Category Archives: Race to the Stones

Gym (x3), swim, run (x2), ride (plus super-yachts, avocados and another tennis rumpus)

Back to the bike!

No stretching after Sunday’s run so I woke feeling a bit stiff on Monday. An hour in the gym made it no better. The swim doctor session in the evening was a hard 800m, after a day of domestic chores.

In 2019 a friend and I drove back from the cycling week in the alps and he left his passport in my car, necessitating a hasty dash to get it back to him as he realised the mistake as he was about to fly on holiday. This year we were careful to part with a passport each. Luckily, I checked ‘my’ passport a few days ago – only to discover that I had his and he had mine.

He and his wife drove down from the midlands on Tuesday and we took a trip up to the Uffington White Horse, had a walk along the Ridgeway and a pub lunch … and we even remembered to exchange passports.

I ran with my wife on Wednesday – a bit over 5.6km (3.3 miles) and, with my friend and training partner, ran to and from the gym on Thursday morning with a weights session sandwiched in between. I guess that makes a very good blend of exercise types but it did seem to make the weights harder – unless that was just the legacy of Monday’s visit.

Back to the gym on Friday morning – a rarity to go three times in a week but I enjoyed the session with nobody else there. Later came the usual session in the bike shop and a trip up to London later in the day.

The four of us went for a terrific trip to Hampton Court on Saturday as part of my wife’s birthday celebration and our sons came back with us for the weekend to celebrate mine and our older son’s (the ultra rather got in the way of my birthday – I started the run aged 66 and finished aged 67 – and our older son was at a wedding for his).

Back to Oxfordshire Saturday afternoon and I rode with our older son on Sunday. I lent him a bike (adequate but nothing fancy) a couple of years ago – he was never really a keen cyclist but he uses it to get in to work a couple of days a week – about 23km each way.

This time he was on my old Giant TCR2 composite (a lovely bike at about 8kg – but now 16 years old) and although I took the lead all the way, I couldn’t have shifted him from my rear wheel if I’d tried. A lovely ride on a great morning for a bit over 50km (30 miles) with over 200m (660 feet) of ascent at an average of 28.6kph (17.8mph).

Although I’ve run quite a bit in recent years, the only running races I’ve done in more than 10 years have been this year’s 100km, last year’s 50km and the Rotterdam Marathon in 2019 – and the word ‘race’ doesn’t really describe those as far as I was concerned.

Following the cancellation of next month’s triathlon, I (together with our younger son who will be here for a wedding on the previous day) have entered a local 10km race. I’ll admit to some nerves about it as it’s multi-terrain, has a big hill, a relatively small entry and seems to mostly attract club runners. Coupled with the fact that I haven’t tried to run fast for a long time (and in any event my ‘fast’ isn’t fast by normal standards), there is a distinct possibility that this may not go well.

Interesting stuff this week

1. African wise words: One who plants grapes by the roadside, and one who marries a pretty woman, share the same problem

2. BBC News website: $75m Russian super-yacht to be auctioned

The yacht was seized in Gibraltar in March after US bank JP Morgan claimed its owner had not paid a £17m ($20m) loan. The 72.5m vessel is being auctioned and, because it is listed for one day only, it is expected to go for less than its estimated value.

The boat can sleep 12 people in six cabins and boasts a swimming pool, jacuzzi, spa, 3D cinema, jet skis and scuba diving equipment. It has space for 20 crew.

I’m not sure I’d be perfectly happy owning a yacht repossessed from a Russian oligarch (but the issue won’t arise as my bid of £2.50 isn’t likely to win).

3. BBC News website: Spectator sues Nick Kyrgios for alleged Wimbledon final slur

During the match Kyrgios complained to the umpire: “She is distracting me when I am serving in a Wimbledon final… she is drunk out of her mind in the first row speaking to me in the middle of the game, so kick her out … I know which one she is, it’s the one who looks like she has had about 700 drinks … she is talking to me in the middle of the point every time I get the ball.”

The spectator, Anna Palus has now instructed solicitors to bring defamation proceedings against Kyrgios.

4. BBC News website: Hot and dry weather sees more exotic plants in the UK

Exotic plants including figs and avocados are now growing in the UK as part of a trend of Mediterranean and sub-tropical plants thriving here in recent years.

Some varieties previously thought of as houseplants are now growing successfully outside, while traditional British garden varieties struggle – and scientists are warning that a lack of water in the future could be a threat.

A sad lack of green fingers is a bigger threat to my garden

Run (x3), swim (x2), gym, (plus landfill, mountains and carparks)

I ran with my wife on Monday morning – 5.7km (3.5 miles). In the evening, as ever, I went to the swim doctor class – 1km of drills and swimming.

It’s now 3 weeks since the ultra and I think I’m closer to getting back to more exercise and training for the triathlon next month. In that spirit, my training partner and I went to the lake on Tuesday. It was a little fraught as there were more than 30 kayaks and paddle boards on the lake – some of which were piloted by people who didn’t understand the concept of keeping out of the swimming area.

I swam about 1800m – in no great style but better than usual. I think my swimming has progressed – but not as much as I’d have liked. I’m still slow and it takes a lot of strokes to get anywhere but the absence of pool ends every 25 metres is not an issue, the buoyancy of the wetsuit is still lovely and I swim in (slightly) straighter lines than before. My biggest issue is that I still don’t love it.

My wife and I ran again on Wednesday – 7.4km (4.6 miles) on another very humid day which made a gentle run a bit harder than it might have been. On Thursday we drove to Surrey for lunch with friends – an excellent day out and a sensible day off exercise, even though we did go for a post-lunch walk.

A normal Friday saw a trip to the gym (by car as I was pinched for time), the usual stint in the charity bike shop and some gardening. The dry spell has hit the lawns hard – the only things growing are the weeds so I’m trying to treat them now to give the grass the best chances when the rain returns – hard work.

I ran on Saturday – 4 weeks on from the ultra. I felt reasonably good and pushed on for just over 12km (7.6 miles) at a little better than 6 minute kms. Not fast, but the longest run I’ve done in those 4 weeks.

