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The business Ed & Phil (www.edandphil.co.uk) supports several athletes; Phillip Howells is one of those athletes. In 2012 he is trying to improve on his 2011 podium place in the over 60 category of the UK Ultra-running Championships. Below is his blog detailing how things are going, his thoughts and hopefully his steps towards victory.

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25th April 2012 - Writing this first blog as an old age pensioner (65 last Friday, although been drawing my bus pass and Senior Rail Card for some time, lol!) is a good time to reflect on ultras achieved and those to come - and the year has a lot more of those than done so far! So no thoughts of retiring even if I could afford it because the Ed & Phil business has need of me and me of it! -:)

The second race in the 12 event Run Further UK Champs series was the 37 mile Calderdale Hike on 14th April, and it was tough! One thing that most people don't realise about these events is that you don't simply turn up and run. Many are self-navigating and require lots of preparation and making sure you have the compulsory 'safety kit' to even be allowed to start. That requires thorough route and map preparation beforehand and then making sure you don't get lost on the day to add to distance and time. This can be critical with cut-off times in place at key checkpoints.

The Calderdale included sections over completely open moorland and having to follow a compass bearing across lots of terrain that can only be described as bog. I finished OK, but only just, since I was not feeling great - I was with the last group to finish in a very modest 11.30, although I was 2 hours quicker than them since they were walkers who had set out earlier. However, it was a bit of a shock to have struggled so much, although sneezes earlier in the week gave me a warning that maybe the system was not working quite as efficiently as it should have been.

I've mainly rested the last two weeks, partly because I was very drained after that run (missed the Coventry 40 the day after and went home to bed instead) and so felt it better to rest for the major challenge of this coming weekend - and also to give me a running free weekend to celebrate my coming of age!

The celebrations included a visit to the Much Wenlock Poetry Festival the Friday before the Calderdale. This was not just for my literary erudition, but was to hear some readings in the Lady Forester Hospice where I was born 65 years earlier less just one week. Quite nostalgic and got me a special mention from the audience. Also listened to readings of Olympic poems (the other claim to fame for Much Wenlock is of course inspiration for the modern Olympic Games) and then a run afterwards with the Ed & Phil resident poet Kathy Tytler and a couple of locals including Wenlock marathon organiser Chris Dunkerley.

So to this weekend's significant challenge - the 61 mile 'The Fellsman' with over 10,000 feet of climbing and the 3rd Ultra Champs counting event. I should be fit enough, but with not feeling that well the past couple of weeks I do feel apprenhensive about how I will perform, especially since the weather looks like being very testing and map reading/navigation skills being at a premium. However, will give it my best shot and I do feel very privileged to have got into the 50th anniversary version of this famously extremely tough race. Good news in my next blog I hope? Happy running in the meantime.

9th April 2012 - Well, with 12 events in the UK Ultra Champs series and only one done, I can already see it is going to be really tough to complete them all (that's assuming I can afford/get in them all of course!). The Wuthering Hike on 10th March was exceptional; stunning course, good weather, very good organisation and a real tester with lots of hills and mud! It went OK until I fell on a rocky descent, which hurt!! After crying for a few minutes, lol!, managed to get going again with ripped gloves and a painful arm and shoulder which came out in big blue bruises all over the place a few days later. So a finish, not pretty and time not great - certainly not competitive enough to be anywhere in the O60 competition - but it is early days and could highly recommend the race.

Building the mileage beforehand, the 45m Greenman Ultra around Bristol the weekend before went fine, steady run with Maria Davis for company and a 13 hour finish, then up to the Lake District for the lovely Haweswater half. Very slow start, but finished strong in 2-07 and 60 miles in the bank.

A Scottish weekend on an Ed & Phil business trip with Edward to visit some of our customers and spend time with Dave and the Sandbaggers crew, also incorporated a 6 hour run over the Pentland Hills above Edinburgh. We've long had an ambition to run them and were not disappointed. Brilliant day and beautiful scenic hills; some tough climbs and descents but very rewarding and highly recommended for some good training. Complemented it next day with a run up Arthur's Seat - very strong winds but amazing views over the city as a reward.

Done a couple of new marathons since - Charnwood in Leicestershire and the Broad Meadows Good Friday marathon, both excellent, especially Chris Seeney's race on Good Friday. Small local events like these with enthusiastic organisation and looking after their runners are much more enjoyable than the big ones, however iconic they might be! Support Chris if you can at his next races - see www.broad-meadow-runs.co.uk.

Next weekend is a big one; the second Ultra Champs counter - the 37m Calderdale Hike which is going to be another tough one over the Pennines. Hope it goes a bit better than the Wuthering Hike - not falling will help! Lol! Next day I have foolishly entered the Coventry 40 to 'get the miles in' for the planned 100 miler in July. May be walking that a bit!? Hope you running is going well.

