Friday, October 4, 2019

Cheltenham Half Marathon - September 2019

Whenever I race I over think it. I am constantly doing calculations in my head, “at this pace it will take me this long to finish” and “I am this far from the finish which means I need to run an x minute mile to hit my goal.” I know I should just relax and be in the moment but I rarely if ever am. This is a total opposite to when I just run for my own fitness, recreation and training. I like to make sure I am not dawdling but just work within the time constraints I have. If I have an hour or two I fill it. If running was split into two parts, training and racing I am much more about the training and the process of that than I am the racing. I don’t race often and probably for that very reason.

So to the Cheltenham Half.

I started over thinking it when I saw the weather forecast. It was forecast to be wet and windy. Not just wet, thunder and lightning. I fretted and stressed deciding that while it might be wet the temperature would be ok so I was going for a t-shirt, a gilet and cap. That made sense and was sorted. I reconciled that if the rain eased then I could probably pack the gilet into my flip belt. Inside the race village I bumped into someone I knew who said that the weather had changed and there was some blue sky there now.

Panic. No sense of perspective whatsoever. I didn’t even check for myself, and there was time. I just retrieved my bag from the bag drop and put my gilet and cap away.

It actually turned out to be the right decision but cost some mental energy before we had even started.

The race was due to start at 9am. The crowd made their way out there ahead of this to warm up, do any final prep and find the right starting chute. I joined the 1:30-1:45 start. I was hoping for sub 1:30 but wasn’t really confident enough to join that group or to put it out there formally. After a slight delay due to a car being on the course the race started and we were off.

There was quite a crowd for the first part and I settled in behind the 1:30 pacers. My initial thinking being that if I could hang with them for a few miles I could then push on if I felt able. Being ahead of them would guarantee a sub 1:30.

This plan lasted about 500 metres. It actually, weirdly, felt very slow. I guess that was a combination of adrenaline and that the start is downhill. A quick rethink and the plan changed to being; if I get ahead of the 1:30 group I can push on - if they then catch me I know what I need to do to get to sub 1:30. Off I went and put down a 6:38 for mile 1. I maintained this tempo and had a pretty comfortable and uneventful race really. I went through 10km in around 38:30 and that was when I started with the sums again. I was trying to calculate a finish time and how much I could afford to slow down. More mental energy.

The crowds through the town, particularly Montpellier, Leckhampton and  the Suffolks were great. I had a lot of shout-outs as I had found myself running alone. I was behind a group of around 50 or so that were leading and the rest of the field were behind me. The strong start I was having being not quite enough to get me to the front but quick enough to keep me from the masses. It was great to see friendly faces out there and particularly those from the Bath Road Beers run club massive!

This was the first race I have done as part of a run club and it was really good fun doing so. It was good to head to the course with the group and then meet with others once there. At the finish there were volunteers from the club handing out medals, water and even a hug!

Back to the race; it was around mile 10 that I started to struggle a bit, the course loops up and down and crosses the roads around Pittville Park. This was quite demoralising as the racecourse represented the finish and yet it was out of reach with yet another loop. It would get worse.

I hit the racecourse and really ran out of power. Mile 10 had been 7:07, mile 11 was 6:58 then 12 and 13 were 7:02 and 7:04 respectively. While they are good mile times in context they are a drop off from where I was at the start. I had paced totally wrong and was running out of juice. To make it even worse as I hit the race course with some 2+ miles to go I heard the announcer call out the winner! Brilliant!

The section around the racecourse was pretty grim. Some short muddy intersections to exposed tarmac service roads where the wind just blew into your face whichever way you were facing. It was only 2 miles on this section and I was again doing maths to calculate what I’d need to do. In the end I was glad it was over and felt like I trickled over the line. I did get a shout out from the announcer as I did though which was cool.

My finish time was texted to me pretty much instantly; 01:27:53. Good but 38 seconds outside my PB set at Tewkesbury around 10 years ago. Closer inspection of the Strava file revealed that my half marathon time was actually 01:27:01 with the race coming in at 13.23miles and not the regulation 13.1. 

It is around 10 years since I last ran a half, my finishing time then was 1:27:15. Whilst I was really happy with the time I know I can do better if I can do it smarter. There is also that feeling of dread that comes with a race like this. Running hard for 13.1 miles is, well, hard. I run a lot, most days in fact, yet rarely get close to sub 7 minute-miling. That I averaged 6:38 is, to me at least, quite something. I have generally been able to turn a pace when needed and this is not through specific training just through strength of running. The fact that I run a lot and have some strength from that means I can turn a pace – it’s just not something I do very often. I also have for the past few years not done any events where I needed to run fast. Ultra’s being about getting it done, for me, and not racing.

