Friday, 13 November 2015

Quiet pride

Where does the time go? Two and a half months ago I completed what was my toughest, yet most satisfying event in the CCC. It seems like it was years ago.  I've attempted to describe what the experience was like on many occasions but it is so difficult to put into words.  It all comes flooding back flicking through the photo's. Great memories.

Since my return I've had period of rest, but soon got back into the swing of things.  Simonside fell race (Thropton show), Sherman Cup cross country, the Gibside fruit bowl and a park run have all come and gone like a whirlwind.  Is this what happens once you reach 40!?

I have had a solid block of consistent training and also into my ninth week of Pilates classes.  I can highly recommend them, I'm definitely feeling the benefit.  It's not easy, mind you.

So, off to Leeds this weekend for the Abbey Dash 10k. My first time at this one and 17 months since my last 10k.  The weather looks particularly grim so I don't expect any fast times.

I'm enjoying my running and just taking it as it comes.  If I fancy a race I'll do it, I'm not planning too far into the future as it always ends up badly.  I still have a certain annoying chimp on my shoulder though.  He may be difficult to remove......

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Courmayeur Champex Chamonix (CCC) August 2015

The adventure finally arrived to race in the CCC on the 28th August 2015.  Three years in the planning and it was here, exciting times.

My wife, parents and myself landed at Geneva airport on the evening of Monday 24th August and were promptly collected by our transfer.  A pleasant chap named Nick, from South Shields! Small world.  The journey seemed to pass very quickly and ninety minutes later we exited the Mont Blanc tunnel and arrived in Courmayeur.  My wife noticed immediately that the majority of people were wrapped up in fleeces and jackets.  “Don’t worry, it’s going to be nice tomorrow”, I said.  We had been monitoring the forecast over the past week and it was changeable but sunny skies were due.
We awoke the next morning and opened the curtains onto our balcony to the sight of a mountain.  It wasn’t Mont Blanc, but one of the foothills.  That alone was one heck of a size.  
Mont Blanc from the hotel

During breakfast I popped outside to check the ambient temperature and walked around the corner to be blown away by the south face of Mont Blanc.  It was phenomenal, almost impossible to comprehend the sheer size of it soaring above some small wisps of cloud against the crisp blue of the sky.  And that was only a small part of it.

After we got our bearings I headed off for a recce run of the first four miles of the race.  Looking at the course profile, the first 10k was a climb up to Tete de la Tronche so I wanted to get an idea of what lay in store to mentally prepare.  The heat was becoming more and more noticeable by lunchtime, much to the delight of my family.  I was thinking that it was going to be a struggle.  I sat down on the path up to Tete de la Tronche looking down on Courmayeur and tried to soak up the view, knowing that this was a unique opportunity which I should make the most of. 
what a place

The TDS set off on the Wednesday morning, skirting past our hotel at 6am.  Paul Appleby was competing in this race and I tracked him during the day.  Unfortunately the heat and other circumstances meant he had to retire around half way.  A tremendous effort nonetheless.

On Thursday I went to register.  A great friend (Mike) arrived that morning to give support during the event and to enjoy the Alps for himself.  We all went to registration with all my gear hoping that it would go through without any issue.  I got through and received my wrist band and t-shirt.  I just needed to have a big supper and a decent night’s sleep.

I was up, ready and down for breakfast before 7:30am intending to get to the start line at 8am for a good place in the pen.  I passed over my drop bag for the finish and soaked up the atmosphere.  Lots of runners with all of the expensive gear and compression wear and sticks!  I rock up with my 2011 Blaydon race t-shirt.  Sports casual.  Chevy chase buff was mandatory.  I met up with Tony and Emma (Tony was doing the CCC too) and gave him by best wishes on his journey.
ready for the off

With 20 minutes to go I lost my spot in the pen having been well hydrated at breakfast...  I ended up at the back which wasn’t ideal on the narrow streets of the start.  The atmosphere began to build as the minutes ticked down.  Music and commentary blaring out of the speakers was certainly a distraction and before I knew it we were off.  A long day ahead for us all.

The first mile or so passes through the lovely town of Courmayeur and then off up to the trails and forests.  I waved to my support knowing I wouldn’t see any  of them until around 5pm, 8 hours later in Champex.  As the climb went on the more the field was spreading out which was just as well as the trails were very narrow and steep to overtake.  I was already one 500ml bottle down half way up to Tete de la Tronche.  The mountain streams were going to come in very handy.  A helicopter was flying overhead taking footage which was great, so I offered a wave.  I arrived at the summit and was duly scanned by the officials and made my way to Refuge Bertone and the first stop for food and drink.  This section was easy running with a gentle descent, some of which was technical.  There was a great reception at the checkpoint and I had my bottles refilled by the volunteers and grabbed some food to carry with me (thanks for the sandwich bag tip, Steph!).  

