Statistics. Who doesn’t love statistics?  Like the State of the Union, every year RunningUSA publish data and statistics on the state of the US running community.
The first result one reads is the steady increase in marathons finishers: from the few thousands of the mid-70s to the half a million of the past year. This phenomenon has prompted many to call for the first running boom since the 70s. Some have linked this renaissance of running to the current economic recession: the sport is fairly cheap and doesn’t require gym memberships, furthermore being active helps to feel better. Although this looks sound, it doesn’t fully address the observed phenomenon, since the numbers are from races and marathon fees can be as high as 150$: it doesn’t look like people laid-off could easily afford those races. Maybe the increase is not (mainly) among the unemployed 9%, but…
This came to pass on Sunday 7th September, as part of a weekend away in Lancaster. The itinerary had been agreed via email, with Andy, and started with my run of choice – A five miler round the Ingleton Falls walk. http://www.ingletonwaterfallstrail.co.uk/
A sunny day meant this warm up was a good start. A jog, a walk, a view of waterfalls – perfect beginning. Andy met me half way round, on bike due to stress fracture, to check ok and point in the right direction.
Warm up finished. Andy met me with towel and drink on offer. A short walk to the café and tea and scone like an ultra checkpoint. We sat down and began to address the issues I had raised with Andy via email. This including a don`t, till now, for Andy. Apparently he does not do don`ts. Anyway his list of don`ts is now published.
His experience, both as participant and coach, was evident and instilled confidence in me that I could conquer an ultra. Some say you just have to do it! I say gathering knowledge, testing in training and applying a method will minimise errors. Thanks to Andy`s insight I feel an ultra is within my capabilities.
Our final encounter was to practise ascent and descent techniques including poles for the uphill. This was a useful introduction to the science of conservation.
The world of ultra marathoning is about to become another stage of my journey.
I have been blogging for some years. I was a writer and journalist first. My original purpose was to support the publication of my first book, Heights of Madness, and my second and third books thereafter. Over time, heightsofmadness.com graduated into a running blog – a blog that last week pleasingly surpassed 50,000 visits. Writing permits self-expression, reflection and can be a carthotic process, but writers also write to be read. As I tell my students, writing is meant to be read. Writing must have an audience. Writing must provoke a response.
What is always surprising, however, is what people want to read and what becomes popular. Every blogger will empathise with the time you spent hours crafting the apparently perfect blog, adorned with beautiful images and scrupulously edited, only for very few people to engage with your masterpiece. And then there is the blog that you knocked into shape…
2014 arrived, my athletic goals were written down, training to evolve. The changes, which we are told are good for us, were coming and I acknowledged their existence. Work life balance would be effected. I prepared as best I could to manage the combinations – Family, work, sleep, training, coaching, eating healthily.
School runs (or not), pick ups, training early (6 am), household jobs, keeping contact with my parents, organising mini-breaks for my partner, helping eldest daughter with job hassles/uni stuff, etc. This may seem typical of a fifty something male with a job and children but what changes my particular situation is mental health status.
So, the blog returns ……… and the training and racing has continued…….
Jan – March was duathlon focussed more bike on turbo, for the first time, during winter with borrowed tri bars. A series of run sessions with speed and strength the aim. The introduction of twice weekly strength and conditioning sessions based on a set of home-based body weight exercises (including some the Brownlees do). Swimming took a back seat. This period was also the final lead into big changes in my job which turned out to be new base, two new managers/teams (0.5 in each team), three centres to `manage` (I have not had a centre to manage for about five years) oh and an impending pay cut of £5k (from April 2015).
Always look on the bright side of life, be positive, look forward and backwards, be happy, glass half full not half empty – ok I am running out of clichés, sayings, quotations, etc. The point being that if I was to not to fall into another depression I had to be strong mentally i.e. emotionally? Apparently, being positive would include not mentioning the things in the previous paragraph, only mentioning in positive words, etc.
I had entered Dambuster duathlon (8/3/14) and Clumber duathlon (22/3/14 – deferred from last year due to cancellation). Dambuster was a success 2`45 (as predicted) with both runs faster than I intended but bike slightly slower than I hoped. I requested Clumber be transferred to Southwell Triathlon and I completed it Sunday 18th May in 1`10 (improvement of 5 mins from two years ago). I completed BTA (British Triathlon Association) Event Organisers course, day of Clumber, and this made me rethink proposed Mansfield Junior Triathlon.
Southwell Done! 1`10
On May 10th we had a very successful Ashfield Junior Triathlon with 21 Mansfield Club Juniors participating, many volunteers acting as lead, marshalling, setting up, clearing up, timing, etc. My desire to replicate collective responsibility, albeit in a voluntary capacity, continues but it is hard going.
Meanwhile, I also competed in The (Yorkshire) Three Peaks fell race but DNF`ed for the first time. This was due to this iconic race having cut off times, I missed the second and last one, which makes finishing much harder. Three hours running, including two of the hills, Pen-y-gent and Whernside, proved too much for me. The final hill Ingleborough was not graced by me that day but maybe next year having done more training.
