When in Rome…

You will have heard it before- people say it a lot…but where does the phrase: ‘when in Rome’ really originate? What is it’s etymology? Well, according to the internet, it is linked to a theologian close to my heart (or corazon…) St Augustine. I’m not sure how accurate the article below is, I’d like to assume that it’s on point. Anyway, have a read and let me know what you think 🤔😉

http://www.italiannotebook.com/local-interest/origin-do-as-romans-do/

Needless to say, it’s a mantra that works for anyone visiting Rome- i.e. eat lots of carbs… and it worked for us too as we booked into a running tour by S.P.Q Running Tours Rome, not your average tour- find them here:

http://www.spqrun.info/

It’s run by Romans, not tour guides and currently you pay what you think it’s worth…an uncomfortable proposition to an Englishman.

And yet…it cuts through all of the hyperbole of what Rome is known for and taps into the basics. We hit the road at 6.30am. It’s quiet. It’s peaceful. It’s stunningly beautiful.

We were set to meet our guide outside of Metro Repubblica. I saw a guy and waved…it wasn’t our guy. Luckily, (our real guy) Dario spotted my faux pas and hurried over. In the pink glow of sunrise, our run began.

Dario is a local guy with local knowledge. He’s also able to maintain a decent pace and my heart rate was certainly pushing it up the many hills of Rome (7!? we did a select few) Anyway, it was an absolute voyage of discovery and the highlight was Aventino Hill, where, in complete solitude between us, I gazed through the keyhole towards St Peter’s (I had written St Paul’s- still have London in my mind from last weekend!). It was a religious experience. Ineffable.

Before or after (it becomes a blur so early in the morning) we jogged past the key sights; Colosseum, Pantheon, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Forum, Trevi Fountain amongst many others.

There was only one moon in the sky and so we could luckily rule out IQ84- but surreal it was none the less.

Overall, it was a moving experience and Dario did an excellent job. Would recommend to any runner in the market for an experience of Rome without the crowds…just bear in mind that you do have to sprint across the roads.

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Best laid plans

You know what they say about best laid plans- things don’t always go the way you were expecting.

My last race was the Lowther Trail Half Marathon. There wasn’t a ‘plan’ per se- the idea was to have a nice jog and enjoy the show afterwards… I have to say, I struggled and it was one of those days when it just seemed really difficult!

I admit to walking the last half mile. On the bright side, came 9th but it wasn’t well deserved. Rolled into the finish feeling a bit deflated.

Across the next week, I pootled around with the dog with no real focus.

Luckily we had an adventure lined up:

The initial plan was to run the Isle of Man Ultra route with colleagues. This meant catching the ferry at around 12am on Tuesday, doing the route (with support) then catching the bus back to Douglas to get the 7.30pm ferry back.

Unfortunately our group was hit with various injuries and we were reduced to a team of three plucky adventures. Looking at the weather, demands on our support, the fact that it was TT practice week and the threat of missing the last bus (most likely due to me dawdling along) we plotted an alternate route. This one was 30k instead of 30miles, it meant we could do it unsupported and wouldn’t have to rely on public transport as we’d run from Ramsey into port at Douglas. And so we had a plan!

The journey across was smooth. People opted for various Tetris-like sleeping positions…however you could configure your body to best tessalate with the seats. The hardened bikers opted for flat out under the table. Our 3rd Muskateer Charlie used his army skills to construct a chaise longue out of two chairs, Ed attempted a bold manoeuvre of spooning the armrest but ultimately failed and wasn’t far off spooning the bikers (now in full flow of snoring) on the floor. The floor became the most attractive option and I soon succumbed and hunkered down.

6am arrived and so did we, into Douglas, where the mist was settling in. Our host collected us and we were fortunate to have a brief tour of the island on the way to our starting point of Ramsey. The TT course was set up and we began to get a feel of just how low the cloud was. We arrived in Ramsey and hearty breakfast, we bid farewell to our wonderful host and set about towards the path for Barrule.

Eventually the sun broke though! We felt optimistic that we may just get a glimpse of what the Isle of Man has to offer. Ed took this great shot:

Our individual skill sets made us a formidable navigational team and we were soon carving our way through the gorse to the summit of Barrule.

Frustratingly, as we climbed higher, the gloom descended down to meet us. It was very much sunk in for the day. We picked our way along the ridge, noting the aesthetically pleasing cairns along the way.