More gardening on Saturday and Sunday both of which which were hot. On Sunday I mowed, not to cut the grass but to remove the seed heads from approximately a billion plantains that have appeared in the back lawn. If I was trying to grow them would it be a plantation of plantains?

The Austrian, Christof Strasser (six-time winner and record holder for the fastest time in the Race Across America) won the Transcontinental Race on Wednesday. In his first unsupported race, he rode 4578.33 km in 7 days 18 hours 54 minutes of moving time (81%) with only 1 day 19 hours 24 minutes (19%) stationary. A total of 9 days and 14 hours, averaging 480km a day. Wow.

Interesting stuff this week

1. African wise words: Wisdom is wealth

2. BBC News website: Strike over price hike to see Komodo dragons

Visitors will now be charged 3,750,000 rupiah (£206.40) to visit the main islands in Komodo National Park – up from 200,000 rupiah (£11) before.

The Indonesian government hopes to limit visitor numbers and protect the endangered lizards from overexposure to humans but local workers say it will scare off tourists completely, causing their income to dry up and 700 who depend on tourism are going on strike until the end of August.

3. BBC News website: Farming on the top deck of a car park

Singapore is small – it has some of the world’s most expensive property but has many car parks.

The Singapore government started leasing out the rooftop farms in 2020 as part of its plans to increase local food production. The country of 5.5m people currently imports more than 90% of its food and at least a dozen of these rooftop farms have now sprouted up across the South East Asian city state.

4. BBC News website: Treasure in the landfill?

Almost 10 years ago James Howells threw away a hard drive during a clear out – forgetting about the Bitcoin on it. Now, with the Bitcoin worth an estimated £150m ($184m), he is planning to spend millions digging up a landfill in a bid to find the lost hard drive.

If it’s found, he said he would give 10% of the proceeds to turn the city into a crypto-currency hub – but the council says excavating the site would pose an ecological risk.

5. BBC News website: ‘Climb every mountain’ (but not this one)

The mayor of Saint-Gervais, a village at the foot of Mont Blanc, says conditions on the mountain are now so dangerous that climbers should pay a €15,000 (£12,640; $15,370) deposit to cover rescue and possible funeral costs.

Mont Blanc is Europe’s highest mountain, with a summit at 4,807m (15,774ft).

I’ll stick to cycling – I’ve cycled through Saint-Gervais often and never needed rescue or burial

6. Congratulations to my favourite named British athlete (the wonderfully named Cindy Sember) on her bronze medal in the 100m hurdles at the Commonwealth Games.

Swim, run, gym, run, plus detective work, ties and football’s coming (come) home

After the weekend in Bournemouth, the swim doctor session Monday evening was a mixture of different strokes and drills for 1,100m – my leg kick is still terrible (when I remember to do it).

On Tuesday I did the weekend’s washing and ironed the easy stuff. I am almost adequate when it comes to handkerchiefs and pillowcases.

I’ve still not regained my appetite for a lot of exercise since the ultra. When it became clear on Tuesday that there wasn’t going to be any lake swim this week, I didn’t replace that with anything. It’s good that I have the weekly swim doctor session, had the cycling out in the alps, and walked and cycled during the weekend in Bournemouth or I would have done even less.

On Wednesday I drove up to London to see your younger son and helped him with a couple of jobs around his flat. Orders placed for a new transformer for the lights under the wall cupboards in the kitchen, and a new washing machine to be delivered on Sunday.

Thursday felt like it was time to get back to some more regular exercise and I ran to the gym and back with my training partner (a total of 5.8km – 3.6 miles) and did some weights while we were there. I’m not sure I love arriving at the gym already sweating but it does feel more sensible to run there than drive.

I ran with my wife on Saturday – a gentle 5.7km (3.5 miles) – as she gets back to running after twisting an ankle a few weeks ago. Three weeks since the ultra and I’m only just getting back my appetite for running. I have no intention of getting back to the amount of running I was doing earlier in the year and will try to be more balanced with the swimming and cycling ahead of the triathlon in September.

Back to London on Sunday to fit the new washing machine and kitchen light transformer for our younger son, then back to watch the English Women’s team win the 2022 Euro Championships in a tight final against an excellent German side – well played the Lionesses. I hope this provides a great boost for women’s sport in the country.

Last weekend the Transcontinental Race started – a self-supported ride from Belgium to Bulgaria (over 4000km – 2500 miles) with no prescribed route, just four compulsory checkpoints on the way. It’s possible to ‘dot watch’ by tracking live progress of every competitor.

In the first 26 hours, the early leader stopped for only 35 minutes and rode 760km (472 miles). On Friday, 4 and a half days into the race, he had been stationary for less than 13 hours. Astonishing.

Interesting stuff this week

1. African wise words: Don’t be so in love that you can’t tell when it’s raining

2. BBC News website: Personal statements less than personal

An education firm which specialises in helping Chinese students to study in the UK has been advertising to pay people to write university applications for students, including their personal statements.

A spokesman for the firm said it didn’t write personal statements for clients: “We offer a personalised proofreading service to help students, whose native language is not English”. The firm has now withdrawn the job advert, saying it could be “confusing”.

Ah, would that be ‘confusing’ as in ‘perfectly clear but objectionable’?

3. BBC News website: The final wag of the tail

One of the most talked about (and tedious) celebrity disputes has now come to an end. Rebekah Vardy (wife of footballer Jamie Vardy) has lost her defamation case against Coleen Rooney (wife of former footballer Wayne Rooney) who had accused Mrs Vardy of leaking private stories about her to The Sun newspaper.

The ‘Wives and Girlfriends’ of prominent footballers are often referred to as Wags. Colleen Rooney did some smart detective work when she first suspected a close contact was leaking stories about her to the press – leading to the case being referred to as the Wagatha Christie trial.

4. BBC News website: Stop wearing ties to save energy

The Spanish Prime Minister said his government will adopt “urgent” energy-saving measures as European countries suffer record temperatures and strive to become less dependent on Russian gas in the wake of the war in Ukraine.

