Posts Tagged With: tapering

The stories we tell…counting down to Dig Deep judgement day, feeling down, but still not yet out.

Digested read: traditional pre-event whingeing and angst.  I wouldn’t read on if i were you, it’s just self-pitying, melodramatic stream of consciousness stuff, I’m sure you have something better to do.  Don’t know why I signed up for a thirty mile yomp out round the peaks.  Everything hurts, and I’m turning to lard whilst tapering.  Really doubting myself, but then again, it’s really just a long day out in the heather isn’t it?  What’s not to like.  I’m going to take a picnic, try to dust down my positive attitude and see if I can squish that into my running vest before I head out, and then I’ll just keep on putting one foot in front of another for as far and as long as I can.  If I can’t beat the fear, well I’ll just do it all scared.  Running Scared has always been my defining characteristic  from the inception of this blog after all, although granted the ‘running’ part covers quite a continuum of paces! What’s the worst….


Only it’s not is it?  Judgement Day, not really.  It’s only a day out on the trails and moors.  It will be a challenge blah de blah, but let’s not get overly melodramatic about the whole thing.  No-one will be sitting in judgement, no-one whose opinion really ought to matter to me, the most likely outcome is no-one will notice at all one way or the other, what it all comes down to is a desire to take on a personal challenge to just see where my limits lie, it is both of as little and as much significance as that.

…. all the same, with just a few days to go ’til the Dig Deep 30/ Peak Trails 30 I am in the midst of my now traditional pre-event angst.  I learned from a fellow Graves Junior parkrun hi-viz volunteer that this is the way forward.  Don’t refer to ‘races’ anymore, instead adopt the terminology of ‘events’ or, potentially better yet – ‘challenges’.  Could work, and in all seriousness does shift the focus away from how individual performances compare with others, on to simply how it is experienced subjectively.  In a small way, it is about shifting the narrative.  At the risk of sounding pretentious, we have a choice over how we position ourselves in our own stories.  I can be a victim, blaming external factors for my failure to succeed at Dig Deep, I can be in my own tragedy, struggling against the odds but ultimately failing, or I can decide to be the protagonist in my very own adventure.  Part of the fun is not knowing how it will all unfold, and that has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not I make the whole 30 mile distance on one particular day and everything to do with all I’ve undertaken in trying to get there.  It’s not the destination that matters, it’s the journey, and the stories we write for ourselves might be part of how that comes to be perceived.  DIY spin maybe, but frankly dear reader, whatever it takes to start feeling positive again!

Turns out, you can learn a lot from Graves Junior parkrun hi-viz heroes.  I was discussing the weirdity (I know it’s not a ‘proper’ word, but I’ve just made it up and I like it, so what are you going to do about it?  Shoot me?)  of upping the distance when you just don’t know if it’s really fun any more with another hi-vizer.  I voiced my thought that,  in my case at least, I am starting to wonder why I’m doing it if the fun has gone out of this experiment in endurance. It isn’t compulsory, nobody is making me take on 30 miles of lonely windswept hills.  A few people I know have even proactively counselled me against it, which is understandable but not good for morale.  They haven’t actually gone for the ‘but your womb will fall out!’ argument, but are throwing a few ‘what are you thinking’, ‘you don’t have to do this‘ and ‘what if you die out there‘ grenades.  Cheers.

