Country to Capital

It’s only just 2 weeks into the new year and my first Ultra of 2019 is ticked off. This is a great feeling. The year is looking just a little bit daunting, so to get it underway and emerge through the first finish line is pleasing.

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The medal is a piece of art!

Over Christmas I was worried. More than I’ve been since I started running. I’ve had a few niggles over the last year and you know what your body is feeling. This niggle felt a different, it concerned me. I know when it happened. I don’t know what happened or what it is though. During the night run a few weeks before Christmas the top of my foot hurt. It hurt as I stepped off the train, before we even started running. It felt like my laces were too tight but loosening didn’t help (neither did running the 24 miles, I know!). The pain intensified and persisted for a few days and a lump appeared. So I was concerned.

It woke me up for the first time and I swallowed my stubbornness and went and saw a physio. The prognosis was good, ankle movement was as expected and I was set some rehab and stability exercises and prescribed some rest. Always some rest. That is the difficult part right?! Over the Christmas period I continued to dwell on the pain and with the Trans Gran Canaria race looming in the distance I was thinking of pulling out of the Country to Capital. 70km felt like it could put my year at risk before I even began.

But, I didn’t. I’ve been stubborn as always and after a follow up with the physio and a check up with the GP (who confirmed the lump is a small Ganglion cyst, but nothing to worry about) I stuck by my original plan. So to the race I went.

This is quite a popular event. There aren’t that many ultras in the first few weeks of January, especially not ones so accessible from London. An ultra at the beginning of January is a test. A checkup if you like. To see where you are at and what your body is saying after Christmas. Many runners use this event as ‘tune up’ (as Alan describes it) for what is to come. So that became my aim too.

With an early start and a rush from the first train from London to Wendover, I decided to stay overnight in Stoke Mandeville. I’m glad I did. I woke relaxed and at eased and casually made my way to registration with plenty of time to do all the mandatory registration activities without any stress.

I met with Alan, Lenny and a few of their mates and the race Director sent us on our way. There was a mad dash at the start as the runners legged it down the high street to get the front line at the single track paths. And that there is where the majority of my memories of this event comes to an end. It is, as events go, pretty unspectacular. We cover a lot of ground (45 miles!), but it is mostly forgettable. True, the start near Wendover Woods is quite scenic, but as soon as you get inside the M25 it is a grotty run. 30 plus kilometres along the Grand Union Canal towpath, it sounds good, but it is ugly. Flat. Hard. Narrow. Covered in more litter and abandoned rubbish than you can imagine. I’m not talking about the odd bit of crap here and there, in places it was piled with bonfire sized heaps of rubbish. London has a problem here it needs to address! Such as historic part of the country in such a sad state.

Anyway, that’s off my chest. What do I remember?

A few rolling hills to start with provided some early morning treats to the eye. The first 15 or so miles were a breeze with some walking up the inclines and crowds of runners to chat away too and enjoy. Shortly after the second checkpoint, with conversations of the morning often revolving around the recent UTMB ballot results, I got chatting to Sophie. Sophie had quite a remarkable experience at UTMB this year which really puts all the preparation and stress of the events into perspective. There’s a lot of discussion around changes required to events as a result and hopefully we will see those much needed changes come sooner rather than later.

As we chatted, Sophie pointed out how fast we were running. What finish time this equated too. I knew I was ahead of the pace I’d set out for. I knew I’d gone off too quickly. I was feeling OK though so was rolling with it. Sophie gave me a reality check. I stuck with it and carried on, telling myself “as long as it feels good”.

I started to make deals with myself. First off, get to checkpoint 3. This would be roughly a marathon in, after which it was the towpath all the way to the finish. I’d have a moment at the checkpoint and update Alan and the others on my progress (we’d be meeting in the pub later in the day). Checkpoint 3 came about so quickly. Quicker than I expected. One of the volunteers did acknowledge it was now the afternoon, so I’d done the marathon in around 4 hours.

Onward along the canal we went. The field did start to spread out now and no doubt a lot of us were starting to feel the aches in the legs. The route had no signage or markings but I did have the GPX on my watch. I was on the towpath, I didn’t need it though right? Wrong! I was constantly following the runners in the distance and at one point, after heading after a runner I soon heard some screaming behind us. It took a moment but the caller was persistent. I’m so glad he was as we had missed a turning off the canal path onto another. If we had continued, we would have ended up in Brentford! Thankfully I was able to back track and recover and thank the runner. The could have been very costly!

I negotiated the next set of deals with myself. First off, get to the forth checkpoint. I was hopeful it wasn’t too far away. And it soon arrived. To my surprise the volunteers confirmed there were just 10 miles to go (I’d been estimating closer to 13 miles left) and the final checkpoint was only 4 miles away. This lifted me. I decided to walk for a moment and eat some more food, then I’d run what was left of the 4 miles. I could do that. That was a very process-able distance.

The next deal would be when I get to the final checkpoint I’d start a walk-run strategy. I’d been checking my average pace for the last few miles an I knew a strong finish (somewhere under 8 hours) was on the cards. I probable could have run the last 6 miles but there was nothing in it for me to do so. I came up with the plan to walk 0.25 miles, run 2 miles and repeat. This would make the last 6 miles so much more manageable and I felt I’d walked very little other than the few short inclines early on in the run.

After leaving the last checkpoint, a few miles from the finish I saw a familiar face. I recognised it smiling out at the runners. I couldn’t place it though. We had a Hi-five. Then it clicked. Rowan called out my name and it all made sense. We’ve known each other through Instagram yet never met, somehow avoiding each other in the 20 plus group that was out in Berlin together.  Rowan snapped the only picture I have of the day, we had a hug and I was back on my way. The last few miles went down exactly as per the deal, I was blocking out the crap littered tow path until Little Venice came upon me so quickly.

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Rowan’s camera snapping the only photo from the day!

The finish was an understatement. A subtle welcome, medal and a cuppa doesn’t do the brutality of the race justice. The Country to capital is not an easy run. I don’t think any flat runs are. It gives me great awe thinking about those runners who take on events like the Thames 100. It must be so hard on the body. Don’t go entering the Country to Capital because you think it is an easy race, it really isn’t!

It’s the day after the run and I feel surprisingly good. I’m thinking and checking over my body and I’m feeling very happy. There’s things I know I need to work on and things I need to improve, but after a tough run I expected to be in pain in a few places. The worst is my ribs and abs. I know I’ve run hard when they ache! The foot? The foot feels fine. Now back to those rehab and stability exercises.

Trail Run – Sat 29th December

Update: The run is LIVE on the MyCrew app. Download it here MyCrew and look for the run to get easy access to updates and find out who else is joining.

Ok, so here it is Saturday 29th December – a Trail run around Three Bridges. Who wants to join?

 

 

This time last year I met a bunch of trail runners. A collective of like minded individuals who share a passion for running, trails and enjoying nature. They welcomed me into their open group and took me on many adventures over the year. I want you to experience this too. So, come and join the Cool Cats (check them out on Facebook and the ‘gram!) as we head to Three Bridges to get one last muddy trail run in before the New Year comes…

Details are below, but get in touch with me directly and I’ll make sure you are added to the group and kept up to date with the plans. Expect cold and wet weather with mud and plenty of great company. We run together, to enjoy each other’s company and share the trails (there will be plenty of opportunity to take pictures along the way). We’ll probably be floating around the 7.30min/km (just under 12min/mile) pace on average.

The route

The route will be a ~37km loop from Three Bridges, Starting and ending in Three Bridges Station. We will initially run down towards Balcombe station where you can opt to join the group there and do a shorter route (approximately 20km) as we head back up to Three Bridges. The longer route will have a few hills and a total elevation gain of about 500m.

Both routes are available on my Strava page (links below) where you can download the GPX/TCX files if you want to.

Both routes are mainly trail but will involve a few road sections.

The Long Route (36km)

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https://www.strava.com/routes/16464579

 

The shorter Route (~20km (to the pub!))

Trail Run 18km

https://www.strava.com/routes/16314420

 

The Where

  • Three Bridges Train Station
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We’ll start from the station
  • If you are joining for the shorter route, meet at the Half Moon Pub, a short walk from Balcombe Station
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Wait at the pub for us to arrive

 

 

The When

Saturday 29th December.

  • Meet for 08:45 to start running at 09:00am from outside the station (Three Bridges)
  • If joining for the Shorter Route, be at the Half Moon Pub for 11:00am (you may need to wait a little while but I will provide updates to those joining)

How to Get there

From Central London:

  • Either Train from London Bridge (08:07am) / Blackfriars (07:59am). Or join from another station along the way. Get off at Three Bridges (or Balcombe if joining for the shorter route, get a later train though!)

From anywhere else:

  • No idea! You’ll have to figure that out for yourself!!

The Pub:

  • We’ll head to the Hillside Inn afterwards. Passing Three Bridges station again on the way. Address is Balcombe Road, Crawley RH10 7SX

 

Your responsibilities

  • Get there on time! We will start running at 09:00. That means you need to be there before 09:00! Please don’t make everyone else late. Likewise if you are joining at Balcombe, we’ll come and find you but won’t be hanging around if you are not there on time!
  • Whilst this isn’t an organised event and there is no mandatory kit, be sensible! Bring what you need. It is advisable to:
    • bring enough water for the whole journey (there are no planned water stops along the route),
    • bring food to eat and keep you fuelled (we’ll be running for hours!),
    • its December so bring warm clothes and something to keep you protected from the rain,
    • Something warm and dry (inc dry socks!) for afterwards too!
    • Any medical supplies you need!
    • Expect mud, Trail shoes are advised!
  • If you feel unwell or have an injury, tell someone. Don’t be afraid to speak to us, so we can help you!
  • Please make sure you are capable of doing the whole distance comfortably. Whilst we will stick together as a group, we aren’t set up to split into different groups. We will be running and not hiking!
  • This is not a race nor a guided trail run! It is a social/group run. There are no pacers or leaders. We will run together at a pace suitable for everyone. If you want to go faster it is your responsibility not to get lost, to come back to the group or to wait and regroup. It is not other people’s responsibility to keep pace with you! Leave your training plans and times at home!

So if you are interested in joining, get in touch here or via Instagram to let me know (If I don’t know you are coming, I can’t plan for you!)

A sneak peak of what is in store for you…

Thanks

Dai

 

 

It’s Soooo Nice.

Another 6 months have passed, well, almost. It is the end of my challenge, 2018 is now technically closed for me (from an event perspective that is!). This means reflection time again. 6 months ago I wrote a mid-way review post and I’m glad I did. I had to read it to recall everything that has happened and where my mind and thoughts were at 6 months ago.

Lets quickly recap on that first half of the year, January – April saw 4 marathons. 2 p.bs, a DNF and a wicked experience of rediscovering the enjoyment and fun I have in running. May and June saw the start of my ultras with 3 of them completed, including my first real taste of running in the mountains. You can read all the detail of those first 6 months in my review.

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Swag from the year – over 1,000km of events

Before I knew it July was here. This is when it started hotting up. Literally. What a glorious summer we had in the UK, and sure us runners moaned about it! It was always too hot. We were always dehydrated. We were always worried and concerned. Runners running early morning and late evenings just to avoid the sun. I couldn’t avoid the sun during the first of the ultras in the second half of the year. The Serpent Trail (not sure what’s happened to this blog!? it’s vanished!!) was an absolute scorcher, but great fun. Whilst the world cup was underway, I was busy running my first 100km of the year through the South Downs. It was an amazing route and well organised event but required some digging deep to carry on for 13 hours in the relentless heat. I compared this event to a Battle. That day I also met Ally whom I found out is my neighbor.

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Flying high on the Serpent Trail!

