The Rapha Festive 500 – 2018

At this time of year Rapha sponsor a Strava challenge, the Festive 500. The aim being to cycle 500km in the eight days between Christmas Eve and New Years Eve. Read about the 2017 edition here and the 2016 edition here.

I have completed this challenge every year since 2012, so I was looking forward to this again. Over the years I’ve encountered the usual and expected problems, including very bad weather and having to work. This year though, I was attempting to run every day in December (read about it here), which when time is limited meant that the Festive 500 was put on the back burner. I managed three rides and a total of 219km. I don’t mind because I got to spend time with my parents, who came up from Salisbury, and then quality time with my wife. I also ran the Lancaster parkrun on Christmas day and the following Saturday, which was a great deal more fun than a three hour slog on the bike in the cold and the rain.

I did also manage to run on 30 of the days in December, only missing the 16th due to running a very tough half marathon in the Forest of Bowland the previous day (read about it here).

Next year who knows? Currently I’m enjoying riding a bit less, but riding more with my wife, as well as running with our silly pointer.

Wishing you all a happy new year.

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Veloviewer Maximum Square Revisted

Back in January I blogged about my maximum explorer square on Veloviewer (read about it here). To recap, a map can be split into squares or tiles, if you cycle or run into or through a square then it is highlighted or ‘ticked off’ on Veloviewer. If you can visit a whole load of them together you can create what is known as a ‘maximum square’. In January I was pleased that I had managed to expand my max square up to 16 x 16. I also mentioned that without swimming across the Ribble it would be difficult to expand my max square.

I’m sure that you can guess that I have managed to increase my max square. Not by swimming across the Ribble, but by cycling and running around Blackburn. By the middle of the year I had increased it to 18 x 18.

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In the north west it isn’t always easy to increase your max square, which is why I prefer to chase my max cluster score (read about my latest update here). The largest max squares are almost into three figures with the largest being 97 x 97. If you live in the middle of your max square it obviously makes it easier to expand it. To reach the nearest point of mine it is a 10 mile ride, and nearly 50 miles to the far point, including plenty of hills and built up areas, which isn’t the most pleasant of rides.

But, my job has moved office, allowing me to be able to go for a run in the morning before work, ticking off a few squares that are inaccessible by bike. A 70 mile ride from Horwich ticked off a few more, and now my max square is up to 23 x 23.

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23 x 23 isn’t very large and only takes me up 245th on the Veloviewer leaderboard, but as I said earlier, the north west isn’t the easiest area. There is still potential to increase this further, although I will be focusing on my max cluster.

Forest of Bowland Half Marathon

At the beginning of November me and my lovely wife took part in a Remembrance Day run organised by Howler Events (read about it here). When we had entered that event we also entered the Forest of Bowland half marathon, as it was much closer to home and we had cycled through Dunsop Bridge many many times. Knowing the area we knew that it would be hilly, and as the weather forecast was bad we packed extra layers, over and above what was on the ‘essential kit list’ that we had been told to bring.

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There was also a full marathon on at the same time, although they were setting off an hour earlier and once they had completed the half distance, they would turn around and do the same route in the opposite direction.

We made it to the start with plenty of time and chatted to an old friend who had recce’d the route on a very wet day a few weeks earlier. There were also quite a few familiar faces from the previous event that we’d done. This is one of the things that I like about Howler events in that they are like a great big friendly family.

At the start the weather was cold and windy, but at least it was dry, for now. Despite this I was wearing two long sleeved thermal tops and my heavier waterproof jacket, leaving my lighter waterproof in the car. Full leggings, double layered thermal woolly hat and gloves. I felt a little bit overdressed for about the first mile where it was sheltered from the wind, but as soon as we hit the first hill I was very glad that I was wrapped up toasty. There were a few people who were wearing shorts or were without gloves. I always prefer to be wearing too much. You can always take it off if you get too warm, but if you get cold you can be in trouble, especially if you’re miles from anywhere on the top of a fell, hence the ‘essential kit list’. I will be completely honest, there was one item on the list that I hadn’t got with me, and that was money as I knew that on this route it would be useless. A fold-up foil blanket was a much better option.

