Thursday 26 March 2015

Return of the Knack?

So, long time no blog. Partly because of work, but also because there has been nothing of note in terms of running adventures. Following my last attempt at an ultra (2012 Ultra Race 100...2012?!), when my ITB struck me down…again, I spent a great deal of time trying to redress my biomechanical problems: neuro-muscular firing patterns, strength & flexibility, etc. When I decided to put ultras on the shelf for a while, whilst I got my body together, I thought I would try to get some good shorter distance times benchmarked whilst I was still relatively in my prime (e.g. a decent marathon time, having never done a conventional road marathon).

Along the way, I picked up a couple of other injuries which knocked me back – a stress fracture in my shin, a calf pull, mainly due to my impatience in regaining fitness – and more importantly, pace – post the previous injury and trying to come back too fast too soon. For instance, in 2013 I entered the 2014 Yorkshire Marathon, but had to withdraw about 8 weeks prior. I have learned the hard way that although I still feel (and act) 18, my body is not. I am still on the comeback trail from my last injury, but I am now taking things slow and steady.

Which brings me to the Canalathon. I booked into this in 2014, thinking 50km would be a nice distance to start off with: not too far, but still a test given my most recent ultra experiences. Though I had got further previously (40-50miles) my ITB had kicked in long before that and I suffered my way round, and then had to have a long lay-off as I recovered.

The run itself traces the route of the Rochdale Canal from Manchester to Sowerby Bridge. There are longer options: 75km, which does an additional 15mi loop to Brighouse Locks and back; & 100km, which starts in Sowerby Bridge and reverses the 50km route to Manchester before retracing its steps back to Sowerby Bridge. But with my new sensible head on, I thought I would start off easy and test my progress.

The route
So far, so good. Post-Christmas I was beginning to see my pace and fitness approach what I consider to be normal (though even now, it’s still off), with a plan to ramp up my training in March for this event. My carefully thought out plan was undermined by the fact I thought the race was in May sometime. It was only in February, when trying to make arrangements for a family do in May, and checking if it clashed with this race, that I realised Canalathon was actually scheduled for March. I knew my fitness was not going to be where it needed to be, but thought I’d have a go anyway.

So on Saturday the 21st March, after a long, heavy night’s drinking a couple of nights before (not the best preparation), me and the Better Half pitched up in the car park of a Manchester retail park for the start of the race. But no-one was there. After a quick text to the RO, and checking the details on-line again, we established I had got the timings wrong…again, and was a day early.

So on Sunday the 22nd March, after making a t*t of myself the day before (not the best preparation), me and the Better Half pitched up in the car park of a Manchester retail park for the start of the race. Today, lots of people were there. All struggling with safety pins, sorting kit out, pacing nervously…I missed this!

My ultra plan is generally to average 10min/mi. I had originally wanted to try and run this a bit faster given it was relatively short, but given it had snuck up on me a couple of months early I thought I’d just try my 10min/mi and see what state I finished up in. To the first CP (at 11-12mi) I’d settled in to a gentle 9-9:30min/mi running with another runner and chatting easily as we went along. It was quicker than I intended but it felt comfortable enough. At the CP he ran off, but I wanted to reintroduce some discipline and return to plan A, so I made sure to take on some food, stripped off a bit (it was a lovely warm sunny day), rearranged my bag, and set off a bit closer to my 10min/mi target pace.

After this point I started suffering with the heat a bit and realised I hadn’t been drinking enough, so there were  plenty of times between CP1 & 2 where I slowed to a fast walk as I felt myself beginning to overheat & tire. As well as lack of water, this was definitely where my lack of training was beginning to make itself felt. I surprised myself when I resisted the temptation to pop into The Stubbin Wharf, a pub on the canal in Hebden Bridge about 6mi from the end, because I swore I would over the few miles before it, having justified it to myself as a virtual medical emergency. Luckily there was another feed station about a mile along from it where I was able to take on some more fluids (mainly Coke) before the final push.

In between my walking phases to cool down I was running at a decent pace so I didn’t lose too much by way of average pace over the distance. For the last few miles I was pacing using my iPod: running for 2 songs, walking for 1. In the end I finished quite strongly, and was pleased with my time (5:33 - 10:44min/mi & 43rd out of 97). I wasn’t too far off my target at the start, and feel that had I got it right and had a couple of extra months to train for it, I would have been able to do sub-5hrs quite easily, which is the benchmark I had in mind at the time I booked it.

Nearly there...
But my overall aim was to survive uninjured. How did that go? Well, I had no jip from my ITB, nor any of the other hot-spots I’d injured in the last couple of years. Bearing in mind I was hobbling for 40+mi of the Ultra Race 100 last time I tried it from about 7-8mi in, this was a massive improvement. Incidentally, I’ve been experimenting with minimal shoes (NB Minimus) to try and get my muscles working harder and – in conjunction with my other gym work – correctly when I run. For this I knew I’d need more cushioning so was looking at things like the Hoka One Ones. I had my gait analysed at Sweatshop which showed me as having a neutral stride. Previously, I was always an over-pronator. I don’t know if this represents a ‘fix’, but it’s got to be reflective of some sort of progress? I ended up with NB 980s

Anyway, the only problems I had after the race were a touch of heat stroke (developing a bit of a fever that night) and tender ankles, reminiscent of when I go back to the fells after a break – quite a bit of the canal path was cobbles, or hard-packed trail. I’ve done hardly any fell-running in the last couple of years (which makes a mockery of my moniker!), and I intend to remedy this as I get fitter.

All in all then, I am viewing this as a success. And I’ve noticed an interesting thing happening… over the last couple of years, as I see ultra event and competitor posts pop up in my Facebook and Twitter timelines, I have sadly passed  them over, thinking ‘it’s not for the likes of me’. Yesterday I added the Dragon’s Back website to my favourites after I saw a post on my Facebook, and this morning I saw someone post about the Spine Race and my thought was once again, ‘ooh, that looks like fun…’.

The difference this time is rather than add them to my to-do list within the next 1, 2, or 3 yrs, I am thinking more in terms of 5-10 years. Next year I intend going no further than 75km. Well, maybe 100km…

With age comes wisdom. Sort of.


  1. Well done! Good to see you back :-)

    1. Well thank you very's good to be back! (Are we allowed to use those words in that order any more?!)

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