Monday, 23 June 2014

Life, the Universe and Everything (nearly)

Race day saw sunny, hot and blustery conditions which tested the mettle of all those taking part.
My plan was to walk with a little group of people including my wife, Vinny Lynch and some friends to Peel and I must admit, I really enjoyed the social aspect of the early miles down to Rushen. By Rushen though, my feet started to let me know they were still not right and after a couple of more miles of discomfort, I sensibly pulled out of the race at the bottom the of the Sloc. There was no point in making my feet any worse. Although slightly disappointed I didn't make it to Peel, I had a great time chatting to other competitors and supporters at the road side along the way. This is an aspect of the event which is lost for those at the head of the race.

There were some fantastic performances accross the field which saw 184 finsihers of which 71 were first time finishers, the most notable of which is that of fellow blogger Richard Wild. An accomplished walker at shorter distances, this was his first attempt at a Parish finish and whilst he admitted to being apprehensive prior to the start, he remained sensible, judged his race extremely well and was ultimately rewarded with a podium position of which he should be suitably proud.
It is good to see that fellow blogger Steph Quayle finished too as she has been suffering with a similar ankle injury to the one I have been wrestling with and it would have undoubtedly affected her performance on the day - well done Steph.
Dave Walker has been very strong in training during the year and as a result, he had an absolute blinder to knock more than an hour off his PB and claim a very much deserved second place.

Congrats to Alex Eaton who convincingly won the U21 men's race to Peel and also to Danielle Oates who won the ladies U21 race. Both started as junior race walkers with Manx Harriers and have been mentored over the years by Alan Callow and Elizabeth Corran respecively. Worthy of note is that Danielle has missed quite a bit of training this year due to injury so it is testament to her determination that she won her race by a good ten minutes.

Worthy winner of the ladies race was Jeanette Morgan who led from the start and never really looked like being caught although the tenacious Janice Quirk didn't let her have it all her own way and was a constant threat.

Richard Gerrard took his first 'solo' win and deservedly so. Although never seriously challenged, he walked most of the race on his own and it can be a long and lonely road sometimes, especially if you have a bit of a wobble which he did on the way to Maughold.
I think this could be the first of many wins for Richard who isn't yet 44. Why 44? Apart from very nearly being the answer to the ultimate question of  Life, the Universe and Everything, several years ago, around about 2008, someone produced an interesting statistic that the average age of a competitor doing the Parish Walk was 44. This made a lot of sense to me because, at that time, I had entered the Parish 5 times and gained a lot of invaluable experience. My finising times were gettng quicker and I was leaping up the leader board from 62nd in 2005 to 18th in 2006 to 7th in 2007. 2008 was the year in which I first won the race and I was 44 at that time.
Thinking about it logically, people in their 20s and early 30s will be busy honing more important life skills such as seeing the world, young families, working, socialising and generally living life. They won't be that interested in walking hundres of miles in training to do the Parish Walk simply 'because it's there'. It will be there at some other time.
There are exceptions to every rule though (Adam Killip, Dale Farquhar to name but two), but for the most part, and as a generalisation bourne from statistics, this interesting statement seems to hold some merit.

Hopefully, you overcame the challenging conditions on Saturday and managed to reach your target whatever or wherever that was. If you did, give yourself a well deserved pat on the back. If you didn't manage to make it, chances are that you uttered the famous words "Never again!". However, now that the pain is subsiding and the mind starts to forget the angst you put yourself through on Saturday, it seems that it actually "wasn't that bad" and that you did enjoy it. Or at least some of it.
Give it a couple of weeks and you'll be up for the challenge again and a plan will start to formulate in the depths your mind.
Entries will open in less than six months and we'll do it all over again!

Finally, I hope this blog was of use to some of you and that some tips or pointers helped you in some small way to achieve what you set out to do.
Happy walking and the very best of luck for the future.

Jock Waddington
June 2014

Friday, 20 June 2014

Pain is only temporary.....

Well, here we are on the eve of the race! Where did the time go?
All of the training and preparation, the early mornings, the miles and miles done in all weathers have brought you to this point and it will all have been worth it.
Now is the time to finalise your preparations and to relax as much as possible. You won't sleep well tonight as the anticipation sends your mind racing however, it is not the sleep you get on the night prior to a race which is important (it is never fitfull), but rather the sleeps on the two or three preceeding nights which count. You were much more relaxed at that point and will have slept better than you will tonight.

