Well here it is – my 2018 Race Calendar.
Thames Path 100 – An old favourite, a 100 mile yomp along the Thames Path starting at Richmond and ending up in Oxford. I’ve had mixed fortunes with this one but if no one keels over in front of me, I don’t get lost (on a course I have run countless times), I don’t lose too many toenails then I’ve got a real chance this year!
Riano Trail Run – Off to sunny Spain for this one and a three day Irún in the Picos mountains. Check out the video here and you can see it looks an amazing course run over three days. I will be camping in the athletes’ tented village which should be a giggle. There are UTMB points to be had as well …. never say never right!
Sierra Nevada Ultra – If at first you don’t succeed then try, try and try again. This is the one I had a go at last year and is part of the Spanish Cup – I actually got quite far compared to a lot of runners but finally the 46c heat determined that I should come back and fight the course another day. It’s a truly amazing run and Granada is a beautiful city to stay in and recuperate.
Salomon Ben Nevis Sky Race – Don’t ask me how I managed to blag an entry but I did. Perhaps they thought my age was a typo! But anyway I’m going to give it the full beans and we will see what happens. I’ve always wanted to enter a Sky Race a la Kilian and the other greats and this is my chance.
So this is what I’ve entered but you know my organisational skills by now – in fact I tried to enter the Sierra Nevada twice but they were kind enough to tell me that I had already paid and registered. But that’s not all…
I’ve got my trans Country to fit in too. In 2016 I ran across Spain via the Pyrenees. 2017 saw a mad dash across Italy in just 7 days and this year ….. well at the moment I am considering doing the GR20 trail which runs the length of Corsica and is classic. Kilian did it in 30 hours so on the basis that it took me three times longer than him to run across Spain I reckon 90 hours is on!
Finally I’m still trying to make a film of my epic adventure across the PyreNees to go with the book (I’ve got to Andorra in the book and it’s only a year late). So if anyone has got a spare $25,000 knocking around give me a shout – fantastic publicity guaranteed!!
Self indulgent I know but …. I’m not a great believer in new year resolutions but a bucket list well that’s another matter!
Here is a list of some of the things I am “planning” for 2018. I’m not too clever on timing – The Pyrenees adventure appeared on my horizon in 2014 and I did it in 2016, the run across Italy 2015/16 and I did it on 2017. But who knows what the future has in store, that’s what makes it so exciting.
- Run across Corsica – GR20 – this will be my trans country trip for 2018. Was hoping for something more ambitious but the pesky book is taking up a lot of time and I really want to finish it. And of course Kilian Jornet did this one a few years ago although I’m not planning to emulate the 32 hours he took to complete it. It took me 3 time longer than him to cross the Pyrenees so on that basis I think 100 hours “run time” would be very acceptable. Also as I would be going solo as usual (unless the might of the Solomon Team want to get behind me) I will be stopping for overnights.
- Pyrenees Film – Yes I know I haven’t finished the book yet but I’m really keen to retrace this epic journey and make a short documentary to inspire others. I need to get $10,000 to get the project off the ground. So come on Sky, Channel 4 – forget the crappy “reality” programmes and get involved with a proper, real good news story.
- Media Work – I had such fun on BBC Radio 4 and Radio Berks and I loved my Podcast with Todd Nevins so here’s hoping I can do a bit more in 2018. If not I’m still planning to do my talks anyway – I’m not comfortable speaking in public but it’s not a bad thing to get out of your comfort zone on a pretty regular basis!
- Learn Italian or Spanish (or both!) – We Brits are pretty shameful when it comes to speaking other languages. I do speak French and a smattering of Polish and Swahili but I would love to learn a “Mediterranean” language properly. I got an Ap on my phone which reliably informed me that, after persevering for 3 months, I knew 3% of the Spanish language so this might appear on the next bucket list as well.
- More Ultras – I’m not a huge fan of the organised races – they are so expensive in the UK, but I’m on the waiting list for my old favourite the TP100 (who knows I might even finish it one day) and I’m planning on doing the Sierra Nevada Ultra as my real challenge in July.
