Digested read: The 12.12 mile off-road trail race is a week away. What was I thinking when I entered it? I’m fretting now. Tried to taper with a long walk instead of run. Epic fail. Wobbly, exhausted and confidence crushed. However, espied something pretty darned special out on them there moors. Have a guess. Clue. I got seriously lucky! Yay, go me. It’s a sign. It’ll be fine. Or it wont, but either way, it doesn’t matter, it’s supposed to be fun, we can all run our own race, nobody cares. (In a good way).
Dreaming of the purple hills, this is what awaits me just a week from now. Is it possible that the heather will be even more glorious come the 20th August? However, between me and the Dig Deep trail challenge lies one final hurdle. The succesful taper.
The Dig Deep people keep putting up motivational posts on their Facebook page counting down to the big event. ‘Yay, just three weeks to go’, ‘great news guys, a fortnight from now we’ll be good to go’ and now ‘final countdown to fun-land – just a few more sleeps’, I’m paraphrasing a bit but you get the idea. This is all well and good, and no doubt very well-intentioned, but it’s really rather ratcheting up my fear levels. What was I thinking? This happens to me a lot with off-road events. Trouble is I’m seduced by the glorious settings, the seemingly manageable distances, and don’t factor in the challenging terrain and potentially impossible elevations. A combination of absolute denial and hope over experience I suppose, hopefully not a fatal one.
My expertise in training protocol is rather limited, but even I know that at this late stage I’ve little hope of improving my fitness levels between now and next Sunday when I tackle the 12.12 event. 12.12 miles of off-road (see what they’ve done with the name there? Their creative vision team must have been working overtime to come up with that) and 633 metres of ascent. That’s not even in feet, took me a while to realise that. I try not to get too hung up on details at the point of entering events, it only leads to despair and sapping morale. I’m not necessarily completely delusional when I sign up to things, it’s just that I’m ill-informed. Upshot is, if you can’t improve your fitness at this stage, what you need to do is avoid injury, maintain fitness and carb up nicely. That is, in my book ‘yay’ time, you get to taper!
My regular reader knows I’ve cluttered up the internet by pontificating on this point before Never underestimate the importance of a good tapir but that was a while back. I’ve got a better understanding now, so time to revisit the topic I feel. Why keep all that disillusion to myself? I used to think tapering meant that you got to spend a fortnight sat on the sofa eating donuts as a sort of early consolation prize for being made to run a long way afterwards. Sadly, I now know it’s not quite the case. It just goes to show that sometimes ignorance is indeed bliss, and greater understanding does not always bring about greater happiness.
Initially my research on ‘how to taper’ suggested that it was really, really important not to be tempted to do too much during a taper. I say ‘research’, but clearly what I really mean is that I did a bit of random googling, disregarding the advice I didn’t want to follow until I came up with something I liked. I liked this sentence from Susan Paul a lot:
Doing too much during the taper period can destroy your (event) performance. Your best bet for peak performance is to resist the urge to do more. When it comes to tapering, less really is more!
Good oh, that meant a fortnight out, after my last long run (I use the term ‘run’ loosely, yomp over 14 and a bit miles is more accurate, with quite a lot of pausing and gazing about) I settled down on the sofa fully committed to resting up properly. Granted, I’d have to get up now and again to attend to bodily functions and check out the contents of the fridge, but otherwise me and Radio 4 (TV at a push) listening to the rain beating down outside would be the way to go. To add creativity and interest I’d also be doing my best to improvise a ta ta bra out of a pair of recycled oven gloves. I would have bought one, but really $45 for a bit of elasticated towel does seem a bit steep, even if it is a genius creation. Plus, they don’t seem to be available in the uk, anyway, how hard can they be to create? (Answer, harder than you think, but you’ll have a laugh trying).
Unfortunately, further research, was emphatic about the opposite. I didn’t like this advice nearly as much – whatever you do, don’t overdo the taper, said Coach Jeff in Runners Connect, adding for good measure:
The single biggest mistake I see in (event) tapers is that people over-taper in the last three weeks leading into the race.
