The Cousin Jack Ultra

The Alarm Is Set For When?

Nicky was right to double check. 3.30am really isn’t early morning, is it? More late night.

Tucked in our rented barn near Hayle, we listened to the rain batter the roof lights. The farm’s wind turbine was getting plenty of encouragement from the brewing storm to provide fuel with. “WHOOSH. WHOOSH.” it rhythmically insisted. The accompanying, constant whine from its motor completed the orchestra.

We did sleep eventually. But 3.30am comes around so quickly.

Shower, muesli and strong coffee and I was ready for battle.

It Takes Two (or three)

My inspiration, my world, my whole reason. That’s Nicky. Regular readers will know that my beautiful, amazing wife truly is the heart and soul of everything I do.

Nicky was ready for battle too. She has left the marathons and ultra marathons alone this year in order to concentrate on her ironman ambitions.

So instead of competing, Nicky was ready for scrambling under electric fences, abandoning the car in random locations and appearing at some of the most remote and inhospitable vantage points on the Tin Coast.

Our intrepid Border Terrier, Charlie, by her side.

And They’re Off

Bys Vyken Events‘ Cousin Jack Ultra (35 miles) set off from The Surf House on The Island, St Ives at 5.30am. A trail of head torches and tail lights snaking across Porthmeor Beach under a cloudless sky. (I know it was a trail of lights as I was right at the back so I could see all of my fellow runners!)

17.5 miles away, Cape Cornwall, in all its raw, bleak, midwinter glory, awaited us.

Our mission was to conquer this most inaccessible, isolated, desolate chunk of the South West Coast Path.

And then turn around. And conquer it all again.

Let There Be Light

A flicker of my head torch, as dawn approached, suggested an equipment failure was imminent. Fellow runner, Martin, magically produced a small hand torch, like pulling a rabbit out of a hat. I was able to return it to him as both the sun and my own torch both came alive.

The weather was remarkably kind to us. Sunshine was short lived and the wind was keen but the threatened storm delayed its arrival to this remarkable place until the event was pretty much over.

Cut Off

Most events, particularly in trail running, and even more particularly in ultra marathon races, have time limits within which us competitors must reach certain points on the course. Primarily for the safety of runners and crew alike, they go a long way to ensuring we prepare as best we can before tackling these challenges.

The first cut off point in The Cousin Jack Ultra was at 9 miles and we had 3 hours in which to get there. Whilst this may seem generous, the terrain can change your day rather quickly.

I was pleased to be over 30 minutes in front of that target by then, but certainly not complacent.

How Hard Can It Be?

Very.

The first (and later on, last) section, between St Ives and Zenner is about 7 miles long and probably the most challenging on the course.

Lots of rocks, awkward paths made of boulders (even a boulder beach!), mud, special knee deep cow mud, electric fences, ups, downs and an increasingly enthusiastic headwind (not to mention the first 90 minutes in darkness) all contribute to the challenge.

Yeah, it’s tough. But maaaan-alive, it’s gorgeous.

How Tough? How Gorgeous?

The entire route is trail running heaven. As I mumbled into one of the video moments I recorded during the day, “Until I do a race that’s tougher and more beautiful than this, then THIS is the toughest, most beautiful race I’ve ever done.”

Cornwall. It gets under your skin.

It was an absolute privilege to be running here.

Lest We Forget

I raised a water bottle as I passed Levant mine. 100 years ago a catastrophic man-engine failure at the tin mine here resulted in the deaths of 31 local men. Countless others were injured.

This is poignantly remembered in the engraving on the wonderful medals awarded to finishers of this incredible event.

It was an emotional day. I found myself welling up every time I saw Nicky and Charlie (7 times, you need to come here to see just what an achievement that was!)

The land has a magic to it, as I passed these almost mythical places; Zennor, Pendeen, Gurnard’s Head, Cape Cornwall, I could feel the history.

This coast has become synonymous with epic trail running, certainly in the small world I operate in, and to be here, becoming a tiny part of that history, felt so special.