Anyway, fortunately for me this wise wisdom-mongerer, who is herself taking on a 50 mile challenge later in the year – Ladybower 50  (my eyes bleed at the very thought) put it very well.  A pleasing counterpoint to those (including myself) who are slightly incredulous and fearful to hear I’m serious about doing this thing.   For her, it is about finding her limit, and she’ll keep extending the distances until she does.  I get that.  It’s not that I actually want to be broken, I’d honestly rather not – though sadly not enough to train systematically enough prior to participation unfortunately.  However, I do want to find out how far I can go.  We won’t know our limits unless we test them.  I used to think going to a parkrun was an impossible dream, then later 10k seemed insanity.  There were some breakthrough events, the Round Sheffield Run will always have a special place in my heart  because entering that was something of an accident and I realised I could go a lot further than I realised.  Then there was the time me and a running buddy got lost on a 5k run and ended up being out for hours with no food, head torches or water doing 18k. It was hilarious, and whilst not recommended, again demonstrates we can all do more than we think if circumstances require. Only this week, a woman survived 10 hours in the sea after falling off the back of a cruise ship.  Well done her, though I can’t help thinking it was a tad careless to topple off one of those.  Those ships are like tower blocks.  Also, the coverage was a bit harsh I thought. Some of those experts weren’t way near impressed enough at her survival.  I was.   Anyway, the point is, in extremeis, it’s amazing what we can do – she didn’t do fitness training in preperation for her 10 hours of treading water, not unless you count mindfulness and yoga, which I don’t.  There is no reason why, if we keep on setting new goals, in my case a bit further every time, then we shouldn’t sometimes just surprise ourselves by achieving them.  I’m not expressing this very well, but what I think I’m trying to say, is simply this.  If I change my mindset from ‘what if I fail?’ to ‘so what if I fail‘ and by extension ‘let’s go find out if I can‘ it’s going to be a lot more fun on the day.  It doesn’t matter if I’m a DNF (did not finish) because I’m just testing my boundaries.  Also, what if I fly?  Metaphorically, plenty do…

what if i fly

I may yet get round, which would be grand, but if I don’t, I’ll have still learned a load from the process and can decide if my DNF is a consequence of having reached my limit, or a consequence of being a bit naive about how I approached the whole thing.  There’s always next year to fail again, fail better.


In my heart of hearts, I do believe I’m capable of the distance, why wouldn’t I be?  As long as I’m slow enough and realistic about how I tackle it.  However, I also know in my heart of hearts I just haven’t really prepared properly.  I’ve underestimated the hills, I’ve faffed re nutrition, I’m carrying too much extra weight (round my midriff not in my pack) and I’ve not done necessary strength training or cross training that I am realising rather too late in the day is pretty much essential to avoid injury whilst training and/or undertaking an ultra, even a wee intro one.  The consequence is, instead of dreading the Dig Deep, I need to see it as just another fine day out with a picnic on the vertical learning curve that I laughingly refer to as my ‘running career’ trajectory.  I’ll either finish or I won’t but it’s just a step on the way to the next challenge.

If you are still with me dear reader, well done, but I’m really sorry that you don’t have anything more interesting and compelling to do right now as what follows will more than likely be self-indulgent taper-induced first world problemitising, you have been warned.

My last training yomp was a bit crap honestly.  Apart from the unexpected novelty of having the Queen rock up to cheer me round Bradwell, it was hard.  It was a long, lonely, hurrumphing 20 miles out.  My battery died, my legs ached, I just felt I didn’t know why I was out there.  There was nothing wrong with me physically, I don’t think so anyway, it was just like my mind had a moment of clarity that this was all quite hard actually, and completely unnecessary.  ‘You numpty, what are you doing hoiking your weary carcass through 20+ miles when you don’t have to?’  it said.  And you know what?  I had no answer.  Everyone else who I knew who was originally thinking of doing the thirty miler,  had already dropped out, there’d be no shame if I did the same.  Then I remembered that cheesy but true mantra, about run long, run short, but never outrun your love of running.  And, yes, if you want to be pedantic, I was only walking anyway at this point, but the principle stands true.  It’s one thing having a bad session, we’ve all had them, but if I was really questioning what’s the point, then there was no point.  Don’t want to piss on my own firework and lose the one thing I do that seems to free me of all of  life’s baggage because I didn’t know when to back off and take stock.

