Consistency

Consistency is key. Consistency is King. The best way to train is consistently. All of us who train to race know this. Most people exercising for general fitness or for weight loss know this too.

But what about when consistency becomes something else? What about when it becomes a crutch and you just don’t realise it until that crutch is put to one side for one reason or another? Well folks, I have just come to that realisation over the past few weeks and it’s quite a difficult, but not insurmountable, realisation to have made.

Lately I’ve been struggling with some pretty bad anxiety, a lot of negative thoughts and a depression that, although not debilitating, has me feeling like somebody has wrapped me in a large, damp towel. I’ve tried to get to the bottom of this because that is what I always do when things feel this way and I’ve come to the conclusion that this particular incidence is more keenly felt than it might have been due to change and lack of consistency.

When I run 5 or 6 days a week, as has been my average pattern for a number of years, it gives me time and space to both think things through and process my emotions or, conversely, it just gives me time and space – quiet, uninterrupted time and freedom to roam. This, I have realised, is my anti-depressant. It’s my mood stabiliser. Or it was. Because at the moment I am transitioning from being a runner to becoming a triathlete and this is entirely by choice – I wanted a change, I wanted to increase my longevity by spreading my aerobic activity across a number of sports and ranges of motion, I wanted to see what else my mind and body could do aside from running very far on trails. So I set some short, medium and long term goals for each sport and for triathlon as a whole and did a bit of training for fun and to semi-prepare for my first Sprint triathlon – this was my ‘off-season’ following Lakeland 50 and my usual summer of long distance racing and training.

I took to open water swimming and loved it, I rode a Sportive and loved it and then I did my first Sprint triathlon and loved it. And then something happened. I haven’t quite put my finger on what that is or was but my mind seemed to turn on me a bit and is now in open rebellion against the changes I’ve made to my routine of the past 5 years – run 5 or 6 days per week, race quite a lot, repeat… – it seems my mind is not quite ready to let that go, or something else within me isn’t quite ready to let that go.

I have thought a lot about this over the last couple of days of what has been one of the worst and least consistent training weeks of my life! I’m fit, I’m healthy and I am still able to challenge the negative thoughts that sometimes pop into my head singularly or sometimes en masse. So why is it that this week I’ve managed to complete just one aerobic workout of the four that were set to take place from Monday through to Friday? One run and two short strength sessions completed but one bike, one swim and another run bailed on – this equals a grand total of ZERO for consistency and much less time and space to process thoughts and/or just ‘be’. The sum of my thoughts on this are:

 

  • Swimming is a technique sport and prior to being coached I just used to jump in the pool and hammer out laps as hard as I could for 1000 to 3000m and not very regularly – this gave me the time and space I mentioned above. Now that I am determined to improve my technique and thus my competitiveness I have found that when I’m in the pool and swimming my thought processes are entirely dedicated either to the drill I am executing or to the timing/pacing of the interval and rest period I’m on.
  • Going out on the bike, solo on the road, has been a real I did my first sportive and my longest ride to date about 2 weeks after getting my bike and four weeks after Lakeland – I’d done no training and very little practice on the road but I loved it. I followed this a week later with the bike section of my first triathlon and I loved that too. Afterwards I went out solo and almost got hit by a very fast car on a main road very close to home. It freaked me out and I’ve not been able to get past that fear so far. So, when I’m out on the road my thought processes are pretty well taken up by trying not to panic and trying to get the thing done and out of the way. I’ve pretty much abandoned road riding these past few weeks and opted instead for the trainer and I have to say this is soothing and I do enjoy it – some of my thought process is taken up by timing/pacing intervals but a lot of the time I’m free to process my emotions and other thoughts – but it’s way too easy to go way too hard on the trainer and that does not bode well for keeping burn out at bay.
  • The build-up of unprocessed thoughts and emotions, pretty much since Lakeland, has led to an increase of negative thoughts in both intensity and frequency which has impacted quite a lot on my motivation and my self-belief. With little self-belief and low motivation I have struggled to even go for the easiest of runs this week and for the three weeks after my first triathlon.

 

Writing this post is one way I am combating the negative thoughts I mentioned above. I acknowledge them but I don’t accept them as truth or reality. I can’t isolate and write down all of the thoughts that come and go but the most frequent over the past couple of weeks have been:

 

  • You’re fat (In fact I’m lighter than I’ve ever been)
  • You’re slow (I’m not – I set a road half marathon and 5 mile PR this year already)
  • You can’t do this and you know it, why are you even trying? (I can do this [swim/bike], I’m trying because I know I can do this more efficiently and faster)
  • You’re too big for this bike/this bike is too small for you but it wouldn’t matter even if it was just right because you’re useless (In reality I’ve no idea if my bike is the right size – I just need to take the time to readjust what I can and see how that feels)
  • Get over yourself, even kids can ride on the road (Yes, they can but they have parental guidance and the innocence of youth. I am learning my bike skills from scratch and with probably too much knowledge of what can go wrong!)
  • You’ll never do this on your own, but you’ll never cope riding with other people (This is my mind playing on my social anxiety. I can ride with other people and I will probably enjoy it, I just need to take that initial step and reach out to join others)
  • You’re going to really hate triathlon; I don’t know why you’re bothering (I loved my first triathlon, and duathlon for that matter. I’m bothering because I love to race and I love to see what my mind and body can do when they work together)

 

The thoughts I’m not processing are personal and relate to my family but judging by the reaction I had to my last post which went into detail about why I stumbled into becoming a runner I feel a bit more comfortable and confident writing openly about these personal things.

The thoughts, emotions and experiences I’ve processed over the last 5 years of consistent running were at first with my own experiences with alcohol and drugs and then to do with my experiences of caring for alcoholic parents and the impact that has had on me and my brother over the years. My brother is pretty stoic about it all and says he doesn’t really think on it too much whereas I am faced by the harsh realities and difficulties of mental ill health and addiction almost every day at work. I feel like I have to think about it and I have to process it – in fact it’s part of my professional life to reflect on my own personal experiences and how that impacts on the services I used to provide directly through 1:1 work with clients and now as a services manager.

