Tuesday, 23 February 2010

w/e 14/2 - It's Time to Choose Between the Open Water and Your Dreams

Time you faced reality, time you faced your fears....

With a few good weeks of training behind me, and with a renewed energy and much-improved state of mind, it really is time to 100% commit to getting this training right and making sure I'm succesful this June.

Not that I haven't committed. I clearly have (in my mind at least). Reps up and down Stoodley are committed, going out in any and all weathers is committed.

But I suspect it's about much more than that. Certainly in my case, and in the case of one or two others, if I am reading correctly between the lines in blogs.

If my experience last year taught me anything, it is that the physical side of the preparation and, indeed, the day is the easiest bit to get right. Train hard, put the climbs in, take enough rest to go with that....and, inshallah, you'll be there or thereabouts on the day. There are no short-cuts, no "secret" formula as such. Just hard work. Anyone can do that, including me.

The tough part to get right is the mental side. It's what let me down last time, and I'm sure it's behind the vast majority of "failures". Of course, we can blame weather, eating, niggles, navigation...anything we like. But those are all just excuses really. And I can say that with some certainty, having helped someone to a successful round a couple of years ago in appalling conditions. I watched that person shut out everything that was going "wrong" around him and just concentrate on one foot in front of the other, and keep going. And he did it astonishingly well, coming home sub-22 despite the conditions. And therein lies the key, I believe, to a successful round this June. I have to want it enough to shut out everything else that may happen (and rest assured,things will happen).

And a big part of that is a belief in being able to do it and not even contemplating failure. I have that initial belief now, having come relatively close last year and now knowing my body will stand up to that distance and ascent/descent. It's that mental side that needs the work now. And I'd say the same to others who are wondering and doubting....you CAN do it, absolutely no doubt. It's not about speed, it's about an ability to keep going at a very steady pace for nearly 24 hours. Get that inside your head, truly believe it and live it, and success will follow......must go and practice that myself!

So back to the week in question, and another decent week's training. Following the great day out on the Mynd, I coaxed Kirsten out for a very steady 3 miler along the canal on Monday, just to shake lethargy out of the legs...and I think it worked!

Tuesday...and time to re-start another of the training methods that did work for me last year...the "double day". I headed out to Stoodley in the morning and did 4 reps of the steep side, legs feeling a little weary but not too bad at all. Then, in the evening, I headed over to the club with Kirsten and an 8-mile road run with the medium group. A tough, hilly run following on from the morning, but I dug in and kept a good pace. These double days are good!

Wednesday saw the opposite though! A long-ish day at work and I couldn't be arsed to head out to Todmorden golf club for the run, so spent a night on the sofa!!

But Thursday saw us back out, and a chance to introduce Kirsten to the delights of Stoodley hill reps in the dark!! Only 3, but I think she really appreciated them....I could tell by the way she said not a thing and had a look of determination (was that determination? ;-) ) on her face!!

That single-mindedness kicked in again on Friday, and despite feeling tired, I headed back up to Stoodley and put in 6 climbs, 3,000ft of ascent on a day when I could easily have sat and drunk coffee and read a book!!! These days will prove so worthwhile in the end.

Saturday proved to be a corker of a day. I wanted to go somewhere different, but needed a relatively early start. A call was put out, and Matt from CV was up for a trip over to Pendle to recce the half tour. A fantastic run. The legs were really tired but I managed a decent pace, dragged along by having someone of a similar speed with me. Matt was excellent on the ascents, running every one of them...good stuff!! I kept up a fast walk a wee way behind, but was pretty much matching him.

The weather turned out lovely in the end, no problems with mist, a bit frozen underfoot, but not as bad in terms of snow as it was a few weeks ago. It was warm as we climbed up the final big climb, headed over the moor and approached Geronimo....and great fun going down it! :-) We pushed it a wee bit back across the fields to the "finish" then walked down into Barley and the end of a smashing run.

Which ended another good week of training. 37 miles & 10,000ft by my reckoning.

And then Sunday was a "rest" day as we drove up to God's Own Country with a tough week planned.....