A lack of experience told for me in this race. I didn’t really understand what my race pace could and would be so just ran. Knowing what I know now I would start at around 6:40/45 pace for the first 3-3.5 miles or so and then look to up the pace finishing stronger. On that basis I think I could take a minute off that time as while I was spent at the end of this I was strong for the majority of it. Better pacing would have helped that.

I also need to relax a bit (a lot); I run all the time so not sure why I find races so stressful. Maybe because I don’t race often I always feel like I have to do something. When I say something I mean against the context of my own performances. I am still chasing PB’s and want to do well. I have an uneasy relationship with being competitive. I don’t consider myself competitive but I clearly am. I hope that this doesn’t manifest against people I know and run with because ultimately what I want is only to do the best I can. What goes on around me is almost irrelevant I am only racing myself in these circumstances.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Do you use an insulin pump? Then check your prescriptions...

Not that long ago you would have probably had an MP3 player of some sort, a phone, a GPS for the car (one of those that you fixed to the windscreen), a camera, books of paper maps and maybe something like a palm pilot that worked when you were in WiFi.

Now you, probably, just have a phone that does it all. All your eggs (insert plant based alternative for this metaphor to work) are in one basket.

I found myself in this position on Friday evening.

My OmniPod needed changing something I did very efficiently (it takes me so little time to do this now). Within a minute of completing the POD change the PDM displayed an error screen advising me that the POD was not working and should be removed. I removed it as instructed but then found the PDM screen to be frozen. None of the buttons worked and it wasn’t going into auto-shut off as it normally would. I called the technical support line and spoke to a chap that helped me through the reset function. After a few attempts where the reset was not working the decision was taken to supply me a new PDM. In view of the weekend this would be provided to me by Tuesday.

The tech support guy asked me if I had backup kit that I could use to which I confidently answered yes.

I was only partially right! I have insulin pens that I carry all the time just in case. However what I had not realised was that the Levemir I use was out of date by 6 months, something I only realised after I had injected it, it didn’t do anything bad to me, in fact I don’t think it did anything at all as when I woke in the morning my sugars were at 17mmol – unheard of for me even when I was struggling with overnight sugars. The NovoRapid by comparison was in date but by a matter of days. This was now Friday night close to 10pm – how would I get prescriptions updated in time?

I called NHS 111 and felt like a total fraud as this was not an emergency or something medical this was a lack of preparedness on my part.

I explained the situation and was advised that a Levemir prescription would be available for me at a specific pharmacy for the morning and that I should contact them first thing. The Pharmacy opened at 8:30 and I was at the door when they did. They had no record of my prescription at all and suggested that it might have gone to my normal pharmacy that I use for this. They opened at 9am. I waited int ha car and called them as soon as they opened. They had nothing either. I went back to the 111 service and they promised to chase it up within an hour and get back to me.

An hour passed and I called them, they had no record of my call so we went through the process again. This did yield a result with the out of hours doctor calling me and saying that a prescription would be at the original pharmacy within the hour. I went back to them on the hour and there was nothing that had come through. They were now close to their closing time so issued me an emergency prescription using a paper based facility that they had. I had my Levemir that was in date!

The other issue was that I use my PDM to test my blood sugars too. With this not working I needed to find a spare meter. I had one with a nearly full barrel of test strips. Over the weekend I was fine on insulin pens and using my Accu-Chek Aviva Expert. However I then realised that I did not have any spare test strips.

All of which takes me back to the first point. Technology is great when it’s working but with increasing reliance and seeming reliability comes complacency. I have used an OmniPod for a couple of years and bar the occasional pod failure have not had any issues. The PDM failing is more serious than that. Not only is it my insulin delivery method it’s my blood testing method too. Without doubt the two most important technological dependencies that I have. 

My health and well being depends on it.

The lesson has been well and truly learned. I have now got (or have on order) prescriptions for insulin pens for Levemir and NovoRapid, I will check the expiry dates of these and add them to my diary so I know when they expire and do not get caught out again. Similarly I will have a couple boxes of test strips for my backup monitor and if they have an expiry I will do the same. It took a lot of chasing around and calling on resources that are over stretched to try and sort this on a Saturday morning, something that was wholly avoidable had I been prepared.