There was a good running section all the way to Refuge Bonati and down to Arnuva, the last stop before a big climb up to Grand Col Ferret.  The heat was becoming intense at around 30 degrees.  I drank all of my water reserve on the climb and enquired at the top where the next water stop was.  10k!  Luckily I came across a mountain stream and replenished my bottles a couple of kilometres of the descent.
First climb - note helicopter
I stopped for ten minutes or so at the La Fouly checkpoint.  This was a substantial area with refreshments but I felt I needed to compose myself especially with the heat.  I tried to eat a variety of salty food and some sweet with plenty of liquids.  I was looking forward to reaching Champex to see some familiar faces.  Only Praz de Fort to pass through.  I reached Praz de Fort and was convinced that it was Champex so it gave me a lift.  This subsequently turned into disappointment when running through the town and there was no marquee and only a handful of people.  This deflated me considerably and struggled up the next climb to Champex.  I was told I looked dreadful upon arrival and Mike advised me to spend at least 30 minutes to pull myself together.  I had a blister since the 20 mile marker, some grit rubbing in my sock but it was too late to do anything about it.  I stripped down to my shorts to cool off and Mike ran around after me the whole time.  It was definitely worth stopping the extra time as it could have meant the difference between finishing and not!  I thanked Mike and said hi to my folks when I headed off onto the next section.  

I broke the race down at this point, only 17k to the next checkpoint at Trient. That’s all I focussed on.  The climbs are so steep and long that it’s impossible to run so I made up my time on the flat (wasn’t much) and the descents.  These were very technical in places so it took a lot of concentration to keep on my feet.  My blisters were numbing into insignificance with everything else distracting them.

I descended into Trient and met up with Mike again with everything prepared for my arrival.  Spare t-shirt being number one priority.  Only two more climbs.  Only 10k until the next checkpoint at Vallorcine, but almost 3000’ of climb in the way.  It was beginning to get dark on this section but didn’t need my headtorch until I left Vallorcine.  19k to go.  I’ve come this far, surely I can make it now.  It was still very warm and had no need for a jacket or baselayer.
getting set for the last 12 miles

I left the Vallorcine checkpoint and said goodbye to Mike and my dad saying I’d see them at the finish.  It was a fast walk to the ascent and after that it was a struggle.  I could see headtorches above me zig sagging all the way up to the top.  This 12 miles took 3.5 hours and it felt like it.  I was surprised near the top when I turned my head and my headtorch illuminated a mountain goat.  Was it really there.  It looked straight at me and didn’t move. I reached Tete aux Vents and knew it was all downhill from here.  The relief was overwhelming.  I ran the rest of the route without stopping, passing several runners on the way down.  Chamonix was illuminated in the distance but didn’t seem to get any closer.  I ploughed on thinking of the finish line then reached the tarmac of Chamonix town.  I spotted Mike when I made my way through the barriers to the centre and he shouted only 300metres.  I accelerated into a sprint finish an crossed the line.  A wave of emotion came over me and I hugged my wife, parents and Mike thanking them for everything.  It was complete.  I had done it.  I was so proud.  It was like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders.  153rd in 17hrs 39mins.  Gilet well earned!
Having missed 4 months out of 8 this year with injury etc it was touch and go whether I would even make it to the start.  It took a considerable amount of mental strength to get through this race, especially at Champex when I felt rubbish.  My legs seemed fine throughout with no cramp which was a bonus. Tired legs, of course! I can’t underestimate this challenge and hats off to everyone who has competed in any of the UTMB races.  Well done John Telfer in the UTMB!

Many thanks to everyone who supported me.  I couldn’t have done it without you.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Glute force….less

I haven’t blogged for a while.  Partly due to injury and partly due to my complete lack of interest in running of late.  Over two months ago I injured my back. Another setback in 2015.  I can’t quite put my finger on the incident but I turned up at the club session with a stiff lower back.  I did the session and the stiffness was worse afterwards.  I ran the day after but ended up almost limping.  The following day I couldn’t put weight on my right leg, the “nervy” sensation like being poked with a cattle prod – not that I’ve been prodded before but I imagine it would have similar symptoms.  It emanated from the right lower back area which was around the Sacroiliac joint/lower vertebrae.  I sought advice from my physio and even visited a chiropractor for some manipulation.  I was limping into work, walking the dog, even around the house.  It took so much time to settle down. I’m very grateful to Keith from Synergy, he has been tremendous in treating me with everything from acupuncture and shock wave to ultrasound.  Top bloke.