25th February 2012 - After a quiet-ish February race wise, but some good solid training done, things now start to get serious - and with a real cultural theme!

Tomorrow, when we had planned to hold the first Ed & Phil Poets Path Potter marathon, will instead be a preview run for a 2013 race we hope, after postponing an actual race this year due to some course issues that we want to resolve first. So we expect some 20-30 local runners will test the course over a choice of Poets Path II (8 miles), plus Poets Path I (8 miles, for 16 in total), plus the Daffodil Way (10 miles, for 26 in total). Should be fun, with our resident Poet, Kathy Tytler reading a running poem before we start (could include her passionate recital of 'The Hill that is better than sex'), and Angie and Kim providing welcoming tea and cakes after each loop at Dymock Cricket Club. The lovely countryside paths are so named after a community of famous poets who lived in the area around World War I time with landmarks still around to commemorate their stay.

This is just a pipe warmer for March though. Saturday 3rd March is the 45 mile Greenman run around Bristol, organised by UltraRunning - www.ultrarunning.uk.com - with support from running retailer MOTI who organised it last year. Last year I did it in just under 11 hours to become a 'Woodwose' (an ancient name for a person of the forests and trails), which title you get for running the circuit in under 12 hours. With Ed & Phil partner Edward doing the promo bit for us on the day, we then travel up for some more culture at the Keswick Literary Festival with some running themed sessions the next 2 days and taking in the Haweswater Half marathon on the Sunday - a near 60 mile weekend if I make it all?

Enriched by all this physical and cultural input, the following weekend is the first of 12 rounds of the 2012 UK Ultra Champs, with yet another cultural link. The 32 mile Wuthering Hike (also known as the Haworth Hobble) - which the erudite of us will know is in the area famous for the Bronte Sisters - will be the first real test of my fitness preparation for the series. Looking forward to it.

23rd January 2012 - Time to start the 2012 blog. I've had had time to bask in achieving the goal of a podium place in last year's UK Ultra Running Champs (finishing 3rd 60 overall, although a bit disappointingly slipping from second in the last race, the Rotherham 50, when slowed by a dicky tummy).

I then took a deliberate long distance break in the weeks before Christmas (although doing some short stuff like cross country races to keep the fitness edge), which was really beneficial in freshening me up mentally and gave time to catch up on some 'housekeeping' jobs which also gave me a good feeling. Certainly the right decision to practice what Ed & Phil preach and most runners do badly - recharge the batteries regularly!

The long Christmas break was a great opportunity to put the starting touches to the new year's programme which included event and training planning and a really enjoyable mix of three short running races, some cycling and a couple of long runs, which set me up great for the new year. Hope you managed to make as good use of your break to set you up for 2012?

As a result and in total contrast to last year when I was still recovering from my traumatised back muscles, I have been really motivated in January to get stuck into a training programme designed to see me celebrate the year in which I become an OAP (yes, 65 in April) with at least one place improvement in the ultra champs and tackling my first 100 mile race - better late then never!

The key goals are therefore first, to not only complete the 4 counting events to score in the champs, but also do what few manage each year, to complete all 12 races in the series - ranging from the 33 mile Osmotherley Pheonix to the 61 mile Fellsman. Second is to complete the Wenlock Olympian 100 miler at the end of July; especially appropriate since not only did the Much Wenlock olympics inspire the modern games, but it is also my birthplace.

Two ultras/marathons done 'in training' already this year (Winter Tanners 30 and Gloucester Marathon) with the first ultra series event on March 10th. Getting my faithful Wigwam and ToeToe socks and UK Gear XC-09 shoes combination ready for the challenge and looking forward to catching up with lots of our ultra friends at the races.

Our next stop though is the Xtreme Energy Pilgrims Challenge when Ed & Phil and Wigwam are sponsors rather than runners, so we will be cheering mates on at a checkpoint each day rather than running this time - hope to see you there.

24th September 2011 - Running has definitely been better in the last month! Despite the still bruised ribs even now (the doc did say it would probably take at least a couple of months for the pain and effect on breathing when trying hard to ease away) the Enigma Gold marathon produced my best marathon time of the year so far - 4-13-27 - and although I felt I could have got under 4 hours before the start, and I ran pretty consistently, I was always just behind the pace needed. A windy day on laps around the lake at Bletchley, quite pretty and well done to David 'Foxy' Bailey for his no-fuss and good atmosphere promotion; a credit to his continual and determined charity fund raising activities.

The next weekend was a bit different for Ed & Phil again - this time we spent the Saturday in a prominent position in the Silverlink Newcastle branch of Waterstones to promote and sell our training logs, Fit Food book and a couple of books from Matt Beardshall with their emotional accounts of how he trained and accomplished challenging running events whilst supporting and being supported by his wife fighting serious illness. 'Run Like Hell' is an inspiring read of life and sport. We sold a few books and spoke to a lot of runners, many down to tackle the GNR a couple of weeks later.

