January 2016

2016: the plan

2016 is going (hopefully...) to be a year of multi-day single stage races, which seem to be my ‘thing’. I entered the races at different points during last Summer, rather than sitting down and planning the year, but they’re well spaced out and will need similar training, so hopefully they’ll fit together OK.

1. Viking Way, April
This is probably the hardest race I’ve ever entered, in terms of probability of me finishing at least. 147 miles across Lincolnshire and Rutland doesn’t sound too hard. But add muddy trails and a 40 hour time cut-off (only 2.5 hours longer than I took to do the pancake flat GUCR) and it’s seriously challenging. I entered it just after finishing the Thames Ring 250. Partly because finishing not far behind 3 time VW finisher Andy Horsley at the TR made me think I might just be able to finish the VW. And partly because my name might not appear too out of place on the entry list any more, now it can have ‘Thames Ring’ and ‘Spine’ after it.

This is going to be hard, really hard. Realistically I’ll only ever be able to finish it if
i) I’m in really good shape,
ii) I have a good day
iii) the weather/conditions under foot aren’t too bad.
Things aren’t looking great at the moment in terms of i) or iii). Three months out I’m starting run training from scratch and, after months of rain, the ground is really, really wet. But I’m not giving up yet. The plan (legs permitting) is to ramp up the training fairly rapidly, with the goal of receing the first 80 miles over 2 days, 4 weeks out. And then all I can do is give it my best shot.

2. Northern Traverse, May/June
Wainwrights Coast to Coast route, 190 miles from St. Bees to Robin Hoods Bay, crossing the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales and the North York Moors, with a 5 day cut-off. Like the Spine Race, but shorter and in Summer, so less kit to carry. Well ‘up my street’ so I entered as soon as it opened last June (which was good, since it meant I couldn’t then be tempted into trying to take a fortnight off during exam season for the 600 mile Monarch’s Way...).

I reced the 2nd half, from Kirby Stephen to Robin Hood’s bay over the 2015 late Spring bank holiday weekend, and (apart from the tedious field crossings of the Vale of York) had great fun. I’m planning to check out the 1st half at the beginning of May. And, if I manage to get through the Lake District without trashing my legs so badly I can’t run, I’m hoping finishing in around 4 days should be doable.

3. Tran Scania, August
246km unsupported trail race across the South of Sweden with a 60 hour cut-off. I’d toyed with entering this in 2015, but the Leeds Liverpool Canal race fitted in better with the OH’s work travel plans. When entries for 2016 opened in October the small number of places started filling up quickly and without thinking too much (which is very unlike me...) I entered. Combining two of my favourite things, run-walking a long way and spending time in Sweden, should be fun. And the format of this race (unsupported apart from a single drop bag which can be accessed twice) makes it a hybrid of the Thames Ring and T184 and an interesting new challenge.

2015: the good, the bad & the 'still can't believe it'

The Good

1. 5th at the Thames Ring 250


Six months later it still can’t quite believe that I did this. It’s joined my list of ‘things where I worked really hard to do OK and ended up doing far better than I thought I was capable of’ (the other entries are Grade 8 piano, finals and Ironman). I hoped if things went well, and I managed to keep eating and run-walking, I could finish in about 90 hours which should put me in the middle of the field. 82.5 hours and 5th was beyond my wildest dreams.

I struggled through the 2nd night, and wasted time wandering the isles of a 24 hour Tescos randomly and repeatedly sitting down to snooze. But otherwise it went pretty well and I finished feeling like I could have kept going for another couple of days (my swollen left ankle might not have been happy about that though).

2. Not finishing last at the Long Tour of Bradwell
I’d run this twice before, in the midst of training for CCC and UTMB, and finished last both times. So doing it again off the back of six months of running flat canal towpaths might not seem like the greatest idea. But I was hoping that I could turn my ‘plodding on the flat’ into ‘plodding up gentle slopes’. I was still painfully slow on the more technical ups and downs, but the plan worked. I was still close to the back of the pack, but slightly faster than before (on a longer course) and nowhere near last.

3. Purple bling at the Liverpool Leeds canal race


I entered this as something to keep me occupied during the late August bank holiday weekend, didn’t train properly and never felt great. But I kept plodding away, worked my way up from nearly last to mid-field and unexpectedly won a very purple trophy.

The Bad

1. Dropping out of Run Until You Drop with the end in sight
I started this challenge for fun rather than as a serious goal. Fitting it in around work and commuting was a bigger challenge than the actual running, and by week 4 I wasn’t doing much other than working, running, sleeping and eating (and washing running gear). With the end in sight, a random injury stopped me short. It was fun, I discovered some new routes and learnt that it’s possible to fit lots of running into a working day (by pushing the boundaries of acceptable lycra wearing). However I ended up running really slowly, and I really don’t need to practice running slowly. It was probably OK as Thames Ring training, but I won’t be trying it again.

2. The wonky finger incident
My body and brain needed a break from ultra running, so I entered a series of mini mountain marathons in the Autumn. After mixed results in the first 2 events, I was having a great (for me) run in the 3rd one. I’d been more ambitious with my route choice, bagged the three highest value controls and was on my way back to the finish when I tripped, fell and dislocated my finger. Surprisingly it didn’t hurt and somehow I didn’t do any major ligament damage, but 6 weeks later it’s still a bit wonky looking and not quite working properly. From a running point of view, apart from losing all of my points, the worst consequence was the reemergence of my car-seat induced hip niggle.

The alright

1. Taby Extreme Challenge 100
The looped course was more technical than I expected, but I managed to keep running the runnable bits.

2. Wuthering Hike
I’ve done this race ever year since I started running ultras in 2008. It’s a bit short and hilly for me, and as usual I finished close to the back of the back. But, by plodding the gentle ups, I trimmed 7 minutes off my previous best time, and got to within 6 minutes of the (not very high, but elusive for me) 7 hour barrier.