I think it is fair to say that for a long time I struggled with my relationship to my parents and I still struggle with one of them more than the other. My Dad has become a fatalist, trapped in his own negative thought cycle. He looks and sounds older than he is and he is constantly living in the past – a time when things were good, when things were right and a time my brother and I have very little recollection of because we were young children. Bear with me here dear reader; I never intended this post to be a bearing of my soul and my personal life! I’ll get back to consistency and change in relation to endurance sports and anxiety management in a moment. But what’s happened since I made the realisation that consistency in training became my crutch is also the realisation that I feel I don’t really know my Dad; I miss the man I don’t think I ever really knew. Often conversation is either going to be a storied retelling of the past or a maudlin vision of the future. I miss talking to the Dad I’ve had good times with on occasion in his moments of sobriety or ‘controlled’ drinking. I worry that his maudlin vision of his own demise may come true before my brother and I get to spend more time actually getting to know the man behind the alcohol. My real Dad. I’m going to leave it there as I don’t really know where I’m going with it – I could write a lot more because I feel a lot more and I’ve experienced a lot more but I want to get back to the original intention of this post and to the core terms of this blog as a whole!

So then, a conclusion!

If you’re training consistently and have been for a long time that is great! But if like me, you began your training or exercise regime as a healthy outlet to escape an unhealthy life and to build a better future, please take note and find other outlets and utilise them regularly. Don’t let running, biking, swimming or any other single pursuit become your only way to effectively process thoughts, feelings and emotions! Because when something rocks that consistency – a house move, a change of job or shift pattern, a change of sporting direction, a new coach – and you don’t have anything else in place, you might find yourself in a difficult place. Personally I am going to attend AlAnon support groups as and when I feel the need to talk about my experiences and feelings, and I’m going to my first this evening. I am also going to carry on writing about these things honestly and openly but don’t worry, I won’t share every thought, feeling and experience through this blog! The truth is when I started to write this post I didn’t expect to write about this but writing about it has been cathartic.

In relation to regaining my consistency in training and becoming a stronger all-round endurance athlete, I am going to work hard on my technique in the pool and embrace that and equally I’m going to embrace the time and space I’m given when I get to do an endurance swim session. In addition, I’ve already reached out to my triathlon club to arrange mid-week group road rides through the winter ostensibly to improve bike handling/technical skills and to build weather resilience but also genuinely to help me get over my fears of riding on the road and riding as part of a group! With practice will come confidence and with that will come a bit more time and space in the pool and on the bike, and with that time and space self-belief will return, motivation will increase and then I’ll be less likely to bail out on a run which will always be, for me anyway, the best anti-depressant and the best mood stabiliser.

Well, that’s the end of that post! I didn’t expect to write it and I’m sure you didn’t expect to read it. I think my next post will be a little lighter and will likely be a race report as I’m running a local 10k mixed trail and road race tomorrow.

Please do feel free to drop me a line if you want to talk about anything I’ve mentioned above – a problem shared is a problem halved.

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Why?

People always ask ‘Why?’ when they find out I like to run ultras and train six days a week. Every runner is asked the same question by none runners and every runner has a different answer. For many years I have considered writing this post to add to the ‘About Me’ section on ’26.2 & Beyond’ but I have always held back doing so as I wondered about the value of sharing what I am about to write.

For me, the value is in the writing itself and for others I hope the value will be inspiration because really this post is aimed at everybody who has struggled, or who is struggling, with life for any number of reasons. This post will go to show that although life will never perfect, it is always possible to change – change the way you think, change the way you behave, change what you do, change where you are.

As mentioned on the ‘About Me’ page of this blog, I started to run in April 2011. I state on that page:

“It made me feel alive again and gave me the time and space to think some things through…Running changed my life and saved me from myself! It has changed my outlook on life…it has changed the way I approach adversity…”

A few people who have read that have asked what I was thinking through and have asked why I felt I needed to save myself from myself. The people I meet and who ask me ‘Why?’ have the answer to this and now I am going to write it down so that anybody else who is interested will know why I run, why I love to train, why I love to race and why this blog exists.

April 2011 was when I reached the end of a long, slow journey of self-destruction. This came as a surprise to some people when I let it be known but in April 2011 I really felt my life was unravelling and that I was losing control of the direction I was going. At the time I was nearing the end of a Masters in Social Work and I was almost finished with my final Social Work placement in Child Protection – I hated it. I hated the fact I was on the verge of becoming a statutory social worker, I hated the fact I had to see the suffering of children and families almost every day and I hated the fact that I really didn’t feel that the job I was doing was making any real, lasting and positive change to the lives of the children and families on my caseload. I also hated the fact I felt like a massive hypocrite.

A hypocrite because for the years prior to 2011 I had taken a lot of drugs, drank a steady stream of alcohol and smoked unrelenting amounts of cigarettes. Whilst telling mothers, fathers and families to cease and desist with their damaging behaviours I was thinking in the back of my mind about getting out of there so I could have a cigarette. Either that or I  was cringing inside with the knowledge that as soon as I clocked off I would be heading to the off-license to buy 4 to 6 cans of lager or Guinness – one or two of which I would drink on the long train journey home. I would be cringing with the knowledge that as soon as I got through the front door the first thing I would do would be to roll a joint and, if the feeling took me, make a few calls and arrange a night in the pub with the possibility of a line or two (or three, or four…) of cocaine.

I spent most of my life from 2004 to 2011 living for the weekend and by 2009 the weekend had started to encroach into my week. From 2001, right up to August 2012 I smoked cannabis every, single day. Maybe missing a few here and there for one reason or another, but never with a prolonged break. I eventually stopped smoking cannabis altogether on December 26th 2013.

I remember the first time I took cocaine, at a house party in 2004. The first time I took cocaine I remember thinking that this could be dangerous! It felt good, I felt more engaged with everybody around me – I remember the feeling I had when it wore off and it was early in the morning, I remember knowing that it was dangerous at that point because I thought about getting some more. I held off that time. Subsequent times, well, I didn’t. By the time April 2011 arrived it wasn’t unusual to have a ‘cheeky line or two’ at home, with friends (and sadly, sometimes alone), in the middle of the week. I stopped taking cocaine in January 2012.

I remember the first time I took ecstasy, after a night out at university in 2004. I was scared. By this point I’d already tried cocaine but for some reason, ecstasy was the scarier drug for me. I think it was probably because of the exposure to the news in the late 90s when a young girl died from taking too much. The fear wasn’t strong enough to overpower whatever urge took me that evening though and after 20 minutes I ‘came up’ for the first time. I don’t really remember much but I do remember sitting really close up to my friend’s stereo because to me, the music was the best thing I’d ever heard. I also wanted to hug everybody. I felt connected to everybody. I didn’t feel anxious, or worried, or fearful. Ecstasy and I stayed friends for quite a while after that. The last time I ‘took a pill’ was some time in 2010 because by then it had gone from being a warming, connecting drug to something that I felt was ripping my soul to shreds for days after the initial ‘come down’.

