50km Canalathon

As I mentioned in the last couple of posts, last weekend me and my beautiful wife went to Sowerby Bridge as I had entered the 50km Canalathon, which I blogged about earlier in the year (read about it here). We set off on the Friday, and as expected we got stuck in traffic. As we reached Sowerby Bridge I noticed a camper van with the race organiser’s logo emblazoned on the side. Much to my wife’s dismay I waved at the driver, who waved back. Good start to the weekend I thought.

My wife had booked a hotel for the two of us plus Nelly, our mostly well behaved pointer. However, the hotel was at the top of a very steep hill, with narrow roads and far too much traffic. Not easy. Hotel was nice, room was clean and tidy, so we went off for a walk into Sowerby Bridge to forage for food.

As I’ve mentioned many times, we are keen parkrunners, so the Saturday morning we headed to Shroggs Park in Halifax to complete our fiftieth parkruns (read about it here).

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The rest of Saturday was spent pottering around Hebden Bridge before heading back to the hotel for some rest, food and a bit of reading. We also took Nelly for a walk who managed to catch a baby rabbit. I had also purchased Running Up That Hill by Vassos Alexander as inspiration for my big race. (You can read a book review here).

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The next morning we were up early, too early, but it did mean that we snagged a parking spot almost as close to the race HQ as it was possible to get. I picked up my number, complete with timing chip, goody bag and had my kit checked. There was an extensive essential kit list, most of which was obvious; food, water, hat (not a buff), gloves, waterproof jacket, a cup, head torch and waterproof over trousers. Last year me and Helen completed a half marathon in the Trough of Bowland in horrendous conditions (read about it here), so I’m all for essential kit lists. The cup is a good idea so that single use disposable cups are not required. However, the cut-off for the 50km race was 6.30pm, when it would be still light, and the forecast stated that there was less than a 5% chance of rain. Therefore, after my kit check, I removed the head torch and over trousers from my lightweight running bag, hoping that there wouldn’t be another kit check in Manchester or at the finish.

There were also two other races; 75km and 100km versions. The 75km started in Sowerby Bridge, went to Oldham and returned. The 100km went all the way to Manchester and back. The 50km race, which I was doing was just from Manchester to Sowerby Bridge, along the Rochdale Canal, hence the name, Canalathon. Buses were provided, if required, to transport people to the start, so we watched the 100km runners set off and then I jumped on the bus, while my wife and our dog would keep themselves occupied walking, eating and reading. To be fair, Nelly didn’t do too much reading as she was still happy from catching a rabbit the day before.

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Once at the start there was a huge queue for the portaloos, so the start was delayed by 15 minutes. I couldn’t believe how many people there were. A friendly bloke called Dom told me that there had been 250 entries for the 50km race. I stayed chatting with Dom all the way to the first feed station at 10 miles in Rochdale. He was an experienced ultra runner having completed both the 75km and 100km versions in previous years.

My aim in the race was to hopefully finish in less than six hours, although I really wanted less than five. We were definitely going a bit quick as we passed 10km in just under the hour. We were also amazed when the leader of the 100km race passed us in the opposite direction when we’d done almost 13km. It meant that he had done over 37km in less than three hours, although he still had another 63km to go.

I spent some time faffing at the feed station with my kit, before eating some salted new potatoes and using my cup, which was really annoying as I couldn’t find anywhere to put it where it didn’t bang about. I couldn’t see Dom, so I assumed that he had already set off. I didn’t mind as I quite like running on my own, and there was plenty of other runners about.

The canal started to get a bit more scenic as we were now out of the built up areas, and just before three hours I came to the second feed station, which was close to the top lock. Downhill all the way to the finish. More salted potatoes, more flat coke and a handful of jellies. Ultra running really is like a kid’s party; there’s peanuts, sweets, coke and lots of running around.

It was about now that I had the first of my vegan energy balls that my wife had made me. The ginger and chocolate ones coated in chia seeds. They gave me a well needed boost. If you search out Bunny’s Bakes on Instagram or Facebook, my wife’s baking business, she is hopefully going to be selling her energy balls soon.