The forecast is for a hot day so it will be important to increase your fluid intake to compensate for fluid loss due to the conditions. Equally important is drinking the correct fluids i.e. not simply water. Mix it up with isotonic drinks, tea, coke, fruit juices and if required, Dioralyte. This is great for replacing minerals lost due to excessive perspiration but on the down side, it tastes pants. Whatever you fancy really or can get your hands on but the golden rule is to keep hydrated! Remember: if you feel thirsty, its too late and you are already on the road to dehydration.
Ideally, today should be spent hydrating by drinking lots of fluids. Most will pass through but your body will retain what it needs. Do the pinch test on the back of your hand to give a rough guide to how hydrated you actually are. This is a rule of thumb really because younger people have better elasticity in their skin than older people so results will vary. However, the premise is that when pinched, the quicker the skin falls back to its normal position, the better hydrated you are. If it snaps back, chances are you are good to go. If it sinks down slowly, seek out a tap.

One of the problems with drinking lots of fluids to combat dehydration is that it can fill your stomach which in turn tells your brain it is full and your brain then declares that you are not hungry and so you don't eat anything. It is important to realise that this may happen and to be aware of it and ensure you do eat otherwise you will rapidly run out of energy.
Weather like that forecast makes what is already a difficult task somewhat more challenging. The 2010 race saw similar weather and a lot of entrants suffered in the heat especially going up the Sloc in what would have been the hottest part of the day.

Should push come to shove and you feel like you can't continue, take 10 or 15 minutes out sitting in the back of your support vehicle and use the time to eat, drink, change clothing and re-apply sun screen. I can guarantee that you will feel like a new person at the end of this period and you will be able to carry on in a much better frame of mind.
I can also state with conviction that if you do give up before you reach your goal, that by the time you get home you will feel ok and will wish you had carried on.

I hope you do well tomorrow and that you reach your intended targets. The only person who can stop you getting there is you.

Good luck and good walking!

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

A walk in the park

The Manxies (Vinny Lynch, Jayne Farquhar, Louise Smith, Ed Walter, Jane Foster, Simon Cox and I) had a very successful weekend in what turned out to be an extremely hot and humid 24 hour event. Although the 27° temperatures and blistering sunshine (it reminded me of home....) were forecast, it was still a shock and we were all hot and bothered just putting the tent and gazebo up to use as our HQ.
At midday, we all set off with a mix of trepidation, enthusiasm and excitement. We did a few up and down loops (to make up the distance) and were then let loose on the 3966m (2.46 miles) laps of which 39 would make up the 100 miles.
Once we were out in the open and had lost the shade of the trees, it quickly became very apparent that this was not going to be pleasant due to the heat, which was gradually increasing, and the humidity which was creeping up too.
In a previous life, I came to Rotterdam fairly frequently and from memory, it was always cold, wet and windy. Even the locals seemed a bit bewildered by this current heatwave.

On the Parish Walk, you will see your support team at regular intervals and, depending on your needs, that could be every half mile or every mile for example. Here though, it was almost 2.5 miles between feeds. Half way around was a water/sponge/1st aid station which was very useful. As these feed/water stations were so far apart, we needed to ensure that we were on the ball with hydration and nutrition and took something at every opportunity.

From the off, Vinny got to the front with his usual determination. I chose to warm up for a loop before upping my pace a little and joining him after a mile or so.
We stayed together for about 20 miles at a fairly good pace until we became separated and Vin moved about 500 meters ahead of me.
The route went through a massive public park with numerous paths and roads, so the race route was marked by arrows in chalk indicating the way to go. Although we had traversed the route for about 15 laps, Vin took a wrong turn, got so far and doubled back and rejoined the correct path. I wasn't surprised as I had to stop him going the wrong way earlier. Anyway, we remained together until 50 miles when he visited the 1st aid tent for some attention to blisters. It turned out that he had a blood blister which meant they couldn't treat it and they pulled him from the race at that point which was very unfortunate.
I could feel a hot spot on each sole too but I had already applied Compedes (other blister plasters are available) and changed my shoes but it wasn't easing. At 60 miles I decided that a visit to the 1st aid tent was in order otherwise I was sure I wouldn't be able to finish.
The Dutch 1st aid guys were positively anti-blister plasters and said as much whilst happily ripping off the ones welded to my feet. This was highly unpleasant. They then taped the blistered area with adhesive tape of various widths to create a "second skin". I must admit I was dubious but the guy who meticulously applied said dressings was adamant that it would do the trick and I'd be fine. I lost nearly 40 minutes there but, as it turned out, it was worth it.
Getting going again was tough. My legs had seized and my feet were tender. My head wasn't much better as I set off somewhat gingerly.