run long

By the time I got home, I was shattered, and demoralised.  Worse, my shin pain had returned with a vengeance.  Not good. Oh well, I made a choice.  I could still pull out from the event altogether, but that would feel like failing before I’ve tried.  I could drop back to the 12.12, but as all my ‘training’ has been walking, that would probably feel even worse as I’m not running fit, though I am more endurance fit.  The upshot is I’d get round fine, but probably significantly slower than last year and I think that would be even more demoralising.  Then I thought, in the two weeks left I can’t improve my fitness, but i could make an injury worse.  I decided to embrace a cold turkey ‘taper’, just knock all these solitary plods on the head, rest up and on event day head out with a picnic and a positive outlook and see how far I get. No pressure. The preparation equivalent of ‘turning it on and off again’ reset, start afresh, blank canvas.  I think this is a good plan. Or at least a good enough one, and once I’ve attempted or finished the route I’ll have a base line from which to plan where to go next.  I’d like to think if I went back to basics, maybe even a couch to 5k to get some running confidence back, worked at losing a bit of weight and added in some cross training I can come back stronger and wiser next year.  This is the plan as of now.

Not going out and yomping is miserable though.   Even if  I’m sure it’s a necessary strategy given that my shins have been really sore.  To be honest it’s not altogether suprprising I’ve been down.  I had a bit of shite week, sore shins, bruised morale.  My little injured dunnock, that I’ve been channelling, wasn’t attacked by a cat at all, but rather has developed full on avian pox, which is distressing to watch, though its stoicism is still remarkable.   I also found out to my absolute horror that swimming with captive dolphins is still apparently an acceptable thing.   I thought blackfish and similar exposés had put an end to that.  Heart breaking.  We really are going backwards in terms of animal welfare I think.  How is that OK?  Mind you, I am constantly horrified by many things in life, look at how pigs are farmed, yet the dominant view is celebrating bacon butties is ok, I’m a minority there too.  And really, given how people treat people there are bigger atrocities everywhere. You can’t protect Rwandan gorillas without protecting people too – genocide focuses the mind, and if I was starving and scared of venturing too far in case I’d be attacked by machete I’d probably be poaching from my nearest forest too.  Well, I’d like to think genocide and poverty and climate change etc did focus the mind, but it’s amazing how compassion fatigue or just disbelief kicks in and we all continue to stand on by. I know it’s complicated.   Even so, with the dolphins it’s such visible torture I was shocked that for some it isn’t even a dilemma, the great marketing machine has normalised this as – not just acceptable -, but desirable, aspirational even. With pigs, most people don’t come face to face with the reality of their lives and deaths, but we haven’t quite plumbed the depths of having smiling crowds gawping at them being slaughtered, though I daresay it is only a matter of time.  There are ways of seeing dolphins in the wild, why not do that?  I wonder if swimming with captive dolphins will be viewed like cock-fighting and bear-baiting are now in the UK one day.  Puzzling, distressing and anachronistic.

wild dolphin.jpg

A marker of a different age. I can but hope. Meantime I’ll just feel desperately sad as I acknowledge I’m seemingly in a minority on this topic too.   I’m glad to say the tide seems to have turned on the joy riding of elephants now. In my youth it was completely unchallenged, but now I think it’s wildly accepted that this is unacceptable, though you can still take tourist elephant rides in Cambodia.    I’m also very aware of my own inconsistencies in how I live, and what I do.  Wasting stuff, not making the transition to vegan blah de blah, and then I witness yet more Trumpisms being enacted that are accelerating the destruction of the planet and whether or not I recycle my yoghurt pots seems of little other than symbolic significance.  I told you tapering angst was bad.  The world just wasn’t feeling like a very nice place last week, everything was a bit much.  Maybe I just shouldn’t venture out from under my duvet at all…