It was touch and go for a while whether to call off the CCC (which is at the end of August) and defer until next year.  All the preparation and organisation, not to mention the financial outlay, was hanging in the balance.  I gave myself a deadline.  If there wasn’t a significant improvement before mid June then I would throw in the towel.  I had to miss some of my favourite races, watching on the sidelines with envy.  Blaydon, the Chevy Chase, Windy Gyle all cancelled.  This was a huge blow having just returned to fitness following surgery earlier in the year and the boost of the Anniversary Waltz race.

Nobody likes to be injured when all you want to do is pop out for a run.  It is even more frustrating when you have plans which have been on the horizon for almost three years.  It’s like a kick in the nuts.  The most common diagnosis for all of my recent woes come down to lazy glutes. 

So, although my back still niggles and my glutes are still not firing properly, I am in a better place and am looking forward to participating in the CCC.  I will make the most of the experience and just hope I get around in one piece.  I am also looking forward to getting it out of the way.  It has been at the forefront of my life for too long and I won’t be planning anything like this again after the troubles I have had.

After the CCC, who knows.  I’m definitely not as passionate about running as I was and realise that there is so much more to enjoy in life like savouring the little things and making the most of living in the moment.  Clich├ęd, maybe.  But it is fact. I’m not worried if I miss a session or a run and I’m out of the “routine” by fitting running in around life rather than vice versa.

So, I’m off to Borrowdale this weekend for the fell race.  I intend to use it as a training run and will be carrying all my kit needed for the CCC as a tester.

Post CCC – no plans.  A few people have mentioned a Bob Graham attempt but I’m not sure. I might fall back to shorter races, I still have some pace…

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Cheviot Horseshoe and the Anniversary Waltz race

No racing since December with one thing and another, mainly the pesky ongoing injury problems...... However, I've had a good stint of quality training sessions and long runs so I threw my hat into the ring to do a double weekend of races.

Descending Hedgehope
Cheviot Horseshoe race, 12th April 2015

The Cheviot Horseshoe was a 9.5 mile route up the Cheviot, Cairn Hill around Comb Fell then up and down Hedgehope.  After a glorious week of fine weather, it was typical that race day took a turn for the worse!  It's not often I start a race with waterproof jacket but on this occasion I did and didn't take it off until the finish.  The race began in the rain and wind and half way up Cheviot the rain turned into snow.  Heavy snow.  It was a winter wonderland and a long drag up to the summit.  The flags at the top were very slippy and took a lot of concentration to keep upright especially with the snow smacking the red raw skin of the face.  My gloves were doing nothing to protect my hands, they were probably making them more cold and numb being wet through.

The trudge along Comb fell towards Hedgehope was a bog fest, ending up waist deep at one point.  Thanks to Gary Robson for helping me out.  At the ascent of Hedghehope I began to catch the runners in front and was up to 7th spot, an extra mile and I would have closed up to 5th or 6th.  Great running from everyone in atrocious conditions and huge thanks to Glen and Jack McWilliams for putting on the event.  £300 was raised for Mountain Rescue, fabulous!
Link to the event page

Anniversary Waltz race, 18th April 2015

The Cheviot race gave me some idea of how my climbing legs were and was a good preparation race for the Anniversary Waltz.  I was humming and harring up until Friday afternoon whether to do the race or not having had a hard training week and heavy week with work.  I convinced myself to do it and to just enjoy it.  The weather was much improved from the week before, beautiful sunshine and 11-12 degrees when we reached Stair in the Newlands Valley.

Top weather
The race started and I strategically placed myself mid-pack.  The first 3 miles are good running so I relaxed into it and took in the atmosphere.  The climb up Robinson I was in fourth or fifth place and was quite surprised given that this is a very popular fell race and is in the Lake District with a great deal of quality runners.  I kept up with a guy from Keswick who was strong on the climbs but I gained time on him on the flat and downhills.  We yo-yo'd from Robinson right up until the finish.  It was nice to have that as it took my mind off the climbs and I could relax and take in the spectacular views.

The final descent from Cat Bells was so fast that it could quite easily have resulted in a fall or injury but thankfully I survived.  I was in fourth at this point chasing the Keswick guy with two or three runners closing in behind.  I thought that if I was up there at the final road section then I would have a good chance of a podium finish.  I dug deep and stepped up the pace and crossed the line in 3rd.  Way above my expectations.

