Racing the Reaper Man to Ultra: April 2022

April started with a Marathon. I had run the miles in March, but mentally I was still healing. So, I had two key issues to consider.

  1. Could I train through a marathon, without it being the focus, and would my speed-at-distance be even and sustainable?
  2. This was also a big test of my mental strength: could I cope with the nerves of competition, and with the crowds?

In the end, the Goodwood Marathon on Sunday 3rd April answered each of my questions and taught me far more than I had given thought to.

Marathon morning found me full of intense anxiety. Nerves before a race are quite normal, but on this morning I realised my illness had magnified everything. I almost went back to bed and hid. Luckily, my Passepartout was with me for the weekend, so I was calmed down, drove to the Goodwood motor racing circuit and immediately felt better. On a sunny, but very chilly morning, I wore a light T-shirt base layer underneath my Ukraine-flag vest, and warmed up with the others.

Starting April with a marathon at Goodwood

I started dead last but soon nipped past the tail-enders to clip out an 8:57 mile. Too fast. So, I eased back and relaxed. At 10 miles I was averaging 9:35s, and still averaging 9:38s at 20. I had set a target of under 4:27:00, but with a goal of 4:22:00 on a good day. After all, I was training through this event. Yet, at 20 miles in around 3:13:00, I did the maths and realised I could get under 4:20! I only had one wobble with a 23rd mile in 10:23, but rallied and was close to 10:00 for each of the rest. I finished strongly in a new veteran personal best of 4:15:44 (09:44 pace).

Stopping turned out to be the difficult bit – as an experiment I brought along my smart-scales. I stripped down to shorts, weighed myself, then, as I put my clean shoes on, nearly blacked out. Passepartout sat me against a sunny wall and dashed off to find a paramedic. My BP was 90/68, though my blood sugar was normal. After lots of hydration, lying me down and raising my legs I got back to normal and was able to drive home feeling none the worse for wear. I’m still not completely sure of the reason: dehydration; too much caffeine; or imbalance of electrolytes? My blood pressure has remained low, so I’m starting to think my medication for genetic high blood pressure may be in the frame. Perhaps my healthy lifestyle has brought my BP under control and my medication needs reducing?… I will keep an eye on things and talk to my GP.

Fabulous Paramedics: Mark, Simon and Harry, at Goodwood Running Grand Prix

A good start to April. My CBT continued and my strategy to deal with anxiety was becoming more sound. Yet, I still have terrible flash-back dreams, normally brought on by having to deal with work-related issues. Brazenly quoting Seneca once more:

‘…some things torment us more than they ought; some torment us before they ought; and some torment us when they ought not to torment us at all. We are in the habit of exaggerating, or imagining, or anticipating, sorrow.’

This is what one’s injured mind must learn, or relearn. I am moving slowly down that road. My new aim is to initially confront my work-related stress, but to follow that up by dealing with any accumulated issues that I have pushed aside in that male-dominated macho way.

Spring proper arrived in April. With the sunshine my running seemed to improve a level. I never rested after the marathon, instead completed a 53-mile week which included a trail 11-miler, followed by a week with 3 long runs of 10, 10 and 14 miles.

An 11 mile trail run around Thorney Island

With the sunny weather I entered a kind of euphoria, running for the love of moving across the countryside, along trails and footpaths. Hills were enjoyed. Finally, after 4 months, my mind was healing. My legs were fine, except for an ongoing stiffness in the right one, and I could now picture me completing the 100k.

Leaping on the Owl Bank in April

On 22nd to 24th I tested myself once more in a more crowded situation. I attended Burnham-on-Sea Book Festival as an invited author. It left me tired, but I coped well enough.

The remaining constants of my PTSD are extreme mental tiredness after formal, organised events, and regular flashback/‘flash-now’ vivid dreams. These latter wake me in a panic as they are so real, even to the point of feeling the wind on my face, smelling aromas and talking as they occur. That I may have to live with this is rather disturbing, but at least, once awake, the stultifying effect lasts only for a short time.