From 2004 until 2010 I tried ketamine, MDMA (the powdered, active ingredient of ecstasy), I had ‘a thing’ with speed for about a year in 2005, I accidentally took acid once which was a horrific experience, I dabbled with MKat for a while (a synthetic high meant to replicate the effects of cocaine – it didn’t), I tried Spice and I’ve tried other synthetics. I am just so thankful that I managed to avoid heroin and crack. I am also thankful that I managed to ‘come back’ from my horrendous acid trip in 2007.

I grew up around people taking cocaine and ecstasy; I grew up around excessive drinking. I didn’t bat an eyelid at it all, to me it was normal. With this being the case I didn’t think I had a problem. Until the problem became a problem.

Not for the first time, in 2011 I found that I was losing sight of my studies. I was losing control of my finances and I didn’t care about much else aside from getting a drink and smoking a joint. I didn’t want to think and I didn’t really want (I didn’t feel as if I could sometimes) to converse with people unless I was high, stoned or drunk. Or a combination of the three.

The first time this happened was towards the end of 2005 when I was suspended from my undergraduate degree for failing to keep up with the work and for being an absolute reprobate on campus. I left campus with my head hanging in shame and retreated to a less than happy and stable environment living with my Mum and her abusive partner – at the time both were deep in the throes of alcohol addiction and it was a very difficult environment in which to gather myself together, do the work I needed to do to get back to university and to fight off depression and anxiety. I managed it though. But I didn’t learn a lesson. I carried on smoking cannabis, I carried on drinking pretty much every day and I carried on taking cocaine and ecstasy even after I was allowed to return to finish my undergraduate degree.

On April 1st 2011, I went to my place of work where I was due to meet with my Masters of Social Worker supervisor to discuss my progress and to outline what I needed to do to complete my placement successfully. I wasn’t exactly a shining example of a Student Social Worker and during this meeting it hit me that the amount of work I had to do, and the 30 days in which I had to do it, would be nigh on impossible for me to complete in the state I was in. Instead of opening up about how I felt and what was going on outside of work and education I just quit. Right there, in the meeting, I threw up my hands and said “Fuck it. I can’t go on. It’s bullshit and I’m not doing it anymore.” I picked up my bag, walked out and went to my desk. I emptied the desk into my bag. I know I had tears running down my face at this point and I remember a strong sense of panic in my chest as I did this but I rebuffed any approach from colleagues by muttering swear words and banging my desk drawer shut – I walked out, shouted “See ya” and then went and sat on the wall outside smoking cigarette and wondering where my life was about to go. A few sympathetic colleagues who knew what I was going through came out and shared a cigarette – I said goodbye to them and walked to the off-license.

I’m not sure what happened after that. April 1st that year was a Friday so I know that I went out. I’m just not sure when I came back. At some point either that weekend or early the following week I know I told my friend who I was living with that I’d quit my degree and that the money I relied on to pay the rent would be no more because of that fact. I know that because what my friend did with this news was amazing.

Through my haze in the following weeks I resumed communication with my university who by this point had realised things were not all they had seemed. I confided in them what was going on with my Mum, my finances, my depression and a lot of other things that had built up and plagued me since my school days. They gave me a reprieve and told me I would be able to return to a Masters programme once I had put my house in order. I thank them for that because in October of 2011 I returned to complete not an MSc in Social Work, but an MSc in Social Studies writing my thesis on the positive influence of outdoor activity and education on children with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties.

But, I digress. Why do I run? Well, I run because of what my friend did with the news I was flat broke, that I’d walked out of my degree and that I didn’t really care about that at the time. My friend decided that action was required on my part and that I needed some sort of catalyst to wake me from my malaise and to show me there was more to life than drink, drugs and worry. He subsequently bough us two plane tickets to Switzerland. He walked into my room at some point during that April and said words to the effect of:

“Get your shit together because you owe me a return plane ticket to Switzerland, half the cost of a mountain guide and half the cost of our accommodation. We’re off to climb a mountain or two.”

My response:

“What?! How am I supposed to do that. I can’t climb a mountain. I can’t even pay the rent. How can I pay for a trip to Switzerland?”

His reply:

“Get up, get out of the house and get to work. You’ll figure it out.”

My response to this was not immediate. I sat there dumbstruck for about two days before I did anything. The plane ticket said I had until September 11th to get fit, get a job and get my house in order. The first thing I did, after rolling a joint and opening a can of beer, was to go online and sign up to a recruitment agency. The next thing I did was type into Google ‘How do you climb a mountain’ – this led me into a world of information and adventure but basically what I learned is that I needed, first and foremost, to get fit! I looked at how to do that. Squats, push-ups, sit-ups – fine I can do all of that. Running?! Okay. This is going to be tough. I pulled out an old pair of shorts and a t-shirt and put on some normal trainers, put all of them on and felt ridiculous. What was I to do now? Well, pretty similar to what my friend said really: “Get up, get out of the house, get to work and figure it out.” That first run was more of a sprint, stop, feel like crap, jog, stop, feel like crap, jog, walk home – it was about 2km and it took 40 minutes. When I got back home I was not happy! I went for a shower and by the time I got out of the shower I felt energised, I felt happy and I wondered if there might not be something more to this running thing. I went again the next day and pretty much every day thereafter until flying to Switzerland. It was never easy during those first months, it was rarely enjoyable but it was something else and that something else was better than anything else I had.

To cut a long story short by May 1st I’d gotten two part time jobs. By the end of May I’d gotten a pair of running shoes. By the end of June I’d paid for half of my plane fare. By the end of July I’d taken up swimming and meditation and paid my air fare. By the end of August I’d been lifting weights, doing sit-ups, squats and press-ups every day for two months and by the end of September and been to Switzerland and back. By the end of October I was back at university attending lectures and by January 2012 I had cut down my drinking and cannabis use significantly and I’d given up cocaine. In May 2012 I ran my first ever race and then June 2012 I ran my first ever half marathon. On July 1st I ran a local road race, finished 12th and by this point I knew I was a runner. By the end of July I’d handed in my MSc thesis and by the end of August I’d graduated. From there I never looked back. I kept on keeping on! By the end of 2013 I had cut back my cigarette smoking significantly, I was (and remain) drug free and I found my way into a career path I wanted to be on. By March 2014 I had given up smoking completely.

From May 2011 to March 2014 I radically changed my outlook on life, I radically changed the way I approached adversity and I learned a lot about myself and about my relationship with addiction. The learning and adaptation continues. In January 2014 I became vegetarian, in January 2017 I became vegan and then in July I stopped drinking and became tee-total. I’m not saying life is perfect – that’s impossible. I will always have an ongoing fight with depression and anxiety but the tools I have at my disposal to take on that fight are far more effective than ever they used to be. I love life now and that is not something I could have ever said with confidence or conviction until recently.