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Unfortunately, as soon as the canal started to head down, my left knee started to complain. I ignored it and focused on passing the marathon mark in less than four hours, which was a good mental boost. I knew that I was going to finish, even if I had to walk the last five miles, but I was still on course or a sub five hour finish. Through Todmorden, large cobbles to navigate at a lock, and into Hebden Bridge.

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Having walked this section the day before I knew there wasn’t far to go. A short rise and I phoned Helen to let her know my expected arrival time, before finding a surprise feed station at just under five miles to go. Everything was hurting at this point. If I’m going to do more ultra runs I definitely need to do more long runs, not just two, with the longest only being 30km.

I had been counting down lock numbers from near to the start, and would only allow myself to look at my watch to check time and distance when I reached the next lock. I was now counting down bridge numbers as well, knowing that they would be at ‘two’ when the race came off the canal. We had also recce’d the route from the canal to the finish so that I would know where to go, knowing that my mind would be in a mess by the end as well. What was interesting was that there was an old disused cycle speedway track next to the finishing field, where I had raced back in 1988 with the Hull Cycle Speedway Club. We had finished runner’s up in the Yorkshire League Cup.

Past the cycle speedway track and onto the field where smiling Helen and excited Nelly were waiting. I crossed the finish line in four hours and 49 minutes. Very pleased, but also very tired. Need food! I had completed my first point to point ultra run. T-shirt and bobble hat will be worn with pride and the medal is with all my others on display.

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The whole event was brilliantly organised by Cannonball Events, and very friendly. I don’t generally like to enter the same races again, but this is one that I would consider doing next year. If you want to have a go at an ultra race, this is the one for you. Only 8km longer than a marathon, if you do the 50km race, not too hilly and almost impossible to get lost.

A final big thank you to everyone involved, especially all of the amazing marshals, and to Dom, who hadn’t set off in front of me at the first feed station and finished only a couple of minutes behind me.

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Book Review: Vassos Alexander – Running Up That Hill

Last weekend me and my beautiful wife spent a few days in Sowerby Bridge, where among other things we both managed to complete our fiftieth parkrun (read about it here). The reason we were there was because I had entered Canalathon; a 50km run from Manchester to Sowerby Bridge along the Rochdale Canal, which you will be able to read about as soon as I’ve written it 🙂

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I’m getting slightly ahead of myself. Vassos Alexander used to be the sports guy on the Chris Evans Radio 2 Breakfast Show, until they moved to Virgin. He also co-presents the parkrun free weekly times podcast (read about it here). As well as all that, he is a runner, and a very good ultra-runner, which is what this book is all about. Seeing as Canalathon would be my first point to point ultra run, it seemed apt to read about ultra running in the days before the race. Maybe I could pick up some last minute tips, or just get a bit of a mental boost.

Of course for Vassos, a 50km run is nothing to write home about, as he has completed 50 milers, 100 milers and Spartathon. The final race, Spartathon, threads it’s way throughout the book, with the history and background.

Also throughout the book are interviews with some of the best known ultra runners, including Ben Smith (read about him here), and Kilian Jornet, as well as Chrissie Wellington and many others. This adds another dimension to the book, especially with interesting tales from regular people, who just happen to enjoy longer than normal runs. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, and even if you have no intention of ever running further than a marathon, the book is still a very good read.

Book Review: Philip Reeve – A Darkling Plain

The last of the four Mortal Engines series, and it neatly wrapped up all of the loose ends from book three. Reviews for the first three books can be found here and here.

 

Once again I don’t want to write too much about what happens in the final book as it would give away what happens in books two and three. Suffice it to say all of the main characters are there, including Shrike, who was permanently killed by Tom in an earlier book, and has been resurrected (again), although with some quirks. Hester is there, as expected, and Tom and her paths cross over, missing each other at crucial junctions, as does their daughter.

