Category Archives: age

Ultra marathon – very hard, but I survived

One thing I learned from running over the years was that a marathon is ‘a very long way’. On Sunday, I learned a second useful thing – ultra marathons are, forgive the technicality, ‘even further’.

For someone who thinks that 8am is unreasonably early, the alarm at 4.35am came as a horrible shock. We were out of the house just after 5am (my wife, very nobly, drove me to the start) and after registering and being zapped to test my temperature, I got away a little before 6am.

The plan was to travel light and the decent weather held good with about 13℃ (55℉) at the start. Just a thin gilet (not used), arm warmers (used throughout), phone, small medical kit (unused), Garmin, water bottle, reading glasses, sanitiser (unused), mask (unused), card/cash (card used for a beer at the finish) and suncream (unused).

I thought there were 4 food stops en route coming every 10k – but I did some checking and discovered there were 3 and the gaps were 10, 13 and 15k (and then 12k to the finish).

I wouldn’t normally think of taking water with me for a run of 15km but with the cumulative distance it looked like it was unwise to drink only at the food stops. Everything I had read said they were very well stocked so no need to take anything by way of nourishment but I started well hydrated and with two oat bars for breakfast.

I felt good at the the first food stop so had just a couple of mouthfuls of water and two peanut bars. It hadn’t been too hilly and I’d got into a comfortable, steady, stride – about 1h10 for the first 10k.

I held that pace to the second food stop where I discovered the delights of flat coke. I had some there (together with an oat bar and a small bag of dried fruit) and took a little with me. The next 10k was a little slower (30k in about 3h 35m) but then I slowed further with a big hill (130m in under 5k) just before the last food stop (two bags of Skittles and a little more Coke, drunk there and taken with me).

I had run for the whole of the first half of the race but since then I’d adopted the ‘walk the bigger and steeper hills’ philosophy which helped me get to the finish but slowed me down (1h 16m for the last 10k).

In all, the run clocked in at just over 51k with a chip time of 6h 39m and, I think, a moving time of about 25 minutes less.

I managed my normal aims of completing the run safely and enjoying it, and if I had a time target, it was for the chip time to start with 6 hours – so I’m very happy, especially given my much compromised training. Being free of the burden of time was a real blessing – I didn’t look at the time once during the whole run.

It was hard – at one point or another just about everything hurt, particularly both thighs, left hip, both knees, my right foot and both arms (maintaining them in running position, I assume). I also had the usual ‘cramp warning’ signs in my foot and both calf muscles but happily they all came to nothing.

The weather stayed cool, no more than 15℃ (about 59℉). At one time I thought I was going to get cold and wet but that came to nothing too.

What probably hit me hardest was the number of hills (657m of climbing in 51k) and the conditions underfoot. I learned that as you run in a deep rut or along a narrow track the width of a car tyre, the neighbouring rut or track always looks better.

At 66, I guess that might be my first and last ultra. If I were to do another, I’d want to do it better and faster – but I’m not sure my knees will be up to a proper training schedule. I don’t know if all the results are in but currently I sit 57th out of more than 140 and first in my age group (of only 4!) – with just one older person ahead of me.

On balance, very happy with the run and very happy to have completed an ultra marathon. Just at the moment, my legs are a little less happy with it.

Run, turbo, run, run, (jab!), run, run

As if someone flicked a switch, we went from freezing all last week to about 10℃ (50℉) on Monday. I made the most of it and ran 10.3km (6.4m). Sadly, a second switch is about to turn on the rain. 

The next tranche of vaccinations in England (including us over 65s) was announced to be getting underway this week. On Monday I got my invite letter and by midday I had booked appointments for both jabs. Considering I have no (known) health issues and take no medicines, I’m sure there are more deserving cases – but I’m in the process and grateful for that.

The rain showers arrived over night on Monday – they weren’t as bad as forecast on Tuesday but I opted for an hour on the turbo – 28.5km (17.7m) – with a horrible example of how mind games can go wrong. I was deliberately not looking at the clock to avoid ‘death by watching time crawl by slowly’ but looked when I was sure I had done about 55 minutes. It was really deflating to see that I had done only 44. I’m surprised I managed not to bail out at the 45 minute mark.