Next day I had a place in the Angels 10k road race, but to get a 'good training day' in I cycled over and back, some 50 miles on the bike and 6 running; a bit tired afterwards, lol! Seriously, these 'short' races are in some ways much tougher (well 'harder' at least) than an a 30 mile ultra! Needless to say, I broke no records in the 10k - apart from perhaps being near to my slowest than my quickest! -:)

Back to normal by next week; the 'Honeystreet 52km ultra over very scenic terrain along the Kennet Canal, through the Savernake Forest and over the Marlborough Downs. Did OK; under 7 hours and my highest place ever in an ultra - 6th place and actually 'sprinting' for 4th! Sounds very impressive until I tell you that only 10 finished the event! Still you have to be in it to get the places as the saying has it.

Then the serious stuff last weekend - the really tough but stunningly scenic High Peaks 40 miler and the penultimate event in the UK Ultra Champs. I was looking for a time under 9 hours if possible, but anything under 10 would be alright I thought beforehand. Ran pretty well to record 9-04-17; reasonably satisfying and I did indeed achieve my objective of increasing my points score for my best 4 counting events. I ran in my UK Gear XC-09 off-road shoes this time and that was a excellent choice because it did rain and some of the very steep and rocky ascents and descents were extremely slippy and their great grip was very reassuring when needed.

It was just as well I ran strongly, because although I retain my 2nd overall in the O60 category and can not finish lower than 4th, my nearest challenger, well known ultra runner Dick Scroop, is very close.

In fact, although he has not done a 'long' counting ultra yet, he is a tantalising 6 points ahead over his best three and scored two points more than me in the Peaks with a 9-02 time - so we are very well matched and the final result is very close to call. The current 4th guy also has to do his long yet, but on other scores the 2nd and 3rd places look to be between Dick and me with just the one event remaining - the 'long' Rowbothams Round Rotherham 50 on 15th October. Going to be a cliff hanger all the way to late pm that day if Dick starts. I am of course entered to run and appropriately, it will also be my 50th ultra if I finish it. 

There was lots to do between now and then though, including a very rewarding evening on Thursday listening to and meeting with Caballo Blanco of Born to Run fame. A genuine and modest guy who it was a privilege to meet.

My legs have been quite tired after the very tough terrain of the High Peaks 40 this week and my 10 mile run today was very sluggish! Probably just as well we have the 'Ed & Phil' stand at the Outdoor Trade Show for the next three days and at which we are excited to be launching our Alpina shoes UK distributorship. Looking forward to lots of orders (we hope!).

The first cross-country race of the year next weekend and then the Chester marathon the week after will complete my 'taper'(?) for the Rotherham 50; it can't be harder than last time when it was very cold, wet and windy and half the field retired, but it is still a challenging proposition.  However, with all to play for in the champs you can be sure I will be giving it my best shot. Good running.

22nd August 2011 - Well it didn't go quite to plan! The Tour of Bradwell was a disaster in running terms and I literally crashed out and missed the time cut-off by 'miles'! Despite feeling pretty confident and well before the start, it was a very sluggish beginning and I never really felt I got going. The terrain was stunning and very rugged, with a steep canyon-like rocky stream descent in the first few miles; I was already behind schedule. Normally a pretty good map-reader, I found the instructions today quite confusing and went off course a couple of times early on.

Then in vainly attempting to locate a remote 'Druids Rock' checkpoint up on the cloudy moors I missed my footing and fell rather heavily. Fortunately not too rocky, but still quite shaken. Must have cleared my mind though because I then found the self-punch checkpoint soon after. But just as I thought I was back on track, the instructions took me off on a detour again (and even the organiser agreed the notes were confusing due to some changes in signs on the moors) so I lost more time. 

Then followed a steep climb up to a great view point, with my frustration and growing realisation I was struggling to get to the time cut-off point somewhat assuaged by chatting to a very pretty Australian girl enjoying some Peaks hiking - we were to meet up 2 or 3 times as they went on different routes and I looked for the next checkpoint. In vain! I later learnt that it had already been collected by the sweeper. 

It was raining a bit now and realising I was not going to find the check point I tried to make up time on the descent, when my shoes slipped on steep wet rock and down I went again. This time it really hurt as my ribs on my left side collided with a rock and that rather dazed me for a few minutes I can tell you! Fortunately my water bottle pack took some of the blow to my back, but I was not at all sure I had not broken something. It took a while to gingerly get going again as I descended - shakily it must be said - off the hill and through a lovely tree covered path to see my Australian friend again, Despite only just meeting, she gave me a big hug when she saw I was clearly hurting and a bit of blood was in evidence. Some compensation there at least - and I deserved it! -:)

I eventually got the next checkpoint, but guess what? Yes it was deserted, so, since the start/finish point was luckily only about 5 miles away across country, I resigned to the inevitable and made my way there. The organisers knew I was 'missing' and were relieved to see me so a search party was not needed. I was actually in a pretty shaky state and took it easy for an hour or two before attempting the long drive home. 