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

This is the story so far.....

Photos from the weekend, the story of a tough but brilliant race!

Heading up into the mist after the first couple of climbs, a long runnable section to follow

Just after the Minton Batch CP and now the race really starts! 3 tough climbs and 3 steep descents to the finish

Digging deep up Packetstone Hill...........................nice technique there lass!!!!

The final part of the ascent up Callow.....COME ON CALDER VALLEY!!!!!

Nearing the top of the final climb up Yearlet.."How much do you want it Kirsten?"!!!!
Still buzzing from the day, although the legs were tired on both of today's runs. Such a great day out, and so much potential to be fulfilled. For someone who only started running less than a year ago, it's incredible what Kirsten has achieved already.
Me? I'm just a middle-aged, mid-pack plodder, who can mostly go all day and will occasionally pull a rabbit out of the hat in a race (metaphorically of course, although then again.....it would be fun!). Whereas Kirsten has potential to be an excellent fellrunner, great leg speed, pretty fearless and reads the ground well.
So the big question is......."how will I feel when she starts beating me?"!!!! Ooops, no, the big question is, of course, "How much do you want it?" :-)

Sunday, 7 February 2010

w/e 7/2/10 - Sometimes you wanna get high

Sometimes you gotta start low....

The adrenaline's still flowing, the endorphins are rampant, ensuring that sleep isn't going to come easily this evening! There's NOTHING like a runner's high, the feeling of self-satisfaction knowing that you've had a good day out on the fells :-)

Another excellent training week and, in particular, the partly suprising news is that, despite putting in nearly 12,000ft this week, some at a decent intensity, the legs are feeling absolutely fine. No niggles, no tiredness, no pains....just solid, strong legs. The extra year of putting climbs in my legs seems to be paying dividends. Long may it continue.

So why am I still buzzing at this hour? Well, I've had a fantastic trip down to my "homeland" today, to the Long Mynd and the place where I learnt to fell run. As mentioned a couple of blogs ago, proper fellrunning terrain, with steep testing climbs and fast runnable ground.

But most of all, I'm absolutely buzzing from watching someone else start to really fulfil their potential as a fellrunner, and loving it into the bargain.

Today saw the running of the Long Mynd Valleys, arguably one of the toughest and best medium fell races in the calendar. At 11.5 miles and 5,000ft (they advertise 4,500ft but it is the full 5,000!), it's a real test for even the best of fellrunners. There's an aura that surrounds this race that means that even longstanding members of the fellrunning community give it a wide berth on the basis that it's too tough!

So roll up, and take your place on the starting line if you've just been running for less than a year and are just easing your way into the scene, Kirsten! And, no pressure, but this is your first race in club colours!!! There was definite apprehension in the air this morning on the way down, despite reassurances that this was a race that suited her. The clag was right down, we'd chosen the late start rather than the early one, meaning the race would be on to meet the halfway checkpoint cut-off.

Steady away is the order of the day in this one, with 3 tough climbs in the second half of the race, but still with that cut-off in mind. We started a little apprehensively, conscious of the long day to come and, at one point, I wondered if the cut-off would be made. But with a combination of good downhill speed and digging in on the uphills, it was made with over 10 minutes to spare and, as we raced down Minton Batch, the race really began. And Kirsten rose to the occasion, digging so deep on the climbs and going for it on the downs.

Runners who had set off too fast were caught and passed, and with the help of a couple of gels, we ascended at a decent speed as well. Two climbs done, a fast descent through the mud off Barristers Plain, and we were down in Ashes Hollow with just one climb to go, and catching more people.

Off we set up Yearlet, with the chance that we could make sub-3 hrs. This was conveyed to Kirsten with the question "how much do you want it?". This was like red rag to a bull as far as she was concerned and the pace noticealy picked up (as did the muttering under her breath in my direction! :-) ). We summited Yearlet far quicker than I could have imagined then really went for it on the steep direct descent into the valley. Down to the path at the bottom and then "run like you've never run before" as we headed for the end. Digging deep for the last "little sod" uphill then a plunge down the slope to the end and through the finish line.

