Monthly Archives: June 2018

Photo of AM and Gemma

Canalathon – Bring Me Sunshine

So onto Canalathon itself. With the camper van loaded with enough food to feed a small army, we set off on a sunny Saturday afternoon from the Wirral. Ellie had driven up from Cardiff the night before and, after a stint at Birkenhead parkrun, we set off.

Our weekend base for the race

Photo of Littleborough Cottage

We almost didn’t do the race!

Ellie was our super star organiser and found us a fantastic cottage near Littleborough, about 25 minutes drive from the start of the race. I’ll have to try hard not to talk too much about this place as it really was beautiful. The views were spectacular and the house was luxurious. We had underfloor heating throughout the house with digital controls for the heating. Jon will no doubt do a better job than me of describing the ensuite bathrooms with built in TVs! My only complaint was that I wasn’t able to turn down the heating at night. I ended up waking in the night a few times because it was so hot.

We joked among us that we wouldn’t bother doing the race and we would just chill in the house and eat the mountain of food that we brought. As I had developed a cold that week, albeit a fairly minor one, I was seriously tempted!

The morning of the race

Photo of Team Green T shirts

Team Green Ultra Division reporting for duty

It was an early start and even earlier as the clocks went forward that day. The weather was promising. Cold but sunny and dry. Off we went to Sowerby Bridge where the Race HQ was stationed. We had opted to register here and catch the coach to Manchester from where we would run back to Sowerby Bridge.

I had a slight snag on registering to find that they didn’t have my pre-ordered T shirt. I was advised that one would be brought to the finish later and I could pick it up then. There was a bobble hat in my pack which I hadn’t ordered but I was told just to keep it. I was surprised later to find that my results hadn’t been recorded (later rectified with no issues). I was told that I had been recorded as a DNS and I think the marshals forgot to mark me as present because of the T shirt issues.

I have seen comments in other blogs that it seems a bit odd to be given your race pack with the medal in it before the race. I agree: I would much prefer that it was handed out at the end. It would be a nice touch if a marshal could put it round your neck at the end of the race.

The race

Photo of Team Green

Team green ready to start.

The race starts in a car park in Manchester before heading onto the canal. We didn’t have a long wait in the pre-race toilets and, quite quickly after that, we were off. What surprised me was that as soon as I started running, my cold seemed to dry up (I had spent most of the coach journey  trying to stifle my cough) and I felt quite good.

What also surprised me was that the first half was a gradual uphill. Not so much that you noticed it but once we reached “the Summit” it was noticeably easier. But I am getting ahead of myself as we have yet to reach the first checkpoint at 10.9 miles. A welcome sight, it had real food. I found myself rather partial to the ham wraps and the Jaffa Cakes, of course.

On paper the spacing of the aid stations looks ok with 4 stations in total but on the day, I found the gap between the aid station at Rochdale at 10.9 miles and Walsden at 20 miles too great. It was warming up by now and it would have been good to at least have a water station halfway between both.

Photo of Helen Bly and Adam

A sight for sore eyes (and tired feet)

This made the “sweet shop” set up by Helen Bly and Adam Jones, just past the Summit, all the more welcome. Helen saved us a can of proper Coca Cola. I don’t normally take caffeine as I have had palpitations and headaches in the past but I really wanted a drink so I took some. It may have been psychological and it was certainly a boost to see Helen and Adam. I felt ready to take on the rest of the race.

Walsden was a lovely aid station and the marshals there couldn’t have been nicer. They filled up our water bottles for us, encouraged us to eat and generally were very encouraging. I took on some more Coca Cola. I was in danger of developing an addiction, but it tasted really good. Some more ham wraps and Jaffa cakes and I felt ready for the last 11 miles.

A race full of surprises, I remember being surprised at 20 miles that nothing really hurt as it had when doing the Liverpool Rock and Roll marathon. It took until 26 miles before I felt that familiar ache in my hips and quads.

Photo of AM and Gemma

“Bring me sunshine in your smile, bring me laughter all the while”

Gemma and I were still running together.  As Gemma has done this race in 2016, we started chatting about her previous time. She had completed it in 6 hours 59 minutes. Looking at our times so far, I calculated we could beat that so after the last aid station (rocket fuelled by 3 cups of coca cola), we dug in. I am sure know for a fact that Gemma was tired of hearing me saying: let’s get it done!  And we got it done in 6 hours 43 minutes, a huge 16 minute PB for Gemma and a PB  over a new distance for me.

After the race

Photo of Team Green

We’ve all just run 50km and we’re still smiling!

It was welcome sight to see Brian and Jon at the finish, both having made it over the line around the 6 hour mark. I made it back to Race HQ to pick up my promised T shirt only to find that I had been given a 75k T shirt. By this time I was too tired to try to sort it out so I just took it rather than try to get the correct T shirt. Gemma had the same issue.

A reunion with Ellie soon followed, back in the camper van and off to our lovely cottage for the much anticipated roast dinner Ellie promised us. How she had the energy to cook, I do not know. It was a perfect end to a fantastic weekend.

