything special about the High Peak Marathon recce beforehand. However, the 18 or so miles from Cutthroat Bridge to Snake Pass was such an epic adventure it deserves its own little slice of the blogosphere.

The plan was just a run around the top half of the HPM route, trying to get a feel for the tricky Bleaklow section. There were warning signs from the start that things might get interesting when we first met up at Snake Pass, the we being Team Traversers - myself, Brian, Emma and Andy - Dave the dog, and Clare from Pussycat Trolls (which definitely trumps our team name, but hey, I had no input into that). At this point Snake Pass was open, but the snow was falling quite heavily and beginning to settle on the ground. For this reason, of the 3 cars there, we decided to leave Clare's Land Rover Defender as this would stand the best chance of getting back down the hill, so we chucked our warm, dry gear in the back of the Landy, and off we went. This was a good call, as I could only just get my car off the layby and back onto the road at this stage. We then carried on to Cutthroat Bridge, where we met the Ray Mears of the area, Mountain Rescue member, and all round good-egg, Ian of the Dark Peak Fell Runners.

We got into our watrproof gear straightaway, as it was clear it was going to be pretty wet: at this lower level there was a fairly heavy sleet. So off we headed up Derwent Moors and had quite an enjoyable, uneventful run for the most part, until we reached Howden Edge.

The photo on the left is of me running down Sheepfold Clough, if only to offer proof that despite the poor time we completed this recce in, we did try to run.

At the bottom of Sheepfold Clough; some fairly fast moving water, which was wider than it looks on here. We crossed using a one-in-one-out human chain. This really put my GoreTex trousers to the test, and they passed with flying colours. Apart from the chill from the water - which went in the first 20m or so of the hill-climb out of the Clough - I was completely dry (apart from my feet, which took a bit longer to thaw).

At Howden Edge you are completely exposed and it was at this point we felt the full force of the wind that would give us a good indication of what was to come. The wind was hitting us hard (from the west?) and driving the snow right into our faces. I was still feeling this sensation later that night when I closed my eyes in bed: a tingling right across my eyes, nose and cheeks, exactly like the snow and wind earlier that day.

We did find a sheltered spot before getting onto Bleaklow though to bivvy and get some food inside us. A very sensible decision as it turned out, as there was no real opportunity to do this at all later on. 

Navigation at this point started to get harder as the horizon – nearer by some considerable margin due to the blizzard - blurred with the sky. Picking out landmarks was nigh on impossible. As we hit Bleaklow it got even worse. This is a notorious section to run across at the best of times. A mixture of featureless wilderness; maze-like groughs; and energy-sapping bogs. However tiring the bogs are though it would surely have been easier than the reality we faced. Snow drifts that very often came above the knee, hidden hollows that you would get lost in up to the waist and have to be hauled out of…all made running tricky. The fact that the last four miles were taken at about 1mph should illustrate this.


The intrepid crew in the relative shelter of a huge drift on Bleaklow. Note the smiles.
L-R: Clare, Dave, Emma, Ian, Andy, Brian

Even our local guide ended up getting lost, and finding what should have been an easy run out of Bleaklow via the slabbed Pennine Way took numerous wrong diversions (you’ll see from the route we took we don’t follow the HPM course exactly), and required crossing a fairly steep clough. This wouldn’t have been so tricky at any other time, but with the heavy snow, it had steepened the sides, and made finding a footing difficult. When we finally did find the Pennine Way, it wasn’t the slabbed path we’d been expecting, but a 2ft layer of snow. So no easy run out. We did eventually slog our way through it to find our way back to the Landy, 7h10m later, exhausted and frozen. (A compass that had been flapping loose round Brian’s neck on the way round was encased in a solid block of ice.)
Job done: back at the Land Rover at Snake Pass
C/wise from top: Me, looking spaced out; Brian, looking, er, reflective; and Andy looking chuffed, and well he might.
 
As we drove back down from Snake Pass, a couple of our number started getting very cold, and by the time we got back to the rest of the cars at Cutthroat Bridge, we nearly had a hypothermia case on our hands. Not even Clare's stash of Bakewell tarts coud help with this! Luckily, with Ian - Mountain Rescue, remember - on hand we were able to take the appropriate steps to look after our comrade, and in a matter of minutes we were sat in the warmth of Ladybower Inn in lots of dry layers, sipping hot chocolate and eating crisps. In conversation with some nearby diners, we explained what we had just done and were met with a mixture of awe and bemusement. When we told them we were doing the same again, only longer, and at night...

Well done to my fellow 'runners' on that day, good luck to the High Peak Marathon-ers on Friday, and to the rest: you just had to be there!

P.S. 
Back home after these type of escapades I get very little sympathy - it's all seen as self-inflicted and very much avoidable. A question I was asked after this particular run, was "why didn't you just turn back?" This got me thinking about why we do this, and why, despite everything, I ended our jaunt with a grin on my face and looking forward to more of the same this coming Friday. I remembered reading this article (below) about the infamous 2008 OMM, and thought it goes part way to explaining it, so I have shared this here for you: 

http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/general/others/the-extreme-world-of-mountain-marathons-975372.html