It was damp but we were covering ground at a good pace so we were ok without jackets. Before we knew it, we’d reached the end of the ridge and were heading back down towards the foot of the highest point of our journey Snae Fell. Again this was under thick cloud and the chill was beginning to set in. Luckily there’s a cafe at the top and it has just opened- hot tea and tea cakes broke the journey nicely.

After a blast under the hand dryer we continued on.

Some handy compass work set us fair and we made good progress down from the summit. We joined up eventually with the TT course and picked our way alongside the road towards the Millennium Way.

And so began a treacherous section where, not unlike Frodo in LotR, we faced various foes. From uneven footpaths, to briars, belligerent cows and wayward signage. Eventually, we emerged triumphant at a pub where we received vital sustenance of chips and shandy.

From here, The Heritage way brought us back into Douglas. This was a long, very runnable section with a really good surface underfoot meaning that we could pick up the pace.

The sun came out…a bit. We reached the Port of Douglas in around 22 miles where we hunkered down for burgers and beers.

We’re collectively classing this as a recce for ‘next time’!

Raise your hand if you run on holiday

I love it. Sometimes I structure a holiday around a race, sometimes I book a running tour, sometimes I travel to the trails and sometimes I hit the treadmill.

It’s not a chore, in fact it really adds to my break. Most of the time my runs are not particularly ambitious and I generally aim for 5K a day.

I think sometimes it’s easy to forget that for most of us, running is a luxury. If you have the time to spare, the funds for kit/entries and the physical fitness to do it, then it’s a privilege- it’s worth remembering that when you’re lacking motivation. Think back to what running felt like when you were a kid.

It doesn’t always work of course and honestly, I have plenty days where I just sit at home just not feeling it.

I guess my point is, embracing running on holiday can be a really great way to feel good about yourself in amongst all the excess and allows you to really be thankful for what you have and how lucky you are.

A love of Spanish food and wine led us to Malaga for our holiday this year and we made the most of the urban trails (and hotel treadmill) to keep running throughout the break- with plenty of hearty refuelling throughout!

Below is a painting by Rose Wylie that was part of her Hullo Hullo CAC Malaga exhibit. It’s called ‘Following on After the News’. Her child-like style of figures reminded me of what I used to think I ran like when I was tearing around as a little kid. That’s the real joy of running, when it takes you back to when you never got tired, had no idea what a Pb was (if you watched American cartoons it might have meant peanut butter… and you might have mused as a kid about what jelly was- I know it’s jam now). Anyway, I had to run away as I got shouted at for jumping in front of the artwork, some kids never learn eh?

Snowdon Race 2018

Back for a 4th time- there is something about this race that just keeps bringing you back. It’s challenge, atmosphere and location all come together to create a combination that is quite unique and leaves you feeling like you might just be able to step it up even more the next year.

With Geraint in Yellow flashing on the screens in the bar, international racers casually hanging around reception and sheep grazing in the hotel gardens, things were living up to expectations already, and the race wasn’t until the next day.

In previous years, I’d always built up the Snowdon Race into something that was seemed as though it was at my furthest stretch, always asking- was I going to make the cut off time?

This year, I knew that I’d be ok. The question was, how much have I improved in two years?

I put that question to the back of my mind as I commenced my pre-race fuelling- eat loads and sup a few beers always seems to do the trick.

Race day came and I was reminded by my own advice:

And that’s it! I’m never going to win but I can certainly strive to improve and that is the one thing that I can control.

I was excited to start the race in the morning. As we counted down, I willed myself to set off sensibly and stay within my limits (something that I still struggle with- setting off too fast). The long road climb passed relatively quickly and I ran the majority of it.

Soon we emerged onto the fell and I kept my rhythm as we ascended the stone steps. This is a race that is all about pacing, it is far more runnable than you might think, but it’s very easy to over-cook it and push too hard. I felt good and kept within myself. As half-way came and went, the hoards of walkers increased and concentration was required to navigate between them, it was a long, frustrating slog from here on to the summit. But I made it eventually and began the descent.

It’s a punishing downhill that sends shockwaves into your quads for days afterwards. I lost places here. The road appeared and I gratefully hung on to the finish- completing the race around 20 minutes faster than my previous attempt. I felt good, perhaps I could have pushed harder? Well, as I said at the start of this post, it always leaves you feeling that you might just be able to step it up again even more next year…

How to get your 🍑 handed to you for £3

It’s taken weeks to get this post out and life has trundled on since running this race, so lots to catch up on.