At a news conference, Mr Sanchez pointed out that he wasn’t wearing a tie and said he wanted ministers, public officials, and workers in the private sector to do the same. He said the move will ensure people stay cooler and therefore lower energy costs, because air conditioners will be used less often.

If only the solutions to all problems were as simple

Run (x2), swim, walk (x2), cycle (plus bulls, AI and kitchen cabinets)

Vicious things those kitchen cabinets

Monday I took a car to the garage and ran back – my first run post-ultra – just 4km (2.5 miles) but it’s a start. Swim doctor session in the evening – I dodged the drills and swam a gentle recovery 1km.

I spent the much of the day on the dismal task of mopping up dirty water. The dishwasher outlet pipe had blocked leading to a couple of days when, unseen, it spewed out water under the kitchen units. A very messy job but fingers crossed that all will be well thanks to a bottle of drain cleaner and a lot of bleach. Perhaps the best thing about the current heatwave is that everything dried well.

On Tuesday, an attempt to run the dishwasher revealed that all was not well as the pipe still failed to drain away the water it discharged. Bit by bit I had to dismantle the whole outlet pipe which was actually blocked in several places. A horrible job reaching under and to the back of the carcasses of the kitchen units, in dirty water and emulsified fat! I ended up with very sore arms and shoulders.

Also on Tuesday one of the friends I’d been cycling with in the alps posted a message on Whatsapp to say he’d just tested positive for Covid. I did a test but it came out negative (the ‘we’ve had Covid’ camp seems to be increasing rapidly but I’m very happy still not to have joined it).

Wednesday showed two things – the dishwasher was sorted and is now sharing its dirty water with the drain outside instead of the kitchen floor – but my arms had suffered in the cause. Both shoulders were sore and both biceps were raw and bruised. It the same way that I need bigger hands and feet for swimming, I need longer arms for kitchen DIY.

With rather reduced arm mobility, I cancelled the week’s planned lake swim and gym session and resigned myself to a low key week for exercise.

On Thursday, my arms were improving, but still a rather fetching black and blue and still sore. I ran in the morning – 5.8km (3.6 miles). With just a 10km run in September’s olympic distance triathlon, it’s good to be able to run because I want to, rather than because I feel that I must.

We drove down to Bournemouth on Thursday night and spent Friday getting the house ready for a weekend with friends who drove down early on Saturday. When they arrived we went for a walk across Hengistbury Head with a picnic on the beach and then walked to Southbourne for supper in the evening – total walking 15km (9.3 miles).

On Sunday we cycled to visit the lovely gardens at Compton Acres – about 24km (15 miles) with stops at Sandbanks and Bournemouth pier for ice cream. Roast chicken Sunday lunch in the evening. Back to Oxfordshire after an excellent weekend.

Interesting stuff this week

1. African wise words: Don’t set sail on someone else’s star

2. BBC News website: Heatwaves and solar panels

The UK’s heatwave is helping to generate large amounts of solar power – but, ironically, it’s actually too hot for the highest levels of electricity generation.

For solar power generation, the amount of sunshine is more important than the amount of heat as heat brings down the efficiency of solar panels slightly. In the UK the record for peak half-hourly generation is always in April or May, when we get sunny but relatively cool weather.

3. BBC News website: And I thought the ultra was tough running

In 24 hours three men have died from wounds suffered during bull-running festivals in Spain’s Valencia region. They had taken part in the traditional ‘bous al carrer’, when bulls charge through towns, often with people running ahead of them (but sadly, not always far enough).

The three men who died had all been badly injured during events in the past two weeks. 20 people are said to have died in the region in the past eight years.

The mayor of Meliana said the bull was an animal and chance accidents of this type were a risk that people took.

Ah, the bull is an animal …

4. BBC News website: AI – too smart for its own good?

Google has fired one of its engineers who said the company’s artificial intelligence language technology system is sentient and should therefore have its “wants” respected. He said that the system showed self-awareness and could hold conversations about religion, emotions and fears and this led him to believe that behind its impressive verbal skills might also lie a sentient mind.

Google, plus several AI experts, denied the claims and on Friday the company confirmed he had been sacked.

Race to the Stones – race report

The Ridgeway, not a lot of shade …

The Race to the Stones 2022 happened over the weekend of 9th and 10th July. It came in 4 flavours: first day only (50km), second day only (50km), both days with overnight camp or straight through.

Having done the second day last year I was one of over 900 souls tackling the 100km straight through this year. Training went pretty well and I ran 751km in 20 weeks – a little further than the training plan required. The main issue was that holidays and an injury meant that I did not do the two longest runs in the training plan – and everyone knows that those are the important ones.

The injury was caused by very tight quads just three weeks or so before the race so I got two sports massages to sort them out and that seemed to have done the job as far as the quads, ITBs and hips were concerned.

Although my confidence took a bit of a knock because of the injury, my bigger concern as the race approached was the increasing likelihood of hot weather which had been noticeable by its absence throughout the training.

My wife was kind enough to drive me to the start in Lewknor (Oxfordshire, not far off the M40 junction 6) for my 8:10 scheduled start. The organisers set people off in waves based on projected running speed. I had estimated 14 – 16 hours for the run but (apart from it not fitting in with my aversion to very early mornings) would have liked to get away earlier. Even the official starters were taken aback by the late starting time when everyone in the pen turned out to be on the 100km straight through option.

The safety briefing was good but as the countdown to the start began I realised that I had left my Gamin in my wife’s car. Hurdling the barriers to get out of the pen I had a run back to the car park and so started a few minutes after everyone else.

Despite the heat warnings it was very pleasant for the first few miles because of some cloud cover. There was also quite a bit of shade early on – just when it wasn’t needed – but as the cloud was burnt off, the temperature started to rise.

The race takes place along the Ridgeway (often described as Britain’s oldest road) – it has a few bit of tarmac and a few bits along roads, and I don’t think the route is very technical. There is an early section through a wood with innumerable exposed tree roots, which was lovely as long as you kept both eyes on the track, and a nasty descent into Ogbourne St George later on, but otherwise it’s fine apart from some sections where 4x4s have left ruts that need to be treated carefully.