I’m very impressed by people who have mastered new skills or learnt new languages during the various lockdowns. My own (rather pathetic) achievement is learning to sharpen my chainsaw chains. Much of Tuesday was spent cutting wood and taking some dead branches out of an apple tree. I’m not exactly setting the artistic or literary worlds alight.

Wednesday’s weather was also mild, breezy and wet. We decided to run (7km, 4.3m) between the forecast showers – but still got soaked. Much the same on Thursday but with a colder breeze and we did find a gap between showers for 5.5km (3.4m).

Friday was rather grey and dank so I took a rest day. It was really just laziness but I’ve decided to say I was mentally and physically preparing myself for an early evening trip to the football stadium in Oxford to get my first Covid jab. For die hard Swindon Town followers (we follow them but I refuse to support anyone to the degree that I have to hate anyone else) Oxford United are the great enemy.

Chanting is a ritual at British football matches – both to support your own team and to deride the opposition and their supporters. The Oxford stadium, quaintly, has stands on only three sides. At one match, taunting the (very quiet) away supporters, the Oxford fans chanted “Shall we sing you a song” to which the response came “Shall we build you a stand”.

It was a very slick vaccination process – in and out in under 15 minutes. Just a coincidence, surely, that I went to Oxford and got the Oxford Astra Zenica vaccine?

Happily, no side effects so on Saturday morning, other than a sore arm where I got the jab, so we all ran – fairly gently, just in case – for the usual 7km. It was surprisingly hard and I did feel very tired – I wonder if that was anything to do with the previous night’s vaccination. What is clear is that (sadly) there were no performance-enhancing additives in the Covid jab.

There would be no 6 Nations Rugby to watch while on the turbo on Sunday, so I went for a short run with my wife and son, before he and I added another loop for a total of 11.7km (7.25miles). The weather is improving and I ran in a short sleeve compression top and a long sleeved top that (it just occurred to me) I bought in 1997 for training for my first marathon – it doesn’t owe me a lot.

Stocktake

The running has been totally unstructured at present – no proper training schedule, no tempo runs, long slow runs, hill work, fartlek etc. – but at least my knee and Achilles are happier with the reduced mileage after January’s 200km.

I believe that the ultra will be OK (in the absence of injury or illness) but I am not sure if my ageing body will take the mileage of the proper training programme. As I am not too worried about how long the ultra takes, I may need to prioritise the longer training runs and replace some of the others with cycling.

Interesting stuff this week

1. African wise words: No matter how beautiful and well crafted a coffin might look, it will not make anyone wish for death

2. BBC News website: Dog left $5 million (£3.6 million) by deceased owner

Bill Dorris left Lulu the border collie in the care of his friend, Martha Burton. The will states that Burton is to be reimbursed for Lulu’s reasonable monthly expenses.

I am very happy to adopt Lulu (or indeed, be adopted by her)

3. BBC News website: Mercedes-Benz car recall

The problem is with the cars’ eCall feature, which alerts emergency services of an accident and relays a vehicle’s location to them. A fault means it is possible that the wrong location could be sent.

Luckily, Mercedes have their eCall system to locate the cars. Of a recall affecting over 1 million cars, only 50 have been found (sorry, Mercedes, I made that up)

4. BBC News website: Man fined £150 for fly-tipping leaves in a wood

He swept the leaves from the pavement in front of his house and drove 3 bags of them to nearby countryside and scattered them to degrade in a wooded area.

Not exactly dumping an old fridge by the roadside – they weren’t even his leaves!

5. BBC News website: Dutch crisis as court orders end to Covid curfew

The court said the 21:00 to 04:30 curfew breaches citizens’ rights to free movement and was imposed by an emergency law when there was no “acute emergency”.

Catch 22: When the cabinet decided on the curfew they sought the backing of MPs, but by waiting for parliamentary support, in the judges eyes, they had disproved the need for emergency legislation.