Dot To Dot

As a self confessed dot watching addict (many events fit participants with trackers in order to see their location on an online map), following the trackers of runners at these types of events, it was great to actually be one of the ‘dots’ this time around.

Suck It Up Princess

Flu (and I mean actual flu, not the ‘manflu’) had wiped out two weeks of running (and anything else) and I only passed my self-imposed fitness test two days before the race. I certainly wasn’t oozing confidence at the start line. Prior to the flu, I had prepared well, so I was hoping this fitness was still in me.

Turning back at Cape Cornwall and looking back at the first few headlands to be negotiated again, I took a deep breath…… I noticed the organisers’ sign: “Suck It Up Princess, You’re Only Halfway”

I was feeling a bit weak, my thighs already objecting to the relentless ups and downs, but I was loving every step. Every single step of the way.

I sucked in that bracing Atlantic wind (thankfully now at my back), zipped up my man suit and set off for St Ives.

She’s Got My Back

Nicky and Charlie met me again as I left Cape Cornwall, at Pendeen Watch, then in a random location far from anywhere, before scrambling to Gurnard’s Head, Zenner and finally at the finish.

I may have been exhausted but my wonderful lady wife and cheeky chappie Charlie deserve so much credit for what I achieved.

Crossing the finish line, I couldn’t wait to hold Nicky and tell her just how incredible she had been and how much we shared that proud moment.

Did Someone Say ‘Steps’?

After following my footsteps back to St Ives, perhaps not quite as quickly as on the way out, I did try and save a little energy for the last half mile.

I knew what was coming. A leg burning trudge across Porthmeor beach followed by the climb up The Island’s steps to The Surf House.

Cruel. But fitting.

Such a perfect, iconic location to finish this tremendous day.

Bys Vyken Events Put On Quite A Show

A small, homely feel to race HQ and all the pre-event information gave way to an epic feel to the actual race. All race communication was brutally honest, tongue-in-cheek and absolutely comprehensive.

The Race Director, David, and his fantastic crew managed what looked like a logistic headache (there were three race distances on offer, the 35 mile Ultra Marathon , The 17.5 mile Classic Jack and a Little Jack 7 mile) and the whole event started as planned and felt as well managed as any ‘bigger’ event I’ve done.

There were enough course markings, but not too many. Well placed and thought out aid stations were manned by exceptionally knowledgeable and supportive crew. Similarly the marshal points were enough but not overkill.

I felt trusted to have prepared properly and to give the course the respect it so dramatically commands. But, I also felt protected and at no point did I feel I was facing the challenge alone.

And It’s Goodbye From Him

I only fell over once! I only (briefly) went the wrong way once. I was still running (using the term loosely) across the beach after 35 miles before hauling my sagging legs and beaming smile up those final steps.

Beating the time limit by just over 2 hours too. I’m rather proud of myself I hope you don’t mind me saying.

What Will I Take From The Cousin Jack Ultra?

A stunning medal, a handshake from the welcoming Race Director, a hot pasty and a heart full of memories.

But nothing will top the moment of cresting yet another rocky headland somewhere on the way back to see Nicky and Charlie awaiting me. In the middle of nowhere. Car abandoned, they’d crawled under an electric fence and made their way through the wilderness to the coast path.

My heart and soul fluttered.

From that moment on, I KNEW I would finish.

Inspired By Prog

Why my writing and running careers are more Grendel than Blitkreig Bop.

“Listen to me, just hear me out. If I could have your attention.” Fish whispered at the start of the nearly 9 minutes of Vigil In The Wilderness Of Mirrors.

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Epic.

Led Zeppelin’s Kahmir, Pink Floyd’s Welcome To The Machine, Rush’s Subdivisions….. They all start minimal, teasing, suggesting, gently finding a path. Showing hope and promise before building, rising, becoming powerful. A lost art in the mainstream but still an art to behold.

Not that I’ve anything against a quick fire American Idiot or Wreckin’ Bar. They just don’t represent the road my writing and running are taking.