August was the big month. The first challenge in my path would be  return to the SVP100. Running with Ged and Chris and meeting many many people along the way. A fairly relaxed run (I had my mind on the next imminent challenge!) where I just wanted to ensure I didn’t get injured! One thing I learnt that weekend was not to use a room in a shared/lived in Airbnb. I felt uncomfortable. Most notable in my feelings from this race was the comparisons I drew to running the same event in 2017. It didn’t disappoint.

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Revisiting a race for the first time.

At the end of August it was the main event. Shortly after recovering from the SVP100 it was onto the big one. The CCC. The race that had come to dominate my calendar year. The one that filled me with fear and uncertainty but so much excitement at the same time. I prepped for this one. Whilst ultimately the year so far was ‘training’ for this purpose I also went out to the Alps to Recce the route before hand. Here’s a summary of that recce and also what I learnt from doing it.

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Final push…

Come the race itself, physically it was hard. Mentally it was challenging. I came through it so much faster and stronger than I’d planned. I earned the gilet that day. Despite having mixed feelings on the event I am so glad I ran it.

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A surreal experience

There was no stopping now. With very little time to rest, I was straight into the Berlin marathon. A different race entirely. Shorter distance, road, greater intensity. I hadn’t run a road race for 4 months since Helsinki (and that was a calm and calculated run at a consistent, easy pace). I didn’t know how I’d fare up. The ghost of Limassol still lingered. I took the pressure off myself. I had no real intentions for Berlin. Secretly I wanted the sub 3, but I wasn’t committed to attempting it here and now. Not so soon after the CCC anyway. That all changed when I started running that morning. Kipoche wasn’t the only breaking records that day. I made my own history with a life time membership into the Sub 3 hour club. That can never be undone.

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3hr marathon club membership

Three quarters of the year done. 3 races remaining! I’d achieved the goals I’d originally set out to achieve. I’d come through in pretty good condition. The big races of the CCC and Berlin had been conquered. Immediately I went into a sort of chilled mood. The next races were mere formalities in my mind. I didn’t care what happened as long as I finished and as long as I didn’t pick up any injuries.

Poland was the next destination in October. This was a very social occasion with 5 of us ‘Cool Cats’ heading out and running the 48km at the Lemkowyna Ultra Trail event. We met up with ‘Team Hot Tub’ from Sweden and dubbed ourselves team ‘Zeimniaki’ after discovering our love and inability to speak Polish. The run itself was not as expected as the mud gave way to glorious sunshine and dry terrain. I ran with (or rather near) Yvette for the full 6 hours and we picked up our amazing mugs and cowbell medals at the finish line. It was a great weekend. We also had a brief moment on Polish TV!

I did hit a bit of a low-point (mentally) during September and October. The build up of all the races had raised my expectations. A sort of anti-climax was reached and a little bit of me felt unfulfilled despite my achievements. My motivation and desire had dropped and I didn’t run as much in September and October as a result (still clocking >100 mile months though!). I felt a little lethargic and out of shape (I didn’t alter my diet in anyway and produced a lovely pot-belly as a result!). The calf/hamstring issue I felt out in Poland persisted and I was too stubborn to do anything about it (and still am!). I did however set my mind on re-building myself from November onward. Using those last two races to trigger the start of training for 2019. That was the plan anyway…

Poland was followed by a return to Wales. Brecon was calling once more, this time the 46 mile (2 loops) of the Brecon with Jon, Gif and Reka. Originally this was going to be Jon, Tommy and Kieron but sadly they both had to drop out in the weeks leading up to the event. We met up with Ged and ran together with as little pressure and maximum enjoyment possible. It was a great experience. We had a lot of fun that weekend and Jon secured his 4 UTMB points he set out to.

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What a great weekend!

I threw an extra spanner in the works during November when I (all too easily) was convinced by Ged to run a trial of a new ultra in between Brecon and Dorset. The Thames Bridges Ultra (TBU) is a 50 mile ultra along the Thames (crossing the bridges obviously) that would be run at night. How could I resist? It was free after all! What I didn’t consider was the implications of running 3 ultras in 2 weeks. I felt good on the night but soon tired. The exhaustion from Brecon came out. It was long, hard and flat. Ged had to pull out before the day, but Reka and Krysia provided much needed company through the night.

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The trail Twins!

The Dorset Coastal Trail Series was the final event for me. The end of my challenge. Another 46miles of trails and the first event I’d do on the coast. I signed up to this initially with Alex (who did the half). Later in the year, the WTR bunch got involved and so this also became a very social event. I only wish I’d studied the course before committing as, it involved a number of repetitive laps of the (very) hilly route! The weather on the day was verging on the extreme. Some emergency plans were instigated and route changes applied. Visibility was low as we fought not only the distance but the elements. A super hard run made easier with great company!

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Wild Trail Runners!

What else have I been up to?

Like the first 6 months of the year, the second half was full of other adventures and moments worth noting. So many in fact I don’t quite know where to begin nor what to really say about them! So here, as a reminder for me to look back on one day, are some other highlights from the year.

Lets start with the group training

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  • Never Stop London. This carried on into the year, although I attended less frequently. The community is buzzing (and has grown so much over the summer!) and my strength has definitely improved from all the leg cranks and focused training. I’ve no doubt it helped set me up for success in the Alps.

 

  • img_7744Wild Trail Runners – Towards the end of spring I started attending the hill sessions on Monday nights. Whilst not always motivated to go, or often aching from the weekend’s events, these have been a great opportunity to not only get some additional tailored training and hill sessions, but to become closer with a wicked bunch of runners and community.

 

  • IMG_3049London Burger Run – each month these continue and with a few exceptions I’ve been able to help pace one of the groups. These have also been a great opportunity to meet people and get more involved in the community, but also to learn about pacing and leading groups of runners. Above all the atmosphere is so relaxed and a great way to bring people of all abilities and aims together.

 

  • img_9081.jpgEvossi Explore Runs – another opportunity which came about over the summer was my involvement with Evossi (see below!) which led to some more run leader experience on runs in Richmond and South East London. A smaller, but growing community!

 

Run With Dai. These have continued. However they have been a little less structured (I count some of the times when I’ve run with others which might not have been planned that way!) and a little less frequent. My biggest challenge here has been maintaining not only interest (from others that is – I’m always open to running with you all!!), but freedom to do it whilst still training and travelling for all my events!

  • Run With Montane – this one was a particularly special Run With Dai though as it was the first I’ve done outside of London and which required an over night stop! Whilst there were other motives involved, it also served as a reminder of the past year and a moment of reflection. I’ve now committed to going further with this incentive and will one day make it to Scotland, Northern Ireland and even Germany for a ‘Run with Dai’!
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The Cheviots are something else!

Recce Runs – there have been a few occasions where I’ve done a run to prepare for another run! Usually recces of a run I’ll be leading, but the most notable one was a trip to the Alps to prepare for the CCC:

  • Recce with Yvette – Quite an adventure in itself, this was essentially a multi-stage ultra where we ran 80km over two days in the Alps. I learnt (see my post – ‘Knowing where you are going‘) a lot this trip and whilst I’d advocate doing similar, it isn’t always possible (costs, time etc.) to do before a big race. I certainly won’t be able to recce some of the races I’ve planned for 2019!
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High on the Alps checking out the CCC route!

 

Ambassador Roles – Here is something I didn’t expect. The later half of the year has seen me work with some exciting brands and engage with the running community a different way…

  • Evossi Explore – Being approached by Evossi was a very proud moment. Such an exciting brand that has big plans for establishing communities and bringing individuals together through running. I’m excited to be part of the team and thankful for the opportunity to be an ambassador and also to help with some of the Evossi Explore runs. Go check out their kit, some really smart designs and features!
  • Montane – This opportunity came about through chance and relationship building. It’s incredible to be able to work with one of the leading brands for trail running gear but also to be part of a community so focused on supporting the environment in which we play – you need to check out the work Montane do with their partnership with the BMC and their commitments to Corporate Social Responsibilities!
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Love this kit – The Fireball Verso by Montane!

Achieving my goals – When I started planning 2018 I associated goals to each of my races. There were some very specific targets (such as striving for a GFA time for the London Marathon) but also some less traditional goals in “having fun”, “not getting lost”. I’ve come through the year and achieved all I set out too and I couldn’t be happier. Naturally the two standout achievements were:

  • Achieving good for age (for London) – technically I did this twice – firstly in Malta way back in February, only for the goal posts to be subsequently moved! Secondly when breaking the 3 hour time in Berlin in September. A 3 hour marathon was never a goal for the year but it very quickly became a possibility after a strong start to 2018. With my interests soon switching to trail rather than road, I’m grateful I’ve achieved this and don’t have to worry or think about trying ever again!
  • Conquering the CCC – I’ve never been more out of my depth and full of fear in my life! When I signed up to this race I had no idea what I was doing. Here I was on the back of two trail runs and suddenly I think I can run ultras in the Alps?! Rocking up to the start line among some impressive and prestigious company was nerve racking. I didn’t belong here I thought. I felt like a fraud and that I was winging it. However, over time the experience and exposure to trails prepared me for the adventure ahead. My goal was to survive and survive I did!

Blogging – clearly this has continued otherwise you wouldn’t be sitting here reading this now (I hope you are sitting here reading this now!). I guess I’ve found it quite cathartic and a useful way to process my thoughts, identifying how I can improve and adapt. But also it is serving my goal of recording all these memories and achievements in a sort of diary I can refer back to. It’s very personal for me and I’m pleased so many of you do read my mumbles! Also, being nominated for the the best ‘personal blog’ category in the UK Running Awards is an absolute jaw dropper! (not sure if you heard, had I mention it?! go on, if you want to you can vote for me by following this link and find “RunWithDai” in the nominees. Thanks!). I have my sister to thank for that one!

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What did I learn

  • Race tactics – I’m still figuring this all out. Taking the pressure off yourself is the greatest tactic I’ve learnt so far (besides finding what works for you and trusting how you feel!). Find a way to create your freedom and feed your enjoyment. Berlin was the example. I felt good and strong throughout. I remember so much of the day and ran it consistently. Besides the result, I really enjoyed the run as I felt under no pressure to perform.
  • Leading/running – I’ve still very much to learn here and my confidence needs building. Perhaps I’m too relaxed, I want people to enjoy, not to be dictated at. I’ve now sampled it though, look out in 2019 for the many many runs I end to plan!
  • Social media – I’ve mixed feelings here. Let’s be blunt, it is a cesspool at times. So much negativity and pressure to be a certain way. But, it is so out done by all the wonderful people in supportive running community. There’s a lot of inspiration out there. Just take the experience of social media with a pinch of salt and don’t compare yourself!
  • The People – Running with others is so much more enjoyable than running solo. I used to be a lone-wolf when running. I rarely run alone now and I’m smiling so much more as a result.
  • Challenge – I don’t push myself and I underestimate my abilities. I know this. I don’t know why I don’t try harder. Maybe there’s an element of fear and an element of just being content with where I am. I’ll ride it out though. If and when that changes, I’ll be ready. I’m not going to force anything.
  • Fear – Fear of injury is still there. I’m not unique. All athletes and people involved in sports must have this deep lasting fear of not being able to do the things you love most. I’ve learnt to just accept and be conscious of this.
  • Support – The support is phenomenal. Friends. Family. Strangers. Everyone has been so great and supportive to me. For that I am truly grateful.
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Running is better shared!

