My legs are still happily (it’s a pain-pleasure thing) reminding me about my day out on Saturday at the Anniversary Waltz.
Last year, on a slower amble, I went the same route up Robinson from below High Snab Bank, and was latched onto by a flock of sheep who thought I had something to offer. It started with a small flockette, until more and more joined, pursuing me in a rather lovely sheepy way for about half a mile until I shook them off by making a noise a bit like mint sauce.
This year, I had 150 fellrunners behind me, and another 150 ahead, and the sheep had had a better offer.
Hands on the ground at some points on the way up past Blea Crags, not by bending over, just by having the ground steeping up to meet me. My calves (legs, not more farm animals) were a bit shouty here, but I could also hear everyone else’s protesting in the communal pained silence. Back at the start, the wind had led to extended iffiness about how many layers to wear, and how long their sleeves should be. Now, people with long sleeves were finding them most useful to wipe the sweat from their eyes.
Heading up to the summit, I already had the lightning-twitches of cramp, but I was relying on my long girls’ socks to stop that getting worse. If someone called the fell-running-fashion-police, I was hoping I could out-run them…
I also already had time on my mind, despite there being no cut-offs on this race. A couple of days before, I’d looked up past results, and noticed that when I first did the race in 2007 there were split times recorded for each summit checkpoint.
I’ve never been close to my (still mediocre) 2007 result since then, but now I had the checkpoint times on my mind, and it was difficulty to ignore them as I went from Robinson to Hindscarth and Dale Head, chasing the elusive younger me. (And not even looking at the view, until someone else mentioned it, and then it was almost all I could look at; a perfect lakes day in the middle of some less cooperative ones).
Now I was at Dale Head, I had a decision to play with; seventh-time-lucky on finding a staggerable line straight down, or going with the potentially-flaky-but-reccied option of heading to Honister and remembering to turn left. I went with the excitement of the new, and headed off by myself trying not to feel too disconcerted at being emphatically by myself.
As it was, it turned out to be some of the nicest running in the race (maybe I wasn’t trying hard enough), with a sweep and a swoop down to the tarn across grass and bogs, and nothing even vaguely pointy to land on. More importantly, it got me down a sight quicker than last year, and with a smile too.
Should have tried harder on the climb to High Spy, but that’s something for next year, and while the cramp flashed and banged a bit over Maiden Moor, it never really set in to stay.
The threat of distant binoculars from Catbells was good to keep me running hard on the way to Hause Gate, and the promise of a kiss kept me honest on the last up before the last down.
Frolicking down over the rocks from the final checkpoint I made sure I was nice to walkers (although I did remind an elderly couple ‘don’t try this at home, kids’). My beloved spectator described the sensation of walking up the final stages of Catbells when it was ‘raining fellrunners’, and there are better and neater places to fall on someone.
Oh, and my younger me extended his lead from one minute at Robinson to seven minutes by the finish, but I’ll get him next year. I have the advantage of coming at him from behind, after all.
I gave daughter #1 a book of Saki short stories for Christmas, which dislodged the incantation ‘Let un sink as swims’ from the back of my head where these things huddle.
Anyway, I looked it up, and the story also has the phrase ‘and legs churned the water in a helpless swirl of flapping and kicking….the wildly bobbing body …rolled and twisted under the surface’.
Which brings me to yesterday’s swim. Becki and I went to the pool for a quick (ha!) bit of aquathlon practice.
I should clarify here that I never describe myself as a triathlete; in conversation, I will admit to doing a few triathlons, but I think there is a difference there. But, even people that only do a few triathlons should think about mixing a bit of swimming into their training.
In late September, I did a walrussy clamber on to the beach at the Dawlish Triathlon. In late November I splashed around a heavily-occupied hotel pool for five minutes. And, er, that’s it for my swim training in recent history.