The issue isn’t that the PDM malfunctioned or that NHS 111 couldn’t get a prescription through its that I never thought about it. I thought I was prepared with spares for what I needed but as I have not really needed them I wasn’t.

If you are an insulin pump user you need to do this (assuming like me you haven’t already);
  1. Check your backup kit – do you have pens/needles/test strips and insulin
  2. Check the expiry date on the insulin and either order replacements (making sure to throw away the old stuff) or add the dates to your calendar/diary so you don’t miss it
  3. Make sure you have back up test strips and that your meter works (and that you have batteries for it) 
Technology is remarkable these days, things do not often just fail. This leads to complacency which is exactly where I found myself. In a jam because of that. Hopefully, if you’ve made it this far into the post, you can avoid this!

Massive shout out and thanks to the people at MyOmniPod support, Spa Pharmacy and NHS 111.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Winchcombe Cross Marathon - 5th May 2019

 Advertised as a marathon with +2,500ft of elevation.

Well, the distance is right (although I got lost and did an extra couple of miles) but the elevation is way off. Closer to +3,400ft! The Winchcombe Cross is a set of race distances all run in the same day on similar courses. A half marathon, marathon, 37 mile ultra and 50miler. 

I was doing the marathon having made the decision earlier this year to not do ultras for this year at least. 

Registration opened at 7:30 with a start time of 8:30. I was up early and stressing about the day so headed over earlier to catch the Ultra start and see Rob who was doing the 37miler. 

Training for this event has been good from an overall mileage perspective (around 600 so far in 2019, but distinctly lacking long runs. I’d done a 15 and a 20 miler prior to the event and have been averaging maybe 38 miles a week. 

There was a race briefing at 8:20 before we started at 8:30. 

The route starts with an easy section down to Winchcombe high street, across the road down a hill then onto the trails. Leg 1 was an out and back to Temple Guiting, I was surprised at the amount of tarmac but the views were stunning. 

The weather was perfect really, slightly cool with some cloud but dry and little/no wind. 

The field strung out as runners settled into their own pace. I had a plan to run 9min miles for as long as I could figuring I could get to 20 miles at that pace and then just finish the last 10km by any means. 

I had a thought that I could do something between 4hrs and 4.5hrs. Come the end I was slower than that but happy enough with my day. 

Heading into Temple Guiting I somehow missed the arrows marking the course and ran past the turn for the checkpoint. By some distance too, maybe by 3/4 of a mile. Realising my mistake i turned around ran back but knew that any chance of hitting my targets just got harder. 

I was doubly disappointed though as at the point I went wrong I was in 2nd place. I only knew this as I had crossed on the route with Rob who told me. By the time I righted myself on course I was way back, it was only 7 miles in and so there were plenty of runners piling in behind me. I don’t know if there was a bit of distraction in hearing I was in 2nd and believing my own unfounded hype. I was trying to just keep my pace steady and stick to targets because it was early in the race and genuinely as much as I would love to do well in a race I don’t ever have expectations of doing so.

To compound the issue, I then went wrong leaving Temple Guiting! Just not paying attention and thinking too much about how to make up lost ground rather than focusing on the moment I was in. Another turn round when I realised and more emotional drain. The physical impact would happen a little later in the race.

Making my way back to the race HQ for the next leg I made up ground on some runners and was pretty comfortable. I went through the checkpoint as quickly as I could, keen to continue to make up some ground. It was at mile 15 that I had a physical problem of sorts. There were runners ahead of me and as I crossed a field that was pretty rutted I took my eye of what was in front of me for a second and twanged my ankle. I say ankle but on reflection and examining where I have some soreness it is actually on the outside of the shin a couple of inches above the ankle bone. My foot gave way and I felt my leg twang, like elastic as I corrected the instability on the ground. The pain shot up through my leg and for a second I thought that was it.

It calmed down and I set about walking to see if I could just walk it off. I have had situations like this before and have the mindset that provided it’s not hanging off I will finish. This is primarily borne of not racing a lot and so when I do, I want to finish. I think that if I maybe raced more often I would be less concerned. I walked a bit and it eased. The rest of my race would fall into a pattern of run walk, running on tarmac and downhill was quite sore but uphill and flat was fine (although I walked the uphills too!).