As the years have gone on, I’ve nibbled away at being a writer. This blog, in fact, and the wonderful feedback I get from it, has pushed me forward so much. And being lucky enough to have the support of someone who says “Why not?” instead of “Why?”!

My running, started with a desire to be fit, then to run a half marathon.

Here I am 12 years later, feeling like I’ve ALWAYS been a runner. Bit by bit, mile by mile, my endurance has grown.

How did it start?

Running: A desire to be a non-smoker – a few out of breath strides.

Writing: Home made comics, football and music reviews.

Mile Number 1 of a set of mile markers 0 through 10Part of the Milepost Sign Series:

Where are you now?

Running: I’ve ran 43 marathons (or longer), I run 50+ miles a week. I do some coaching and help run a group.

Writing: I’m officially a paid writer, my novel is well under way, THIS blog, managing 2 other blogs, just agreed a campaign with a lady attempting JOGLE.

How long has this taken?

Running: 12 years so far

Writing: Since I first held a pen. Nearly 50 years.

Where are you going?

Running: This year I have a 100km, a 100mile and a 24 hour event.

Writing: My goal is to gradually reduce my ‘day job’ hours until I am full time. I’d like my first draft of the novel finished this year.

The finest lyricist of a generation and inspiration for most of my tattoos!

Miles Better

I ran a mile the day after giving up smoking (14th January 2007). It took me about 20 minutes. It wasn’t pretty but it was everything I had.

I’d been lucky enough to be a teenager in a sport mad house during the 1980s. I witnessed (on a colour telly no less) the great races between Steve Cram, Steve Ovett and everybody’s favourite posh boy, Sebastian Coe. All three still feature in the all time 25 fastest times by men over the distance.

They wouldn’t get away with those shorts these days……

It inspired me. But not right away…….. 20 years of fags, booze and a shocking lifestyle later, I was setting my 20 minute mile.

When I joined forces with Lewis Keywood to help him with his wonderful run group Keywood Running (see THIS blog post to read all about us), we brain stormed some ideas to inspire the group.

I’m fascinated by the mile as distance to run. We tend to talk about our runs in miles (rather than kilometers) – miles ran and minutes per mile. The process of running a single mile, particularly if you attempt it as fast as possible, is a challenge of both speed and endurance for the body. The mile requires a steely grit to convince yourself to keep going.

“It’s a long way to sprint!” quipped one of our runners the other night.

He’s not wrong.

Post run smiles in the rain

Since 1970 it has been the only IAAF world record officially recognised over an imperial distance. Whilst it hasn’t featured in the Olympics, there many highly prestigious runs and races over the distance.

The Oslo Dream Mile, The Fifth Avenue Mile and the Westminster Mile all spring to mind.

There’s even The Christmas Day Mile – my beautiful lady wife and I head to the sea front for a flat out timed mile early on the big day before gearing up for an eating marathon.

Everybody paying captive attention to pre race instructions!

Whether you’re chasing Mo Farah, or chasing my famous 20 minutes, it is a magical distance.

Well there’s a new magical event to add to that list.

The Keywood Preston Runners Mile Challenge.

In our New Years’ brainstorming session, we came up with this:

Time our runners over a measured mile. Once they’d recovered, ask them to predict what time they’ll run in 6 months time. Simples

We set the date. We printed some numbers. We did social media (oh yes, we are SO down with the kids). We ignored the rain. We set them on their way. We, er, ‘encouraged’ a couple of cars to “WAIT!”.

Even those unable to run weren’t discouraged by the weather

We timed all the runners.

My own inspiration comes from my amazing, determined and quite beautiful lady wife, Nicky. Having ridden a 6 hour hilly ride the previous day she was quite happy to don her bobble hat and record the results. Don’t worry though, she’s a steely girl and plans to time a mile another time.

In the misty drizzle, a race briefing from this dodgy pair

With ‘the boss’, Lewis (Keywood – hence the group’s name) charging around encouraging the runners and several injured and ailing members turning up to shout support, there was a fun, excited atmosphere on the night.

