Thursday, 27 June 2013

LONGEST DAY RUN 2013: My Longest Ever Chippierun - and how it almost ended in abject failure

Hey – is it me, or are the nights drawing in?

Of course it’s not me. I know that, you know that. And you know how I know that? Because the Longest Day Run has been run – and thats the event that marks the turning in the lengthening / shortening of days!Well, that and other stuff, of course. Longest Day Run is an affirmation of running, of all that is good about the darn thing, from challenging oneself to go the extra mile (even if that is a solitary mile – in fact, that’s the hardest, requires getting off the couch!) to sharing experiences and nurturing friendships. That’s what Alex, Mike, Simon, Trevor, Matt, Chris and Catherine did: they ran 46mi (or part thereof) across the Peak District, from Millhouses Park down to Baslow, up through Grindlethorpe, Castleton and Edale and back from the edge of Snake Pass through Bambord and Hathersage. Here’s a shot of them, in all their unadulterated beauty (as if by magic, appearing l/r in the order in which I named them above):

Whether any run through Millhouses Park will ever feel the same for them, I don’t know… for that matter, who knows whether running in any shape or form has not forever been redefined by the experience? Will lacing up those shoes ever feel the same again? Will running a simple marathon ever be enough for Simon or has the Ultra Bug put those 26.2mi efforts into a whole new, diminished perspective? Time will tell… time will tell… time alone, alone will tell

Anyway, that epic, heroic, life-changing romantic stuff is what they got up to. Me, I just went out for a run.

Well OK, not just any old run. This wasn’t just Longest Day Run: this, for me, was a Chippie Run! OK, not one of my usual, direct, 1.7mi there&back Chippie Runs, granted… but then I wanted to make sure I really earned my reward on this one! So I… er…

…I ran 26.2 miles!

I ventured to the start of my usual trail run along the Portishead coast, kept going into Clevedon, round and back towards Tickenham, up to the top of the hill eventually coming out into Blueberry Hill, down into Portbury, over the M5 back into Portishead, up Nore Road and home. That’s the abridged, post-run version. The pre-run plan wasn’t that different, other than I wasn’t overly confident about the section from Clevedon to Portishead (a connection I usually make somewhat more directly) which resulted in a detour via some lengthy, forlorn Millionnaire’s Row with shiny gates, vast houses and huge grounds. I can but imagine what the cars were like, for most were tucked away some hundred yards from the road… the only one I saw was an ice-cream van, returning home after a day’s work! I didn’t stop it but had it slowed down… hmmm, it may well have tempted me! Just for a drink, you understand.

The first stage saw me run along the coast path. The stretch from the bottom of Charlcombe Rise through to Clevedon proved a lot less insidious than I’d been led to believe: sure, you’re ever one slip away from falling down into the sea for most of it, but if you look where you’re going it’s not treacherous. It means you may have to stop to take in the scenery – and I did:

Clockwise, from top left: The view approaching Clevedon (you can just about see the Pier; Clevedon Bay; view unto Portishead from Blueberry Wood, some 16miles in (pretty much the point I decided I would go for 26.2; a close shave near Wraxall

I also stopped to let a fellow runner pass me. Boy was he giving it some welly! He acknowledged my etiquette: alas, I didn’t have the time to spell out that I might have been running faster if I knew the path better or if I weren’t planning twenty miles or so that evening! Always tricky not to knock a slower runner, if only at an instinctive level: or so I found earlier on in my running journey. Now I appreciate that there are too many unknowns in the equation (speedwork? short run? long run? recovery run? taper run? any niggles?) and fare better at rising above such nonsense… all runners, aren’t we? I just hope others are as open-minded..!
(Sorry, Simon
I forgot to ask him to log his miles for LDR!)

Upon reaching Clevedon, I passed its pier and kept on going – initially covering ground I’d trod on my previous long run but eventually venturing into new ground. This led me to a river, which I have since confirmed was the Yeo (though I cannot tell you which one). Followed my human instinct and ran alongside it (we’re naturally drawn to water, aren’t we?), a few miles later following the signs for Tickenham. Maybe I would still have reached it following the river? One to look into…

The climb towards Tickenham was nowhere near as steep as I had anticipated. Then again, I wasn’t on the road I thought I’d be. So I just kept going, knowing it was still the right direction, generally speaking. Once in Tickenham I saw a sign for a pedestrian route and figured I might as well follow it. Now that’s where it got steep… but not for long. Or so I feel obliged to say now, having seen what the others did!

At this stage of the route I had a clue as to where I was, fairly confident I was running parallel to where I wanted to be… but I can’t say I was sure. In the end I saw a Public Footpath pointing in the direction of where I thought I needed to be and just followed it. A few turns later and, sixteen miles into my run, I was at the top of Bluebell Wood – or so I thought. It was only my second time in Bluebell Wood, the previous time being when I ran up there from Portishead with some members of Portishead Running Club. On that occasion, they weren’t sure where we were and I proceeded to slip in the snow – I fell on my arse and got up in one single, I’d like to think smooth, movement… the injuries appear to have scarred… Things could only get better this time, eh?
And they did. It turned out to be Bluebell Wood and I came out at the other side, in Portbury. A left turn would have shortly got me over to the Portishead side of the M5; a right turn would have taken me further away from my house and towards the Gordano Services junction. So – I duly turned right!

