Dukeries 40 2017

I  remembered the Dukeries race from last year, it had been my first race, my first ultra, and my first disappointment. I had done everything wrong; over trained for several months, under prepared, started with an injury and finished with a worse injury, which  stopped me from running for weeks afterwards. Despite this, I did enjoy the 2016 event; beautiful course, friendly runners, excellent organisation by RD Ronnie Staton, and superb helpers and marshalls. I was to blame for the mess I made of my actual run.

But this year was very different. I was fit and rested rather than exhausted, well prepared and injury free. The Dukeries course is beautiful, based largely on a thirty mile loop that includes Sherwood Forest, Welbeck Estate and Clumber Park. From last autumn, I trained on the loop most weeks ( it forms a good part of the Robin Hood 100 course), and so I was very familiar with it. This was a real help, knowing where the harder stretches are, the exact location of Aid Stations and the likely effects of any wind or wild weather.

 

At the start area, there was a great atmosphere, as canicross runners and their dogs chatted and barked at each other, whilst other runners took advantage of the last few minutes to make adjustments and changes. Up the narrow lane we went, most runners in conversation, friends and helpers cheering and clapping. A friendly, relaxed start to a very enjoyable day.

The ground was nicely dry, so no mud or puddles or swamps to negotiate. My new road shoes (Karrimor, £20) had seen a few miles of road and trail, and looked as though they may survive this run and perhaps one or two more. In contrast, my Salomon XA Pro 3D Trail shoes (a lot more than £20), had recently expired after just a few short weeks of  training in the forest. Uppers on both shoes torn and falling apart.  Milletts customer services people were excellent, more than I can say about the shoes. I am still searching for affordable shoes that actually work and last more than three or four weeks. I’m not impressed by the pseudo techno babble descriptions of the shoes’ design and theoretical performance potential, will they actually do the job and last more than a handful of runs?

We were soon safely across the main road and into the forest. I did not know the course last year, and I remembered this first mile or two in the trees seeming to be slightly up hill and going on and on forever. This year I felt fine, keeping up with other runners without much effort, rather than sliding backwards in a breathless heap. This was my happy story for the first few miles. Aid Station 1 was reached at six miles, and we received a welcome fit for heroes. I have read many blogs where the writer regretted spending too much time at aid stations, so I was cheerful, grateful and polite, but took a drink and a nibble and got back to the job quickly. Merely knowing which way to exit the station made a difference, it affects how much control you seem to have over your race, how much confidence you dare have.

I was delighted to see the Major Oak (mile 10), having missed it last year, blinded as I was in a fog of pain. I remember the sorry looking, battered old tree from my childhood in the sixties. We would climb on and into the tree as we roamed the unspoilt forest, free of signs telling people what they cannot do, and where they cannot go. There were no constructed paths, hardly any fences, just worn grass and soil tracks that you needed to know in order to find your way.

Many visitors stayed quite close to the ice cream van and the AA box at Ollerton Corner, the place where my Dad was based in the early sixties, during his time as an AA patrol man.  There was a miniature railway there, which would run on the occasional Sunday summer afternoon, to the delight of its passengers young and old.

Sixty years or more before those times, the late 1800s /early 1900s, my paternal Grandma was skipping through the forest with her brothers and sisters  each day on their two mile journey to school in Edwinstowe. Her father was a woodsman, and they lived deep in the forest. When I run the trails in the late evenings, I sometimes catch a glimpse through the mist of them playing and running amongst the trees, on their way home from school. I hear their chatter amidst the sounds of the forest, and feel the warmth of their contentment with their long gone world.

After the ten mile loop through Sherwood, we return  to the first Aid Station for quick drinks and a second dip into the biccies at mile sixteen, and a bonus “Well done” sticker (this was wonderful), then head towards Welbeck and Cresswell Crags. There are two or three miles of minor roads before the Crags and Aid Station 3, where I always run on the rough grass of the roadside. It is strewn with car debris, litter and rabbit holes. I find it hard work, but my idea is along the lines of “train hard,race easy”. After dozens of runs along the bumpy roadside, the smooth road felt very easy, and what was always a difficult section of the course was suddenly a delight. Spirits uplifted, I tackled the rise after High Holbeck (“rise” demoted from”hill” after my experiences in the Dales), without too much difficulty, and dropped down into the Crags and Aid Station 3 (23 miles). Another wonderful welcome, and then on towards Clumber.

