Tuesday, 2 August 2016

The ups and downs of ultra running

There would be a three week gap between St Cuthbert's Way and the Long Tour of Bradwell but I knew there would still be plenty of opportunities to run despite other commitments. Over the first weekend we would be in the lakes District.
Looking for early runners on Swirral Edge
Friday was spoken for as I had volunteered to put out flags for the Lakes Sky Ultra. Sadly instead of the long day from last year I was instead only to go from Haweswater to Kirkstone. It was though a pleasant day and I made a new friend in my partner John McEwan. We didn't get much running as the ups were steep and we had flags etc to carry and on the downs running tended to mean we forgot about placing flags in our joy of descending. It was though still worth some hours on the hills and climbs in the legs. On Saturday Bob and I were marshalling on Striding Edge and it was nice to be together encouraging runners, letting them dib, clanging the cow bell and chilling.
Looking for the first runners on our ridge
An early start had us in place in plenty of time. we watched runners descending Swirral Edge before climbing Catsycam and disappearing into Keppel Cove. We then had time before they arrived at The Hole in the Wall and made their way along the ridge to us.
The leaders arriving on Striding Edge
Once they were all through we stripped the flags back to the Hole before a jog/run up to Swirral Edge, over Catsycam and down to Keppel to pick up the big path and run back to Bell Cottage. We thought we might then be needed in Patterdale or at Kirkstone but Charlie had more helpers this year. It allowed me to follow the little red flags up Red Screes, although not at race pace and then to run hard down to Ambleside. It is not a descent I have done before and it was wonderful.
James on Red Screes
I initially tried to keep up with James but at 26? and with huge legs I soon lost him. I did manage to stay not far behind Jim Mann and as I hit the road I was shown the superior power of Sarah R as she shot off to the finish. An incredible pace by these runners at the end of such an arduous course. I had enjoyed my and the weather was wonderful- dry, warm but not too hot or sunny. I even announced that I quite fancied a go at the course next year (but please let the rock be dry). I had planned an early run on Sunday before we went climbing but the cloud was down to road level making everything damp. never mind, there would be other opportunities. I felt very positive and fit. It would not last long.
By Tuesday evening we were in Somerset. Visiting mum is lovely but increasingly difficult. It does though give us the chance to run on the Quantocks. I love those hills.
Ancient ways and boundaries on Beech trees
You can run along the main spine with relatively gentle drops and climbs or you can turn off to either side for some really deep coombes and mega climbs back up. We rarely meet many people and get great views to Exmoor, South Wales and the Somerset levels.

 Tuesday evening's run started well but after the first big drop my legs just refused to work. Various muscles hurt in turn and they did not just feel heavy but  more like a succession of minor injuries.

I was frustrated and then upset. What was going on? It was a beautiful evening and I wanted to run! I arrived back at the van very dejected and worried about how I was going to manage the UT4M next month.

The next day I went for a short early run and then another in the evening. I did not do so many drops and climbs but felt much better.

 The colours of the heather and broom were amazing, there were deer and friendly foals ran with me before another foal tried to eat my camera.

I knew I had not really pushed hard but felt more positive. It is such a beautiful area that I really couldn't fail to enjoy myself.
Back home at the end of the week and I volunteered to help a young man with his degree dissertation. We arranged to meet at the Nick of Pendle.

Answering questions for a recording meant we jogged slowly and slowed to a walk on the way to the trig. Then as we turned back the rain clouds hit. We ran back at a fair speed and again I pushed it downhill, especially on the grassy paths. (again running fast downhill with a young man- there is a pattern here perhaps and I need to admit that I am getting old)

 Waiting for Bob I did some exercises and I felt good.

 On Saturday we had an errand in Chorley so I suggested we ran from Rivington barn. Bob would do the shorter Anglezarke Amble and I would do the long. I decided to go for slow, steady and to run as much as I could but at a gentle pace. Having to text Matt meant a very slow first climb and I missed out the Pike to make up for time.

It was interesting going more slowly than usual but then finding I was running more of the route, especially towards the end.

 My overall time was pretty close to the race back in February.  I was happy with that! Bob had finished just ahead of me so I jumped in the van and we drove home.

 My legs felt tired but nothing exceptional. Bob wanted to do back to back runs on Friday, Saturday and Sunday to prepare for his races in Grenoble. We agreed to a shorter run from Tockholes on Sunday. I knew the moors would be boggy and did not want to repeat yesterdays route so starting near the A666 I ran back through the woods towards Abbey Village. By the Fisherman's Dam I realised that my quads were complaining a bit. I turned up to cross the road and join the path that would take me down to Sunnyhurst Woods and another reservoir below Darwen Tower. My left quad was now refusing to work properly and I had to walk the downhill. I tried to run the flat and gentle up but something was not right. I knew I should try to find the easiest way back. The path around the reservoir was so overgrown I had to walk anyway but cutting down to the path at the end was agony. I walked fast up to the ridge that would let me drop to Slipper Lowe. I was now struggling to run even on the flat. The descent was awful and every step was making it worse. I ignored the safe permissive path and walked along the road side which avoided any more hills. I could now not run or jog even on level tarmac.

From the high of yesterday to the depths of despair now. Was this the overall price of chasing fast downhill from Red Screes to Ambleside, then chasing down hard again off Pendle? Did my 'gentle' run on the AA route really let me push the descents more than I had realised at the time? What the hell have I done? Would I be able to run at Bradwell? Should I run there or wait longer to recover for Grenoble? What if I could not run either? I promised myself no running all week and have iced my quad/knee frequently. It is better but not cured better. All of a sudden the foot problem that has plagued me for over two years seemed a minor issue. Yes, it hurts like hell sometimes but it doesn't actually stop me. A couple of days moping around and worrying... until I saw Sandra's post on facebbok- a broken ankle and stitches so no CCC for her. I guess I should be grateful that my summer might still work out OK. How could I have so much up and down of emotions and my body in such a short space of time! I am trying to tell myself that it is like an ultra- there will be bad patches, they will not last, being slow or still for a while will not matter as it is the long game that counts. (fingers crossed).

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