Monday, 27 August 2012

Lion spotted

Given the situation regarding the recent  sighting of a lion in Essex, I saw an ideal opportunity to post the following picture. 

I was snapped wearing that lion costume back in February during one of Dave Fairlamb's Beach Bootcamp sessions in Tynemouth. I was testing the costume out at -2 degrees Celsius with a view to wearing it during the London Marathon some 2 months later. Despite the freezing temperature, far too much heat was generated in the costume and visibility was extremely poor. Running the London Marathon in it was just too risky.

All is not lost and I've decided to use it for the Great North Run along with other characters from the Wizard of Oz! The link being Oz/Australia for those who haven't guessed yet. 

I've only just got the costume again from The Children's Foundation. That gives me a couple of weeks to train in it before the Great North Run. It will be getting it's first outing (minus the head) tomorrow at a Tyne Bridge Harriers training session. The plan for the group I run in is 10 x 2 minute efforts! It's going to be quite a challenge! If all goes well on Tuesday, I'll be doing my regular 8 mile run to Dave Fairlamb's gym in the costume (again without the head). On Saturday, I'll be doing a full dress rehearsal with a 10 mile run to Beach Bootcamp. You couldn't make it up! 

There was a bit of interest in the picture on Twitter today and the Sky Tyne and Wear website picked up on the story here.

37 laps around the Quayside

With just 2 weeks until the run through Death Valley, I was very keen to do one final confidence boosting long distance run. Last Saturday, the plan was to run as many times as possible in 9 hours around a 1 mile course down at Newcastle Quayside. The route took me from Baltic Square on the Gateshead side then across the Swing Bridge before heading back along the Newcastle side across the Millennium Bridge and back to the start. That's right! I'd be running round in circles in the rain for 9 whole hours!

I'd set my expectations at a realistic level before setting off. I thought 35 laps in 9 hours was easily achievable and that was the target that I had in my mind before the start.

I "advertised" the run on Twitter and Facebook the week before asking for people to run with me. I wasn't to be disappointed with the turnout despite the poor weather conditions. It was a very wet day down on the Quayside but that didn't dampen my spirits as I set off running right on noon.

I ran the first 3 laps on my own and was joined by Helena from Heaton Harriers and Donna from Tyne Bridge Harriers for 2 and 5 laps respectively. My mate Nigel ran a lap with me next. He's new to running and had already ran 4 miles that morning. To add an extra mile onto that was a great achievement. He is doing the Great North Run for the first time in a few weeks!

Personal Trainer Dave Fairlamb and Dawn from The Fit Factor joined me for 4 and 2 laps respectively.  Dawn along with her fellow participants, some of whom were there to cheer me on, have lost stones upon stones of weight over the last few months.

I lost 10 minutes while waiting for the Millennium Bridge to re-open. It was raised for a yacht which was 5 minutes late. I had tried to time it so that I would have missed the bridge raising. It wasn't to be. A hazard of the course I guess. Before setting off I'd had a chat with the bridge controller and discussed the times that the bridge would raise. He recognised me from last year when I actually got to open the bridge. That was one of my lifetime ambitions fulfilled that day!

The bridge reopened and next to join me on lap 10 was Janine (pictured below) from Tyne Bridge Harriers. She did 3 laps with me as part of a planned 12 mile run.

The miles started to fly by and I was joined by Jack aka Run Geordie Run Junior (pictured below) half way through the run. I enjoyed running with him even though he said that I was running too slow for him! He managed to run 2 miles with me in his Team Run Geordie Run vest. These are the vests that will be worn next month by those runners taking part in the Great North Run raising funds for The Children's Foundation.

I stopped to chat to a few curious passers by who had seen me run past them a few times. One couple told me how their mother was cared for by the same Hospice as mine (St Benedict's Hospice) and another how their son was operated on in the Children's Heart Unit at the Freeman Hospital. 

I ran through the marathon barrier after 5 hours and 45 minutes of running. I was slightly ahead of the pace that would get me 35 miles in total. 

Joining me next was my old friend and work colleague Mike Lewis. We have ran many miles together in the past and it was great to catch up. Mike recently turned 60 and to celebrate ran 60 miles on his birthday! Quite remarkable. Joining us after 2 laps was Dan the winner from the Fit Factor. Soon after Dan joined I saw Rob from Tyne Bridge Harriers together with Sumanth, Isao and Robert from Claremont Road Runners and someone who I only know as "Jiving K Boots". These lads had ran 6 of the North East Park runs earlier that day (Sunderland, Durham, Chester-le-Street, Gateshead, Whitley Bay and Newcastle). They finished off their running day by joining me for a mile. 

After 33 miles the Millennium Bridge stayed up for 15 minutes after I reached it. Ironically, the delay was caused by 2 party boats. One of which had David Fairlamb on board celebrating a friends 70th Birthday.

