The fourth week of my training programme for Snowdonia was taken on the basis from the guide that Brooks are sending out periodically to entrants. If you’re running the race, and you’re receiving these updates, the biggest difference with mine, if any, is the Saturday long run – its just a little more tailored to where I’m at. Had the groin strain post-London not shorn me of six weeks of running fitness, I’d probably have been further ahead. Alas, but for the jarring of my right knee which had me continuing precautions into the early part of this week, I might already have reached half marathon distance within the first few weeks. Not to worry though. I was content to take an easier week because for one, it called for a bit of crosstraining. And that meant time in the gym, or the pool. Whichever I could decide on.
Alas though, it wasn’t Friday’s meeting with Mr Smith that became the most important, but in fact, that ‘gentle jog’ the doctor suggested, which I opted for Tuesday night, around 5 days to the minute that I jarred my knee on the steps of that footbridge of York rail station. Despite not causing much bother since, it hasn’t stopped me icing when I can, hot therapy when possible, compressing, elevating and resting when allowable. For the run, I decided to go back to some stuff I used while suffering from poorly sesamoids. Yep. Rocktape!
Gaffered in the stuff, I headed down to my local gym, got on the treadmill, loaded up a playlist on Spotify and started walking. Within a minute I was plodding. Soon I was jogging. Thereafter I guess I’d call it running. Easy running. 10.5km/h running.
Thursday presented the opportunity to do cross training, or at least, something not involving running. That was at least until I had to get off a bus on the way home a stop early to sprint across town in my battered old work shoes to catch the connecting bus home on time. A couple of hours later, I was in the swimming pool, at my local gym. More specifically, the 20 metre teaching pool, with a depth ranging from 0.6m to 1.1m. As I always seem to do, I opted for the fast lane, because I don’t seem to have a slower front crawl setting. I seemed a bit too focused on speed at first and tired myself out easily, but told myself to relax a little and to try and focus on my technique. I don’t think I was ever perfect but I did at least manage to roll to my side to take a breath in, tried to breathe every two strokes on alternate sides, and even though I’d lapse into bad habits, I kept it up and then, on my final length, actually got right in the streamlined position – face looking straight down, in the water, and suddenly, that same hard effort felt much easier. I ended it there on a positive note, only to scurry off, shower, dry off, and run up to the gym for some weight and core training. All in all, a good night’s work.
The day of the 401 Challenge came. I’ll detail more about the day in a separate blog post because it really demands more attention. What I will say is that it was a huge pleasure to run with Ben Smith, the man running the 401 marathons in 401 days. This would have been marathon 340, but for an enforced break due to back troubles. To finally meet him and run with him, along with the Horsforth Harriers and several other runners too, was an amazing experience of fun, determination, and collective…I was out all day, mind, setting off at 9:30am and catching three different buses to get to Horsforth, and even waited around for an hour prior to deciding I’d have to go off and find him – luckily I did, but more in that upcoming post. We eventually finished not long about 5:45pm – I ran 16.96 miles in just over 2 hours, 50 minutes, but it felt like so much longer, due to the various stops, the slower pace, and the heat, which seemed to endure through the entire run. Its a day I’ll never forget, and it was an absolute pleasure to run with him. Completely a top guy, happy to welcome all a handshake, a hug and a selfie, no airs or graces about him.
That said, I suffered for my efforts, feeling like I had run the whole marathon, and worse, in an innocuous uncrossing of legs back at home later on, I felt something go in my right knee. Again, it didn’t seem too serious – it seemed I could run and walk fine, but it was a noticeable twinge when I sat down, stood up, or bent my knee a certain way. I’m not sure what to say right now, except I’m going to need to tread carefully, and maybe take something out of the 401 Challenge experience.
Because running with people at at least two minutes slower than I’m accustomed to taught me a lot about the mindset that slower runners must have when they tackle challenges like these. Some knew how to run a marathon. Others were doing this for the first time. You’ll no doubt have seen the phrase ‘a 12 minute mile is just the same as a 6 minute mile’, or along those lines. Its absolutely right. I would happily sacrifice all manner of competitiveness and speed right now if indeed I want to ensure I can make it over this distance again. They’re more admirable than any elite runner because I finally understand what its like to be out there, for several hours, running slowly and purposefully to the end goal, the pure enjoyment of running as it should be, the crowning glory of completing the race, however far, whatever the pace, doing what it takes, as long as it takes. All to enjoy the challenge, the experience and leaving enough in reserve to keep going that extra mile. And that will be something I take away with me not just for Snowdonia, but for the potential step up to ultra, and indeed the more immediate concern of looking after my body, which just seems to be feeling more of a strain at the minute than I’ve ever experienced, despite now finally putting in the extra effort to look after it.
I will make it to Snowdonia. All I need to do is listen. All I need to be is patient.
The week was rounded off with a trip up to the Yorkshire Dales with my father. I really should do this sort of thing more often. He took me up to the village of Kettlewell and along a mostly rocky bridleway past a bridge to Starbotton and onward to the next village of Buckden. Buckden is home to the monument Buckden Pike, which to reach requires what is described as ‘a strenuous route’ up to the monument. We didn’t tackle that on this occasion. This was a long planned trip to take me back up to a region I’d not seen since childhood. And it was brilliant. We took in the fresh Yorkshire air and the sights and sounds only a place like this could provide.
My father would joke about my touristy nature of taking photos, and how he likes Buff headbands but that I wear mine like I have a head injury! But we both knew how amazing the area we were walking through is, with picture opportunities waiting at every turn, and he encouraged me to take photos of wild flowers for him. He’s a regular visitor to the Yorkshire Dales and he’s taken my siblings on this very walk as well. He could point out every hill, every footpath and where it all lead to. I could rely on him for any expedition around the Dales.
On the way back, we walked along the road back to Starbotton, which involved having to step aside for numerous vehicles, before taking the footpath back towards Starbotton Bridge, and along the path to Kettlewell. It was over that final section where nature revealed itself once again. The weather had threatened to turn as the cloud had descended, but began to lift slightly. This brought out swallows and swifts, birds I hadn’t seen for a long time, and later, two common buzzards circling the skies, and even the call of the curlew.
We ended up walking over 8 miles in total, with only a haywire GPS signal causing a slight miscalculation. I didn’t look at my GPS at all during the walk – I just wanted to be able to look back at where we had walked, because I can now picture a small part of the Yorkshire Dales, providing the basis to explore further and maybe even plot a course to run around. They even have a half marathon here around June time (the Wharfedale Trail) which features over 2,000 feet of ascent! Perhaps a great excuse for another trip.
This was meant to be an easy week, particularly given the concern with my right knee, and yet I’ve somehow managed above 28 miles running and walking, the most in my training yet. Hopefully I’m back on track. The walk thankfully didn’t expose any exacerbation in my knee, which seems OK once again, but wow, after 17 miles with Ben Smith and 8+ miles with my father on rocky paths, my calf muscles were pretty much destroyed. Cheers Dad!
As you now read this, I’ve still not felt any other twinges or quirks in my right knee and I’m feeling good about my upcoming race in Marsden this coming Saturday.
Applying for the Snowdonia Marathon is actually turning out to be a very sound choice, but its actually now fuelling my sense for adventure. Where that will take me, I really don’t know, but its an exciting prospect. And my insatiable quest to see where my legs can possibly take me really got a new lease of life too.
Taking things slow turned out to be a direct path to calm, to happiness, and to wonder. There’s always an opportunity to explore, a time to stop, and simply admire. Not everything has to pass us by so quickly.