What hasn’t changed

  • Diet & Nutrition – I might be determined, but I’m also weak and have very little will power. Put something tasty and sugary in front of me and the greedy bastard inside will take it all. When I crave something, I get it. I still need to learn and introduce some control in this aspect of my life. If I ever have desires to improve and compete then I’ll need to address my diet and self control!
  • Stretching and training is all still crap – I run when I want and stretch only when I can be bothered. The beauty of running so many events is that the time between is mostly for recovery (well, in theory). My basic fitness and capability is not only there but constantly maintained. The Wild Trail running on a Monday has become the only structured and routined aspect of my training!
  • Anxiety – I’m still nervous and anxious. Yep, over 16 events this year and I’m still not used to it. The days leading up to an event can be very stressful for me. I’ve identified the main parts that freak me out are the logistics (getting to and from the event) and the actual expo/race registration part. Yes the wait at the start line is also a time of being anxious, but as soon as I’m running I am free from worry. Never mind the social side of it and meeting people!
  • Stubbornness – I’m still stubborn. I do it my way. My approach works for me and I am happy with that. Whilst I think of myself as easy going, If I want something (a certain flight, a certain race, whatever) then I pursue it with stubbornness. Running through so many injuries and not accepting rest into my approach is the perfect example. But this is associated to my FOMO…
  • FOMO – I still do too much. The reason being is I have the FOMO. Every time I see a challenge that someone else is doing, has done or which looks great. Then I want some. I find it hard to say no. Very hard.
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I don’t want to miss out on the fun!

So looking back, wow. I’m surprised myself at what I’ve done this year. It grew completely out of control in the most amazing way. I’ve done things I’ve never thought I would. I’ve come out of my comfort zone on so many occasions. I’ve made new friends and memories that I will cherish forever. I’ve essentially begun the most amazing mid-life crisis! Some people buy cars or have affairs, I’ve discovered running! I hope this crisis never ends!

My biggest take away though is the people. The community. This is the sort of wanky statement I don’t feel comfortable with, but it’s so true for my year. Look around my blogs and reviews and whom I now spend my free time with… the vast majority of the these people I refer to I didn’t know 12 months ago. I’ve found so much inspiration and support from these people. I have so much appreciation for them and am in awe of their successes too. It’s certainly helped build this love of running I have! This is something I want to celebrate some how. I will find a way!

But what now? Where do I go from here? Good news is that I haven’t stopped thinking or planning. In fact the foundations of a plan are already there. The commitments are made. 2019 is going to be even bigger as I take Montane’s strap-line personally and go Further, Faster! Here we go again….Watch this space, but for now time to put the feet up and chill (from events that is!).

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I don’t think I’ll reach this level of relaxation though!

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I’ve been nominated for the personal blog category with the Running Awards. I’d love your support and votes. If you like what you read and you’d like to vote for me you can click this link and find “RunWithDai” in the nominees. Thanks!

CTS – Dorset

December. Before I know it, it was December. It has come around quickly. This would be my last race of the year. The final event in my race calendar. 1st December would mark the date I’d complete my challenge. Originally persuaded by Jack and Alex (that dude who went blue in the face Brighton) to come to their neck of the woods and hit the trails. I couldn’t resist and went for the longest option (the Ultra ‘plus’). After booking earlier in the year, a group of the Wild Trail Runners then also signed up to some of the various distances on offer so I tagged along for the journey. This is great as I’ve come to love running such events with others. Not just the run itself but the lead up, day before and things you do post run which are all better celebrated together.

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The Jurassic Coast. Dorset

I’m going to keep this one pretty short and as a straight forward review of the race. Partly because I’m tired. My mind is still wired and my body aching. Secondly, as you’ll soon read, the day was pretty grim and there’s probably not a lot to say about the course and hours that went past!

Leading up to the event I was on the back of two previous ultras (Brecon and TBU). This was number 3 in 15 days. I was heading into the run tired and a little complacent. My mind wasn’t focused (and truthfully hasn’t been since Berlin). Evident in the amount of fathing I did packing my bag the night before – Rocking up at the race I didn’t use the bag drop but left some stuff in Maggie’s car. Later realising I’d brought bugger all else and not even spare shorts or trousers for afterwards!

Arriving at the start in the morning it was indeed pretty grim. We’d seen the weather forecasts and event updates in the days preceding the start and they didn’t disappoint. It was cold. It was very windy and it was hammering down with rain. We registered and huddled in the tent and listened to the race briefing. Shivering. The would be a diverted route today due to the high winds and a part of the coastal path would be avoided. We didn’t realise at the time that this would lead to a slight increase in the distance. First out where the Ultra and Ultra plus (yep, it’s a thing for Endurance Life) Runners.

Along with Kirsty, Tamas and Weronica I was doing the Ultra plus. The route would be a figure of 8 along the coast, then repeating the first half of the figure of 8 and then repeating a smaller loop of the first half of the figure of 8. Got it? Yeah, as a route that sounds as boring as it was. As the race director acknowledged, we’d see the ‘one mile to go’ sign 3 times before it applied to us. Great. Tagging in to the start/finish each time would be a test of our will power to continue!

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Cold, wet but upbeat!

We huddled for a group picture and were then sent off, out to do battle with nature. The route first took us up the steps towards Durdle Door. These were some long steps. Everyone was walking. No one was talking. We were all hiding inside our waterproofs. Hoods on, heads buried into our chests. The rain and wind was relentless. Visibility was close to non-existent. Durdle Door was there somewhere. You just couldn’t see it.

After this section was the diversion. We carried on climbing the second incline and found ourselves running through some very muddy fields. There was plenty of space but runners sliding all over the place. Again maybe just a few metres visible ahead. We were soaked through. Wet feet was going to be a stand out memory of the day! It wouldn’t make a difference that I wore my S-LAB ultras that had a hole in them!

The good thing about the lack of visibility was that you couldn’t see what was coming up or how far you’d come. You’d just plod on. That might make the second lap easier!! We passed a few checkpoints, a nice section through a woodland and were back running through the muddy fields in the opposite direction. I hadn’t realised how much of the course we’d run back along. It was only after passing Maggie, Daniel and Matt who were starting out on their Marathon journey (they’d complete the initial figure of 8 route).

First loop done, now came the really big climbs. A few hours had passed and the morning had started to brighten up a little. As we climbed, the cliffs were visible. The white chalk glistening in the gloomy day. The climbs came thick and fast. And they were big. Lunging up steps and, at times, using your hands to grab at the land in front of your face. Each summit presenting new views to savour.

Along the coast I was amused as we ran along side a military training facility. The constant warnings to ‘keep out’ and ‘danger’ were a reminder of the area we were in. But soon the route would take us to the other side of the fence and it felt we were now running in the danger zone.

Looping back at the tip of the ‘8’ the route took us onto one of the hardest parts of the course. A field of mud. Really really muddy soft ground. On an incline. The snake of runners immediate slowed. We weren’t walking. We were sludging and sliding our way through. Eventually emerging the other side to more of the same. A cabbage field. Equally muddy and even steeper. This whole section was a drain on the energy. At the top runners were pulling each other up the final inclines. It was all quite amusing, but tiring and I was glad we wouldn’t be coming back here later!

Sometime later we were back at the coastal paths and joined by the half marathoners and 10km runners. I didn’t realise we’d run those cliffs again and sure they felt steeper this time around. One in particular was really tough and took quite some time to over come. As I powered up we passed a guy being slid down the hill by some helpers. He looked in a bad place. Adam, one of the Wild TR coaches was one of those helping.

We arrived back at the starting point to complete the first figure of 8. I was ready for a rest. With the diversion we’d just done a little over a marathon distance. I knew Kirsty wasn’t far behind me as we’d been passing each other over the last few hours. As I sipped back coke and some (many) and jelly babies she arrived. We were both so glad to see each other and agreed to keep each other company for the next half of the race. The wind and rain made the day quite miserable so far and the lift from company was needed.

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It had stopped raining at least and I decided I needed to re-jig my kit. I no longer wanted to run in my waterproof jacket so removed it to go with the t-shirt and arm warmer combo. I was soaked through from sweat as well as rain. I feared I’d be instantly cold but hoped the wind would sort of dry me out (it did). As I was changing Amy (Alex’s wife appeared). Alex was on the half and expected quite soon into the finish. Then as we were talking, Paul appeared. I’d been speaking to Paul for quite some time but we hadn’t yet met. I didn’t expect to see him as he was contemplating not doing the half as he was running the Hurtwood50 the next day.

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It was visible on the second passing only. Durdle Door.

Time was up. Time to head back out and climb those hills again. First off those steps! Immediately I felt better having Kirsty about. The afternoon also cleared up as we reached Durdle door so we had some views to absorb. We stopped to take some pictures and make those memories before carrying on. Unlike the first loop, there was a lot more walking this time round. But still enjoyable. The volunteers and the checkpoints were full of energy and encouragement and we joked our way through. Passing all the muddy fields before the brief stint along the paved roads and the forest paths (which were stunning now the mist had moved on). Emerging into a field we could see the steep decline down to the second checkpoint at the bottom. We set off but could see a very muddy section half way down which we joked about. As I hit it I immediately slid and did my best ice skating impression as my arms waved about and I spun 180 degree to look back up at the top of the hill and a runner behind me laughing. A good save. Or so I thought. As I continued behind the runner I stacked it. My legs slid forward out from under me and I sat straight down into the mud. Squishy. We all laughed. At least I picked the softest place to fall!! I wiped mud on my face to mark the occasion. The ladies at the check point laughed and greeted me as I arrived, they’d seen the whole thing.

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Moments later the darkness descended

We ploughed on, retracing the route towards the start again. Darkness descended upon us quickly in the overcast sky and we needed to stop to get the torches out. As frustrating as this was, it was certainly the right decision. It was hard enough to see and stay stable in the light! The quick reshuffle of kit though did unbalance my packed kit. I planned to fix this when we reached the start – about 2 miles to go.

As we arrived back at the start, I took time to change my clothes, putting on a long sleeved layer and using my windproof jacket as padding in the bag. It all worked well. It took me far to long to do though, I’d kept Kirsty waiting for what felt like an eternity! But I was eventually ready. Back out we went. Time for those steps and inclines yet again.

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Finisher. Fresh with Warpaint

No surprise, this final 10km was tough. Obviously we knew now we’d finish now as we’d left the comfort of the start. But we were exhausted and walked/run our way around. No sights to see this anymore. Just the few metres lit up by our head torches. Pretty uneventful this time round, we just persevered. Getting over those hills and through the mud. That sign ‘one mile to go’ came into view and our mood picked up. We would’t have to pass it again. This time it was for us! We ran. We kept running. We could hear the hustle of the camp not too far away and plodded down the final stretch into the finish line. Medals and pictures received. We were done.

Shortly after finishing, Maggie and Yvette arrived in the car to collect us and soon after that Weronica arrived too. Time to head home to shower and eat!!

 

 


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Dynasties: Runners

Help me out a little here – Imagine reading this one in a David Attenborough-esque narrative, with a Welsh twang of course…

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Since life began on this nature-rich planet we call home, a sub-group of the human species have sought out the endorphin rush of adventure, exploring their habitat on foot. These humans, known as ‘Runners’ have been seen exploring the concrete jungles of their city homes and often, now in increasing numbers, are seen venturing further a field into the wilderness of the countryside.

In this episode we follow one particular pack of (trail) runners and recount their journey as they seek their thrills in the Countryside of the Brecon Beacons.

Pre-dawn and the runners are rising. Rubbing their eyes whilst eating porridge, the morning rituals begin. Caffeine is consumed and hydration tabs passed among each other as survival kits are checked and race numbers attached.

In the quiet community of Talybont-on-Usk the runners, in numbers reaching 250 convene in the village hall. An annual pilgrimage will soon begin where these runners set off on a journey of self-discovery and adventure in the National Park. A race director inducts the runners into today’s challenge before the runners start gathering in the nearby field to begin their journey – one which will take them over and around the Brecon Beacons National Park. This epic adventure will see the runners climb to exquisite viewpoints, traverse through forested woodlands and cross streams before returning to the sanctuary of the village hall basecamp. Whilst alone this presents a significant challenge to push these runners to the limits of their physical and mental boundaries, on this occasion they will venture back out to complete the 23 mile loop for a second time. An adventure of ultra proportions and one bestrewed with dangers and obstacles to be overcome.