It seemed that everyone who ran gave their all and were keen to predict faster times for the summer. A seemingly simple idea which has captured the imagination.

Lewis and I completed our miles straight afterwards. We love a challenge too. I hope the runners were encouraged by their coaches sinking to the floor at the finish line.

Keywood Preston Runners – an eclectic, eccentric and bloody marvellous group of humans

Coach Kevin – everything spent!

Baggy Trousers

You’re new to running races. You’re stood on the start line at your debut event. You nervously look around at the whipper snappers in their team vests and sparkly running shoes and start to question why you’re there.

Everyone has 4 safety pins, and a determination to finish. Everyone Belongs.

You have what we writers call ‘imposter syndrome’

You’re wrong.

If you run, you ARE A RUNNER

(I know the CAPITALS are shouty, but I wanted to SHOUT IT)

The second in my “Yup, that happened to me too” series of running blogs, here’s a summary of MY first race.

After battling through being a newcomer to running (see last week’s blog), I took the plunge and entered my first 10k race.

I chose a low key village race, in another county, hoping that I’d be completely anonymous.

That part of my day was a success. Nobody knew me there.

Actually my goal for the day was to finish all 10 kilometres. Also a success.

And I learned so, so much from the mistakes I made on that first race and I hope I’ve never stopped learning since.

It poured down during that March morning. I wore baggy cotton jogging bottoms, I must have doubled in weight as the race went on.

AND finished holding my trousers up.

So, looking back, did I belong? Hell Yeah!

Sporting chaffing which brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it now, bleeding nipples, blisters and black toe nails, I was utterly spent as I crawled across the finish line.

The event was a fund raiser for the primary school where the race was based.

In lashing rain, a child shouted “You did it!” and waited for me to bow my head before hanging a medal around my neck.

“Thank You” I whispered through a lump in throat.

It’s a WHAT run?

For any new runners reading this, please be assured that we’ve all asked this question.

Back at the start of my own wonderful running journey I didn’t have the confidence I might mistakenly display these days.

Having started to help out at the wonderful Keywood Runners (see this blog), I am now having the pleasure of helping runners who are at the beginning of their own journeys.

Find a special place to run

Well, when I first started I wasn’t in the rather wonderful place I am now in life (see pretty much any other blog post to see how I embarrass my beautiful, amazing, inspirational lady wife, Nicky, by telling the whole wide world just how I feel about her!) and I didn’t really know anybody that ran.

I just put some old trainers on and went running. It wasn’t pretty. Some say it still isn’t. One well respected local running coach once described me as ‘running like a drunk man herding cats’!

I used to go out late at night. In dark clothes. Puffing and panting around the streets. Several times in those first few weeks I was asked if I was alright by concerned late night dog walkers. 25 years of smoking took some time to cough up!

But it started to come together, a mile of non-stop running, then half an hour, 3 miles….. and so it went on. I was starting to enjoy running. If you’re reading this and aren’t sure, trust me, it gets easier. (And please get in touch with Keywood Runners for advice and group hugs)

Find a happy group to help motivate you

It was then that I asked the question “It’s a WHAT run!?” after reading my first generic training program in a running magazine. You know the sort of thing Monday – rest Tuesday – 5 miles steady Wednesday 3 miles recovery run 

I could not for the life of me imagine a world where the words ‘recovery’ and ‘run’ could be used in the same sentence. I was quite into running by then and even had my eyes on a 10k race (which is another story!). But every single run felt like I was at my maximum. I couldn’t picture there being any other type of run.

And then there’s ‘easy’ runs. EASY!! Were these people pulling my doo dah?

Here I am 12 years later (pretty much to the day) and I can honestly assure all you new runners it IS possible to enjoy running!

I wish they’d been Keywood Runners when I started, I might have learned a bit quicker that varying pace and distance would help me develop into a stronger runner.

