Wednesday 14 March 2012

My running bucket list

I don't plan on checking out any time soon, but I love a good to-do-list. Granted I may have to rely on a lottery win, a full-time nanny and advances in medical science to see me through this list, but a girl can dream. And writing (or typing) them down is a step closer. I don't know about you, but I want to do everything. Running magazines, internet browsing, blogs, social media etc..all just add fuel to the fire. There are so many races, but so little time.

Ultra-distance and multi-day

Himalayan 100-mile Stage Race: I think I have mentioned this race quite a few times over the years and it - in my eyes - rightfully deserves it place at the top of my bucket list. The race is run in October over five days of 24 (with 10,000ft), 10, 26, 13 and 17 miles. The course is most often described as the "most spectacular running course in the world" due to the panoramic views of the world's highest mountains. I would love to the do the Everest Marathon one day, but I'll need to wait until Cairn is old enough to join me on the 26 day trip.

Montane Lakeland 100: This was on the cards for this year, but I changed early on in favour of the Grand Union Canal Race - for reasons which escape me. Known as the "Ultra Tour of the Lake District" the long-distance trail is a circular route which encompasses the whole of the lakeland fells, with approximately 6300m of ascent. With a failure rate of up to 60%, the finisher's medal is a treasured possession.

Comrades Marathon: The ultimate Human Race. Although on a 55-mile course in South Africa is a little more than a marathon, so could be accused of false advertising. The race attracts a huge field of 12,000 runners and has some extraordinary traditions. Firstly, in odd years the course drops down 2,300 feet from Pietermaritzburg to Durbam. The next it reverses itself up the hill. My South African friend, Rob told me both ways are just as challenging and you're not a true Comrade until you've done both. Then there's the race numbers: International runners get blue, runners in their 10th year get yellow. Once you've completed 10 you get a green number, which is yours forever. No on can ever wear that number, apart from you. Ever. The most notorious tradition is the gun fire finish. Participants must finish within 12 hours. At 12:00:00 the race director turns his back on the runners frantically trying to make the cut off time and fires a gun. It's game over. You can finish if you want, but there's no medal, no time and no record. No point? To some South Africans the runners who goes the distance, for nothing, is more symbolic than the winners. There is some solace for the first non-finisher, as he or she becomes an instant hero after being interviews like on TV and pictured on the front page of every newspaper. (This is a picture of our Comrades from Carnegie Harriers watching the gun fire)

Marathon de Sables is a 151 mile race - over 6/7 days - across the Sahara and is recognised as one of the hardest endurance races in the world. Mid-day temperatures can hit 50 degrees and the course is rocky with a huge chunk over sand dunes. Plus, competitors need to carry everything - with the exception of a tent - for the duration of the week. I know, I know, I bitch and whine at the first sign of heat and I carry more than my body weight just going to the work, but if it's the toughest race in the world then it's got to be on the list.

The Ultra-Trail South West is billed as UK's toughest footrace. It makes my bucket list because I just love the area and would love to explore more on foot. The UTSW (there are 60 mile and 100 mile options) takes place on the South West Coast Path, which is a beautiful, continuous, 630 mile, way marked trail that follows the rugged coastline of the UK's South West peninsular. Originally created to enable customs officers to navigate from coastal villages to remote coves and inlets to deter smugglers, the path weaves from Poole in Dorset to Minehead in Somerset boasting a total vertical gain of 35,031 meters. Each year the UTSW course will move to a different section of the SWCP. This has huge potential to be my 2013 focus.

Spartathlon is a historic 152 mile race that takes place in September in Greece. The Spartathlon revlives the footsteps of Pheidippides, an ancient Athenian long distance runner, who in 490 BC, before the battle of Marathon, was sent to Sparta to seek help in the war between the Greeks and the Persians.
According to the ancient Greek historian Herodotus, Pheidippides arrived in Sparta the day after his departure from Athens. In 1982 five officers of the British Royal Air Force travelled to Greece to ascertain whether it was possible to cover the miles separating the two towns in one and a half days. The team showed that the report by Herodotus was entirely plausible and so the race began.

