An academic in (running) tights

Blogs on education and running: My two passions

A lazy ultra runner?

I’m a lazy runner.

I know some people will disagree with that. Some look at my weekly mileage and the ultra races I do and think I’m not lazy….but I am.

Ok, I do stick to a training plan (unless I’m injured or ill) and I have run several ultras. But my approach to most of my races is to finish feeling as if i could run more. That isn’t giving it my all.

Take the Lakes in a Day ultra. It was tough, I was out for 19 hours, but I could have carried on. I’m glad I didn’t have to! But I could have.

It was the same for the Highland Fling Ultra.

The thing is I hate feeling tired and I really hate feeling race tired! I want to feel ok to run again a week after an ultra. Considering this, I’m stuck on where to go with my ultra running.

I want to conquer 100 miles but I feel tired after 54 miles. I can only imagine how broken I’d feel after 100 😲. I don’t want to feel that crap 😂.

And the flatter races I’ve done I’ve hated. But tackling 100 miles…well I wouldn’t survive a hilly one! But I couldn’t imagine doing 100 miles on the flat.

Basically I want to finish a hilly 100 but I don’t want the ill effects of a hilly 100. Yes, I know I need toughen up and accept I’ll feel crap after one. But I don’t think I’m quite ready to accept that just yet.

I guess I’ll stick to 50s until I (wo)man up

Highland Fling: A tale of two halves.

This is not a post about the how the Highland Fling Ultra is a race of two halves (which it is). This is a post about the good and bad with a bit of race experience and thoughts thrown in.

The Highland Fling has a reputation of being one of the best ultras out there. A family like experience with a beautiful route. Perhaps when the events of yesterday finally subside I will also see it as that.

But for now…..

I started at the very back of the last wave. In hindsight I shouldn’t have done this. The first 10 or so miles were flat. Full of bottle necks. Busy. Really piggin’ busy.

And I think it was this that put the first seedlings of irritation in my mind. I was not enjoying it. I was bored. But I kept telling myself that it’s an ultra and eventually the field will spread out and I knew that hills were coming. I just needed to be patient.

Eventually the first hill came, I was starting to enjoy the race, my hill power walking was reaping the benefits as I power up the hill with ease, overtaking people struggling to breathe. It was good!

However they all overtook me on the downhill! 😂. I was too scared of the rocky path but I remained positive and told myself that I need more practice on that kind of terrain.

I carried on.

The drop bag points were exceptional. So well organised. It was great to have a happy bag waiting for me. It’s funny how a slug puts a smile on your face.

I plodded along until around mile 27. Then it all changed.

The path around Loch Lommond is very similar to the Windermere path in Lakes in a Day. Lots of scrambling, almost impossible to run (for me), but with more undulations. After the 3rd or 4th scramble I jarred my knee. A mild twinge to begin with. It didn’t stay mild.

I’m pretty sure there was about 13-14 miles of this damn terrain. With each scramble my knee screamed, my mood deteriorated, and my language got pretty bad! I was not a happy bunny.

Eventually I left that section behind and we were back on some form of path. A rocky path with lots of muddy sections but mostly runnable. And of course lots of undulations. Unfortunately my knee did not like the uphill. The downhill wasn’t too bad. But by this point I was in such a fed up mood I just wanted to finish.

I kept plodding on.

By mile 45 ish my legs were aching but energy wise I felt ok! (Thanks Janson). By mile 47 I knew the end was near and thankfully more runnable sections. I overtook quite a few but also got held up by more damn bottlenecks 🙄. When you know you’re in a good place to keep pushing but you’re hindered, it really is frustrating.

But I got past 😛.

The finish was pretty good. Not an experience I’ve had before. It felt like my own personal fanfare. Red carpet, so many cheers, a fast finish, fantastic goody bag, a cold beer. Hot showers were waiting for us. Excellent support.

Met the minion, had a shower, lost the minion for 2 hours. Had no phone, money, knee was swollen, hungry, tired. Ended up in full floods of tears being looked after some some guy. Eventually found said minion but by this point I was so low….

I wanted the day to end.

I finished in 12:24 ish. I wanted 11.30 but I’m still happy. My overall ranking is ok. I know it could have been better but we shall not dwell.

So yes the event is amazing but I hated a lot of it.

Will I be back? If you asked me yesterday I wouldn’t have been too polite. But after some sleep…..🤔.