I still didn’t think (I don’t know why) that I would be as slow and struggling as I was yesterday though. I have put the times in to shame myself; 10:05 for 400m, and 15:30 for 600m. I’m sure that’s slower than when I first started swimming. And got lapped by Becki, plus a bit more.
I did a hilly running penance afterwards, but enough is enough. I can’t be doing with writing any more about my rubbish swimming.
It’s time to get a grip, and do some proper training.
Starting from the day-after-tomorrow, obviously, let’s be realistic here.
#1 – cold and crisp at High Down, and Becki and I went for the direct route up the west face of Brat Tor to blow the cobwebs away before some mild Christmas-and-pasty shopping in Tavistock.
At the top of the tor I sometimes feel a little cross, and then it was on and up across mild tussocks to Chat Tor (which we agreed looks like a cow pat, in the nicest possible way).
We peered into the wilderness eastwards, and then it was back to breaking the ice on top of the bogs to Sharp Tor. A stumble-and-bump of a descent through the clitter (it’s not the rocks that get you, it’s the gaps where the rocks aren’t), and then a nice run across to Doe Tor for a look down on to the way home.
Stepping stones turned into a paddle across the Lyd at a pool that’s warmer in the summer, then a quick whiz back on close-cropped grass for tea and mince pies in the car.
#2 – dark and wet coming home late from work, and my prescribed 4x 1,000m round the track evolved into 4 x 4 minutes round the streets.
Being too clever by half, I set my shiny new interval-timing-watch to shout beepily at me when the 4 minuteses were up (and the 90 second recoveries too), allowing no hiding and no slacking.
This plan would have worked better if I had properly read the instructions for the watch. I’m used to the stretching effect that interval and turbo work has on time, and how the seconds get slower as the breathing gets faster. But even so, something over five minutes into the allegedly-four-minutes first effort, my oxygen-starved brain was realising that something was definitely up (and not just the hill).
As it turned out, I had set the watch for 4 x 4 hour efforts, with a 90 minute recovery between each one. Ambitious? Moi? Three rather shorter efforts later, and I was in front of the woodburner with some red wine (and some press ups, but we’ll explain that another time).
#3 – Tavistock again, but a work trip this time, punctuated by another diversion to High Down and a 35 minute threshold effort along the old tramway and back along rougher ground.
I don’t run hard enough when on the moors, so this was an eye-watering step in the right direction. It’s a long gradual pull up to the tram points above Lake Down, and the way back down had the wind against me to add some continuity of effort.
Unlike run number one though, there were no views! The hills were still there, and the valleys too, and the clouds were high and so was the sun. Didn’t see a bit of it though, just me and some grippy shoes, and a good attitude and the ground ahead. Good to be out.
Running down towards the secret waterfall today, below the one green hill, leaning forwards with fast feet and road-shoes happy on firm loose stones, my legs felt like I was a proper runner for a few moments.
I’ve had a shocking cold for the past few days (turbo allergy?), and the rest of the run was a bit treacly. But who cares about those bits, and who remembers them?
Day 17 in the #turbovember house, and so far this month I’ve spent somewhere between half a day (real) and half a life (feels like) on the turbo trainer.
For the uninvolved, the turbo trainer is a machine for taking all the best bits of a bike ride, the air and the blur and the journey, and locking them in a box while you sit on the bike in the kitchen, racing the slowest second hand in the world.
All of the push, and none of the whoosh…
It’s compelling though, which is why I’ve managed it every day so far this month. OK, some of them have only been 20 minutes, which is barely enough to begin a hot little puddle on the floor beneath me, but the enfs have got used to it, the cat is tolerating it, and I may even feel a fleeting sense of loss in two weeks’ time.
I even managed to tick(?) one off the evening after Dartmoor Runners last week, which had a certain bent charm. Must blog about that one too, tomorrow.
Cycling back from Dawlish in the morning, all red lights and hi-viz, my ears are telling me it’s autumn, with the wind clipping them tight. Headband soon, once it’s dark enough as well as cold enough. The brakes stammer on the cross bike (you’d be cross if you’d been stuck in all year), another thing I was going to sort out if summer had been longer.
