The Long and short of it

Posted on: 12 Jul 2017

Oh my goodness, where to start! Well, firstly, apologies for what will inevitably turn into another long ramble as it's three weeks since I last blogged and a lot has been packed in (hence no blogging time) but I'm happy as finally managed to catch up with all the blogs at last 😊 So I'll do a short version first then the full version.

Short version-

*23/6 to 25/6. Helped out at the Montane Spine Fusion and Flare Race for a weekend and it was really rewarding but totally knackering. 

*29/6 Training walk 28km in 5:24 around Henley, Hambledon and Medmenham. Didn't realise it was Henley regatta so the start and finish were rather chaotic and irritating. Ankle behaved relatively well.

*1/7 Tailrunner at Homewood Parkrun - sadly no running though as there were quite a few slow walkers. Great to entcourage them though!

*7/7 Last training walk before the next challenge - 42.3k in 7:48 with the temperature at 29C! Circular walk from home to Runnymede along the Thames Path. Ankle extremely unhappy for the last 10k and ever since.

This Saturday - the 50km Chiltern Challenge - wish me luck! I'm going to need every bit of it 😬

Long version - 

Last time we were about to go and help out at the Montane Spine Race. The Spine race is utterly brutal, usually being run in January, but this year two new summer races had been added - the Spine Flare and the Spine Fusion races. The race organisers had no idea when they came up with those names or the connotations in relation to the Ankylosing Spondylitis that Sir Bolty and I have. A bit of background here (and doing my bit for AS awareness!). Fusion is what can happen to your spine with this dratted disease - staying very active helps to prevent that in most cases thank goodness. Flare is when the disease bites hard and whatever medication you're on (gold standard or not), the body goes into overdrive and all sorts of joints (sternum - that one's nasty, hips, knees, feet, shoulders, hands etc) as well as the spine become inflamed and very painful. This is the time when it's most important to keep moving no matter how much it hurts, because in people with AS, sites where inflammation occurs have a tendency to lay down new bone rather than just settle and that's how fusion starts 😕 Anyway, back to the story - Raj Mahapatra, chairman of NASS and ultra runner truly extraordinaire, told the organisers of the incredible coincidence of terms and they agreed to make NASS their charity partner - absolutely brilliant 😀 Raj was also running the Fusion - the full 268 miles of the Pennine Way. Hope Sir Bolty doesn't mind me saying that he was going to run the Flare so NASS had one runner in each race, but sadly his AS is biting particularly hard right now 😢 It was just brilliant to have the chance to support and do something to help with this tremendous event 😊 

On the Friday, we set off just before 8 and arrived in Edale around 12.30pm - the traffic was a bit of a pain 😕 I don't travel well - to be honest, it's just plain painful and I stiffen up so much I do a good impression of the tin man! It was great to finally arrive and get moving again 😊 We made our way to the Village Hall and after meeting the team and having a bite to eat, we were assigned to register those runners who hadn't already registered online and check they'd filled in their medical forms, give them their race numbers, tee shirt and hat then direct them onto the next area to have their photo taken and random kit check. About two thirds had pre-registered all their details but we still had quite a busy afternoon. It was wonderful to see Raj too -

I was amazed how far some had travelled (Argentina, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Germany, France and Holland) but one thing united them all - the passion of ultra running, the love of the outdoors and that they were all really wonderful people who were an absolute joy to talk to 😊 Some were back for revenge after DNF's in the winter version, for many it was their first attempt at 'Britain's most brutal race'. 37 were down for the Flare (108 miles with a 60 hour time limit) and 25 for the Fusion (268 miles with a 168 hour time limit). There were 11 no shows for the Fusion who had pre-registered online and many hadn't let the organisers know - very strange. 

After registration was done, we made our way to the nearby Peak Centre where we were staying for the night - lovely comfortable accommodation where we had the chance to chat with all the support team and a few competitors and unwind and have a bite to eat. We didn't turn in too late as the race started at 8am next day. The legendary Pavel Paloncey was sort of part of the race - he was going to try and break the record for the Pennine Way, held by Mike Hartley who completed it in days 17 hours 20 minutes and 15 seconds, finishing on the 23rd July 1989. He only made two 18 minute stops over the whole distance!! Pavel was starting at 5am and I'm really not good at early mornings so I didn't actually get to see him start as it takes me a good couple of hours to get going, plus we had to be packed and ready to move as soon as the race started as we'd been asked to move up to CP1 near Hebden Bridge.

