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.
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.
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.
You know the guy, gets a taxi from the front door to the taxi to the shop at the bottom of the road. I always have a ridiculous smug air about just how active I am by comparison.
ME???? oh yeah, I’m just soooooo healthy.
And then I got injured (did I mention I’d completed a 50 mile ultra, most if it on a fooked ankle??? Read the blog HERE)
Not so smug now as I limp from car to sofa! AND, quite suddenly, EVERYONE seems to be running.
Oh yes, Mr taxi (who’s dog is on the sofa in the garden) is out there now, that work colleague who says “running is bad for your knees”, the guy I used to play football with who reckoned running doesn’t get him any fitter, the streets and parks are crammed with people who HAVEN’T got a fooked ankle!!
I’m sure even Charlie was online ordering two tiny pairs of Nike Zooms.
At work today, the neighbour of the house I’m working on trots out with her drinks bottle and sparkly running kicks. “Good morning, just off for a run!”……
12 days without running and it’s starting to niggle at me….. I met a guy at the Dartmoor 3-in-1 who has been side lined since January and really didn’t know when he’d be back. So I’m just grateful that my lay off will be (hopefully) relatively short.
Progress is good with the injured ankle. When I elected to carry on (several times) during the race, I made a deal with myself that I have to accept the consequences potentially being more severe than if I’d have stayed on that rock, quietly sobbing until I was airlifted to an icepack.
But, I decided that if I possibly could I would finish, you never know if and when these opportunities might come along again.
So, days 1 to 6 I didn’t don any footwear other than flip-flops. Then, a loose trainer for short walks with the dog for a few days and after about a week I tentatively drove. Back to work on Monday (9 days in) and, I can’t pretend it hasn’t been uncomfortable and really quite throbbing by the time I’ve driven home. The swelling has pretty much gone and the tender areas are easy to locate with a gentle prod. OW!!
So, these peas have been defrosted a few times this last week!!
I put the bones of a short story together whilst I was immobilised. I spent some time with Frank (my father-in-law), wrote a couple of poems and put some more meat on the bones of the ‘map’ of my book. I read a lot and produced a couple of blog posts.
I often ask people what they would do if they could get paid to do something they loved doing. Not be a millionaire, but get paid an ordinary wage for their favourite hobby.
Truly, a writer I would be.
If you’d like to see my other writings, there’s a few short stories and poems over at my other blog HERE!
I informed Nicky (for new readers, Nicky is my extraordinary, beautiful, inspirational and flippin’ HOT lady wife!), on the morning of the GOWER 50 ULTRA, I had three goals for the event……
One of which I accomplished……
The important one, I guess.
I wouldn’t say that Nicky and I are traditionally ‘male’ and ‘female’ but I do tend to be the driver on these adventures. But, on this occasion, Nicky was determined to protect my aging legs as much as possible. Including travelling to and from Gower and all the incredibly intrepid driving around to meet me at so many points during the run, she amassed over 400 miles during the weekend.
I didn’t work Friday and we headed off to Wales mid afternoon. I don’t think I’ve been this nervous since the day of our first date. I wish I’d thought of that comparison on Friday,….. because that didn’t turn out so badly……
Charlie (for new readers, Charlie is the highly strung Border Terrier) came along for the weekend too. Our bargain Travelodge in Llanelli only charged a mere £20 extra to house the hound (although we had to take his own bed).
We made good time on the journey and arrived for our meal, near the M4 with great reviews and a cracking website, I was confident we’d chosen well……
I’m sure I was imagining it, but the pub went VERY quiet as we took our reserved seats underneath the enormous television showing Wales’ latest football glory. We ate our rather disappointing fare and scarpered, convinced one of the well oiled, rather vocal Friday tea-timers was building up to a ‘what’s your problem?’ moment.
I’ve always been a runner, not a fighter……. Even Charlie never came out from underneath the chair.
The hotel was standard fare, toasty warm. Gasping for air warm. Charlie waking up every 30 minutes to rattle his collar against his bowl while he drank yet more water, warm.
Before we knew it, the 5am alarm was going off…….