The day before Highland Fling….

So it’s the day before I take on the Highland Fling Ultra. 53 miles along the West Highland Way with about 7300 feet of elevation.

Currently on the M6 about 15 miles from the Scottish boarder.

It’s not my A race. But it’s a race I should be putting some effort in. I hate effort! 😂

Here’s a snapshot of my race prep the 48 hours before…

  • Recover from a mild case of viral gastroenteritis
  • Rehydrate with electrolytes
  • Spend several hours decorating the drop bags in the hope I’ll win the hamper
  • Panic when I realise I’ve got nothing to put in said drop bags
  • Quickly go shopping,
  • Pack new race kit, discard new race kit and go with trusted kit.

I know I’ll be gutted when I don’t win that food hamper….. Been obsessed with that hamper for quite a while now!

The things I’ll do for food!

Running club etiquette ?

None of what follows is linked to a specific club. But my conversations with runners across the UK has led to the following thoughts:

Does running club etiquette exist and if so what is it?

Let’s take some examples:

If you’re affiliated with a club, should you commit to the training sessions they offer or stick to what you specifically need?

What happens if you join in with a social run…one that’s offered by another club? Is this against some unspoken rule? Are you a traitor? A potential defector?

Should there be club rivalry outside of competitions?

In my world, the only rivalry that would exist is within competitions. As a club runner you want your club to top the league, beat the others. However, as a runner I want to run with the friends I’ve made and not be challenged about it. Surely, as runners, we are all the same. Just trying to put one foot in front of another. Does it really matter who joins us on that journey?

And as for commitment… that should be a reflection of what you’re able to give in your current circumstances. If you’re injured your attendance will be non-existant. If you dedicate what time you have left (after running and work) to your family rather than spending it chatting/socialising with your club, are you any less dedicated?

And what happens when your training deviates from the club sessions? Are you considered to be any less committed to the club?

There’s a lot that can be said about what happens when someone leaves a club but I think I won’t go into that here.

So what are a club’s expectations? Clearly some exist as I see many unhappy club runners, feeling abandoned, no longer visible.


Plogging away

I imagine a few of you have heard of plogging by now, a Scandinavian trend of running and picking up litter.

After I saw a news report on Twitter then seeing a couple of tweets from people I follow, also plogging, I decided to give it a go.

I had no idea how to go about this but I assumed taking a bag, wearing gloves and just heading out to run would work.

It does!

So it’s easy enough to do, you don’t need think about pace, you don’t need anything special to do it. But I have learnt a few things since taking up plogging

  • You definitely need gloves. Disposable, gardening, marigolds….anything like this is fine
  • Running whilst carrying a bag of rubbish can be quite difficult once the bag gets full!
  • Leaving the full rubbish bags at convenient pick up points works best
  • If you can, contact your council to arrange them to collect any rubbish bags you leave behind. Most are happy to do this. Ask for rubbish bags too!
  • Anyone of any pace can plogg together. The faster ones can shoot off ahead and the steadier ones can pick up all the litter that the fasties have missed 😁
  • You start to notice how much litter is actually about. Even the areas that appear clean are actually litter ridden. I suspect we’ve all become accustomed to seeing it now 😕
  • Set up a Facebook group to arrange plogging sessions around your area. Generate that community spirit and pride!
  • Kids love it! Especially if they get to play with a mechanical litter picker arm
  • Promote what you’re doing on social media…it does inspire others to try
  • You meet new people, I did. And it’s great to discover what connections with these new people you might have.

Not sure if plogging is for You? Next time you out whether running or just walking to the corner shop, look around you. Look along the kerbs, the hedgerows, grass verges. I guarantee you’ll see litter.

Do you want a world of ‘It’s not my job/responsibility’ or do you wish for a world where we all pull together?

It’s got to start somewhere.

Now decide what you (the collective we) can do about it.

UTMB and other stuff

So I’ve got a place in the UTMB OCC. Apparently this is a good thing and I should consider myself lucky.

What follows is all the random thoughts I’ve had since I became aware of the UTMB a year or so ago (yes I’m that inexperienced and naive)

When I first read a little about the races I immediately felt uncomfortable about the whole concept. I’m not sure why. I can’t identify a single point. It just didn’t feel like the kind of event I’d want to be involved with. Mass participation, snobbery? Full of urban socialites looking for bragging rights?

All these thoughts were based on no evidence, what so ever.

