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The Grand Hotel, and running from Croatia into Bosnia.

I’ve been posting lots about running recently, and whilst this will descend into my tale of taking a steep run from Mlini into Bosnia, I’m going to start off with some very “Bucket of Tentacles” style pictures of the Kupari resort in Croatia. Not your typical holiday photos, Kupari is a derelict hotel complex located to the south of Dubrovnik.

Back in the early 90’s, when I was mainly trying to step into teenagedom, there was a war going on to which I paid very little attention. It was the break up of Yugoslavia and during the early part, the luxury Kupari resort was captured by the Serbs and ended up being mostly ruined.  Now, standing awkwardly against a beautiful mountain/sea backdrop it is an urban-explorers dream.  Its completely open to the public and unlike the UK, not a warning sign or barricade in sight leaving you free to roam. So roam I did, camera in hand and visions of a post apocalyptic world in mind.  Here are a few of the pictures.

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Derelict building? Lets go through on our mopeds!

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Another holiday-snap taken from the Dubrovnik City Walls

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Not your typical holiday picture, but I liked the collection of people, particularly the gent on the left clearly worried about calf-sunburn.

Post-apocalyptic world out of the way, earlier that day I’d had another rather larger dose of adrenaline after planning to run up Malastica, a local summit rising steeply from the hotel we were staying in.

I made my way out of the quiet tourist areas and into “real” Croatia. Receiving occasional odd glances as an Adidas-clad runner pranced through the usually quiet roads, I carried on up the steep ascent as a thunderstorm blew it’s way in from the Adriatic. It wasn’t long before I was sodden, t-shirt clinging to me and looking up at what seemed like an endless stream of zig-zag paths leading to the summit.

This soon changed though as the cloud curtain opened up revealing the magnificent views ahead.

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A further trudge along the path and I arrived at the following sign:

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It didn’t look like too much of a warning sign (and I later translated this as “State Border”), so I stepped past it into another country.

Only a few metres in and everything felt more Bosnian. Embarrassingly not knowing much about the country other than there had been a war I wondered what life was like for people on the outskirts of this remote landscape.  I reached some kind of peak and took in the view. The glistening Adriatic Sea on one side, the coast populated with hotels and bars but circling round to a rolling mountain range. I sensed a wilderness I’ve never felt before. An unknown landscape staring at me menacingly/beautifully and me staring back:

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The path abruptly ended.  Looking ahead I saw a distant road and some buildings nestled in amongst the hills. I wanted to get there, but could see it would be a tough jaunt, no signs of any paths or trails, just natural grass, clumps of trees/brambles and sharp rock formations. Without my own full consent I clambered off the path anyway and headed towards the distant road.  This was tough terrain and very slow-going, and the reality dawned that I had only just dried out, I hadn’t seen any humans since the start of my ascent sometime ago and I was clambering over sharp rocks somewhere in Bosnia.  Common sense was restored and I decided to turn back. The kilometre I travelled off-track took me about 25 minutes and that was moving as fast as I could, such was the terrain.

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I carried on along another ridge which must have been the border between Croatia and Bosnia, regular abandoned outposts and walls reduced to rubble lined the edges of the paths high up in the hills.

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It was around about then that I introduced myself to a snake. Midnight black and about a metre long dryly slithering across the trail.  Realising we were both completely terrified of each other we parted company as quickly as we could going our respective ways with a nod of encouragement. Now running low on water and energy I reluctantly knew I needed to head back so weaved my way back down the rocky paths.  What a fantastic descent it was.

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Finally reaching a road I stumbled into a bakery selling chocolate milk and very large slices of pizza which truly was a dream come true!!

Later, I found out about the land mines….. warnings on wiki travel to not venture off any roads or investigate any derelict buildings.  Ignorance is bliss as clearly this would have added a new element of fear to the whole journey. As if I needed to worry about a little snake! Its hard to know how “real” the danger was and if there were any land mines in the vicinity – wouldn’t a country’s border be the “perfect” spot?  In any case, I made it back alive, with a wonderful life experience tucked under my belt!

All hail the trail!