This leads to feeling flat and sluggish on race day and increases the chance that you’ll come down with some type of sickness as your metabolism and immune system crash due to the sudden change in activity and demands on the body
Begrudgingly, I have to concede he may have a point. Further research suggests tapering doesn’t mean an emergency stop, more a reduction in intensity and volume, depending on what you are preparing for. I am left with the horrifying realisation that you are only doing a taper correctly if you feel frustrated and miserable the whole time. That is, doing the opposite of whatever it is you are naturally drawn to doing. Let me explain…
Scenario one: If you are the sort of person who takes a month’s bed rest if you so much as stub your toe, when you taper you need to be doing a lot more than maintaining your natural default state of inert. Plus, you really don’t need to start carbing up with quite such gusto, quite so far ahead. ‘Carbing up’ only needs to happen about two days before. What’s more (and I didn’t like this message very much) you don’t even need to take in any extra calories apparently, simply change the proportion of carbs in your meal, so you are having more carb less fibrous veg say. Disappointing. No midnight pizza and pasta fests after all, so said the nutrition expert at the London Marathon Expo earlier this year.
Scenario two: If you are the sort of person who gets a serious stress fracture, are given a pot and told to ‘rest’ for eight weeks but still think a 50 mile bike ride won’t count because it’s just ‘gentle cross training’ then you need to Stop. Right. Now!
Just to be clear on this point, I tend to fall into the ‘scenario one’ camp, in danger of doing too little. Left to my own devices, brooding on the sofa, I started to feel increasingly fretful that this 12.12 challenge is beyond me. I am increasingly aware of way better runners falling by the wayside. The excuses they come up with are pitiful: ‘I can’t run I’ve dislocated my shoulder and broken my arm’; ‘I can’t run, I’m away doing a hard-core mountain marathon in Norway’; ‘I can’t run, I’ve got to have an operation’; ‘it’s not that I can’t run, I just don’t want to‘. That kind of thing. Maybe I needed to come up with a get-out of my own. I know – I have a cunning plan. I can’t possibly pull out, that would be to fail, but if external circumstances were to conspire together to make my participation impossible, well, I’d have to shrug in despairing acceptance of my fate. I can help fate along a bit though, with just a tad of initiative thrown into the mix…
I sent a private message to the Dig Deep team. ‘Eeeerm‘, I said. ‘bit worried‘ and then basically went on to explain I am mindful of being a tardy, lard arse, and whilst I do know I can do the distance (I do really) I will be soooooooooooooooooo slow. Is that OK, or is there a cut off time? Annoyingly, they sent back a speedy and cheerily encouraging response. ‘That’s fine, all welcome‘ sort of encouraging and inclusive and generally not what I wanted to hear at all. Oh no. No handy external factor causing me to pull out under protest from that quarter.
I decided I needed to bite the bullet. I would cut back, but not abandon all exertion. I decided that I’d do one more long, endurance outing, but just keep it in walk so I didn’t get injured or too knackered, but still got miles on my legs. Oh my gawd. This was such a bad move. I thought I’d do one final recce that is an approximation of the 12.12 route, but coming up from Whitely Woods rather than Whirlow, and going along the top rather than the bottom of Burbage. Well, it might be more technical, but it’s gorgeous and I was really hoping I might see an adder soaking up the sun on the boulders on that slightly quieter upper path. It’s a route I’ve yomped round several times now, and just over 14 miles, seriously beautiful. I wanted to see how the heather was as well, given all the rain and then sun, it would be at its peak surely.
So it was beautiful, I will concede that:
but as a final long yomp, not my best move.