Leg 2 was, for the marathon, a loop. Running through leg 2 and then rather than coming back, if I was doing the ultra, continuing around into leg 4. This made for a better running experience as while the terrain was stunning it’s nice not to retrace your steps. Plus the 4th leg took in the famous Belas Knapp.

As I approached this there were more people around as this is a spot for tourists and walkers. Up to this point there had not really been anyone around other than those in the event itself. As I got to Belas Knapp I did think about the ultra-runners coming up that way. The climb out of Winchcombe is pretty brutal gaining close to 750ft in the space of maybe a mile or two. Running down this was hard enough.  

As you pass Belas Knapp there’s a steep field that takes you down to a small wooded section, you clear that then it’s downhill past the cricket club and back onto the high street. Running down through the field I could hear thunderous footsteps behind me. My first thought was that cannot be one of the event runners? It wasn’t. It was a small bout maybe 10 years old running full tilt through the long grass and having the time of his life. His sister, slightly older, was behind him and much more tentative. He stopped just in front of me and as I got close I asked him if he was racing me. He replied that he was and took off again. So fast! I think that even if I had not run at all I could not have let the handbrake off enough to run like he was.

He was just running down hill without a thought for his knees and ankles or anything. It really made me smile and was quite uplifting. When you try to explain to someone why you run it’s because sometimes it feels like that. That being an intangible thing really, something you have to experience to understand. A combination of being immersed in the moment without a thought in your head, a flow state where the action of running is for that moment all consuming. You’re doing it but it doesn’t register as conscious thought or physical feeling.

Reaching the woods I knew the route back having run this previously. It’s a short hop to the high street then up to the aid station and the finish.

I crossed the line with 4:57:20 on my watch. The total distance I covered being 28.75 miles and with +3,471ft of elevation gain.

It’s not often I finish something and think I want to do that again but for this one I really did. I think it’s because I know if I didn’t get lost I would save around 15 minutes and if I do more longer runs I can probably take another 20 minutes or so off that time and maybe get closer to the 4:30 I thought achievable.

My blood sugar control through the event was excellent. I was up at 6am and tested with a blood sugar of 5.5mmol. I had something to eat undercutting the carbs count by around 50%. This meant I would be higher by the time I got to the start line but not an issue as once I start running it drops pretty-quickly. I also put in place a -50% temporary basal for a 7hr duration. Because the doses of insulin that I use are quite small this is the maximum reduction the pump can accommodate. At the start of the race my blood sugars were 14mmol, high but for a short period and not concerning.

Nutrition strategy was pretty simple and a combination of 33Shake gels and Tailwind with a couple of bars with me just in case. The plan was to sip tailwind and have a gel every hour. At the half marathon point I tested my blood sugars and they were 7.2mmol. Perfect!

I set off again and did not test until the leg 2/4 checkpoint where they were 5.5mmol. This was probably the most stressful blood test I have done. There was an ambulance crew there and one of them spotted what I was doing and came across to check. He was stood on my shoulder watching. I have never felt under so much pressure to deliver a good reading. When it popped up with 5.5mmol I was so relieved. He just said “that’s perfect” and seemed happy enough.

Because I was out for longer than expected the pump notified me when the temp basal had ended. I set another -50% for 3hours and continued. My blood sugars at the end were 11mmol. A combination of my slowing pace and probably taking on too much food. There was a creeping upward trend for a couple of hours but it soon righted itself as I had something to eat and administered correct bolus amounts.

Later in the evening I set a -25% basal for the overnight period as knew from experience that I would go low otherwise. This was borne out with a waking blood sugar on Monday of 3.1mmol.
I was using the OmniPod through the event and had no issues. In fact, for this race an alert that a temp basal had finished and then being able to set up another while still moving was pretty awesome. There is no fire and forget that you get with pens. I had the pod on my arm but the conditions were such that it was not over exposed at all so performed as it should. The facility of being able to administer reductions on the fly proved invaluable not only during the event but in the period post event and then through the night.

I really enjoyed the event, the course was beautiful, the conditions couldn’t have been better really and the organisation was perfect. I want to do it again next year and that’s a first for me really. No higher praise?

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Bit of an update; diabetes, carbs and running

I have been in a good run with my diabetes of late. There have been some unexpected spikes but the biggest change has been my overnight sugars and the changes I have made to achieve this. This post will be validated or blown out of the water on Wednesday when I get my blood test results and the all import HbA1c number. 