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Blinded by Technology (Peak District Challenge)

5am alarms are usually reserved for going on holiday, but as I leap (stumble) out of bed it’s for an entirely different reason.  It’s to get a train out to Hathersage for the 50km Peak District Challenge which I’m running as a duo with Michelle Edye.  We’ve both been putting the miles and pork pies in over the last few months, with lots of training sessions out in the Peaks, so are hoping we’ll be ready for the challenge ahead.  This is a running/walking event, so when we arrive at the registration hall I use my powers of perception to weigh up the competition and I decided they were running if they were wearing shorts…… scientific I know.  Given the lack of legs on show it looked like most of the entrants were going for the walking option.

We’d all received our checkpoint info about a week before and we’d had a busy route planning session linking up the checkpoints, plotting onto paper maps and studying every inch of the route, however it will soon become clear that this wasn’t true at all.  Once we’d planned it I transferred the route onto Strava and uploaded to my GPS.  Whilst I think we’re both pretty comfortable with navigation, the plan was to leave the maps in the bag and use my GPS watch the whole way which meant far less stopping and more time running.

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“This is all very well and good, but where do we get to eat the sausage rolls?”

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Team “Lost in the North” pretended that this was a reasonable time to be up in the morning

Suddenly, we were off around 8:30am and trotted down the lane merrily.  The weather was pleasant, conversation was flowing, birds were singing (probably) so everything was going amazingly to plan.  I think we had a few minor thoughts that this didn’t seem to be the route we planned, but being slaves to technology, completely ignored it. It was when a gentlemen told us we were heading towards Froggatt edge that faint alarm sleigh bells started jingling in the back of my mind.  Froggatt edge was at the end of the route wasn’t it? We stopped and consulted the map, which I’m sure had an “I told you so” look all over it.  Sure enough we’d started going clockwise round the route instead of anti-clockwise!

Having already done 7km and some not-insignificant uphill the best thing we could think of doing was sit down on a rock.  Michelle phoned the race organisers who offered to pick us up, but the damage was done and there was no way we wanted any ferrying around, so we decided just to carry on.  50km is 50km whichever way round you do it!

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Froggatt Edge – some five hours before we were meant to be there

The people manning the first checkpoint seemed vaguely surprised to see us, which was an entirely understandable reaction considering they were actually the last checkpoint. Nevertheless we explained our situation, ate their lovely flapjacks and continued along the route.  With the initial disappointment out of the way we started enjoying the fantastic views and ticking off the miles. It actually turned out to be a good experience as sometime around halfway we started seeing other entrants coming towards us who we recognised from registration and who looked slightly surprised to see us! Clearly we were anti-establishment, the renegades, flouting the rules of the race!

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Somewhere in the Peaks.

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Yoga….  I think.

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Team Badges

The deeper we got into the route, the more people we came across coming the other way, all trying to give each other encouragement that “lunch checkpoints weren’t far away” which really depends on your definition of far.  Or lunch.  We met various runners on other (much-longer) ultra-races and most seemed happy to pause for a quick chat to see how far we were all through our challenges.  By the time we got to the last (first) checkpoint everyone had already gone home so we text them as “proof” that we made it and continued on for the last 10km stretch to the end.

Right about now, the heavens opened.  I’m not talking about a little shower – this was the kind of rain you should be looking at out of your window, shaking your head back-and-forth, whilst clutching a cup of tea.  After a while we probably couldn’t get any wetter so decided to try and get some kind of pace going, which we probably should have named “Slow+1”.  We soon came across a wiry long haired fellow also inevitably drenched.  We started chatting and he casually tells us he’s running to Sheffield and is around 40-50 miles in to a 60 mile race like this is the most normal thing in the world to be doing on a Saturday lunchtime. It was round about then I realised we are all probably insane.

I tried to high-five Michelle to get the spirits up.  We missed.  Twice.  We considered wading through a river to get back to the end quicker. Brain function was clearly becoming difficult.

A mere 7 hours 28 minutes, 55.6km and 1,300m of elevation after starting, we arrived back at the race HQ and were instantly presented with a curry which was gratefully received. Michelle started eating everything (note how she’s attempting to conceal a large tomato in her hand in the pic below), and that was the challenge over!