Proper nerves were setting in now. And bizarrely emotional.
We’d been to the event HQ on Friday to register, so it was just a case of donning most of the essential kit (the weather was appalling), enjoying a pre-match coffee and lining up with the rest of the 200 or so participants and awaiting the 7.30am kick off.
Based in the St Madoc Centre the facilities were being used as a bunk house and the kitchen facilities providing hearty fare and welcome hot drinks. Charlie fluttered his doe-eyes at one competitor, busy preparing her sandwiches, and was rewarded with a tasty lump of cheese. He’s such a tart…
Nicky made her way into the starting area for a very welcome bonus kiss and to wish me good luck and with little ceremony we were off. I’ve learned such a valuable skill from my wonderful wife, for these endurance tests, start well back in the field thus avoiding getting involved with the pace of those at the front. If people are going that quick because they are THAT QUICK, then trying to run with them will only eat into my energy stores for later. If they themselves are going too fast at the start, I’ll probably be seeing them later anyway.
So, the race. Regular readers will know, this is often where my rambling race write ups become confused. I never seem to have a chronological, nor accurate, memory of a race.
Off the first headland we landed onto the sinking sand and uneven rocks and pebbles of Rhossili Bay. With the rain lashing down and the howling wind, the line of multi coloured waterproofed troopers trudged in silence as the end of the beach seemed to get no nearer.
I was determined to keep telling myself to not let my heart rate rise, but to run whenever I could, and accept walking on the ups. Walking the up from this stretch to the first checkpoint I felt strong and easy, I’ve done a lot of coastal miles this year and really felt that this was my terrain.
Another boost here, Nicky and Charlie were waiting just beyond the checkpoint, loyal supporters in the utterly foul weather. I skipped from there onto the stunning coast path. I managed to collect my first ever orienteering clip (being used to ensure we all took the same route) and felt like I was cruising…….
My foot went down a rabbit hole and my ankle bent right over. SHUT THE BACK DOOR!!! Blimey that hurt. I mean really hurt. I mean REALLY hurt. I took a moment on a rock to decide whether I was actually capable of carrying on. Another runner, who later in the day became one of the three amigos (read on….), Rebecca, stopped and very kindly handed me some painkillers.
A healthy golf ball sized lump had appeared on my ankle and I still had 42 miles to go! Onwards…….
I battled on for the next 4 or 5 miles, trying to focus on the fact that this was my favourite terrain. Some of it very much like the Roseland Peninsula (see my blog from The Rat), other sections reminded me of The Grizzly, even the final few miles of Conisiton Trail Marathon (blogged about here) through the woods. During this section I again ran with Rebecca and the other Amigo, Callum. The three of us were like magnets, as the day unfolded, we were separated but always seemed to end up running together.
During the day I ran with, and briefly chatted to several people, some of whom saw me at rather low points, I’m rubbish at remembering names but it was a pleasure to share the experience with so many wonderful chaps and chappesses.
A very, very old friend, Jo, had been in touch having seen that we were coming to the Gower. She lives almost on the route and had running club mates also competing. As I came out of the woods at Port Eynon, there she was! It was lovely to catch up with someone who I hadn’t had the pleasure of seeing in 14 years! We had known each other in rather darker times in both of our lives, so it was wonderful to meet in these great circumstances.
It was also wonderful, as Nicky and Charlie were also on the beach, to be able to show off my beautiful wife as the 4 of us shared a stroll along the sand and ummed and ahhhed about my ankle.
So three goals for the day….
Firstly, using my mantra which I’ve developed as I’ve really got into my trail running this year….. NO LAZY STEPS…. yes, goal 1 was to not fall over or get injured……
Don’t get lost……….
So as check point 2 took our numbers, the other 2 amigos and a couple of others whom I had been running close to all dived for the toilets, whilst I trudged on ahead. The coast path here briefly goes inland…….