With 57 minutes remaining Mike and I decided that a further 4 miles to give an overall 37 miles was a very realistic possibility. The conversation soon switched to favourite dishes as the amazing smell of curry started wafting our way from the nearby Quayside restaurants. "I'm definitely getting a King Prawn Madras" was a sentence I used many times during those last 4 miles!

The final mile was the 5th quickest out of the 37 and I felt like I had so much energy left at the end. The church clock in the distance struck 9 and Mike and I reached the finish line at Baltic Square right on time. One quick photo later and I thanked Mike (pictured below) for his 3 hours of great company. If I can run as well as he does at 60 then something will have gone incredibly right in my life! He's a machine!

I was very pleased with 37 miles in 9 hours. There had been some minor delays during the day. I had accepted that the opening and closing of the Millennium Bridge was part of the charm of this particular route and I stopped briefly to chat to a few people. I'll definitely be back to have another crack at beating 37 laps sometime in the future.

Running the same 1 mile lap so many times was surprisingly never monotonous. There were so many things to keep me entertained such as the many passing stag and hen groups. The amount of folk who joined me during the day added a lot of variety and they all had something new to talk about. It was very easy for people to find me and having people dip in and out of the run worked very well indeed.

The route itself was very easy to run. There were only 3 small climbs and the feeling of always being close to the finish line gave me a huge psychological edge. 

The good condition I found myself in at the end of the run and the excellent recovery the following day bodes really well for the 78 mile run across Death Valley next week. I've lost a stone and a half over the last 6 weeks and I feel that good progress towards Australia is being made each week. 

I'm far from the finished article that will see a successful run across the Australia next year. However, I genuinely feel that I'm right on target to be ready come October 16th 2013. My mentor Dave Fairlamb was very concerned 6 weeks ago but given the progress made recently I know that he is now less so.

The run through Death Valley is going to be incredibly difficult. Saturday's 37 laps around the Quayside has given me the necessary confidence boost that I'd hoped it would. 

Finally, I did have that King Prawn Madras if you were wondering (along with a nut Pilau rice and a Peshwari Naan). Just what you need after running 37 miles!

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Monday, 6 August 2012

The Benfield Challenge 2012

Despite falling way short of the intended 53.4 miles, last weekend's Benfield Challenge could well prove a turning point in my preparation for the run across Australia in 2013.

Accompanied by Tyne Bridge Harrier, David Rowe, we set off from Benfield Renault in Carlisle at 15:00 on Saturday. Andy Naylor (pictured below) from Benfield was there to see us off and we made our way from the dealership with huge black clouds in the distance.

The early miles ticked by quite nicely and I was sure to keep plenty of energy in reserve for the later miles. Experience of running various daily distances from John O'Groats to Lands End and across the USA has taught me to run at a pace that

Not having run this route for 9 years, I was very surprised with some of the climbs. Those around Gilsand and Greenhead were particularly challenging. Carrying a 2 litre pack of water and nutrition on my back added to the challenge.

I was constantly checking the anticipated finish time and over the first 6 miles a time of 10 hours was on the cards. This soon started to slip with every mile after that.

We met the support car for the first time after 23 miles at The Milecastle Inn on the Military Road. In a cruel twist of fate we had missed the take away fish and chip service by 10 minutes! This, after fantisising about a Gilsand Chippy or a Greenhead Tandoori, was a huge blow to morale.

The views of Hadrian's Wall country were stunning as the sun slowly sank behind us. The tree at Sycamore Gap (the one seen in the 1991 film Robin Hood) was a mere silhouette and it wasn't long before darkness fell on the Military Road.

For all we had head torches and wore brightly coloured clothing, running on the military road at night was very dangerous. Some of the passing cars seemed to be breaking the speed limit and with a lot of standing water around maximum concentration was needed.

The night sky was spectacular for a while with an almost full moon offering some light. Fog soon descended on the Military Road making conditions even more dangerous. The head lamps proved to be a bit of a hinderance at this point and an almost completely white scene was the only focal point. I couldn't even see David who was only a few feet in front of me.

While feeling physically good, as midnight came, I started to feel a little sleepy. I had expected this to happen based on my experiences of running at night in the USA. Soon after that I started to question why exactly I was actually doing this run. Almost instantly, I decided in my own mind to call it a day at the next support car meeting place. This was 32.8 miles in with 21 miles left.

Having had plenty of time to reflect on the run, I've actually taken many positives from it. Moreover, I've learned a lot about myself as a runner and what motivates me.

First and foremost, running huge miles in tough conditions without any charity funds at stake, has once again proved to be a mental stumbling block. I have and always will be a fundraiser first and a runner second. I've said that many times over the years.

Very pleasing was my recovery on Sunday. There was very little evidence of the run in my legs when I woke up and my mobility was far better than I'd expect having ran 32.8 miles the previous day. Cherry Active has a lot to do with that of course.