Shows how easily things can go wrong and we should never take these tough events for granted. Fortunately I am very experienced and was well equipped - emergency stuff might only be needed occasionally, but when it is you have to be reminded how important it is to be prepared. I did make a wrong decision on shoes that probably caused the slip though. I have a couple of pairs of UK Gear shoes; the PT-1000 hybrid which is excellent as a mixed road and trail shoe, and my XC-09's, which are better for really rugged, wet and very slippy conditions since they have more grip. I debated which pair to use before the start but decided on the PT-1000 because it was dry and they would be faster, but should have made the other decision because it promised rain.

However, I recovered enough to do OK in the Elsecar Skelter 27 miles LDWA event near Barnsley the next week and even finished as the 11th person home after a steady but strong run, even though it was actually quite difficult to breath hard with my still very sore ribs.

The next day Edward and I ran the UK Backward Running championships which we, through our supplier ToeToe Socks, had sponsored with socks for category winners and a £50 Delimann hamper for the most money raised by runners in the supporting fun event. My breathing did not help, but we were never in the running for prizes (can you imagine, Garret Doherty of Ireland, the defending champion, set a new course record of 7mins 6secs for the 1 mile course?). We were satisfied with our times of 15+ (me) and 18+ minutes respectively though and the fun of the occasion - not to mention some great business exposure of course; our local papers and radio and some running press took a great interest is us doing something so wacky (although backward running does genuinely have real fitness benefits, it has to be said!).

Still in pain, a visit to the doc was reassurance that nothing was broken so I was 'cleared' to run the inaugural Thames Meander marathon this last weekend and although still in quite a lot of breathing difficulty and some pain, I was pretty pleased to finish in 4hrs 26mins.

I've also just looked at the current UK Ultra Champs positions and despite the 'crash-out' at Bradwell I am still in 2nd place O60 position overall, and with just two events to go for us to improve our points scores there are now only 4 of us capable of getting into a podium place. I won't win, but 2nd place still beckons I hope.

Got Dave Bailey's 'Enigma Gold' marathon on the Bank Holiday weekend (well, what else would you do on a bank hol for goodness sake?) and then the following weekend the 'Ed & Phil' road show is in operatiion again as we have a day at the Newcastle branch of Waterstones two weeks before The Great North Run to sell some of our books and help runners with any advice and help they may need. I've done it a few times so know all about it. My sister happens to be the Branch Manager - that helps! - but that does not mean any 'favours' though; we are there on merit of our experience and she also likes our books professionally, which is great encouragement.  

The penultimate Ultra Champs event is the High Peaks 40 on 17th September and the final is the Round Rotherham 50 in October. I have entered both! 

Enjoy your own running; bye for now

5th August 2011 - Second overall now! After my 4th counting event in the UK Ultra Marathon Championship series I have moved up to second place on the O60 category, albeit by a mere 2 points. I finished 2nd Vet O60 in the Osmotherley 33 but it has taken weeks for the results to be published because of website technology problems it seems, so I have been on tenterhooks to see if I had progressed. This is why it has taken a while for this blog update; I've been waiting while continually checking to see how I was placed. I bet you couldn't wait to hear too!? 

To be honest, there a not a lot of O60s competing and sometimes only 2 or 3 in each race, but I am a competitive guy and I enjoy the 'pretence' that I am competing strongly for a podium place! You know what they say though, you have to be in it to win it, and just to finish some of these events seems quite an achievment.

The Osmotherley for instance was over stunningly wild and wonderful Yorkshire Moors on a hot day and although I ran well for the first half, an unscheduled 'pit stop' at about half way had me struggling afterwards for the next 10 miles or so, and although I picked up at the end I was initially quite disappointed with a final 7hours 29minutes.

However, when I saw the times of some of those I thought had left me miles behind, I was surprised to see that they were only minutes ahead; the combined tough weather and terrain conditions had obviously affected us all. I was even more reassured when I saw the times some fit runners were doing in the accompanying marathon distance - only minutes quicker or even around the same time, so perhaps my run was not so bad at all?

Of course a 33 mile race is not really a full running weekend is it (lol!), so next day I ran the inaugural Lakes Trail marathon in equally stunning surroundings and on another hot day around and above Lake Coniston. Totally different scenery and typically picture book lakeland views at almost every turn. A lot of runners got caught out by the heat and although I started very steadily and saw no one for some 16 miles, suddenly I was catching people who were dropping out like flies in an exhausted state. 