Loads of thanks to the organisers who put on a great event, and to the checkpoint marshals who give up their time to stand on there in the cold for hours on end!  I think we had the second quickest time for the 50km, but doubt it will stand with such a large deviation from the suggested route.

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Done.  Ultrarunning badge in the post.

And so the long-running journey continues……  Man vs Mountain (Snowdon) on 3rd September and the Project Trail 50 miler in November!

Lost in the North

I have now officially received the training plans for Project Trail.  Gone are my original visions of spending the first week gently looking up intervals on the internet over a cup of tea.  Oh no, this is straight into it….  the Project Trail training programme is via. TrainAsONE which generates a plan and updates as you upload your runs via. Strava or similar.  The software is currently beta so its great to be involved at this stage and see how this is developing.

Whilst clearly the aim of Project Trail is to canter around 50 miles of Wendover Woods, I currently have more pressing issues ahead of me – namely the 50km Peak District Challenge, or the PDC as us trendies now refer to it.  There are some options of distance, from 10km to 100km, and I’ve gone for the 50km.  This time I’m part of a duo and I’m fortunate enough to know someone else silly enough to want to do it (Michelle) and, for the record, the entire thing is her fault.

Here’s how it happened……

I just can’t seem to stop entering races.  I used to get drunk and buy stuff off Amazon, but now I get drunk and enter races.  Whilst on our usual Tuesday night chatting/running session I was moaning about not being sure what to enter next and later I got a text about the PDC!  When I saw you could enter as a team I instantly started crafting a cunning plan to persuade Michelle to enter.  As it turns out all I had to do was ask, and then spend some time convincing her that the 100km might be too far!

We’ve been busy training at various locations over the Peaks planned on Strava route-builder – I’ve put some links at the bottom of this post to several of the routes we’ve ran.  Running as a team will be interesting as races are usually such solitary events and of course there is the added pressure of not wanting to let her down after all the hard works thats gone into this.  Its not just been running training, we’ve been practicing our pork pie eating, our “how-soggy-can-you-get-your-trainers” sessions and most importantly perfecting the “missing-a-train-so-you-get-to-go-to-the-pub” strategy.  Here’s a few pics from training….

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Mainly worrying about missing essential Facebook updates whilst up here

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17 miles in and a crinkly sweet potato becomes the best thing ever!

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Paths? Where we’re going you don’t need paths!

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I’ve never been so pleased to see Lyme Park

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Team “Lost in the North”

The race is 20th August, so I’ll post about how we got on!

PEAK DISTRICT ROUTES

Macclesfield 27km (this was done incredibly hungover) https://www.strava.com/routes/4180229

Glossop 14km https://www.strava.com/routes/4313977

Staley Bridge to Greenfield 30km https://www.strava.com/routes/4994797

Hathersage 34km (route from Trail Runner mag) https://www.strava.com/routes/4994924

Lyme Park to Macclesfield 19km https://www.strava.com/routes/5179009

Macclesfield to Lyme Park 38km https://www.strava.com/routes/5947541

Chinley 16km https://www.strava.com/routes/6003656

Manchester Circular (Canal, Heaton Park, River Irwell) 32km https://www.strava.com/routes/4180083

 

 

Project Trail

Out-of-the-blue, I’ve been given a fantastic opportunity to be part of Project Trail after entering a competition in Men’s Running mag!!!

What is Project Trail I hear you cry!  It’s an ongoing feature in the mag where 3-4 guys are entered into a race, trained up to within an inch of their lives and then featured for a few months to show their progress.  The race this time is a biggie…..  Its the Wendover Woods 50 miler!  As well as race entry we also get training plans and advice from Team GB’s Robbie Britton and lots of free running gear!!  If its anything like previous “Project Trails” then there’ll be a regular feature on how me, and the other two competition winners, are getting on, so my ugly mug will be out there in a national magazine!  I’m off to Wimbledon for the first photoshoot this week so am covered in fake tan, and am plucked and preened to within an inch of my life (last 18 words not true).

