Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Annual Review - 2009

As usual for the last post of the year I intend to look back over the previous twelve months and briefly revisit some of the many highlights of 2009. I hope you enjoyed reading about them at the time and that this post refreshes your memory as well as it refreshes mine.

Announced my intention to raise money for Orchid by undertaking a (very) long run from Otley to London. Spent three weeks looking at maps and planning a suitable route before beginning specific preparation by using a headtorch for the very first time. I also spent lots of time writing letters and emails to suitable businesses in the hope of arranging sponsorship. I currently have two sponsors so all that time was worth the effort but overall things could be better on the sponsorship front. Perhaps the economic climate is against me at the moment. Very cold weather this month made training difficult at times.

The Run To London route was measured at 218 miles. The cold weather continued and in the middle of this month I caught a cold - my first since 2006. At the end of this month the website for the Commonwealth Ultra & Mountain Running Championships was launched and The Wharfedale & Airedale Observer published a lengthy article about the Run To London.

Began assembling a dedicated crew for the Run To London. Ran most of the route checking for road works, diversions, etc. Sponsorship reached £1000 - all going towards research into the prevention and cure of men's cancers (penile, prostate and testicular) and at the end of this month Up And Running donated lots of kit, and some shoes, for me to use whilst on the long road south.

At the start of the month I took part in the North of England 12 stage relay for my club - Otley AC. Had a very enjoyable day in Stockport where we qualified for the National 12 stage relay for the first time in the club's history. In the middle of the month Keir took part in a 5k race in Leeds as part of his Duke of Edinburgh (bronze) award - very proud of him.

Three women and one man represented Britain at the World 24 hr Challenge in Italy where Anne-Cecile Fontaine ran 243.644 km to fall short of the world record by an agonising 13 metres. Also this month Nadeem Khan wrote a profile of me for the IAU website detailing the Run To London. At the start of the month I had three very successful crew meetings in Leeds where I met many of the dedicated bunch of helpers for the first time ... I was very impressed by their dedication and willingness to give up their weekend to help me raise as much money as possible. And then I resigned (after almost ten years) as secretary of Otley AC and as race director of the Otley 10 ... the workload was becoming more and more unmanageable and the resulting pressures had meant that something had to give. Also attended an England Athletics ultra squad weekend where I met a few of my heroes for the first time. Interviews with Radio Leeds and Yorkshire TV Calendar followed towards the end of the month. Oh .. and then there was the Run To London.

Donations are still welcome at Bmycharity.

Began training seriously for the Commonwealth Championships later in the year. There was also the Otley 10 where I helped at the finish for a change. This was followed a few days later by a large get-together of myself and many of those who helped raise well over £2000 for Orchid a few weeks earlier. Later in the month Assist Creative Resources decided to sponsor me by supplying Shotz electrolyte tablets, Shotz gels and Shotz energy bars - all very welcome for the race(s) in Keswick (and beyond). At the end of the month I ran a 5k race around a reservoir near Rochdale and was rewarded with an age-graded pb. Considering I ran 218 miles only four weeks earlier this was a big surprise ... as was the presentation by Andy O'Sullivan before the race.

Greg Mulholland MP tabled an Early Day Motion in the House of Commons about the Run To London followed a few days later by phone confirmation that I had been selected to represent England at the Commonwealth Championships. In the middle of the month I had a bad race in Hull - I guess my body needs more than seven weeks recovery after 218 miles in 45 hours. At the end of the month I took part in the Washburn Valley Relay for my club.

The England kit (part of it) arrived in the middle of the month and I road tested all of it at least twice. Cannot be too careful about seams, good fit, chafing, etc in long ultras. Felt a bit strange though running around Wharfedale in England kit. At the end of the month I spent a week crash training ... ran over 160 miles and spent over 32 hours running, cycling, stretching, strength training, etc. A very tiring month.

