running blog

Clive Whaley


Tough 10K Test

Day 96 - Marathon Training - 10K Race - Exmoor - Coastal Trail Series

I drove 80 miles today to take part in a gruelling 10K race - in fact probably the toughest 10K I have ever done. To start with it was actually 7.3 miles long (not 6.2 which it should be!) and it included a mere 1,200 feet of climbing. It was part of what's called the Coastal Trail Series run by Endurance Life. I've done a few of their events and I 'enjoy' the challenges they put on. They are always well organised and in the most remote and rugged and vertical places you can find along the UK coastline.

I was reasonably pleased to finish 12th out of about 150 competitors and to win my age group (male vet 55+) - to be honest there were hardly any other old geezers like me taking part! The photo here was taken about 4 miles into the race and you can see on my face how hard it was. Nearly all of those first 4 miles involved climbing up and along incredibly steep and narrow coastal paths and then the remaining 3 miles were a scramble downwards over rocks, branches and through wooded paths back to the finish. There wasn't a level patch on the whole course and there wasn't a bruise free part of my body by the time I had pummelled it to bits over the complete circuit.

The start and finish were near a pub called The Hunters Inn - part of the Heddon Valley - a lovely spot and the course itself was rugged and spectacular and wild. The trouble is, when you do an event like this, it is so punishing that you fail to really take in the beauty of it all. I would love to come back sometime and maybe just walk the same route and then 'see it' properly for the first time.

The event is full of young, trendy types wearing the latest running and adventure sports kit, usually in the brightest of colours and just before I left the event, I spotted this guy, Mr P Cock, wearing one of the most lurid outfits of all.

Sunday Hills

Day 48 - Marathon Training - 10 x 45 seconds on hills (90 sec jog recovery)

I don't think I've ever done a hill session on a Sunday. It just doesn't feel like a Sunday thing. It's also a bit strange that this Marathon Plan, that I am religiously following, only has ONE hill session and that was today! It seems a bit random but I'm sure it has been thought through and this training slot does have a purpose.

I discovered it's purpose - it was to knacker me out and, by the 9th hill rep, I was staggering around, dizzy and with a bit of a headache. I don't think those are very good signs! I'm not exaggerating about my reaction - I was gasping and stumbling in the pretty warm February weather, but I do think it was within my limits - I just pushed myself a bit that's all.
10 hill reps_Feb19
This little picture is a copy of the run elevation profile from my GPS watch. The 10 neat little hill reps are shown like the teeth of a saw. Of course seeing it like this makes it look so small and pathetic. It certainly didn't feel like that. The location was one of the steepest streets in town - Elizabeth Avenue - and I had set my watch to bleep after 45 seconds of charging uphill and then it bleeped again after another 90 seconds recovery. When you do a session like this, time on the recovery periods speeds up - you think 'that can't possibly have been 90 seconds already!' - I'm not ready to go again.

One of the key things about hill repetitions is to build strength and I really did feel it working hard on my legs - it's the fact that you have to lift them higher and harder in a very intense way. It does a bit of controlled damage that makes you strong and able to fight another day. Well that's the theory and it better be right. Otherwise what was the point in me suffering like that? On the other hand, I am sure it caused great Sunday entertainment for the mainly elderly residents of this bungalow lined avenue. Turn off the TV and watch this guy repeatedly failing to get to the top of the street. He didn't even deliver any unwanted leaflets, so what the hell was he doing?

What a joy!

What a joy. I ran from my place to Seatown and back today. An extremely tough run - about 9 miles in total along some of the most mountainous parts of the Jurassic Coast. I suppose for some people it would be their definition of torture. But for me, when I'm feeling good and when the weather is good, it is a life affirming experience. It's not as though I felt bad when I started but I still came back feeling a whole lot better.