We were down at the start line in plenty of time for the main start though. The air of excitement was just wonderful - everyone smiling and raring to get go. It was quite a low key start - a count down from 10 and they were off! This was our cue to peg it back up to the Peak Centre and be allocated some kit to carry to CP1. It didn't take too long before we were back on the road again and off to Hebden Bridge. At that stage it was perfect running weather - cool, cloudy and dry and Edale looked moody and beautiful as we headed up out of the valley over Mam Tor. We were the first to arrive at CP1 (Hebden Hey Scout centre which is a couple of miles northwest of Hebden Bridge in the Hebden Beck Valley) so had bit of an explore. We went down to the river (eating wild bilberries all the way 😊) enjoying the lush greenness of this beautiful little valley - no shortage of rain in the last few months here like there had been back home! Down at the river, we found the most gigantic and impressive stepping stones 😀

Time for a quick look around then back to the Scout centre where other staff had started to arrive then it was all go. There was wifi in the Scout centre, but it lasted about half an hour before it crashed and the valley was so enclosed there was no phone signal. I offered to hike out a bit and try and find signal to see how the runners were doing and give us an idea of what time to expect the leaders. I didn't have to go that far horizontally but up a couple of steep paths and I found a clearing about 2/3 the way up the valley side where I could get a weak signal. Since I'd rather be active than sitting around waiting, progress reports became one of my jobs. According to Fitbit, this saw me climb about 360' on Friday and just over 100' on Saturday as well as log quite a large number of steps. We were encouraged to try our hand at all sorts of tasks - sorting out the drop bags, helping with the cooking, standing on the trail above the CP (which was lethal in its rocky slipperiness!) waiting for runners and greeting then shouting down their number so their drop bags were waiting to be carried to the centre for them (and from experience I know that quite a few hadn't read the '20kg max weight limit' rule 😂😂), filling water bags, making hot drinks, serving food - it really was great fun and so good to feel so useful 😊 

As I'm a night owl (and because Richard also had to do the long drive home the next day), I volunteered to do the shift until 3am while he slept from 8pm then he'd take over from me while I had a kip. By the time the runners arrived at CP1, they'd already covered 46 miles - hard to imagine that kind of distance between CP's!! A further five dropped put at CP1 - this certainly isn't a challenge for the faint hearted! They were well ready for a hot meal, hot drinks and a bit of kip. The miles had taken a toll on few already and sadly, two of the competitors two didn't make it to CP1. An excellent team of medics taped feet and dealt with blisters. By the time Richard came back at 3am, most of the runners had arrived and left although there were still a few en route and a few sleeping. I went off to the dorm to try and get sleep but knew within minutes there was no way I could sleep on those bunks so I went to the car instead and tried to sleep propped up with just a thin blanket around me. An hour later I woke up freezing cold and really sore so that was the end of that. A quick hot shower then back on duty. Now it was just seeing off the last few runners then starting the big clean up. 

We were all done by about 9ish and it was with great regret we left to start our journey home. I so wish we could have carried on and done more, it would have been great to see it through to the end. I avidly tracked the race for the rest of the week as the weather got worse and worse the further north they went. They said that conditions were worse than in the Winter Spine race! Franz Meiser had led the race from quite early on and very sadly, fell victim to the lousy conditions and had to be rescued, recognising that he was heading for hypothermia 😕 Pavel Paloncey's world record attempt also sadly ended after almost 59 hours and 198 miles due to stomach problems but what a runner!! The final results were 13 finished the Fusion, 10 DNF and 16 finished the Flare, 9 DNF and every single one of them was amazing for what they pushed themselves through - top respect indeed! Link to my pics on Facebook is -

Later that week, back to training and a long walk in through the Thames Valley and up into the  Chilterns. 28km in 5:24 with just under an hour of stoppage time on top (mostly trying to figure out where we'd gone wrong!). Richard was navigating and managed to get us lost three times. All extra miles and time on the feet though 😊 Although it was a relatively cool 17C, the humidity was up at 77% so it was a horrible sticky walk. Dull and overcast and with much of the walking in the Chilterns through dark dank woodland, it wasn't one of the best. The ankle, using the new Compressport calf sleeves with silicon buds around the ankle area, behaved quite well and although a bit sore by the end, it wasn't anything to really worry about. The thing we hadn't accounted for was that it was Henley Regatta week an we started and finished the walk in Henley! The first 4k along the Thames Path was full of jolly people in the most appalling blazers mostly getting throughly legless while supporting their rowers. Maybe I'm being a little cynical here but 4km of trying to dodge inebriated folk weaving around was a tad irritating. By the time we returned to Henley, it was even worse as they were even more inebriated, with one chap even wobbling off the towpath into the Thames in front of us - I didn't push him, honest, he was at least 5 metres away and I was glad that other people got rather damp rescuing him to be honest! For those who like stats -