Lifting my eyes from tarmac and speed-bumps, there’s a mucky sea beneath the goose-grey sky, and the horizon has pulled itself in a little against the north wind since the weekend.
When I ran on Sunday, the hills were still stretching out to catch the last of summer. The low afternoon sun was glancing across the earth; a warning shot rather than a warming one, skimming stones.
I was exploring. Long Lane was a good place to start, taking me away from the sea and back into beyond. There’s an abandoned car slowly melting in the woods, and it marks where an extra effort leaves the town behind. Further through the trees the chestnuts are hatching among the fallen leaves.
Across the fields, starting the sheep scudding, and I think about the flock that chased me in Newlands at the other end of the year (I’ve got some catch-up writing to do).
Through Pitt Farm and Mowlish, and there’s a village hall with faded bunting, where I didn’t know a village was. The poster tells me that the harvest fair has been and gone, but it’s still an industrious idyll as I run on through stubble, past ploughing and shearing. Later, there are rosehips in the hedgerow as the lanes deepen, ancient ways through banks several centuries taller than me.
I’ve turned now, and above the headland the air is all woodsmoke and seasalt. Across Orchard Lane there’s a sign in Eastdon Woods saying private, and while today I don’t have time to see what it says on the other side, I have plans for the future and there are more runners than me who will be making sure they push it just a little bit harder this next year, just because they can.
And there are eggs to buy on the way home, and stories to tell.
Well it’s the real relay, of course.
Like many people, I was mildly disappointed (I wouldn’t put it at any more than that) when the official Olympic torch relay went past large parts of Cornwall and Devon in a big van.
And like many people, I just thought “tut” and carried on with what I was doing in a very British way.
Some other people though, local race organisers Endurancelife, had the slightly wildly ambitious idea of sparking off a real relay. As they put it themselves, it’s:
“an exciting attempt to follow the entire route of the official Olympic Torch around Britain in one continuous non-stop journey, running every step of the way. Starting out from Land’s End at midnight on Monday 28 May, ten days behind the official Olympic Torch, the Real Relay will involve hundreds of runners from across Great Britain running through the day and night on an 8,000 mile mission to reach London in time for the Olympic Games opening ceremony. We’re calling on runners from all over Great Britain to join the relay by signing up to run one or more of the stages (below) and help us achieve one of the greatest Olympic endeavours of all time”.
One of the nicest things about is that it’s all a bit relay 2.0. The success of the relay relies on the enthusiasm of individuals keeping it together, individuals who have never met, volunteering to go and play with strangers in the dark, with just some email and Facebook glue keeping the edges tucked in.
My own leg was embarrassingly convenient. Becki dropped me at Kenton on her way to school with the children, and as we drove through Starcross we passed the-runner-I-now-know-to-be William carrying The Baton.
A couple of minutes later I was off running through Powderham woods with a strikingly large and slightly sweaty stick, musing on how only 33 hours before it had been at Land’s End.
I also had time to muse on the fact that the baton has written on it “never never never give up”, which is not a bad sort of philosophy. Stop for a wee, yes, and look at the view. But never give up. I also like the fact that it’s an echo of one variable statesman, that in the circumstances reminds me of another one.
Anyway, I like a good saying. Where was I? Stopping to take pictures on the way to Exeter, that’s where I was. A warm morning turning into a hot day. I happily slowly plodded along the river path past people with dogs and bikes who didn’t know that me and the stick were part of something bigger, while I didn’t know about the bits of them that were parts of something bigger, but our circles overlapped as we drifted past.
And some of the connection to the baton still stays when you have passed it on, and you are following its steady progress up-country, and 1,200 (so far) miles later you can still think that all the time, day or night, a happy stranger is still running with it. I wonder if it mingles with each runner (an)atomically, in a Third Policeman sort of way.