I decided I wouldn’t run at parkrun as I don’t want my legs to shatter  pre the bank holiday, or ever to be fair –  so I tried to volunteer but was turned down.  (Grown up parkrun not junior) which was rubbish. Must be the only parkrun in the world that regularly turns away volunteers if my experience is anything to go by.  I wouldn’t mind quite so much but it’s now the eighth time over the years I’ve been told not to bother.  I just wanted to still be part of it, as I miss my parkrun fix otherwise  I wasn’t offering to volunteer out of martyrdom, I proactively wanted to do it to help me lift my mood.   I was going to stay away altogether in a sulk, but then found another buddy currently injured (hurrah!) who was up for walking it with me, so that’s what we did, and it was grand so all’s well etc.  It’s interesting walking at parkrun, a great way to see the whole field of runners, and put the world to rights through companionable chat.  We didn’t put the world to rights in a way that you might actually have noticed to be fair, but it was therapeutic walking and talking all the same.

Afterwards, cheered by the presence of other parkrun buddies and post parkrun coffee I may even have made a pact with another to enter the ballot for the Great North Run 2019. Well, it has been on my bucket list a while, and falls clearly into the category of being a challenge so far in the future I need not worry my pretty little head about how on earth I’ll take on the practicalities of training just now.  Nothing ventured eh?  It’ll be a hoot!  Red Arrows, that would be super cool.  I’m sure they do something to offset the carbon footprint of those flights. Plus seaside!  Always a boon.  The only other event we discussed was the Marathon des Sables and I surely would have had my wits about me sufficiently not to accidentally have agreed to that.  What’s more, whilst I wouldn’t claim to be pain free, my shins are definitely a lot better, resting was definitely the right call.  Things are looking up.

In another effort to settle my nerves and build my confidence I did some googling of Dig Deep ultra tails from the trails.  As is traditional when I use internet search engines, I just keep on searching until I find a version of events that corresponds with the answer I am seeking.  Alternative facts if you will.  Guilty as charged.  On this occasion I hit the jack pot.  Sandbach Striders did something called the OMM Dig Deep Intro Ultra way back in 2013.  Three of them went round together. From the video they’ve produced of the event it looks like the same route I’ll be tackling and do you know what, it really cheered me.  Not because they made it look easy, but because they made it look hard. They have a clip they filmed of themselves coming up Win Hill, which is basically one long expletive interspersed with expressions of disbelief, and then another section up to Rebellion Knoll, the Jurassic Section I’ve heard it described as elsewhere on account of tall vegetation and viscous biting local wildlife.  Insects the size of your head that kind of thing.  At the top of the second climb, one of them is just lying in a star shape, refusing to get up whilst his ‘mates’ are prodding him, and trying to persuade him to get up for long enough to at least dab his dibber.  It suddenly dawned on me that everyone finds those sections hard.  Even these fit ‘lads’.  I’ve been despairingly trudging up on my own imagining everyone else traversing these sections like mountain goats on speed or warthogs on a mission.  In fact, spoiler alert – the majority simply won’t.  I find this perversely reassuring.  I’d even venture I looked a bit less almost-dead at the top of Rebellion Knoll than the grey-faced guy on the ground in the video clip.  They got round, maybe this isn’t out of the question after all.  Things were looking up.

Unfortunately, things were also looking down. Such is the yin and yan of the tapering experience.  The last-minute race details were emailed through.   They were comprehensive and helpful, including a photo of each of the dibbing points.  I thought I knew the route, but the race map was in such poor detail that I hadn’t realised you have to climb up Carl Wark to get to the dibber.  I thought you just skirted round the bottom like for the 12.12 last year.  Curses.  It’s really not far, and I’m thankful to know ahead of time so I don’t miss it, but, and this is a BIG BUT, you have to climb up another hill to get there, at a stage in the it’s-just-not-that-funny-any-more-now game that is the Dig Deep 30/Peak Trails ultra.

carl wark checkpoing

The view from up there had better be good, and the marshal willing to give hugs of reassurance if required.  It would be even better if they’d nip down the hill, remove your dibber nip back up the hill and do the dibbing for you, and then return your dibber back to you for safe keeping.  Still, if they did I’d only be cheating myself, and also they’d probably have to take my whole arm off to do so, those dibbers really don’t budge easily.  That would be inconvenient, possibly painful and probably lead to a major arterial bleed which would seriously mess up my hydration strategy for the final section.  On balance, I’m going to be running up that hill, well, maybe not running as such, but crawling, most definitely.