In every event, long or short, you will experience mental low points. I have harped on about this in most posts and whilst sounding negative, it is simply a fact and something that has to be dealt with. To say I was low at this point was an understatement. My body felt wrecked, both feet were in bits, the humidity was rising, it was dark and I had lost all mental focus.
I chose to do a lap and see how the bandaged feet coped. It was slow until my seized legs got going again and I became accustomed to the discomfort of both feet. That lap blended into the next which blended into the next. At 70 miles however, I knew that my feet would hold out and that I would finish. Quite a bold thought with 30 miles to go but nevertheless, I was sure.
The remaining laps didn't get any easier but with each lap, there was one less to do and as that number decreased, my spirits lifted.
I was elated to finally cross the finish line and to become continental centurion number 400.
I know the others suffered just as much as I did and it was down to sheer bloody mindedness that Jane, Jayne, Ed and Louise overcame the hot and humid and frankly hideous conditions to become continental centurions. 

None of us would have finishes but for the fantastic support given to us by Teri Waddington and Dale Farquhar and latterly Vin and Simon too. Great support is a necessity and they were brilliant! 

Simon succumbed to sicknesses and unfortunately had to withdraw.

The dodgy ankle which I have been struggling with for a couple of months now was complaining after around 20 miles but lasted until it gave up at 99 miles and I hobbled to the line. Sore and swollen now though but it got the job done.

The Isle of Man was well represented at this event and the cameraderie which is always evident at walking events on the island was prevalent here.
During the event there weren't many pleasant moments and at the end I stated the famous "never again" phrase. Now that the pain and mental anguish are diminishing,  hindsight indicates that "it wasn't that bad". Hmmm.
That will be the mind playing tricks again because I know it was hideous and I'm sure the others will back me up.

IoM walkers on tour did well again! Go us!

Before the start L-R Jock Waddington,  Simon Cox,  Jayne Farquhar,  Ed Walter,  Jane Foster,  Louise Smith and Vinny Lynch. 

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Twee dagen te gaan......

Currently at the end of a chilled week of theme parks and foreign food. After a few days in Germany in a town called Rust near Stuttgart where we went to Europa Park, we have just finished a couple of days near Tilburg, Holland at Efteling theme park. We've been to Efteling before and thoroughly enjoyed it. It's loosely based on the Grimm Brothers fairy tales and there's something there for all ages.
Europa Park is larger with more rollercoasters and boasted a new ride for spring 2014 based on the new "Arthur" movie. Bearing in mind that we went on June 1st, which technically is the first day of summer, it wasn't open. So much for German efficiency!
Due to this we'll probably have to go back some day.
We decamp tomorrow morning and head for Schiedam where we'll meet up with the rest of the Manxies taking part in the 100 miles race on Saturday.
Now it's upon us, I am looking forward to it and can't wait for it to start. Of the 50 starters in the 100 miles event (there are numerous other events/distances), 7 are from the IoM and all have their own time targets to focus on. There's no doubt that it will be tough but this is where the months of training (hopefully) come into play.
I plan to publish a quick post event update on Sunday to let you know how we fared.
Two days to go.....

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Job done!