There was an early warning sign, had I but realised what was happening, a fallen tree crossing my path going up the Porter Valley – surely an omen. There were lots of trees down, I think the torrential rain had washed away a lot of earth and left roots exposed and trees vulnerable:
Then, a bit further up, there were some misplaced sheep. No really, in the woods. I don’t know where they were from, but they were having an adventure. Good for them, I wonder how long they will evade capture. Who were those escaped pigs – the Tamworth Two? They escaped death after many weeks on the run. I suspect there won’t be a film and book deal and a happy ending for this trio, I don’t think they’ve even got an agent. Oh well.
The point is though, that this was the normal order of things upturned. I should have realised, and turned about, then again, it wouldn’t be so much of a story would it if I had. Same as with all those omens in Julius Caesar or whatever. Ides of March anyone?
I pressed on. It was OK to start, sunny, the heather in full bloom and a-buzz with bees. Not many others about, but lots of friendly exchanges with those who were along the lines of ‘isn’t it gorgeous’ and the more mutually self-congratulatory ‘how lucky are we to have such beauty as this on our doorstep‘ all of which was true. The problem was, that even though I think I run really slowly (and I really do) turns out, I’m still a lot quicker running slowly, than I am when I actually walk. 14 miles takes ages to walk. It was hard. I got hot, I ran out of water. I’d taken a litre with me, and although I could have drunk from the many streams I got dehydrated without fully appreciating I had, and then it’s already too late. I ate my chia bar quite early on, and then found I did feel my blood sugar levels dropping later on, but had nothing in reserve. I didn’t get wobbly or anything like that, but I did get achy legs, and stop enjoying the landscape. By the time I’d been out about 4 hours I was feeling it, and didn’t have the energy to run and get the whole blooming adventure over with by that point. Plus, my feet were hurting. A lot. My arthritis was excruciating. Not blisters, granted, which is something, but my fellraisers (which I do like) lack cushioning, and Strava has been on at me for weeks to change them as they have done too many miles. They are ok-ish. I know they do need replacing but I didn’t want to try new shoes too close to this event, so thought they could do this one last task for me as their swan song. On this final walk recce though I really felt they are ready to be jettisoned though. They don’t have enough support, and weren’t comfy at all – although their grip is still good. I started to feel pretty petulant. I was annoyed at going out so blasse, I was too hot, and I still couldn’t find an efficient route off Higger Tor. For future reference, doing a long walk was not, for me, a helpful tapering strategy. I’d have done much better to do a gentle run, or several shorter walks on consecutive days. I felt pretty broken when I still had about 4 miles to go. It’s incomprehensible to me though, surely, logic says walking should be easier than running? I suppose it’s ‘different’, didn’t do a lot for my confidence. If I can’t walk the distance how am I going to run it? Aaaargh, curses. Why am I not a super-fit athlete with a coach, a nutrition plan, well-fitting sports bra, cushioned trainers and a dollop of common sense? It’s not fair!
I traipsed on, thinking dark and brooding thoughts.
Wait for it.
Something I’ve never seen before, just for me!
In amongst the landscape of purple I espied a little patch of white. At first I wasn’t quite sure if it was what I thought. But it was! White heather. A small clump of it, but definitely there. I like to think if the fallen tree and the lost sheep were to warn me off my adventures, the lucky heather was to reassure me there is still a place for the unexpected and seemingly impossible. I know you can get cultivated white heather, but seeing it in the wild, just there, was pretty amazing. Perhaps I’m too easily impressed, but it really encouraged me. Just look on and tell me honestly are you not moved? You can’t be that heartless surely?
I thought it was extraordinary. I’m not superstitious, but I do take comfort from being reminded of the gloriousness of unexpected and unlikely discoveries. White heather is a truly rare sight, but we can celebrate its appearance on the moors. I too, will be an unexpected participant in the 12.12, also an uncommon sighting perhaps. However, whilst it might be a stretch too far to think of my presence on the day being exactly a cause for celebration, there’s no reason to expect to be unwelcome either. I’ll be just another unusual thing for others to come across on a run out. No more or less than that.