I’m telling myself by the time I get here the end is in sight(ish) at the very least I’m on familiar ground and the heathery bits, and the downhill from Lady Cannings are my favourite parts of the route, so I’m sure it will all be fine in the end, and as a wise woman once said, ‘if it isn’t fine, then it isn’t the end‘ so that’s good to know!  I think I’m OK with the location of all the other dibbing points, but the Bradwell one I don’t quite recognise, though I’m hoping it will be obvious on the day, if not, I’ll just follow the crumbs from the spinach and filo finger food and I’m sure I’ll make my appointment for a faceplant into the restorative buffet before I have to wrench myself away again and trudge on.

So the upshot of all this, is that it’s all been a bit swings and roundabouts these last two weeks, but without the unadulterated joy that comes with being on either actual swings or actual roundabouts – rather these have been substituted self-loathing, self-doubt, self-pity and self-absorption.  Not a good look.  I’m not proud of this, not proud at all.  No wonder I hardly dare venture out in public at the moment.   Carousels though look lovely, let me see if I can find a cheery picture of one of them, it’ll help shift the mood!

fairground horses

There you go!  That feels better already.

So I’ve been down, but I’m still not out.  If I make the start, that’s the first big challenge done and dusted, and then, well we will all just have to wait and see won’t we.  I’m taking money for the bus fair home with me though, better safe than sorry eh?

Just a few days to go, my story isn’t over yet!  No idea how it will end, but that’s good isn’t it?  Where’s the fun and adventure in a predictable outcome after all.  Let’s embrace the joy of the unexpected …


Granted not all surprises are good, but we are all familiar with type two fun now I think.  Fun retrospectively. Alternatively, I’ll settle for the well at least I didn’t miss out option, as in, ‘I’m not sure if I enjoyed myself but I’d have been dead pissed off to have missed it‘.

Time will tell… and then so will I, my own story.  With the narrative I choose, consciously or otherwise.

For all my Dig Deep Series related posts, click here, and scroll down for older entries, or don’t, it’s up to you

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Tackling the taper… Not quite textbook tactics, but you know what? I’ll be reet! :)

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.

nice out

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.

garfield taper

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!

can i run

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:

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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:

blocked path

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 amazing!

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?

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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!

comma butterly,

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!

dig deep t shirt

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.

tapering runner

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.

The End.

For all my Dig Deep Series related posts, click here, and scroll down for older entries, or don’t, it’s up to you



Categories: off road, running | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Oh crap. This is real. Race pack has landed.

It has come.  More accurately, I have been reunited with my number for the Yorkshire/ Sheffield half-marathon.


It dawned on me a while ago that my number hadn’t reached me.  Although many of my running buddies were excitedly posting pictures of their newly arrived race packs, ripped open after tumbling through letter boxes.  I wasn’t overly concerned, I quite liked the comforting perpetual sense of denial associated with lack of physical proof that the Half Marathon is drawing ever closer.  Then I saw a post somewhere that said if you’d entered pre 22nd Feb then you should get your packs by such and such a date (early in March and long since passed).  I finally I realised that maybe, just maybe, I should be a bit proactive about things, and see what might have happened to it en route to my residence.

I emailed the nice people at the Yorkshire Marathon team, and explained my dilemma.  I was now panicking about the non-receipt of my race pack, and would like to replace that current state of panic, with a new existential terror about having to run the darned thing instead.  They responded pretty swiftly, I should indeed have received it by now.  However, they could reissue, if I’d just confirm again I hadn’t received it.  So that was fine.  Except I had a thought.   I wonder?