Ultra Tour du Mont Blanc: I saw this race unfold from the sidelines in 2010 and it quickly eclipsed anything I'd ever run. If all the other famous races claim to be the "toughest", "best", "most spectacular" I think this race has earned it's place as the Mother F*%^$r of ultra-running. You could get a nosebleed just looking up at the peaks. Starting in Chamonix (France) the route is a 105 mile circuit of the alps taking in nearly 10,000 metres of ascent in France, Italy and Switzerland. Huge respect to the those who are the proud owners of the fabulous TNF gilets.

JOGLE: That's the full lenghth of the UK from John O'Groats to Landsend. A mere 860+ miles. organise a trip which cover 55 miles per day for 16 days. The £2000 entry fee might seem a bit steep, but it includes travel, accommodation, food and support.


Dubai Marathon: I was brought up in Dubai (in it's pre-Vegas days) and would like to return some day. Tokyo Marathon: Simply because it a city I've always wanted to visit and the Toronto Marathon: for the same reason. Disney Marathon: because the medal is awesome and it just looks like good fun. Although we're going to Florida next year, so we might have to find a suitable alternative.
Marathon du Medoc, because it combines my two favourite pastimes: Running and wine-drinking

Other bucket dreams

Ironman: This isn't even on my dream list. I WILL do an Ironman one day. I just need to dedicate the time and respect to the event deserves, so I'll wait until my ultra-running legs start going in reverse. The Ironman began as a challenge between a group of Navy Seals and consists of a 2.4 mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2 mile run. I've been working on my swimming for the last two years (with this long-term goal in mind) and I think I've got the running covered. Just the small matter of the 112 miles in a saddle and an open-water (gulp!) swim then.

Ben Nevis Race
is up and down Britain's highest mountain at 4406ft. I've been up the Ben quite a few times and the thought of doing it as a race is quite frightening. Last time I was up there, Sonic popped the question. About 10 minutes before I stepped on ice and covered half the descent on my backside. I think he was hoping to cash in on me early :-)

Great North Run
half marathon. just for sh*ts and giggles. And only in fancy dress. Just because.

That should keep me focused for the next decade or so. Although I'll probably add to the list more than I'll tick off. I'm off to put a few extra lines on this week's lottery.

Tuesday 6 March 2012

Hills, hail, headwind, hunger

And the common denominator: The Husband :-)

Sonic and I had the rare opportunity to run together on Saturday, thanks to Mama C volunteering to take HurriCairn for the day. We decided on a West Highland Way Run (backwards) from Fort William to Bridge of Orchy (36+ miles). Ideally, we would have liked to have gone in the right (northerly) direction, but the logistics were easier to do the reverse.

I suppose with the recent canal training runs, we've been quite spoiled. When you run from your house, even an epic run can be over before lunchtime. On Saturday we left Bearsden at 7am, caught the Citylink bus from Bridge of Orchy and didn't start running from the bus station in Fort William until 10am.

The weather forecast didn't look good. Heavy rain and a strong northerly wind. I don't think it registered how tough that was going to make the run. Running into a headwind for the best part of seven hours, across the most exposed areas and over the three highest peaks, probably wasn't sensible. Although it certainly was character building. Adding a hail storm and some torrential rain into the mix was a nice touch too.

My legs felt good from the off and I even enjoyed the ascent out of Fort William to Lundarva. It's the first time I had run up, and not down. Although my legs were considerably fresher than they usually do on that track, so that's probably why I enjoyed it.

Lairig Mor is much more runable when you're going south, but the headwind was testing my strength. The sun threatened to come out for a bit. But that was it. Just a thought. This was the only time that warranted a picture stop: Sonic above Kinlochleven. Don't worry, he hasn't been gorging on my home cooked (I'm laughing as a type this). The wind was just puffing out his clothes.