The early part of the run went well. I kept to the ‘walk up the hills’ mantra and, despite the increasing heat and lack of shade, I was enjoying the section alongside the Thames when, at 27km, I got cramp in my left calf. I hadn’t had any cramp during training runs much longer than that so I assume, despite drinking on the move and at the two food stops I’d already visited (and where I’d had pretzels and crisps for the salt), I hadn’t been able to take in enough fluids.

I walked off the cramp but as soon as I broke back into a jog, it returned, sometimes in the left calf, sometimes in the right calf and sometimes, just for variety, in both.

There are 7 food stops but, because of the heat, the organisers had put an additional drink station in Streatley so I drank yet more and had the benefit of a walking section up from the river – about 135m of gain over 5km.

With a bit of experimentation, I discovered that by landing more on my forefoot, the stretching effect on the calf meant that I could run off the cramp – although it would return on recommencing running after any walking sections, so I had to run through it again.

I was also getting some cramp in the tibialis anterior muscles that run down the front of the lower leg. It’s particularly interesting when the front and back muscles in the lower leg cramp at the same time – deciding whether to raise of lower the toes is quite an issue.

I have my doubts that it was doing my cramping muscles any great favours but I got to the half way point in under 7:30 elapsed time (interestingly, over an hour faster than the fastest over 60s time for those doing just that day). That was about 6:20 moving time as I was trying to take it slowly at the stops to cool down and drink. Given the muscle problems I’d run with for 23km, and the increasing heat (over 26℃ – 79℉), I was happy with that.

I was very lucky at about that point because my friend and training partner (who was prevented from running the race because of an injury that had only just cleared) and his wife, appeared as support crew. Had they merely brought some extra supplies and encouragement it would have been great but, way beyond that, they took turns to run with me for the second half of the race – and that second half was tough.

I don’t know if it was age, the distance, the heat, the dehydration, or the wear and tear of constantly running through the cramping muscles (or, more likely, all of the above) but the running reduced and the walking increased over that second half.

Eventually, the late afternoon got cooler. By early evening I seemed to catch up with the necessary fluid intake and the cramps stopped but I think the damage had been done to my legs and the latter stages, in the dark, were more of a walk than a run – but the philosophy of ‘one foot in front of the other’ held firm.

I was doubting that I’d finish after the cramps started but as they eventually faded, I got more optimistic. However, at the last food stop, about 12km from the finish, the doubts returned in spades as I started shivering as a bit of hypoglycemia set in. Eventually, I managed to get a couple of chocolate bars and a banana down and those did the trick. The struggle to eat and drink enough was a constant issue – I think I needed much more than my stomach ever wanted.

I finished in Avebury (hence the Stones in the race title) at about 2am – on my 67th birthday. I took a little under 18 elapsed hours (15.5 hours moving), and was still accompanied by my friends whose support was absolutely invaluable – I do not know if I’d have made it without them. They were also kind enough to drive me home (my wife was at a concert booked 3 years previously and postponed at least twice due to the pandemic).

Post run

The shivers returned in mild form while I was getting ready for a bath at about 3 am but a coffee with sugar sorted that out – the first sugar I’ve taken in coffee for 45 years. I won’t pretend I sprung up the stairs but I got there and slept well. Although I’d set the following day aside for immobility and groaning, I got up OK and could move quite well, if rather slowly.

It was a very tough run. If we assume that the 20 odd people shown on the results website as still to finish (!) are actually DNFs, I reckon that about 20% of people attempting the run straight through did not complete it. The final finisher is recorded at over 35 hours.

Of course, the maddest part of me says that it would be good to do it again, in cooler weather and without the cramp, to see what I might be capable of. The slightly less mad part says that if I run any more ultras, it would be sensible to make them no longer than 50km – last year’s 50km, and even this year’s first half, were eminently doable and even rather enjoyable – but let’s wait and see about that.

On the Monday a friend and I drove down to the alps for a few days cycling up mountains. The drive was OK except that I was walking like an old man when I got out of the car having slightly seized up with the immobility. Yes, I know that I am an old man but, in general, I try not to walk like one. I managed the cycling (slowly) but it is possibly not the best way to treat very tired legs.

All in all, one heck of an experience and I think that the mere fact that I finished means it was a success. I got only one blister and avoided sunburn and heatstroke and I’m grateful for that. I ran with a hydration pack which was very good for carrying the necessary stuff – but I didn’t much like the bladder for drinking. I wish I had put more effort into practising eating and drinking strategies on long training runs

I ran in road shoes (being so hot the ground was bone dry) and used a short sleeved top with white arm warmers to offer a bit of protection from the sun, until they had to be jettisoned due to the heat.

I was in 478th place out of 746 finishers and over 913 starters (I know of some runners who did not complete the 100km but are not included in any of the results). I was (just) in the top half of entrants in the 60+ category – but I don’t think that is very important, just finishing was enough for me.

The event was very well organised, the volunteers at the food stops were magnificent and there was very good camaraderie between the runners. Next year I’m more likely to be supporting my friend who managed to defer his entry from this year and, I hope, his wife. She enjoyed the experience so much that she has entered the ballot for a place. I’m so pleased I wasn’t in too bad a state to have put her off for life.

The supporters who were driving around to meet runners at various points were terrific and formed a bit of a bond, I’m looking forward to experiencing that in 2023.

How (not) to recover from an Ultra: 1. Ride up mountains!

The cirque at Sixt Fer-a-Cheval (with my bike on the grass in front of the restaurant)

My birthday on Sunday was a reasonably low-key affair after Saturday’s very tough ultra, moving slowly but improving through a day spent rehydrating and packing.

A friend arrived on Monday morning and we set off for the Haute Savoie in the French alps for a few days cycling. The journey was uneventful and we shared the driving although I was walking very slowly and stiffly when we stopped but I managed to extract myself from the car.