I live in a building converted into flats.  People come and go, junk mail accumulates like snow drifts in the hallway, and former residents who either never used redirection services or whose arrangements have long since expired, continue to get post for years and years after moving out.  Periodically, mail fairies jettison some of this excess.  There is a large plastic box that appeared by magic in the hall way some years ago, and it is there for the express purpose of dumping unwanted or unhomed mail as a temporary holding pen until someone works out what to do with it all.    I myself have even been known to forage through this box now and again.  Sometimes to retrieve and forward on or return to sender items that look important.  Sometimes out of nosiness.  Why lie?  Of course I do – though I have been well brought up and never open anything, I have been known to hold things up to the light – well you have to don’t you, to see if something needs to be returned to sender or can reasonably be jettisoned.  I do this for the public good…  Sometimes, this mining is actually  necessary to see if something I was expecting has in fact been misdirected into this sink hole for unclaimed post.  The sink hole looks a bit like this, only with more postal items and junk mail occupying the space, so it’s quite an operation to excavate it.


Yesterday was such an occasion.  I wonder…

I emptied the post pile onto the communal hall floor and went through every single pizza delivery service flier, Christmas cards from Nick Clegg, free newspaper and TalkTalk bargain price offers.  Like an archive historian I marvelled at this documentary record of former tenants who have long since been and gone.  It felt a bit hopeless as I excavated each successive layer unearthing earlier and earlier eras of residence  However, eventually, and remarkably, I did eventually hit the dubious jackpot.  It was there!  Against the odds, I had located it.  Hooray.  A thin looking envelope, albeit a large one.  I can see why it might have been categorised as junk mail by a neighbour in my absence.  I ripped it open and OMG (get me and my text-speaking yoof jargon), there it was. My race number.  This is real.

I replied to the nice people at Yorkshire Marathon (thank you Elliott) and said that I’d now been reunited with number.  I might have glossed over the ‘it was here all the time’ aspect of it all, didn’t want to draw attention to my own stupidity, but all’s well that end’s well eh.  Now I really don’t know what to do.  To run, or not to run, I have no idea, after all this faffing, and so late in the day.  It’s ridiculous.

The problem is, I have this poorly knee still.  I’ve never had knee problems in my life before (apart from breaking one years ago by running into a brick wall, but that was different and also the other knee).  My head tells me I probably shouldn’t run.  My heart tells me ‘what the hell‘.  I am completely resting at the moment, but this path leads to mind games and mental torment.  Too much time to think?  I seem to wake up every morning with a new niggle, ailment or cause of panic.  I really don’t know if I’m becoming a hypochondriac, or whether I’m just hyper aware.  Maybe I’m resting too much?  Shoulder’s hurting, the calf in my other leg is all stiff now and this morning I was just exhausted for no reason at all.  Is this normal?  Is this part of the taper experience and why tapirs are better role models than actual athletes as a spa and (another) nap might help more than worrying about having to run all the time?  I honestly feel like my body has started to fall apart since I stopped running.    According to Run Britain (What Could Possibly Go wrong) a good taper allows you to arrive at the start line feeling ‘fresh and feisty‘.  I know, sounds great.  But also right now completely implausible. I just feel sluggish and slack.  Surely not how it’s supposed to be?  I found this, apart from the Americanisms (for which I apologise to my British reader ‘sneakers’ are not a real thing, not in the UK) this looks a bit of a familiar check-list.  So maybe all that I describe is normal and proportionate after all.

runner in denial

I can’t right now imagine walking to the corner shop without a limp, let alone voluntarily running for miles and miles more than seems sensible.  Plus it is currently hailing outside (no really, it is) what if it does that on Sunday?  I’ve supplemented my training and tapering regime with Googling race tips.  A whole new source of angst.  Chaffing and nipple blisters are only the start of it.  Add in falling over, being sick, getting the runs (but not in a good way).  What was I thinking when I entered?  I have absolutely NO IDEA!