- ”Moving Mountains” – The book WILL be finished. I’ve read the chapters I’ve done so far and I tell you what …… it’s a good story – a bit unbelievable – but a good story nevertheless!
But above all I’m wishing for health and happiness and I’m wishing the same for all of you out there too. I never forget how lucky I am to be able to dream and do all this stuff. Anyway let me know what your bucket list is in the comments section below and whip knows maybe we can inspire each other!
**As an experiment I have an audio version of this post – the link is at the bottom**
As the plane banked steeply on the approach to Madrid Airport I anticipated what lay ahead – 50 miles of running through the trails, brush land and woods that surrounded the city and a finish at the iconic four towers that lay at the heart of Madrid’s financial district.
I was less worried about the distance than the cut offs – I had been struggling with these recently and so it was more important than usual to make sure I nailed this one. After all I had dropped at the 32km mark on my previous trip to Spain a few months earlier at the Sierra Nevada Ultra. That day Spain chose to bask in the hottest temperatures ever recorded (48.5c) and I remember all to well that the temperature at the start line was already in the high 30s and that was at 6:30 am!
Enough excuses, back to the job in hand. I had 13 hours to run the fifty miles and whilst that might sound generous there were a lot of ups and downs as well as trying to find my way at night. There was a particular vicious cut off at the marathon mark as I guess this is where the organisers wanted to whittle the field down to those who were up to doing the night section which would be demanding for everyone.
As seems the norm nowadays, registration was held the day before and I chose, rather stupidly, to walk the 13 miles to the venue rather than take a bus, but it was a beautiful albeit chilly day and I had to make a rather special purchase en route! Every time I go on one of these jaunts I seem to leave something behind and this trip was no exception. Sitting on my bed at home was my Suunto Ambit together with the printed list of absolute, “must take”, essentials. Bearing in mind how important the timing and pace was going to be on this one I had to buy a replacement and it just had to be Suunto, I told myself as I handed over my credit card to a gleeful Alfonso in the watch shop, with a tear in my eye. But the pain of parting with the cash was soon forgotten as I proudly sported my gleaming, azure blue Suunto Spartan Sport.
Race day dawned and it was an early start to the bus station where I would pick up the transport to Manzares el Real and the start line. It’s worth mentioning at this stage, the brilliant organisers, ECOTRAIL. Not only were they lovely, friendly people but they organised a mean race too, from start to finish. I love the hub bub and buzz leading up to these races – the excited chatter on the bus, the hopeful faces and the nervous ones too.
The start was in the shadows of the imposing XV century Manzares Castle with fantastic views over the plains and hills all the way back to Madrid and the iconic 4 towers finish line. The sun was already up as I made my way back to the back of the start line – it was going to be a beautiful day although I was glad of my jacket. Some encouraging words over the tannoy in Spanish from the organisers and then the familiar countdown started – 3, 2, 1 and we were off!
I had written the cut offs on my arm so I knew exactly what I had to do and I was determined to keep to the game plan and to just take one cut-off at a time (to use football parlance!). So I had 2:45 to do the first 18km and I wanted to be about 30 minutes inside that so I could build up a reserve for the marathon section which I knew would be challenging. The best way of describing the trail is “Spagetti Westernish” if that’s makes sense. So brush and scrub, a well worn path made up of dirt and rocks and relatively gentle undulations. There were only about 200 starters so it was easy enough to get into a rhythm and go at my own pace. I didn’t panic as people started to pass me as I knew that there was a long long way to go. The first checkpoint came and I was 35 mins ahead of the cut of – exactly where I wanted to be. I didn’t dawdle as I knew that a minute here and a minute there could be vital (how true that proved to be).
The next stage was short with little elevation and a very generous cut off and this is where I wanted to push it. I was running pretty much on my own but I was happy with this and I felt really strong. The weather was perfect, the early morning chill had gone, the views were spectacular, I could even see the four towers in the dim distance – what could possible go wrong. I flew through the next checkpoint, having re-fuelled and tried to eat something but I just wasn’t hungry. I checked the watch and saw that I was now over an hour ahead of schedule, perfect just where I wanted to be. I was still busy congratulating my self when one of the organisers tapped me on the shoulder – “are you retiring” he enquired, “it’s just that you’re heading to the car park and the next stage is 180o in the opposite direction”.