I casually asked..."what's our time?" to be astonished, surprised and delighted by the response "2.51"! A quite incredible achievement and I'm so, so pleased that potential is already turning into reality and that she's loving it so much. I tell you what, I'm pleased enough with 2.51!!!

Especially at the end of a tough week. I've gone for ascent over distance this week. In fact, it's been a fairly "short" week, but well over the 10,000ft.

Tuesday saw me doing hill reps up Stoodley, somewhere I'm going to become well-acquainted with this spring!!

On Wednesday, the snow returned and I decided not to attempt to get to the club, so had a lazy restful evening instead.

Which meant that Thursday evening, I headed back up to Stoodley and 3 reps of the 500ft slope. Just to prove how single-minded I can be when I get something in my head, I went back there on Friday and did 6 x 500ft reps on a pleasant afternoon. An excellent 3,000ft session.

Saturday was another lovely day that saw us marshalling the Trog at Haworth Old Road. It's great fun to marshall on occasions, and good to give something back to the sport. We thoroughly enjoyed it, and that enjoyment was enhanced by a couple of pints and some food in the pub afterwards with a mixture of Tod and Calder Valley folk.

So another pleasing week, and I'm feeling physically and mentally confident. The legs feel good and the head is in the right place, which is all good in the grand scheme of things and, whilst I'll not take anything for granted, I'm feeling an air of inevitability about getting around that BG in under 24 hours at the moment.

Other news for the week is that I've entered the Teenager With Altitude, which should be fun! And we're both in the Ben Nevis race....what AM I doing?!?! :-)

Total for the week 30.5mls & 11,750ft

But the week belongs to someone else.....amazing!! And so much more to come!!

Friday, 5 February 2010

You can never have too much of a good thing!

A few more, what an incredible place. My heart races just looking at the photos, my yearning to be there increases, my resolve to do just that strengthens....

I meant every word that I said, yeah I really did....

But you gotta understand that I was sleeping then
So relax!

A couple of blogs ago, I alluded to the fact that, in my mind, I'm quite clear now that living in Calderdale is not a long-term situation, and that to some extent, I don't regard the running done around here as "fellrunning". I feel, for my own peace of mind and as some kind of exorcism in writing, I ought to record why.

(and note, this is just my view, others hold the view that Yorkshire fellrunning is what it's all about...and they're entitled to that opinion!)

Since being a young lad, I've always had a great love for the mountains, scenery and culture of the Scottish highlands. Early trips included holidays around Glencoe, Kintail, Sutherland and a walking group holiday to Skye. Great memories of days on "serious" mountains followed by evenings sat by a burn while my Dad cooked sizzling steaks on a gas stove and smoked cigars to keep the midges at bay!

I've talked about moving up there for as long as I can remember. But life interferes with those plans sometimes, and in particular, raising my son was my biggest priority, particularly once I was a single dad.

But time moves on, he's now an adult in his own right, making his way in the world and I have new freedom to choose what to do with my life.

The move to Calderdale was not one I would have planned, not somewhere I'd ever considered or even really visited up until a couple of years ago. But circumstances lead me to this area (no complaints, "I meant everything that I said, yeah I really did"!) and certainly, it's been a good move in terms of severing some ties with the past (I'd lived in my old house for 18 years, and you can become too "comfortable" in one place) and recognising new opportunities.

But right from the first time I came up here for a run, I well remember complaining that it wasn't "proper" running terrain. Having spent my fellrunning time mainly on the Shropshire fells or in the Lakes, I was used to the fact that, if you wanted to get from A to B, you plotted a reasonably direct route and just did it. In Calderdale, if you decide to do that, you're likely to end up in thigh-deep tussocks, or lost in boggy wasteland, barely getting into a running rhythm.

Plus, wherever you go, you're never far from civilisation and you're likely to come across buildings. Contrast this even with Shropshire, where, once you're up on the fells, you'll not see much sign of human life.

