Saturday, 1 August 2015

Into the Unknown

On Wednesday I threw everything out the window. I'm not on a training plan at the moment, just trying to ease up a bit so I'm fresh and ready to start training in September for my first marathon.

The kids are away on a karate training camp and Wednesday was visiting afternoon so I decided I'd run to visit them. And then run home again. What could be simpler or more pleasurable? A quick check suggested it would be about 17 miles- the furthest I've ever run in a day.

The map confirmed that I could indeed get there following the Grand Union Canal towpath. I needed to get a train to reach my starting point as there's no sensible way of running to the canal from here unless I hit the trails to pick up the Greensand Ridge path but I didn't feel confident about doing that. I'm not familiar with that route and being limited by time and not knowing how I would get on running so far I didn't want to risk bonking in the middle of woods miles from anywhere!


So half a mile little run to the station and wait excitedly for the train. 12.30pm is an odd time of day to set off: it's lunchtime but obviously I've not been able to have lunch. Instead I made sure I had a decent breakfast then grazed during the morning. Several snacks stashed in my vest as well as water. I've listened to people talking about maintaining nutrition during long runs (not that my planned jaunt is all that far) and know I will need to eat while I'm out even if I don't feel hungry.






Off down the towpath! It's nice and smooth and wide enough to run whilst looking about for birds without worrying about tripping and falling in the canal. Best to avoid getting Weil's Disease if at all possible! This was the 2nd of countless herons.






I reach 3 Locks without difficulty although as I forgot to come onto the road in order to cross over the canal I have to go back on myself. The running feels good, I'm able to focus on good form and am (I think) keeping a sensible pace. Have had a snack and drink and am quite happy stopping every now and then to take photos.
My mind, however, begins to play games with me. All the while I'm running happily along it keeps reminding me I've got to come back again. 'You've done 6 miles now? Well when you get here again you'll have done 12 and still have 6 to go' (can't recall actually how far along 3 Locks is, but that's the kind of thing my mind was up to anyway).


Once at the outskirts of LB I'm a bit concerned I won't find the place to come off the towpath but I vaguely remember the footbridge near the start of the Dirt Half and know that's the place to look for. Fortunately it's signposted and before I know it I've run 8.92 miles along the canal all the way to karate camp! Apparently I arrive looking fresh as a daisy, according to Sensei Phil anyway.

Time to see my kids and replenish water supplies as well as have another snack bar. After about an hour of mostly wandering about I decide to head home as I want to be sure of coinciding with a train (we live on a branch line with just 1 train an hour). I feel tired, my legs are a bit heavy and I think my hips are tightening up so I set off at a sensible steady 8:40 ish min/mile pace.

I'm not enjoying the tranquillity any more. My hips are feeling really tight, enough to make my left knee feel niggly. Perhaps the lack of hills has contributed to this? When contemplating the run I'd figured that a flat route would be sensible given the mileage I was planning to complete- but in retrospect hills wouldn't have added to the difficulty and would actually have given my body (and mind) a bit of respite. I do love a hill!
And I ran past the turning for the Big Long Hill which comes around mile 6 or 7 of the Dirt Half. A little bit of me thought- shall I? But really it would have been daft to run up it then back down again before continuing home.

Lots of little things began to niggle me. The water sloshing in the half empty bottle, the rustling sound of the wrapper of the last snack bar, the realisation that my running top has armholes that are too high and are beginning to rub, the fact that I'm fed up with sweet snack bars and really want something deeply savoury. These are all things I couldn't have anticipated. Things that give me an insight into just how tough it's going to be when I start my forays into ultras next year... I think the running will be the easiest part of that particular journey!

Now I'm tired. It's only about 3 more miles but it's hard going. I know now that the pace on my outward run was too fast. Sure it felt fine at the time but it was fine for an easy 9 mile run, not for an easy 19 miles. Every time I begin to feel really fatigued I try to bring myself back to running form. I work my way down from head to feet: shoulders relaxed and down, core strong, posture, pelvis, stride, relaxed arms... Rather like performing kata. There are many similarities between running and karate; mostly they compliment each other although there are times when the training for each discipline competes and while one improves the other suffers.

I'm also beginning to think about food, dreaming up the perfect dinner for when I get home. I'm getting very hungry. Why didn't I bring more snacks with me?

As I see bridge number 98 I know it's not so far and my pace quickens. I see some terns! How can that be possible- they are coastal birds! But it's definitely terns- they are delicate and nothing like gulls. [Consulting with my dad today it appears that inland terns are very common, especially where I live. They like gravel pits for breeding grounds.]
The pleasure of the unexpected carries me the rest of the way to the station. A bit of a stretch while I wait for the train and soon I'm back where I started. Strangely the brief rest on the train has left me feeling fresh enough to run the half mile back home and even feel like I could manage another 3 miles or so. They wouldn't be pretty but I reckon I could run them, if I had to...
So 18.8 miles, 2hrs 41min running time and a lot of lessons learned. What a great day! And it wasn't over yet, but that's not for this blog...

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