Sunday, September 25, 2011


  Well  having just spent the past week 'taking it easy' to see how I would feel, I can honestly say it seems to have worked; so much so that at the last minute I took the plunge and signed up to run the 'Illuminati' night run in the hills above Theoule. I figured that although it was pitch black, I knew the area very well and armed with  a new head torch, should be okay. It was only 20k's, including a couple of big climbs and nothing for an Ultra runnner such as  myself !!!..... Would my renewed confidence get a shock or could it actually be fun?
      About 150 of us stood on the beach, headlights beaming on a warm starry night.....  I decided that whatever happens I would stay in this positive frame of mind........and seconds later we were off. The first slight suprise was how fast everyone was going, (I thought, calm down, this is well within your capabilities just go with the flow).....and so I did. I am now fairly used to being one of the oldest kids on the block so I just positioned myself in the middle of the pack and chugged along. Unlike most people here I knew virtually every rock, hill and bush on the course and I hoped this might be to my advantage in the dark. All these positive waves, could I fail? ( I started sounding like Oddball, in Kelly's Heroes!).
       The first 3k's were easy along the beach and then a sharp, very steep climb up into the hills and total darkness......Wow! My first thought was; 'Good job I bought new batteries.....don't fancy a blackout here'.Then I had my second thought; I always run with special gloves in case I fall and in the darkness I was pretty much guaranteed to have a few tumbles.... BUT..........I wasn't wearing any!!!! This was the very first time I have ever forgotten my gloves......Unbelievable..... I decided to stay positive and just get on with it.
       Its weird in the darkness as you get very zoned in on your tight surroundings, hearing every breath and footfall you make, its not spooky, its just you and your little beam of light.

 In the distance, as you climb all you can see are these little lights bobbing along against the blackness of the mountains in front and behind you; its quite surreal. I was feeling good and on quite a few of the hills as I climbed, I kept a steady cadence and passed a few people.... the only problem was that on the way down they would pass me back. The French just bomb down these really steep inclines leaping over rocks and tree roots. I thought I'm not having this, Ive just passed you lot, so when the track evened out a bit I ran quite fast to keep ahead so that they couldn't catch me up. Its all a bit pointless because its yourself you are actually racing against but it makes it interesting and more fun. The best bits about running in the dark are 1. Its a lot cooler and 2. you can't see  how steep the hills are - because you can't see anything - so you don't get too disheartened during a big climb.
  At the halfway point I felt great and was even enjoying looking out at the dark shapes of the mountains and when we got to the top I could see in the distance the lights of the towns strung along the Medditeranean coast .......Fab.
      The elite and lots of the faster runners were already miles away so I stayed with my little group and just decided to enjoy the experience.
      Its strange, after running 60k, this 20k run was a breeze; even though it was tricky and you really had to concentrate on where you put your feet; I heard later that one guy did get injured and they had to take him to hospital.....(glad I didn't know that till the end), this would not be a good place to have an accident if you were on your own.
     I never once checked my watch because I thought I was doing okay and didn't want to break my confidence. There are some real tricky bits on the last descent and I slipped and fell quite a few times. Its really steep, uneven and dark but once back on the flat I jogged along easily. I could see five lights ahead and began closing in on them, I could tell they were tired by there stride pattern, so I just hung back and waited till all the hills were gone and we were back on the beach. There were 2 k's to go and I eased passed a few of them until there was only one guy left that I could see.
     I remmembered reading Lance Armstrong's psychogical ploys when passing people and I thought, why not? (This was of course before we knew that he was using other non acceptable ploys). Just as I went to overtake, I sprinted and kept that up for about 2/3 minutes, he was so taken aback that he just let me go. It worked  and settling back into my rhythm I finally crossed the line in 2 hrs - 30 mins, averaging exactly 8k's per hour, which on trails and in the dark I was pretty pleased with. My unnoficial position was 104th out of 140 runners! This time I didn't cry as you can see from Sue's picture.......infact it was nearly fun.
     Afterwards they served a rather tasty vegetable pasta on the incredibly civilised. All in all it was rather a good night.