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The ‘Pack’ ready to be released

As dawn breaks, the runners are released from the safety of the basecamp and they begin their journey, their quest for adventure and ultimate safe return to the camp before succumbing to the challenges ahead. The initial route takes the runners, in their large numbers, along the Monmouthshire & Brecon canal towards Llangynidr. Passing the  Llangynidr Locks, the atmosphere is jovial as the collective mass of runners form into single line formations as they jostle for space. Their legs heavy from sleep they shuffle in line, greeting each other with pleasantries and enthusiasm for the trail.

Within a short time the collective begins to disperse and spread out. Packs and teams of runners compete among themselves and the others around them. Some runners decide to ‘go it alone’. Typically The faster, stronger runners. They might be fearful of the rumored challenges laying await in the night, or seeking personal dominance in a show physical supremacy. Either way, they risk it all to finish earlier than those around them. Such runners standout in the collective through their professionalism and determination strewn faces. Built like gazelles they are seen briefly in the very early parts of an adventure before vanishing into the wild. Later on they are recognisable by the often gaunt look of exhaustion that accompanies their remarkable achievements.

Other runners in the collective opt for the tactic of strength in numbers. They Form ‘packs’ with other like-minded runners where they will show solidarity and support each other through the obstacles of the journey. Often heard before seen, these runners are most visible at viewpoints and aid stations and recognisable from their readily accessible phones and abundance of selfie poses stuck.

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‘Pack’ mentality, cameras at the ready

The runners turn off the canal path just before Llangynidr and the journey up to Tor Y Foel – the highest point on the loop at ~1,700ft – begins. The runners enter the lush green fields and are greeted by the docile stares from herds of sheep and cows. No particular concern for most of the runners as long as the stares remain just that. If undisturbed, the runners can cross the fields unobstructed. Fear however can cause a stampede of livestock and the pack hope that the runner Gif will get through the fields unaffected. As the path starts to incline, the runners choose their survival tactic. Some jogging on at pace, others embracing the ‘walk the hills’ approach. Our pack take the later and the cameras are soon out snapping pictures of the morning mist.

Up ahead their view is obstructed. Visibility is low, wind is howling, covering the pack with a fine spray of the morning rain. The runners soon become damp with the fast-moving mist. They trudge onward into the unknown. Uncovering just a few meters of the trail at a time. One minute warm and the next minute cold, they struggle to adapt to the changing climate as the effort levels increase. Ensuring their body temperatures remain comfortable is critical to their survival.

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Early in the morning, visibility was poor

The climb is an opportunity for further interaction between the pack and with other runners around them. Jokes are traded and stories exchanged. Before they know it they have reached the summit and can begin the descent towards the reservoir. One runner known simply as ‘Ged’ comments on the beautiful Welsh scenery, comparing it to the steamy view he can achieve in the shower back in his man-made shelter.

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Later in the afternoon the Reservoir was revealed in all its glory

Atop the summit, the down hill begins and the runners break out into a run. This is the prime characteristic of runners – a faster, flowing synchronised movement of the feet which differentiates them from other human forms. The collective disperse further as runners bound over the wet boggy land at different speeds. The pack stay together, finding a communal pace they can all enjoy. Off in the distance to their right they can vaguely see the vast storage of water that is the Talybont Reservoir, shrouded in the mist. Alongside the reservoir, the pack will embark on the journey along the long path of the ‘Fire Track’. Before the trek begins, one runner – Dai – sneaks to relieve themselves against a man-made stone structure known as a wall. Returning to the pack he moans of wet feet incurred through stepping in a bog. A natural obstacle so often catching out runners in need of relief. With wet feet he continues alongside his pack, conscious not to stray far from the safety of the pack again.

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The long, lonely path of the ‘Fire Track’

The fire track is a long gravel road gently climbing alongside the reservoir. It is a mental challenge for runners who endure it. Wide, lonely and everlasting into the horizon the runners have to continue exposed to the elements and unsure as to what lays ahead. A decision faces them as they contemplate whether they should run whilst they can or preserve energy for the challenges further on? Our pack decide to run whilst they can. A classic runners tact to focus on the ‘now’ rather than the ‘later’ and to “bank some miles” whilst they feel good.

The fire track comes to an end near Blaen Y Glyn, like much of the first loop, Organisers and marshals are present along the course to help ensure runners are steered in the right direction, preparing them for their challenges ahead with a fighting chance of survival. They direct the runners towards the next section where the will follow the route along side the water station near the Lower Neuadd Reservoir. From here the runners could venture left and up to to the peaks of Corn Du and Pen Y Fan. On this adventure though it is straight. Straight up towards ‘The Gap’ between the peaks of Cribyn and Fan Y Big.

Up ahead the runners encounter  a hoard of the ‘hiker’. Another human variant, the hiker is similar to the runner in many ways. They are however often found in groups of large, slow moving numbers. To the runner this can cause a blockade that needs navigating. The Pack need to be swift footed to find a route through these friendly hoards, being careful not to cause them trouble or disruption as they pass.

The path is again long and straight and the pack can see runners dotted ahead rising into the distance. The negative mental effect this could have is combated by the morning mist leaving the ground and the sky clearing. With optimistic smiles the pack continue onward, putting distance between themselves and the hikers, all is not safe though as the track is formed of loose rocks waiting to trip and injured the runners. The pact decide it best to walk the incline,  recuperating some energy as they go.

Here, at the second summit, the pack are rewarded with unfiltered sunshine raining down on the sacred land around them. Before their eyes lies ‘The Gap’. A vast valley formed deep between the peaks of Cribyn and Fan Y Big. Paths winding off into the distance beyond the sun’s reach. For a moment they stop, breathing in the fresh valley air and assessing the land in front of them. They begin their decent – down along the Gap  on to the trails to the towards the villages of Cantref and Llanfrynach.

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The Gap

As the terrain continues, rocky underfoot, the pack pick up the pace. The gravity induced run raises the energy levels of the runners and whoops and cheers can be heard echoing around them as the bound onward. Fleet-footed they choose their path wisely and leap the streams of water washing over the well trodden track. There’s no avoiding the cool wet mountain chill on their feet as they splash their way through. A short mile or so ahead lays one of the great wonders of the running community – an aid station.

‘Dabbing’ in at the checkpoint the runners confirm their safe arrival. Tracked by the organisers, their safety is not taken lightly. Water and refreshments are served and the pack joke with the race ‘volunteers’ – an incredibly supportive form of runner, donating their time as a gift to support and encouragement runners on their journeys. “See you later Butt!” Lingers in the air as the runners set off on they next installment of the adventure. The next time they stop will be in the sanctuary of the basecamp…

First though, more treacherous challenges are thrust before the runners and which the pack must overcome. Upon leaving the aid station the runners are thrown straight back into a single line formation as they navigate the overgrown, rocky ground that might form a natural stream under adverse weather conditions. The runner by the name of ‘Jon’ takes the lead, guiding the pack through the seemingly never ending track. Legs are stretched as they straddle the banks and hop from rock to rock, their limbs scratched at by thorny foliage. Before they can reach the end they are tested once more when a cry of “Bike!!” is heard from behind.

A more dominant, faster sub-group of humans is racing down the track in the direction of the pack. The pack speed up with the end of the path looming in sight. But it is too late. As the bikers, on their mechanical contraptions are hurtling towards them, the pack have no choice but to move to the side and throw themselves deep into the foliage to avoid a near-fatal collision. In this desolate land, assistance and recovery would not come quickly. Passing the pack safely the bikers continue. But ahead of them, Jon is still chasing that glimmer of freedom and light at the end of the overgrown tunnel. With moments to spare he makes it unscathed and the bikers continue off out of sight.

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Freedom from the rocky paths and escaping the hoard of bikers

Pleased with their escape the runners continue but are then greeted with a short run along a trail runners nemesis – a paved road. Vast man-made formations, roads litter the natural landscape like tribalistic markings. Designed for speed and mass transportation they can cause all manner of injuries to runners. Navigating the roads, the tarmac bends through the village of Llanfrynach, where a sole local-supporter offers another restbite for runners with fuel and support. Shortly after which the paved road once again gives way to a welcomed return to the lush green fields of Brecon.

This is not the end of the runner’s dilemmas though when, after overcoming many other man made torture devices – the sty – the runners follow a course marking in the wrong direction. The sense of urgency on a trail is heighten. More so that, if it wasn’t for the eagle-eyed Reka spotting the path into the fields, the runners might already be lost to the endless pain of the paved road. The risk of going wrong, getting lost and expending unnecessary energy is too great so Jon calls the pack to a halt. A moment of democratic discussion sees the pack  retrace their steps a few meters to inspect the signage and opt for a different path out of the fields. The right path. Runners know only to well to trust their gut feeling.

Crossing a river stream the runners again emerge onto another paved road leading to the next village of Pencelli. They slow to a walk and swear with other runners as they pass. Soon, the road should again join the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal path, the final stretch into the basecamp. Eventually in the distance a hi-vis yellow arrow directs the runners over a bridge. The canal has been reached. The end of the lap is within their grasp.

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Familiar sight of the canal path

Dai, spurred on by the sense of familiarity (he has traveled this path before – Brecon trail), breaks into a run. He knows where he is going and just how long it is. His confidence is high. He sees lone runners scattered in the distance and picks them off one by one with greetings of support to each he passes. Soon he sees the turn into camp but he grinds to a halt as a familiar voice calls out “there he is!”. Up-ahead two bobble-headed supporters wave and cheer. Kelly and Fudgie are supporting one of their own and cheering the other runners into camp. The greatest strength of a runner is the support from within the community and other runners bringing energy and joy to them. It works. They stop for a chat and wait a few moments whilst the rest of the pack fall in. Goodbyes are said and the pack head into the base camp sanctuary. Just under 5 hours elapsed. Time for sausage rolls and coke.

Rejuvenated with fresh supplies the pack head back out with their kit adapted for the second passing. Alas they emerge not empty handed. They take with them offerings to pay back the supporters for their sacrifices and giving up their time to be on a cold and lonely path all day. Sweets and brownies deposited to Kelly and Fudgie. The pack start the journey all over again.

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A cow watching the adventure unfold

Second time out the conditions have changed. The path is the same and the runners have boosted confidence in knowing what is in store. Now they also have light on their side. As Jon proclaims “daylight is underestimated”. They are not alone though and more wildlife is also enjoying the sun’s rays. Dai takes time to interact with some cows watching the adventure unfold before he hastily returning to the pack. They run the canal back to the beginning of the climb to Pen Y Foel. A climb this time they can see in all is magnificence.

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The glory of the mountains in the afternoon sunshine

What nature gives with one hand though, it slaps the runners with the other. With the clear visibility of the the afternoon, comes the torment of seeing the monumental challenge of the mountain ahead. Whilst they’ve summited once before, now they are tired and aching. They can see Pen Y Foel in the distance. Way off in the distance. As they hike it once more, this time it drains them. The runner Ged is prepared. He has brought poles. Like a modern day archer he unleashes them from his back and hikes on. Or at least that was the intention. He has all the poise of a clumsy Star Wars AT-AT wobbling from side to side. His frustrations grow. But to the enjoyment of the pack. The summit is overcome through laughter and piss-taking. A runner’s secret weapon.

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AT-AT

A moment up top this time offers another chance for the runners to rest. Unlike the early misty morning, the clear panoramic views are there to be absorbed. The pack take it all in. The cameras are out and they dance around the (quite possibly least impressive) summit stone. The enjoyment continues down towards the Talybont Reservoir where it is this time revealed in all its glory.

A few rarely seen Locals line the entrance to the fire track offering support to the runners. No doubt veterans of these paths themselves, they laugh with the pack and send them on. This time the pack walk-run the length of the fire track, stopping momentarily to interact with other runners and some more of the hikers they encounter. Unseen in the morning, the colours of the trees and woodlands below them flicker in the sunshine and light reflects of the reservoir behind them. The track is overcome with no casualties and they progress back onto the rocky climb to the next summit. Already half way through the second loop they are optimistic about the final quarter of the challenge.