Depending on your personal stance, either this the court showing proper regard for the law, free from political pressure, or an example of the judges’ pig headed detachment from the real world

Turbo, run, run, run, turbo, run – and a small milestone (kilometrestone?)

Another thing about wearing the Vapour Glove minimalist shoes – my feet are noticeably chillier in cold weather

I guess there is a reasonably fine line between exercising hard and constructively – and over-doing it and risking injury. I also guess that the line is drawn rather more conservatively for us over 65s.

Underlining that, after a tougher than usual week, my right Achilles and left knee were a little unhappy on Monday and didn’t feel motivated to get out for a run. I did get on the turbo trainer in the early evening – 22.08km in 45 minutes @ 29.44kph (13.72miles @ 18.3mph).

My wife and I ran one of our stock routes on Tuesday, 7km (4.34miles) – and we ran a shorter route on Wednesday, although I added a bit on to make 9.22km (5.7 miles).

We ran again on Thursday – I did laps of the old hill fort for a total of 10.7km (6.65 miles). The run saw a (very small) milestone as I passed 1000 running kilometres for 2020 (taking a little over 100 hours and with just over 10km of ascent).

Miles and kilometres are slightly strange bedfellows here, but a milestone of 621 miles doesn’t really work – and I’m not sure about having a kilometrestone.

Thursday’s run (which also saw the retirement of my favourite running shoes) made it 6 runs and 2 turbo sessions in the previous 8 days so I took Friday off exercise. Strangely, I really wanted to go for a run or get on the turbo but managed to hold firm against that.

Happily, the England v Ireland rugby watch was on terrestrial TV on Saturday so I went for the hour on the turbo watching it, again with a ’15 second sprint per point scored’ commitment. They were kind to me – 12-0 to England at half time – so an hour for just 29.7km (about 18.5 miles).

Sunday morning was cold but, having self-diagnosed as an under-pronator (supinator) who should have well cushioned shoes, I ignored the science, had a cup of coffee and took my minimalist shoes for a very enjoyable 10.2km (6.3 miles) run at 5:34/km, to finish the week.

Only a couple of weeks into the second lockdown and I’m missing the gym. Not only is lifting heavy bits of metal enjoyable in itself, but it adds welcome variety in the form of a third string to the run/cycle bow. I’ve also realised that I’ve got into the habit of stretching at the end of gym sessions – a habit I’ve not developed after any other exercise. I must remember to stretch more (or, indeed, at all).

One trivial outcome of the lockdown is that I have had a very easy duty as route-setter for the cycling club. My first of a four week stint was the last Saturday before the lockdown – but we won’t set routes now to avoid any suggestion that we are encouraging group riding. Happily, we have built a very large on-line library of rides for all three of the groups we run and we simply encourage people to pick their own, if they do want to ride.

Interesting stuff this week

1. African wise words: The frog wanting to be as large as the elephant ended up bursting

2. The world’s gone mad: Our local supermarket has ‘Wild Bird Suet Balls’ for sale. The back of the packet says ‘Allergy advice – may contain peanuts’.

Do they think people are going to eat them, or are they worried about wild birds with nut allergies (and if so, how are the birds going to read the warning anyway?)

3. BBC News Website: The German government praises the nation’s couch potatoes as the country battles a second wave of coronavirus

The first advert depicts an elderly man looking back on the winter of 2020.

“The fate of this country lay in our hands,” he says (in German!). “So, we mustered all our courage and did what was expected of us, the only right thing. We did nothing. Absolutely nothing.”

There is a funny youtube video by British comedian Mitch Benn with a song in a similar vein but with rather more robust language to replace ‘absolutely nothing’.

4. BBC News Website: New Zealand crowns chubby cute parrot bird of the year

New Zealand has voted the kakapo its Bird of the Year. Only a complex election system allowed the big flightless parrot to triumph over its closest rival, the Antipodean albatross.