We arrived at midnight, joining the three others who had arrived at the apartment on Saturday. I certainly felt better on Tuesday morning but dipped out of the planned ride which would have taken me up the Joux Plane.

It’s a climb described in my Tour Climbs book as ‘hard as nails’ and one which famously gave Armstrong one of his toughest ever days on the bike in the 2000 Tour. I’ve ridden it three times before but this didn’t feel like the right day for attempting my fourth ascent.

Instead, I did domestic stuff around the apartment in the morning and sat on the balcony in the sun, drinking a cold beer and watching a dozen swifts feeding on the wing in front of me. Dirty work but someone has to do it.

I got on the bike later and thought of riding down the mountain to see if I could watch Le Tour come past up the Cote de Châtillon, just above Cluses. I decided that cycling down would be burning my bridges and the day would not end well if I couldn’t ride back up.

Instead I rode up to the top of the Col de Pierre Carrée – just about 12km (7.5 miles) of ‘up’ with 743m (2,440 feet) of climbing. I reckoned that at least I’d be able to coast back down to the apartment if my legs failed on the way up. I was happily surprised at how well they responded but it did leave me wondering how I managed 12 reps of that route when I ‘everested’ it in 2017.

On Wednesday we drove to Flumet and did a pretty demanding loop (in 33℃ – 91℉) which my Garmin recorded at only 44km (27 miles) but with over 1350m (over 4400 feet) of climbing. The legs don’t feel at all powerful but are holding up reasonably well.

Thursday was even hotter and harder. We rode to Le Bettex – there’s a particularly nice restaurant at the top – and it was OK until we turned off the main road above St Gervais and hit a forestry type road with several long sections at 20%. My out-of-power legs had been struggling manfully and managed to put up with the first section (standing on the pedals in bottom gear) but then downed tools and, for the first time in recent years, I walked for a bit.

When we regrouped I discovered I was not alone and only one of the 5 of us had ridden the route without stopping – pretty well unheard of … but it was a hell of a stretch of road. It was a short day with only 59km (37 miles) but packing in 1150m of climbing (3,800 feet).

Friday was the traditional visit to the Cirque at Sixt Fer-a-Cheval for a great lunch looking out at the spectacular cliff face running around, I guess, about 270°. It’s not a hard ride out there but the return requires a climb back to Les Carroz – about 72km with 950m of climbing, in about 35℃ (45 miles and over 3,100 feet in 95℉).

I was the slowest up all the climbs and that’s a bit of a theme in the recent years that we’ve been able to get out to the alps. I have handicapped myself very effectively after I everested in 2017, rode 880km (550 miles) out to there in 2018 and had ridden little after 2019’s Rotterdam marathon. I expected to have little in my legs this year after the ultra – but I made it up all the climbs and am more than happy to settle for that.

Before I went out I’d ridden only 550km this year – much of it on the turbo trainer. I only added 200km but I guess that’s another reason for a very modest cycling performance on my part, to be added to the effects of the ultra. One other effect of having done little cycling – my backside was not well hardened to the carbon fibre saddle.

We drove back on Saturday arriving late at night – a shorter trip than usual but great fun with a lot of food and drink and a very sociable group of friends.

Interesting stuff this week

1. African wise words: Even as the archer loves the arrow that flies, so too he loves the bow that remains constant in his hands

2. BBC News website: Smart mouthguards

Players at this year’s women’s Rugby World Cup will be offered the use of ‘smart’ mouthguards to help monitor the risk of head injury. The microchipped protective shield measures head impacts to assist with diagnosis of things like potential concussions.

Apposite with the horrible news just released that former Wales’ captain Ryan Jones (at only 41) has been diagnosed with early onset dementia. My very best wishes to him and his family

3. BBC News website: Wrapping the bridge

I’ve included pictures of Hammersmith Bridge on many occasions as it’s part of one of my favourite runs in London. Currently its chains are wrapped in silver foil insulation to reflect the sun and stop them overheating.

The chains are anchored to the river bed and regulated to be kept under 13C (55.4F) in the summer. If any of them reach 18C (64.4 F), safety engineers will shut the bridge.

The foil and a £420,000 cooling system, installed following the 2020 heatwave, are being used to keep the pedestals safe so it remains open to pedestrians and cyclists (it is still shut to vehicles because of other structural issues).

4. BBC News website: More about petrol shortages in Sri Lanka

I’ve previously mentioned the temporary ban on petrol sales for non-emergency vehicles in Sri Lanka.

Huge queues of vehicles waiting for fuel have become a common sight, with one queue, beginning in the commercial heart of the capital Colombo, and snaking round alongside a seaside strip of road, stretching for 5km (over 3 miles). The driver of a minibus close to the front has been queueing for 10 days. He said “I’ve been sleeping in the car since last Thursday. It’s so hard but what can I do… I won’t even get a full tank.”

Final week of the ultra training plan and then the small matter of the run itself

The Ridgeway – part of the Race to the Stones

You can look at this week in two ways: either the final 7km of training – which feels very easy … alternatively, there are 107km to be run this week – which feels a bit harder.

I got a run in on Monday – just 5.7km (3.5 miles) with a couple of hills – and both legs felt OK. I appreciate that many different parts of me will hurt on Saturday but the scare with the quads and the ITBs a couple of weeks ago was a real concern and I don’t feel any great need to get to the start line injured.

Monday evening was the usual swim doctor session (850m but including some leg only drills so it was tough) and I swam with my friend at the lake on Tuesday afternoon and managed 2150m. I still don’t love swimming but at least I have hope for the 1500m in the Olympic triathlon in September. Interestingly, it was the first time the collar of my wetsuit rubbed my neck – was I doing something different or was I just in it for longer?

My wife and I had brunch with our younger son on the way to Wimbledon on Wednesday. We were on Centre Court and had a ladies quarter final and Nadal v Fritz in the men’s quarter finals. Nadal is a great player and how he won through in 5 sets carrying an early injury was phenomenal – but, my word, his obsessive routines are annoying and if I never hear another ‘Come on Rafa’ I’ll be delighted.