My target for the day was 20mi. However, I had also told myself that, if I felt fine, I’d aim to hit 26.2mi – a.k.a. marathon length. Seemed only right and proper. And feel good I did: better than anticipated, if I’m honest. The niggles behaved, I didn’t push myself too hard… all uncharacteristically sensible. The slope towards Tickenham hadn’t been as steep as I envisaged, not least because it wasn’t the road I thought it would be; and yes, there had been a short burst of incline to get me from The Road I Was On towards The Road I Thought I’d Be On, but nothing protracted. In my mind I thought I might have to run a few well-known laps closer to home to extend the run to the nice figure of 26.2: however, I figured it might feel easier on the brain to do so before I got close to home so as to not feel as I was “running away” or, for that matter, had a sensible option in the form of home. Hence my detour from the 14th century “The Black Horse” in Clapton-in-Gordano to “The Priory” in Portbury – both pubs (aren’t they great for navigation?) but very, very different! Drink at the former and eat at the latter, in a nutshell – if only because “The Black Horse” doesn’t serve food in the evenings!

Once back in Portishead, I initially thought I’d knock on my Fearnley friends’ door for a water refill. Then I realised I couldn’t remember which of three doors I was starting at was theirs… and that, for that matter, I had more water left than I feared! Stopped at McDonald’s for a couple of milkshakes and a smoothie… don’t worry, not all for me (one milkshake was for Mrs S)… ran up Nore Road in the drizzle with McDonald’s paper bag in hand… dropped it off outside our front door… nipped in at Tesco for a bottle of Lucozade and one of PowerAid (hey, there was a 2 x £2 offer!)… ran to the chippie… bought was turned out to be the last fish going… headed home…

…finished Lucozade as I approached the house, crossed the imaginary line, walked in, drank my smoothie, Strava’d, showered, tweeted, ate my fish and chips, was told by Philip to drink a beer, drank a beer, drank my milkshake… and even treated myself to a Radox bath!Now, all this effort almost ended in total and utter failure! As per passing comment above, I got my hands on the last fish going at the chippies. I even heard the thundering sound of shutters slamming behind me as I left, which made it clear how close I’d come to my longest ever chippie run ending in abject failure! Or turning into my maiden curry run from the adjoining joint, anyway: and that was tempting anyway! Better recovery food, right Dr. Matt?… But I’d set off seeking fish&chips and I was not going to return with anything but fish&chips! Do I look like someone whod move the goalposts mid-expedition just to suit their purpose, eh? Do I look like Christopher Columbus?
(No, I dont. Here's the proof: my black bit on top is hair, his is just a daft hat. Plus Ive patently got a bigger gong. And when I left Genoa seeking better prospects elsewhere, I just boarded a cheap flight to the UK and got on wi’it I didn’t bother the Queen of Spain asking for three ships..! Besides: I smile more. And you dont often hear me say that. About anyone.)
(And OK, so my hair is actually dark brown. But work with me on this totally futile and pointless matter. Thank you.)

There you have it, girls and boys – my Longest Day Run 2013 story. It was a good run, although it was a shame that the clouds obscured the setting sun depriving me of the final, anticipated glorious sight as I (slowly) ran up Nore Road. So much for studying sunset times and figuring when to aim to get home! It was a good challenge: yes I’d tapered, yes I’d carbloaded, but I’d not trained for it the way I’d trained for Manchester. And there was no crowd, no marshalls, no fellow runners… just me and my stupidity / bloody-mindedness. I ran for 4h19’16” and spent another 37’19” either taking photos, figuring which way to go or queuing at McDonald’s or the chippie (which is called “Appleby’s”, by the way – not that anyone calls it that, it’s just “the chippie”!). At a pace of 9’51”/mi, way slower than the 8’04”/mi I’d clocked in Manchester: but then this was really never about pace or time, something I was fortunately comfortable with throughout. It almost became about time when I thought I might ‘just’ run for four hours and see how far I’d go – as it happens, I needed the extra 19’16” to hit marathon distance! Oh, and whilst 1,318ft is not as impressive an elevation stat as I was hoping for (and I’m still thinking of asking my Garmin for a recount!), it’s a darn sight more than the 189ft I recorded in Manchester – pretty much seven times that!