I have officially run out of time! Training has finished! This would ordinarily trigger the onset of self doubt as to the inadequate amount of training I had done, of the preparations made and querying the immense quantity of bananas in the back of my support car. Were 42 enough?
As mentioned, this year I am competing in Holland in an event two weeks prior to the Parish. We're on the ferry this Friday for a break in Germany and Holland prior to rocking up in Rotterdam the following Friday for the European Centurion 100 miles event. So, with a holiday pending, I am actually fairly chilled about the race because it is at the far end of a week long break abroad.
All the months of early morning training in all weathers are finally over (for me anyway; you've got a couple of more weeks to go!) and I must say I am looking forward to it. The course in Scheidam is more or less a 4k circuit around a huge park so, although not as scenic as the Parish, it's infinitely better than the course for the 100 miles held round the NSC perimeter road last August. 200 laps of a ½ mile circuit. A tad mind numbing. By contrast, this year's British event is to be held at Southend on a 400m track! Now that will be painful. I was considering doing it but the jury is still out on that one. We'll see how Holland goes first, I think. Vinny was very kindly handing out entry forms for that race a couple of weeks ago. Seems keen, but 403 laps around a 400m track sounds hideous. Actually, the first three would be ok; the following 400 would be less fun. That said though, 100 miles is 100 miles whether it's on a 4k loop, 50 miles out and 50 miles back or round an round a 400m track, the end result is the same. 100 miles. The shorter the circuit though, the harder mentally it becomes due, mainly, to repetition.
The Parish is a different animal in that there is no monotony of endless laps of a specific distance with the same buildings, landmarks, trees, drunk tramp (as happened in Roubaix, France two years ago) lap after lap after lap. Its tough enough without that added mental trauma. The tramp was interesting though as he was hurling abuse in French at anyone within earshot but he moved on at some point and mundane order was restored. 
If you plan finishing at, say Peel, that will mentally be set as your target and anything beyond that doesn't compute. It doesn't need to; your mind will ignore it because beyond Peel was never in the plan. Peel is the target and it can be mentally tough enough to reach that goal when it starts to hurt.
For those aiming for Douglas though, the mind will adopt a new and perhaps hitherto unknown show of tenacity for the challenge you know is coming. It will kid you that, when you do reach Peel, you actually don't feel that bad and can carry on with enthusiasm (perhaps slightly dented, but intact nonetheless) whereas, if you had only planned to get to Peel, you would possibly feel absolutely done in. Its strange how the mind works.
So, in essence, one of the main aspects of the Parish Walk, which can be applied to any endurance event, is to firmly have a target in your mind; a goal to reach. This is akin to an anchor which keeps it all real when you start to wobble when you find yourself well out of your comfort zone. And you will. Year after year people, when asked what their target is, say that they're "going to see how far they can get" or, equally as popular, "I'll take it one church at a time". Ordinarily, I'd say fair enough as these are plans of a fashion however, you will need a more definitive plan. The problem with these 'vague' plans is that when you get out of your comfort zone (you will) and you are hurting and its dark and perhaps raining and cold, these elements will combine to overpower the desire and motivation that drove you in the first place and which brought you to the point on the course you find yourself currently at.
This is the transition period of mental focus; the point when the balance of power swings from positive to negative and when the wanting to achieve your goal/target becomes overwhelmed by the desire to call it a day. It will always be easier to quit. End of. And thos can happen really quickly.
It is imperative that you have a realistic target which will test your abilities and that it is:
  • achievable for your own level of fitness (i.e. you have regularly walked ¼ or greater of your target distance in training sessions)
  • achievable for your own pace (the further you plan to go, the slower you will become over time and the cut-off times at the various churches, although generous, may come into play)
  • achievable for your own level of desire ( you have to want to get to Rushen/Peel/Bride....)
So, providing you have:
  1. an achievable and realistic target;
  2. trained over the preceding months over varying terrain and in all weathers;
  3. tried and tested various foods and drinks whilst training to see what works for you;
  4. an efficient support crew who understand your needs and foibles;
  5. a selection of tried and tested clothing (ranging from snow shoes and ski poles to grass skirts and coconut bras to accommodate the changeable weather);
  6. a willingness to succeed
  7. 42 bananas
you will do fantastically well on June 21st.
Most importantly though, you must believe in yourself and what you are capable of achieving.
In a nut shell, you are capable of doing anything you set your mind to do providing the desire to achieve that target always out-muscles the temptation to give in.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Five, four, three, two, one......

Last Saturday, May 3rd, I met up with Vinny, Rich Wild, Dave Walker and Alex Eaton at 7am at the NSC. Although this fell under the banner of  'bog-standard  training' (bearing in mind the Parish is only now a few weeks away and because of that, training walks at the weekends are currently on the longer side), this was my opportunity to full road test the ankle. The plan was "Little London".