After an overnight stay we drove back home on Thursday and I had final run of 3.6km (2.2 miles) to complete the ultra training. I got a nasty reminder that heat could be an issue – it was probably only about 20℃ (68℉) but I was hot. Friday saw the usual trip to the gym followed by the bike shop.

I never really followed the event’s 20 week training plan – in the early weeks I was ahead of the plan just with normal running. I’ve run further than the plan required but haven’t been up on the Ridgeway since February and haven’t really tried eating and drinking on the go, so those are gaps in the training.

The biggest failure has been not doing the two longest runs towards the end of the plan – I was on holiday for one and had the leg issues during the course of the other.

Week (of 20) Event’s training plan (km) My actual (km)
20 7 9
Cumulative total 716 751
Final week of the training plan completed, the ultra itself not included

Have I done enough? Who knows, but I’ll find out soon enough. At least the weather looks like being reasonable – about 16℃ (61℉) at the start, a little higher at the finish (as if I know when that’s going to be), with a maximum of 24℃ (75℉). There should be a gentle breeze, mainly at 90° to the route. I’m hoping that the breeze might help with the temperature. (If only I’d known what was actually going to happen when I wrote that).

For the umpteemth time, I went through the kit I would be wearing and carrying and packed and repacked the box I later delivered to my friend and his wife who, being incredibly kind, are going to meet me with supplies and encouragement a few times on the run (and he’s going to collect me at the end).

The ultra – 100km of fun, fun, fun

Saturday morning arrived and my wife was kind enough to drive me the 50 minutes to the start, just outside Lewknor (Oxfordshire) – and away I went at 8:10 ….

I’m writing this bit on Sunday, my 67th birthday – so here’s a bit of a spoiler alert … I did not kill myself and am not still out there lost on the Ridgeway.

I had fully expected to spend today lying in bed, immobile and groaning – as it turns out I’m up but moving around very slowly. Another spoiler alert, I finished.

The big story was the heat – once the early morning cloud disappeared it was hotter than predicted (probably 26℃ – 79℉) and I found it impossible to get enough liquids in – the result was cramping from 27km. Every time I broke into a run the cramp returned but I found I could run through it, with effort. I don’t know if it was that, or the heat, or the distance, but while the first half was OK, my legs were shredded for the second.

My friend and training partner and his lovely wife were magnificent. They took turns to run (more accurately, ‘walk’ for much of it) with me for the whole of the second half and made all the difference – I doubt I’d have done it without them. What terrific friends!

I was wondering if I’d finally taken on a challenge I couldn’t do. I think the answer is ‘No’, I could do it (and better in kinder weather) … but it was close.

I’ll do a report later.

Interesting stuff this week

1. African wise words: Love is a painkiller

The Omil’s less wise words: … Paracetamol probably works better for an ultra marathon

2. BBC News website: Quarks and exotic matter

Scientists have found new ways in which quarks, the tiniest particles known to humankind, group together making new structures that exist for just a hundred thousandth of a billionth of a billionth of a second but may explain how our Universe is formed.

Atoms contain smaller particles called neutrons and protons, which are made up of three quarks each. “Exotic” matter discovered in recent years is made up of four and five quarks – tetraquarks and pentaquarks.

Scientists at the Large Hadron Collider have discovered one new pentaquark and two tetraquarks taking the total number discovered there to 21. Each is unique, but researchers are excited about the qualities of the three new finds.

Confused? You will be

3. BBC News website: Two football matches with 187 goals investigated

The two second-tier Sierra Leone games saw Kahunla Rangers and Gulf FC of Kono defeat their city rivals in Premier League qualifiers on Sunday. Kahunla won 95-0, and Gulf FC won 91-1 – after the half-time scores were just 2-0 and 7-1 respectively. Both results have been annulled on suspicion of match manipulation.

Things took a dramatic turn over the course of the second halves when it became clear that the team with the better goal difference would go through – with Kahunla netting 93 goals and Gulf scoring 84 times.

93 goals in 45 second half minutes hardly gives time to get the ball back to the centre circle to kick off again

4. BBC News website: Sugary cereal special offers restricted

In-store promotions on food and drink high in fat, salt or sugar will be restricted in England, from October. This includes ‘location promotions’ at checkouts, ‘end of isle’ and entrances.

Kellogg’s had taken the government to court arguing the rules did not take into account the nutritional value of added milk to cereals, but the Royal Courts of Justice ruled in favour of the government.

5. BBC News website: Woman took driving theory and practical tests for others

Inderjeet Kaur, 29, was jailed for 8 months after admitted taking about 150 tests between 2018 and 2020. Police said she was taking tests for people who had difficulty with English.

The report had no pass rate details but I bet she knows the theory and drives pretty well

Pre-Ultra thoughts

I’ve done the final runs of the training plan – it requires just 7km this week (or 107km if you include the ultra itself). The first 7km has gone OK – the remaining 100km is in the lap of the Gods.

I’ve (unwisely) been thinking about Saturday’s 100km. It’s rather daunting – not least because a young chap I know (a vastly superior runner – in the sense of ‘I am not fit to tie the laces to his trainers’) – took over 17 hours for one last month.

I hope you’ll forgive me if I get a bit technical here, but my experience tells me that a marathon is ‘a very long way’ to run. Similarly, last year I discovered that a 50km ultra marathon is ‘even further’. That means that Saturday’s 100km ultra is, officially, ‘twice as far as even further than a very long way’.

I hope that I haven’t lost anyone in the detail.

I’ve (sort of) done the training. I front-end loaded it because I was already running further than the plan required in the early weeks – but I’ve missed out on some of the more recent very long runs (yes, the really important bits of the training). That means that, although my mileage over the 20 weeks is above the plan, I’ve probably not done enough really long stuff.

Coupled with the recent major hiccup with ITB issues, that leaves me unsure of what to expect. I doubt that the training plan was written with old folks like me in mind – but I like to think that age is an advantage because of the added maturity it brings (what’s that I can hear – is it whistling in the dark?).

I fear that running on maturity might not be as useful as running on young legs, at the 75km point.