Changing your life for the better starts with one small step and requires perseverance, patience and commitment but it is possible. My journey is one of so many others I can point to in the world of ultra running, triathlon and endurance sport. If you are reading this and you feel you are in a similar position to that of me in April 2011, reach out and contact me. You will have to walk your own path, and find your own way, but I am happy to help you start to consider how you might start the walk.

 

So there you have it. That is why I run. It is also why I swim, cycle, hike, orienteer, lift weights, follow a yoga practice, do Pilates, meditate and generally infuse my life with health and movement!

[I’d just like to add that my Mum is in full abstinent recovery and has been clean for almost 3 years at the time of writing. Go Mum!]

Endurance (and planning) addict!

I have outlined my ‘Project Road Runner’ plans in a previous post but I thought I’d expand on my future plans in this post. What comes after Project Road Runner and my trip to India in May 2018?

I am a committed (some might say addicted) planner and organiser! I love to plan things, schedule things and diarise them – not just at work but in my life too and particularly when it comes to my racing and endurance life. I like to have goals to work towards and planning and scheduling helps to set up the processes to hopefully achieve those goals. As you may have noticed if you follow my social media pages, I recently decided to take up triathlon and other multi-sport events to bridge the gap between finishing Lakeland 50 and my break from ultras, and the start of my Project Road Runner sub-3 hour marathon training which begins in earnest on December 11th!

Finishing my first triathlon, September 3rd 2017. (2nd AG – 36th OA)

I say I took up triathlon to bridge the gap but it’s something I’ve wanted to do for many years. Indeed, when this blog started out back in August 2012 it was initially called ‘Trials, Tribulations & Triathlons’ but this name fell by the wayside about a month into writing as I realised at the time I couldn’t afford a bike or a wetsuit and so decided to focus solely on running as a means to engage with my inner self, improve my health, wellbeing and drive my life in a direction worth going!

Triathlon has been in the background ever since – in 2014 when I suddenly found myself with a reasonable salary and an option to purchase a bike I toyed for nearly three months with the idea of getting a road bike and throwing myself into it but by this point I had my eye on trails and ultras and was heading towards them in a big way, so in the end I opted for a mountain bike and fulfilled a childhood dream by purchasing a brand new Giant with Rock Shox…only to sell this 8 months later to fund a trip to the Frankfurt Marathon, followed immediately by a holiday on the island of Fuerteventura! But, I digress, planning – that’s what this post is about. Specifically long range planning.

Bridging the gap between crossing the line at Lakeland and Brighton Marathon training starting led me to think further ahead. Where do I want to go with my endurance life? What do I want to achieve? More importantly, how do I get there?! After some thought I came up with a few goals taking me from finishing the Brighton Marathon on April 15th 2018 (hopefully with a PR) all the way to finishing the TDS 2020 (hopefully in 24 hours and some minutes)!

That’s a pretty long range plan and in the middle of it I’d like to explore my triathlon and cycling potential some more – middle distance and Ironman UK is calling! I would also like to wring out a little more speed on the road and hopefully translate the endurance learning from triathlon and cycling, and the speed from road racing onto the trail.

So, the 26.2 & Beyond 2018-2020 Long Range Plan looks a little something like this:

Orange = A-Race. Blue = TDS Qualifier

Orange = A-Race. Blue = TDS Qualifier

Orange = A-Race. Blue = TDS

Some people say I put too much pressure on myself when it comes to setting goals and planning ahead and in some ways those people are right – it can be very stressful in the middle of a race where I may have set a goal and that goal is fading from underneath me but it can also be very rewarding training to try and reach that goal. It is also very satisfying attaining the goals I set for myself. Even when I fall short it is almost equally satisfying to see the thing out and cross the line in one way or another. I’ll close this post, aptly, with a quote from Chrissie Wellington:

“Pressure is a necessary evil if you want to achieve. It brings with it great stress, but you deal with it, and the redemption comes when you achieve things as a result. On a day to day level pressure can sometimes feel debilitating, especially if its benefits are illusory. The trick is to understand which pressures are necessary and which ones are the dangerous decoys, the ones that suck the life from you for no reward.”

Project Road Runner

Injuring myself at Country to Capital at the start of the year forced me to the sidelines for quite a while and led to a relatively quiet year on the ultra scene for me! This also meant I had some time to think about what I wanted to do once I recovered. Obviously I started by simply wanting to finish an ultra and then to continue on to have a decent race at Lakeland 50 – at the time of writing I can happily say I accomplished both of those goals.

I remained steadfastly disciplined during my recovery in terms of not entering any ultras after Lakeland. My plan was to see how I felt afterwards. What I hadn’t bargained for was my passion for racing and my desire to always have a goal to aim for! This lead me to enter the Brighton Marathon which is due to take place in April 2018. This will be my first road marathon since Frankfurt in 2014 and as soon as I entered my mind went straight to goal setting and this then led into what I have now called Project Road Runner!

I don’t think it will come as a surprise to any regular reader of this blog, or to any seasoned runner, that the A-goal I have set for Brighton is 2:55 – this gives me enough room for error on the day and in the lead up as my current road marathon PR stands at 3:19:10 which I set back in Frankfurt! As Ironman World Champion Chris McCormack has said:

 

“Goals, when set, can be lofty and at times far away. For this reason it’s important to identify what the goal is—but even more important to know the process you have put in place to reach that goal. The process is the most important, and understanding how it relates to the bigger picture helps you remain in control of the journey.”

 

So what is the process to reach the goal of a road marathon PR at Brighton? The process is Project Road Runner.

Over 7 months I intend to shift my focus from predominantly ultra trail based racing and training and switch over to more of a road and speed focus – I’ll be racing a number of road races to build speed endurance and also the cross country season (November to February) to build strength. My aim for each of the road races I’ve entered is simple – transform the training into a new PR! I have not focused on speed or road running since returning from Germany back in 2014. For the sake of Project Road Runner I have included PRs set outside of races where I have not beaten a training PR for any reason, but  for the sake of the Project I have set the parameter that any new PR must be set in a race. My current PRs:

 

5km – 18:41 (Training, May 19th 2016)

5 Miles – 30:31 (Pednor 5 Road Race, May 1st 2017)

10km – 37:50 (Bushey 10k, July 6th 2014)

10 Miles – 1:07:12 (Training, June 8th 2016)

Half Marathon – 1:28:43 (St. Albans Half Marathon, June 11th 2017)

Marathon – 3:19:10 (Frankfurt Marathon, October 26th 2014)

 

I have set target races for each distance but by no means is that race schedule set in stone. If I happen to be feeling on top of my game and in good form then I will do my utmost to find a race that I have yet to set a PR for and get to it! The target races are:

 

5km – parkrun/TBC

5 Miles – TBC

10km – TBC

10 Miles – Fred Hughes 10 Miler, January

Half Marathon – Watford Half Marathon, February

Marathon – Brighton Marathon, April

 

I’ll be using TrainingPeaks for the first time to help me plan out my training, stay focused and keep an eye on my progress. I’ll still be using Strava but mainly as an interactive platform as I feel that is the way it is heading – before long it’ll be more of an endurance social media platform than it currently is! It certainly still has a place, but after giving TrainingPeaks a go I can’t praise it highly enough for the opportunity it provides to dig deep into the specifics of each workout and to monitor the long term trends of your training! I know that’s not everyone’s cup of tea but it is definitely mine.