There are other important lessons for me to be reminded of here. I'm confident that I can get my head down and churn out the big miles when required. Running 30 plus miles in the optimum time that will give me just about enough recovery time to do it all again day in and day out is still something I feel that I'm able to do. It's all about a "full campaign of ultra marathons", never mind a "marathon not a sprint". Even at my current weight and physical condition I've got nothing more to prove here for the time being. The glorious times of having to run 60 miles on day 100 of a campaign on foreign soil are going to have to be saved for such campaigns.

One of the lessons that I was referring to was that I need to continue to concentrate on the basics. Those basics being the quality of what I eat and running those shorter distances that, combined with my fitness and conditioning still present from the USA, are going to get me to the start line in Australia in the best possible physical and mental condition.

Without sounding too big headed or conceited, I consider myself to be a "big game player". When the time is right and the opportunity presents itself, I'll churn out the big miles. I'll defy the odds once again as the so called "everyday athlete". I'll raise those funds that the effort of a big campaign deserves.

As I said at the start of this blog post, the Benfield Challenge could well prove to be a turning point in the run up to Australia 2013. It has provided me with a lot of clarity and given me a really good idea of where my fitness levels currently lie and, probably more importantly, what really motivates me as a runner. Saturday's words couldn't be any further from the truth - "Getting to the finish line should provide an excellent boost of confidence. I'm not too bothered about the time it takes. Being able to finish it off is more important". My confidence is quite high, even without finishing the run on Saturday. I must admit that I never saw that coming!

A huge thank you goes to David Rowe of Tyne Bridge Harriers for escorting me on the run. This is the second time we've ran a big distance together and the banter really helped the miles go quicker.

The next "big game" is, of course, a run through Death Valley in September. That's a campaign that I'm very much looking forward to getting stuck into. I doubt very much that there will be another "big game" until Australia in 2013.

If you would like to sponsor me, in aid of The Children's Foundation, for the 78 mile run from Stovepipe Wells to Jubilee Pass through Death Valley then please click here. As ever, any donation, no matter how large or small would be greatly appreciated.

Friday, 3 August 2012

The Benfield Challenge 2012

Saturday 4th of August will see me attempt to run approximately 53.4 miles in one session between 2 of my sponsor's venues. That sponsor is Benfield Motor Group and the venues are their Renault dealership in Carlisle and the Hyundai dealership on Scotswood Road.

The start time is 3pm from Carlisle and I expect to finish early on Sunday morning. The route will take me through Brampton and I should be just north of Haltwhistle on the Military Road (B6318) by the time the sun goes down. It will then be a long old slog to Heddon on the Wall before dropping down to the River Tyne at Newburn. The final 3 or so miles to The Scotswood Road will provide the early Sunday morning backdrop to the challenge.

I'll be accompanied by fellow Tyne Bridge Harrier David Rowe. He accompanied me on day 3 of a recent training run from Edinburgh to Newcastle. After 2 mediocre days on the road, David helped me to a consistent and quicker than usual 25 miles on that final day. His support is going to be invaluable this weekend. I hope to return him to Tyne Bridge Harriers unbroken.

Benfield have been running a competition on Twitter all week asking for people to guess the time that it will take to run between the 2 dealerships. The majority of times have been very flattering indeed! These are the some of the notes that I issued to various parties this earlier this week

"Summary - Ultra distance training run designed to test endurance, conditioning, body clock, mental strength and concentration. The run starts at Benfield's VW dealership in Carlisle and finishes at Benfield's VW dealership in Newcastle. There will be no road side support for the first 25 - 30 miles meaning hydration and nutrition will have to be carried. A snooze of up to 2 hours may be required during the night. 

Expectations - Given current weight, fitness and condition, the completion of this run should be achiveable in 18 hours. 60 miles in 21.5 hours on the final day in the USA is the only recent comparable run. With the up and coming Death Valley run in mind, it would be preferable to do the run without a snooze. Being able to run through the night without such a rest will be of great benefit in Death Valley, making maximum use of the "sun down" hours. Getting to the finish line should provide an excellent boost of confidence. I'm not too bothered about the time it takes. Being able to finish it off is more important."

I'm expecting a few different types of challenge. The sheer distance is the main one, obviously. As I run through the night, fighting against my body clock when I should be sleeping is a close second. The route itself is very up and down with some really nice climbs to get stuck into.

Completing the run is of paramount importance. I'm not in the least bit bothered as to what time it takes. The confidence boost, going into my next 2 training challenges, that this could bring will be invaluable.

If I get through this run in one piece then I have just 3 weeks to prepare for a non stop 24 hour run around Newcastle Quayside. After that, I have just 11 days to prepare to run through Death Valley. 

It's a really tough Summer schedule and, admittedly, I could be in a lot better condition going into it. When I reach the finish point at the end of Death Valley on September 7th, I'll have just 13 months left before the run across Australia. The focus tomorrow and into Sunday will be firmly on completing another ultra distance run, namely the Benfield Challenge.