As I set off (in the right direction) my mind was mass of calculations. I wanted to get to the marathon mark with at least 30 minutes in hand to tackle the night section so I could afford to slow down, conserve my energy and take stock. I still felt great, but I knew a blister was forming on my right middle toe and I was concerned that I was struggling to eat although I was doing well with the water and the salt tablets. This section wasn’t as remote as the first two and it was well marked so I ploughed on. I was still more or less on my own but there were a couple in front of me who kept pace with and unusually there were runners behind me too!
This ‘marathon’ section was a bit flatter than the first two although it did have a couple of steep bits to negotiate but I still felt strong as I steamed into the checkpoint 53 minutes ahead of the cut off. I forgot the pain in my toe and the feeling of nausea (I had barely managed to eat anything since the croissant I had had 8 hours earlier) as I realised that this was on. There was still a lot to do and I had to negotiate the tricky night section but I was still in the game. I didn’t dawdle but filled up my water bottles and managed to eat a couple of jelly babies and a segment of orange. The nuts sadly didn’t stay down (a worlds first for me!).
So as I set off it was calculation time again – the next and final cut off was 25km away but there was an interim water stop in 12km so that was my next target. It looked tricky too with some roads to cross and a sortie into a military training ground to boot. I had visions of me coming face to face with a tank before I got back to the job in hand. I was slowing now but I had over 5 hours to reach the cut off but part of that wold be at night and I wanted to try and leave 3 hours to do the final 16km. I was still very much on my own but I knew that the field had been whittled down to about 120 from the original 200 so it wasn’t too surprising and I knew too that I was probably bringing up the rear. I passed a super fit runner who was limping with a knee injury. I asked if he was OK and I’m ashamed to say that I was relieved when he told me he was fine and was stopping at the next checkpoint. For the first time I started to understand why Everest climbers could so callously abandon fellow climbers in their quest to get to the top. But I like to think that I would have walked with him if he had asked me to. I barely stopped at the interim water stop ever conscious of the clock ticking way and the maxim “time waits for no man”.
By now it was dusk and starting to get colder. I kept my head down and pressed on running on the flat sections and downhills and walking on the uphills. I had hardly seen another soul when out of the gloom came some elegant riders on imposing horses finishing their evening hack. If they were surprised to see this panting, sweat soaked Englishman the were too polite to say anything and after we exchanged greetings we went our separate ways. I had learnt from my TP100 races the perils of getting cold and took a few precious minutes to put on a top and jacket and fish out my head torch.
I knew from my watch that I was within half a kilometre of the final check point but disaster! I was lost and couldn’t find the path. I tried to retrace my steps but there were paths everywhere. At that moment I saw some lights in the distance – so there were people behind me. I headed towards three runners and tagged onto the back of them as we headed towards the checkpoint. I had been give another chance.
As I took a final slug of water (I had give up on food at this stage) and took stock. The maths was simple – the sojourn off piste had cost me a few precious minutes but I still had 2 hours and 55 minutes to complete the final 15km, back at home this would take me 90 minutes but I had been running for nine hours and it was night; Still I had a real chance.
We left the checkpoint as one but one of the runners hung back and was clearly struggling. I latched onto the back of the remaining two and decided to see how things would play out. After a few km it was apparent to me that I was feeling stronger and could run past them but I was so aware of getting lost. Those that don’t run these extraordinary distances often think it is a case of setting off, running for 12 hours and calling it a day. But it is the constant need to make a myriad of decisions when you are exhausted, often in excruciating pain that is the difference between success and failure – the margins are that tight. More mental arithmetic and I worked out that at the current pace if we didn’t get lost we would just squeak in. My mind was made up and wherever they turned I turned when they hesitated I hesitated, I became their shadow.