There were allegations of election rigging (sound familiar?) when hundreds of votes came from a single IP address. But in the end, the kakapo won, marking the second time New Zealanders crowned the chubby parrot their number one bird.

Ahhh

Turbo, gym, run, flu jab, run (hill reps!), gym, run

It still works!

My penance for sleeping in on Monday was to get on the turbo in the early evening. Strava says I last used it in May – it’s been replaced by the gym, a lot of running and a (very) few rides outside.

The aim was for a reasonably gentle half hour reintroduction – but it was going quite well so I pushed on to 45 minutes @29.9kph (18.6mph).

As we head towards winter I guess this is a glimpse into my future as my wimpish tendencies will mean that I’ll ride outside even more rarely. Although turbo trainers are of limited entertainment value (especially non-smart ones like mine) it’s probably a good thing to get back in the saddle as my next event is the White Horse Challenge sportive in April (Covid willing).

An hour in the gym Tuesday and then a run with my wife on Wednesday morning – one of our usual runs for 7km (4.3m). It was chilly and I’m grateful that what I’ve been wearing as a sweatband for some months, can now serve as a headband to keep my ears warm until a hat is necessary. I did say I had wimpish tendencies when it comes to cold weather.

Wednesday afternoon I received the greatest (perhaps only) reward coming my way for reaching the age of 65 – a flu jab.

To be honest, I’m not sure I’d have taken up the offer of the jab if it weren’t for the current pandemic. Touch wood, I rarely get flu (or any other illness in general) and am probably fit enough to fight it off if I did – but this year of all years I don’t want to be proved wrong and become an unnecessary burden on the National Health Service.

Sadly, my dream of being refused entry to the hall on the basis that I could not possibly be as old as 65 remained just that – a dream.

We ran again on Thursday – my wife decided to do hill reps and as my alternative runs were likely to be sodden, I went to keep her company. I haven’t done hill reps for about two years – I had Achilles problems before I even began my training for the Rotterdam Marathon (in April 2019). They hurt every day for months so I avoided hills at all costs.

They’ve been behaving for some time now and I’ve been doing single leg calf rises and heel drops in the gym, so it seemed worth a try. The hill is steep – about 25m of climb in 0.2km (82 feet in an eighth of a mile). I make that an average of 12.5% so a good, sensible, reintroduction of hills to the running.

I did 7 reps for a total (with the run through the village there and back) of 213m of ascent in nearly 6km (700 feet in 3.7 miles). Funny – it doesn’t sound like much but I guess I’m more used to climbing numbers for cycling than running. It felt properly hard.

Out for supper with friends in the evening and back to the gym on Friday morning – with perfectly happy Achilles tendons, so that’s a result and – if it stays like that – adds an important option to my future running training. The only problem is that I tend to blame the absence of hill training for failing to break 4 hours for the Rotterdam Marathon – what am I going to blame for future failures?

We had more friends over for drinks on Friday evening and most of Saturday was spent painting (the whole week has been spent slapping wood preservative on various sheds and paint on the woodwork on the garage block).

After several hours of painting, I gave myself the treat of doing nothing in the evening but we did a relatively short run (5.5km – 3.4miles) on Sunday morning (no hat but, yes, I was wearing gloves) before going up to London for the evening. Sadly, not staying over so no run along the Thames to look forward to on Monday.

Interesting stuff this week

1. African proverb: That which disturbs your sleep is of your own making

2. BBC News website: ‘Drive-in wedding’ bypasses Covid restrictions

A couple married as about 250 guests watched the ceremony from their cars on big screens in the grounds of the venue. The newlyweds then had a golf buggy tour of the grounds. Guests were given hampers of snacks and hand gel, and could use a website to order food, delivered by waiters.

Necessity being the mother of invention

3. BBC News website: Acquitted Kenya Westgate attack suspect abducted

A suspect in Kenya’s Westgate shopping mall terror attack case, who was freed by the court over lack of evidence, was was in a taxi on his way home with his sisters when unknown gunmen stopped them and abducted him.