At the time of my last check up I was struggling with blood sugars overnight. Too high as evidenced by waking levels of regularly >10mmol and in reality an average of around 12mmol. These days it has been much more between 5-8mmol. A significant change borne of two main changes that are wholly related. I now trust my going to be blood sugar levels and can do this as I am eating a lower carb meal in the evening.

Previously I would test my blood sugars before going to bed and if it were less than 7mmol I would worry then eat something without insulin and then wake up with a high reading in the 10-12mmol range. What I do now is trust the levels as I understand them better. The understanding and trusting the insulin on board calculation. If my blood sugars are 6mmol but with no IOB at bedtime then I trust that and go to bed. When  wake my blood sugar levels are similar.

I have been able to achieve this through eating a lower carb evening meal and doing this much earlier in the evening. The last point being particularly important as I tend to be an early to bed early to rise kind of guy. My evening meal now comprises around 20-30g of carbs and does not include anything remotely related to bread, pasta or rice. While I am not low carb (I am  a long way from sub 50g of carbs a day) this small change has made such a difference that it is something I will be extending to my lunchtime meal. I just need to figure out how to transport salad in a rucksack when I run to work so that it is still edible at lunchtime!

The bread, pasta, rice thing is very interesting and has been a source of problems for me. This is as it relates to the evening meal specifically. If I were to eat pizza or rice my blood sugars would spike significantly later on the same night. I have counted the carbs and tried various combinations of extending the insulin delivery (a feature of the OmniPod) by an hour or two except that this resulted in high sugars followed by  a significant drop. It’s just been easier (and I feel better for it) to not eat those foods at night.

The other aspect of my blood sugar control I have gotten a grip on has been the use of the temp basal feature. As someone that run-commutes I have struggled with afternoon blood sugar drops. I could be at 8mmol leaving the office at around 5pm and after an easy 30minutes of running my blood sugars would be sub-4mmol. I have started the temp basal reduction earlier in the day and also worked to not have any insulin on board from lunchtime or afternoon snacks. Oe of the issues here is that I can only do a temp basal reduction of 50%. The pump cannot accommodate a greater reduction as my insulin levels are so low. I have experimented with suspending insulin but this makes me nervous and I am unsure of how long to reasonably do this. Should I start this an hour before I am due to be exerting myself or just for the period of exertion?

This is where a feature of scheduling on the OmniPod would be awesome. The features to reduce insulin delivery for time periods is great and what would be even better would be a facility to schedule the reduction. I have given this some thought and think something like the following would work incredibly well for me. On an assumption that I will be running at 5pm I would look to do the following.

3pm :: Temp basal reduction of -50% (this being the current pump limit. If this could be smaller I would do a -50% for 3-4pm then -80% from 4-6pm)
5pm :: run home (I would want my blood sugars to be around 7/8mmol and have no insulin on board. I may also need to eat something (around 15g of carbs) before leaving.
6pm :: the temp basal of -80% would finish
6pm-9pm :: I would look to have a -25% temp basal reduction and depending on the intensity of the 5pm run may even extend this to a 4-5hr period

I did this, sort of, just last night. On Wednesdays I run with Bath Road Beers Run Club.  We set off for the club run at 7pm. Earlier in the day, at 4:30pm, I applied a temp basal reduction of -50% for 4 hours. At 1800hrs my blood sugars were 8.2mmol. I ate around 25g of carbs without insulin. I ran a pretty hard 6miles and when I tested my sugars at just after 8pm, when I got home, they were 4.2mmol. I had an evening meal quite a bit later than normal that was around 45g of carbs (a little higher than normal as I had a vegan protein shake with it). When I went to bed at 10’ish my blood sugars were 12mmol. I had insulin on board and new that I had the effects of the run still in me. I set up a temp basal of -25% at 9pm for 5hrs to cope with this as I have had situations where I have gone low over night.

When I got up this morning my blood sugars were 8.8mmol. A little high but, I think, managed quite well with lots of variables to contend with.

As I mention above the impact of low carb in evening meals has been incredibly significant and something I want to explore further. My reticence only being that I train a lot and while I never feel under powered (my April numbers have been really good; 151 miles run at an average of 7:52 per mile and an average run length of 7.22miles) I am a way off being a fat adapted runner and this takes time to achieve. Something I am not sure I have the patience for. It’s also worth noting that my weight has been pretty stable for the last couple of years at around 150lbs. A weight I am comfortable with. It had though, recently started to creep up and only a couple of weeks ago I was at 156lbs. Still not massive but the wrong trajectory.  Three weeks on lower carb evening meals and I am back to 151lbs. I need to make sure it doesn’t go too far the other way now but as an experiment of 1 it shows that this works.