Over the years of training, several 'plans' have materialised and which have remained steadfast options which occasional tweaking will adapt as necessary. Most people will be familiar with this scenario. Each 'plan' name instantly informs those familiar with the name where they will be going. It's usually a show of hands, but to be honest, we ordinarily go with the first suggestion unless its daft. There are several 'plans' which include (starting at the NSC):
  • Marine Drive - 8 or so miles
  • Groudle - 11 miles loop more or less;
  • Ramsey - bus to Ramsey and back to Douglas via Parish Route. 18 miles.
  • Glen Roy (Laxey) - 22 miles
  • Little London - out to Ballacraine, through Cronk-y-Voddy, Little London and up to Brandywell. Back via Injebreck and Baldwin. 22 miles
  • Sheep pens - out via Baldwin/Brandywell to the sheep pens which are beyond Druidale at the top of the decent to Ballaugh and back. 22 miles.
  • Sloc - bus trip to Colby then Parish route to Peel (for a bacon bap) and back to Douglas. 23 miles or so.
  • Woody - pub. No miles
Of all the plans, 'Woody' is by far the more appealing.
Last week however, it was 'Little London'.
This is a challenging route which is fairly tough as it is fast for the most part, hilly for what seems more or less all of it and, depending on the weather, exposed to the elements in the higher parts of the route.
Heading out of Douglas, I was extremely conscious of pace and terrain because, at the forefront of my mind, I was constantly thinking about my left ankle which had recently recovered from a tendon injury. I consciously didn't race walk (as I suspected that would put more strain on the recently recovered tendon), but rather power walked all the way from Douglas to Ballacraine. Here I felt that it was suitably warmed up and I felt quite comfortable to try some race walking on the way to Glen Helen. The climb up to Cronk-y-Voddy and up through Little London was good too but due to the steep terrain, it was power walking for the most part. All felt fine which filled me with confidence but this new found relief that my tendon injury appeared to be fixed wasn't enough to make up for the missed training and I was puffing somewhat on the miles of (yet more) climb up to Brandywell. Alex had stormed ahead of us on his own with obvious ease and, bearing in mind, he is young and essentially concentrating on shorter distances at the moment, he is, should he choose to go down this route, a promising PW contender in the years to come.
The descent from Brandywell and on through West Baldwin was fairly uneventful. Dave and I had lost touch with the others gradually (me - enforced lack of training; Dave recovering from flu like symptoms) and by Mount Rule, they were about 300m ahead but we felt ok.
As Dave and I drew level with Ballamyligan, I could feel a familiar pain in the same area of my ankle. My head dropped and my heart sank. The ankle had lasted twenty miles. All of the rest and therapy which I'd been adopting appeared not to have paid off and I coasted home dejected and somewhat disillusioned.
At home, I iced the area and during the coming days, applied heat, ibuprofen gel and massage but I must admit, I was concerned.
I avoided training until Thursday, when I did around 8 steady miles with Brian Wade and Dave Walker. All seemed well as I had no issues whatsoever but, just to be sure, I applied more heat when I got home.
It has been fine since, I am glad to report.
I am not sure what happened on Saturday as all seems well now but I was concerned. I took a tip from Michael George who suggested a different method of lacing the offending trainer to ease pressure on the top of the foot where the tendons I had been having issues with are located.
This, along with all of the other therapeutic measures I hve employed seem to have paid off which is just as well as I'm off to Germany and Holland at the end of May for a short break before the 100 miles in Rotterdam which I am really looking forward to. I have just two weeks' worth of training left.
Your Parish Walk training will be probably cease five weeks tomorrow (June 17th). It is a scary thought that the event you have been planning for so long is now just over the horizon and not 'months away' as it has been since you agreed to do it back in the mists of time! Five weeks will quickly become four, then three, then two..... An odd reality is that the closer the race becomes, the quicker time seems to evaporate so, in reality, five weeks becomes three and a half, then two then none!
The remaining five weeks are yours to put the finishing touches to your training but, almost as importantly, plans for the day: nutrition, drinks, clothing, shoes, lights, bibs, support.
Leave nothing to chance. You may be familiar with the old adage "Fail to prepare; prepare to fail". A bit cliché but so, so true in this event.
Prepare to succeed.