Another cause of angst is race nutrition.  I never eat when I run, never ever, and because I’m so slow and do a lot of walk/running, I’m often out for up to 3 hours and haven’t had problems before.  However, a few wiser runners far more experienced than me have advised that if you are going for more than 90 minutes (and I will be out for a lot more than that) it is a good idea to have something.  Also, even if I don’t feel like I need it, the psychological lift of ‘rewarding’ myself with something when I reach say the Norfolk Arms (round about the half way point and  at the top of the Killer Hill) would be good.  The problem is what to take?

Bit late in the day to practise with gels.  I am vegetarian, so don’t really want to opt for jelly babies.  I have been known to eat them (Round Sheffield Run had them at feed stations, and I did need something then – I even enjoyed them, but then felt really guilty afterwards).  I’m not a total purist, and would eat jelly babies in a survival situation, post an apocalypse or indeed at point of collapse on a run say – but I don’t feel comfortable using them as my default energy plan.  I scoured supermarket shelves for alternatives/.  I can’t cope with the nutrition bars mid run, and some of the sweet options looked like they’d just be a congealed mess by the time I got to them on a run.  Melt in heat, dissolve in ran, too hard to open, too unfamiliar.  This was way harder than I thought.  Bananas were offered on the Round Sheffield Run feed stations, but I can’t digest these, also can’t imagine how you’d carry them whilst running, nor the consequences of discarding the peel en route (actually, I can imagine that bit very well, slapstick running humour in the extreme, but not public spirited)…

In the end I came across these.  An extreme sugar hit, not seen them before, but they look relatively innocuous – as far as uber refined sugar can ever be called innocuous I suppose.  Not so tempting I’ll eat unless I need them, but will do the job.  Also, small enough that they will go into my sleeve’s zip pocket, which is only carriage option unless I put a saddle bag on Roger, which I don’t want to do.  I probably ought to try one of them prior to Sunday, but can’t face it.  Contrary to public opinion, I don’t have a really sweet tooth, carbohydrate definitely, cake now and again certainly, but pure sugar?  The thought makes my teeth vibrate.  Still, they look jolly, and I think the cow is for decorative purposes, not to indicate that the package contains beef.  (In Vietnam you see shop fronts adorned with happy looking healthy dogs… these are not poodle parlours, but restaurants where dog is the speciality, so I now regard packaging as always potentially open to more than one interpretation…  Be careful out there).


So in terms of pre-race check list I have the following:

  • All pervading sense of being woefully ill prepared?  Tick
  • ‘Nutrition’ fix for en route sustenance? Tick
  • Race number? Tick
  • Horse for assisted passage? Tick
  • New injuries?  Tick
  • Running Club vest? Tick
  • New sports bra?  Tick

Think that covers it….  Just remains to be seen if I have the nerve and audacity to turn up on the start line.  Jury still out on that one.  We shall all find out together.

Categories: half marathon, race, road, running | Tags: , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Never under estimate the importance of a good Tapir

Tapirs should be taken seriously I’m told.

Personally, I still haven’t made a definite decision about the Sheffield Half, but I see no reason why that should prevent me from putting some unsolicited second-hand advice out there for those of you who are.  The week before a big race, especially for a first timer, is always going to be stressful.  I think it’s fair to say the accepted wisdom is to be resting up during this time in order to ‘preserve your fitness‘ (Thanks Smiley Elder Super Geek).   Let’s face it, at this stage it’s a bit late to imagine you are going to magically metamorphose into an upgraded runner version of yourself within the next 6 days .  However, that means that all the time that might normally be spent running around, can now be spent surfing the internet for random advice to get you to the start line in peak physical condition.