Overall impressions

When the weather is kind, everything is so much nicer and so it was with Canalathon. There were a few glitches with the t shirt and hat and my results weren’t initially recorded. I think there could have been another water station in between miles 10 and 20. There doesn’t need to be a full blown aid station or timing mat but a water station would have been a great help. I’d prefer to be given my medal at the end of the race.

Ultimately though this is a well organised race, the marshals were great, the coach transfer went smoothly and the route is picturesque. For me, what made this race most enjoyable was sharing it with friends. The oft quoted African proverb rings true here: “If you want to run fast, go alone. If you want to run far, run together.” Given my illness, injury and doubts about my ability to complete this, this is what got me through.

The strange thing about doing ultras is that your mindset starts to change. I was adamant that I would never run anymore than 50km and now I wonder if I could do the 75k next year…I do need to earn that T shirt…

 

 

Prelude to Canalathon – Why does it always rain on me?

An ultra marathon is a BIG undertaking. The initial blog post I planned was also BIG! So I have split it in two. Here’s the details on the training and the run up to Canalathon. It didn’t all go to plan…

Training

I entered this race in July 2017. I can’t remember how it all came together but I planned to do the race with my team green friends (from UKrunchat on Twitter), Gemma, Jon, Brian and Ellie.

My training plan included Conwy Half Marathon in November, Cakeathon in January 2018 as a marathon and then, the big one, Canalathon 50k in March 2018.

Photo of AM on Great Orme

I went back to pain face after this was taken!

Conwy was a great race. The weather was beautiful and the views across the Great Orme were spectacular.  The medal was one of my favourites of the 12 medals I earned during 2017. I had a niggly calf during the race though which developed into full blown calf strain about a week later during one of my run group sessions. I had only just recovered from that and managed one run when I came down with flu. Proper flu, the kind where you can’t fathom how people manage to get dressed and get out of the house type flu. Christmas was a write off as we all came down with it.

I did Wepre parkrun on New year’s day thinking I was much better but I was wrong! I wheezed and puffed my way round the course and felt only slightly better when I learned that it has the second hardest elevation of any parkrun in the UK.

I was trying to build up the mileage ready for Cakeathon at the end of January. I had wanted to do this race for a while. I had seen so many tweets from people brandishing this absolutely enormous medal and, as I like a nice piece of bling, I was intrigued. When I heard the race was coming to Yorkshire (it’s normally in Kent which is a 5 hour drive for me!), I signed up immediately.

Also my calf strain returned when I tried to increase my running. It didn’t bode well for doing a full marathon at Cakeathon at the end of January. I was lucky enough to win a free physiotherapy treatment in a Twitter competition, though, so I got some treatment and felt much better.

Photo of cakes

Cake table groaning with yummy cakes.

I drove over the night before and stayed in a local pub near the start. It was a fairly low key event with about 300 taking part. We congregated in the community centre in Peniston for the race briefing and to ogle all the cakes. I had brought a marble cake for the cake competition but no prizes for me on that front. It was great to see Helen Bly, Colin and Keith Johnstone and to meet a few others for the first time.

The course was straight forward laps of 4.37 miles along the Penine Way which ran behind the community centre.  3 laps made for a half marathon and 6 for a marathon. I had really wanted to do a marathon here but I just wasn’t fit. I was determined to do a half marathon and in fact managed 4 laps or about 17 miles.

Photo of AM

How many more laps before I can eat some more rocky road?

Running up and down the path was not the most interesting after a while but it meant that you constantly saw other runners so it wasn’t as isolating if you were a slower runner like me (especially slow that day!). We managed most of the race in the dry with some rain showers towards the end of my last lap.

The aid station was back at the community centre so when you completed a lap, you had your card stamped and helped yourself to plenty of crisps and cake. I was drawn to the rocky road which I later learned was made by Rachel, the race organiser. She reckoned that the secret of its success is that she adds a bit extra salt.

 

Photo of Cakeathon medal

The medal is as big as my kettle!

I was happy with 17 miles on the day as I remember just being really perplexed as to how unfit I felt for all of January. Flu is a horrible illness and really takes it out of you. I didn’t feel properly well until the week before Cakeathon, when I finally shook the annoying little cough. I  seriously considered pulling out of Canalathon as I wouldn’t have been able to prepare properly and with 50km at stake, you really have to respect the distance.

Although I came down with yet another cold and missed Mad Dog 10K, after that, things went a bit better and I recorded my highest ever mileage month in February at 166.2 km, including at 32 km run around the northern half of the Wirral.

Photo of AM in Oban

Feeling the runner’s high once I reached Oban!

My favourite training run was what felt like an epic point to point run from my in-laws in Port Appin to Oban, a total of 34.5km. I followed the cycle path all the way to Oban (although it disappears in some places and I had cut through a camp site at one stage!). It was quite magical too because I also saw a red squirrel, a deer and an eagle all in the space of 10 minutes about halfway through the run. They all disappeared before I could get my camera out, of course!  It was much more hilly than I expected, especially the last 10km but on the final downhill into Oban, I felt invincible and on a real runner’s high.

This was a turning point for me as I finally felt that I was as ready as I would ever be for the ultra. The cloud had lifted.