I have really enjoyed all of the books in this series, and although they can be found in the ‘Young Adult’ section of a book shop, they are not in the least bit immature. The whole idea of a wasteland with huge moving cities hunting and devouring smaller cities fascinated me, and as soon as the film is released on DVD (or Netflix) I will make sure to watch it.

Films are rarely as good as the book, with the exception of The Shawshank Redemption, but with Peter Jackson involved in the production it could well be quite good. I missed it at the cinema so please don’t tell me if it is rubbish.

I have toyed with buying the Illustrated World of Mortal Engines, but however well everything has been imagined and drawn, it won’t look like how it all looked in my mind.

Final question is, should I read the other four books set in the same world?

50 parkruns

It’s taken a while, but this weekend me and my beautiful wife finally managed to complete 50 parkruns. Our first parkrun was two and a half years ago at Skipton, a four lap affair with narrow paths. I remember it being tricky to overtake (or be overtaken) with less than 200 runners, so how they managed this year with over 400 is a mystery.

I reached 49 parkruns back in January when we went out to Ulverston for the Ford parkrun (read about it here). My wife still needed another three parkruns so that we could complete our 50th together. Due to various reasons this has taken a while. Ice and wind meant that Lancaster was cancelled twice in February and again in March. We also went on holiday to Skye for a week and had planned on running Strathclyde parkrun on the way up, but due to a ten car pile up on the motorway we missed the start.

It would have been nice to complete our 50th at our home parkrun in Lancaster, but as we were in Sowerby Bridge at the weekend we ran at the Halifax parkrun in Shroggs Park, and very nice it was too.

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Official Council signs in the park were a nice touch, implying that the local council are keen to promote it, along with silly little signs like the one below. It wasn’t that big a hill, but we did have to run up it three times.

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I was racing the next day so I was more than happy to run round with Helen and our pointer, Nelly. A pleasant little three and a half laps with just over 150 runners made for a good run and a happy post run family selfie.

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I had a look on the parkrun stats website from Elliot Line (read about it here) and over 1300 people completed their 50th parkrun this weekend. All we have to do now is wait for an email with a link so that we can claim our free T-shirts, which we will wear with pride.

Out of the 50 parkruns that we’ve done, Ulverston had the friendliest marshalls, although we’ve never met a grumpy one. Fountains Abbey was the most picturesque, Cheltenham was the largest and Barrow had been running the longest.

Obviously next up is to complete 100, but I’m also looking forward to Morecambe parkrun starting up in a few weeks, as one of the drawbacks of Lancaster is that the nearest alternative parkrun is Preston, Fleetwood or Fellfoot. We’re also looking at attempting to complete one new tourist parkrun each month, with the nearest event not done yet (NENDY) being at Blackpool.

Here’s to the brilliance that is parkrun and long may it continue.

Book Review: Matthew Quick – The Silver Linings Playbook

Me and my beautiful wife spent an amazing week on the Island of Skye, and although I had taken a couple of books with me the cottage where we were staying had a small shelf of books.

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One of them was The Silver Linings Playbook. I’d heard of the film but but not seen it, and as it looked interesting one very wet and windy day I started to read it. Before I knew it I was 50 pages in, generally a good sign. However, I wasn’t really finding any of the characters particularly likeable, especially Pat, the focus of the book.

The book begins with Pat being released from a psychiatric hospital, a.k.a. ‘The Bad Place’, and into the care of his mother. Pats reason to live is to reconcile with his wife, ending the ‘Apart Time’, to be a better person, get fit and to look for the silver lining. Along the way there is a great deal of American football, his therapist, the grumpy dad, the well meaning brother, along with the mysterious Tiffany.

I finished the book in a couple of days as I really wanted to know what was going on and how it would all end. Despite this I’m not sure if I would recommend it as it was quite dark and depressing in places, and if I’m completely honest I didn’t feel any real empathy with the main characters. If the book hadn’t been on a bookshelf where we were staying I doubt if I would ever have read it.

The book was definitely quirky, almost a rom-com, without the romance and very little to laugh about.