Author photo taken in April

I eased back on my training after the first two big mileage weeks, ‘tapering’ towards a planned, hilly 32 miler on Wednesday 27th. I’d arranged to be supported by my Personal Trainer, Martin Sorenson and my Passepartout.

32 mile training run in West Sussex

The course was mainly trails: an initial level 9 miles around the coast, along the road to Chichester, then up the Centurion Way where the climbs started. As I set out, my right leg started to give way slightly, and it held me back a little.

Running up The Trundle, Isle of Wight in the distance

The first big climbs over Haye’s Down, then The Trundle emphasised the issue with my leg, but at 14 miles, in the car park below The Trundle, I felt fine and changed my Hoka ATR6s, to Hoka Speedgoat 4s for the hefty ascents ahead. I’d eaten some chews, but was instinctively relying on Tailwind – it was fuelling me perfectly.

14 miles shoe change from Hoka ATR6s, to Hoka Speedgoat 4s

The drop to Singleton was niggling my right leg, but I kept to a steady pace, climbing Levin Down, and passing halfway in good order. The huge climb through Singleton Forest made my leg go numb, but sections of race-walking kept me going. I dropped down to my crew at 19 miles at below 9 minute mile pace, the pain going on tarmacked ground. I filled up with Tailwind, then climbed a mile onto Cocking Down (fabulous name), chased a couple of hares, then dropped to Chilmark, my leg hating the downhills by going all wobbly.

Photo taken by Passepartout on a pit stop

I left my crew at 23 miles, clipping along at 10:40 pace, but cringed at the huge, steep climb over Bow Hill to the Devil’s Humps above Kingley Vale. I was very pissed off as, apart from my right leg, everything was fine, and I hit to the top of the southernmost Devil’s Hump at exactly 26 miles.

At exactly 26 miles on the Devil’s Humps, Kingley Vale

Down, down I dropped to Adsdean, met the crew again, but just wanted to carry on as I was fine. I arrived home after 32 miles in good order, in around 6:40:00, perhaps averaging 12:30 a mile. My leg had cost me half a hour, but it wasn’t a severe injury. I was happy with the day, felt very good, just a bit tired. My weight was the same as when I started! Frequent pissing in hedges showed my hydration was right. A small blister on my left, second toe indicates the need of some judicious taping, and I should have used poles on the big climbs – lessons learnt.

Subsequently, I found out the obvious. My Iliotibial Band down my right leg had been niggling since last October. So, I found a series of 5 exercises to perform daily, and the improvement was immediate. I jogged a mile the day after the 32, then ran a coastal 4¾ miler and felt fine, just lacking speed. I ended the month with a big 170 miles in total, and had successfully trained through a marathon and a purposely brutal 32 miler, my longest ever run. I still look at June’s 100k in a state of awe, but I should be physically ready for the challenge. That I will be testing my mental strength to new limits, is exciting, to say the least.

IT Band exercises

The biggest thing in April was my progress to mental health recovery. I have a strategy to resume work on 1st June – a phased return – and will approach my high pressure job as a changed man. My fear of authority has gone. My self belief is stronger and my will to get wrongs corrected is in place. I have set a date for my retirement next year, so in that time will be working to give my team a stronger foundation, succession plan and a strategy for a resilient future.

However, until then I have May to get through. I’m now well enough to take a holiday. Not from running, just from my cocoon of safety, my home. Time to test myself 1600 miles away, run on some hot, hilly trails and recharge my healing mind completely. Racing the Reaper Man is a lifelong commitment to which I intend to stick. The alternative is mediocrity, beigeness, stultifying comfort and misery. Onwards into May and my adventures on ancient Ikos…

April selected statistics

  • Weight: 11st 9.8 lbs
  • Daily calorie balance: 1574 kcal
  • VO2 Max average: 44/43 (Garmin seems to adjust down with age…)
  • Average resting pulse: 49 bpm
  • Total miles: 170 (biggest month for years)
  • Unbroken running streak: 490 days
  • Belly: 30½”
  • Typical blood pressure: 121/66 (my lowest readings since hypertension was diagnosed)

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