It's funny as I have always thought of myself as a good diabetic. Recently I have felt much less like that and struggled a bit with the emotions that throws up. I want to keep the OmniPod and that was at risk following my last appointment as my blood sugars were not showing an improvement that warranted the investment that having this device comes with. I am hoping for an improvement on my HbA1c numbers as having to give it up will be a very bad situation to find myself in. Fingers crossed!

Thursday, March 28, 2019

All plans are flexible..

At the beginning of the year I set my running goals and actually wrote them down on an intranet forum. They were; to run 2,000 miles this year and complete my first hundred miler.

When I wrote them in January I genuinely thought they were achievable. Without writing them down I also had it in mind to run a couple more 50’s too. That all changed in January, on 26th January to be precise and in the aftermath of the Wychavon Way ultra.  

I ran the Wychavon Way ultra (walked most of it tbh) and while a day out running in the hills and fields is always a good day I was so undercooked that it became a slog. An absolute slog. Emotionally if not particularly physically draining. Looking back now there was a certain amount of arrogance in my approach to the event. I knew I was undercooked but it was only 40 miles. Only. I hadn’t trained much for a variety of reasons (chiefly injury and illness) but it was only 40 miles. My longest run on the lead up was about 13 miles or so but it’s would be ok because it was only 40 miles.

I am not sure when I started thinking 40 miles was a good distance to just rock up and have a go at but that’s what  did.

I finished and I wasn’t last either.

Immediately after I was thinking about the day I had just had and decided that for this year at least I won’t be running that kind of distance again. I also took the 100miler off the table too. What I realised as I sat in the car being driven post-race was that running really long distances is fun and I love it, I mean I really love it, but it was starting to feel like a chore. Like a job, almost. I’m going to contradict myself a little now because if this could be my job that would be awesome! I love to run but when you need to train for long distances it can become a chore and that actually more than anything you cannot fake it. You can run a 10km or even a half marathon on little training and it’s fine. It will be a rough hour or two or maybe even three. But an ultra is 8, 10 or even 24hours. You need to be ready for that and you eed to be trained.

This is the root of my decision, I run all the time, often twice a day and currently average around 40 miles a week. My longest training run this year has been 13.6 miles. This is fine. I love thins kind of running. I ran home earlier this week and it was only 2.8 miles but one of the best runs I can remember. I was flying along, a light rucksack, early spring sun warm and bright, I felt great physically and just bounced a long effortlessly. To use cycling parlance it was like there was no chain. That’s what I want my running to be. I don’t want to feel like running for 20 minutes but have to do a 3hr effort. I want to be able to do the runs I want when I want.

Hence the decision.

I might yet hit 2,000 miles and I may change my mind again as the year progresses and I feel more trained. This year so far I have done 70 runs at an average distance of a little over 5.5miles each. I am more than happy with that.

I have a couple of races in the diary. A trail marathon on May 5th and the Cheltenham Challenge half later in June. That feels good enough for now.

It feels good enough because when I put my running shoes on I am running without pressure, without expectation and can do as much or as little as I want without worrying that I haven’t hit a target or goal for that week. If I want to run fast then I do (speed is relative so don’t look at my numbers too closely) if I’m not feeling it I don’t have to.

It’s great, I’m loving running again.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Wychavon Way Ultra - January 2019

I was undercooked for my latest ultra. Really undercooked. Almost blasé. I had a plan of sorts, through December I was planning to increase my long run distance, carry that through to January and be ready. 

What happened was I ended up taking 12 days off running in December and then in January after a good 44 mile week  a heavy cold then cost me a week. This left me one week before the race when I’d need to relax and taper. 

The issue in December was a ridiculous injury. Doing some DIY (very unusual for me) I knelt on a carpet rod that went right up under the knee cap. No major damage just bruising but enough that I could let run. I couldn’t even walk upstairs. Taping it helped a lot but that just felt like I was masking the problem rather than letting it heal. 

The cold in January was just that. A miserable heavy cold that left me shivering and aching for a little over a week. 

So it was I was on the start line with my good running buddy and fellow Janner, Rob. I must admit that despite knowing I wasn’t trained enough I did think I’d be ok. The weather was good and, crucially, I felt good too.