As we set off we all went the wrong way, turning left before the bridge into Dunsop and not after it. Most people found that to be quite amusing. As I mentioned earlier, when we climbed up the first very long climb, the wind was absolutely freezing and I was grateful for my beard. It was still quite boggy at the top as most of us unsuccessfully tried to avoid getting wet feet this early in the race. The route then dropped down to the first feed station at about the five mile mark. I had a camelback and food so all I grabbed was a biscuit without stopping.

This section of the route I knew well having cycled it a couple of times on mountain bikes, the last time in similar weather. About a mile after the feed station I went for a drink, but couldn’t get anything. Water in the tube had frozen solid. This was a little worrying, although dehydration wasn’t too likely. (It did un-freeze before the end of the race). The section of the route was on a wide farm track with plenty of frozen puddles to keep an eye out for.

On the Howler Facebook page the organisers had warned everyone about the sharp left turn off this track, which about five or six runners in front of me completely missed, even though there was a great big arrow. What should I do? I chased after them. I caught up with one guy who had stopped to check the route on his phone, realising that he had missed the turn. I tried to get the attention of the other group. Fortunately the other guy managed to whistle loud enough for them to hear. While this was going on, the nearest runner behind me had tried to get my attention. With everyone on the correct route I set off down the steep and technical path.

It was about then that the leader of the marathon went past me in the opposite direction. I was so surprised to see someone that soon that all I managed to say was ‘crikey!’ As the route started to drop we were out of the worst of the wind as a few other marathon runners passed me. They were going to have a rough run into that headwind I thought to myself. It was also about this time that it started to rain, and soon it was raining hard, but not just rain, it was freezing rain. I already had frozen snot in my beard, but now ice was forming on my clothes. Three good layers was just about right for the conditions.

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The last few miles were on a proper paved road, which was hard on my feet with trail shoes, and I almost came a cropper on some ice, as did my wife a little later, but before I knew it I was back in Dunsop Bridge and across the finish line. I wasn’t envious of the marathon runners as the conditions had seriously deteriorated, and I was very happy to see my wife safely across the finish line less than thirty minutes after me.

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The race HQ was full of friendly chat as we were handed our excellent medals. Not wanting to get stuck in the area if the weather turned even worse we headed for home. Later on we found out that the marathon had been called off by the Bowland and Pennine Mountain Rescue Team, who said that it was some of the worst conditions that they had ever witnessed.

Reading between the lines on Facebook the following week I got the feeling that there were a few people who were not prepared for a winter fell race, and didn’t have enough layers. I saw some very cold looking people coming in. The next event from Howler is in Holcombe and pre-race information appears to be far stricter about essential kit, and that it will be checked and if you don’t have it with you, you won’t be racing. Which does make sense to me. Unfortunately, we left it too late to enter the Holcombe Howler, but good luck to everyone who has entered.

The Forest of Bowland half marathon was easily the toughest half that I’ve ever done, and it was very well organised from the whole team. A big thank you to everyone involved and I’m sure that we will see you all again soon.

Book Review 2018 – Part XXI

Quite possibly the last book review of the year, and without doubt the best book of the year. I’m talking about 401 by Ben Smith.

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As the tagline states, he ran 401 marathons in 401 days, raising money for two charities close to his heart. If the book was only about running then it wouldn’t have a wider appeal, but it is also about the bullying he suffered at school. His aim was not just to raise money for Stonewall and Kidscape, but also raise awareness about bullying.

I was fortunate enough to meet and run with Ben when he was in Lancaster.12928357_783341198464415_4326431857990350773_n

A more friendly person you could not hope to meet. He had time for everyone who had turned out to run with him. This was back in March 2016 and the weather was appalling, chucking it down, although there was a good turnout from Morecambe Athletics and Running Club.