At last ... the Commonwealth Championships ... I spent five nights in Keswick and my race was on days two and three. Overall it was a very good few days and I was very pleased with my position and my team silver medal.  Less pleased with my overall distance though - I should have run at least 4k more. I know I can do that.

At the start of the month a family member died and at the end of the month I spent a few days in hospital having a throat operation. Also in this month came the sad death of the brother-in-law of Helen Barber - one of my helpers on the Run To London. He had been suffering with penile cancer for a while but was hoping to run part of the way with me. Sadly he took a turn for the worse and his health then sadly deteriorated quickly.

Greg Mulholland MP tabled another Early Day Motion, this time trying to get the British media to give more coverage to ultra distance running. Spent this month slowly getting back to fitness after my illness and surgery.

Finally got around to analysing all the lap times from Keswick. Set personal bests at 50k, 100k, 150k, 200k, 50 miles, 100 miles, 6 hrs, 12 hrs and 24 hrs. At the prestigious BBC Sports Personality Of The Year I was disappointed that the Commonwealth Championships were not deemed worthy of even a brief mention. Very bad weather this month caused the cancellation of the Otley AC Christmas handicap for the first time ever.
Overall 2009 was an amazing year with two big highlights. I'd like to thank everyone who contributed in any way whatsoever but particularly my sponsors ASSIST Creative Resources Ltd., FitnessFootwear.com and Alan Young for all his help and advice (for 2009 and beyond).

As for the future ... well May 2010 has the World 24hr Challenge in Brive-la-Gaillarde and in September there's the Perth 24 hr race (probably). The only downside is that UK Athletics won't select the team until February - so it's a case of keep training for now and hoping for that UK vest. Possibly fit in a couple of other races too but these are my 'target races' for the next twelve months.

If not this year then I'm confident of putting in a very good performance in Perth which will strengthen even further my case for selection for the 2011 championships.

Happy New Year and/or Hogmanay to you all ... and thanks for reading.

Monday, 28 December 2009

shoe review

The North Face - Hedgehog GTX XCR

Many thanks to FitnessFootwear.com for these shoes.

The first thing to note about these shoes is the soles. As soon as I removed them from the box I noticed that the very deep lugs seem more than capable of dealing with all trail running possibilities.

The shoes are marketed as being for 'fast paced hikers' but I guess most trail runners would be more than happy in these as they are lightweight, waterproof, breathable and durable. The North Face have designed these with a grippy Vibram® outsole and a low-cut profile for fast movement across varied terrain.

Other features include: waterproof and breathable Gore-Tex® XCR® membrane. Abrasion-resistant, bomber synthetic nubuck and breathable sandwich-mesh upper. Northotic ergonomically-designed footbed with Poron® forefoot and heel inserts and AgION® antimicrobial footbed covering a lightweight, compression-molded EVA midsole.

I have used these shoes quite a few times this month running on The Chevin, through Danefield and along other paths and trails around Otley. The uppers have not really proved waterproof but that is probably more due to the snow (deep in places) than to wet grass and mud.

As expected the grip has been excellent in all conditions except black ice but, surprisingly, the laces are a weak point and are frayed at the ends already.

Overall an excellent choice for trail runners ... and they are available in various colours and styles. All available here.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Christmas handicap

Today was my first quick training session since my illness.  It was going to be Otley AC's annual Christmas handicap near Timble in the beautiful Washburn Valley.

Unfortunately, due the very bad weather recently, it was cancelled yesterday morning.

So ... this afternoon I did a tempo run.  Three miles at about half marathon pace on a course that still had a few icy patches.   Fun.

Very surprised by my time which worked out at about 6:40 per mile.  My target was somewhere between 6:37 and 6:45 per mile.

Further proof that I'm getting back to fitness ... rapidly.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

TV news coverage

Did anyone watch television last Sunday evening ... in particular the Sports Personality Of The Year on BBC 1. Here are my thoughts:

Let me begin by congratulating the BBC on a first class program.  As always it provided an excellent general review of the sporting year.