After a race briefing we were off at 08:30 with nearly 200 runners setting off from Droitwich Lido down the high street. There was then a left turn, under a bridge and onto the canal path. We, I ran the whole thing with Rob, settled into a pace that was around 9’ish minutes per mile. This felt comfortable although Rob said that he was not feeling good at the start. The first 9 miles to CP1 were uneventful, some runners went off like hares with the majority not doing so. 

CP1 came and went, I tested my blood sugars had some food and off we went. 

I had decided that my blood sugar strategy would be typical to how I do these things. I reduced my basal by 50% as soon as I got up that morning and set it to stay at that level for 10hours; the entire anticipated duration of the race. I cannot go any lower than this as the range of the pump cannot cope with this, my normal life basal insulin levels are quite low. I would then eat what and when I wanted and dispense with bolus. Experience has told me that I just won’t need it. I have commented before that when I run an ultra it is like not having diabetes. This worked. While blood sugars were a bit high at the start they quickly dropped and a CP3 my levels were 4.9mmol. 

What I do experience post racing is that my blood sugars will spike. I attribute this to the fact that I have been eating all day and much of it slow release. Once I stop using the fuel my sugars increase. An hour after the race my sugars were 14mmol. A correction dose and they were then fine for the rest of the evening and overnight.

A couple miles past CP1 is the most disgusting thing I have ever encountered on a run. We were warned about this particular farm in the briefing. The warning was that the area around the gate and driveway are covered in slurry (cow dung and water). As we approached the area there was a runner making her way around the fence to avoid the slurry. I started to climb and it looked like Rob just went for the momentum approach and barrelled through. I climbed around on the gate and as I got to the driveway thought that was it, mission accomplished. Except that the driveway wasn’t as it seemed. 

What looked like solid ground was ankle deep filthy, smelly, disgusting slurry. Having climbed around I undid everything immediately to find myself ankle deep in cow-shit. Absolutely disgusting and a smell you carry with you for the rest of the day.

At 16 miles and maybe a further hour On from CP1 I started to get some difficulty with my glutes. They were screaming. This was now the longest run I had done in months. I kept going as best I could and was still running more than walking. CP2 was an opportunity for coke and onion bhajis. Off again. It was the section between CP2 and CP3 that was undoubtedly the hardest. It took us through marathon distance and then up and over Bredon Hill.  

Rather than just taking gels (33Shake of course) I also decided to carry some savoury items too in the shape of some roasted potatoes with a good dose of salt and pepper. They worked really well and it was good to have a different flavour. There was one moment though where I thought is this how it ends?

I was on my own heading down a slope and decided to take the opportunity to eat. I grabbed my potatoes and took a bite. They were quite dry as was my mouth. As I chewed I could feel the potato getting stuck in my throat. I tried to clear it but couldn’t so ended up making myself just cough it up - it was that or choke. As I did another runner came down the path and was very concerned. I had to explain that I was and not puking I had just had to stop myself choking on a potato.  

Bredon Hill was looming and looking up at it the top was not visible as was shrouded in cloud. The path up felt like a wall and the weather changed with rain being driven in waves across the exposed landscape. Keeping moving to keep warm was the focus here. The field started to bunch up here as runners pace ebbed and flowed. At the top was the tower. Barely visible in the low cloud and through the rain. There was little point in stopping although people were doing just that to take a photo of the obscured views. This may have been as evidence for how bad it was as much as anything.

We expected that having hit the top of the hill it would be an equally steep drop back down. This was not the case at all. The route took us across the top of the hill with a rolling down being more the order. The weather continued to drive in and I was now really struggling. 

The effort to get up the hill really took it out of me. My quads had joined my glutes in punishing me. Honestly, I wanted out. Well I say that but this is where you learn about yourself. 

Did I really want out? Yes and no. I wanted the race to be over but I didn’t want to quit. I wasn’t about to do that when I was ok. The pain I was feeling was pain that is just muscular not pain that is injuring. I wasn’t damaging myself I was just hurting myself. That I can cope with. 

The weather was grim, it was windy, wet and unrelenting. I wanted the race to be over. I could have bailed but I wasn’t about to do that. 

What did I learn? That I won’t quit. That in that moment it matters more to me to finish than anything else. I don’t want to be a quitter. So I dig deep and keep going. One foot in front of the other. Keeping some perspective this was a 40 miler and there was no real jeopardy. One thing about running in the UK is that you are probably never more than a couple of miles or so from a road or house or something where you could raise help. Similarly there’s nearly always mobile phone reception.