But they are not ill-prepared. They know their greatest challenge is yet to come. A danger they cannot avoid nor out run. One which they must endure and be at their most alert for it will test them to their limits. The darkness.

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The shadows beginning to take hold of the gap

The runners had been aware of this danger since before they left camp in the morning. But now, as the hours pass by, it has quickly become a reality as the sun begins to set behind the Welsh mountains. Soon the pack will be entering the The Gap where the sun’s reach will diminish to nothing. They have less than an hour of daylight remaining before the darkness will come. Whilst the trail runner is adapt at running in the dark, they are vulnerable to its energy. More than ever before on the run they are aware of their surroundings which soon they will no longer be able to see. Led by Jon the pack treks up to the summit. Unlike the first passing it seems to take far longer this time around but they persevere. They have made it to The Gap in time and can once again begin their descent. This time their descent is impeded as the rocky terrain is wetter than before and the danger of slipping has increased. A fall here could end the adventure and leave the runners exposed to the elements of the night. They descend with less haste than earlier in the day before picking up their pace as they hit the grassy stretch just before the final aid station.

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Cautiously descending the rocky, wet path

Inside the recognisable volunteer faces greet the pack and help them with water and cakes. A cookie dough brownie is a favourite which the pack feast on before being released back out onto the track with their head torches accessible. The darkness setting upon them is imminent and they are conscious of the single narrow track of the river bed to which they now need to navigate. Whilst there are no bikers this time, the pack once again find themselves in a race through the foliage tunnel as they try to emerge injury free before the darkness completely devours them. They narrowly achieve their goal and emerge onto the road into pitch black of the night. Darkness is here.

The lap has felt longer this time around and is taking its toll on the pack. They are drained of energy and longing for the safe arrival at the basecamp. With darkness now here to stay, they walk on into their next challenge. As darkness lingers around them, the dangers change. The course has become quieter and runners are now at their loneliest. The marshals had, but for a few, all retreated to the safety of their homes or the sanctuary of the basecamp and very few locals are seen outside. Along with the humans the animals have also sought safe shelter from the elements. Darkness would bring exquisite views to follow a beautiful sunset. But with the orange burn of last rays of light succumbing to the night, new dangers await. Dangers that are are more psychological and which will toil with the runner’s tiring mental strength. In these parts the runners are aware of the nocturnal predator that is the Talybont Nun.

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The Sun sets over the Brecon Beacons

Rumours from the villagers report of the mythical Talybont Nun who feeds off the fear and depleting energy of runners. The stories tell of runners who go missing at night and the uncertain implications of being “touched by the Talybont Nun”.  No runner is certain. No runner can escape the clutches of the Talybont Nun. No runner is safe at night.

In these isolated villages a network of locals provide warning signs to support each other through times of darkness. Visible signs are there to warn those out at night. The runners know how to recognise and interpret these signs, the most prominent of which is the dim orange glow which signifies a reported sighting of the Nun – an orange light in their window  warns that the Nun has been seen in the area and to take extra care, to seek safe refuge before it is too late.

The pack continue. Aware of the rumours. Aware of the occasional orange light shinning out at them. They are together. They are strong. they huddle closer as they run to improve their chances of survival. No runner wants to be alone at the back, likely to be the one touched by the Talybont Nun.

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Head torches at the ready

The runners need to see in the darkness and their head torches are out, bobbing away and brightly lighting up the paths ahead. A necessity to their safety, but a contradiction all the same. The light will alert the Talybont Nun and guide it to their location. They have to keep moving. Keep on their feet and hope they can reach the goal before the Nun makes a showing. They are tired now, exhausted from hours on their feet. The risks are increasing and chances of survival balance on a knife edge. Now is not the time to slow.

The pack rely on their kit. Technical advances in fabrication have enabled them to increase their chances of survival through carefully selected attire. But each garment comes at a cost, like the torches, the reflective materials used on the kit can act like a flare in the night when caught by the glow of a head lamp, a risk they must take, hoping that the reflective material does not alert the nun to their location.

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Beware the Talybont Nun

Up ahead the pack spot reflections coming back to them from the kit of other lone runners. They head after them, chasing them down one by one. An ideal addition to their pack, not always as a friend but sometimes as a sacrificial runner that can be offered to the Talybont Nun to increase the pack’s chance of survival. If it shows, the Nun can be distracted with its ‘fear-harvesting’ from the sacrificial runner, offering a chance for the pack to flee ahead to safety. This ruthless instinct for survival pushes them on as, with runners behind them, for a moment the tension reaches critical levels – the runners pass a sign for the Village of Pencelli, and  Llanfeigan Church, the known origin of the Talybont Nun, if ever a sighting was likely it was now.

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Pure darkness on the canal path

Leaving the other runners behind them the pack reach the Canal path once again. The greatest risk of all is the isolated loneliness of the canal path at night. 2 miles of darkness and no where to escape. A single direction onward to safety. No turning back. To one side a canal that would consume them if they were to fall, behind them, somewhere the Talybont Nun lurks. This is an all or nothing moment as the runners pick up the pace and start racing off after their medals. The pack break into a sprint as they sense the end is near. In the distance the cowbells of safety ring out to mark the safe return of another runner, welcomed to the warmth and sanctuary of the finish.

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Safety of the finish

The Pack’s time has come. The bells ring out. On this adventure our pack have not been taken by the Talybont Nun. They dab into the finish line where warm flames flicker from a fire and they are awarded with hot food, clothing and a medal of protection. The runners retreat to a pub. For this group they survive, to run another day. Many other runners and packs remain out on the dark course, a DNF looming, their fate as yet unknown….

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Sanctuary

 

* Note. The myth of the Talybont Nun is just that. A myth. Orange glows from cottage windows are most likely coming from families enjoying a bit of Ant & Dec on a Saturday night. No nuns were touched in the making of this adventure and the race organisers have confirmed the safety of each runner.

 


Vote

I’ve been nominated for the personal blog category with the Running Awards. I’d love your support and votes. If you like what you read and you’d like to vote for me you can click this link and find “RunWithDai” in the nominees. Thanks!

 

 

 

Why it’s OK not to be unique

 

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It’s OK to travel a path travelled before

Ever get that feeling of deja vu? You’ve been here before. You’ve felt this way before. You’ve seen this somewhere. You meet the same faces, visit the same places, run the same races… With the onslaught of social media, the mass popularity of running, social groups and the sudden accessibility of running it’s easy to feel that you have to stand out from the inevitable comparisons. More than ever before there is pressure that you have to be different. That originality, and even being extreme in someway, is necessary. It’s not. I don’t think so anyway. It’s OK to travel a path that’s been travelled before, to do the same thing and experience the same feelings. It’s OK not to be unique.

Running is running. The motion is the same. The mentality is often the same. The people we share it with are usually the same. The places we go are also similar… We go there be cause they are EPIC. We should feel inspired by the experiences of other’s to go and visit and run these places, these races. No matter how far or how close they are. We should also want to experience it.

The feelings you will feel are the same. The runners ‘high’. The comedowns after the achievements. Those moments where you want to stop, give it all up, never run again. Those times when you don’t feel you are progressing as you think you should. It’s all OK. We all all experience that. You’re not alone. None of us are ‘super human’, despite our achievements.

The goals and motivations we set ourselves are likely to be similar too. Personal bests, furthest distance, run a certain event, get fit, get fitter, lose the weight, improve your mental state etc. All in someway a goal of achievement and possibly self-validation, proving that you can, sticking the middle finger up to the doubters. Taking yourself on a journey and transformation be it visible or not. These aren’t unique. They are however specific to each of us and personal. We shouldn’t be afraid nor need to justify our goals to other people or feel worried that other people are running for the same reasons and therefore we ‘can’t’.

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No matter which direction you take, your goals are your own

The memories and recollections will be shared. We meet up with others. We take pictures. We all share them. We’ve all your own perspective on what it means to us individually, what it represents and how it made us feel. But it’s the same specific memory. You can’t change that. It’s OK that social media is inundated with the same picture for everyone who was involved in creating it. Moments shared are the best kind!

Many of us runners write too. So what about writing? Same thing. Race reviews, they’ll be similar. It’s the same race. Perspectives won’t vary that greatly unless there is an incident. The route, the conditions. They aren’t unique to you. Your experience is though. Mind you, those experiences and feelings over multiple events might well be similar (again unless there is an incident?). What makes one 5km race different from the next? What makes one’s attitude and motivations during one marathon different from the next? Not a lot. I don’t think so anyway. I write about my participation in endurance races. It’s easy for me to recap over a short period of time. My memory is sharp and there will be a finite number of things to recall. When Running long distances though your thoughts wander. You are distracted. I find I hit an almost hypnotic trance-like state where I’m just moving. Trying to remember the specifics over say a 12 hour period is tough. I recall the same thing I’ve felt many times before – ” I felt good”, “I felt tired”, “the hill was a bastard”, “ooh nice tree”, “I’m hungry”, “I spoke to someone about running”. Very little makes such a written review different than what’s been written before. But again, it’s specific to you. And that’s important. It’s you and your experience. Your enjoyment.

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This sign has nothing to do with anything. But I am hungry.

For me that is why it’s OK to not be unique. We are not, and should not be, in competition. Certainly not a popularity contest. It’s OK to just enjoy and revel in the process you go through, whatever that process is. Let’s not add more pressure to what is already a very demanding pastime. Running isn’t easy. Let’s not make it harder by sucking the fun out of it!

Be you, you don’t have to go hunting for something unique to stand out. IT IS OK to travel a path that’s been travelled before, to do the same thing and experience the same feelings. It really is OK not to be unique.

 


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I’ve been nominated for the personal blog category with the Running Awards. I’d love your support and votes. If you like what you read and you’d like to vote for me you can click this link and find “RunWithDai” in the nominees. Thanks!

Ziemniaki

The Lemkowyna Ultra Trail (LUT) is a Polish running event set in and around the Beskid mountain range of South East Poland. Lemkowyna is in its 5th year and has a series of events with races at 30km, 48km, 70km, 100km and 150km. The  150km race being a ‘discovery’ race on the prestigious Ultra-Trail World Tour UTWT.

Through her various trail running contacts Jana ran the 30km Lemko trail in 2017 and dragged (far too easily) a few of us out to Poland for the weekend to run the 48km ‘marathon’ this year. One of the biggest selling points for me to join the adventure (other than filling my October ‘event’ and running with friends of course!) was the race tagline “enjoy the mudness”. Apparently it would be a very, very muddy event. Awesome. Let’s kick start the winter running season with some grotty fun!

After months of waiting, it was time. Myself, Jana, Yvette, Daisy and Clair were heading out to Poland for the weekend. Logistically it was a flight into Rzeszow and a taxi transfer to the town of Krosno. From here we’d be able to get the organised LUT buses to the start of the race in Iwonicz-Zdroj and also back from the finish line at Komancza.

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Team Cool Cats go shopping

Leading up to the weekend I was relaxed. Far too relaxed. There are probably numerous reasons for this. Firstly it was convenient to leave all the worries to Jana as the only fluent Polish speaker in the group (sorry and thanks Jana!! – Jana did try to teach us all the necessary pleasantries, however I was only able to grasp a single word “Ziemniaki”). Secondly, I’ve achieved everything I wanted to this year. I’ve come through my biggest challenges unscathed and smiling. I’ve 3 events left to tackle and had already switched to planning 2019. These races are now about enjoyment, experience and maintenance ready for what 2019 can bring. On top of that I am carrying a bit of an injury. I don’t know what exactly but I’m aware of some discomfort. I thought it was my calf. Now I think it’s my hamstring. Either way I still wanted to run but not too push it.