This year though I felt that something was missing.  As the program was essentially a review of the sporting year I feel that mention should have been made of a Commonwealth Championships which took place only three months ago.

The championships in question had 16 gold medals at stake which included men, women and teams.  British sports men and women won well over 50% of the medals on offer.  Yet no mention was made of their achievements either on sports programs or news reports at the time or on the Sports Personality Of The Year program.  A little unfair I believe.

What's more, these championships were not for a so-called minority sport such as darts, gymnastics or archery but for two branches of the mainstream sport of athletics known as ultra distance running and mountain/fell running.

In my event, the 24 hr running race, John Pares (Wales) claimed an individual bronze medal in the men's race. The England women's team were awarded the gold medal and the England men's team the silver medal. Sharon Gayter (England) won the women's race with Vicky Skelton (England) finishing second and the Scottish women claiming a team bronze medal to add to the team bronze medal their men had won.

Yet no mention of any of this on a national news or sports program when the event was held in September.

In May next year the 24 hr World Challenge will be held at Brive in France and many people have predicted that the UK runners have a good chance of bringing home some medals. Hopefully mention will be made on BBC news and/or sports programs of all their achievements.

As England's first finisher in the Commonwealth Championships (fifth overall) I know that ultra distance runners are just as dedicated and train equally as hard as athletes such as Jessica Ennis and Mo Farah - but without any lottery funding whatsoever.

The overall perception of ultra distance running with the public is not helped by commentators such as Brendan Foster who portray the marathon as the ultimate endurance race.  It isn't, for ultra distance runners such as myself 26 miles is just another training run - not a particularly long one either.

Hopefully things will change regarding media coverage of our events ... but I fear it will be almost as long as some of our races.

Friday, 11 December 2009

recovery complete

Went to hospital this morning for a check up after my recent illness and the good news is that I've completely recovered and can now begin training normally.

Obviously I'm not going to run anywhere close to 100 miles next week ... or even manage a 20 mile long run. But from a modest base I can now begin to build with confidence.

I have been trying to maintain fitness as much as possible and I believe I'm in a good position to begin training and making plans for next year which will hopefully include the World 24 Hour Challenge in Brive (13/14 May).

I don't expect to hear about possible selection until mid February at the earliest which is a bit of a nuisance really ...

Finally managed to analyse the mass of data I received from the England management following the Commonwealth Championships.  This data comprised full lap times for every runner which show that in Keswick I set personal bests at 50k, 100k, 150k, 200k, 50 miles, 100 miles, 6 hrs, 12 hrs and 24 hrs ... not bad for a days work.

The data also shows that after about 19 hours (120 miles) I was slowing drastically and between 21 and 23 hours it was just a case of hanging on.  I did up the pace ever so slightly between 220k and 230k which I'm pleased about.

I've also just updated some of the stuff on the sidebar to the left.

Monday, 7 December 2009


My love of coffee has been well documented on this blog quite a few times in the past couple of years.  At the moment I'm drinking Starbuck's Christmas Blend ... and enjoying every mouthful of the spicy, sweet, dark roasted brew.

Earlier today, whilst reading the Mud Sweat & Tears website I came across a link to an article about the effects of caffeine on athletic performance. The piece originally appeared in The New York Times back in March this year but you can read it here.

It's good to know that caffeine is helping my ultra distance races although based on personal experience after my most recent three or four races I'll probably try caffeine tablets rather than a caffeine loaded drink. This is because I don't drink enough at any one time to get any significant benefit, ie 200ml drink doesn't contain enough caffeine.

My usual drink, Lucozade Sport with caffeine normally contains about 32mg caffeine per 200ml.  This equates to about 0.57mg per kg of my body weight and from my research I would suggest I need about 3mg per kg body weight.  Which is about 168mg caffeine or 1050ml Lucozade Sport.

It's obviously not practical to drink more than a litre all at once during an ultra race ... so caffeine tablets may be the answer.