The three mile stretch before Clumber is, I think, the fastest on the entire course. Largely on beautifully cushioned ground, the trail is straight and flat, and sheltered by the trees. My fastest and second fastest miles were recorded along this section on Saturday. But this is where I made a mistake. I felt good, was going well, and so I continued my push to the finish from here. But there were still  thirteen miles to go, and inevitably, I eventually began to fade.

The final Aid Station was at 34 miles, another wonderful reception, and just six miles left, but I was struggling. I was trying to concentrate on good form, steady, continuous, consistent pace. I kept going, but it was difficult. I met up with Greg with two or three miles to go. We were both tired, and helped each other by chatting and encouraging, and we crossed the line together, both happy.

 Happy to see the finish line.

My pre-race plan was to run steadily for thirty to thirty five miles, and then to use what energy I had left to cover the last few miles as quickly as possible. I did not want to go steady all the way, it would have been pointless entering the race. But equally, with a hundred mile race on the horizon, I did need to finish this forty mile run with some confidence. I went home quite happy, but slightly frustrated that I had increased speed too early, after being well controlled for so many miles before this point. Lesson learned, hopefully.

The day after the race, I received the results by email. Last year, (2016) my time was 8:44:01 (78th place, 92 starters). This year, I managed 6:49:08 (30th place, 111 starters).

 

Frozen Molehills, Dales Recces and “Training Like a Champion.”

A new year brings new hope, optimism and energy. I did not make any resolutions for 2017, I was happy with how my running was progressing, and not really looking for any big changes. I had trained consistently through the first part of the winter, especially enjoying some of the lovely winter views in Clumber Park and Sherwood Forest.

Clumber Park Bridge

I love the wildlife that abounds in these places, squirrels by the score, foxes, birds hopping about in the trees and the bushes, everyone busy with feeding. One morning I came almost nose to nose with a beautiful little deer. I was running along a forest track, when I had reason to stop for a moment. I looked to my left, and realised I had almost bumped in to the pretty little creature. Just off the track, the deer stood still, rigid, staring at me. It did not appear to be frightened. I think like me, it was shocked, frozen by this intimate encounter. I could almost touch it. We stared at each other for a few moments, and then I continued with my run, not wanting to confuse the lovely creature any more than I already had done.

I was running regularly in the forest, and beginning to learn some basic trail running skills; when to jump over obstacles and when to steer around them, which surfaces are likely to be slippery and when to slow down and when to continue the current pace.

On a cold morning, I learned one lesson the hard way. Running down from Hardwick Village towards the lovely ford across the River Poulter, there were half a dozen molehills amongst the frozen grass. The frozen grass; there is the clue, which I ignored. I knew the air temperature was below zero, there was a thick frost covering the ground, and my car thermometer had been registering minus two degrees just a few minutes earlier. I admired the winter scene as I ran, and although I was aware of them, I ignored the molehills as I took in the beauty of the morning sun beaming through the scattered clouds. And then I was flying through the chilled air.

As I picked myself up from the frozen grass, I checked the damage to my arms and legs, and was satisfied that I was able to continue. The molehills were, of course frozen, solid. I may as well have run into a collection of  heavy rocks, which moved not an inch when my size tens came crashing into them. I noted my mistake, but this was a theme that was to haunt me for months to come.

I did not enter any early season races, learning my lesson from last year. I trained regularly, using the pattern; two road runs of seven miles each, a longer forest run of 20 or 30 miles, one day rest, and then repeat. This plan was getting me fitter, and I was staying sound, free of injury. I varied this with a four day visit to my Dad’s every three or four weeks, where I ran nine miles alongside the Lancaster Canal, and eight miles along Morecambe prom to Heysham and back, on alternate days. With occasional short runs with Wendy, I was enjoying  a sensible diet of running and some relaxation.

Before the lighter nights came, I was able to take part in a few night runs with the Lincolnshire Wolds Head Torchers. I organised an informal night run in Clumber Park, which was attended by a lovely group of people from Kimberworth, Sleaford, Scunthorpe and other Lincolnshire towns and villages. When planning the route for this run, I fell several times, sometimes getting caught up with twigs and fallen branches, but more often tripping on exposed roots and protruding stones and boulders.  I escaped serious injury, but I knew I had to learn not to fall. Vertical is much more comfortable than horizontal when running, especially on hard ground.

