It’s amazing to think that six months have passed since I finished Te Araroa and that’s the last time I posted anything here. Whilst the blog suggests otherwise, I don’t really feel like I’ve been ‘away’ from running as such but patience has been important to claw myself back from the rather low place I was in physically.. In the few months immediately after the expedition I wrote a lot about my experiences for magazines and interviews, and reflected upon the experience as a whole. I’m sure you’ve had enough of all that, and I certainly think it’s time to start looking forward again.
The plan from here is to get back into some racing and ‘shorter’ challenges, and initially to have a go at some races that remain unticked on my bucket list. I get asked a lot whether I will do another ‘long trail’ project, and hand on heart I couldn’t say no to that question, but it would definitely be a few years down the line because the impact on body, mind, family and friends is massive. However some shorter fastest known time (FKT) challenges appeal to me, of which there are plenty to choose from in the UK for starters. I am mulling over some options for next year at the moment. Hush hush.
But right now I’m feeling in a really good place in terms of strength, health and fitness. Hurray. It’s a good job really, because in a couple of weeks time I shall once again be on the start line for the The North Face Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc; possibly not the most forgiving ultra race around, particularly as a comeback race. And of course it’s not a new race to me, like I said would be my focus. But it’s a race I really love, and the last time I had a ‘clean’ build-up i.e. without much racing involved in the few months beforehand was 2010 on the comeback from injury, and that year I had a belter. So why not hey…..
So what have I been up to over the last six months? Just pulling myself back together really. Back in health now, I’ve realised just how low I really was after Te Araroa. Yes, I know, it’s not a massive surprise to hear I was deeply fatigued after all that running, but actually, I was pretty bad. In the final part of the run, I never really properly recovered from the stomach bug that stopped me in my tracks for 3 days, and I really just soldiered on, determined to finish the job in hand. We suspected it was giardia at the time, but after it lingered for weeks on return to the UK, I had various tests and I found out I was actually suffering from salmonella. So the chances are it was salmonella all the time, and with my beaten up immune system it probably lurked in my body for several weeks, and only really responded positively after two courses of antibiotics. I will never really know for sure, but what I do know is that my recovery was particularly drawn out by my body’s struggle to absorb what it needed, and it’s never great to have something like that sit around in your system for too long.
I started doing some light running, walking and swimming within a few weeks of getting back around mid-February. I felt like I was learning to do all these things for the first time again, such hard work it proved to be. The complicated picture of having a beaten up ‘system’ mixed with general fatigue simply from the duration of the run was hard to pick my way through. The exercise I was doing didn’t involve any significant exertion, so I felt it important to at least get my limbs moving again after so much ‘rust’ had accumulated.
Before I finished Te Araroa my plan had been to taper down from the daily distance and running routine by at least doing a little bit each day for the few weeks afterwards. But what actually happened was that as soon as my mind knew it was all over, so too my body let go, and physically my body was just not up to anything. I soon let go of that idea, and did nothing in the immediate aftermath.
I started to turn a significant corner during a holiday to Scotland at the end of April. Running around the low level tracks of the local glens was a really positive experience, and I could do it without stopping – progress! From that point I gained some consistency, and step-by-step, run-by-run, my endurance and speed started to creep back.
Mindful of just drifting back into a ploddy Te Araroa pace and that finding some ‘speed’ would be the real challenge, I entered a couple of local road races to try and push myself on. The first was the Purbeck 10k which was, frankly, horrible. The first 5km was bearable, but the second 5km was horribly painful. I’ve never been overtaken by so many people during a race. But it gave me some focus for a spell of speedwork, and tempos runs to work on threshold pace, and that proved successful with a win at a local 8mile fun run and 2nd place at a half marathon. Progress….
By this time I was starting to run ‘long’ again, with a staple diet of one or two twenty milers per week, sometimes a little bit more. Without any taper I ran the Cortina Trail race in the Dolomites which again felt like part of the process of getting me back to the right place. I wasn’t competitive – I’m not sure I ever will be at the shorter ultra distance races without specific focus – but I ran a solid race, did my own thing, and at a slightly slower pace I could easily have held on for a much greater distance.
I then felt like there was a platform there for UTMB, so I’ve spent the summer focusing my training accordingly, with several trips to the mountains to get the necessary climbing and descending into my legs. I’ve been to the Brecon Beacons, Shropshire Hills, Scottish Highlands, round the UTMB course over 3 days and Snowdonia for my annual Snowdon ‘reps’ session. With these training weekends alone, it’s been quite a summer already with some great weather to enjoy long days in the mountains.
|Col du Bonhomme on the UTMB course|
You can read about these outings in the blog posts I’ve written for run247.com:
In all honesty I still don’t know for sure how my body will be over 100 miles in the mountains, and I won’t know the answer to that until at least after Cormayeur on the UTMB course. It’s a fine balance between pushing yourself hard to get fit, but not tiring yourself so much that you’re actually losing strength in the process of training. Whatever happens in UTMB this year, I’m out to enjoy it, and I’ll certainly be starting with a big grin on my face, simply from the experiences I’ve had over the summer, and the sheer excitement that a unique race like UTMB brings. Let’s just cross our fingers for some better weather this year, and a race on the full course.
|Poles? Maybe, haven't decided yet.|
|on the Ramsay Round route, big Ben in the background|
|Chamonix bound on the last day of my UTMB training loop|
|The last munro on the Ramsay Round route. Phew.|