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I was running with Nelly, although she wasn’t keen on waiting around and it was the first time that I had run with her in a group. She was an absolute pest, wanting to be at the front. She was such a pain that I cut our run with Ben short, but he still found the time to wish me luck in my triple ironman race that I was planning on doing later that year (read about it here).

Back to the book, and one of the reasons that it affected me was because I was also bullied at school. I hated school so much I couldn’t wait to leave. Bullying turned me inwards. I tried not to be noticed in class, and as a result my grades suffered, which became a vicious circle, convincing me that I was thick. 20 years after I left school I went to Lancaster University to study Environmental Science and since then completed a PhD. Not thick then.

I wish that I had found out about Ben earlier on in his 401 marathons, because he ran for two days in Hull, when I was living there.

You should read this book as it is utterly inspirational, and I’ve struggled to find the words to do the book and Ben’s story justice.

 

Book Review 2018 – Part XX

Another book finished. The Associate by John Grisham.

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I have a kind of love/hate relationship with JG’s books. I find them very easy to read. Airport or holiday books, perfect for sitting on a beach, but sometimes they lack enough meat for me to get my teeth into. The last one I read, which I can’t remember the name of, and I can’t find a review for, was eminently forgettable.

The Associate is much better and kept me interested all the way through. I won’t give a run down on the plot, because the plot is fairly thin. The cover of the book says it all. It’s a deadly game of blackmail, and they’re making him play.

As with most of Grisham’s books, there isn’t really a satisfying ending. You can tell when you’ve only got 40 or 50 pages left to read and there are still loads of loose ends, that many of the threads and characters are going to be left hanging. Not a bad book by a long way and definitely better than anything by Dan Brown, but nothing special, hence why I took the book to the next street where there is a little free library (read about it here).

The Hunt for Red December

RED is a running acronym for Run Every Day, and for obvious reasons RED October is the most popular month to have a go at this challenge. This doesn’t mean that you can’t do a RED month at other times, or even extend it longer, Ron Hill style. He famously ran at least one mile every day for 50 years. That is a bit much for me, so I’m having a go at running every day in December. I’ve even persuaded my lovely wife to join me.

The first three days of December the weather has been fairly horrible, although we completed the Lancaster University Santa Dash on Day 2 (read about it here).

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Day 3 we once again ran together, although it was after work in the dark so we only ran 3k. I haven’t given myself any rules for the month. Some people give themselves a daily minimum, often 5k, but the Santa Dash was less than 3k, so we intend to just go for a run and see how we feel on the day.

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Today was Day 4 and I managed a gentle 5k run early in the morning with Nelly, who almost caught a rabbit in the park, while my wife took Nelly out for a run later in the day.

I’m not sure if we’ll manage the whole month, especially as both me and my wife have entered a particularly tough half marathon trail race in the middle of December. Hopefully we’ll finish the month injury free feeling stronger and fitter.

Santa Dash

Santa Dash’s are everywhere now. Until today I’d never done one. Last week there was one on in the centre of Lancaster, which I didn’t really fancy. Too many shoppers. Today though, the University were organising their own Santa Dash. £5 entry, free Santa hat, medal and a mince pie, with all profits going to Dementia charities.

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The ‘race’ was a very friendly and relaxed affair, with well over 100 entrants, mostly students. The route was one lap of the campus, up through the woods next to the M6 and back down to the lake next to the sports centre.

My lovely wife told me to push on and go at my pace, but I was quite happy to run at Helen’s pace. There were no prizes for the winners, or even anyone taking down numbers as we finished. Position and time completely irrelevant. The course was advertised as 3km, but my Garmin had it down as 2.6km. Again, not important.

I had thought about going out cycling in the afternoon, but the weather was once again cold and wet, so one lap walk of the park with Nelly was the favoured option. It was a great little event and well done to the students who organised it. We will be back next year, especially as each year my beard is a little more greyer.

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Finally, a big thank you to everyone involved.