My plan for the 2107 season was modest in terms of the number of races I planned to compete, I would run the Dukeries 40 in May, and the Robin Hood 100 in September, both races based in the forest, and organised by Ronnie Staton. That was the plan.

Somewhere, some time in the spring, I came across a race that caught my attention, The Pennine Barrier 50, planned for June. I was drawn to this partly by the offer of a reconnaissance run (“recce”), where organiser Wayne Drinkwater would lead runners around the main part of the course, the three peaks of Pen- y- ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough. In terms of finding my way, this would be better than any map.
                           Pen- y -ghent, with Horton in Ribblesdale in the foreground.

The recce could not be missed, I had driven through the Dales countless times, and cycled toured the area on a number of occasions. But I knew that on foot across the hills, I would see sights not seen from the road.

The recce day was sublime; a lovely group of people, amazing scenery and incredible weather. It was that good, really.  We ran steadily most of the day, with a couple of stops for food and rest. Wayne is an amazing runner yet a modest gent, and ensured everyone kept up, gently encouraging without patronising.

What a lovely group of people!

The three climbs were outrageous, especially Ingleborough, where I was frightened to look down, in case I ended up down, if you see what I mean. I did end up horizontal a couple of times, but without real injury. I must learn to pick up my feet when running off road.

Up close and personal on Ingleborough

Being a beautiful day, the best of the year so far, the track was busy with families, groups, couples and individuals, all enjoying the outdoors in their own way.

 

                                                         Post Pen-y-ghent Picnic

So out of the blue, I needed to practise ascents, instead of using them as convenient feeding/resting sessions. My loops around Sherwood and Clumber would never be the same again; I had suddenly discovered the two “big hills”, just before and a mile or two after Cresswell Crags were not actually hills at all.  They did not require scrambling techniques, careful pacing and a complete absence of anything like vertigo to climb them. The weather was not colder and windier at the top, and you could not see the sea. They were small undulations, nothing more. At least that’s what I told myself on my next visit to the forest. But until I lose another stone in weight, I won’t be totally convinced.

                                                                 Cresswell Crags

The one event that transformed my running this year, was Ronnie’s “Train Like a Champion” course, focussing on injury prevention (did I need this!), but also spending some time on running technique, or as runners call it, form. How to run.

It turned out all my “common sense” ideas about running efficiency were just about as wrong as they could be. Ronnie was often telling us to do the exact opposite to what I had been doing. Ronnie coaches individuals, and tours the country with his one day course, it is modestly priced, but highly valuable to someone like me; overly enthusiastic and under experienced. My running changed, literally overnight. Months later, I am still practising the techniques Ronnie taught us, they are not yet a natural part of my running, and I have to concentrate to incorporate as many as possible as I run. But I quickly saw the benefits; faster pace, better endurance and no more running injuries. As of now, (May 2017) I am  enjoying my longest ever period of injury – free running. Thanks Ronnie.

 

Feeling Grim. Injury, DNS and then Hope!

What Happened to my running and the blog? The last post of the Lincsrunner blog (Post 12), was published in May 2016. It is now May 2017, what happened to the rest of 2016, and the first half of 2017?

Well sad to say, 2016 was largely disillusion,  some measure of depression, and the dreadful feeling of banging your head against a brick wall; you’re glad when it stops. So I did.  I didn’t stop running, I just stopped writing about  my experiences. Doing so would have made things worse for me. I did not want to re-live the horrid frustration I was feeling at that time. Now, in May 2017, I can look back with the safety and detachment that only time can afford us. When I think of the mistakes I made, I cringe. My motives were fine, but my methods were at best mistaken, at worst suicidal in terms of becoming a runner.  For much of 2016, I was trapped in a cycle of repeated injury and illness, most of it self-inflicted. Over- training on a sometimes ludicrous scale, and suffering the inevitable consequences of injury, chronic fatigue and poor form.

I had trained quite hard through the winter of 2015, hoping for a rewarding first season of running in 2016. I knew what I wanted to do; ultra runs, anything of a distance or nature that would in itself be a challenge for me. Like most runners, I wanted to push myself, to see what I could do. I entered many races, probably too many, but I was enthusiastic, and very naive. In the early spring of 2016, the first couple of races came and went with me sitting at home – DNS. I was either nursing a running injury or a cold, or a bad chest. Then in May, along came a good local race, the Dukeries 40, which I was determined to start. Two weeks out, and all was well. I was sound, my chest was clear, and I was looking forward to my first proper race.  Five days before the big day, my right calf muscle tied itself in knots, due to over training, and I could barely walk. But I was determined to start the Dukeries race, and I did. My first ultra.