Monday, September 19, 2011


          Firstly, thanks to all for their advice and suggestions as regards the post analysis of my Ultra. Most comment by E-mail, Facebook or Twitter as I believe you need a Maths PhD to work out how to comment in the Blog Comments box! The advice ranged from push harder to listen to your body and take it easy as well as many practical tips. Helen suggested that my virus only cleared up about 3 days before the race and usually it takes about 7 days to be totally out of your system, Serpa mentioned that a survivor mechanism can kick in to protect the body when its extending to much and this can work as a kind of reserve ie. it holds something back just in case.......then of course age was listed..... .but only by the old people!..........
                Anyway,  after much consultation I believe my endocrine system could be the problem and in particular the adrenal glands and the resulting hormones that they secrete. A general feeling of tiredness, lethargy and insomnia are some of the many symptoms of  an abused endocrine system and thats exactly what I felt half way through the race (as well as before) and its what predominates now........ My response of course is quite typical, go out and train more, which is what I did this week, thereby leading me nicely into the next problem; the pain in my foot.......yes, foot, it seems as if I have damaged the Metatarsal head. This can be caused by all sorts of things, none really make any sense because a podiatrist has checked my pronation etc and reworked the insoles and put in extra cushioning, but after about one hours running it starts hurting again no matter what shoe or padding I use. Its really annoying because the cure is the standard fare;- ice, massage, ibropropen, time, different shoes, rest, crosstrain, etc.etc and so, predictably, one hour into a 2 hour hill run and the pain was excruciating again. I stopped and pulled the insoles out completely which relieved it a bit so that I was able to get back home but its a worrying development as I have never had any problems like this before. Still, putting it all together  it would appear that the answer to this injury and the endocrine system is the same........REST. My body is basically stressed and as you may or may not know our bodies do not know the difference between work, emotional or physical just recognises stress and takes the appropriate action. There is a fine line between training to peak performance and over training and somewhere along the line I must have crossed over it.
            However after training hard for many months to suddenly stop and ease up feels weird both psychologically and physically but I guess I'll just have to adjust and take it easy even though I feel basically 'okay' when running. The other issue is just a general one of feeling a bit down, which is not unusual after the 'high' of achieving a goal but this feeling is then further compounded by the withdrawal of my usual exercise routine. I don't 'do' negative so I need to plan my way back to mental and physical health. Also I really wanted to do my first night race this weekend but now I'm not so sure, as it will only be 3 weeks since my ultra and generally speaking it can take 4 weeks to recover fully. If I factor in my age as well I guess I should pace myself a bit more. There are a myriad of horror stories about guys who went out on a race 3/4 weeks after an ultra and felt fine but then lost it completely shortly afterwards and took months to recover. Its all new to me and everyone is different but the recovery aspect of endurance running is just as important as all the other parts and is therefore just another step in the learning experience.
         Of course if I did do the night run it could be fun, stuck up there in the hills, unable to move apart from hopping around on one leg in the pitch dark!!! .......All I would need then is a parrot, a stick, a few earrings and the odd tattoo and it would be Johnny Depp eat your heart out.....(actually Sue would probably quite like that)....
          Then again perhaps I should just ease back on the ibropropen I think its making me delirious.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