Here it is: How to get your 🍑 handed to you for £3.

Step 1: Enter the Blencathra Fell Race. 7.5 miles, loads of m elevation for £3.

Step 2: Do the race.

It’s got to be up there for the best value race of the season- you get physically destroyed in Britain’s most stunning landscape and you get flapjack at the end…all for the princely sum of £3. Does it get any better!?

You will also end up with the most horrific race photos that you will ever see. Bonus.

It starts in Mungrisedale Village Hall, complete with parking and toilets. You’ll need full FRA kit for this one, rightly so, it’s not to be underestimated.

Reminder:

🧢 🧤

🗺 &compass

🧥 👖 waterproof with taped seams

💧 🍫

It’s a Wednesday night race so after a days work, starting at 7pm. Over 100 runners so really good attendance. Plus you get to run with fell running royalty- always a very strong elite field.

So the race itself is humbling. I mean, lots of steep climbing, lots of ridiculous downhills and lots of runnable sections that I was too wrecked to take advantage of. Proper fell running. Do it.

In other news, I won the Hawkshead 10K- and my prize remains in the post. Apparently.

It was a confidence boost as I’ve cut down on racing compared to last year and am trying to train with more consistency and quality (heard that one before!).

I’ve also now completed a Leadership qualification in fell running with England Athletics and am half way through the coaching course- will be fully qualified in November as a Coach ☺️.

#run1000miles challenge is ticking along nicely although this spectacular weather does lead to spectacular tan lines….

And finally a shout out to Hadrian who completed the Yorkshire Three Peaks with me over three days.

Oh and PS: check me out in the current issue of Trailrunning Magazine!

Next race: It’s the Snowdon Race on Saturday…’Go hard or go home’ – I’ll do my best! 😅

Thinking of stepping up to ultra?

There are a lot of factors to consider when taking on your first 50K ultra. I’ve tackled a few so far and have picked up a few things along the way that I wish that I’d known as I stood under the start gantry for my first one.

Don’t let the distance daunt you

You’ve hit the wall before right? Chances are that by now, you’ve probably worked out that there is not just one wall to overcome in a long race. Know your walls. Mine generally pop up at miles 11 and 17. So I make sure that I prepare myself for the struggle ahead- this could be by pre-emptive fuelling so that I ensure that I’m not low on energy when things start to feel a bit overwhelming. If you don’t know your walls yet, just assume that they’re there. Because they are.

Another useful way to come to terms with the distance, is to break it up. Decide on your happy place. Mine is usually at half way and again at 5 miles to go. It’s always a boost getting past the half way mark, even better when you can start the 5 mile countdown.

One thing to bear in mind is that (especially on mountainous or trail races) it is fairly likely that you’ll be slightly over distance (your watch might over estimate, you might get lost). Prepare yourself mentally for a bonus mile! It is highly unlikely, even with the best will in the world, that it will be bang on 50K.

Prepare to succeed

The last 50K I ran, I didn’t look at the route/elevation map. It was nice to have a few surprises along the way. However, if it is your first one, it’s a good idea to get some facts straight before you line up at the start.

·   You’ll almost certainly have a kit list- follow it.

·   Study your route- people do get lost, route markers do get moved. It’s worth having a decent idea of the route. Make friends with the elevation profile- you might have a gentle downhill jog for the last two miles into the finish, or it might be your last significant climb. It’s useful to have a sense of this as it is often in those last few miles when you’re at your most stretched.

·   Give your kit a rigorous test beforehand so that your race isn’t ruined by unexpected hotspots and worse- chafing.

·   Think duration over distance, not all 50K’s are equal, you might be done in 5 hours or maybe even in 10. That’s going to impact on your planning for nutrition, clothing, kit etc. so do have a realistic idea of your time and bear in mind that this can significantly change depending on the terrain, elevation and even more difficult to plan for-the weather. Check out the forecast in the run up to your event.

The final few miles are always tough but if you can run a marathon, you can run an ultra. It is massively psychological.

The question perhaps should not be ‘Can I do it?’ it should be more like ‘Do I want it enough?’ if you do, you’ll make it round.

Hopefully you’ll have found a couple of tips here that make it a little easier.

Most importantly- enjoy it!