Friday, 7 July 2017

Elitist Moi?

A little while ago I approached the Andy editor of Ultra magazine and suggested a series of columns in order spark debate and get people interested in his magazine. I would make a controversial statement and he would encourage people to comment on it. The best response would then be given an opportunity to respond. Then I would respond and so on. Arguments by magazine, perhaps not the best idea in a world of social media, but I was willing to contribute and help out. Just like I did at the very first Ultra festival, which you can see here  

I did the first one on cut off times and posed the question where they too soft? In the article I interviewed several race directors and came to the conclusion they were not. The RDs stated that they had to pitch them at level most people could complete. They argued that there is a only niche market for really tough ultras with hard cut offs, hardly the stuff for the novice. If all ultras had hard cut off time  then participation would "die back and there would again be small number of races with just a few people finishing them."  I then go on to say "without mass participation of the easier races, that then feed people into races with more traditional cut offs these tough events might die out.  That would be  tragedy." Hardly a ringing endorsement of the idea of hard cut off. I came up with a different proposal.  I suggested that ultra runners "seek out a race with a tight off and challenge themselves to complete it" Not that controversial really and I expected responses on the lines of why people didn't want to challenge themselves.

Instead in the next magazine James created a straw man argument around me being elitist.  He argued that what I was really saying was that I wanted cut off times tightened with fewer people being able to finish them. That I also wanted to devalue the achievements of people who finish ultras. He goes on to take my argument on the time to complete races completely out of context. I generously assume that he does not understand the idea of posing a point of view in question only to knock it down. Which is what I did in the original article. I found this a very odd reading of the article and told the editor so.  I requested the right to reply. Sadly due to other priorities the editor couldn't fit this in.

Hence this blog post.

Those that know me and my history finds it bizarre​ that I have been branded an elitist. In my youth you always find me on marches  CND, Anti Apartheid, animal testing, ambulance workers, the miners, LGBTQ( although in my day it was only LGB),  you name it I was there. Heck! I knew Corbyn before he went mainstream.  You know that picture of him being arrested outside the South African Embassy, I was there.


Back to ultras and I still believe that the cheaper, more inclusive ultras, with loads of volunteers are where it is at. I don't  particularly like this trend for the big expensive ultras such  as MdS or UTMB that cost a lot to enter. My favourite ultra is Spartathlon, where you get a whole weeks board and lodgings plus a race plus two gala events for less than a tenth of the cost of MdS. The trend for buying tonnes of expensive kit and fancy watches also leaves me scratching my head in wonder. A shoe is a shoe zero, drop or not. It's not going to make you any faster. Only the correct training will do that. And that zero drop is going to be a negative one once you have done a few months of training in them. I shoe goo my trainers and get a couple of thousand Kms a out of them. My watch is covered in gaffer tape where the sealing around the buttons has decayed. 


  










What pray tell is elitist about encouraging people to try harder in races and push themselves to do better?
What is elitist about training harder and doing more for less in both time or money?

All in all a very odd response to the original article which completely missed the point of runners challenging themselves.

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Good enough


The last 18  months of Running have not gone well for me. I have not  been happy at all and it was all becoming a chore. My performance were getting worse and the number of DNFs rising. It culminated in another  at the Wuppertal 100km. I mean seriously, who the fuck is so weak as to DNF a 100km...shit right? 
I took the decision to withdraw from Spartathlon, as I knew I couldn’t do it justice and I would rather my place went to someone more deserving. Fortunately a lovely guy  Tarique got my place on the British Spartathlon Team. I wish him well. 

I was trying to get out of doing a 24 hour race in June as well  because I was so shite. Three things stopped me. 
  1. Russell Tullet and Sandra Hopkins were coming over to crew me. They had already paid for their flights and insisted that I do it. They wanted to crew someone through a 24 hour as they had never done that before. 

  1. Robbie Britton started coaching me. I still don’t quite understand why, but who am I to argue. 

  1. Chrissy, told me me to stop being arse and go out and enjoy my running again. "You are always too hard on yourself and set goals way too high. Just do it and have a laugh with Russ and Sandra." 

Robbie had about six weeks to get me ready. He cut the volume of training right down to barely 50 km a week. This consisted of a vo2 max interval session mid-week and a lactate threshold at the weekend. Everything else was easy Running and two yes TWO rest days a week.   I haven’t run that little in years. Normally I try and do two sessions a day for at least three days a week. This plan was so easy that I actually enjoyed it. Having someone tell me what to do also took the pressure off. Therefore rather than having a plan that was too hard, that I didn’t achieve and made me miserable,  I had an easy plan that I could do and enjoyed. 

Slowly I started to enjoy my running again. The only negative was that my weight ballooned from around  72- 74kg  to 75-77kg. I have always struggled with my weight and it is the reason why I took up running in the first place. Obviously I run better with a lower weight and it is still on my calendar to get some proper help. Heck if I have a coach for running I might as well get one for eating. 

The day before the race I picked up a rental car ad loaded it up with food supplies,  a collapsible double chair for Russ and Sandra to sit on, a sleeping bag for them to stay warm if they went and slept in the car.  All my food would be placed on a collapsible picnic table. Having everything at waist height makes a lot of difference.  

Having read Renee McGregor's Training food I was going with a real food option. So instead of tailwind or other carb drink I diluted juices with the same amount of water. Instead of a load of gels at the beginning I was going with Snickers crisps and homemade peanut butter biscuits.  Everything I drank and ate is in the spreadsheet at the end of this of this blog. 

I picked Sandra and Russell up at the airport at just after nine and we drove up to Stadtoldendorf taking about  three hours.  After setting up on one side of the race track in one of the two  the coaches cabins on the side of the track I introduced them to German wurst and coffee which are both very different to the UK equivalent. 