      It is over one week since I completed my quest to run an Ultra, on Saturday last week I had just gone through the halfway point and was feeling pretty exhausted. It is still a blur because of the relentless nature of the event.......but.... I have this niggling suspicion that my performance was below par and therefore in the future could be improved dramatically. The only question is how?.........and here I have a problem.
      I am 56 years old and in only 5 months went from a basic one hour, three times a week runner, to 60k's in 9hrs 15 mins in one go.This is is fairly unusual and so it becomes slightly difficult to find any advice on the best way to move forward. Everything I looked at involved runners much younger than me and all the advice and technical detail was again aimed at people in their mid 30's. So I did my best under the circumstances and achieved my goal however I come back to the same problem, other than personal tried and tested research how can I find ways to improve.........Where's the manual?
      I guess I have to go outside the box.......maybe at my age, as someone suggested, you are the manual. Maybe but in reality I don't believe that. Sure I can contribute my analysis but I suspect there's many others with much better advice to offer. So what IS the problem?
      Simply put I was shattered at the 30k mark. There are several possible reasons for this;
 1. Went off to fast.......No, I didn't.
 2. Didn't do enough long runs/speed/strength training..........Possibly but not all three.
 3. It was only 6 weeks since your mountain marathon and my endocrine system had not fully recovered......... Possibly but difficult to measure and I lead a pretty healthy lifestyle anyway.
 4. Overtrained.........Unlikely at 60k per week.
 5. Age.......Maybe but don't like to admit it.
  6. Hydration/salt balance........Unlikey. ( I was very well prepared)
          So it could, in part, be some of these or something else..........I am basically in the dark on this. If I want to do longer runs or do the same better I have got to feel good for much longer than 30 k. In the mountain event I ran all the way to the finish at 40 k and felt tired but okay and could have gone on further; Why did I feel better for longer in this one? Everyone running an Ultra will eventually feel terrible, even the elite runners admit to this therefore its a question of discovering how to extend the 'feeling good' stage for as long as possible before the misery arrives.......and they call this a sport!!
       This week I have been very chilled with a bit of cycling, a few easy 5k runs and a couple of fast paced one hour walks with the accent on rest and recovery being the main goal. I feel great but must admit to being slightly more tired than usual. My goal now is to ramp up my training again and see how I my body reacts. I still have this lingering pain in my foot and will monitor this as I go.
         I really do feel a bit non plussed by it all, which again is very common in Ultra running after a long event, its a sense of anti-climax.....a sort of what to do next? Its still very hot here and after many months of running in the heat it gets quite exhausting so hopefully I will be fine when things cool down a bit. A new challenge and  another goal is probably the answer, a chance to improve on the 60k, either in distance or speed.
          In two weeks time there is a 20k night run in the local hills and mountains called the 'Trail des Illuminati', (I know, very Da Vinci code). Although the distance and elevation gain is fairly easy, running on rough terrain by torchlight will be a new experience. I'm not really sure how it effects speed other than it being obviously slower. Again I will work up to this and see if my recovery is okay before jumping in.........atleast it will be different.......I mean last time I ran in the dark I didn't even have a torch!
        I leave you with a quote which I read last week by ultra runner,Nick Marshall :-
               'Ultra marathons reveal our strength by reducing us to a state of weakness and seeing what happens........You'd be suprised.'............. 