Unfortunately Clair was also injured so had to switch to cheer squad duties for the weekend. Yvette was a little apprehensive about the run (there is a tight 8 hour time limit on the course) so I imposed myself and insisted I’d run with her throughout so that she wasn’t alone.

After settling in at the accommodation and having a good nights sleep, we were up early to make it to the ‘shakeout run’ before registration. The shakeout run was led by Marcin Swierc who won the TDS this year in a gripping finale. Very impressive! A brief jog along some local trails before he put us through a series of challenging stretches and body exercises before we returned for a complimentary breakfast. The breakfast spread put on by the organisers was full of local made sausages, breads, cheeses and jams. We were in heaven. After which we had an impromptu interview with the media channel supporting the race. I’m still not completely sure what was asked and what we responded despite Jana’s translations!

After the morning’s activities we met up with Michal (who stayed with us in Chamonix during the CCC and whom recently finished 6th at Ultra Tour Monte Rosa!!). Michal was here with Team Vindberg (or “team Hot Tub” as I liked to call them) after claiming a podium finish at the 48km LUT last year. We went off for some ice cream and a walk around Krosno whilst we waited for race registration to open.

Race registration was straightforward and efficient with a check of all the mandatory kit list in exchange for the bib number and tracker. Oddly, despite a cut off time of 6pm the mandatory kit list includes equipment like head torches and back lights but no waterproofs or layered clothing. Odd, but rules are rules and there is no doubt a logic behind it. It did feel odd having such a lightweight kit bag! All checked in we posed for some pre-race pictures and made our way to a restaurant for some pierogis. I do love Polish dumplings!! We followed this up with a chilled evening drinking 2% Radler beers like the crazies we are. We know how to party!

The next morning was a breeze as the race wouldn’t start till 10am. So no early wake up call in Poland. Awesome. Fed and packed we eased through the bus ride, checked our drop bags in and were in the race pen ready and waiting. The 150km, 100km and 70km runners were already well underway and many 70k participants were at the aid station where we were starting in Iwonicz-Zdroj. It was good to cheer them through but I felt anxiety for them knowing any minute we’d be stampeding after them, surrounding them with our fresh energy.

Krzysztof, the race director (Jana’s friend at Lemkowyna), pulled us forward (with Jana’s help) to the front to get people focused and ready. He gave the mandatory race briefing at the countdown began. 10am. Race underway. Within seconds Jana vanished from sight and disappeared into the distance!

The initial part of the course ran through the town as we sought out the beginning of the trail. Within just a few kilometres we were climbing the first of what I’d describe as the 3 “small” inclines of the route. Besides this there would be one big-bastard climb and plenty of rolling hills along the way. As we climbed we were greeted with loud voices from a group of men positioned halfway up the hill. Music pumping and bottles(!) of something no doubt alcoholic being drunk, they were in for a good time!

Now what I haven’t already alluded to was the weather this weekend. In fact, as to how much we were sweating! We came in the search of mud. We were ready to ‘enjoy the mudness’. However, we were presented with a 20+ degrees (C) beautiful summer’s weekend. There would be very little mud. The layers had been swapped the night before for short shorts and a vest! As we climbed the sweat only increased. But what goes up must come down and soon we did.

Here came my first surprise of the day. The terrain. The ground was very uneven and rocky. The climbs were tough and the downs were harder. Much concentration was needed to ensure a strong footing in the jagged stones and dusty trails. So much so I removed my sunglasses to help focus. This was going to be quite a painful run for the feet I decided. The second surprise followed soon after with a delightful warning of bears in the woods. hhhmmm.

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Don’t look, keep running!

Throughout the day we were never alone. Plenty of runners from our event and also the 70km event mixing and running together. At one point the route took us onto a road that was still in the process of being re-surfaced. The ground was sticky with tar and you could feel the heat coming from the ground. This was a new experience!! I stuck with, or near, Yvette for the first 10 miles and we soon came across the first aid station at around 18km. Here we met Sarah from team ‘hot tub’ who was readying herself for an assault on the 30km race which would soon be starting.

We filled our bottles and bellies (chocolate and biscuits for me!!) and set off again. I checked my watch (I still only run with current and average pace showing – this gives a huge sense of being free from pressure and not thinking about distance nor time!). We’d covered the 10 miles or so in just under the two hours. This was great progress. I told Yvette how well she was doing, to not worry nor thinking about the 8 hour cut off but instead make her realise a sub 6 hour was a real possibility!!

Onwards we went. Upwards. The big-bastard was immediately after the aid station and was about 800m or so of climbing steadily over several kilometres. I lost sight of Yvette somewhere over this climb but carried on knowing she wouldn’t be far behind. I was in my own bubble at this point. I was a little concerned as I could feel my leg (this is were I became conscious that it was more likely my hamstring and not my calf) but I was Smiling. Enjoying. The hills were stunning. All around us the trees were turning red and brown but the sun was shinning brightly. As you climbed higher and higher the unobstructed views into the distance became more and more impressive. This was a side to Poland I’ve not seen before. It really is beautiful out there. I plodded along with a smile on my face, absorbing it all and cheering the runners who’d pass me along the way. After about 15 or 16 miles Sarah cane zooming passed with a huge smile and cheered me on. She was third lady in the 30km LUT and looking very strong. She was gone before I knew it.

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Exceptional views from the LUT

There was a long section on top of the hills which was very pleasant, out in the open sunshine. I was a little worried I’d get sun burnt now! I had a brief moment of distraction talking to a Polish lady (Agata) who lives in Devon. She too powered off into the distance as I walked the little hills happily. I met her again at the finish and found she finished 4th lady in the 30km LUT, narrowly missing the podium by under a minute! I hope this wasn’t down to talking to me!!

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Get ready for the descent!

Next up was the down that inevitably follows the up – Over a very short distance we’d descend the 800m or so back down. This was rapid with gravity taking you probably faster than you’d like. I was again very conscious of my footing as, although the ground was softy and grassy it was riddled with lumps and cambers. Immediately at the bottom the next aid station awaited.

I briefly checked the time, 2pm. We were still on for that sub 6 if we wanted it. I just had to wait for Yvette to show. I filled the ten mins or so eating. Lots of orange slices, biscuits and chocolate and a load of flat coke. It was so flat. Perfect. The volunteers here were excellent and incredibly helpful and I joked around with one lady who was drenching people with cold water whilst I waited. The volunteers throughout were absolutely fantastic and help make this a special event! After about 10 mins or so Yvette showed up and it was her turn to stock up and refresh.

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Going Strong

As we walked up the last of the “little hills” Yvette confirmed she was in a good place mentally and physically. The steep rocky down hills were taking its toll on her ankles (she’s had previous injuries there) but she was good. The last third of the race went by in a blur. We wondered if Clair had been able to find a way to get to the finish (it’s in the middle of nowhere with limited transport and she had no confirmed way of getting back either!) and if Daisy and Jana would have finished by now. For a while we interchanged places with a mixed group of other runners from our race, the 70km and the 30km. But we were consistent and comfortable. So comfortable that I inadvertently found some of the mud. Despite the weather, pockets of the course were still very muddy. I can see how, with a little rain, the whole course would become so much more difficult to run. But, throughout the course you were easily able to navigate around or jump the muddy patches. Lost in my own thoughts though I was no longer thinking or focusing and I ran straight through a muddy seduction. I was immersed to my ankles and almost lost my trainers as I pulled through! I cheered myself and laughed. No harm. A pain to clean at some point but I had come for the mud after all!! As a result, I ran through all the mud I could for what remained of the trail. Why not huh?!

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I found the mud!!

I was deep in enjoyment now and amused myself with a little game as we ran through some forested areas. As the seasons were changing, the trees were ripe with autumnal colours and leaves were falling. All around us in the tranquillity of the forest there was not a sound other than the foot strikes on the ground and the leaves rustling through the trees branches as they fell and floated to the ground. You could see them falling all around and the shadows they’d make. I made it my game to catch them as I passed. I managed it just once.

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Scenes from the forest trails

As we neared the end of the trail we knew there would be a few km on the road to run to the finish. We soon hit this and it was an ever so gradual incline. Yvette was stitching but carried on. I figured we had maybe two miles at most left to cover. I was a few hundred yards ahead of here and kept stopping to see if she was coming. But then, out of nowhere a sign saying ‘finish 350m’ appeared. What? This was too soon. I looked back. Yvette was there. So I legged it. I ran in to finish the race. Rounding the corner where the cheers from Daisy, Clair and Jana could be heard. I screamed “ziemniaki” (that one word I could remember) and passed the line. Moments later Yvette skipped in past me to finish too. We finished around 6 hrs and 4 mins. Amazing. If I’d known the finish was so close I would have pushed us to break that hour mark! Still, it proves Yvette is a far stronger runner than she gives herself confidence for, smashing the cut off she was concerned by with 2 hours to spare!

Race done we were treated with our favourite 2% Radler beer and snacks from Clair (who’d clearly made it!) and admired our amazing ‘cowbell’ medals. The organisers had arranged food (great food!!) for runners and we sat and chatted about our races and experience.

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How good is this medal and mug!!

As the night started to draw in we had a brief ‘wet wipe wash’ in the river (the showers were cold and the changing area was a bit chaotic) and made our way into the main tent ready for awards and live music. We’d planned to stay for the entertainment and get the 9pm bus back to Krosno anyway, but we had even more reason too now – Daisy had finished 3rd lady in the 48km and Sarah second lady in the 30km. We gave them a great reception as they collected their incredible awards and huge amount of sponsored gifts for the podium finishers. In an amazingly thoughtful touch, Krzysztof (the race director) invited Jana onto the stage to thank her and give her the honour of presenting Daisy (and the 48km lady podium finishers) with their awards in recognition of her support to the Lemkoywna. After all the awards there was also a chance to recognise and applaud some of the many volunteers whom received a very well deserved standing ovation.

It was an amazing finish to an amazing weekend that was all about the support and camaraderie of each other! Something tells me this won’t be the last time I go to this event!! The people, the organisation, the food, everything we encountered during our time in Poland was special!

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I’ve been nominated for the personal blog category with the Running Awards. I’d love your support and votes. If you like what you read and you’d like to vote for me you can click this link and find “RunWithDai” in the nominees. Thanks!

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions?

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The year isn’t even through and, like many, I’m reflecting. So many achievements and memories. But so much more to come. So much more planning to do. And I’m stuck. I’m confused. I’m stressing. I shouldn’t be. But I am…

Without wanting to sound ungrateful for the opportunities and adventures. The achievements have led to a sense of being unfulfilled. I want more. Is that normal? Am I alone?

The question I keep asking myself in relation to my running is “where do I go from here?”.  Do I run further? Do I run higher? Should I try to run faster? What do I really want? Where does one look for and find the next challenge? Is it in the races and events or through my own personal aspirations and ideas? What are the other challenges that I seek? I simply do not know!

I need help. I need your views. I’d love to hear from you… Does anyone have the same questions and a method for answering them? What do you do, how do you decide?

  • How do you choose one event/race over another?
  • How do you balance the applications and ballots (which provide no guarantee of a place) with those events readily accessible? How do you weigh up the flexibility vs the certainty?
  • If you are looking at ballots, how far ahead do you plan to maximise the coefficient and lottery bonuses? Do I apply this year knowing I don’t want to/can’t run the event next year and hope I’m unsuccessful?
  • How do you balance the races/events you want to do now vs the events and races you need to use to qualify for other ones?
  • How do you blend in the desire to see new countries and visit new places. Mixing the glamour of the “big” races but avoiding the tedium of visiting the same places and the repetition of the same areas?
  • Can you be bothered with all the travel and logistics of different events? The stresses and costs involved need considering too right.
  • What about who you do the events and challenges with? I’ve certainly found more enjoyment sharing them with others, but not everyone will have the same aspirations or freedom?
  • What about the risk of over doing it? This year I’ve challenged myself each month. I feel good. But does my body need a rest? but If I rest, will I be as perpetually trained and ready for the challenges ahead?
  • What about going back? There’s been some great events I’ve done. Do I attempt to recreate them, do I have unfinished business there?
  • What about those ideas I have that are non-running related or don’t involve running. Where do they fit in?