Monday, 28 April 2014

Good to go!

My last post was just before the Sarah Killey 50k walk and I mentioned that, as all of my usual training buddies were doing this event, I did 18 miles on Saturday which was the day before the race. The day after the race, I did a sedate 10k run around the NSC perimeter road whilst my son, Stephen, did his training on the track. Nothing untoward happened, however on the Tuesday when I met up with the usual crowd after work for training, as soon as I set off I could feel a sharp pain at the front of my left ankle. This was a pain with which I was very familiar and it was the indication of a tendon strain i.e. a repetitive strain injury.  Naturally, I continued walking for a further 8 miles just to ensure I was damaging the tendon properly.
The most annoying aspect about the whole affair is that I have no idea when it happened. Usually with an injury, you can pin point the time and place of the incident which led to the injury. Perhaps a lack of warming up before exercise (everyone falls into that category at some point), simply a case of 'trying too hard' or even something as innocuous as the shoe lace being too tight. Whatever it is, you will know. Yet this time, I didn't.
This injury has happened to me on a few occasions over the years and the most annoying thing about a tendon injury is the sheer amount of time it takes to heal.
Unlike muscles which have a good and plentiful supply of blood, tendons have by contrast a very poor blood supply and therefore take significantly longer to heal.

From the area of the pain I was experiencing, I had injured the extensor tendons whose sole purpose in life is to pull the toes up.

Healing can be aided by initially applying ice to the affected area to reduce swelling. Massaging anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen will also help and the application of a laser light/ultrasound to the affected area by a physio will also stimulate the body to heal the area more quickly.
Regardless though, it will take a couple of weeks to sort itself out, depending on severity and this can be very frustrating especially when the focus of your training is looming ever closer.
I have done no walking training since that Tuesday which is now 14 days ago. With time running out for Parish training, it would be very easy to essentially panic and try to get back out before the injury has had time to fully heal. It is a case of being sensible and to let nature take its course. Along with deep heat, massage, rest, laser pen et al. To go out too soon would inevitably delay the recovery of the tendon which would in turn delay a return to full training which is the ultimate goal.

My main focus this year is a 100 miles race in Holland which takes place on the 7/8 June in Rotterdam, a full two weeks before the Parish Walk. My wife, son and I are off to theme parks in Germany and Holland for a week before the race, so, injuries notwithstanding, I have a maximum of five weeks training left: essentially from now until the end of May. Ordinarily, the closeness of the event would make me want to get out and start training too soon, but for once, my sensible head has kicked-in and I have taken my time. The reason for this is that I already have had a good nine or ten months of solid training so a two week enforced break won't do too much damage; "the miles are already in the legs", so to speak.
Injuries are part and parcel of the whole athletics circus. It is how you deal with them that is more important than how much training you are potentially missing because of it. Again, mental strength comes into play as this will determine whether you:
  1. do nothing and let nature take its course (perhaps 15 days*)
  2. seek advice and therapy to speed up the healing process (9 - 12 days)
  3. do option 1, panic after 10 days of doing nothing and go out training too soon (move back 1 week)
  4. do option 2, panic mildly after 8 days, say 'sod it' and go out too soon (move back 1 week)
* This is an arbitrary number and is purely based on my own experiences. Obviously, the more serious the issue the longer the delay in returning to full fitness.

The bottom line is that injuries, whilst annoying and frustrating, can happen to anyone but, most importantly you must be patient with the healing process and force yourself not to go training too soon.

Today, I did a steady 5k around the NSC perimeter with Ed Walter. Ed is also going to Holland so we had a good old chat as we went round in the late April sunshine.
Although my ankle felt slightly achy afterwards, it wasn't the same sharp pain I had been experiencing so its well on the mend now, thankfully. I'm seeing a physio tomorrow for some ultrasound treatment so hopefully that will seal the deal and I'll be good to go.

On the plus side though (according to my wife), whilst being 'laid-up' I have managed to jet-wash and paint the decking, painted the fence and other garden furniture, washed the car and sorted out the garden. Decorating was mentioned so I think I'm getting back to fitness just in the nick of time!