Running to Alónnisos

In the beginning I started Racing the Reaper Man with a plan. I would show my quick route to fitness and the ease with which a man drifting towards 60 would be able to run an ultramarathon. I had taken everything into account, never overestimated my willpower and set out on the road to success. At 61 the detritus of that plan is scattered all along the road to now, and the X factor of illness scuppered everything. 2016 saw my long slide into burn out; 2017 saw me learn many lessons, but ultimately led me to a belated recovery.

Reaching 2018 came as a relief for me. I am not one for New Year’s resolutions, but the first day of a new year is a natural starting point. As is my habit, I wrote my reflections of the year in my Running Log, then put that well used volume away. I have 7 complete logs now, the first dating from May 16th 1982, and this last one covering 2011 to 2017. When in a nostalgic mood I can read of my exploits as a young man and reflect, with some pride, that I was not bad at running. By 1990 I had broken the hour for 10 miles, posted a couple of 78-minute half marathons and crowned five Sub-3 hour marathons with a 2:49:15. Somewhere in these years I’d broken 2 hours for the 30k as well. Unfortunately, I can also see how my performances declined and how I drifted into plodding in the early 2000s. Yet the last log showed that I am on the way back, with all the experiments as to how to get the best out of an ageing body. The key to everything is mileage, strength, rest, diet and weight.

Gloucester Marathon 7th October 1984 time 2:58:23

I have started 2018 free of the effects of the travails of the last two years. It is as if the Reaper Man was breathing down my neck and I came close to a fatal stumble. Yet the DNA supplied by my Irish ancestors has given me a resilience that often surprises me, so this year began with a run – my first pensive steps to competing in the Alónnisos Challenge 30km (actually 31.010km) in May. My commitment is fresh and total, to the point of already booking my trip to that lovely island. Running to Alónnisos has taken all of my accumulated knowledge to plan. My Passepartout cannot accompany this time, so discipline and focus will be solely on running, with no delightful distraction. It will be my first organized event since 1998!

How have I addressed my own key to everything? I shall tell you.

Mileage – this must remain manageable. Starting on 25 miles a week I intend to build my fitness gradually, and taper to the race properly. I’ve built in speed sessions, hill sessions and some time trials to gauge my progress. Up to now (17th January) I’m coping well with this with a long run of 11 miles being relatively comfortable.

Strength – being over 60 I have noticed that my body cannot cope with excessive weight training. So I will be focusing on core strength. Pilates has become a weekly event – this gives me stability and flexibility without the need to grunt under kilos of mass. I will add a second core session at home, based on body resistance exercises with the addition of 3kg dumbbells or a 4 and 6 kg exercise ball. Trail runs will add to that core strength.

Rest – the element I have often ignored. My older body needs proper rest which translates as recovery. This has been the hardest lesson I have had to learn.

Diet – this covers my diet in a literal sense. I have given up alcohol for January and have found it relatively easy. The process of changing habits has been exciting and the effects immediate. Sleep is much more natural. I no longer wake bleary and grumpy. My energy levels are raising by the day and my thoughts have greater clarity.  In addition, and almost on a whim, I have been meat-free this year. I will not make this a crusade with proclamations about the purity of my chosen vegetarianism, because I am not a vegetarian. I am a selective omnivore who finds cult-like boundaries set by the assumed authority of the radical vegetable priests both annoying and valueless. I eat eggs and fish, but always consider how ethically they are sourced – the same for vegetable products. So far I am happy eating this way and the aim is to reduce meat in my diet by making selective omnivorousness my future way.

Weight – I’ve also resumed the 5:2 diet. I have found this easier than the first time, and I know it will trim me down. For the first time since the 1990s I want to reach race day lean and ready. I have long despaired over my lack of speed, and am sure carrying extra pounds is the biggest culprit. I have yet to weigh myself this year, but my aim is to be below 12st 6lbs come race day.

For now I can only keep the good work going. Finally I feel as if I am Racing the Reaper Man with all the right tools for the job. Ahead lies the dusty, hilly trails of lovely Alónnisos – ending my 20 year break from racing could not happen in a better place.

Gigantes plaki with fried eggs on bread. Gigantes bought by the kilo in Alónnisos. Delicious & nutritious.