Sunday, September 4, 2011


      My alarm went off at 5:45 AM in the beautiful 'gite' (farmhouse), where Sue and I were staying in Burgundy, (Wine country.....but not today). I calmly prepared all my stuff and ate immiediately so that I had fully digested my breakfast before the race. Carefully I taped and lubricated my feet and shoulders (the straps) and donned my gear. When Sue awoke she burst out laughing at this guy who looked like he was off to war...........I was.
       Arriving at the race start everyone was strangely quiet. Only 17 runners had showed up. There were more officials than participants and yes you guessed it, I was by far the eldest.... and the only Brit.....they must have presumed I was some kind of foreign nutter...........
          At 8:00 am we all trudged off into the morning mist. When you are running this far the worst thing you can do is think about the distance and time it will take, unfortunately thats all I could think about. The tracks were very uneven and I had to concentrate or you could easily twist your foot and speaking of feet, the sharp pain I was worried about before the race arrived almost immiediately. I thought 'well I can't stop here I've only gone 2 miles,  I'll just keep going'.
        I arrived at the 10 k water checkpoint in one hour exactly, which was pretty fast for a trail run so this gave me confidence for the next 50k...........BIG MISTAKE. If I succeeded  today I would gain one point for entry into the UTMB 160k next year..... and they don't give these things away; The next 10k took one hour and 40 minutes and was just a series of relentless climbs. This race is also the equivalent of 6 Empire State buildings in height gain and it just doesn't stop.
        At least I was running in the woods most of the time and although stunningly beautiful at first, they became mind numbingly monotonous after many hours. At about 25 k Sue met up with me on a road crossing with a muffin, soup and extra supplies. I was nearly in tears for two reasons, firstly at how hard it had already been and secondly at the thought of what was to come. Sue was very supportive....'You can do it .......we've come all this just get on with it'.............and off I went feeling very sorry for myself.......pathetic isn't it? At the various stops they  provided us with 'endurance food'.........this consisted of some nuts, dates, water, a bit of cake and a few slices of spicy sausage, now I don't want to appear ungrateful but they have got to be kidding! That would keep my son Alexander and his friend Rory going for about 10 minutes. This is the exact reason why you have to carry your own stuff......mind you after 5 or 6 hours that all tastes like crap too. After one of these stops I felt physically sick and in fact one guy threw up in front of me........which was nice.
       I got to the half way point in 3 hrs and 40 minutes and again this raised my spirits.....what I didn't know was that I had nearly another 6 hours to go! It was probably for the best because the next few hours were relentless misery. The exhaustive effects are cumulative and its like a war of attrition as more pain and fatigue builds on itself. If this all sounds a bit depressing then I apologise but this was my first endurance run, on a course I didn't know and this was definitely not fun. The trees and paths seemed to merge into one long never ending tunnel. On the very steep hills, you either shuffle up, power march or Euro hump.....(Don't get too excited:- Euro humping consist of pushing off your thighs with your hands and bent forward  in a strange bobbing motion....... Apparently American runners find it a bit odd because your body position is all wrong but it works so who cares). By now the pain in my foot had been overtaken by so many other pains that it all merged into a sort of endless melange of suffering.
       Of course you start to ask yourself 'Why am I doing this?'....these are the doubts that creep into your mind telling you to quit.....'its impossible'.... 'give up'.......'what's the point ?' Fortunately, or unfortunately, my response to these doubts is always the same...'Pain is temporary, quiting is forever.'
I have read and studied this sport so much that I knew this negativity would creep in.......they warn you about it and that's why they say Endurance running is '90% mental and the other 10% is mental'. The problem is when you are 'IN' this zone you are so exhausted you either look for a way out......or you get angry at your pathetic behaviour..... I get angry, beat myself up and keep going.
      I have used the word relentless a few times in this blog because that's what best describes the nature of the event, its painfully monotonous. However at 45 kilometres I began running quite fast on a downhill section and something unusual happened... I had an excruciating pain in my foot followed by a pssh!! It sounded like a can of coke being opened,in fact it was a huge blister bursting from my toe. I don't get blisters so this was a unique experience......what should I do?......What could I do? Nothing... So I just kept going as both feet now felt like some kind of painful government experiment into the effects of Bio -weaponry.
      I think the most debilitating part of the day was that everytime I thought I was near to the next water stop, I would discover that it was another 5k away. I really didn't know I was going to make it until I could see the finish which was at the top of yet another hill.  9 hours and 15 minutes had passed since I had left the start that morning. As usual, just after I crossed the line I burst into tears, out of 17 people I was 10th. I had won the top veteran prize. (This was, of course, because I was the only veteran!) I felt numb. It is very difficult to describe how hard this is and impossible to describe why people do it. At the end of the day its a sense of accomplishment in doing something so few people do or perhaps would want to do.
       I hope this blog that I began 5 months ago doesn't put you off this sport. Its called Ultra Endurance running because it teaches you to 'endure'. The definition of Endure, is to suffer or tolerate something panful or difficult, patiently. This run was the test or examination of all my training and at times sacrifice; it was never going to be easy but then most things worth achieving in life seldom are. I would like to thank everyone for their support  and Sue and Alexander for there unshakeable belief that I would do it.
          There are huge benefits to be gained in health and physical wellbeing as well as a wonderful connection to nature when you are out on your own somewhere. The people in the sport have a unique bond and sense of camaraderie, I guess because we all know what everyone is going through. As a sidenote and not wishing to tempt fate, my back and knee that had given me pain for years never hurts at all. I am 50 LBS lighter than I was 3 or 4 years ago and feel great. There are many people who believe that running, at any age, is our natural state and that our bodies respond to this when we tap back into into our primeval state. It is modern thinking and the couch potatoe syndrome that says 'You mustn't do that its bad for you'.........It isn't, trust me, sure I accept that I have pushed it further than the norm but oddly the moment you reach the next level then that too becomes the norm. It is only 24 hours since I finished the race and I don't even feel tired (Pain is temporary).
           Today when we got home and I was unpacking my car. a neighbour asked if I'd had a nice weekend and what had I been doing. 'Well' I said,  'a 60k run in Burgundy.'...........'You ran 60 kilometres?'.......'Yes'.............'But thats like one and a half marathons!'............'Yes and it was also 7,500 feet in elevation gain'................'But thats ridiculous'...........
 'Yes'..I said....... 'I run ooltra's'.