I carried on with renewed effort (I was going to say energy, but that’s pushing it). Back through the woods I saw a comma butterfly, another incredibly rare sighting. And a lot harder to photograph than white heather it seems. Well I thought commas were rare, but google says otherwise. I still haven’t seen one in years though, so made me happy, which is the important thing because this blog is at the end of the day all about me!
Once I got to Forge Dam cafe, I caved in and bought an ice-cream. I felt in genuine need as my legs were shaking by then. Of course, I then immediately bumped into a Smiley Elder, and felt like I’d been caught out on an inappropriately wild feeding frenzy, binge eating sugar when I ought to be showing off with extra press ups at the end of my run like that Isaac Makwala at the world athletics championships trial. Instead I was like a vampire caught with blood running down their chin, only with salted caramel ice cream instead of the blood of virgins. In fairness, she seemed approving of this replenishing of energy post run. I genuinely find it confusing though. How can I possibly have got such a drop in my blood sugar just by walking. I can only conclude it is indeed hours out, not necessarily absolute exertion that is to blame. Getting the balance right continues to be a challenge. I want to burn calories through running, that’s part of the point, to counteract the impact of post-run brunches – but it seems I always replenish more than I use. In my case I don’t find running is a boon to weight loss, though it has other benefits for sure!
So, I returned from my ‘gentle tapering walk’ broken, exhausted and promptly flaked out and slept for about 5 hours solid. The next day, which was yesterday, I could barely walk! Today, should have been parkrun, but I still feel wobbly. I can’t understand it, running never makes me feel that bad. I think maybe it genuinely came down to being out way longer than usual. It wasn’t physical fitness as such, but probably nutrition and hydration. I even wondered if I am ‘coming down with something’ it seems such an extreme reaction from walking a route I’ve yomped half a dozen times before withough any problem at all. Oh well, lesson learned. Presume nothing, take nothing for granted.
I’ve now got exactly a week to go. I’ve decided (rightly or wrongly) not to push myself if I’m feeling weak (as opposed to can’t be bothered) in a nod to ‘stay injury free and preserve what you have’. Whilst I don’t think I’m ever going to be in the over-training camp, I do think there is no point in forcing myself out if I am genuinely wobbly. I will try for a bit more ‘out and about’ but I’m not doing anything else long or involving so much elevation.
As for next Sunday, gulp. Oh well, I think I just have to remind myself that ultimately it’s supposed to be fun. As long as I don’t present a risk to either myself or other runners it matters not one iota how long I take or how I tackle it. Spoiler alert – nobody cares. Participants will be running their own race, and I know I can do the distance in daylight at least. I will carry a bit more food though, and weather depending, might think about wearing a T-shirt as opposed to long sleeves to avoid over-heating. Speaking of which, the t-shirts for this event look splendid. Worth turning out for for sure!
And as far as tapering is concerned. I don’t like it. It’s confusing. I have no idea what I’m doing. I liked it much better when I thought it was just about lolling around on a sofa eating pizza. Now I find it a confidence-sapping challenge. Still, on the positive side, as I do want to eventually get up to a marathon distance, maybe it’s good to learn some of these lessons early on, even if it is by trial and error. I’d rather mess up my taper for the 12.12 local event, than for the London Marathon 2018. We run and learn. So message for today? Running is supposed to be fun. Let’s not over complicate it. Agreed? Also, tapering is harder than you might think, it’s OK to be grumpy.
The main thing is just to try not to interact with anyone during this running chapter to avoid alientating everyone you meet, and ‘tha’ll be reet’, as the saying goes.
This is what I’m going to keep telling myself anyway. You must do as you think fit. Also, I try to remember there is always somebody worse off than yourself, it could be worse, I could be doing the ultra. Good luck to those that are. You’ll be fabulous, because you already are. I believe in you, you just need to believe in yourselves as well.
For all my Dig Deep Series related posts, click here, and scroll down for older entries, or don’t, it’s up to you