It goes to show the sense and strength of good pace judgement, which so many seem to get wrong. It's oh so easy to be carried away and go well early on in a race like a marathon when still feeling good, but if you get it wrong you really pay the price in the last third of the race - especially if you have not eaten or hydrated properly! As it was I finished comfortablly 10 minutes inside the 6 hour limit (that was my plan, honest!), passing many runners (well, walkers by this time) in the last few miles. It's always a great feeling to do that after a first part of the race often on your own and wondering where everyone else has got to! It happens nearly every time - one advantage of age and experience I suppose?

Since then I have run the Fairlands Valley 50km (lovely course in and around Stevenage) a local hill race, done a sprint triathlon and completed the Gloucester Half Marathon as preparation for the next series event - the 33 miles Long Tour of Bradwell (in the Peak District) this coming weekend. The aim now is to try and improve on my best four counting event points score as well as accumulate overall points over the 12 races in the series - there are prizes for that too, although it is not the main competion.

I've been training hard and look forward to telling you of improved points! And if you are really good, I'll also tell you how Ed & Phil got on in the UK Backward Running Championships which are on August 14th in Manchester - we are sponsoring them with ToeToe socks; check out the website at http://reverserunning.com ! -:)

30th June 2011
- OK, here we go, the 4th counting event for me in the UK Ultra Champs series this weekend; 33 miles in the Osmotherley Phoenix Ultra over parts of the Cleveland Way in North Yorkshire. I know much of the route from the Hardmoors 55 completed earlier in the year so I know how hard some of those hills are! At least no wet, steep and slippy Roseberry Topping in the dark to tackle though! 

Don't know why, but Osmotherley has always seemed a magical name to me and always wanted to go there, especially after I had heard great reports about this race. Never been before in my 64 years on this planet and here I am going back for the second time this year. Osmotherley is actually a rather pretty village and the race coincides with their Summer Games, so it should be quite a party afterwards.

Not that we (we being Ed and Phil, since we are doing our usual combination of running races and visiting our shop customers and prospects) will have much time to party because we are off that evening to the Lake District for the first Lakes Trail marathon being held next day around Coniston Water. It will certainly be a challenging weekend.

However, I am up to that after the last two weeks 'training'. Two weeks ago I successfully completed my 5th running of the Cheltenham Circular Challenge marathon in a new course PB time of 5hrs 1min, which was my second course PB time in less than a month, suggesting I may be getting some form?

However, the Boddington marathon bought me (and the rest of the competitors to be fair) somewhat to our knees since it was run off in temperatures allegedly touching 32 degrees centigrade; it was certainly very, very hot. Of the 109 starters only 58 finished including yours truly, albeit in the rather sedate time of 5hrs 16mins. Paul who started with me had had enough by about 12 miles so called it a day, and having made sure he would be looked after OK we agreed I could carry on to see if I could finish. 

Experience of having run a 'few' (lol) marathons before in hot conditions was really useful - a few miles later I was feeling quite woozy with the heat, so 'pedalled' right back and walked a fair bit towards the end to make sure I at least got the finish without being too exhausted bearing in mind this upcoming weekend. 

I've had a restful week so I feel well prepared; bring it on!

17th June 2011 - Clearly more than overdue to update my blog, but just been so busy running trying to get into those VO60 top places in the UK Ultra Champs and of course trying to get some Ed & Phil sales to earn the money to pay for entering them. A bit of a vicious (but it feels a virtuous one) circle, but great fun and inspiring! -:)

Some good and frustrating news on the running front. My fitness is cleary improving, and in my next marathon after the last blog entry - the 27 miles Endurancelife 'The Edge' final event in their Coastal series around the lovely south Devon coastline - I ran probably the best I have done all year. The tough bits were saved to the last, and after a testing stretch along Bigbury sands in front of the famous Art Deco hotel on Burgh Island, there were some unspeakably steep coastal paths to tackle. It was very satisfactory to pass more than a few guys a lot younger than me who were struggling, but then just a little disappointing to finish 2nd VO60 by just over 1.5 minutes!! 

Still, an improvement, and it was great to be part of the 2 day festival that the good people at Endurancelife had had the vision to stage in this delightful part of the world. A shame the weather broke that weekend, but the setting, the company and the motivational talks on the Saturday evening (amongst whom we were privileged to be included -and well received, it was very rewarding to say) all served to keep the interest and enthusiasm going into the Sunday and a whole range of adventure/fitness activities. A really enjoyable weekend and we still had more than a few interested visitors to our Wigwam stand showing a range of our products, where we also had information on the growing problem of ticks in the countryside.

This was not an ultra series counting event though, with the next run, the Marlborough Downs 33 being my 'short ultra' counter. A beautiful day over stunning but deceptively hard countryside that saw me run very well for the first 16 miles, then unaccountably going through a torrid time for the next 10 miles, before picking up again for a 'respectable', if a bit disappointing time of 6-25. My best was 5-52 3 years ago and I felt sure a sub-6 hour would get me at least a 2nd V60 place. So it proved, because I finished just 4.5 minutes from 2nd place in coming 4th! By the end of this event I was in 4th place overall from 9 of us 'supervets'?

