Goals (having)

I started writing this back in November 2020, but just didn't have any focus or motivation at the time and rambled a bit, but I've been trying to decide what my next goal is, and how to achieve it.

(North) Down

As mentioned before, I've been a bit down following the North Downs withdrawal, obviously everything's been a bit strange and hard for everyone. I had still got my Wendover Woods 50 entry in the calendar after cancelling everything else, but as it became clear this wasn't going to happen either, James at Centurion had started organising a series of virtual events instead.

Wendover (virtual)

Like many people who run, I'd been (very) critical of virtual races in the past - apart from specific individual charity ones where the point is the publicity and fundraising for a cause and the run is almost secondary. But as the format has evolved and developed this year, I've been won over. When the race is being defined and run within very specific (unique) constraints (on this day/over this week, or with this specific set of targets) and with a tight knit community involved, it becomes a much more engaging process.

A virtual Gruffalo

The format for the Wendover virtual was simple.... run (at least) the same distance and cover the same elevation (10,000ft climbing over 50 miles).

Originally I planned to travel over and simply run on the Wendover course, but given the current advice at the time around travel, I really couldn't justify this to myself (or anyone else) as being an essential journey.

Immediately it became much more interesting than a "do what you want" run and the first fun is figuring out "how" to match that course myself.

Thankfully living on the North Downs I have lumps in the scenery, so I decided to run a local virtual version, I spent weeks plotting out and comparing possible courses, and I headed out and ran several "test" loops to check on conditions and terrain.

Finally I had a plan.

A few laps of the woods...

On the day I parked up with an impromptu boot based aid station, headed out to run the first lap, got back to the car and synced up to check data feeling confident.

What?! Completely meaningless numbers showing on Strava bearing no relation to the elevation I'd calculated myself. This was dispiriting and I was conflicted, do I just call it a day and either give up or try again somewhere else?

But Cara had dropped by and I had been brought a nice coffee and a muffin.

I sulked. 

I moaned.

but I decided to continue. but. really what was the point?

Regardless, I pressed on and started ticking off the laps. This was a very tough course very similar in style and terrain to the actual Wendover course (which I still haven't raced myself), some is on trails, but the route of mine also included brutal off trail "bushwhacking" sections and the woodland tops off the authentic experience.

I'm happy with the route I'd planned and just trot on out and back, out and back, out and back...

Laps 6 to 7 are really tough going though and I am totally demotivated - the elevation (or lack of it) issue and uncertainly has been gnawing away at me.

Flipping the switch

But suddenly I didn't care. a switch was finally flipped in my mind. I was out running, I like running, and so what if it's all futile. I have a plan and a goal, I'm going to run 10 laps, covering 50 miles *that* is my goal, not the virtual race or the elevation, that's incidental.

I press on and conclude I *will* finish this.

By laps 9 and 10 it's properly dark now, and it's really hard going concentrating on the ground, there are multiple "almost" complete face plants. I'm wondering whether I need to run an 11th lap just to "be sure", but I decide that would be insanity so instead I just tag on a 1 mile extra at the end to be safe.

back to the start and uploaded eagerly.

what. the. f***. total junk off strava???

it's not even remotely close to 10,000ft.

Back home and upload to basecamp it says 9,293ft, ok that's better and feels close enough, will check the details a bit more...  (comparing and cleaning the jumps in the data gets me a figure even closer to 10,000) for fun I try an online "elevation check" site and that says 11,000ft. hah (obviously that must have used too small steps on the data - since overall elevation calculation isn't a precise science and if you're going down to every inch up and down it will give you a silly number) but this does reassure me that the route I'd invented must have been pretty close to the real thing.

With a little digging and research I see that the Strava elevation is doing all sorts of bonkers, with a "step jump" at the greenwich meridian (my route crossed it multiple times), the Strava faq says: "We now have an elevation look-up service powered by data from the Strava community" and "we use an 'algorithm' to ensure that we are 'looking up' the elevation for the road or trail you were actually on".

sigh. oh how *clever*. FFS. A lot of my run wasn't on a "road or trail".


That at least puts my mind at rest that I probably did run something very close to the target of 10000ft. good.

