No Pain… No Pain

I’d intended my taper to be a taper, not a drop-off, this week, but a combination of family stuff and sorting the purchase of my lovely red 2008 VW Caddy Maxi van (now on the drive waiting to earn me money), meant that I haven’t ran since Tuesday.

As I haven’t any recent running to comment on, I thought I’d give a brief history of my running up to now: my evolution has been pretty non-standard, which may make it of more interest to some.

I’ve been running ‘casually’, just to stay fit and for fun, since I was a teenager. I developed an interest in hiking and mountaineering at the same time, and doing a bit of running was an ideal way of making sure I was reasonably fit for my trips into the mountains. My running stayed like this for a good 20 years.

In 2006, a couple, Sark (man from London), Echo (Cantonese woman), and their toddler son Miro (named after the Spanish artist), moved in next door. We immediately hit it off, and Sark told me about his running interests, and more specifically his entry in the 2007 Marathon des Sables, the one multi-stage endurance race that many people have heard of. he was just getting into his training for it, with about 10 months to go to the event.

Sark is an unusual runner in that he’s never participated in mainstream races and been in a club, but has extensive experience of endurance events, both running and walking. He was in the territorial Parachute Regiment as a young man, and developed a taste for exhaustion!

I was enthusiastic to join Sark in his training regime, because I liked the idea of ‘upping my game’. We were soon regularly doing 7-8 miles in the summer evenings after work and getting around 12 miles in on a weekend run.

Soon we wanted a big step-up in distance, and so did a series of runs from Swindon to Chippenham Railway Stations, about 25 miles. I commuted from Chippenham to Swindon on the train at the time, so I just took running gear into work and met Sark off the train at the end of the day and we ran home! It’s actually a lovely route, leaving Swindon centre, going through Old Town, up onto The Ridgeway at Barbury Castle, going through Avebury, over Cherhill Down, through Calne and finally back to Chippenham on a disused railway, now a cycle track.

We kept up the running into winter, although we inevitably did fewer miles as the days got short. The first race we did was the Thames Path Ultra 50 (now defunct) in February 2007! You see what I mean now by ‘non-standard’! A friend, Aaron Cowieson, showed concern when I mentioned the race to a group I was having a curry with: he said, “Remember Jason, no pain… no pain.” I ignored his sage advice.

The TPU50 was the second doubling of my previous longest distance, and I took it very cautiously. This type of event usually has checkpoints with food and drink: it’s fairly normal for competitors to take 5 and have a snack or even a small meal. A combination of cautious pacing and 10 minutes or so eating and chatting at each checkpoint (4 or so if I remember rightly) got me to the finish surprisingly easily. I was a little disappointed that I got stitch in the last 2 miles, which forced me to walk for a short time and pushed my finish out past 10 hours: 10:01:01!

I had the achievement of completing my first running race and first ultra in one hit. I came 54th out of 113; a good result for a novice. I was pretty stiff and sore afterwards, but not stupidly so.

I think a lot of runners are overly intimidated by distance, when in fact they can probably run a lot further than they have before with the right approach. A big increase in distance, whatever that is for a particular runner, is as much about pace, nutrition and hydration as it is about fitness. If you can run a half marathon, you can probably run a full one with a suitable adjustment of pace, food and fluids. Doubling that again requires a further slowing, plus way more food and drink: a 5-hour marathon on a few gels and drinks of water is one thing, 10-12 hours requires proper food for most people. Ultras are both very tough and easier than you think! Here endeth the lesson.

Since the TPU50, I have taken part about 60 races, nearly all trail, mostly ‘long’ (half-marathon up to 104 miles) and hilly. It was worth going into the TPU50 in some detail because it is such an unusual starting point and I wanted to make my point about long distance not being such a big deal.

I joined the Chippenham Harriers in 2007 and have found being in a club immensely usful for advice, encourage and camaraderie. Peter Cusick and especially Ian Trussler from the Harriers have really spurred me on over the last few years.

The rest of my races had better be covered in highlights, otherwise this will turn into a novel:

  • The Grizzly.
    Every year from 2007 to 2012, except 2009. A 20 mile trail race, taking in bogs, beaches and hills around Seaton, South Devon. The course is different each year, although many elements are kept year on year. Up til recently the biggest race I’d done, with c1600 entrants. the South West Coast has also provided me with other inspirational races; the Seaview 17 and Exe to Axe.
  • 3 Road Half Marathons – Swindon (Oct 2007 and 2011), Malvern (June 2009) and Hastings (three weeks ago).
    Notable for being the only all road events I have done! As they are relatively flat, they are good for gauging my overall pace. I was about 1 minute slower at Swindon in 2011 than in 2007, I think because I was still getting used to minimal shoes and hadn’t raced much over the summer. Getting a PB at Hastings was a relief, because I knew the training was working!
  • Forest of Dean Trails Half Marathon 2008 and 2010.
    The only other half I have done. 2010 was my previous HM PB at 1:29:46.
  • The Clarendon Marathon 2007, 2009 and 2010.
    The only marathon I have done. Poor as a gauge for London as it’s a fairly hilly, rough trail course! My best time for it is around 3:42.
  • The Ridgeway Challenge 2008, 2009 and 2011.
    My favourite ultra; 85 miles along the whole of the Ridgeway National Trail (bar about 1.5 miles at the end, where the course diverts about the same distance into Avebury, a far better finish than the underwhelming car park at the ‘official’ end). Best time around 20:03
  • Cribyn Fell Race 2010.
    5.5 miles, 3100ft of ascent. Pain! I’ve done several fell races, and this is probably the most extreme. I love running in the mountains. This year’s is the day before London so I thought, “Best not do it.”
  • The Heart of Scotland 100 2010.
    Strictly speaking, not a race, and actually about 104 miles. Probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done, taking me around 33.5 hours. I wore my ‘general’ shoes when fell shoes would have worked far better: they slipped around on my feet too much on the rough, peaty, wet middle section and gave me serious deep blisters on the balls of my feet. Sometimes a 100 is as hard as it sounds.
  • The west Highland Way Race 2010.
    95 miles, a mere 3 weeks after the Heart of Scotland, and it couldn’t have been a bigger contrast. Wearing the same shoes, which this time suited the dry, firm track, and with the new skin on my feet well protected, I ran it completely unscathed! I romped into the Leisure Centre in Fort William after around 24:42 with a huge grin on my face.

This potted history shows that I may be a seasoned runner, but London will actually be a huge departure for me: about 10 times the field of anything I’ve ever done before (3600 ran the Hastings Half) and on flat tarmac. Going the distance will be easy for me, but someone with my background needs to work hard to get a good turn of speed, which I hope is what I have done!


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