Unfortunately a niggling ITB around my left knee, which I had felt during Marlborough, was quite painful during the next week, so I reluctantly withdrew from the Brecon 40 organised by Might Contain Nuts and in which I was hoping to do a good time to earn some high scoring points. I could maybe have got around because I don't let a little thing like a bit of pain stop me going, but I was aware that this was a very tough event and did not want to give the organisers a problem should I be unable to continue when in some remote part of the mountains, especially since the weather was threatening to be bad.

So I just took the view that a rest would do me good in preparation for the next counter on 5th June - the Northants 35 'Shires and Spires'; another lovely and again deceptively tough course over rolling mid-England terrain including views of the Princess Di famed Althorp Hall. The break must have worked because at last a first VO60 was my reward with a time of 6-56; pretty satisfying given that I set myself a 7 hour target. It has to be said that only 3 VO60s took part this time, but I don't care and I am now up to 3rd in the series, so a 'podium' place at least seems possible. 

There is more training in the guise of the Cheltenham Circular Challenge marathon this weekend and Boddington Marathon (taking fellow 100 marathon club member partially sighted Paul Watts around that, an inspiration with over 200 marathons to his credit!) the week after, before the Osmotherley 33 in early July for my 4th series counter. 

For a bit of fun, the Ed & Phil duo are doing the Lakes Marathon the next day, and we have also entered the UK Backward Running Championships in August - but more about that another time. Bye for now.

28th April 2011 - Gosh doesn't time go quick! Already nearly 3 weeks since the Bath Beat and working up to the next Ultra Champs event in a couple of weeks now. Bath Beat was great. Have wanted to do it for some time and it did not disappoint - good organisation with the usual LDWA feed and drink stations to keep us going, very scenic, some tough bits and a lovely day, what more could we ask? Well a bit quicker than my 6hrs 47mins would have been good, but with the 12 hour and sore calf still in my legs, it was good to finish in pretty good shape.

Have gone 'short' in races since - Tewkesbury AC 5 mile handicap race and the Gloucester Easter 10k to stretch my legs; both times embarrassingly slow so I won't boast about them!! Lol! However, relative speed work did me good and I have still got some long miles in as well. In fact the last few weeks have been good training and hope that will translate into a better performance in the Marlborough Downs Challenge 33 on 14th May?

Part of this training has been doing recces for a marathon we hope to promote in the Ed & Phil name next year - it will be an off-road event called Ed & Phil's Poets Path Potter. Ledbury has long links with poetry (John Masefield, the Poet Laureate lived here) and there is a famous week long Poetry Festival in the town each year. Part of the poetic history is marked by two lovely runs - Poets Path I and II - each of 8 miles and going past places that poets who moved into the area in the early 20th century used to live. When added to the 10 miles 'Daffodil Way', and all three starting from local Dymock, it makes a too tempting marathon distance; more details soon hopefully. We are also looking to see if we can link up with the next festival in July with something different, so watch this space!

Before the Marlborough though, Edward and I are honoured to be invited amongst the guest 'motivational' speakers to talk at the EnduranceLife Festival to be held at the Flete Estate near Plymouth Devon on the weekend of 7/8 May - see this link http://www.endurancelife.com/event.asp?series=52&location=123  for full details.

We will also be having an Ed & Phil stand there and be introducing you to our new marketing 'partner' William - you will have to be there to meet him!! I will be running the final event in the EnduranceLife Coastal Series marathons - The Edge - to put my final training touches together for the Marlborough. Thanks very much to EnduranceLife for their invitation; should be an amazing weekend. 

Hope you all have an enjoyable Royal Wedding holiday weekend in the meantime with all that time for some extra training!

8th April 2011 - Been a hectic few weeks since Hardmoors in which I finished 3rd VO60; which is OK, but mindful that I have to answer to Edward for not winning in line with my 'Ed & Phil' sponsorship! Lol! Will have to do better next time and now starting to think about the next race in the series - the Marlborough Downs 33 mls on 14th May (one of the 'short' ultras!!). I did win the O60 award last time I ran it, but although I am confident I have the stamina of course, it will be a challenge to repeat that - the competition gets tougher each year! I am playing a waiting game - ha, ha! - leading the others into a false sense of security as I build up fitness and steam for some end of year storming performance. -:)

Had two 'interesting' weekends since Hardmoors. The weekend after, for something 'completely different' I mentored my clubmate Angie Sadler (who we also support with some kit like Wigwam socks and help to get to events etc) running for England in the Anglo Celtic Cup 100km in Perth. Working as part of the England team set-up was a real privilege, and to support Angie with food, drink, time splits etc as she did an impressive 8.44 time at the age of 51 also a very rewarding experience. As exhausting as running though; driving 800 miles in two days and standing for 9 hours is not the restful option; spaced out for a couple of days after.