Final descent from Catbells
This is a cracking event and would recommend it!   The Teenager With Altitude is held on the same day but is longer with more ascent.  I'l have to give that a try sometime.  The bait after the race was top notch too.  Mince and potatoes followed by some gluten free cake.  Back of the net.

Event page (results not yet available):

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Brough Law and Rowling End

Brough Law

Ready for the off - Brough Law
A while ago I put my name forward to take over the reigns for the Brough law fell race.  This offer was taken up so in 2016 I will be race organiser! Scary.  So, on a gorgeous March day, I turned up at Bulby's wood car park at 7am to meet the current organiser and to learn the ropes.  This entailed setting up the course and registration.  I would, of course, preferred to be running the race but still too early in my recuperation.
As it was the organiser's last race, the fee was only one pound.  I won't go into the detail but there weren't enough numbers to go around which made for a hectic finish to the race.  I'm looking forward to next year, although I think it'll be more than £1!  I'm trying to think of an incentive too, a small prize perhaps.  Must advertise early!

Rowling End

Not a bad view - Rowling End

On the weekend of Friday the 13th March, my wife and I (along with Jasper) had a lovely cottage break over in the Lake District.  We stayed at Rowling End in the Newlands Valley, just up the road from Stair.  The cottage was ideal, perfect for two people with energetic pooch.  The view from the front of the cottage was towards Cat Bells, with Causey Pike at the rear.  It was just what we needed, to get away for a bit and get some peace and quiet. I also got through my birthday under the radar!

Dale Head - Waltz route
I managed to nip out on the Sunday to recce the Anniversary Waltz fell race route.  I loved the route and I've put an entry in for the race on 20th April.  Hoping I'll be back in some sort of shape by then.  It was great to be out in the mountains on my own, taking in the views and going at my own pace.  There was still a dusting of snow on the tops but it wasn't cold.  Shorts and helly were all that were needed.

I've been back to the club for the last two weeks and had some decent sessions.  Still having a bit of jip on the longer runs though.  Trying not to dwell on it!  Stretching, strengthening, cycling, swimming should help too.....

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Laid bare

It is now 18th February. I had my OP on the 2nd February.  Not pleasant and most definitely worse than I had anticipated.  I had seen the consultant on Wednesday, 28th January to discuss my options after a period of rest and physio hadn't solve the problem.  He decided he needed to intervene and perform the Inguinal ligament release procedure which would hopefully cure my Sportsman's groin.  He also mentioned that "while i'm in there, I'll check for any weaknesses or hernia's and if there are I'll repair and reinforce the area".

Recovery walk
I arrived on the ward at 7:30am as requested.  I was to be number three on the list.  Not too bad, I thought.  Should be done by lunchtime....  I was called at 12:15pm!  When I came around it was approximately 3pm and I felt sick, very sore and wasn't entirely with it.  It's difficult to describe the pain, like your core has been ripped out, stamped on and squashed back in.  I spent a couple of hours on the ward to recover, having to be able to pee before I was allowed to be discharged.  I left the hospital in a wheelchair at 6pm.  The discharge letter stated bilateral inguinal hernia repair!  The road to recovery began.

So, I had a week of doing nothing apart from hobble around the house.  Every time I moved it was uncomfortable.  Sleep was difficult, but every day was better than the previous one.  Week two, plenty walking the dog and trying to be on my feet as much as possible, also some cycling.  Week three, a couple of runs, slow ones.  The ache is almost gone but will take time.  Overall I do feel more flexible and hopeful that the op has done the job.  We shall see.

Oh, I did manage to recce the Brough Law fell race route, not that I'll be doing it this year..
Brough Law - top race

Thursday, 1 January 2015

New Happy Year

Christmas 2014 has been a quiet affair this especially as it has been running-free.  Consultation following an MRI mid-December revealed my ongoing groin issues are down to Sportsman's groin aka Sports hernia (  Treatment for this is physical therapy and rest. Six weeks of rest!  I'm already into week three and still have my finger nails so not doing too bad.  I'm hoping that this period will sort out the problem and I can return to running in February.

I've spent some quality time with the family and had some nice long walks with our now one year old springer spaniel, Jasper.

I managed a bike ride today via spectating at the Morpeth 11k.  Canny windy!  It beats the turbo trainer which I find incredibly dull.

Happy New Year, let's hope it is a prosperous one.