So we are in the triathlon season and I have Nottingham Sprint(May 31st), Dambuster Olympic(June 21st), Newcastle Sprint (July 19th) and a middle distance triathlon (early September). This was to be interspersed with long distance fell races (AL category) but after 3 peaks I am missing some planned Lake District fell races, except Hellvellyn on May 25th, till late September.
The smile of a man on a mission!
This is me heading to the checkpoint atop Helvellyn two hours and 10 minutes after leaving the start at Threkeld Cricket Club. After a short road section we turned right and the climb to Clough Head began – see picture at start of this blog. Yes that hill in the background about 762m to the crest, not the one in the picture, there was another which I scrambled up grabbing clumps of grass. Checkpoint 1 complete.
The next goal was Raise via Great Dodd by the two-hour cut off time. The route was marked but the path was fairly apparent and there were no shortage of runners in front of me but only when they were visible. The weather had been kind to us and was clear, warm (hot at times) with a light breeze in places. The previous day travelling had been rain, rain, heavy rain, rain, rain, etc. This helped to keep my spirits high as I kept reminding myself it could be worse, it could be raining.
I traversed most of the path and boggy terrain with determination taking the occasional one minute walk recovery and walking the hills at a point once the incline started. This was my strategy but the difference was my ignoring the heavy breathing by reminding myself of the pain that Jane Tomlinson must have endured to complete her endurance events.
I briefly caught, and ran, with a Calderdale runner who was running the race after a long spell of not running but seemed very confident we would make the cut-off if we kept pushing on. As we began our ascent of Raise the leaders began to pass us, pretty impressive, thus they had taken one hour 45 minutes to run to Helvellyn and back to Raise in the time I had taken to get to Raise the first time! YES I made the cut-off with 15 minutes to spare.
Onward and upward to the summit of Helvellyn. I had allowed myself the luxury of thinking all I had to do now was finish. The initial thought soon faded and was replaced by the loneliness of my trek to the foot of Helvellyn where I encountered a young man with a full rucksack climbing the jagged, uneven, steps up the side of the third highest mountain in England. We exchanged a few words as I passed him and I reached the plateau jogged to the checkpoint to be greeted with the offering of a jelly baby and the suggestion I cut the corner by running across the grass rather than path. I duly did this if only to catch the runner in front. It turned out he was from Sheffield and had been training in Peak District, like myself. He remarked that most fell race courses in The Peaks were circular and with less climbing (smaller hills).
The return journey had begun and I was mindful of completing in around the same time both ways i.e. 2 hours 10 mins. Although my legs were beginning to tire I knew if I was to keep running I would need to control my breathing. In between negotiating the boggy areas I would remember to take long breaths in through my nose and out through my mouth. This is a technique I have practised in training and it works for me. It`s like exaggerate breathing. The premise is that functionally the human body cannot perform without oxygen therefore if you actively breathe in more air you give your body more oxygen. In practice this is controlled breathing rather than gasping for air which sounds like me `heavy breathing`.
By now I had two runners in black in my sights and a runner behind using walking sticks. The option to depart from the path and traverse a hill, which I did on the way to Helvellyn, seemed logical i.e. shorter. This was the case but a bit scary being on a hillside with a sheer drop below, feeling tired, legs/ feet unsure of footing, having to concentrate mentally but I made it. Ah back to the path but more hill to follow. Psychologically I find after half way, and the knowledge I can finish, the pain becomes more bearable. I am watching the watch and time is ticking on. I am making good progress and the runners in front, initially are not getter further away. My resolve is remaining intact and so far my legs have not cramped, around three and a half hours gone.
The weather is still good, visibility is an uplifting thing without it mentally you begin to doubt your ability to reach your goal. I have always tried to embrace the `worst` conditions. I often state `I like running in the rain`. Having run in torrential rain during a race if it persists then morale can be effected. None of this is relevant today as I run the long slope towards our final checkpoint. I convince myself I am catching the runner in front.
I reach the pinnacle of Clough Head for the second time and I know the final descent awaits and the finish will be in sight. The steward informs me that the path is the safest route and not to leave the path to the left too early. I heed his words and duly follow the path but I didn`t see the markers down the hill-side. I spot th road and the gate at the foot of the path but realise I have gone too far on he path. I begin to cut across the boggy hillside to a group of people and the runner in front. As I do so the runner with sticks appears to my left. I am not letting him pass. My energy level receives the boost it needed.
I career down the final stretch of hillside, speak to the marshals who guide me over the fence to the path and I set off to the finish like a gazelle who has just started the race. BANG! I miss judge my footing and land in a trench up to my waist. After a momentary daze I clamber out shake myself down and get on with the job of finishing. I reach the road and begin to feel at home on terra firmer. I meander round the curves of this typical winding country track only wide enough for one car till the final bend and the finish and Vicki waiting to greet me. I feel a great sense of achievement – having completed (never in doubt), having done relatively little specific training, having improved my mental resolve and only taking 2 hours 15 mins for the return journey.
Postscript my actual time is 4`20 therefore I ran an even pace for the whole of the race – yet another achievement.
A pub with good grub!
The final destination for food and rehydration (non alcoholic). The alcohol would be later.
