A little iron in my soul…

Mercifully, my legs weren’t too trashed after last Sunday’s marathon.  I was able to go for a gentle 7 mile recovery run on Monday lunchtime and by Thursday they felt almost normal.

I was helped by a long sports massage on Tuesday. I’ve not often invested in massages in the past, mainly through my aversion to unnecessary cost, but undoubtedly they are a very good idea for tired legs and I’ll have a couple more before the big day.

I got great value as the masseur worked mainly on my quads for nearly 90 minutes, not bad when the session was only supposed to be an hour.  He was a keen sports scientist as well and we had a great chat about sports nutrition.

I have never been one to follow pre-written training plans.  However, I have decided to try to follow the last six weeks of the training plan on the Comrades website. I have printed it off and blu-tacked it to my kitchen cupboard, ticking off each day as I complete them.

Although I feel I have enough experience to muddle through marathon training, I’m an ultra virgin, so I thought I had better follow someone else’s advice.

One word seems to appear alarmingly frequently in the Comrades plan – “hills”. I have obviously heard that Comrades is hilly, but I hadn’t really appreciated just how much ascent there is.  There’s nearly 2,000 metres of vertical ascent during the up run. Oh shit. The first 23 miles are basically all uphill, then it undulates for about 25 miles then there are two nasty hills near the end, the infamous Little Polly’s and then the mother of them all – Polly Shortt’s herself, just 7K from the finish.

The plan calls for double long runs on the next three weekends.  This weekend was a simple matter of a 2 hour run on Saturday, followed by a minimum three and hour half hour hilly run on Sunday.

Saturday’s instalment was an easy 7 mile jog down to parkrun, a couple of laps to kill time before the start; a steady parkrun then a jog home for 18 miles in total.

Aside from running a hilly route, I figured that I needed to start training my mind to accept that I will be running for many hours – the Comrades experience will be a mental and a physical challenge. I also needed to practice running much more slowly, more around my likely Comrades pace and to rehearse taking regular walk breaks.

Although I would normally venture out for my long runs early on a Sunday morning, this week I had three good reasons to delay it until the afternoon – one, I had been to a wedding ‘night do’ on Saturday and had perhaps imbibed one more pint of Theakstons than I should have; two, I wanted to eat a massive breakfast to fuel up before the run; but mainly I wanted to watch the London marathon and track the progress of my teammates and other pals in the race.

I had the excellent VMLM tracker app set up on the iPad I was nervously waiting for each 5K split to come through from the ten or so mates that I was tracking.  As expected, there was a mixture of good performances and some disappointments and I felt my heart sink a little as I saw one or two of my mates clearly feeling it as their 5K splits got slower in the latter part of the race.

Struggling at the end of a marathon is an awful place to be, I’ve been there too many times myself, in that horrible hurt locker just willing for it to finish.

By 1.30pm I struck out on my long run. Realising that I would have lots and lots of time with just my own thoughts, I thought I would take the mp3 player and treat myself to some old classic albums that I hadn’t listened too in ages.

I hardly ever run with music, though I do often listen to podcasts, but I thought listening to albums in full may help to pass a few hours before the legs started to really feel it.

People hardly ever listen to full albums these days and it was great to lose myself in  ‘Grace’ by Jeff Buckley, ‘The Division Bell’ by Pink Floyd and the ‘Hounds of Love’ by Kate Bush as I ground out the miles.

I decided on running a nine mile loop – down the hill to Pool, along the Pool-Otley bottom road and then the long two and half mile climb back to Bramhope, including the top half of Old Pool Bank which is genuinely steep. Doing loops meant that I didn’t need to carry much, just a gel and a fiver for the shop in case I got desperate for a drink.  I took a three minute pitstop at the end of each lap for drinks and nutrition.

I ran very slowly, well over eight minutes per mile and then even slower for the climb back to the village. I took a one minute walk break every five miles and walked the steepest 100m section of Old Pool Bank on each lap. This wasn’t at all about speed, it was primarily to find out if I had the requisite iron in my soul to be an ultra runner.

I resolved to run a minimum of the marathon distance, but hopefully a little bit further. Thankfully, although my legs got progressively heavier and I did slow a little on the third lap, I never bonked and I felt OK to run an extra loop around the Chevin Forest at the end to make it a round 30 miles in total – easily the longest single run of my life and my first ever ‘ultra’ training run. It took me 4 hours and 19 minutes average pace of 8:39 miling.

With at least 8 miles of dead uphill running, I was anxious to see how much ascent I had run.

My heart sank when I read the Strava record – only 2,177 feet or 663 metres of ascent – less than a third of what I will have to run at Comrades. In other words, I’d run over half the race distance for Comrades, but even on a local hilly run, had done only 30% of the climbing. Comrades is going to be tough!

However, I was quite pleased with how I coped with a 30 mile run.  The key is undoubtedly to run very slowly, the walk breaks help, and it is essential to keep shovelling in the food.  At the end of each lap, I had 500ml of high carb sports drink, a banana and a Chia Charge bar. I also had a couple of gels on the run and stopped at a garage after 24 miles for a bar of chocolate and a drink of Coke.

When I eventually got home I reached into the little pocket at the back of my shorts for my front door key.  To my absolute horror, the zip was open and the key wasn’t there! Shit!  I must have opened the zip to take out the fiver for my chocolate and drink and had forgotten to zip it shut. What a muppet, I was so furious with myself, it’s just not like me to make such a stupid error. I did manage to get into my house through the back, but the lost key was my only front door key…

Amazingly, my sister then phoned – a young lady had found my key on Otley Chevin and had phoned the ICE number (in case of emergency) that was printed on my little plastic parkrun barcode that was on the key ring.

How kind of her to take the trouble to phone, I took her a couple of bottles of wine as a thank you when I picked up the key later. It’s not true what they say about young people. Most are thoroughly decent citizens.

Next week the training plan calls for another double long run, including the longest training run of all – 34 miles! I’m going to do that on the canal from Skipton to Leeds on either Sunday or Bank Holiday Monday (Sunday is the final day of the Tour de Yorkshire). If anyone fancies joining me perhaps for the last ten miles then I would love your company, it gets pretty lonely being a long distance runner.

CM -5 weeks
Weight 11st 3.4lb
89.4 Miles
parkrun – Woodhouse Moor  22:15 (77th)


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