No time to rest on laurels though, because then it was off to Crawley last weekend for another 'completely different' event (I do like variety in life), a 12 hour track race organised by ultra stalwart Pam Storey. The Ed & Phil duo both finished very satisfied, with a 50 miles plus finish for Edward in his first track ultra and a PB 57.40 miles for me in my second finish at the distance. Had a scare after a couple of hours with a sharply painful calf muscle pull which needed treatment before I could get going again (at first it seemed likely it was the end of my race), so just pleased to finish and get that PB, although I would have been nearer my hoped for 100km target without that problem!

This weekend it is the Bath Beat 26.5 miles off-road event tomorrow - looks like being a lovely day and I am looking forward to it; heard it is a very scenic. Calf is still sore so may have to nurse it around? Will be using my UK Gear PT-1000 shoes again; we are testing them (having a vested interest of course - we are the UK agents for UK Gear) and so far I have run a road marathon, a muddy 45 miles around Bristol, The Tough Ten race, Hardmoors and the track race in them. As a hybrid shoe able to perform well in all those very different circumstances I have to say they take some beating. Feet feel very comfortable and secure in them, not to heavy for the road, but with support and good grip off road. I'll be relying on them to get me around Bath!

25th March 2011 - A good time to reflect, 6 days after the event (and now the official results have been published) on how the race went. Still feeling very satisfied to have finished what was certainly a very tough race. Although we were privileged to have glorious sunny or clear weather all day, with little wind (but it was still quite chilly up on the exposed moors and the numerous peaks we had to crest) this is certainly not a route for the faint hearted. You have to be well prepared for arduous physical effort and potentially adverse weather conditions; 55 miles with 2,700 metres of climbing (and descent of course - more demanding in some ways than climbing) is a stern test of fitness, resolve and preparation.

I knew that the biggest challenge was coping with those many steep ascents and the consequent steep and rocky descents. You can be as fit as you like, but if your quads are not up the constant bombardment of controlling your running on the descents, they soon start to protest! At least one very good marathon runner had to withdraw because his quads were totally blasted by those hills. 

I had prepared with lots of leg work, including single leg knee bends, and that worked great - although obviously aching a bit, lol, my legs were in good shape all the way. Next day I was walking (almost) naturally and even able run up and down stairs (helped, no doubt at all, by the two CherryActive capsules that Edward handed to me after the finish - thanks Edward).

Overall, given that I know I am by no means fully fit, finishing as well as I did was a testiment to getting the strategy right - starting very steady and ensuring I kept to a pace at which I felt comfortable. I walked when the going got a bit tougher (taking the chance to snap a few pics of the magnificent scenery when doing so - hopefully on Facebook soon), made sure I recharged with water and food at the two key checkpoints, and I ate and drank regularly along the way. 

Although the Cleveland Way route is quite well marked so navigation is mostly not difficult, there were points where it was easy to go off course, especially when tired. I am quite a decent map reader and I always make sure I follow the route descriptions and map during the event so I know where I am at all times, to limit the chance of going off course and worse still, getting lost, You don't want to do extra miles in that distance, especially with a cut off time. That proved very sensible and I did not miss a turning, but a number of people did get lost, including the two who finished behind me (the last 5 hours were in the dark, making navigation more tricky).

The target was a 15 hour finish and I had hoped for around 14 hours. I was on course for something like 14.30 until the last vertiginous climb (and descent!) of Roseberry Topping at 48 miles. That was a fearsome brute to put in at that point. I made the finish in 15.12; a bit frustrating to be just a mile away when the 15 hours came up, but it was exceedingly satisfying to cross that line and it still counted as a finish (marathon 107)! I was 76th out of 78 and only 3rd VO60, but overall I cannot be anything but delighted to have completed an event which on paper I was not really adequately prepared for. 

Roll on the next event in the series - the Marlborough Downs 33 on 14th May (I was first VO60 last time I ran this, but this time .......?). In the meantime, my next race is the little matter of the Crawley 12 hour track race to go for on the 2nd April. What a contrast that will be! -:)

16th March 2011 - Well just over 2 days away from the first run in the UK Ultra-running championships and the biggest one in the series at that; the Hardmoors 55 miler over the Yorkshire Moors carrying all kit and food, navigating along the way and with a 15 hour cut-off time. Not going to be easy and I have been ruminating on my training and preparation for this first race of the championship. 

Starting the year less fit than usual, as explained in my first blog, and knowing that not only was I starting from a lower base than normal for the start of a new running year, but also, with the growth of the Ed & Phil business and having to make a living alongside that while the business grows, I would have to cope with limited time and money to train over enough miles or do many preparation races.

So I came up with a strategy (that appears to have worked so far; Saturday is of course the big test) to optimise the time I had available to me, so that I would at least be able to complete the long distances involved even if not as fast as I am potentially able to do them. 