It seems we are all on a personal journey (our life) but only some of us get glimpses of other people`s journeys.
Thanks to my daughter Freya for the photos and my partner Vicki for being at the finish.
It was in January when I overheard two club runners speaking about their seasons’ aims following a Surrey League cross country match. One said his 2014 aspiration was to be ranked among the top-250 runners in the country. ‘What distance?’ his mate asked. The other shrugged. He didn’t mind: as long as he made the top-250 in something.
The runners were referring to top-250 in the Power of 10 rankings, a list of the best UK athletes over a range of distances in a particular year. In the mid-2000s it was my ambition to simply be listed on Power of 10, let alone breach the top-250. Power of 10 was once elitist; runners had to gain a ‘fast’ time to earn inclusion. I remember the 10k cut off being 36 minutes. In those days I couldn’t break 37. Power of 10 has since been thrown open, with every result…
Three images on The Tyne – Baltic Contemporary Arts Centre, The Sage Music Centre and The Blinking Eye. An unlikely combination on the banks of The Tyne.
Another unlikely combination is The National Cross Country Championships and me. I decided to add these champs to my list of events completed. Having completed the Northern Cross Country Champs at Knowsley Safari Park four weeks earlier I was feeling confident of a good run.
Hopefully the course would be less muddy, less hilly and I would be fitter. Unfortunately the first two were to come true but the latter not so. I acquired a heavy cold, missed two weeks training and considered not even running. My chest was not fully clear, so the object of the day was to take it steady and finish. If I beat my time at the Northern XC that would be a bonus, although it was an easier course.
So the race began on a sunny, yet windy day. The mass start out of the pens, like a horse race only I was feeling like a Shire horse. Up the hill, round the bend for the first of four times and down the hill towards the finish. I had done a course recce as a warm up. Next a short stretch through the crowds before a left turn and dog leg to a steady incline with a steep pinnacle before turn two. The downhill taking in the log jump, this is The Grand National, which I hurdled like a steeplechaser.
On towards the lake via another turn and a ditch and a little step up in ground level. Then the more level ground presents the first of three mud baths on the fourth turn. This is when I remember it’s not long before that hill again. But the mud saps the energy of every runner. Knee deep water unless you find an ankle-deep mud only path. The result heavy feet with the sticky stuff. The hill is in full view awaiting your heavy feet. A long steady climb and the right hand turn and lap two begins.
I glance at my watch around 24 minutes for lap one but loosing ground to my club mates. I plod round lap two, still hurdled and as I approached the lake side the leaders sprinted past me making their way to the finish. Yes I was about half way when they passed me. My mental attitude unaffected by this usually demoralising sight. I had a lap and a half to complete my goal and with a consistent, steady effort a good time was possible. I cheered Johnny Brownlee as he passed.
Steve Vernon – Winner
Another club mate caught and passed me but my resolve was to finish. Others passed but my mantra was to make an effort in the final lap if I had anything left. The spectators and stewards responded to my name on vest ploy – Come On Steve ! This really gives you a mental lift, well worth the price of a printing fee.
The mud slowed me a bit, as did the hill but I was still running, well jogging, no walking yet? Down to the finish area to start the final lap and it would all be over. I have adopted a mental approach that half way or the final lap is when I start to race to the finish. Today I would be making an effort but not of race proportions. Still they passed me but I knew their would be other days when my body will respond.
Again I hurdled the log, the lakeside ditch was jumped in one go again, the mud and water fest was to be a walk but I started running immediately out of that mud towards the final hill. I pushed up the hill and felt my quads had the strength to run the whole hill. The turn presented the opportunity to race to the finish but I decided to maintain my pace and finish breathing controlled rather than bursting my lungs. A few more places lost but I have different goals to come.
Recently I was prompted to put a painting by an artist, chosen for me, on Facebook to break the sequence of words, and insert art, on Facebook. This is the painting.
The lack of diversity on Facebook, its popularity, its surveillance, its selling techniques all annoy me. My contributions seek to `subvert` the general short comment on an aspect of my life, usually very now. This living in the moment description lacks thought, depth and mirrors the popularity of so-called reality tv. However, reality tv is not reality it is a concocted space that displays social relations in that context. It may be entertaining, it may provoke conversation, debate, disagreement but it is not reality. Reality is the dark side (ascribed negative side) of life.
Whereas the positive side of life – love, peace, harmony, making money, exploiting people, etc.
These human traits, difference, emotions, behaviour, thoughts, is the stuff of real life. However, the consequence of these is not going to go away because we keep positive thoughts unless every individual human has positive thoughts. This almost impossible thought will not become a reality. Therefore we are left with humans doing negative things. It’s about time we got over ourselves.
Are these negative actions always preceded by negative thoughts ? What is the difference between murder and manslaughter in a British court. In simple terms it is that murder is pre-meditated (planned and thought). Therefore there can be a killing that was not thought about beforehand. A negative action without a negative thought – spur of the moment.
Art can provoke reaction. Art can be controversial. Art can be political.
Exploring the benefits of the paleo diet. Trying to combine my long-standing vegetarian diet with a more natural, sport fitness enhancing foodstuffs and weave that into a reluctant family home. Never an easy life.