So that is Project Road Runner!

But what about afterwards?

A couple of weeks after Brighton Marathon Sarah and I will be heading to India for 3 weeks which is going to be an amazing way to reward a long training block and to kick back and get away from structured training. Our flights are booked and we have a loose plan to head from Amritsar on the Pakistan border across northern India – we aim to travel mostly by train and we hope to visit New Delhi, Rishikesh, Lucknow, Agra, Varanasi, Bodhgaya and finish in Kolkata on the Bangladesh border.

After we return there will be new goals to reach, new processes to follow and new challenges to face!

I am extremely excited about the next 9 months!

Lakeland 50, July 29th 2017

If I could only do one race a year it would definitely be Lakeland 50. Without a shadow of a doubt. High praise, indeed, and well deserved!

Last year was my first at the race and it was an amazing, brilliant experience in which I surpassed all of my pre-race expectations! This year was also an amazing and brilliant experience but I definitely did not surpass my pre-race expectations – in fact, I was just very glad to have got it done by the time I crossed the finish line. It was an epic day out in the mountains with all manner of literal and metaphorical ups and downs.

I went into the race under trained and carrying my first case of plantar fasciitis. The under training was a mixture of the PF and the fact that over the last few weeks of my training block I struggled a lot with a high level of life stress, depression and anxiety which arose from many different areas from work, to family, to injury – it was a tough few weeks but I was determined to get through them and to line up at Lakeland come what may! I may follow up on this paragraph with a breakdown of my training for Lakeland from Week 7 to 12 but I’m undecided on that just now. If you want to see how Week 1 to 6 panned out, click here.

Lakeland 50 – treadmill hills training.

By the time I finished work on Wednesday 26th July, I felt so much happier and excited to be going to the Lake District with Sarah. I didn’t care that the weather forecast was looking a bit grim! I was just looking forward to being surrounded by the Lakeland Family and the fells. We set off on Thursday afternoon and spent the night visting my Ma and on Friday we made our way to Coniston. It was to be Sarah’s first time in the Lake District and we were both looking forward to a shakeout hike by the time we set up the tent and I had registered.

Overnight the heavens opened and there was a sense around the campsite of foreboding – would it continue to rain so heavily through the 50 mile race?! I think everybody on  the camp site was thinking of how hard the 100 milers must be suffering out there on the dark, drenched mountains of the Lake District. I have to say at this point I have SO much respect for those that take on the 100 miler – I have no idea how to process that race, I wouldn’t even know where to begin training for it let alone racing it. From what I hear the first half is very rugged and technical (and in the dark) and the second half is the same course as the 50…which is also rugged but could be described [I guess] as more ‘runnable’.

Morning came and I slept well, much like I did last year. The only thing was, that unlike last year, when I moved out of my sleeping bag I found that somehow during the night I had pulled a muscle around my left glute and it was very tight. I had promised myself and Sarah on the drive up to Coniston that no  matter what hurdles I faced I would choose to go around, through, over or under it with a smile – so that’s what I did. I boiled some water, made some coffee and porridge in the pouring rain and smiled at the craziness of what was happening and at the race that was about to unfold. I had a feeling it was going to be a different experience from 2016.

The briefing came around and I’d been awake for two hours already. As the RD, Mark Laithwaite, explained to the newcomers what lay ahead and cracked jokes about what had gone before in the 9 previous editions the excitement and tension began to build in the tent. About 650 runners and hikers were about to head out into the fells and Mark kindly informed us that ‘fortunately, the weather seems to be on your side today, looks like the rain will blow over by lunchtime’…and then a heavy downpour began pounding the canvas under which we were gathered! We were dismissed to go and make our final preparations before some boarded the coaches to the start at Dalemain and some were driven by their brilliant and wonderful supporters (thanks Sarah!).

In the start pen, counting down the seconds to go time!

The rain continued on the drive to Dalemain and then it began to ease off a little in the 30 minutes before the start. Then, as we were released from the start pen it began to rain again. Heavily. Thankfully, that was it from the rain though! Mark was right, the weather was to be on our side for the most part. The rain stopped about  90 minutes into the race and I dried out quite quickly in the intermittent sunshine that appeared through the dull gray clouds once in a while.

What happened over the course of the next 60km surprised me somewhat! I had stashed my splits from the 2016 race in my pack and whenever I checked them I found myself to be a few minutes ahead or a few seconds down on them right up to the unmanned dibber checkpoint at 70km!

My glute bothered me a lot up to CP2 at Mardale Head but my PF was nowhere to been felt. I kept on eating and moving well and did my utmost to hold back from racing anybody around me.

On the way to CP2 I got talking to another runner, Gareth Rowlands, who had dislocated his elbow at mile 8 but who had decided it didn’t matter and he was going to continue regardless! We ran together throughout the rest of the race – not solidly as he was finding the downhill sections pretty tough with one arm (!) but he managed to catch up over the flatter sections where I tend to hold back and take it easy. Gareth finished three minutes in front of me after an exceptional debut Lakeland 50 under extraordinary circumstances!

On the way to CP3 at Kentmere I stuck to my guns and continued to race within myself and not against anybody. However, about 3km out of Kentmere I found myself trying to keep in touch with the small group in front of me and, in hindsight, probably pushing a little too hard for the amount of food I was putting in.

I found myself running solo at some point outside Troutbeck on the way to Ambleside.

At some point in the kilometres beforehand I realised I was indeed racing to try and keep the group in front in sight. I was worrying about making a wrong turn or getting lost without anybody to follow -but then it clicked that I actually knew the way so I should just chill out and get back to running my own race!