Thursday, September 1, 2011


...Yes folks,  my ultimate test is one day away.   The race starts at 8:00AM on Saturday is 60 Kilometres and 7,300 feet (2300 metres) of elevation gain and is quite simply the biggest physical challenge I have ever undertaken. It is a fully fledged Ultra Endurance run and I am scared to death. I remember my friend Bobby once asked me ...'Why are you doing this?' answer was...'Just to be able to say I run Ultras'.... he said 'thats an awful lot of pain and sacrifice just to say that'...... he has a point and explained that in France they would probably say; ...'I run ooltraas'.....
        In my last blog I was not feeling very well and since then 'the pain in the balls of my foot' has slowly got worse.....still, as Bobby also pointed out... 'it could be worse, it could be the other way round!'.. Ha,ha, good point.
      So with one thing and another, incuding various visits to the  Podiatrist, its been an up and down week of preparation, not ideal but here we are.....D Day minus one. I have long pondered this moment over the past few months and I am a bag of nerves and really just want to get on with it. It will be hard and, at times, miserable but my goal is to make it and run through all the crap as best I can. Bobby also suggested why not do it....AND have a smile on your face at the same time.....I will try. I must say I quite like the idea of enjoying it but the truth is I just don't know, its uncharted waters and a total mystery. This quest began 5 months ago and I have run, in training, well over 1,200 kilometres since then. I've been up mountains and run in storms and searing heat at all hours of the day.......and night, all to get to this point. The one thing I don't want to do is  DNF...this is the term used in endurance running when you don't make it, ie: 'Did Not Finish'. If I don't make it this will be the title of my next blog. My intention is to have a very different title..... you'll know it when you see it.
       Sue, the world's best support crew, has all the stuff ready for the 30k half way point, gels, fruit bars, isotonic drinks, peanut butter muffins, bananas, miso soup, etc......(.actually I might just stop there, have my lunch and call it a day!) My last race was 6 hours and 32 minutes, this will be much longer. I have no idea how I am going to run for longer than this but I will have too. I read that a fellow endurance runner, Mike Peterson, saw the following printed on an  ultra runners T- shirt.....'My sport is your sport's punishment!'.....This is the kind of perverse mentality endurance running engenders......I love it.
       The drive up to the Burgundy wine region today is about 5 hours, this particular area  of France is called 'Little Switzerland'....I like that because hopefully it means the mountains  and  hills are....'Little'. Its very beautiful, the weather is forecast to be extremely hot with possible thunderstorms.....Great!! At present I am full of indecision and worry about what type of clothes to wear, drinks, bags, food, will it be cold or hot, do I tape my feet or not, did I train enough, what if the searing pain in my foot returns, blah, blah, blah. I know it sounds boring but when you are out on the trail with no aid station around, these small things take on enourmous importance .... .....especially when you get it wrong or forget something. These things fly around your head all night and its quite hard to sleep. I have read so much and put a lot of hours of training in.......and all this to suffer for the time it takes most people to do a full days work. Maybe I am nuts.
 Although there are many different events here this weekend, 15k's, 25k's, a 42 k marathon, relay races, a marche nordique? (no, me neither); my race, the 60k 'Haut de Clunysois' is the main event....and yet strangely it has the least amount of entrants. Of the 450 people running in total in all disciplines only 20 are so far registered for  my event..........Why are you not suprised??.....hopefully more will turn up by Saturday.
          Anyway....'This is it' and so, as one of the crew of Apollo 13 said on approaching the dark side of the moon,...'Catch you on the flip side'.