Eventually they realised that I wasn’t going anywhere and my two new friends welcomed me with open arms. It transpired they were locals and knew the route well and Miguel, having heard my story, guaranteed that he would get me to the finish before the cut off. We pressed on towards the 4 towers which were getting ever closer and my other companion, Diana, assured me that we were just 4km away. By now the sweeper was on our tail but on and on we went with the clock getting ever closer to the 13 hour mark. Then disaster, a final twist …. I saw a sign saying 80km race with an arrow pointing up the hill but we were going in the opposite direction. I kept quiet but the others and the sweeper picked up the mistake and we were soon back on track.
Tick tock tick tock the clock got ever closer to the hour but we were in the shadow of the towers, the barriers came into sight and I could hear the loud rock music pumping out. We were going to do it! My lovely friends insisted I went over the line before them and I was so glad to see the struggler from the last checkpoint squeak in too. So the bare facts – first and last Englishman and I had made it by a breathless 6 minutes 29 seconds. What a finish what a day – and …… I was back in the game!
Regular readers of this blog will know that I’ve had two DNF in the last two races that I’ve entered, The Thames Path 100 miler and the Sierra Nevada Ultra, Now there were mitigating circumstances but aren’t there always. The bottom line is that I retired in both of them.
So I’ve had a long hard look at what has changed over the year and what I can do to get back on track.
I refuse to accept that age has anything to do with my predicament – but then being 61 I would wouldn’t I. Sure over the years there will be a slowing down but Marco Olmo won the UTMB at the age of 59 , Rich Roll competes in World Championship triathlons and “Marvellous Mimi” is running across the USA as I write this. If anything as the years have added up I’ve got better at the longer distances where the mind plays just as important a part as the physiology and where raw speed doesn’t count for as much.
When I started this road to recovery more than 5 years ago, I did maintain a vegan diet for more than 12 months (& felt fantastic) I’ve made a few changes since and have introduced fish into my diet and I definitely eat more bread than I used to. I also have an addiction for peanuts – uh oh I’m getting hungry just thinking about them. In fact I’m almost always hungry and I’ve put on 6kg in the last year – So maybe the key to the problem was here somewhere?
I struggle to think how I managed to run across Spain and Italy without getting any significant injuries yet I’ve been injured several times this year from the most mundane activity. In fact I ran across Italy with a heavy cold but still managed to complete the challenge although I think that was more about “mind over matter” – if you know you absolutely have to keep going to survive (as was the case with some stages of the Pyrenees trip) then that tends to keep you honest. So I definitely needed to change my mind set and be more positive about the training runs and the “downtimes” from the epic adventures.
I looked at other potential influencing factors too – I’ve never needed much sleep so no change there, I was more flexible thanks to my wonderful yoga teacher, David Charles Manners, who had persevered with me for more than a year.(As an aside if you only read one book in your life make sure it is David’s “Limitless Sky”). I wasn’t more stressed than normal although writing the book, “Moving Mountains”was taking longer than I had hoped.
And the answer is …..
So where did all this self analysis and soul searching leave me? Well the more I thought about it I was convinced that my slump was primarily connected to my weight that had accumulated throughout the year and to my mind set of only being able to get myself up for the really epic challenges (as if running 100 miles or running in 48c heat wasn’t!).
My weight was an interesting one – when I had my epiphany (which you can read about here) I weighed 108kg and with a height of 180cm this made me clinically obese. Over the next two years I got down to between 76-80kg which is my ideal weight (I’m broad & not just in the beam!) Currently I am 85-86kg and whilst I am careful about what I eat and take a huge amount of exercise I can’t seem to make any impact on my weight and as I’ve already said I’m permanently hungry.
So perhaps this was the key to my lacklustre performances – I decided to investigate further. The hunger had really started since I had come back from the Pyrenees 12 months earlier. There I had been running between 20-30 miles consecutively for 27 days as well as taking in an elevation gain of between 3,500 – 6,000 ft each day. I estimated that I was probably using up to 3,500 calories + my resting cals. If you’ve read my story you will know that I was carrying all my own gear and was getting my water from mountain streams and water points and grabbing whatever food I could find en route. I often missed breakfast and lunch maybe just having some fruit that I had nicked from the night before, so my only “proper” meal of the day would be in the evening. I never quite knew where I was going to end up and being vegetarian there wasn’t always a huge choice so more often than not it was a cheese pizza or potato croquettes – not exactly food packed with nutrients.