The following Saturday saw me volunteer as tailrunner at my local Parkrun. It was an extremely slow 5k though - always good to encourage the walkers and do an extra 5k 😊

Last week was going to be the penultimate training walk (with a final 10 miler planned for this week) before the 50km Chiltern Challenge this Saturday - no tapering as such this time as training had been greatly foreshortened by my blasted ankle, . Richard wanted to really push the distance as he'd lost some confidence because of the lack of training but I wasn't so sure. I'd had a chat with one of our NASS physios and he said a stress fracture takes between 12 and 16 weeks to heal properly if you've done all the right things. As I've been pretty much doing all the wrong things, I was very uncertain about doing the suggested 26 miler before the challenge itself. I reluctantly agreed as long as it was a flat one on relatively even ground. In retrospect, I really should have gone with my first instinct! We did a local route, starting from home, following the local canal then River Wey to the Thames, then up the Thames Path to Runnymede and back again. Boy was it hot!! Just over 29C (but maybe good practice for the Sahara Challenge in October 😊 The first 10k were really enjoyable - loads of wildlife to see and lovely surroundings. Then the ankle started to niggle despite the fancy calf sleeves. This hadn't happened last time! Then again, much of the ground we'd covered in the last 6k had been pretty uneven so had probably taken its toll - didn't really think about that that, tending to assume that towpaths are nice and even, whereas in reality our local ones are pretty rough. Even long stretches of the Thames Path are far from even - didn't consider that either 😕 By the time we reached Runnymede I figured it was time to check the ankle while Richard went off and got us a cup of tea from the cafe there. The familiar lump was red again but at least there was no new swelling - that was a relief! The return leg was just a grind. As at the time of injury, anything really level or uphilL wasn't too bad but anything angled or downhill was causing a lot of pain. With 6k to go I was losing patience and just wanted to be home so I gritted my teeth and upped the pace and was really proud at the end as in terms of walk time (not counting stoppages) we'd managed a negative spilt by 54 seconds - take that stupid ankle! Here are the stats -

The aftermath 😕 By bedtime on Friday, walking was difficult and really painful despite icing up as soon as we got home. Saturday morning I was still hobbling but still managed to marshal at Parkrun. I haven't got the inclination to rest, it's just not me no matter how sensible and causes more pain elsewhere. By Saturday night Richard looked at me and said "well, I think that's the Chiltern Challenge out of the window then". He should have known better - nope! My answer was that this just would make it more of a challenge. I don't think that's what he wanted to hear but he's used to my crainzess by now! The ankle was slightly easier on Sunday although the peroneal tendons (ooh! spellcheck just tried to turn that into something naughty 😂😂) had joined in the fun. Out with the KT tape and the relief within half an hour was impressive. I immediately ordered new supplies (in beautiful NASS orange of course 😂) and things have settled down better than I could have hoped for as long as it's all taped. Two things have given me great hope. An Aussie cousin I chat online with told me that ballet dancers are renowned for continuing to perform on healing stress fractures and bind their ankles tightly with seemingly no ill effect on the healing process. I also had another chat with my NASS physio on Tuesday and he's advised carrying zinc tape as well so that if the pain gets bad, I have another kind of more protective strapping option and has shown me what I'd need to do to reduce the chance of further injury. I love it when you get people who don't tell you that you can't, but give you the knowledge to tell you how you might 😊 

I'm in no doubt at all that Saturday really is going to be a tough one and I'll give it everything I've got and just hope I've got enough to cross that finish line. I know the risk of re-injury is high but this is my year of big challenges and iM not getting any younger, so I'm going for it -  I'm determined to do them all.......for myself, and to raise funds for NASS, because without their incredible campaigning in the last few years, I wouldn't be on that gold standard treatment which has made such a difference to me since January 😊

If you can spare the odd quid it would be so appreciated 😊 I know it still says IOW challenge - can't figure out how to change it!


Happy training and see you on the other side 😀 



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