Not so briefly in my case, after about 30 minutes I came up behind the same people whom I had left behind at the checkpoint. So that was goals 1 & 2 out the window……
Just the main goal left…. TO FINISH
Poor Nicky got stuck behind the triathlon which was taking place and didn’t make the next point where we had hoped to meet. After a brief phone call, I reassured her I would stop if I truly felt my ankle was too bad. Whilst I was moving and topping up the painkillers it seemed manageable, so I battled on through the sand dunes and mud reaching checkpoint, where I saw Jo again as she was supporting other runners she knew.
All of the checkpoints were fabulous, so, so encouraging, supportive, helpful and a welcome lift. I was gulping down the Happy Shopper Coke – pure nectar! The event is officially self navigating, and , as I proved, you need to have your wits about you, but it is so well planned and organised, the maps and route book are spot on.
The next section was right up my street, out and out coast path, mud, rocks, steps, beautiful views opening up around every corner. Good progress here.
Now, Charlie, the Border Terrier. When he gets it in his head to play with other dogs, particularly on beaches, he charges around in circles with a rather high pitched yap…… it can be quite embarrassing, although he’s having so much fun.
As I was running through the woods approaching Caswell Bay, I couldn’t see the beach, but I could HEAR Charlie, which meant Nicky was waiting for me there. What a wonderful boost half way through the race, such an amazing lift. And she had coffee!!!
We shared a beautiful moment there and I headed off with a real boost to my energy.
Checkpoint 4 then. More amazing people, warning us of the next stretch… the dreaded roads! Here the route was signed as we cut off the corner of the peninsular and headed north.
This section felt hard work but, I’ve definitely discovered something about myself in this event – I CAN!
Through a very muddy marshy section, which was hard but I really enjoyed it, then joining the actual cycle route all the way to mile 35 at the checkpoint at Dunvant where Nicky and Charlie appeared yet again. With Maltesers. And pain killers. I was tired, naturally,, but felt strong. My ankle felt less tight and I pushed on again. Swapping places with the other 2 amigos several times and running together for much of this long tarmac section.
It’s amazing how, prior to discovering love, my wonderful love, I never ‘loved’ running. I enjoyed it, I enjoyed challenging myself and pushing hard and was forever in search of flat, road events to try and push my pace and beat my times.
The road section between about 37 and 45 miles was just that. Flat, fast tarmac. It wasn’t horrible, as I was just loving the adventure, but after an hour or so, the monotony of it seemed to be darkening my mood and I started to focus on the pain rather than the pleasure…..
Incredibly, Nicky caught up with me another 4 times during this section, and again as we emerged from a rocky road section alongside the marshes of the estuary, informing me that dinner was at 6 so I had better get a move on!
I ran for a while with Mr Motivator, a guy called Sam who was great company. The other 2 amigos had got away by this point but over those muddy fields, marshy paths, rutted woodlands and, finally, sand dunes, we ended up all back together for the run in to the finish.
As we came out of the trails and looked up that final cliff, there was Nicky, silhouetted up on the gloomy horizon, and my heart was just fluttering, I could feel the tears welling up and the three of us hauled our tired bodies up that climb.
Suddenly we were through the gate and heading for the line…..
I’m not normally a ‘sickly’ person, but the ankle has enforced my to have a couple of days off, so I’m sat on the couch, feet up, writing this blog, which I’m acutely aware is faaaaaar too long, grinning like an idiot because I’m just so, so, pleased to have achieved my first 50 miler…………….
Watch this space for what’s next…..
For those who like a stat or too, check out the run HERE
I managed to finish 30th out of 147 in 11h06m (another 62 didn’t make it, I’m gutted for them and so grateful I managed to get to the end).
I can’t thank enough people nearly enough for their part in this journey, the organisers RUN WALK CRAWL, they just GET IT! ALL the other participants, what a great supportive atmosphere. Special mentions for the other 2 amigos, Rebecca and Callum for being alongside in the dark and light moments. Sam, who’s vibrancy towards the end was such good fun. And Jo, such a lovely friend of old, now a lovely friend of new, for being there, not only for me, but for Nicky too.