Back at the plot, have I ever mentioned that I can’t run fast and think at the same time? (In fact have I ever mentioned that I can’t run fast?)
I had started with a comfortable 80 minutes to complete my eight miles, but the detour to the river had added more miles while the stops for photos had added less minutes. As I crossed the swing bridges into Exeter, I woke up and realised that my meandering drift of a run now meant that I had twenty-five minutes left to complete a little over thirty-minutes-worth of running in.
I had previously toyed with the idea of impressing Coach Maurice by putting in some 400m intervals during the final 3.5 miles, seeing as I hadn’t done my previous track session. Now though, if I was going to avoid being late to hand the baton to Tracy, I was going to have to do a pretty solid threshold run all the way in.
The unthinkable thought of being late was big enough to push all the other stuff out of my head, and twenty-four fuzz-filled minutes later I met Tracy outside Exeter Cathedral.
Ten days before, the official Olympic torch relay had been for a big do outside the cathedral, but I missed it because I was falling off my bike at the Keswick Tri (another story for later).
It’s nice that the real relay doesn’t need to be negative about the official relay to make its mark – each brings people together in different ways. After all, if it wasn’t for the fallibility of the official relay, the real relay wouldn’t be there and a lot of us would have missed out. As would the brilliant charity Chicks that it’s raising money for, and some children who need a break.
I’ll tell you one thing that our (it belongs to everybody who likes it) real relay lacks though, and that’s an awful lot of runners to get it across the wilds of Ireland and Scotland. Spread the word, dear reader, spread the word…
Maybe I need to work on the rhyming of post titles, but I need to work on my swimming even more.
Driving to Dawlish in the early Sunday dawn, the rising sun made the sea look a more inviting prospect than 24 lengths in the leisure centre pool. At least, until I thought about the temperature; nice as sea-swimming is, the solar heating thing just isn’t quite at its best yet.
When I slightly reluctantly began swimming five years ago, I had high hopes. With my running and biking, there has always been some sort of relationship between how hard I have trained and how fast I have raced. So, I planned to apply this transactional approach to swimming – do a bit of training, get a bit quicker, and repeat.
Five years ago this month, I almost-enthusiastically splashed my way through my first swim-run aquathlon. Camel-like, limbs in all directions and spraying spectators in the café with water as I thrashed up and down, I was fifth from last overall in the swim (which at least gave me plenty of people to catch on the run).
Thousands of training lengths and several sinky triathlons later (and even some swimming lessons with mystified instructors), how did I do in my second-ever aquathlon at Dawlish on Sunday? Well I’d like to say it went just swimmingly, but it might be better to talk about sinking feelings…
My stroke has undeniably got much smoother. The writhing has mainly gone, and I glide happily(ish) along like an otter with a slight limp.
After all this training and sneezing though, it’s more than a slight disappointment that I’ve actually got even slower. The extra 30 seconds I took meant that I was now fourth-from-last instead (is that an improvement?) – at least it made my run look comparatively better. Hey ho.
A slight issue remains, in that when I kick, I go backwards. This seems to be because of some sort of design flaw with my feet, and I have some exercises to do for them just as soon as I can be bothered, and when I’ve stopped twisting my ankle.
The good thing though, and it makes me smile when writing it, is that on a fraction of the training Becki did the novice event. She pretty much whupped my arse on the swim, given that her breaststroke was almost beating my crawling crawl, and came proportionately higher in her event after the run. It is irkng, yes, but in rather a nice way.