Out of the frying pan …

4. BBC News website (update): US man avoids jail in Thailand over bad resort review

A US man in Thailand who was arrested for writing a negative hotel review will avoid legal action and jail time after he and the resort managed to reach an agreement, which included an apology to the hotel and to Thailand’s tourism authority.

2021 challenges (hoping it isn’t too optimistic to look that far ahead…)

Back to the White Horses in 2021 – view from the Uffington White Horse. Cycle up on the sportive and run close by on the ultra marathon

As we head into October, it’s time to think about next year’s challenges. Strangely, at the moment they look exactly like the ones I was planning for 2020 – how could that have happened?

Health, fitness and Covid willing, so far it looks like it’s the White Horse Challenge in April and in July it’s the Race To The Stones.

The Race to the Stones is a 50km ultra marathon (I’ll be doing the second day of the two day 100km event) along the Ridgeway from Wantage In Oxfordshire to the World Heritage site of Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments at Avebury in WIltshire. Something of an unknown but a proper challenge. I plan a 16 week training programme and think – at this stage – that completion of the run is the real target (although finishing with a six in the hours column would be target 2).

The WHC sportive is billed as 90 miles and 1400m of climbing (not frightened to mix their imperials and metrics, those folks). I agree with the distance (145km) but I’ve recorded it at over 1700m (5600 feet) of ascent.

Next year will be my 9th attempt in the 10 editions since I first did it in 2011. That first year I was just outside 6 hours – my best (2017) was 5h 05m (with one DNF in 2019 as my legs hadn’t recovered from the Rotterdam Marathon).

The 5 hour target is a bit of a monkey on my back – next year feels like it might be my final attempt at it, how do I go under 5 hours?

Of course, if the weather is foul, I won’t manage the target anyway, but assuming a reasonable day for the event, I need to start thinking about a plan to manage the necessary 18mph (29kph) average.

I can ride at the required average for shorter distances – it would be great if I could ride the whole route solo at the necessary speed (I’m sure I can’t) but I don’t need to if I can join, and stay with, a group going at the right speed. That means getting underway reasonably close to the opening of the starting gates (departure is any time within an hour’s window) so I have a chance of latching on to a faster group as it passes me.

The bike is good for the job and the new deep section carbon wheels have certainly made it faster through improved aerodynamics, without making it any heavier for the hills but the uncomfortable truth is that the main lever left for me to pull is to improve the engine.

I’ve rather neglected the cycling for nearly 2 years – when I everested (on the bike – glorious madness if you like to point the front wheel uphill) in 2017 and rode to the alps in 2018 (550 miles in 84 hours – I loved it) I was nearly a cyclist but now it’s time to pick it back up again and work on both speed and endurance.

Sadly, the bulk will have to be done through the winter (and, as I am a wimp with the cold weather, most likely it will be on the turbo) but I’d better have a plan for the early spring.

March and April look like fun as I try to train for both events – and what do I do after July?

Run, run, gym, run, gym, (rain and thoughts of morbidity)

Coming soon, back to the turbo for the first time since May?

We stayed in London Sunday night to round off a very good weekend. On Monday my wife went to meet a friend for breakfast so I managed to fit in a run, always a highlight of a trip to London.

I planned to go over Hammersmith Bridge, down the Thames Path on the west side of the river to Putney Bridge and back up the east side. Unfortunately Hammersmith Bridge, which has been shut to motor vehicles for some months, is now also shut to cyclists and pedestrians so it was a marginally less interesting run down and back up the path on the east side of the river. Childishly, I still felt that I had to cross Putney Bridge and run a few hundred meters on the other side.

In all, a fraction over 10km on a cool but sunny and delightful morning – and with the added bonus that I now know a bit more about rowing technique from listening to the megaphoned coach putting an eight through its paces.

Not the most successful ‘say hello to other runners’ outing but the response rate improved on the way back – perhaps I was looking particularly bad and got a better reaction purely out of sympathy.