Whilst I have been working hard at running, this really will be a challenge…. 50 miles…. that’s just a bit less than two marathons…… its 16 parkruns…. its…… really…… far…… am I going to be able to do this?  One thing is for certain, its going to take something pretty serious to stop me 🙂

I have written the odd race report on this blog, but I do intend to do more frequent posts on how the whole experience and training is going and, ultimately, a full report on the race itself.  I considered starting a new blog as this one was really dedicated to my exploration into music, sound bending and camera mangling, but then it dawned on me I really was overthinking it.  Given all the content that’s been posted here since I started it in June 2012, running is just another “tentacle” emerging and another part of my life…..

With the evil pincers of available time closing in on me, I have unfortunately taken a break from my piano lessons as over the last few months had been able to dedicate less and less time to it, and really want (and need) to dedicate the required time and effort to run a fifty mile race just a few short months away!  There are still a few songs in the pipeline which will get finished eventually.  At least I can blame one of them on Mat because I’ve been waiting since October 2015 for him to send me a bassline, but these things can’t be rushed eh? 🙂

I set up a new Twitter account more geared towards running, so follow it HERE @allhailthetrail

In honour of this momentous time, I have drawn a stick man running up a mountain…..

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Coniston (Photos and Marathon Running)

I spent some time in Coniston in the Lake District last weekend, predominantly to run a marathon (which I report on below), but first up are a few photos I took over the few days.

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First up a lowly gate combined with the fantastic evening sky

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The beautiful calm of Coniston

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This is Grange-over-sands where we stopped off on the way.  I initially wasn’t too taken with this shot, but the more I look at it the more I like it.  Nice sky, great brickwork and a summery girl at the bottom to bring in a bit of colour.

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A field, a couple of hills and some drama

Race Report: On to the run itself.  Having recently run the 50km Canalathon followed swiftly by Manchester marathon, I was reasonably confident for getting round the Lakeland Trails Coniston Marathon.  Its only a few extra hills isn’t it?  In my head I’m already a long distance trail runner, but the reality is quite different.  I’ve ran a marathon distance three times (all during 2016) and done plenty of trail running but never actually combined the two, so this was my chance to get out there and prove it!  I had about 8 weeks since Manchester marathon so no sooner had I recovered and started getting the distances up it was time to start ramping down again, my longest run being a hilly 30km in the Peak District.  Was I going to be ready for this??  Well here I am ready to go, 8am with a lovely stroll down to race HQ where it’s a hive of activity.  Its worth noting now that even pre-9am it was already looking to be a scorcher of a day.

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Living in Manchester I’m an expert at rain running, point me along a canal towpath and I’ll splash along for as long as I need to, but running……. in this heat?! We were off around 9am and I got into a reasonably comfortable pace but as we entered the first climb many shifted into a “power-hike” and I shortly followed suit (with hindsight I’d have taken it a lot easier at the start).  It was tough running, mainly as very little of the route was shaded so the sunshine was quite relentless, but things were going reasonably well and I got to halfway around 2 hours.

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The picture above was taken from near enough the highest point in the race at around 15 miles, so whilst there was a reasonable amount of climbing (my watch said 920m) it was pretty much several “ups and downs” rather than one large climb, but the views up here were fantastic and make this type of running so much more rewarding than pounding the pavement.  I really had begun to tire by this point and knowing there was another 10+ miles to go in 25 degree+ heat was quite a challenge on the mind.  I’m a stubborn bastard though so I kept repeating my mantra “The finish line doesn’t move, you do!” to get me through it.  I also put some music on (hip hop of course) but that did kind of ruin the natural vibe of the run.

Five or so miles later I found myself approaching a dead body face down in some “scrubland”.  I was quite unsurprised given the heat but thought I had better investigate just to make sure that they were either dead or doing the finest “planking” session in the north-west.  Rather than death, the unfortunate runner had got something worse – cramp.  Planking seemed to be his cure for it and he assured me he was ok, so given it was nearly lunchtime and all I continued on into the heat.