A good starting point was to know that having a now long established endurance base is an advantage, because endurance fitness decays a lot slower than aerobic fitness. Then there is also the experience I can draw upon of how to tough-out and manage long, hard endurance events. That is a really important confidence factor, knowing that I have the proven mental strength to keep going when 'the going gets tough'!

My plan was therefore to run at least 30 miles a week, other than for the occasional rest week, with one run of at least 20 miles each week included. Some weeks that has meant a run of over 30 miles and just one other run during the week; the longest to date is that 45 mile Greenman challenge, which went at least as well as I could have expected. In that way, at least I got the distance in, if not the total miles - more important I think.

I also decided that cross training would be invaluable to help get me fitter. I normally swim and do a lot of cycling as well as running, but in the last 2 years that has mainly gone by the board because of preparation for some really long running events and the time factor again. I am convinced that cross training really helps, so I aim to now do a bike ride at least every other week and of a distance at least equal to my long run. I have also completed my first aquathlon (in a 'rest' week!) and also cycled to and from it - that was tough and tiring, so hopefully did me a lot of good. Finally, I aim to do a gym/circuit training session at home at least once a week for core and upper body strength, which is important for good posture and to help prevent injury.

Hopefully that lot has got me prepared to finish Hardmoors in the time limit - look out for my update on that next week!

9th March 2011 - My first blog on this attempt. The story behind entering this competition is perhaps the best starting point because it relates to something we all find hard at times, even if with lots of long-distance running achievements behind us: motivation! You'd think that would not be an issue for someone with currently 106 completed marathons or ultras, but anyone who reads the Facebook posts of fellow long distance runners, or indeed anyone who recognises that working at keeping fit is beneficial to a healthy lifestyle, will see that we all go through periods of low motivation with talk of ‘I've lost my mojo' or similar expressions. Usually this is short lived, especially with the sympathetic and uplifting support of your Facebook friends, ie. 'Just get your ass in gear and get out there'!

Seriously, it helps to know that we all share this challenge and if it is the case for the more experienced of us, just think how big a motivational step it is for the unfit or inexperienced to make the effort to even start losing weight and run a few miles, never mind tackle bigger stuff which they might well be capable of if only they could be motivated to keep at it until the results begin to demonstrate how worth while it can be. Understanding how these motivation dips can occur, often unexpectedly, and what we can do to overcome them are important lessons to absorb along the health and fitness journey.

I learnt a lot of about this in the latter half of 2010, feeling quite alienated from running for several months and only keeping at it because I did not want to lose hard earned fitness and the overall health benefits of regular exercise (which of course was itself at least enough motivation to enable me to keep me going and not stop altogether, as I was often tempted to do - especially since our burgeoning Ed & Phil business would undoubtedly benefit from the extra time I would then be able to devote to it!).

After my 100th marathon at Comrades in May last year I found it really hard to get going again for at least 6 months, for a number of reasons. There was the inevitable 'down' after achieving a long cherished and worked-for objective (something many do not realise usually happens after a big goal has been realised) and the fact that I was still suffering from a recurring virus caught the previous year which meant I was often not running well or enjoying it. I took 3 months off on doctors advice and was just getting back into it again when I suffered back-muscle trauma problems after spending a lot of time in awkward positions (no, not that, unfortunately!) supporting other athletes in long distance events.


I had not realised how bad this was until I was forced to withdraw from two marathon attempts later in 2010 in a lot of pain and discomfort, unable to move because of the violent spasms (although I did still get to 103 marathons by the end of year with some determined efforts and judicious use of pain killers).

I started 2011 far less fit than I usually am at that time of year, still struggling to get my running and fitness act together and with some half hearted goal setting (usually my strong point - always have something to go for after the next target is my philosophy), although still wanting to do something to get me going given that I am 65 in 2012 and I have some big endurance event plans to ‘celebrate’, which mean getting really fit this year as preparation. 

Edward came up with the perfect solution - supporting me through 'Ed & Phil' to try and earn the O60 award in the Runfurther promoted 'UK Ultra-running Championships' see www.runfurther.com. This gave me an immediate lift (especially since I would not have to find the money for the entry fees myself - shortage of funds while we build the business being a part of my lack of motivation!) and was dramatically effective in changing my whole attitude at a stroke. Suddenly I had a firm purpose; they are events in which I feel I can be genuinely competitive (not many old buggers O60 do this daft stuff anyway, let's face it!) and the training and events will help re-build my fitness for a potentially even bigger 2012.

The result - I now have the Gloucester marathon, the Winter Tanners 30 miler and the 45 mile Greenman Challenge around Bristol in the locker as preparation for the first 2011 Ultra-running Champs test - the Hardmoors 55 mile in Yorkshire on 19th March. You have to do 4 events to count, one in each of 3 distance categories plus one other. More details on how my preparation is going and the individual races to follow in my next blog. Here's to running far and running well!

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