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.