On Tuesday morning I drove my wife’s car to the garage for its MOT and ran back to the house – 5.28km (3.3m) – followed by lunch with friends. A second car had to be taken for its MOT on Wednesday morning so I did that after an hour in the gym, and then the same run back.

On a slightly morbid note, while in the gym, I found myself thinking about how the benefits of exercise play out against the inevitable ravages of age. Currently I’m increasing reps/weights but I wonder how long that can continue.

Research that suggests that physical decline accelerates after 45 (that’s accelerates, not starts) – but I think that is for populations as a whole and I’ve seen a suggestion that a good deal of the typical decline is simply through a lack of enthusiasm to exercise (or, indeed, to get out of a chair).

I may not be able to hold back the years – but I can maintain the enthusiasm. However, the time will still come when the reps or the weights (or both) decrease – it will be interesting (but a bit sad) to see how that works out.

The forecast rubbish weather arrived on Wednesday afternoon – cold and very wet. The BBC forecast currently has just 10 hour slots without rain between today and next Monday. At least I got some exercise in before it turns sour. Is that the turbo trainer I can hear calling?

Better weather than forecast on Thursday but if it was the turbo calling, I ignored it – four activities in the first three days of the week being plenty – but I went to the gym on Friday.

It rained pretty much non stop Saturday and Sunday so I stayed in and caught up with filing (cutting edge of exercise there).

The London Marathon was run on Sunday – for obvious reasons, 6 months late and just an elite race around laps of a course in front of Buckingham Palace, but with individual and group events around the country (and beyond) for those not able to take up places this year. I always love the event and memories of running it in 1998 and 1999 still come back vividly. I can’t help but wonder if I could run it one more time – I’ve entered the ballot for 2021, but it’s a hard race to get into.

I loved the way Kipchoge was the only runner in the early leading group of a dozen or so to be wearing white running shoes while everyone else was wearing the familiar pink Nike Alphafly/Vapourflys. Different shoes or just a different colour? Perhaps that’s where it went wrong.

Friends over for supper on Sunday – six of us, socially distanced (while we can?).

Interesting stuff this week

1. African proverb: When you find a snake you call for help, yet when you find a grasscutter you want it all to yourself.

I thought this might be about collecting lawn mowers but apparently a grasscutter is a cane rat, and a source of animal protein

2. BBC News website: US man faces jail in Thailand over hotel review

A US man is facing up to two years in jail in Thailand, under the country’s strict anti-defamation laws, after posting negative reviews of a hotel he stayed in.

I’d like to say how much I enjoyed my visit to Thailand and how good the hotel was

3. BBC News website: Irish court rules that Subway rolls are too sugary to be bread.

The rolls used in Subway’s hot sandwiches have a sugar content of around 10% of the flour in the dough for both white and wholegrain rolls – too much sugar to be considered bread, according to Ireland’s Supreme Court.

‘Let them eat cake’. At 10%, sounds like they almost are?

4. London Marathon 2020: Eliud Kipchoge says race can bring hope to the world.

Nothing like setting the bar high

Age is not ‘just a number’

To be honest, six consecutive days of exercise (three runs, two gym sessions, one bike ride) from Tuesday to Sunday last week was probably more than I should have done – I was wiped out on Sunday evening.

I keep hearing that age is just a number – but I disagree. As I understand it, my age relates directly to the very real matter of the length of time I have been alive. As such it denotes all sorts of cumulations – most notably experience and physical wear and tear – more than ‘just a number’ could only dream about.

I’m happy with the experience cumulation but there is no getting away from the fact that my body has had 20 more years of wear than a 45 year old.

This does not mean that I have to accept slowly sinking into decrepitude without a fight – I plan to be the fittest 65 year old that I can be, but I do realise that I really cannot be a 45 year old any more.

It isn’t that ‘age is just a number’ – it’s more a case of ‘don’t let your age be the determining factor of what you can and can’t do’.

If someone tells me that next year, at 66, I’ll be too old to run my first ultra marathon, I won’t pretend that I’m not 66, I’ll just try to prove that their thinking about 66 year olds is wrong.

Soapbox dismounted.