I almost managed to run at the start of the race, I may even have fooled the casual observer, but it would have been fairly clear to any runner that there was a problem. Six miles in, Aid Station 1, and my calf was worse than ever. Stupidly, I chose to hobble around the remaining 34 miles, thinking I was being brave and gutsy. I finished the race, but it was not my finest hour. No surprise that the calf muscle then took weeks to heal. No training, just eating rubbish and putting weight back on, losing whatever form I had, and feeling sorry for myself and angry at myself, in equal measures.

Then came the summer, and I was running again. My relentlessly optimistic mind worked out that if I could run 40 miles when injured, I should be able to run double that distance when sound. So I found myself entered for the Grim Reaper 70 mile, held at the end of July.  I completed the run, in reasonable condition. But against the odds. Once again a calf injury had emerged just a few days before the race. I was away from home, and phoned Wendy to ask her to order some compression socks on next day delivery. A runner in the Dukeries 40 had recommended them to me, and I remembered her advice. The socks were amazing, and I finished the 70 without injury. I could hardly move any part of my weary body, but I wasn’t injured. I did curse the socks when I was trying to remove them from my legs, before sliding into my tent for a short sleep after the race. I could not bend, and I could not climb on to my sleeping bag with my muddy, wet clothes. I wrestled with the socks for a good twenty minutes, almost crying with frustration.  Finally, they came off, and I had an hour of rest before having to pack the tent and gear for the drive home.

The Grim Reaper is a good event for a novice ultra runner, with distances of 40, 70 or 100 miles. It’s held on a ten mile circuit in the beautiful grounds of Grimsthorpe Castle, Lincolnshire, so very little/no traffic and relative safety through the middle of the night for lone runners.

So of course, putting my runner’s brain into gear … if I can run 70miles, I should be able to run 100 miles. Simples. With this in mind, I spent a September night at the 86 mile Aid Station of Ronnie Staton’s Robin Hood 100, to learn from the runners and of course to help them. Maggie and Andrew manned the station, and were wonderfully friendly towards me and all the runners. I learned a lot from Maggie, an experienced hand at helping in single day and multiple day ultras. I told her of my plan to run the 100, and her advice to me was to repeatedly run the whole route in sections, to get to know the course thoroughly, and to become familiar with it, both by day and by night. The last point was very relevant; many runners were troubled by light “bounce back” from the night-time and early dawn mist rising off the canal, making it difficult to see the surface of the tow  path. I looked into this later, and read that one solution is to use a hand torch to get below the mist, and illuminate the path.

Barely a week after the Robin Hood 100, following Maggie’s advice and encouragement, I began cycling around the course, map in hand,  to learn the whole route. I worry about going off course in a race, my map reading is poor, and my memory is not much better. As a youngster, I had enjoyed my time as a boy scout, and of course I learned the art of map reading. But maps in those days showed the world to be flat, and I’m still worried about dropping off the edge, or inadvertently wandering into the area labelled “Here be dragons.” I still remember the one or two bike races where I went off course, and the acute pain of failure that stays with you, even forty years later. What might have been? I don’t know, because I failed to follow the correct route. The investment of time and energy in tatters, scattered  across the countryside, as I tried in vain to rescue something from the day.  After learning the 100 route, I began running different sections, and continue today, running at least one 20 or 30 mile section most weeks.

A little later, in the autumn of 2016, I had my second run in the Spires and Steeples Challenge, this time running the full course from Lincoln to Sleaford, via some lovely Lincolnshire lanes. This is around 26 miles, but where last year’s 13 miles from Metheringham to Sleaford was an enjoyable jaunt in the sunshine, this year was cold, windy and wet, and was marred by field after field of the most sticky mud I have ever experienced. Many enjoyed it, but I didn’t.

Not loving it!       

A run should be mostly runnable. This was barely walkable for much of the way. The organisation was impeccable, the support from volunteers and villagers was wonderful. The mud was bad. This year, 2017, I will watch the weather leading up to the event before entering.

I began 2016 with hope and optimism, and I ended the year with similar feelings. I had a plan, and I had set about ensuring that in 2017, it would come to fruition.