I commented on that back in January 2008, when I came up to do the Hebden, and I still feel that way now. Light pollution in the area is massive, rarely do you get to see the stars, as I used to in Shropshire.

But that's not to say I don't make the most of it and enjoy it. There are some great things about the area....the people and their attitude towards getting outdoors, the network of paths, the accessibility.

But I still long for days out in the Lakes, yearn for more time spent in Scotland and positively relish trips back to the Mynd and surrounding hills, where the running is fast and tough.

So what does this all mean? Essentially that life is too short to have regrets. I've always wanted to live in Scotland and the plan is to do so in the medium-term. Things need to stabilise a bit first so no mad rush, but then plans will be made and it will happen.

Time, and this move to Calderdale, have helped to focus attention on the questions that arise about living up there though. Once upon a time, I'd have said I wanted to live in as remote a place as possible. Whilst this still appeals on one level, I know that the ability to get to other places reasonably quickly is important to me and therefore transport links will be a major factor.

But that doesn't limit too much these days. There are great train links from the southern highlands via Glasgow, and there are air links from somewhere like Inverness.

Likewise, the ability to take part in fellrunning, both at races and training with a club, are quite important. But a wee bit of research indicates there are plenty of both over the border these days, and with good transport links, the Lakes will also be accessible for races.

Otherwise, my requirements for life are quite simple - some great mountains, some running shoes and equipment, a modest but decent, warm place to call home, some good food, a wee bit of drink, and someone to share that with who feels the same way. I see no reason why those aren't all possible, and why my views should change in the least :-)

And Scotland is THE best place in the world. As I toil up Stoodley Pike doing hill reps, looking up at a 500ft slope, topped by a man-made monument, I imagine those 2000ft+ slopes in the highlands, huge corries dotted with herds of deer, burns trickling down the hillside and a remoteness not found elsewhere in the UK. I can't wait!!!

We're off again in a couple of weeks (this time to Perthshire), we were last up at Lochinver in November.....and if anyone is in doubt as what an incredible place it is (and I'm clearly not!), perhaps these will persuade?

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

w/e 31/1/10 - I Live For The Spirit I Am

Physical exercise and hard work is a funny thing. When you get out of the habit, it can be very difficult to get going again, everything seems like such an effort, enthusiasm is lacking and bouts of exercise leaving you feeling drained.

But conversely, once you get into the groove, exercise is so addictive, often feeling effortless, leaving you on a high and those endorphins flow through you, leaving you with a permanent (stupid?!) grin!!

After going through the former, I'm currently falling into that latter category without a doubt! Several good weeks of training in a row, pushing myself harder than I have been and, instead of feeling fit to drop, the motivation levels have soared, the legs are feeling good, the enthusiasm for new runs and events is strong and I'm loving my running.

And it has such a positive effect on your life when you feel like that. After some dark and difficult days over the last few months, the energy is back, there's lots to look forwards to (although there always was and is lots to look forward to, of course), the smile is back on my face and the spring is both metaphorically and literally back in my step. Life occasionally drags you down, but if you stick with it, good things generally happen :-)

Make no mistake, this was a good week. In fact a good 10 days of tough running, and though the legs will need a bit of rest at some point, these strong patches pay handsome dividends in the long run (no pun intended!).

Following on from last weekend's decent run at the Hebden, and my resolve to keep at or above 10,000ft a week from now on, I took Monday as a rest day but then headed over to Stoodley on Tuesday to do 5 reps. Someone has now confirmed to me that the climb up the steep side is roughly 500ft, so it's a perfect slope to use. The legs warmed up fairly quickly and I felt good. It was cold out again though.

Wednesday saw me head over to Littleborough for a club run. Another poor turn-out for the bat run - just 5 hardy souls. I was looking for a fairly gentle run, but the only people going out bat-running were me, Dave S and 3 of the fasties. Nothing for it then, best put an effort in!! We headed up through Wardle and over to the reservoir on a lovely route, before dropping back to Summit and a couple of miles back along the canal. The pace was fast-ish, but I felt fine, strong on the ups, able to keep pace on the descents. An excellent run and myself and Dave committed to going out with the faster group every week. I need pushing on like that, I do still have pace and can get back to some decent race results. The only exception I'll make is weeks when I've trained hard on the Tuesday or I've got a race at the weekend I really want to prepare for.