How? What? Why? Where? When? Who? Decisions. I fucking hate decisions…

 


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I’ve been nominated for the personal blog category with the Running Awards. I’d love your support and votes. If you like what you read and you’d like to vote for me you can click this link and find “RunWithDai” in the nominees. Thanks!

Sounds like a plan

An adventure in Northumberland, the home of Montane…

So there is a back story here. The short version is that, after purchasing some of their products, I won a competition earlier in the year with Montane. We kept in touch and I promised a run sometime. This has led to some involvement with Montane in an Ambassador capacity, which is great because I’ve loved all of the kit I’ve used (I was pretty much kitted head to toe in it for the CCC!) and they produce some really great items! The idea for a weekend adventure was that we’d combine a ‘Run With Dai’ with a chance to test out some of the new winter range from Montane’s trail running series ‘Via’.

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It’s a long ol’ journey from London!

The weekend started with the long journey north on Friday evening  to Berwick-upon-Tweed (and a subsequent bus south from the station). The local bus from Berwick-upon-Tweed to Bamburgh is amazing. It has a built in tour guide so you are educated on the history of sites like Haggerston Castle, Holy Island, Lindisfarne, Belford, Budle Bay and Bamburgh Castle along the way! Fantastic. All buses should do this!

Wim met me at Bamburgh Castle and we headed straight off for a pint to make acquaintances. Over the last 8 months or so we’d only ever talked over email. It was surreal and amazing to, after so many months, finally meet someone who I’d solely communicated with digitally. He didn’t quite have the Scottish twang I expected but in no time at all we were finding out more about each other beyond our common interest in running. The whole weekend Wim and his wife (Rosie) made me feel so welcome and spoiled me rotten with home cooking and delights!

The vague plan for the weekend was to run into the Cheviot hills. We’d start by driving to Ingram where we’d meet Ross, a fellow ambassador (and local farmer!) who knew the land inside out. He’d pretty much be the guide for the day, physically running with us for 3 hours and guiding us in absence with the directions he’d pointed out of where we needed to go after he would leave us.

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Ross ended up staying the whole day with us. His directions and knowledge were priceless!

We packed our bags and, along with Margot (Mags, the energetic four-legged companion), headed off to Ingram, the gateway to the Cheviots. Wim had sourced us some tops to test on the run – The via Dragon and the Fireball Verso.

Spoiler alert, the gist of my reviews are:

  • The Dragon is a great mid-layer. It has a Zipped front for fit and breathability but also unique double cuffs which provide emergency mitts when the weather turns. . These were super handy when running in the wind.
  • The Verso. Same as the old one but some tweaked designs – New colour variants, Different (improved) cuffs and an upgraded insulation material. Again great when running in windy conditions. I loved both these items and was reluctant to return them afterwards!

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Anyway, off running we went. First we headed up the field paths towards Dunmoor Hill. It quickly became apparent that the ‘trails’ would be few and far between. The land was mostly subtle in its path and direction and not as mainstream as many other trails and national parks you will find. Our first challenge was to navigate a livestock field full of cows and a warning from Ross – The livestock here was a little volatile and he’d recently been chased out of the field! We tentatively rounded the ‘crazy’ cows and continued up. From Dunmoor Hill we had views of what lay ahead. The next peak and the second highest in the area (I think that’s right) – Hedgehope Hill. The run down was brisk and boggy and our feet were soon soaked through.

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Temperamental Cows

Up Hedgehope Hill we went. A slow bimble as we climbed. The Dragon top was great here as my fingers felt the wind and I was able to quickly warm them without stopping to unpack my gloves. It was so easy to fold the cuffs over into the mitts! As we reached the top we surveyed the land. It was what I’d describe as lumpy. Rolling hills as far as you could see. Very little ‘flats’ between the hills. I love this. We layered up as the wind increased. I put on the Fireball Verso. The bright red outer Featherlite windshield making me standout in the gloomy grey summit. I was instantly warm.

From here we had some options as to how we’d get to The Cheviot, the highest point clearly visible and standing 815m up ahead. Running the ridge line from Hedgehope we soon veered right and off the beaten track. We opted for the shorter but arguably harder “straight down and up approach”.

We were soon bounding and leaping through the waists high ferns and lavender, but not leaping as high as Mags who was like a rabbit vanishing into the soft underground between each leap. I don’t know how many times I laughed at the sight of her leaping through the foliage or thinking she could catch the birds she disturbed!

As we crossed the stream we looked up at the Cheviot in front of us. All 815m of it in its glory. Up we would go. Sometime later, after several rests and many wine gums we made the top. Crossing a field we made our way into the slab path (leading to the Pennine Way) and ran left (towards the English/Scottish border). We soon came across the summit’s Trig  stone and chatted to the holiday hikers already there taking a rest.

We continued back the way we’d came. Along the top of the Cheviot before heading down to Langleeford. The run down was great. Mostly soft ground and not too rocky along with great views of Hedgehope, Dunmoor and beyond. This was one of the main tourist paths walkers would take to summit The Cheviot. Several large bogs needed jumping, one leaving me with fear and pain as I landed awkwardly. But before we knew it we were at the Langleeford car park and crossing the stream at Hearthope burn. This was so idyllic.

It was time to climb again as we decided on our route back toward Dunmoor and Ingram. We’d go via Housey Crags / Langlee Crags and once again were soon winging it cross country. The terrain here was blind and again often at waist height so a walk was in order. In the distance the burning at a farm could be seen and acted partly as a guide as we navigated towards the tree line of Threestoneburn Wood.

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Housey Crags

By now the sun was out. We’d hoped for some ‘proper grotty’ winter weather to really put the gear to the test but had instead treated with glorious sunshine as the afternoon came. More of this and we might have ended up with a sun tan from the day!

There was a huge area of deforestation and commercial timber harvesting which we crossed at Threestoneburn Woods. A completely different type of terrain and views. The burnt crops were hard, pointy and sharp so we carried little Mags across. We were soon on the tractor paths for the machinery to access the forests and ran onward for a while, passing some walkers we’d seen earlier in the day.

Again the path soon changed as we walked through the remains of a harvested woodland. The wood once again dead and uneven. Reaching the other side we were back on the incline we’d started out on when we climbed to Dunmoor Hill. This meant it was time to head black down and pass the crazy cows once more. As we neared, they separated. 3 stood guard on the perimeter of the herd and eyeballed us intently as we passed. From here it was a gentle stroll back to the car. 20 miles of adventures covered. This turned out to be the furthest run Ross had covered. Amazing.

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The route of the day’s adventure

Throughout the day Wim and Ross talked about some of the local races in the hills. They sound like they would be pretty brutal, that and the excellent calibre of local runners who live and breathe these hills would make for an interesting challenge!

As we arrived back to base with achy feet and moans a plenty, Rosie greeted us with an incredible home cooked cheese and leek lasagna. This was exactly what we needed (along with the warm bath!) to replenish after the hard graft of the day.

Despite all the running, Mags wasn’t done. She is fascinated by balls and wanted more running as she kept fetching her ball and demanding it was thrown for her to chase. I couldn’t keep up with the demands!!

The next morning we forced our tired legs out of bed for another little run. We drove into Bamburgh and off to the beach for an ‘easy’, flat 5km down the coast. It was brisk and cold as the wind blew. Another great chance to put the Verso to the test!

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The beach views were stunning as, on one side you had the sand dunes and vast land of Bamburgh Castle and, on the other the cost and the Farne islands (apparently a great place for diving and seal spotting!). As we were looking out across the cost we caught a glimpse of a porpoise bobbing close to the shore line doing its morning ‘thing’.

Mags loved the run and it was the first time I heard her make a sound all weekend as she barked and played with the other dogs out on the beach. I loved the run so much less when we finished and waded into the ice cold sea. I got waist high before I couldn’t handle it any longer and ran out back to the beach. Probably the quickest I moved all weekend!

Soon it was time to go and start my long journey back to London and the reality that is Monday to Friday, until the next adventure that is!

 


Vote

So it turns out that I’ve been nominated for the personal blog category with the Running Awards. I’d love your support and votes. If you like what you read and you’d like to vote for me you can click this link and find “RunWithDai” in the nominees. Thanks!

Your name written in the newspaper

The Berlin Marathon 2018.

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Sporting History was made on the 16th September 2018. You don’t need me to tell you what happened. On such an incredible day I wrote my own piece of history. I ran a sub 3 the marathon. Something that was never a dream or goal. But something that became a ‘thing’ for me. A monkey on my back in 2018.

Let’s rewind a little. 7 months ago. February. I’d just ran a 3:07 marathon in Muscat and a 3:03 in Malta. My mind went into overdrive. Out of nowhere I suddenly thought I can. I believed. I wasn’t patient though and pushed it. Limassol was the the spectacular climax and crash and burn affect of my naivety and disrespect.

It created this monkey. He isn’t cute. In truth he’s a little mouthy Pratt. He’s loomed over me like a shadow. A shadow that filled me with doubts and fears. What if it happens again, but with more severe consequences? What if I keep trying and keep failing? What if I can’t do it? What ifs. So I did what I do best and blocked it out. Shut it down. I succumbed to the fear. If I don’t try, I can’t fail. And that’s how the next two marathons went.

I found a comfort zone. A safe place. I ran at a pace I could enjoy and where no harm could come to me. Whilst it was great that I could enjoy the marathons in such a way, I wasn’t challenging myself or confronting my fears. A manifestation that I’m almost cheating myself. That has been my norm since. I just accepted it. Maybe one day I’d try again.

There’s been a gap of 5 months since my last marathon as I’ve explored the trails over the summer. September though brought about My next marathon. Berlin. One of the Abbott World Major Marathons. Originally this was going to be my main race of 2018. After obtaining a place I thought I was going to train and go for a GFA (London) time (which annoyingly I’d achieved in Malta until they changed the criteria!!) I then found the trails. This all changed. Two weeks before Berlin I’d now be tackling the biggest physical challenge of my life – The CCC. I had no plans for Berlin once again. It was an afterthought. A secondary race in the shadows cast by the mountains.

Berlin would be special in a different way though. I was in a ‘group’ of 20+ other runners that had formed together through various connections. It was going to be a very social and enjoyable weekend. I was looking forward to that.

As the race approached, my mind only turned to Berlin after I finished the CCC. Two weeks to go. What was my plan? My legs still ached. I hadn’t ‘trained’ for roads or speed. I wasn’t in a training nor taper period. I was in a period of recovery. I didn’t know how long this feeling would last. So I reverted back to the shadows and found a safe option. I decided that 3:15 to 3:30 would be my safe zone. I’d be happy with a time like that. 3:30 was more than comfortable at Helsinki and a time of 3:15 would provide some challenge. Deep down I was scared I’d leg it. You always get caught up in the stampede at the start of a race. So a secondary goal was not to run faster than an average pace of 7:10 mins per mile. That would be a 3:10 marathon pace. Contain yourself was my message!

That’s it. Plan formed. Now to enjoy the weekend…Arriving Saturday AM I bullied my way through the mayhem of what is the biggest race expo I’d ever experienced. I was in and out. Nice and easy. I met up with various members of the group to watch the football and later again for pasta. Spirits were high. Everyone was ready to attack their race. By this point though I’d already made my one ‘mistake’. As I’d run a faster time since I obtained a place at the marathon, I’d had my starting block moved up a place. I’d now be running with 1,000s of other runners capable of a 3:00-3:15 marathon.