My favourite bits?
Well, I
’ve got nothing to offer on a par with The Blackamoor Crew be that in terms of sights, camaraderie or sense of achievement. But I did love the Coast Path: I will definitely be back, but at the dawn of the day. Ill be running Westwards so no danger of running towards the rising sun… unless I did an about-turn upon approaching Clevedon (or even earlier) and headed back towards it… not that Ive put any thought into this yet, you understand! I will give that a go, although whether the sun will be visible by then or obscured by the hills remains to be seen. And see I will!
Also, I enjoyed running across the field which led me to the road I was meant to be on. I won
t deny stretching my arms out wide as if taking in the cheers of the crowd, willing them on with smiles and waves… Not that there was a human being in sight, of course. And even the cows seemed non-plussed. Miserable things, cows. You try running 26mi! Just… dont run behind me. Or anywhere near me, for that matter. Rich, Cat and I established that is one dangerous situation just the other day.

So – all good. Well, mostly, anyway…

…for there is, of course, a somewhat frustrating, annoying, one may even define stirring element to all this. Any guesses?

(Oh, c
’mon peeps. Whether in the real world or on here, you know me. You know what’s coming. Don’t you?)(Seriously? Eeh bah gum… I guess Id better spell it out then!)

Less than a month ago, I was waxing lyrically about the joy that comes with joining The Marathon Runners Club, what with its lifetime membership and all that. I felt like I’d got there, after a journey that had taken a year in physical training but, some (e.g. my Dad) might say, two decades overall. I’d crossed the line, in more ways than one. Yes, I wanted to keep on running, to come under that 3h30’ time that narrowly eluded me in Manchester: but I’d still joined The Club. Now, after Longest Day Run and the experience shared by Simon & Co. …

…well, remember my words about affinities between goalkeeping and running? To reprise that theme – they’ve only gone and moved the bloody goalposts!!!

Until April 28, I was a wannabe marathon runner hanging out (on Twitter) with folk who’d already earned their stripes, their medals. I felt humbled and honoured to stand in their presence at the finishing line, having emulated their achievements. So what do they go and do, all of 55 days later?
That’s right – they go and run an ultra! Now, the likes of Mike, Matt and Trevor were already seasoned ultra runners: no probs there. But for Simon and Catherine, this was their maiden ultra. An ‘ultra’ being a race of at least 50km / 31mi, incidentally. The extra 8km compared to a feeble marathon may not sound worthy of elevation into a total new sphere, but ultras are typically run at least partly off-road, on more challenging surfaces and with a far greater degree of… yes, elevation!

Anyway, again, I’m out of The Club. Or I’m not in the latest, coolest, trendiest, hippest Club. How great is my urge to rectify that?

I’ll tell thee this fer nowt: there is no burning compulsion to get out there and run 50km. What there is, however, is the hope that, at some point, I shall be able to share such an experience with my running friends – maybe cometh Longest Day Run 2014. Running a half marathon in training and then the real thing in Bristol changed my relationship with long-time friend Jon forever – what would one of those ultra thingies (‘official’ or not – by an Ultra’s nature, that’s no big deal) do?

Similarly, however, me being me I wouldn’t mind a stab at doing so on my own, at the effort being a truly solo one. I make no secret of having checked out The Bideford Bay 50km. Ultimately it’s unlikely to come to anything other than an exploratory exercise: logistics are always a challenge for me and September 7 isn’t ideal for someone running Half Marathons on September 15 and 29, as well as October 20, as well as a marathon on October 6. I ain’t no Wells. Although, truth be told, my racing calendar isn’t my main concern. I do want to run the Bristol Half in its 25th year, I do want to finally compare like-with-like in terms of times, but neither are key decision drivers – plus I’d hope I could run them anyway. And that handful of miles along the North Somerset coast path on Longest Day Run has made me all the more appreciative of the beauty of the rugged South West coastline and how it works as a perfect setting for running (providing you look where you’re going). No, my biggest concern is about getting to Bideford (or nearby) the previous day, getting to the start… sure, there is some apprehension about the “getting to the finish bit” but this past year has given me the confidence to do that. It’s not given me my driving licence back. Fingers crossed that may happen in 2014…

Last but not least: it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that Longest Day Run has inspired other fellow Nutters to take to the keyboard. While we continue to await for Simon’s and Catherine’s words to filter through onto screen (no pressure) (!), check out what Philip had to say. Beautiful.

So thanks again Simon for being the inspiration behind Longest Day Run – getting 198 people out there is no mean feat! Not that anyone’s keeping score here, you understand – although scraping into the Top 20 does please me. And whilst we’re talking about tables – nobody’s keeping score on the Strava Junedoggle, right?
Oh look… I’ve somehow reclaimed third place amongst my ‘community’! Not bad, given I only ran 26 miles last Saturday. None of that 46-mile malarkey for me! Three days to go (indeed, four for those who run in the afternoon!)… I’ll be happy with a Top 5 finish. In fact, who cares, as long as I creep beyond 200mi as I have so far managed to do every month this year? We’re all one team, at the end of the day #TeamNutters. (Oh, and to hit 200 in June I need another 7.85mi. Only I need 16.77mi to hit 50 for the week. So 16.77 rules, Baby. And ice packs rock!)

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