What have I been up to? It’s less of a story and more of a dot-to-dot:
- recognising I had a mild (and passing) case of attitude sickness on the climb up Kirkfell in the Wasdale show race, and still keeping on plodding onwards and upwards. I would say that I got a grip, but grip was the one thing I didn’t have as I slid grassily back down. Best race in the calendar? 2,400 feet up in a mile and a quarter. 2,400 feet back down the way we came. Two shaky legs that made me suffer and smile on the stairs for a week afterwards
- finding my way back to the running track. First of all, on the last day of summer, for what turned out to be the rainiest hour of the year. Three weeks later, in the first cold snap of this end of the year, with that feeling of blood in your chest. Keeping my promises up there so far too, back there last Tuesday, running the last few reps with the white lines being gently blurred by a rising-or-falling autumn mist that held around our knees
- playing “it” with two enfs as a warm-up at the start of a Park Run that we went to, being happy that as teenagers they still know how to play obliviously, and being cautiously optimistic that they won’t let growing-up get in the way of that
- pushing back the rising unease on the last sea-swim of the year, when I was more-than-usually alone (because the crowd actually had gone the wrong way this time), and the waves were too high for me to see safety. And finally happily unsteadily beaching in the quickening dusk, landing heavily like a flightless bird or a swimless fish. Oh, and stopping at the little beach amusement arcade when running back afterwards, confident that a day when I was so gifted by my undrowning, was the day when the gods of the cuddly-toy-grabber would smile on me and tighten their always-unreliable grip. (They didn’t, of course)
- a night on the moors with Bambi & Becki, setting the course for Dartmoor Runners under both ends of a rainbow, listening to the downpour in the night, and collecting the controls in the sun next day
- just avoiding a James Herriot soggy-rolled-up-sleeve moment, when I nearly ran into the back of a cow in the fields by the river tonight. Time to play with headtorches again. Winter drawers on, as the BBC never said.
What do we get when we join the dots? I’m hoping it’s a good base for a quickish (for me) 10k on the road (eek) in early January. We’ll see what added colouring-in I can do between now and then, won’t we?
And off we go. Five weeks after Borrowdale was such a pain in the arse, it’s time to start plodding (carefully) round the Dartmoor Runners winter series.
From the Warren House Inn it was over to the forest and along the edge of it. While I could see some other figures taking detours, I decided that today would be a straight line day.
Up a hill, and I edged a bit of determination in quite early on; part of my new plan is to work a little harder in races like this, rather than hiding in the thinking that it’s long distance so I must be slow. Some good grassy downhill then, to control number one. This was at the source of a stream, which doesn’t mean a nice bubbly spring or anything, just a bog-with-a-sense-of-purpose.
Over from there to the ruin of Statts House, and a hideous tussocky lurch around the edge of Sittaford Tor to get there. Halfway along, I stumbled (yes) across a path leading to the top of the tor, and decided the long way might be shorter, and followed the path to where it was going rather than where I wanted to be.
Part of the point to the detour was that I hoped there would be some sort of path from the top across to Winney’s Down, rather than another tussock-fight. As it was, my sense of direction forgot about my earlier thinking on straight lines, and I managed a spectacular if ineffective dog-leg that picked out tussocks that themselves had tussocks on top. I was right though; there was a good path from Sittaford Tor and across. I know this because it was plainly visible in the distance when I looked back across my own lurchy route.
Over from Statts House then to Hartland Tor, sploshing through some more stream sources before a whooshy descent and a good hard run along solid paths before some gorse trampling to get to the top and control three, which was cunningly hidden in plain view. Took me a couple of minutes to find it, but once I’d realised it was a big orange and white flag stuck in the middle of a big rock, I was fine.
Too much road over to control four in the woods at Soussons Down, (but that was my choice on how to get there), and too many trees once I arrived. Unusually for a plantation though, the tracks and rides were where the map said they were, and it was just my legs that were limiting me now. What was nice though, was that I was near a pair who were running stronger than me, but were taking longer to navigate because of joint decision-making. When there’s just the one of you, the arguments are quicker, even if your legs aren’t.
And that was just about it, then, out of the woods, and through the heather, and up the hill for a little lie-down before coming home to take assorted enfs to feed assorted types of bread to a range of swans and seagulls pretending to be ducks.
I like Sundays.