I met a number of people on the coast path and there was always a smile and a cheery 'Hello' or the common - 'Ooo I wish I was as fit as you' or 'you make me feel tired just watching you'. And it always cheers me and I quip back 'It's all for show, I'm knackered on the inside'! I've learnt to 'hang on' to this positive interaction with my fellow humans. How nice … yes, nice … to smile and exchange a few words with strangers in an instant mutual appreciation of the landscape, the weather, the exercise and the passing camaraderie. It is by hanging on to these positive gems of human experience for a bit longer than they actually last, that we learn to enjoy life more - to appreciate the life we have - instead of dwelling on the life we don't have or the things that might go wrong. And so I make a point of savouring these moments for at least a few minutes after they have happened - a bit like sucking a tasty sweet as long as you can instead of biting and swallowing it straight away. And so, if you see me grinning as I trot across the Dorset coastline, you will know one of the reasons why.

Well over half way into the run, I stagger up to the top of Thorncombe Beacon. Apparently it is the second highest point on the South Coast of England. Sometimes I would believe it if I was told it was the second highest mountain in the Himalayas. As you are running up it has the ability to suck more breath out of you than you can take in and it turns the most flexible leg muscles into solid pieces of lead. The amazing thing is you can be fervently 'running' up it to the best of your ability - your little feet a blur as you tackle the ridiculous slope - while somebody walking with a decent stride can pass you and wave!

Anyway, until recently, I have always seen it as a badge of pride, to run up Thorncombe Beacon - from the foothills to the summit - EVERY time. No matter how bad I am feeling, no matter that it would probably be quicker to walk the top section, no matter that no-one can see me, I ALWAYS used to RUN it. It is part of my make up to strive, to push, even to punish myself to get to the top. And if I didn't it would be a sign of getting older, of weakness, of giving up. That would be terrible wouldn't it?

Oh dear! Today I didn't run the whole way. I ran two thirds of it and then WALKED the rest. What on earth has happened to me? And worse than this I have to confess that I have done this two or three times now. I have broken the unbroken record of running to the top - the record that was only known by me and only recorded in my brain. But you see, now I have come to the realisation that I am still physically fit enough to run it but I'm also mentally flexible enough to not have to.

For me, it is this innate striving behaviour that, unbeknown to me at the time, was sowing seeds that would grow one day into full blown depression. Like scattering a trail of poisonous breadcrumbs that was being followed and lapped up by an insidious monster. One day the monster caught up with me and it took over me and almost scared me to death. It made me desperately sad and fearful and trapped me a lot of the time, even from getting out of bed.

So maybe that's why I kept 'running up that hill' … to escape from the monster! The irony is, like many things in life, I have solved it by turning it on its head. By choosing not to run up that hill when I don't feel like it, I have left the monster behind. Why all that striving in the first place? Well that's another story. I have some theories but no firm answers and right now it doesn't really matter. It's still there but it's not as all consuming as it was, although I bet the next time I face that bloody hill, I'll run up it again!

There was something else I did differently on the run today. Like many of my regular running routes, I follow the same paths, even when there is a choice that will bring me out at the same destination. Even with something as free and liberating as going out on a solo run in beautiful coastal countryside, there is an element of habit. There is something reassuring and safe about the habitual but the one thing it doesn't include is change. It somehow makes a mockery of most political struggles and all the best dramatic movies where the hero bravely shouts, "I choose FREEDOM" - when many of us facing daily mundane choices actually choose repetition and habit ahead of freedom.

I am sure a movie will be made out of my struggle today … this morning, on the section of the path between the Beacon and Eype, where it splits into two sheep trails, one higher than the other but both meeting eventually by the same gate, I took the lower path. I thought I might die, or be hit by lightning or at least suffer severe muscle spasms but no … nothing happened. And this was despite the fact that I always used to take the higher path. (There is not meant to be some righteous metaphor there!)

And so, I came back from the run, along the riverbank back into town, feeling tired but good, really good. I don't want to spend too much time analysing why. Only the people who do this sort of thing really know why. But I do know that today it was something to do with the fact that I chose not to follow the same path that I always do, I chose not to keep pushing myself up that hill and I chose to absorb the spontaneous warmth of strangers. And if you travel on foot, along this section of the magnificent Dorset coast on a warm spring day, it takes some considerable effort to make yourself feel worse.

What a joy!

Photos - 1) Seatown - on this day there was a fleet of 6 large four-wheel drives from the Netherlands in attendance; 2) Me - running up to the top of the Beacon in the Jurassic Coast 10K (it was blisteringly hot); 3) I took the lower path and even the sheep were shocked.