My wife is driving me the 40 miles to the start, before going to see Bananarama in concert in London. No, it’s not true that I’m only doing the ultra to avoid that concert but that is a side benefit, I’ll admit.

My friend and training companion (who would have been running with me, had it not been for a ligament problem in his ankle that’s only just improved) has (way beyond kindly) volunteered to be my support crew on the day. I feel bad that my start time of 8:10am means that my friend will be collecting me from the finish rather late … assuming I make it to the finish … and assuming I don’t take so long that collection turns out to be mid-morning on Sunday.

This doubt is rather familiar territory – I thought I probably was going to be able to do the Cinglés du Mont Ventoux back in 2015 but I was very worried about the everesting in 2017, the solo, unsupported, ride out to the alps in 2018 and the 50km ultra last year.

As it turned out, I completed those challenges, but those worries are going to turn out to be well founded at some point as I age and push myself physically. This could be the step (or several thousand steps) too far.

On Saturday, I suppose I’m going to find out if this challenge is the straw that breaks the camel’s back – is this the challenge that proves that determination and bloody-mindedness are not always enough?

Two apposite African wise words for this post:

  • A feeble effort will not fulfill the self
  • To try and to fail is not laziness

Run (x3), swim (x2), gym (plus a worldwide party ban and dry pumps)

Week 2 of the taper – just 15km. I ran on Monday (7.2 km – 4.5 miles) in between the showers to get ahead of the schedule. Yes, the left knee hurt a bit – but not as much as previously.

The evening’s swim doctor session was very good – we used fins for several drills and they were great fun (obviously I now realise that I could do with much bigger feet) – in all 900m.

That was followed on Tuesday by a trip to the lake for an open water swim. In my absence on holiday, running, my wife’s birthday and generally wimping out, my friend and training partner has been making strides (figuratively) in the water so I have a good deal of catching up to do.

It didn’t feel too encouraging at the start – chilly and choppy – but it improved and I ended up with a very decent 1750m (while my friend did a rather more impressive 2600m). Not a lot of catching up done by me but, for a fourth open water swim of the year (including the triathlon), I’m happy. It does feel as though I still need to get more comfortable in the open water before I can swim my best (although, still, that’s not particularly good).

Off for my follow-up massage in the afternoon, which went well as Kimmo eased out the remaining tightness in my left thigh – I hope that the remaining training runs won’t change that. Who knows if that’s sorted it but I’ve done what I can (I’m also stretching the ITB and everything else I can think of, other than the truth) so there’s little point worrying about it (but that won’t stop me).

Wednesday and Thursday were rest days but I laboured in the garden. On Friday I went to the gym – I’d planned to run a gentle 4km but overshot (how is it possible to overshoot on a treadmill?) and finished with 5km in 28:18. More importantly, the knee behaved itself well. The massages and stretching just might be doing the trick but I’m not getting too excited as, so often, it’s the hope that kills you.

The run was followed by some weights and then the stint in the bike shop. A short run (5.6km – 3.5 miles) with my wife on Saturday got me past the week’s 15km – legs still OK. Out to friends for an excellent supper on Saturday and to lunchtime drinks followed by an ‘open garden’ charity fund raiser in the village on Sunday.

A week of ups and downs for the legs – but more ups than last week so that must be some sort of progress.

… and Le Tour started with an individual time trial on Friday – great to have it back even if Geraint Thomas forgot to take off his gilet at the start of the ITT (what happened to the days of the ‘marginal gains’?).

100k corner (an occasional place for ultra news, worries and plans)

Race day has now appeared in the normal weather forecasts. On Tuesday, the forecast was for it to be dry, with sunny intervals, a moderate breeze (for which, read ‘headwind’) and temperatures of about 15℃ (59℉) for my 8:10am start, rising to 21℃ (70℉) before falling back to the starting temperature by midnight.

That would be pretty good but I’d prefer less wind or, even better, a 180° about turn. There’s plenty of time for it to change – for better or worse. On Wednesday the forecast maximum temperature was up to 25℃ (77℉) and the wind direction had moved through 90°. Perhaps I’ll ignore forecasts for another week.

With just one week to go and I have my race pack and can start to prepare kit and really begin to worry about how I am going to consume the 6.000 calories (or so) that I’m going to need. I have heard ultras described as eating and drinking competitions with a little bit of running thrown in.

I have no strategy beyond ‘one foot in front of the other’. I was more confident of finishing a couple of weeks ago, before the knee issues, but I’m going to give it my best shot and if that’s not good enough, I’ll live with it.

Interesting stuff this week

1. African wise words: One falsehood spoils a thousand truths

2. BBC News website: Woman suing rape crisis charity

The woman, who says she was raped in her 20s, stopped going to the charity’s support group sessions, shaving become uncomfortable sharing details of her past with the group after a transgender woman began attending the same meeting.

Her lawyers claim that by adopting a trans-inclusive approach – and not providing a session for women who were born female – the charity failed to meet the needs of all sexual violence victims.

She is bringing the case under the Equality Act, claiming indirect discrimination as well as victimisation and harassment. She said: “I think women have sex-based rights and protections and these are under threat at the moment from trans activism.”

While not, for a moment, detracting from the horror of rape, the importance of the support group or the difficulties posed by trans-gender issues, I do feel sorry for the charity apparently being caught between a rock and a hard place – and making the charity use its funds to defend her action could deprive others of the services she has valued so highly

3. BBC News website: … and we think we have it bad over petrol and diesel

On Monday, the Sri Lankan government said it will ban buying petrol and diesel for private vehicles until 10 July. Only buses, trains, and vehicles used for medical services and transporting food will be allowed to fill up. Schools in urban areas have shut and the country’s 22 million residents will work from home.

Sri Lanka is facing an economic crisis and is in talks over a bailout deal as it struggles to pay for imports such as fuel and food.

4. BBC News website: Airbnb permanently bans parties and events around the world

It struck me that this was a bit high-handed of Airbnb but it appears only to apply to homes let on its platform so your BBQ this weekend is OK

5. BBC News website: Covid infections are rising again across the UK

An estimated 2.3 million people or one in 30 has the virus – a rise of 32% on the week before, the rise is being driven by two new fast-spreading sub-variants of Omicron – called BA.4 and BA.5.