I did some googling and came up with this brilliant article about running, eating and “Preservation/Starvation Mode”. This seemed to fit my situation exactly. After the exertions of the Pyrenees my body was going into preservation mode. I started to eat “normally” as soon as I came back and only took 3 or 4 days off before I started running again. As far as my body was concerned it wasn’t taking any risks! Before I left for the Pyrenees I was running up to 100 miles per week and could eat what I liked but I always had a healthy diet (other than those peanuts!). My body was slowing my metabolism and laying down any reserves as fat. I started to feel more and more lethargic but I put this down to post expedition blues and kept running as much as I could. I started to pick up the odd injury and pulled a hamstring which kept me out for weeks. As the weight started to pile on I ate less and less which of course put my body further into preservation mode. It didn’t help when earlier this year I decided to run across Italy and whilst this wasn’t quite on the scale of the pyrenees epic it was still 7 marathons in 7 days and taking in 20,000 ft of elevation.
I decided to use a fitness app to strictly monitor my calorie intake (I use “lose it” because I find “”My Fitness Pal” has started to have really intrusive ads. This allowed me to ensure that I was eating enough and at the same time took into account the amount of exercise I was taking so when I running more I would need to eat more and vice versa.
Next I looked at when I was eating. I tried, wherever possible, to make sure I ate before a run and more importantly within an hour of finishing – nutrient rich foods too.
And the results – well I’m definitely feeling less lethargic and I’ve lost 2kg in 3 weeks so I’m heading the right way. Next I’m going to look much more closely at what I’m eating and I may re-visit the vegan option once I’ve studied it a bit more. Come back soon for an update – you can sign up on the home page to make sure you never miss a post.
Disclaimer: I am NOT a nutrition expert and I’m not qualified to give advice (I can barely tie my shoelaces). I do run a long way and try and maintain a healthy diet. These are my personal observations and I hope they help!
I’ve got a new passion – photography. Well it’s an old one actually. I first took it up when I was 18 but it disappeared along with me into the fleshpots of London. I used to love nothing better than leaving my Earls Court flat at dawn and spending the day walking around London shooting everything and everyone. Of course it was film in those days not digital, so each shot had to be taken with care and precision ….. Up to a point!
Fast forward to the present day and with a friend, I got some fantastic memories from my runs all over Europe albeit with a mobile phone. Onto bigger challenges, The Pyrenees, Italy and once again the pictures captured by my humble iPhone have been an invaluable resource in writing the book and this blog … some of them are actually quite good!
I think the best thing to come out of the digital age is that everyone has the ability to create thanks to the mobile phone. Judging by the people I follow on Instagram the quality of the photos is stunning. Photography is no longer the preserve of the expert it is available to everyone.
So I decided to invest in an Olympus EM! – it’s an old model so I picked it up for a bargain. I’m going to build (another!) site and start chronicling my adventures. Every picture tells a story so Henri Cartier-Bresson watch out. You ain’t seen nothing yet!
In the meantime I’ve changed this site to be more pictorial and of course you can follow me on Instagram. So get snapping!
OK I admit it – I’ve been in a slump lately and I’ve lost a bit of my mojo. It’s not that I’ve fallen out of love with running but more like running has fallen out of love with me and it’s time to do something about it.
The reasons why we runners gravitate to ultra running are manifold. It might be for the more obvious reasons – to prove something to ourselves and others, to test our fortitude, to defy the odds. It might be for more abstract, spiritual reasons – to find solitude, to find peace (I know a bit of an oxymoron for such a demanding and physical sport) or more likely a combination of the two. But whatever the reason it puts us in a club in which we are all equal, where the “Kilian’s” of this world can line up with the mere mortals – even me. Where complete strangers at aid stations and on the trail treat you with the care and tenderness as if you were family. Where the only competition is with yourself and your will power and determination – it is a unique, fantastic sport without equal.