Pasta eaten, it was time for bed. Bobby and I were staying on the 6th floor of the Wombats hostel. There is a roof top party every night till 3am. Great. This was our concern. Turned out it wouldn’t be a problem at all. The sudden awakening we got at 4am to the incredibly loud sound of “Achtung!!” Would be our problem. What’s this? What the fuck?! After listening to the German message, we eventually received the English translation. Something along the lines of “Attention. This is the hotel manager. Due to an emergency in the building we request that all guests make their way outside of the building immediately”. A fire alarm. Oh bollocks. We got up and started compiling our race kit. Who knew how long this could go on for! As we were doing so the hotel manager entered our room and started questioning us. Apparently it was our room that had sounded the alarm! “We’ve been sleeping!!” we told him.

After about 30 mins of standing around outside I had to laugh as a couple belatedly came out of the lift, with all their luggage and even their bed sheets?! Err OK. Talk about a sense of urgency! We were finally then let back into our rooms. False alarm. Time to try and get some more sleep before we really have to wake up!

Eventually we really did have too wake up. I was ready for the morning. I knew what was needed. One lingering thought from Limassol was that I hadn’t fueled sufficiently. So I’d planned to get 1500kcals into me before I left the flat. That was mostly done trough 4 Quaker porridge oat bars. I’ve recently found these and they are far easier to consume than the equivalent amount in bowls of porridge. I wasn’t going to be caught out this time!

What then felt like way too soon after being woken in the night we were at the event village. Holy smoke this place was massive. It felt like I’d walked for an eternity trying to find my bag drop and subsequent starting block. Penned in, the block started to fill up, it was a busy one! In front of us the ‘elites’ and pros were warming up and the wheelchair racers were setting off. The atmosphere was electric and we were whipped into a frenzy as the front runners were introduced and the count down begun.

In a flash we were off. The heavy footsteps of 1,000s of runners pounding the tarmac. The thumping built as the crowd gained momentum. Within a minute we were over the line, split into two masses either side of the road, we were off!

The effect of my ‘mistake’ became immediately apparent. Everyone here was fast. We accelerate and were at a sub 7 Min per mile pace in no time. Weaving around the bends and roundabouts the mass of runners stuck together. We wouldn’t be splitting and spreading out anytime soon if at all. This was it. I was in this. I was overtaking people. People were over taking me. I kept checking my watch as the pace fluctuated between 6:40 and 6:55 Min Miles. Over the first 2-3 miles I kept telling myself “run your race”. “Don’t worry about the others”. Despite it all, I felt good. My legs were lethargic, but my body felt strong. My breathing was easy and my heart felt calm. Sod this. Sod my ‘aims’. I’m going for it. My plan was out the window. Sub 3 hours was the goal. If I didn’t get it, it didn’t matter. No pressure. But if I could maintain a 6:50 average pace then I’d do it. If I didn’t then hell, there might be a new PB involved or at any point I could slow it meet my original aims. It was all good. Absolutely zero pressure.

I went for consistency. This was a big difference to my last attempt where I heavily overloaded the first 10 and then second 10 miles with an unsustainable pace. There would be no letting up today. No room to slow. Just keep going. One thing I’ve learnt from the trails is consistency. Over a long duration your current pace doesn’t matter. The average pace over the distance is what defines your time. So for 26.2 miles I would try to be as consistent as I possibly could.

The downside of my change in approach was that I was focused. Ok, yes that’s a positive. But it meant I cannot recall much of the run. I was constantly checking my watch and monitoring my pace. Constantly processing my thoughts to step up or slow down. Maintenance was critical. Going too fast would burn me out. Going to slow could mean I would struggle to recover the time as the fatigue kicks in later on.

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I still manage to enjoy

The main disruption to my focus was the water stations. I knew they’d be cups. However, I didn’t want to wear a hydration pack trough out the race. Despite being so far forward in the progression of runners though, each station was an apocalyptic scene. Plastic everywhere. The water areas were flooded with puddles. People crashing into each other and spilling water all over the place. None of that compared to the sound – The noise as thousands of plastic cups were dropped and trampled. Cracking and splitting. It was a horrific sound. It also highlighted the shitty-ness of runners. Come on people, have some tact. It’s not hard to put your empties in the bin or move to the side of the road to drop/throw them. Multiple times this day I was hit by flying cups of water or nearly covered in a persons spit. People really are selfish dicks. My challenge at each water station was to drink enough (without choking myself as I threw the water down my throat) and get back up to target pace as soon as possible. Each stop would be a repetition of this challenge. Some harder than others as the crowds and fatigue varied.

The miles counted down. Things I saw (or remember seeing) were few. Eventually the halfway point was passed. Half a marathon to go. 1hr 29mins elapsed. Same again. It felt like an age for that first half. My thoughts were dominated by nothing else. Rarely did my mind wander from the constant calculations and visitations of that sub 3. I recall thinking back to Vallorcine during the CCC. At that point there was also about a half marathon to go. A mammoth half. This would be nothing by comparison. I could do this. The mental challenge of the CCC was different. Here I could rest in the knowledge of it being over in another hour and a half. That was a real boost.

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Passing the sites

The second half went by so much quicker. The atmosphere was incredible. The crowd was constant. The noise high and the music amazing. So many jazz and sax bands entertaining the runners and crowds, really lifting the runner’s morale. Berlin nailed it.

I was using all the usual tricks in my head to keep it going, keep maintaining. Counting down the kms. Converting the miles. Planning what I’d drink and when. I took a pack of Cliff shot blocks and took one every 5km from 22kms. I presume they helped. The flavour certainly did. I had a gel on hand (which I never ended up using) and 250ml of High 5 isotonic drink in a soft flask. I was saving the isontonic for the last 10km and to save me from the carnage of the water stations. My mind was focused and planned. 20 miles done. 6 miles to go. Just a morning run commute to work left.

There were two mental boosts for me at mile 20. Firstly an announcement that the world record had been broken. The crowd and the runners went mad. That’s insane! Everyone wanted to know the time. What a day this was. Secondly, another runner started shouting. “Who’s doing this?! Who’s breaking sub 3 today?!”. No one responded. Inside me though I started to believe even more. I wasn’t alone. I realised I was surrounded by other determined people chasing their goals, chasing their sub 3 dreams. I had a brief chat with the guy. We were doing this. We spurred each other on. I kept him in my sights for the rest of the run. He seemed determined enough that he’d make it.

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Focused

I kept going. Kept adjusting and maintaining the pace. The miles passed by. I knew Louise and Becca would be at 38km waiting with the loudest of cheers. I was ready to look out for them. But first came the Adidas runners cheer zone at 37km. Wow. Just wow. There were hundreds of them. It’s a huge community but amplified at an Adidas sponsored world major marathon. The noise was insane. The roar as runners ran through was so uplifting. I’d now caught up with the 3 hour pacers too. They’d set off before me and I thought that, if I get in front of them and finish, then sub 3 will be certain. So I did. I slipped by and settled back into the rhythm. By the time I reached the girls I was in a strong mental place. I saw them and yelled. They went wild. Lou later told me that, on the trackers they’d been saying “Dai is going too fast. He’s going to fast” before realising “Dai is going for sub 3. He’s not going too fast, he’s on target'”. This made me chuckle. Setting myself some goals and changing them mid-run was clearly misleading for others!

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That moment ‘you know’

After seeing the girls I powered on. Last 5km. Three miles. Don’t drop it now. But, here came my biggest challenge. I couldn’t tell myself this was happening. I couldn’t rest up. I’d been this close before. 1 mile from the finish it all went wrong in Limassol. Mile 25. I had to get passed mile 25. I had to feel strong at mile 24 (my last memory at Limassol!). I did. Keep at it. Keep believing. Keep focused. My watch ticked over, 25 miles done.

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Go on, get nice and close up!

Now. Now is the time! My mind went into some sort of automatic self-diagnostic mode. My brain was sending signals to every part of my body. I could feel the information flowing back and my brain ticking them off. Check. Check. Check. It felt almost surreal as I acknowledged that my breathing was good. In and out through my nose. Deep and easy breathing. My lungs were good. My legs told me they were good too. Heavy, as they’d been all morning. But good. They wouldn’t let me down. My toe hurt. That was the worst response back. It was telling me there would be a blister at the end. A small price to pay. My heart was good. Not pounding. Just pumping rhythmically. My fingers clenching and relaxing by my side. My abs tight and holding me up right. My form felt good. My stride was consistent. My mind was clear. I was focused. 1 mile and a bit to go. Maybe 10mins max. This was on. I checked my watch and did the maths. Don’t drop the pace. Keep at 6:50ish for one more mile and this was mine. Soon I’d be at the Bradenburg Gate. Soon I’d be on the home stretch. That small insignificant bit of distance at the end of a 26 mile run. I told myself it’s nothing. It’s just that ‘extra’ bit runners do in training to round up to an even number. Go. Go.

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Smiling through the gate

Under the gate I went. The crowds lined both sides of the road. Huge numbers. Huge cheers. Runners everywhere either powering on or succumbing to the moment and stopping. Cramping. Walking. I felt for them. But this was me and my time. I crossed the line. Stopped the watch. It was under 3 hours (2:59:27. Officially). It was close. I’d done it. Everything I’d said to myself to keep going was right. So close. One bad mile, One prolonged period of not focusing and those 30 seconds would have evaporated away. But it was done. And that was it. I went into some kind of blurred, subdued state immediately. Inside I was so happy. But I don’t recall much or the emotions. I don’t know if I screamed or jumped or anything as I crossed the line. I do know I was chuffed to bits though.

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Looks like I was pretty pleased!

It was a long walk to the medals, to the water. I savoured it all. I saw the Runner who’d powered us on and we hugged it out. The long walk continued and I found Jordan ahead. I thought she must have also done it also as she was ahead of me. She’d come so close at 3:01 but had smashed her target and Pb. She was calling Chris. He was coming in just behind us at 3:07. He’d finished. He’d stopped at the medical tent to steady his legs. We walked back and met him after he’d collected his medals. Big hugs All round. He’d smashed his 3:10 target. We said we’d sign up to Boston in 2020. Here we go again…

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Something tells me we were all very happy!

Over the next few hours the rest of the group finished one by one. We regrouped and celebrated each other’s achievements. Before going our separate ways until later.

I met and saw so many other friends and familiar faces out there that day (and weekend). PBs were shattered all over the place. What a day to be a part of. We celebrated that night. We laughed a lot.

I might seem subdued to those I’ve spoken to since the race. Truth is, I don’t think the realisation has set in yet. I’ve played the sub 3 down so much this year that it probably hasn’t fully registered in my mind just how big of an achievement it is. I am though absolutely ecstatic with the outcome. Not just because of the time and achievement. But happy with the relief that the demons of the past have been put to the sword. The shadow lifted and the mouthy pratt of a monkey no longer is on my back trying to fill me with doubts.

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Yes!!

I don’t feel that roads are my place anymore. I’ve nothing to achieve from them. I don’t need, nor want, to improve that time. It won’t provide me with any greater satisfaction. I’ll run road races again for the reasons of it being a world major (one day I’ll do the 6), for covering a marathon on each continent (although that doesn’t mean it has to be a road!) or if I get a place somehow. I won’t be looking for them.

My heart and feet belong in the trails. They’ve consumed me now. I enjoy the challenge more. The freedom and experience more. The camaraderie and more relaxed nature of them. I can go back to the trails now knowing that I’ve redeemed myself. Limassol has well and truly been assigned to the history books and a time of learning and self realisation.

I will take pride in opening my copy of the Berliner Morgenpost and seeing my name written in the newspaper. The time etched as part of my own history on this very historical day for sport.

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I’m in the German news, sort of!

 


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So it turns out that I’ve been nominated for the personal blog category with the Running Awards. I’d love your support and votes. If you like what you read and you’d like to vote for me you can click this link and find “RunWithDai” in the nominees. Thanks!