People can be infected even if they’ve had Covid before, but jabs are helping to protect against serious illness.

Just when I thought that my knee was the biggest threat to running the ultra …

6. The people of Oman don’t like The Flintstones but the people of Abu Dhabi do.

Swim, turbo, run x3 (1000km for 2022), gym, ride (plus pigeons, sloths and someone else’s wheels falling off)

It’s the first week of the taper to the ultra on 9 July – just 30km this week. After last Saturday’s bad run, my quads were still sore on Monday so I gave running a miss and booked a massage.

The swim doctor session on Monday evening was very good – 950m in a mixture of strokes and drills. It felt like the sea swimming in Corfu had helped a bit although it was, as ever, hard work.

Tuesday was my wife’s birthday but I managed to fit the massage in between a very good lunch in the garden of a riverside pub and chauffeuring her to and from a friend’s for drinks in the early evening.

The massage (my second ever) went well. ‘Kimmo’ is a very pleasant and interesting chap, originally from Finland but he spend 40 years in Canada. His diagnosis confirmed my guess that my quads were very tight/knotted and it was that which caused the hip and knee pain, by virtue of interaction with the iliotibial bands.

It’s exactly what I had 24 years ago when training for the 1998 London Marathon (my first). I suppose that if I go another 24 years before the problem arises again, I’ll have done well (but at 90, how will I know?).

I was trying to work out what might have caused the problem now, having done 17 weeks of training without any big hitches. His guess was that the muscles were getting tight and while the three treadmill runs in Corfu weren’t likely to have actually caused the problem, they probably did finish the job off.

Kimmo suggested not running on Wednesday but to give it a go on Thursday. With luck I still might be able to fit in this week’s 30km – but it won’t matter if I don’t. There isn’t too much running to be done over the next three weeks leading up to the ultra so I suppose I’ll only know for sure if it’s worked when I try the real thing.

As long as the issue can be sorted, I’ll be relieved that it happened now and not on the day of the ultra – I would have been a dnf if the race had been on last Saturday.

I fixed the puncture on the turbo trainer and had a (sweltering) spin on Wednesday (30 minutes @ 29.4kph – 18.3mph). I went for a run on Thursday. I was apprehensive but took it gently and the 13.5km (8.4 miles) took me through 1,000km for the year.

Everything had improved hugely since Saturday’s horror show but the left knee isn’t 100% right so it will need one more massage session – which I’ve arranged for next Tuesday. From despair on Saturday after the run, to optimism on Tuesday after the massage, to doubt now – this is getting very wearing.

My second run of the week was a hot 5km on Friday in the gym – left knee still protesting but if last week was 6/10 for pain, this was down to 4/10. There are five treadmills and only after I finished did I realise that I’d chosen one of the two not in the path of the breeze from the air conditioning unit. I did some weights (and stretching) before the usual stint in the bike shop.

On Saturday I took a turn leading the blue group for the cycle club. We have friends who have taken in two Ukrainian families and Lyn appeared with three 12 year old Ukrainian lads so I rode with them – 34.2km (21.2m). With stops for one puncture (good job I was there to fix it), a phantom puncture, two dropped chains, water, snacks, regrouping, undone shoe laces and rain, it didn’t exactly flow but it was still the most worthwhile ride I’ve done for years.

Final run of the week on Sunday – 13km (8 miles) to complete the week’s 30km. Right thigh, hip and knee all fine, left knee became unhappy after 6 km but down to 3/10 on the pain front. Once started, it didn’t get any worse so fingers crossed for Tuesday’s second massage.

Well, that was better than last week, with success for treatment for the right leg but the need to try again with the left. Until that’s sorted, I’m not really going to be able to relax about the ultra. I am, of course, a reformed character and will diligently stretch as if it’s going out of fashion (as long as I remember to do it).

Interesting stuff this week

1. African wise words: Only a wise person can solve a difficult problem

2. BBC News website: Pigeon fanciers say red tape having a devastating effect

Before Brexit, enthusiasts could release their birds in France to race back to the UK, but now Britain is outside the EU birds must now have an export health certificate before they can take part in trans-Channel races.

The certificate has to be signed by an approved vet after completing various tests like an examination of the birds and a check on transportation conditions.

Coo

3. BBC News website: Life in the slow lane

Sloths sleep for about 15 hours a day and move so slowly that algae grows on their fur, acting as a natural camouflage to hide them from potential predators. They move as little as 40m (130ft) a day and can spend up to a month digesting a meal.

They are most at risk on the ground, where they can take more than a minute to move two metres (6.5ft). As they need to leave the trees to go to the toilet, they have developed high-capacity bladders and rectums, which mean they can go for up to a week without having to answer the call of nature. Sloths are extremely good swimmers, their slow metabolism also means they can hold their breath for up to 40 minutes.

I may be part man, part sloth (apart from the bladder and the swimming)

4. BBC News website: 2,700 electric vehicles recalled

The recall comes less than two months after the car was launched in Japan. Toyota told the BBC that bolts on the bZ4X’s wheels “can loosen to the point where the wheel can detach from the vehicle” after “low-mileage use”.

A spokesperson added “If a wheel detaches from the vehicle while driving, it could result in a loss of vehicle control, increasing the risk of a crash”.

Those spokespersons certainly know a thing or two about the importance of car wheels

5. BBC News website: Strava tracks security personnel at secret bases in Israel

A disinformation watchdog has found that by uploading fake running “Strava segments” inside secret facilities, a user could learn the identities and past routes of people active in the area, even if they had the strongest privacy settings. Information about 100 individuals who exercised at six bases was viewable.

Used by more than 95 million people, Strava has a bit of previous – in 2018, the company published a global “heatmap” that revealed the exercise routes of people at military bases around the world, including US facilities in Syria and Afghanistan.

6. My uncle always said ‘Laughter is the best medicine’. He was a great guy – but not a very successful doctor.