I think you have to have a bit of an addictive personality to become an ultra runner in the first place – certainly that’s true in my case and I know of other well know runners who have struggled with their demons in the past. But it’s this same addictive personality that allows us to run mile after mile, whatever the weather or terrain, that can also lead us to our biggest challenge. Like any addict we always seek the next “high”. After I ran across the Pyrenees my first thought was not “wow what a great achievement” it was “what’s next – how am I going to beat that?” And when I ran across Italy in seven days I experienced exactly the same emotions. You return home all the time seeking something that you can’t put your finger on. A 50 miler turns into a 60 miler and this isn’t enough either and it’s a hundred miler next. All the time mile after mile in training – pitter patter, pitter patter the runners refrain beats out.
The endless miles took their toll, I was run down and picked up a virus and respiratory problem before my TP100 and inevitably I didn’t finish – my first self-retirement. I decided to cancel a race across Italy I had entered, I just wasn’t up to it. Instead I entered the Sierra Nevada Ultra, a 60km challenge across the mountains in Southern Spain. My virus had finally cleared up and I was ramping up the miles but something wasn’t right. I was starting to question why I was doing all this – at my age shouldn’t I be doing what society dictated and be putting my feet up in front of the fire, wasn’t I a laughing stock?
I arrived in Spain on one of the hottest days ever recorded, a mind blowing 48c – not ideal conditions to run an ultra in across the mountains. But Granada was stunning and despite the heat I loved the city and the people. The 100km race was due to start from the main square in Granada at midnight with my race starting at 6.00am the next morning. I had found a nice restaurant with an outside table where I was able to watch the world go by whilst I thought about the challenge ahead. And then, as I left the restaurant and joined the main street, I had a cathartic experience.
Two fit, lean runners were walking towards me heading to the start of the 100km race. Both in their gear with the obligatory reversed baseball cap and sunglasses perched on their heads. I caught the eye of one of them and in that one fleeting moment I understood why I participated in this crazy sport of ours. His eyes were fixed ahead and in them I saw every possible emotion – fear, trepidation,excitement , doubt, self-assuredness. The energy and tension was palpable as he prepared for the challenge ahead.
I returned to the UK after the race with renewed energy and purpose. I was determined to make the best of myself, to seek new challenges and adventure and not care what society dictated or others thought. I finally understood why I loved to run and I owe it all to the Spaniard with the burning eyes, walking through the streets of Granada to the start of his challenge. Thank you.
Really excited to be back on the road again, this time to Granada, Spain for the Ultra Trail Sierra Nevada. 63 kms through the blistering heat and mountains of the beautiful Sierra Nevada.
Fortunately we’ve had a heat wave here in the UK (i.e. It hasn’t rained for 7 days straight!) but my Spanish friends have warned me that I ain’t seen nothing yet with temperatures likely to exceed 40c. The race starts at 6:30am but I imagine by midday I will really know about it. There’s also the 20,000ft of elevation to content with. To put that into perspective, when I ran across Italy a few months back, the elevation was the same but I took 7 days as opposed to the 15 hours this is expected to take.
So all in all a areal challenge that I’m really looking forward to after the recent spate of injuries.
The training could have gone better but that’s always the case with me. I’m changing gear a bit too after the crippling blisters I got on the TP 100 and reverting to Hoka Challengers, the trail version of the Clifton which I used for the 8 marathon 8 day 8 country challenge
I’m really enjoying getting back into photography but my usual weapon, an Iphone 6s+, is pretty big so I’m gling to try the Xperia X Compact which is meant to have a really good camera – you be the judge on my Instagram feed @masairunning
Anyway it all happens on the 14th & 15th July and you can follow the whole adventure on twitter and instagram @masairunning and of course you can sign up to my website to never miss an update.
Now where’s that passport!
If you are regular visitors to this blog you will know that I decided to pull out of the TransItalia Ultra next month. I got injured during the ThamesPath 100 and just haven’t been able to put the miles in to prepare myself for the 266km, 50 hour dash across Italy. Never mind I did run across Italy in March albeit in a more leisurely 7 days and there is always next year.
So what to do? I’ve started putting in the miles again so I think an adventure beckons! I had such a fantastic time in the Spanish Pyrenees last year that I am drawn back to Spain. I remembered reading a brilliant book called “Driving Over Lemons” by Chris Stewart, an ex member of Genesis (he left the band a few months before they hit the big time – uh oh!). It’s such a happy, feel good book. It describes moving lock stock and barrel from the UK and bringing up his young family in Andalucía – I was inspired.