And, of course, Nicky…… I’m welling up just wondering how I’m going to word this…….. You drive me, Nicky… and this weekend, you literally drove me, and fed me, and cheered me, and willed me, and inspired me (like you always do). You trusted me to make good decisions, you cajoled me, encouraged me, hugged me, kissed me, let Charlie charge across the beaches to greet me. You navigated yourself to every nook and cranny of the Gower Peninsular, you kept my parents informed, which can be a challenge in itself!
You were, Nicky, AWESOME….. My world……
So maybe, just maybe, I DO really believe that ‘people like me’ CAN…..
Oh, and I seem to have written a poem about the run HERE
Nicky and I have completed four 50km events whilst running together, and she has, of course, topped all of that with her South Downs Way 50 miles.
So, with the East Farm Frolic looming and the small matter of Snowdonia Trail Marathon still heavy in my legs, I set off at the crack of dawn….
Knowing I intended to run on some very challenging terrain, and that I hoped to be out for 6 hours, I set out tentatively.
I always feel so lucky that Paignton faces East. These early morning runs are so often blessed with such dramatic lighting and colours, today was no exception.
It’s also great when the tide is out. Running along the
beach, reigning myself in, drinking in the fabulous, flickering, coloured reflections of the
sun and clouds on the wet sand.
Determined to keep to as many trails as possible, I ran the grass next to hard footpaths wherever possible
to protect my aging bones!
Again, I also feel lucky that I simply enjoy the very basic pleasure of running….
I’m not really a ‘group’ runner, but love running with Nicky & Charlie (the border terrier). I’m also quite happy, and motivated to run and train alone.
I was expecting this epic to test the meditative state running can give me to it’s limits.
Before Nicky and I were together I was less adventurous with my running, mainly sticking to roads, and entering events with ‘PB potential’.
But, I was always motivated to train hard and rack up the miles on my own. I did speed train in a group from time to time. It was focussed, eye balls out, intervals and time trials and I could always dig deep for them.
Now, I feel I have taken that rather single minded focus and have added a layer of adventure, a layer of exploration and of finding new challenges in endurance and terrain.
I’ve found, since writing this blog, that I read more and more excellent blogs from other runners. It always astonishes me how much detail people remember.
I know I enjoy waxing lyrical about this life of adventure and running with my wonderful wife, soul mate and fellow adventurer, Nicky, but I can never remember the points of a run in any sort of chronological order.
Hence this blog. I set out to take a photograph at every mile or so, then upload them in order.
The idea being, for those that are interested, the ‘journey’ of this mammoth training run can be charted by way of photograph.
By my Garmin watch I covered 50 kilometres , but the Strava app on my phone gave me 32.5 miles or so. Check out the route here.
There was definitely a ‘Snowdon Shuffle’ feel to this run, particularly in the latter stages, after that brutal coast path from Kingswear to Brixham.
On a couple of the tougher stairs sections, I actually had a word with myself to ‘Man the F*** up’! as my good lady wife would say.
‘Tis tough though, as anyone who has run or walked it will know.
I wonder how many people actually talk out loud to themselves whilst running in deserted, wind and rain swept. It feels bloody lovely.
Until you round the next corner and bump into an intrepid family hiking in the rain! I’m sure they were smiles of pity as they quickly scurried past me!
Well, this year I’ve run (at the time of writing) 1,450 miles, climbing 125,000 ft of elevation at an average of 45 miles a week. I run about 8 hours a week on average.
The event is 12 hours on a loop of about 4 or 5 miles, off road and hilly.
Not as hilly as this though!
Whilst I was battered after 6 hours and 31 miles, I did do 5900ft of climbing, only 6 days after doing 5800ft of climbing in The Snowdonia Trail Marathon, so I am pretty pleased.
Another 6 hours is a bloody long time though!
I think I shall (*stolen from Steve Skedgell) be the tortoise not the hare!
I even practised eating!
I had a mars bar, two packets of honey and oat bars and a bag of mini cheddars.
I also drank my full bladder, 2 litres of zero sports drink.
I’m ignoring the question….
12 hours running round and round a farm in Dorset. How hard can it be.
I’m off again Saturday, maybe a slightly less brutal route and maybe slightly further than last week. hopefully a bit quicker. Although it’s the time on my feet I need, rather than any particular pace.