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The view above, whilst fantastic in it own right, I found quite soul destroying.  I had around five miles to go and running had become almost optional with the vast majority of people around me resorting to trekking along feeling sorry for themselves, and what could we see? Mainly nothing but a long dry path, not a water station or shady forest in sight.  But as I mentioned above, the marathon organisers were hardly likely to bring the finish line up here to me so jog on I did.  I did come across a small stream so I filled up my hat and poured the lot over my head which did seem to invigorate me somewhat!

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An hour or so later and this is me in the last 50m, incredibly relieved!! Wind-on about 2 minutes later and I was in the lake, oh the lovely cool lake.  I finished in a time of 4:42:21 which to put into perspective is a whopping increase from my Manchester marathon time of 3:27:37, which goes to show what the hills and heat can do to you!  A fantastic organised race with a really good crowd.  “Interestingly” I finished 62nd, which was also my race number so clearly I carefully planned my time and finishing position 🙂

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Its done, dunno what all the fuss was about!

I learnt a lot about pacing (slow slow slow) and a lot about my own abilities.  I know I have loads to work on to build up for some long races later this year and all being well some even longer ones next year!

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Soothing marathon feet!

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Goodbye for a while Coniston.

Race Report: Birmingham Half Marathon and Helvellyn Trail Race

The tentacles have continued pounding the pavement/trail for quite some time so I thought i’d put up a couple of reviews of two very different races I’ve entered recently, the Morrisons Birmingham Half Marathon and the Lakeland trails Helveyllyn 15km race.

First up, Victoria and myself eagerly got the train from Manchester to Brum and had a relaxed night with the folks, a hearty pre-race dinner, a couple of Erdinger Alcohol-Freis and then off to the city first thing in the morning.  The Square Peg Wetherspoons didn’t know what had hit it as the race masses decended for somewhere to stay warm and to get a bit of caffeine.  Even the resident chavs getting an early Carling looked somewhat surprised that their early morning waterhole was chock full of people “wiv numberz stuk on em”.

It was soon time to be shepherded to the start zones.  I’d somehow persuaded my sister to do this one so we both went off to our separate zones to limber up for the run ahead.  Whilst i’m reasonably familiar with BHam I was mainly focused on keeping my pace up so kind of lost track of where I was. A really great atmosphere and I definitely enjoyed the jazz bands, the thumping raves, the people who’d set up their speakers out side their house and the great cheering support all the way round the route.  I even managed to muster up a sprint for the last 200m along Broad Street to try and make it look easy (it wasn’t) but came across the line in 1:36:26 which was just over 5 minutes faster than my last half marathon so I was very pleased.  Followed by Guiness, Sunday Lunch, Lager and Pizza (in that order) and it made for a great day.

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Post Race Bling

Whilst the big city races are fun, I can’t help preferring smaller events with fantastic views, fresh air, and chunky trainers with grips on them.  A wet Saturday in Glenridding and I’m limbering up (hanging around) for the 15km Helveylln trail race.  I’d put in quite a bit of training for the Birmingham half marathon, so my plan was to take this one easier with a gentle jog round the Lakes and a handful of golden ales snuck in afterwards.  Based on the continuous rain throughout the morning and squelching up to the start line, I began to realise this was going to be tough.  The first 3-4km seemed to be a continuous “up”, which exactly matched my heart rate, and for the first time ever I walked in a race.  It was a particularly steep section, and most people round me were walking too (excuse alert) but I don’t think I’d have been any faster had I carried on running.

The rest of the race was pretty much a mudbath, ankle deep running through overflowing streams across the paths, muddy bogs, slippy rocks and patches of heavy rain.  People were dropping like flies with any slight slip potentially leading to a tumble to the ground.  I did manage to stay upright but probably looked like a drunken giraffe on ice several occasions.  Any thoughts of taking in the misty views were forgotten as I discovered a major part of trail running is the continuous concentration on foot placement whilst maintaining some kind of pace.  It almost gave me brain ache.  I came in with some kind of squelching sprint finish over the line in 1:15:42 (82nd out of 256).  I learnt a lot about my own ability here and how punishing ascents can be, along with the mental concentration needed to keep things moving.

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In an astonishing twist, Victoria actually got me in a photo (previous attempts include my foot only)

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The trail map

Should be back to some nasty synth noises or camera mangling soon! 🙂