As a running blogger (I’ve decided that for today that’s what I am) I feel confident you will be anxious to hear my own Top Tips on the thorny subject of the perfect tapir.  Only the other day a running companion gave me a serious look and remarked that ‘one should never underestimate the importance of a good tapir‘, and it occurred to me that this is all well and good and easy enough to say, but what does it actually mean?

For a start, what makes a good tapir?  Which ones in particular are relevant here?  There are lots of different versions – who knew?  At least four distinct species according to this wikipedia page about tapir, so that must be true.  I’ll be honest, I was a bit vague about what a tapir is exactly, but I’ve googled them, and they are pretty attractive – especially the calf, but not noticeably aerodynamic or athletic in form. It did make me a bit doubtful about the extent to which an appreciation of these pig like, trunked creatures will enhance my running performance, but on the plus side, they do offer a great photo opportunity – look:

The lying down looks good, and they are probably triathletes too, as they are ace swimmers, though it was a bit more challenging to find any photos of them on bicycles, not that I care about that too much to be honest, this is after all a running blog, not a cycling one, we all have our particular areas of expertise.  Actually, I suppose I did find one of a tapir on a bike, colour co-ordinated and everything, but, whilst I’m not a qualified cycling or triathleting official, I doubt this would have been waved through as legitimate competition.  I mean, say what you like about cycling, but I think it’s learned its lesson from the Lance Armstrong scandal, and they are a lot tighter with rules and regulations these days…  That flamingo is definitely giving some outside assistance don’t you think?

tapir on a red bike

 So here is a photo of a tapir swimming really well, it’s not drowning, and it’s not hydrotherapy either.  Well I sort of assumed not, because of all the pond weed round about, but then again, loads of spas do expensive algae wraps and things these days don’t they, so maybe it is just doing that.


In fact, I think I’m beginning to see the point.

If you look at google images of tapir, then there are many shots of tapirs variously lying about not doing very much,  and flailing around in an algael swamp, apparently enjoying a spa. This does sound like it could be the way to go in relation to easing back on the running prior to a big event.  Seems my running buddy’s Top Tips (thanks 007) have more insight than I first credited them with.

So, if you are now scared about your impending half marathon, if you are experiencing all sorts of emotions from the aggravating existential angst to a zillion permutations of unease along the continuum, worry not.  Just think about the tapir.  What I have learned from them is the following key points:

  • Sleep a lot
  • have an algae bath
  • don’t try cycling, not even if you have a flamingo to help it wont work.

Also (and this is my own non-tapir based tip) try to keep stress levels as low as possible by avoiding all the road closure signs and notifications that have started to spring up all over the place.  The sight of them will make you feel sick, and this is contra-indicated at this important time.

Also, eat cake, but not too much.  And lay out your running kit a lot and keep looking at it admiringly if possible.

I think that just about covers the tapir.  If you want alternative tapir tips, then maybe my blog wasn’t the best go-to website for running insights.  You could also try runners world on tapering or wikipedia on tapering – works for me, though I think I can confidently say my article illustrations are rather more appealing.  Each to their own though I suppose.

Plus, keep checking the post, only when your race pack finally arrives will the absolute terror show itself, and then you will know what real fear feels like.  Just a week to go the Sheffield Half and mine has yet to land.  I’m quite relieved really, it means I can continue in denial for a little longer.  Periodically I have a little wave of panic that I wont be able to run if it doesn’t arrive in time, but this is probably nothing compared to the tsunami of panic that will engulf me if and when it does land on my doormat, and I come to realise this challenge is real, and I will be expected to run it after all!

So, be careful what you wish for.

be careful

Whether running or not, I recommend that over the next week you indulge all and any impulses to sleep, eat and see if you can blag a bubble bath/ hot spa or whatever equivalent is within your budget range.  So go wild, indulge yourself, give yourself some sofa time, find your inner tapir, and let’s see what the results have to say about that tactic a week from now.

You’re welcome.


Categories: half marathon, race, road, running | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments

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