At Troutbeck I was happy to see my friend Rob Spavin who I ran with last year from that point all the way to the finish. Rob has been battling injury a fair bit this year and wasn’t racing but he had told me he’d be out on the course supporting. Lo and behold, at the sign for Troutbeck there he was! I couldn’t believe my eyes and it was so good to see a familiar face and have the chance to catch up on the hike from Troutbeck onto the trails to CP4 and Ambleside. It gave me a boost and it was great fun – thanks Rob!

I arrived at CP4 and just over half way feeling great as I ran into Ambleside and still ahead of my 2016 splits – Sarah was there and it was great to see her. I had a cup of tea, ate some crisps and then jogged out of the CP towards the fells with Sarah. She gave me some motivational talk and a kiss and then it was back out on my own again!

After I left Sarah I began to conduct a mindful body scan. From this I learned that eating was becoming more and more difficult and that my feet were hurting a lot more than they were at this point in 2016. I acknowledged both of those facts, smiled and started chatting to the guy running next to me about the route, the views and the Lakeland experience! I was quietly hoping that the difficulty with my eating would pass and suppressing anything other than positive mantras.

The section from Ambleside to CP5 at Chapel Stile/Langdale could be described as benign and runnable. Unfortunately for me, this year it was neither. The closer I got to CP5 the more difficult I found it to keep on running and I found that I was being passed by other runners – normally I wouldn’t care about that but I flipped between letting them go and then trying hard to keep up and pass them again. A stupid thing to do when the nutrition side of things is becoming a struggle! By the time I arrived at CP5 I was still somehow slightly ahead of my 2016 splits and I focused on that as a positive. I stopped for a while, had a small bowl of vegan broth along with some coke and then set off towards Langdale and one of my favourite sections of the course.

Just outside the Chapel Stile CP Gareth caught up with me again and from here we ran and hiked together all the way to the base of the last climb at CP6 at Tilberthwaite. Having somebody to run with made all the difference and we exchanged positive comments and chatter all the way to the unmanned dibber at Wrynose – 10km to go and homeward bound on a nice, long road donwhill. Or so it was last year. This year I found the road descent great but as soon as we got back onto the trail and heading uphill I began to feel dizzy, nauseous and struggled to hold a decent conversation with Gareth.

CP5 Chapel Stile and Langdale is looming!

I manged a handful of jelly beans and one Shot Blok from Chapel Stile to the final CP at Tilberthwaite. Oh dear.

On arrival at the CP I was feeling monumentally rough but Gareth was motoring towards the finish! With only 5.5km to go from there to the end I couldn’t blame him for continuing on through the CP like a Formula 1 driver while I hung back and tried to gather myself! Thankfully I was alone at the CP as Sarah had decided to come and surprise me. I will admit here that I wasn’t the nicest of people to be around as I could see my 2016 splits slipping away and I could feel my energy and motivation to fight off my competitors draining away with them. Thanks so much to Sarah and the CP volunteers for putting up with me for 6 or 7 minutes of faffing around my pack trying to find my headtorch and declining all offers of food and drink!

By the time I got out of Tilberthwaite I was feeling extremely tired and I knew I had a tough, steep climb to come followed by some pretty rough ground culminating in a steep, technical descent in the dark. I was in 80th place when I got into CP6 but by the time I got to the stream crossing a the top of the climb I’d dropped to 86th. I was counting the people passing me. It was tough! I tried in vain to get back into the race but after about 300m (that felt like 2km) I stopped. I tried to pee and that wasn’t happening so I turned and threw up a little instead. I started to shiver. Shit. Not cool. I was glad of a little wake up call a few moments later as a runner passed me and just said “Throw up at the finish, it’s over there. Put your bloody coat on”. I took a deep breathe, swilled some water and put my coat on over my pack and put my gloves on. I was in 87th place now and I trudged on! I was hungry, I felt rough, I was tired and I couldn’t stand the taste of water but I was so close! I started to jog towards the treacherous descent and began not to care about anything other than getting into Coniston and getting my shoes off.

I managed to get down the descent, stumbling and hopping my way to the runnable switchbacks and occasionally glancing back to see two head torches bearing down on me. I didn’t care, I was approaching the last mile and I was going to run all the way even if it meant a trip to hospital! I overtook one person as we got off the descent and onto a gravel track but a few moments later, before we hit the last road section into the finish I was overtaken by three people. I was in 89th and that was enough motivation to get me moving a bit quicker – I wanted to finish in the 80s and I was going to. And I did. I got it done!

Hey Al, look here, SMILE, you’ve finished!

I ran over the finish line and I did not feel wonderful! The finish was a blur as they take you into the Finishers tent and announce your arrival to the large gathering of friends, family, supporters and other finishers – all I heard was noise and all I could see was a blur of lights. Sarah was there and snapped a picture – I have no idea how (or why) but I was smiling!

Gareth (10:47:33) and I (10:50:43) at the finish line.

It took about two hours to recover my composure and my constitution but I got out of my clothes, had a power nap and then slowly (very slowly) consumed a bottle of Sprite and a bowl of rice and chilli before showering. After that I felt magical and Sarah and I went to the Finishers tent to cheer in other 50 and 100 runners for a couple of hours.

Lakeland is fantastic. Thanks to all my fellow competitors, their supporters and to the race organisers, volunteers and to the communities through which our merry band make our way each year!

Sarah and I cheering in other 50 and 100 finishers.

I won’t be racing next year but I will be back, either as a volunteer/marshall or as a spectator.

Lakeland 50 Training: weeks 1 to 6 (of 12)

I have approached my training for Lakeland this year with a view to covering the distance in a shorter time and with a view to making gains on the uphill sections of the race, where I was strongest last year. I believe the key to covering the distance quicker will be to race shorter distances often and the key to uphill strength will be regular, testing treadmill hikes.

The key sessions each week during my first 4 weeks of training were  treadmill hikes, 3 races over three weekends at various distances and then a long weekend of back to back to back long runs on the South Downs Way.

Weeks 5 and 6 saw racing as the key workouts – first of all a successful attempt at lowering my road half marathon personal best and then the following week another crack at my 5 mile personal best, which although not successful proved to be a very good race for me as I finished 4th!

After a 2 week break from treadmill sessions, this week (Week 7) saw their return and another preparation race too – this time the North Devon Trail Marathon. The plan for this particular race is to condition the quads and to run hard on the downhills, particularly on the second half of the course. Depending on how that goes I may write a race report which has become something of a rarity on this blog!

But now, onto a breakdown of Weeks 1 through 6.