Be sure to use top quality, well fitting kit

5 TIPS FOR A NEW RUNNER

  1. Find A Fun And Friendly Group – there are lots of lovely groups and clubs as well as our own gang at Keywood Runners
  2. Take Regular Walk Breaks – Don’t run until you are gasping, even if this means running for 20 seconds and then walking for a minute. Before you know it those 20 seconds will become 30, 40, a minute….
  3. Don’t Try And Run Every Day – As your muscles, joints, ligaments and tendons get used to the new form of exercise, give them time to heal between runs. They WILL get stronger but avoid over straining, any injury would be demoralising.
  4. Wear some well fitting, comfortable kit and running shoes – most running shops will do a running gait analysis. Poorly fitting kit could result in unfortunate chaffing. I learnt this the hard way.
  5. PARKRUN- Find your local Parkrun, a free weekly timed 5km run/walk. Not a race just a run with a smile on your face. A great way to build up your running without the potentially intimidating atmosphere of a race.
Running – not to be taken too seriously

As for those ‘recovery’ and ‘easy’ runs? We’ll talk about them next time……

To Obama: With Love, Joy, Hate and Despair

book review

to obama: with love, joy, hate and despair

by Jeanne Marie Laskas

Remember when politics was motivated by hope and empathy? I challenge anyone, even the most hardened Republicans, to not feel a pang of loss when reading this fabulous book.

Obama received 10,000 letters a day. Having earned the reputation for corresponding personally wherever possible whilst on the campaign trail, Americans wanted to write to Barack Obama. They wanted him to know their story. They felt he would want to know. They were right.

Obama assembled a dedicated and committed team to sift this volume down to the 10 he would take home to read every single day. This team of staff and interns would settle on the 10 as the letters were categorised and sampled through the hierarchy of the mail office.

Laskas’ book contains many, many of these letters, reproduced in the form in which they arrived, and also the replies they received from Obama himself. My tired eyes took a while on some of the smaller print but it is well worth the effort.

The 10lads (letters of the day), as they became known were intended to give a flavour, a refelection of the mood of America. Ranging from simple thank you notes to heart rending pleas from desperate veterans, victims of the economic crisis that marked the early Obama years, migrants and so minorities.

I finished this book as the current incumbent is shouting at anyone daring to question his increasingly worrying moves to bypass democracy. On folding the beautiful, simple, hardback cover closed, I was too emotional to speak. The passage describing the mood in the mail room team (“team little people” as they referred to themselves) after election night 2016 is numbing and humbling.

To Obama isn’t just about the letters though. There are chapters devoted to a selection of those who received replies. A window into America through the eyes and words of the people that live there.

And then there’s the staff, the interns, people that grew up with the Obama years. The tales of having to walk away from letters, letters pinned to walls (including the President’s), letters being walked around and around the building.

An operation which deals with pushing 4 million pieces of correspondence a year is delicately crafted into a tale of people through the guile and sensitivity of Laskas.

Wonderful

As Barack Obama put it himself:

“It was a way for me to, every day, remember that what I was doing was not about me, it wasn’t about the Washington calculus … It was about the people who were out there living their lives, who were either looking for some help or angry about how I was screwing something up.”

I received this book as a gift from my wonderful wife – go and buy it for someone you love too x

5 Reasons To Use A Newbie Content Writer

1. They’re Excited

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Be excited with them, together you will create the energy your brand needs. Infectious enthusiasm will come across in your message.

2. They’ll Listen

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Desperate to impress you, you can take your time to express your vision. There will be no complacency and no talking over you.

3. Howdy Partner

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As a new kid on the block, your writer will buy into your campaign. They’ll be keen to buddy up so that both of you can grow and grow.

4. They’re WRITERS

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Whether fresh from college or finding a new direction, your content writer will be a WRITER, and writers are itching to narrate your brand’s tale.

5. They Are Cheap

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Let’s not dress this up in romance. We’re in business. They want your business and you want excited, attentive writers to partner you in pitching your web content to a wide and welcoming audience. A bit of bartering should secure all of this at a price to suit you both.

Give me a try.

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