Again, the ascent out of Kinlochleven was a first for me. Although, it's relentless (5 miles with 1800 ft), it's really good training. Sonic kept telling me that it was "all about time-on-feet" which was just as well, as I'm pretty sure I was jogging on the spot for quite some time.

Although Sonic was good at keeping at my pace - I'm way to stubborn/lazy/slow to adopt anyone else's - my Mastermind Specialist Subject could now be: Sonic's Back. I know, I know, what did I expect running with someone who I actually nicknamed, Sonic? Shame his skeletal frame doesn't make a very good wind breaker.

Prior to the run, I was worried about my quads. Considering it's the first real WHW hill run (anything south of the lochside doesn't count, as that's just a trail run) I've done since the Devils race in August, I expected my quads to be trashed. I needn't have bothered though, as the wind coming off the peaks, including the Devil's Staircase, keep us honest. Safe to say, there was no danger of us toppling over.

I had a real energy dip on the road up to the Glencoe ski centre. I was craving real food and was all out of tablet and sweets. I sucked up my "emergency gel", which had been festering in a my rucksack for many months and hoped that would keep me going over Rannoch Mor.

Rannoch Mor is not the place to be in bad weather. It was basically hoods up and heads down all the way. I was frozen and emotionally destroyed. At one point I asked Sonic if my eyelids were closing when I was blinking, as I couldn't feel them moving. I kid you not, I thought I'd had a stroke. Apologies to anyone who's had a stroke/know someone who has/may have one in the future. I was just frozen rigid.

Even when we turned 90 degrees down the Drovers Road is was still full-face on. How is that possible? I did try my hardest not to moan. There's nothing worse than a whining runner, so mute was the order of the day. Although when we did speak we had to shout and repeat it about three times.

Over the Orchy hills (yes, the last mile) was the only time we experienced a tail wind, so at least it finished on a more positive note. When we finally made it back to the car and we peeled off soaking wet - exposing ourselves to the passing traffic - it was the first time I've been relieved at not doing the WHWR this year. Although my alternative won't be any more pleasant.

"Where there is no struggle, there is no strength" (Good ol' Oprah)

Three Reasons to Feel Good About Bad Runs - according to Runner's World. Although I'm going to change bad for tough. Someone wise taught me that: "there's no such thing as a bad run. Just bad attitude"

Opportunity for Growth.
We can learn much more from the runs that humble us than the ones that go so well we hardly take notice. Tough runs inspire us to evaluate what went wrong. How many long runs have you had this season after which you sat back and thought about what went right? A brutally hard long run is an opportunity to refine your training process to avoid making any mistakes that might have led you to the tough run last weekend. Many times, when you reflect on all the variables, you can isolate a few things that may have caused a less-than-pleasant long training run. Some possibilities include: lack of sleep, stress, poor nutrition quality or quantity, weather, pacing, training too hard earlier in the week, travel, different terrain, not enough recovery in your training season, slacking on training, illness, and vacation. Evaluate, track, and modify as you go. A training plan is never set in stone and is always a work in progress.

Keeps you from dancing on the tables.
If longs runs were easy, everyone would do it, and the value of the bragging rights you're earning would decline dramatically at the office. Seriously, though, I always say it ain't a training season until you've had a long run that knocks you off your socks and demands your attention. The tough runs keep you focused on your goal and they're a great reminder of the challenge ahead.

Mind over matter. That which does not kill us, makes us stronger (Nietzsche.) When you run a long distance race, you ebb and flow through a lifetime of emotions. The strong training runs prepare you for the highs, but it is the not-so-strong runs that inevitably simulate and prepare you to run through the lows. Running through it builds a solid foundation of mental strength that prepares you to tackle the greatest of challenges come race day. It may not feel like it now, but the run(s) that bring you to your knees are an important piece of the journey to the finish line.