Week 1

The day before Lakeland 50, session 1 happened to be the Hertfordshire County 5 Mile Road Championship and I was very pleased to line up with my club. My aim was to get the legs turning and to keep the speed up with a view to running under 31:00 on a tough course – I ran hard off the gun and felt good all the way, my legs felt heavy going up the first climb but they soon got into the swing of things and I was really pleased to remain calm and focused to secure 24th place in a time of 30:58!

I took a rest day after the race and then started my Lakeland 50 training with the treadmill session outlined above.  I was trying to emulate the ascent profile of the 4km section out of the aid station and up to the top of Fusedale but I fell short by 90m or so when all was said and done!

I carried on past 4km really focused on hiking strongly and breathing deeply, the run sections at 10kmph weren’t too tough but once I dropped to a 5% incline and increased to 12kmph I started to struggle so I decreased the pace and incline further for the final kilometre ‘cool down’.

I felt it was a solid start to the training block and it left me feeling strong, focused and confident.

By the end of the week I hit 73.7km having set a 70km goal.

Mile 4.2 – Herts County AAA 5 Mile Road Championship

Week 2

I took a very low mileage and low impact training approach during Week 2 as I knew I had the North Downs Way 50 miler to contend with. It was a big race for me because I was going into having not finished an ultra since Lakeland 50 in 2016.

Redemption is sweet and I finished the race in a pretty respectable 40th place with a time of 9:03:20 – not a PR and clearly not a sub-9 but that really didn’t matter to me for once! After two ultra DNF and one ultra DNS since July 2016 the time came to put it right. I was, and still am, 100% happy with how redemption feels – my pacing was solid and my heart rate was consistent throughout. No big surges of pace or HR, just a solid [very] long run effort!

For the first time ever in a race my A-goal was just to finish and I repeated often: ‘You’re running with and for you, not against yourself, anyone else or the clock’.

The weather was perfect and the scenery was beautiful and it was amazing have Sarah out on course crewing me at 2 Aid Stations and a Crew Access Point.

I finished the week feeling really pleased and with a growing confidence that my 2017 Lakeland goals were achievable.

By the end of the week I hit 111.6km having set an 80km goal.

Week 3

After a decent shakeout run on Sunday after NDW50 and a pretty great rest day on Monday I felt it wasn’t beyond me to get in a fairly hefty treadmill workout early in the week. My legs felt really good post-race but my quads were still a tiny bit sore but as the week went on that faded and I got back to my pre-race condition.

Everything clicked during the first treadmill session of the week and I felt really relaxed and focused.  But then, well, then life happened and I found myself battling through a pretty tough week at work!

By the time Friday rolled around my brain was so frazzled that I couldn’t even begin to think about a route to run outdoors so I decided instead for the sometimes easier option of a treadmill session. I had no real aim at all for the session and I was too tired to figure out zones, goals or anything so I just ran and listened to techno! It’s not often that I will make a treadmill workout easier as it progresses but as I felt the workout getting more difficult I reduced the incline at first, and then the pace as I just wanted to switch off my mind and relax. After 30 minutes it worked, so I stopped and shifted my focus to my third race in three weeks which would follow two days later!

‘All trails, roads and treadmills lead to Lakeland 50’ – that is the mantra I repeated from about the 3km point of the Wheathampstead Trail 10km when I started to feel really tired. I hung in and at about 4km I put in a surge to break out of a little group, 2 other guys came with me and then we battled it out to the end. I felt pretty much spent at the 7km mark after putting in an effort on a downhill stretch and then the race came to a gravel section and it seemed to suck the life out of me. This was followed, cruelly, by probably my least favourite surface to race on and a further loss of energy – we hit grass. Ugh.

I pulled myself together mentally and physically at 8km and focused on maintaining my pace and my position. This was a success and I finished in 16th place in 40:47 which I felt was not a bad effort at all considering the previous week’s 50 miler along with some tough treadmill sessions leading into the race – definitely good tired legs speed training!

Wheathampstead 10k, final 400m

By the end of the week I hit 47.6km having set a 40km goal.

Week 4

I started the week on Tuesday with my customary Lakeland treadmill session. I began this one with a 5km ‘warm-up’ – for the first 2km this was the case but it got very hot as the sun beat through the windows of the gym right onto the treadmill. It got pretty tough then! I was glad of the ‘respite’ when I got to 5km and then slowed to a fast hike as I increased the incline. The 3km hike section was also pretty tough but only really for the first mile or so – after that I settled into a rhythm, concentrated on my music and when I felt like I was struggling I fixed my eyes outside and admired the sky and the trees. It’s workouts like this one that I will draw upon during the race itself this year – it is always possible to distract the mind if there is something to focus on aside from running metrics or the physical body…and, if the mind still wants to stay locked into a negative aspect, you can always force it to think back to the tough times on the treadmill when there wasn’t really anything to look at and there was no fresh air to breathe!

I covered 25.5km on Friday straight after work and set in motion the plan for a back to back to back long run weekend. The Friday run was great, with the vast majority in zone 2 under a beating sun but with very light legs and an empty mind – it set up the rest of the weekend perfectly.

On Saturday morning of Week 4  Sarah and I set off for the south coast for the weekend – this was certainly the highlight not only because we got away from ‘real’ life but also because the Saturday and Sunday long runs on the South Downs Way were amazing – a great way to get in some ‘off-treadmill’ ascent in beautiful surroundings! I haven’t run on the Downs since South Downs Way 50 miler in 2015 and it brought back many memories as it was my first 50 miler.  I ran 20.2km on the Saturday and rounded out the weekend with 24.4km on Sunday – both runs were on the SDW50 course which got me to thinking about entering it again at some point in the future…

With the B2B2B long weekend done I felt really good both mentally and physically. I knew that the following week was going to be a low mileage affair and I had come to peace with that during the course of Week 4 – as I’m sure many of you reading this will know, it is so difficult to dial back the mileage at any point during a training block but I focused on the fact I really wanted to put in a PR performance at my local half marathon!

South Downs Way

By the end of the week I hit 93.1km having set an 85km goal.

Week 5 

This is probably the first week that I haven’t hit my mileage target for any other reason than injury in a long time! I dialed back the mid-week miles and spent a lot of time undertaking mindfulness practice, visualising what for me constituted a perfect road half marathon in preparation for the weekend’s attempt!

When race day arrived on Sunday it was very, very hot out. Which works well for me because I absolutely love running in the heat and I think I I took advantage of it – I locked into a pace just in front of the 1:30 pacers and stayed there. If I could choose a few words to summarise: surprising, comfortable, ecstatic. This is the first time I’ve run with pacers and it took about 8km to get used to it – at first I felt pressured but in the end it was cool and I felt really comfortable from 10km onwards, chatting with the pace guys. I left them with about 2 miles to go and starting catching people up and racing in over the final 800m.