It’s the understanding of pain. The difference between discomfort in muscles and lasting damage. Discomfort, along with everyone out there on Saturday, I can manage. It’s part of they why in why I run longer distances. So much of life is comfortable. We sit down for hours on special chairs, heated seats in cars, warm comfortable beds, it goes on and on. Whilst I like all this I also really like being stressed and pushed out of that comfort. It’s fleeting and at the end of the day I am in a comfortable warm bed having had good food and a hot shower.

In the moments we are stressed and uncomfortable maybe those are the ones where we are more alive. The most connected to our bodies and the simple act of running. A rare time where we are just doing one thing, we are focussed, in the moment and getting it done. So much of life is about multi-tasking. On an ultra while you may send a tweet or take photos you really are just concentrating on what you need to do to get it done.

I was walking way more now but running a bit and still moving. It was a bit like the Peter Kay sketch where he describes how people walk to a dance floor – like a run but at walking pace. That’s what I was doing. I was becoming increasingly aware that I was really holding Rob back. I said to him to press on but to his credit he never did. 

CP3 was at the bottom of the hill and the last one of the race. It was a mere 7 or so miles to the finish from here. It was getting dark, the weather was now really taking hold with rain whipping in on winds that had steadily picked up pace through the day. Underfoot the mud had turned really sticky and my shoes must have weighed five times what they would normally with sticky mud. This was sapping what little strength I had and what I was preserving to get to the finish. 

The last 3 miles was a walk. A trudge. A slog. 

We did run a bit and the last eight hundred metres or so on road to the finish was run. It felt good to be finally done. 

Reflecting a day later the obvious thing to say is that this is a lovely course. On a good day it would probably be stunning. The views from Bredon would be magnificent I am sure.

Similarly, the early parts along the river would be lovely in sunshine. The second thing is that quite a bit of the course is on road. I’ve no idea what the exact split is but it felt like maybe 70/30 Trail to Road. That was surprising. Do not be fooled into thinking you can wear a road show though, certainly not in the winter edition of this. 
However bad you feel during the race when you think back a day on the trails is a fantastic way to spend a day. The community is great, the marshalls and people volunteering at the aid stations are remarkable. Giving up their time so you can achieve a goal. As always, I never take that for granted and take that away with me.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Wychavon Way Ultra this Saturday..

The thing with long distance, ultra, running is that I doubt you are ever fully prepared or fully fit. The very nature of how to train and live on the lead up to one of these events makes it almost impossible. It’s difficult to turn in consistent high mileage weeks in a world that also includes family and work. It’s hard to stay healthy when there are colds and coughs all around you. There’s also the spectre of the unexpected and unrelated injury too. Simply put life can get in the way.

So it goes.

Early in December I was doing some rare DIY. Anyone that knows me knows this is not my forte. I was doing some work in a bathroom and backing out through the doorway on my knees. As I did so I put my knee on the carpet rod. One of those dowelling size pieces of metal that holds carpet in place under a door. It was just the right size to go under the knee cap. It hurt at the time and then shortly afterwards became really painful. So much so that I couldn’t walk upstairs. I was actually using the lift at work which is very rare for me. I looked into the issue and found that taping was an option. I did this and it worked. I was able to run with my knee very heavily taped. What this meant though was that while I could run it was very painful immediately afterwards. The support provided by the tape a mere crutch so to speak. The answer would be rest. I took an extended rest period over Christmas break not running for 12 days. A period where I was expecting to get some bigger miles in and actually I did not run at all.

January saw a return to running and with the knee feeling solid I decided to up my game and go for a bigger week. It was great, I clicked in at 44 miles. This included a podium on a Strava segment I have been chasing along with a PB at the local parkrun 6 years after the last one. It was only 3 seconds but still a PB! Then the wheels came off. On the Sunday I went out for a couple of hours and by the end felt awful. Later that day I needed a nap and pretty quickly came down with a pretty nasty cold. Monday was a day off work and the rest of the week was a real struggle. Finally, well almost, over the cold I am back running this week.

I ran 2.5 miles yesterday evening and 3.6 miles this morning. The plan is to do the Bath Road Beers Club Run tomorrow evening which is around 4.2 miles and then that will be it before Saturday and the small matter of 40 miles across the Worcestershire countryside and the Wychavon Way ultra. I will be under cooked for sure but then isn’t everyone?