Then I was convinced to give Race to the King a go. Another event that didn’t appeal to me. I was used to being thrown a cup of tea at the finish and that’s about it. All these bells n whistle kind of events seemed pointless.

But I paid the RTTK fee and did it. I could see where the money went as it was a very well supported race and I did love having a toilet on route! Pretty sure people are sick of me revealing all when nature calls during my usual events 😉. I mellowed a bit on these kinds of events.

Anyway, after the race I noticed it had UTMB points – 4. I mentioned this on Twitter and after a while I was convinced to set up an account ready for the UTMB ballot. At this point I was still very uneasy about it all but I thought I ought enter as it seems to be the thing to do (sheep following the herd mentallity)

Then I noticed that my next Race, Lakes in a Day also had points -4.

So I now had 8 points and an opportunity to go for a few of the UTMB races. Still feeling unsure about it all, I opted for OCC. The baby race.

Christmas comes and I start entering other races fully expecting not be successful in the ballot. Then on results day…. yep, I was successful!

My first thought….f#*@!

This does not fit with my plans! I’m not that bothered about it. All that money to get over there and accommodation etc. Just think of all the running shoes I could buy instead!

A bit of self reflection and I realise I’m being a bit of a d**k. So I’m changing my mind set. This is an iconic race for so many and I ought respect that. As such, I’m going to embrace the race and training and give it the respect any race deserves. Plus I can turn this into a great holiday with my minion 😊. There are lots of positives and I’m going to embrace them all.

I’m now grateful for the ballot result, I’m sorry for my previous stupid thoughts and I look forward to a new experience.

But if anyone stabs me with a pole on this event….. I’m taking you down 😉😁😙

3 stand out moments of 2017

It’s that time of yesr where many of us reflect on the past year….what was good, what wasn’t.

I’m just going to post about the 3 events that impacted me the most – each for different reasons.

Paris Marathon – this was to be my A race. But a grade 2 ankle sprain and 2 courses of antibiotics later, the A race turned into a survive race. And I piggin loved it! Yes it broke me and I was so much slower than I originally hoped for but I was so damn happy to finish. This race represents everything I usually dislike in an event, road, over crowding, expensive etc. But out of nowhere the joy won.

Lakes in a Day – possibly my favourite event ever! This was a big challenge for me. I’m a relatively inexperienced runner of 4 years. I did the nav training and reccies and lots of hill walking. The weather was atrocious and my choice of shoe was stupid. But I genuinely loved it all. Another example of a race which I finished slower than hoped but taking it easier meant I wasn’t broken and I was still good to go out walking the next day. For me, a win!

And finally….

Night navigation winter training – not a race (through Nav4). To say I was scared was an understatement. During the night I felt pretty good about the navigation. It was the conditions that scared the #@*# out of me! Snow, ice and dark around Blencathra. But I faced my fears and stuck with it. Never have I wanted to quit so badly. I know I’ll do this kind of thing again and I’m also happy to remain scared. The last thing I want is complacency in the mountains.

So that’s a very brief summary of my moments in 2017.

I wholeheartedly recommend all three events but especially nav training whether that’s in the dark or daylight. Get proper training by experienced and qualified people folks. Not only can it open up a whole new world of events but it’s also a valuable survival skill. Knowing how to use a GPS unit is not.

Cheat sticks and wimp wands

I was unsure on how to start this. I guess the title could cause a stir (probably why I chose it). So before I get into the main discussion, I want to say this is a mix of scientific (peer-reviewed) evidence and personal opinion.

I’m a newbie when it comes to ultra running. I’ve only done 3 x 50+ miIlers with a few 50K and 40 thrown in. I have been running just over 4 years. I’ve been driven by curiosity and adventure. Being a career scientist, my first research tactic is to look for peer-reviewed research, find out if any bias exists, then make a personal decision.

Sometimes I can’t be bothered and just make a decision.

So as I read several posts on various ultra running communities there was a common debate…… running poles. Continue reading “Cheat sticks and wimp wands”

Linear relationship between race times and irritation?

This is a weird one folks.

There’s been a few races completed by my friends, and people I follow on various social media sites. Some of which are time focused, some aren’t. I think I’m definitely more of a ‘I don’t care but I like to finish mid-field’ (which probably means I do care!).

Anyway, I’ve noticed a couple of things lately: Continue reading “Linear relationship between race times and irritation?”

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