Anyway, enough of this rambling, time has beaten me this week, so hopefully you’ll enjoy the rest of the pictures from this run.
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Towing a caravan. That looks terrifically complicated. Particularly when going backwards. And there’s no log burner.
Being a day fisherman, making a living putting to sea in a small day boat out of some beautiful yet rugged and exposed Cornish Village. I’ve never harboured ambitions to join them. Yet, having had a delightful medley of locally caught mackerel, bass, cod and lemon sole as my delightful 50th birthday lunch, I am deeply grateful that there are plenty of braver souls than I who HAVE made that career choice. We had this lunch in the most southerly cafe in mainland Britain, on The Lizard, Polpeor Cafe.
Nicky and I were both born on February 10th (ahhhh ❤) and we had stayed in the same cottage as we did two years ago, on the coast path just outside Cadgwith, when we celebrated her 50th.
We felt honoured and blessed that this was also the (first) day of The Arc Of Attrition. The 100 mile ultra marathon started at midday in Coverack and finished for those that made the whole distance in Porthtowan before the midnight cut off the following day. The route follows the stunning yet torturous South West Coast Path along the south, through Lands End and up the North coast.
We timed our birthday lunch so that our walk back to the cottage gave us the chance to cheer each and every one of the runners as they were approaching about 8 miles into their epic journey.
It was humbling to see.
Other things I’m glad to say I’ve never been tempted by? Parachuting, trapeze (or any other circus related skill), far too much bravery and natural balance required, for I am a clumsy soul. I may or may not have had a muddy tumble or two on the trails last week!
Skiing, too, aside from a (very) brief dalliance in the early 90’s on a dry ski slope (a hazy period to be honest), is to be left alone by the gangly one.
The AoA runners need to be well equipped for all of these skills, needing bravery, balance, commitment, determination and grit. They have to roll with the bumps and bruises and expect them I imagine. The wind was pretty wild on the exposed sections, challenging even in the relatively short distances we covered.
On Saturday, we drove to the north coast and parked at Carbis Bay and walked to, and through, St Ives where the (I believe) 75 or so mile checkpoint was situated. The runners were well spread out, in fact the winners were already having a warming cup of tea or better along the coast at Porthtowan. We gave as much encouragement as we could as the runners came through all the Saturday pedestrians, there were some thousand yard stares going on but, such courage. I think I’m right in saying that all but one of the runners who made the cut off in St Ives, also made the finish.
I am humbled by anybody making the start line, never mind the finish line and I have to say Nicky and I had a quiet moment or two contemplating the tracker; there were competitors out there on the extremely remote and exposed 13 mile section approaching St Ives who will have known that once they arrived there, their battle was over, no finishers buckle for them, but hopefully a heart full of pride for their monumental effort.
Each competitor carries a tracking device, primarily a safety device which has a SOS function should the runner become isolated and stranded. This linked to a tracking website which means the organisers and crew, friends and family, and us nosey parkers, could see the position of every competitor throughout the race. Addictive stuff I can tell you.
It was approaching 2pm in St Ives, the cut off time as the weather started to become wetter and windier and colder. Those that had made it that far had another 10 hours to make the finish, heading straight into these conditions. Their exhausted, battered bodies and weathered and stretched spirits must have been begging them to stop.
We chatted to one the many incredible Mudcrew marshalls, a veteran of the event who provided us with even more insight into the event and the fabulously devoted people associated with it.
Just for giving us the absolute pleasure of the feeling of having been so close to something epic, I nod my head wildly to all the runners, crew and support teams.
A mention for Paul Maskell and Steve Wyatt who finished together in a course record of 21 hours 26 minutes. Blimey!
I’m pretty confident I will NEVER learn the didgeridoo (doesn’t that echo in the underpass in Truro), nor for that matter the bagpipes…..
As for the Arc Of Attrition, I mean who would want to travel 10o miles, on foot, on the Cornish Atlantic coast, in February, with maybe 20 hours of darkness in the 36 hours allowed……….