The run on Strava

Virtual challenge #2

I had *hoped* to complete this attempt earlier in the month. But I've done it on a Sunday near the end. The next week is the next Centurion virtual challenge runs (multiple distance options to choose). um. this might not go too well.

Initially I had intended on either just doing a 5k and trying multiple attempts at a "hot lap" or going for a marathon and going for a PB (after tapering).

Neither of these options makes any sense at all now... time for a rethink, regroup and a new target.

After a couple of days rest, then out to try a 5k test on Wednesday. 19:17. all painful. yikes.

Ah, ok perhaps trying to take anything off that isn't going to happen then. Oops.

(Totally inappropriate and unrelated image,
but it has the word Marathon. and it's a cool film)

I'll still go for a marathon but I need to rethink the target to set. Perhaps I can manage a 3:30 time?, lets see. On the Friday I've got a reasonably flat course planned out and give it a go.... trying to judge the pace the legs seem to have a bit more in them than I'd expected, so I start off at a 3hr pace to see, ok this does actually feel ok, lets try to hold it, perhaps I'll be able to get closer to 3:00 than 3:30 but, really, I'm not really bothered by the time.

Tapping away, this is tough (and obviously quite hard, and rather weird running like this with no-one else around, no pacers, no aid stations), but I can actually hold this. Then at half way, 1h:30... my right calf twinges and seizes up.... aaaarrrgghhooowwwll. ouch. (ok there had been a little warning tightness in the few laps before, but I'm getting old, pain happens, you just ignore it and keep going)

Stopping, stretching and thinking. OK. I *could* just stop. I *could* say "well I was going for a half marathon" time,

nobody would know. There's no medal. This isn't a race.

If I keep going I'm going to end up going slower, and who knows what time I'll finish in.

but again. I decide, 'No - I had a goal, I'm going to complete the distance I set out to, I can still move', I don't care what time ends up being, even if I end up walking from here all the way to the end.

I start running again, I can't get back up to the pace I was doing before but I still seem to be able to hold a good speed albeit with a bit of a lopsided gait and the miles start to tick down. 

Cara drives up alongside now (she's just finished her own Centurion run for her 100 mile week target) checks in on my completed distance and drives a mile down the road. I run up to the end and stop. 3h11. I'm stunned, I can't believe I managed that, given the lack of planning, last minute decision to do it, the disappointing 5k, the half way crisis, and the ill-advised 50 miler at the weekend, I'm definitely rather pleased with that.

Fine. fine. fine. to half way...

But now, the pain that's been held at bay for the past 13 miles slams through my legs. one second I'm running. now I can't move. I can't walk. I'm having real difficulty moving about. Head back home for a bath.

It feels amazing, absolutely amazing, not the time itself - but the completion. It wouldn't have mattered if it was 4 hours or had taken 6 in the end, the sense of achievement from making that decision at half way to get to the end no matter what that's the key.

The 'marathon' on Strava.

Turning a corner

Off the back of these two runs I feel like I've turned (yet another corner) in my running journey (I swear, one day, one day, I'll have it sussed), it's definitely mental, I need to have a specific goal set and defined that I determine to be the success criteria. OK perhaps this sounds "silly" or "simplistic" or even "trite", but I realise I just simply don't have that usually when I've been running... 

When I *have* in the past then I've finished or achieved then - it's when I didn't that I failed or pulled out.

You may say that's silly - surely your goal is always to finish, but in all honesty it just hasn't been, the times I've failed the goal is usually "I'll see how I get on, but I'm going to enjoy this run/event/experience". I'm not saying there's anything *wrong* with that, but that isn't going to get me to the end every time (if that's what I actually want).

If my mindset at the start is "I think I've done a decent amount of training (or well I'm reasonably trained), I *should* be able to do this, lets see if I can" that's just not good enough for something like an Ultra. As Yoda would advise, there is only "do", there is no "try".

(I will admit, I have adjusted my goals over the last couple of years - I think I earned that privilege for a little while and I truly *have* been happy with my incomplete completions, but this problem goes back much further than that)

I read Gareth's book about the his North Downs Way run, it was interesting to see the thoughts and opinions of someone who had completed it, and as always a lovely well written read, lots of familiar names and tales along the way.