St. Albans Half Marathon, final 200m

I loved the run, loved the weather and I was really happy to finish the race with a 10 mile and Half Marathon PR on a tough, hilly course! The finish line was great and pretty special too as Sarah and her nieces were waiting at the finish chute – they surprised me and spent the wait time making banners for me which was so cute! It was a great end to a race that I ran 5 years to the day before in 1:38:05 – my first half marathon and only my second race. I finished the 2017 edition in 61st place with a PR of 1:28:49!

Isla & Elsie – creating cheer banners!

By the end of the week I hit 53.2km having set a 60km goal.

Week 6

The last ‘no treadmill’ week before Lakeland and the reason again was to save my legs the incline training before attempting a 5 mile PR at another local race!

I had some pretty good runs during the week, although Tuesday’s start was a little sore as I didn’t take my post-race recovery very seriously after St. Albans Half Marathon so I found myself suffering with DOMS over the course of 18.2km on trail and road! The rest of the week I spent a fair amount of time in the local spa pool, foam rolling and shaking out my legs on gentle trail runs.

Saturday rolled around and with it, race day too. The only goal I had was to give 100% and considering it was 31°c I think I did okay and gave a good account of myself! It wasn’t my fastest 5 miler but it was certainly a good hard, 100% effort and I was delighted to finish 4th place in 31.22. I went into 4th place around the 1.5km mark and decided to put in a surge over the next 800m or so to stay in touch with the front three and hopefully drop the small group I was at the front of. It worked but around 5km I found myself running solo as the front 3 broke away. That was probably the hardest thing – feeling like I was being chased down – I couldn’t tell if I was because there were no turns on the course that allowed me to see who was behind, or how close they might be! I always try my hardest to follow Paula Radcliffe’s advice during road and cross country races: ‘Never look behind, focus on running as hard as you can!’ Anyway, it was super hot and as the gradient increased at the 6km mark my pace began to suffer but I gritted my teeth, pushed on through Zone 5 and was very glad to see the Finish arch when I got to it.

The Harpenden Oval Race, finishing sprint.

By the end of the week I hit 85km having set an 85km goal.

That’s it then for the first half of my Lakeland 50 training block. For the most part, so far, I feel very strong both physically and mentally. There have been a couple of wobbles but I would say far fewer than in previous training blocks in years gone by. I am confident that whatever happens come race day on July 29th I will be ready to put one foot in front of the other, give 100% the whole way and as long as I cross the finish line knowing I’ve suffered well I will be happy. The likelihood is I will post a summary of the second half of my training the week before Lakeland (Week 13) as I’m not counting that in the block – that week will be purely tapering, probably not cold turkey, but a massively reduced training load for sure!

Thanks for reading guys! For newcomers to my blog, I hope you found this useful and/or interesting and for those regular readers – thank you so much for your continued support.

Peace & Blessings

Steve Birkinshaw’s 12 Tips for a Wainwrights Attempt

In 1986, the legendary fell runner Joss Naylor completed a continuous circuit of all 214 Wainwright fells in the Lake District, covering a staggering distance of over 300 miles – plus many thousands of metres of ascent – in only seven days and one hour.

Those in the know thought that this record would never be beaten. It is the ultimate British ultramarathon. The person taking on this superhuman challenge would have to be willing to push harder and suffer more than ever before. There is no Map in Hell tells the story of a man willing to do just that.

In 2014, Steve Birkinshaw made an attempt at setting a new record. With a background of nearly forty years of running elite orienteering races and extreme-distance fell running over the toughest terrain, if he couldn’t do it, surely no one could. But the Wainwrights challenge is in a different league: aspirants need to complete two marathons and over 5,000 metres of ascent every day for a week.

With a foreword by Joss Naylor, There is no Map in Hell recounts Birkinshaw’s preparation, training and mile-by-mile experience of the extraordinary and sometimes hellish demands he made of his mind and body, and the physiological aftermath of such a feat. His deep love of the fells, phenomenal strength and tenacity are awe inspiring, and testimony to athletes and onlookers alike that ‘in order to attain the impossible, one must attempt the absurd’.

  1. Have a background of running over the fells for many years – decades preferably. You are less likely to get injured and will be able to move faster, especially when tired, over the rough Lake District terrain.
  2. Recce good routes between as many of the Wainwright fells as possible. Alternatively, find supporters to help on sections they know really well.
  3. Find a lead support person who is happy to drive round the Lake District for a week with very little sleep (!), who will sort out your every need, and also the needs of up to fifty people who will be running with you. They need to put up with continual stress and hassle for the whole week, and yet stay calm and be able to make good decisions. A pretty big ask.
  4. Find up to fifty people who are happy to be out with you at any time of the day on sections of up to ten hours. If there are at least two on every section it makes it much easier.
  5. Eat as much as you can while running the Wainwrights. On a run of this length with twenty-hour days, you will never be able to eat as many calories as you consume. The pace is slow, so the type of food is not really important. All that matters is finding something you can eat – that you fancy. At the support campervan I enjoyed pizza, onion bhaji and tepid soup. Whilst running, Torq gels went down well. But everyone is different in what they feel they can stomach at times like this.
  6. Make sure you stay hydrated. With a support team carrying water for you this should not be an issue.
  7. Avoid getting blisters or any over-use injury. I changed my socks and shoes regularly to keep my feet dry and I still got really bad blisters – even though I have never had bad blisters before. I also got tendonitis in the front of one of my legs above the ankle, despite decades of running long distances over similar terrain.
  8. Accept that things will go wrong, and don’t stress about it when they do. I was badly sick at one point, which I could have got quite stressed over, but I took it easy for the rest of the section and after a rest in the campervan my stomach was OK again.
  9. Make sure all the shoes and clothing items have been tested beforehand and do not rub.
  10. Have a campervan (or even two like me) at every support point. This allows for hot food to be made easily, provides a nice place to change away from midges and also gives the possibility of sleeping if necessary.
  11. Remember that everyone out helping you has volunteered and given up their time to be there for you. So be nice to them and thank them.
  12. Pick a week with a really warm, dry weather forecast. It will make your support team much happier and everything easier to organise. If only it was that easy! By the time fifty people are sorted and ready to help it is very hard to change the date, you just need good luck.

Good luck to anyone that does try and run round the Wainwrights. The key things are to have run long distances for many years on the fells and to find a great support team so that all you need to do is think about putting one foot in front of the other.

So there we have it, some tips from Steve and Day 4 of his 9 day running blog tour. Next up, a post on Andy Mouncey’s blog tomorrow.