A quick bit of googling re-assured me that Andalucía was in Spain not South America and what’s more it looked stunning – mountains, lakes, rivers, wild boar and beautiful deserted landscapes. In fact everything this particular adventurer desired and the die was cast.
Granada looks nice and it has an airport so the ‘plan’ (as far as I ever plan) is to turn up there with rucksack, tee and shorts and run across the Sierra Nevada finishing up in the ancient, Moorish walled town of Alhambra. If I don’t get lost it should be about 110km and 15,000 ft of elevation so I reckon a leisurely 3 days. Then if I have time and haven’t lost my money I will have a couple of days running around and exploring Seville.
Regular readers will know that however fanciful these adventures look on paper I normally end up doing them (or a variation of). The first step is to commit to an idea in print, post a pretty picture and then there’s no turning back. Heck I’ve even changed my language learning app, DuoLingo, from Italian to Spanish.
Viva Espana, Viva Adventuras!
If you are an Ultra Runner then the likelihood is that at some point you have “failed” to complete the course. The sheer logistics and mental strength required to try and run 50, 60 or even 100 miles make it more or less inevitable that at some stage you will hit the buffers . It can be for a myriad of reasons, gear failure, getting lost, getting timed out, injury, exhaustion or a combination of any of these.
And I would know better than most! I have attempted the Thames Path 100 miler for the last three years and have “failed” on each occasion. Always armed with an excuse in 2015 I got to 92 miles before missing the last check point – I had dawdled at the check points, taken a distressed runner to the pub for a diet coke, picked up my pacer late and it had poured with rain making the conditions underfoot treacherous. Great excuses but nevertheless I had “failed”.
In 2016 I thought I had everything worked out – I had trained well and the conditions, although cold, were perfect. I got to mile 68, was rattling through the checkpoints, was well within the time limits and had 32 miles to go with dawn approaching. I had just negotiated the tricky Reading section and was on home territory – I had run from Reading to Oxford several times and knew the route blindfolded. What could possibly go wrong. Well these sort of distances can’t be taken lightly and to my horror the runner in front of me collapsed. I did what anyone else wold have done in my situation, sorted him out and waited with him while the ambulance arrived. He made a rapid and full recovery but that was my race run and I had “failed” for the second time.
Never mind 2017 was going to be my year! A month before the race I ran across Italy in 7 days and was feeling fit and raring to go and the weather forecast was for no rain. Then fate intervened and I picked up a cold a few days before the start but, as it hadn’t gone to my chest, I decided to at least try. The weather was perfect and at mile 50 I was well ahead of the cut offs. Then disaster struck, I got completely disorientated in a deer park just before Henley (which I had run in several times before) and lost precious time but at Reading I still had 40 minutes in hand and knew I had a chance. I was using the socks I ran across the Pyrenees in and was wearing the shoes I ran across Italy in – a combination I had never tried before and yes! a schoolboy error. By mile 70 my feet were done with 2 huge blisters and two toenails starting to detach! I couldn’t breathe through my nose and I knew my chances of finishing were gone. Crestfallen, I retired at mile 72, my first ever self retirement and another “failure”. Of course I was disappointed – I was going to lose two toenails, I had contracted sinusitis and was now faced with the very real possibility that I would have to withdraw from the TransItalia 2017, a 266km ultra across Italy and a race that was to be my “biggie” for the year.
But later, as I walked along the very banks of the river that had thwarted me a few days before, I knew that I hadn’t “failed” at all. I had chosen to participate knowing that I was under par with a real chance of not finishing but I had learnt a lot, taken part in a great event and met some inspiring people. There would be other battles ahead some I would “win” and some I would “lose” but the only failure would be to not try in the first place.
I decided to defer my entry to Transitalia – There was no way I would be ready in time and there was always next year. Perhaps I would run across Andalucía instead, a huge challenge in itself, take some pictures, make a video and write about it.
Will I enter TP100 next year? Probably. Will I fail? Definitely not ….. And who knows I might even finish it this time!