It was hugely entertaining to read the comments about his recce run featuring a cameo from me - I remember bumping into him at the time, he showed me his shiny new watch he was practising with (as he was climbing back out around a hedge from the wrong direction).

Reading his book, he mentioned getting lost again shortly after, so I felt guilty for not sticking with him and talking him through the next part of the course since I know it really well.... but at the time he seemed insistent that I should run on ahead. It's always hard to judge if that's just someone being polite or because they want some time alone (or they can't stand your random banal chatter, I think I can rule out the last one since Gareth hasn't really experienced any of that yet) 

The interesting point (for me) was that Gareth had had an identical experience at Knockholt where I decided to withdraw. He also entered the aid station and stated his intention to stop.

But in a sliding doors moment, whereas after I stated my desire, I was standing next to a runner who did the same and insisted he was pulling out (and did) which made my decision easy to make.
Gareth didn't, he sat down, took his time. calmed down, and came up with a plan. He gritted his teeth and then ran on and ground on through to the finish. Chapeau.👍

Again now after more naval gazing (gosh is that Suez ship still stuck, oh dear) and some navel gazing (oh ok - groan away, I honestly can't help it), I keep revisiting my own NDW failure and discussing matters with Cara. We concluded and have decided that I could have continued if I'd wanted to, although I'm still at peace and comfortable with the choice I made on the day, I've decided that in future races the decision can't be mine any longer, I need to delegate that to Cara or someone else to make on my behalf.

(I *was* going to paste some clip-art about following orders.... quick google, er, perhaps not.)

Global pandemic aside, it's been a pretty good year (relatively speaking) I've been feeling much better and we seem to have hit on the "magic drugs" that get my headaches under control now.

(albeit one interesting lesson learned - don't mix them with paracetamol, ibuprofen and allergy tablets, what a trip)

Unfortunately, I irritated my bad shoulder around Christmas time with an *EPIC* fall.
This was *initially* injured 6 years ago when a driver intentionally rammed into me as I rode to work.

But.. got the plate.

Since the fall it's been getting steadily worse through the year, so I think I need to find a physio to fix/ease whatever's unhappy now.

Reading time

Reading... I've worked my way through numerous books which have inspired me after a long period of "funk" after the end of that NDW attempt. (Broken, The Winning Experience, One Track Mind, Rambling away from the Smoke)

I read Richard Browns book about his LeJog run (The Winning Experience), and found it both amazing and depressing that I (and I assume most other people) didn't know anything about this achievement before now (I'm glad I learnt about it after Dan's record run and I hope many others do too)

I don't want to be too harsh about the book, but it is "of it's time" and feels a bit dated in style now, I was worried with so much of the motivational speaking style emphasis at the start, but it then soon settled in to a clear concise and accurate description of his (and his wife's) endeavours on their runs.

I have an intention of running my own LeJog, but that's a little way off yet. 

I'm about to turn 50... and deciding that I need to set out some goals and make a proper plan (other than just 'run a few races').


I've just finished reading One Track Mind by Michael Stocks (buy it, read it, it's fascinating)

He qualified for the British Ultra Running team, at the age of 50, the book goes through his process and his experience, it is inspirational (if you're an ageing ultrarunner, looking for a target.)

and Chris Thompson just qualified for the Olympic marathon at the age of 39.... (going to overuse the word again, inspirational)

both of these events have started me thinking

I haven't done much track racing. But the Crawley run in 2019 was interesting and I'd like to attempt one of those again - but actually fit and healthy and with a specific goal and reason for the run (and I've come up with a reason...)

Target(s) and Goal(s)

So first target on the list I want to auto-qualify for (and obviously run) Spartathlon, I don't think that's completely unrealistic, but I probably need to have a proper chat with someone to talk it through and perhaps consider some coaching now.

I have the longer term goal of organising (and running) a LeJog attempt albeit an "off-road" version.

and at the back of my mind... I have another goal lined up and hopping up and down excitedly, but I want to at least get started with track ultra-running (and qualifying) first.


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