Quiraing Mountain

As with most cyclists I love a good hill to climb. I’m also an avid collector of Simon Warren’s books; The 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs, sequel and subsequent regional spin-offs. So when my beautiful wife booked us a weeks holiday on Skye, and that we would be bringing our bikes along, I had to check to see if there were any climbs near to where we were staying. Low and behold, climb #170, Quiraing was ten miles away. Confusingly though, it is given a 5/10 rating in the Another 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs book, and a 6/10 in the regional Cycling Climbs of Scotland book.

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We had been for a run on our first full day on Skye and had been caught in a sudden snowstorm, so when the forecast was good for the Monday we decided to go for it. Many of the roads in the area are very narrow with frequent passing places, so you get used to having to pull over to let cars past. It can be frustrating and slow going, but we were on our touring bikes anyway.

The ten miles to Saffin Bay flew by with amazing views almost constantly, and then we were are the start of the climb. The revised score is only a 6/10, while our local climb, Jubilee Tower is a 7/10, so how hard could it be. We slowly made our way up the lower section, stopping a couple of times to let cars, vans and a minibus past.

The, just beyond the cemetery, we saw the road curving up, with a couple of hairpin bends and plenty of snow at the top. It looked formidable.

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“Steady way” was our motto as we slowly made our way up, avoiding cars coming down and the snow in the middle of the road. I stopped at the last hairpin to take a few photos and to warn Helen if there was any traffic coming down.

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And then we were at the top, where the car park was full. We opted to push on down to Uig, the gentle side, with much less traffic, although we had to contend with a horrific head wind.

Fortunately, we changed direction for the last four miles back to our rented holiday cottage. Funnily enough, we both said that the climb looked far tougher than it actually was, and turned out to be a pleasant climb. It was the middle of March and there were still quite a few cars on the hill, so I would not want to cycle up there in the middle of summer as it would be far too busy.

Swimming somewhere new

I can’t be the only person who really doesn’t like going to a ‘new’ pool. Once I’ve been a few times I’ve generally got it sussed, but the first time always freaks me out a little. I’ve been doing triathlons for close to 30 years, and I’ve moved around a fair bit in that time as well, so I’ve swum in some great pools and some terrible ones.

The thing is, until you’ve been in the pool you don’t really know what it’s going to be like. Additionally, you don’t know when the best time to go will be. Generally the early bird swim is a good option. Will the changing rooms be village style or separate rooms? Will the showers be rubbish? Will I have the correct change for the locker? Will the pool suck? How long will the pool be? Most pools are 25m, but when I lived in Chichester the pool was 33 yards. I could never get used to it, although that is better than many gyms which boast about having a pool; invariable they turn out to be 15 or 20m long, if you’re lucky.

I was on a triathlon training camp in Cyprus and we had the chance to use a 50m open air pool. Fantastic is all I can say about that. I think the nearest 50m pool to me is in Manchester.

Two and a half years ago I started working in Leigh. I borrowed the car on a Monday so that I could go for a swim before work. The pool in Leigh near to the rugby league ground was one of the worst. The water was very warm, the pool was always busy and the ‘fast’ lane wasn’t. I soon found an alternative pool to swim in before work in Howe Bridge. The water was cooler and it wasn’t as busy, although there was a complete lack of lane etiquette, as I blogged about at the time (read about it here).

The reason I mention this was because last week I was visiting my Mum in Salisbury, and as I didn’t have my bike or running shoes a swim seemed like the logical alternative. Less than 1km walk there is a very large sports centre with an 8-lane wide 25m pool, open at 6am. The early opening suits me as I’m always awake at that time, but the price wasn’t to my liking; £5.95 for a swim, plus 20p or the locker which was non-refundable. Between 6 and 8am half of the pool was reserved for the swimming club so the other lanes were a little busy. The one drawback (apart from the price) was that I was slower than everyone in the ‘fast’ lane and quicker than everyone in the ‘medium’ lane.

Last year my job moved near to Bolton and the pool in Horwich is one of the best that I’ve used, which is another reason why I don’t intend to look for a job somewhere else.

May your pool be nice and cool and a lane all to yourself.