Thursday was a rest day, but Friday saw me head out first thing with Kirsten for a 6.5 mile run down to Mytholmroyd, up to Erringden Moor, down into Cragg Vale and then back over Scout Rock. It was a smashing early run, it started snowing a little bit as we came down through the woods but there was also plenty of sunshine.

Once back home and fed and watered, I headed out again in the early afternoon to do some more reps on Stoodley. Again, the legs felt fine and I enjoyed being up there.

The weekend saw us heading up to the Lakes. I had no idea what the conditions would be like, but was looking forward to it anyway.

First of all, a trip into Pete Blands...a new pair of Mudclaws for me, a new waterproof for Kirsten, plus a surprise purchase of a little pocket book of Scottish hill runs. Get a copy if you like running over the border, it's a great little reference book.

Then we headed up to Dunmail to recce some of leg 3. We climbed directly up Steel Fell, which got quite interesting near the top, with little grip on the icy grass. Kirsten was a bit spooked by it, which transferred across to me just near the top, where I struggled with one step up. But we got there, trotted along to the summit, then headed off to Calf Crag. Conditions up there were good, with the usual bog being frozen and crispy.

From there we headed up Mere Beck towards Sargeant Man and here the fun started! There were considerable stretches of ice and very icy snow. A couple of times, as it got steep, we thought we might have to turn back, but each turn, we found an alternative and safer way up.

And before long, we emerged onto the plateau leading towards the summit, where the conditions were absolutely glorious. We could have been forgiven for thinking we were in the Alps, wonderful snow and ice fields and blazing sunshine. Some of the finest conditions I've ever experienced on the fells.

As we headed across to High Raise, 4 runners were coming towards us. "I bet we know them!" I said and, sure enough, it was Phil and the others from the hut, having had a major day out over Scafell etc.

From High Raise, we headed back the way we'd come, feeling much more confident on the snow and ice than we had earlier. We got back to Steel Fell and decided to drop down the southern ridge before cutting back to the car and the end of a stunning, wonderful outing.

A lovely couple of pints in the ODG, a tasty Pie and Pea supper, and a reasonably early night (but little sleep, dormitory rooms are NOT good!!!)

Sunday morning saw us up at 6.15am!!! A quick breakfast, pack up and head for Kendal and the That's Lyth LDWA event, 23.5 miles and 3,200ft.

We met up with Emma at the Scout Hut, got our tags and were ready for the off on a freezing cold morning (the car had registered -5). Legs were tired from the previous day, but we soon broke into a trot as we headed off on a beautiful morning along a smashing route, touring the "scars" above Kendal.

It's somewhere I've never run or walked, always zooming past towards the big mountains. But it was lovely, and there was plenty of climbing. The views across to the main fells were stunning and quite surreal.

We plodded on, digging deep to summon up energy. Kirsten was tired, and quite rightly so..a massive week of around 47.5 miles and 7.500ft! That's more like BG training, not someone who only started running last March!! Time to back off for a week soon, young lady, and let your body adapt to the stress you're putting it under.

There was a long stretch of road towards teh last checkpoint, which knocked us mentally, but once back onto fellside, we got going again and had a good descent into Kendal and the finish. An absolutely lovely day, a nice route, great company, nice chat, a meet up with K's friend Norman again and a lift arranged for her to Norfolk. Food, tea, a coffee to take with us and we headed back home, to the Fox for a couple of pints then a takeaway to round off a great weekend and an excellent training week.

Total for the week - 55.5 miles and 11,700ft

I'll be getting in my 10,000ft this week, but backing off a bit to allow my legs some recovery in time for the Valleys on Sunday. Still to decide whether to really go for it myself, or see Kirsten round. I'll probably see how the week's training goes.

But one thing's for certain.....I live for the spirit I am :-)