I got changed in the car park, remembering to Vaseline my nether regions and grease my feet with baby cream, as I was in such a rush last very I forgot to to do that and ended up with sore bollocks from the first hour or so. 

My shoes were greeted with disgust by Russell.  

"You can’t run in them! " said Russ
"Why not?" I replied
"They haven’t got any heels"
"Oh that’s not all. The side here  has a hole."   I said poking two fingers though said hole.  
"Jesus Christ. You are just slipping them on. Are you not going to tie them up?"
"Nah I never do."
"Does Robbie know you are running in shoes that are literally falling apart? "
"It will be fine Russ. Chill"
"You are remarkable chill."
"Yeah don’t worry about that, I will start shitting myself at around four hours in. So be happy I am relaxed at the moment. "

We went off to the start and took a few photos. I set off at the back of the pack at a nice and easy pace. I didn’t know what it was as I had decided not to wear a race watch. Partly to reduce the amount of worrying I do and secondly because it is on it’s last legs. I have a very old Garmin 910xt and the water proof covers over the buttons have started to come off. The watch is covered in gaffer tape now.



I know what I want for Crimbo. 

 The plan was to run for 25-27 minutes and then walk a lap while eating something. I was also drinking half a litre of diluted fruit juice an hour. This worked out for the first three hours. And then a sense of impending doom started to creep up on me. My stomach was full and my pace was slipping and I was going into a dip. 

Russell and Sandra had been up since two am and so they decided to take it in turns sleeping in the car. While that was good for Russell that meant Sandra was left alone to deal with grumpy Rob. I can be a real cunt when I am in that mood. I tried to keep a lid on the grumpiness and Sandra just gave me the odd cuddle. Quite brave of her give the amount of sweat I was pumping out.  

I got on with running and trying to ignore the standings that the announcer gave over the PA. Unfortunately he gave them in German and I had to translate and then tell Sandra so that she could write down the number of laps.  four hours in and I had done 82 laps or 32.8km. 

I thought was quite a way down the field, but knew if I kept going that would change. Lots of people go off to fast and burn out. The guy who was in the lead for the early part ended up crashing out after six hours.  I) change my shirt earlier than the planned six hours to improve my mood.

After five hours my stomach was feeling so full that the only thing left to do was to have a shit. I came out of the toilet and felt very light and a lot better. I started running more easily and focused on staying the course.  
The switch-around where they get you to change direction at six hours came and I was now quite comfortable. I had a pot of rice pudding and more snacks. I changed socks and creamed my feet again. I had no blister at all and had covered  121 laps or 48.4 km .

I noticed he guy who came second last year was going at a good pace., however the people who interested me the most were the walkers. Stefan Mack who had completed a six day in Hungary with Yiannis Kouros by the same method. Roy Bainbridge who was wearing the wrong number. He was 82 years old and they had given him 84. He told me he completed his first ultra at the age of 65 100km in 10:10. There was a lady walking with a full back pack on Beate.Beinicke. 
  
Night started to come on and we were entertained by a guitarist playing all sorts of guitar hits on a make shift stage set in the back of big articulated lorry. A load of Oasis and AC DC. It all helps pass the time.  

Sandra and Russell swapped place with Sandra getting some shut eye in the car. Russell kept the cold away by wrapping up in a hoody and using a BST buff as a face mask. It was like asking a mugger for food. I took the opportunity to put my Care keep warm top on that would see me through the house of darkness. As the music was turned down low I picked up my phone and played podcasts and music during the hours of darkness. Being closed to mid summer it was dark for quite a short period. Like 10:30 to 15:30.

At 2:00 am we changed direction again and I swapped socks and creamed my feet. Less than twelve hours to go and I was feeling good and had covered 228 laps or 91.2km. By this time I was necking Red bull and waiting for the dawn to break with some  trepidation.  Last year I quit not long after dawn.  Once you have done 14 hours and you realise there is another 10 to do it is quite heart breaking.  I focused on finishing and counting down.  

some where around 6:00 am I felt lacking in enregy and Sandra and Russ started pumping sugar into me  at a furious rate. I had my first every Waffle,  I have never liked the look of them, but when Russ came over with a sugar covered one I could hardly say no.  It was quite tasty.  The sugar seemed to work as my mood picked up by 7:30am  and by 8:00am I knew I had less than six hours to go.  I changed into my British Spartathlon Team  finishers shirt from 2015 and knew it was only a matter of a few hours.  within half an hour I had to make a new pit stop as my bollocks where starting to sting from the sweat in the shorts. 

9:00am came  and the sun was well and truly up and the temperature was rising.  Russ came over to me and said 
"I am only every going to say this to you once, bend over."

I did as I was told and he  soaked my head in cold water.  

I started moaning at this time and tried to get away with walking although my legs and feet felt fine.  Sandra and Russ started pacing me a bit.  If this ever happens to you DO NOT get Sandra to pace you.  She moans so much about how slow and pathetic you are you have to run to get away from her.


The end was insight and I started throwing in faster laps just for something to do. I worked out even after 20 plus hours of running I could do a two minute lap.

As the hooter for the end approached Russ got my Liverpool towel out and draped it over my shoulders and then got me  a beer as it finally went off and I dropped my marker just short of 393 laps or 157.83km.  



Almost 100 hundred miles.  Ok not a 100 miles,  not a Spartathlon qualifier, still some  20km short of that. But it was a second place, my first ever podium finish and considering how shit I was a month before and how heavy I am I was quite pleased. Interestingly I managed to put on a kilo during the race.  Seriously how does that happen?


The pacing over all was not as flat I would have liked, but there is a lot to build on