It’s been quite a while since the last post.
Truth is I started a couple of posts but never finished them. The first was all about my attitude and reasons surrounding reviewing races. An in particular why I see little point in reviewing virtual events.
Race reviews: a summary
It doesn’t really need a long post; I’m not a sponsored athlete, nor do I get asked to review races.
When I started doing this back in 2012 I couldn’t find a lot of information about different races. And with so many races, many of which aren’t cheap (especially if you’re factoring in travel or accommodation costs) I thought it might be helpful to share my experiences, good and bad. It also acted as a place to store those memories; I quickly forget most of the details and often what is remembered are the ‘rose-tinted’ moments (good and bad). So it’s nice for me to periodically go back and read about some of the events and the narrative surrounding them.
These days there are resources these days such as Racecheck.com which has become something of a ‘trip-advisor for races’. Don’t know whether they’ll appreciate me calling them that, but most people know trip-advisor and the service it offers, so you get the idea. And as it’s a collation of many peoples races you get a broad feel covering many more races than I could ever do (or would want to). And it’s sort of the latter point which keeps my own archive relevant to me; the events I want to do are increasingly niche and as such it’s much harder to get the right information that you’re after.
And virtual races
This is a thorny point for me, one that I loathe and I like, depending on what they are. They’ve always been around, but with the pandemic taking out the majority of the 2020 race calendar plus a yet-unknown amount of the 2021 one, their popularity has rocketed. On the one hand I can see the benefits; many charities raise funds at running events and with the calendar decimated, so has their fundraising. So the opportunity to organise a virtual event to help with that fund raising deficit is definitely positive. However, I can’t help not seeing what can be a huge corporate profiteering move to basically get people to pay out to do what is effectively a training run with the promise of a medal (for a race that didn’t happen) with no useful race result.
It’s all a matter of context of course and nobody is forcing people to enter virtual events. But that’s my bone of contention.
Having said all that, this might seem a little hypocritical; since the end of 2019 I’ve only done 5 events and they were all virtual!
- Miles for Mind (runr) in May 2020
- Race the Legends Comrades 45km in June 2020
- Escape from Meriden: Day Release in November 2020
- Lakeland Lapland 145 mile virtual trek in December 2020
- Virtual Montane Spine 268 mile in January 2021
For of the five events were fundraising for the charities that would normally benefit from the actual races (Comrades in particular where it is a primary source of funding in extremely poor regions of South Africa). However they were predominantly things that were beyond my comfort zone.
I’ve covered all but the Virtual Spine in previous blog posts. Day Release was the only one that I’d consider as a race review because actually I can imagine Richard organising that concept again in the future. Because it’s a good one. And in many ways draws in all the same planning and skills as competing in the normal Escape from Meriden event. Although putting ‘normal’ anywhere near ‘Escape from Meriden’ definitely seems wrong…..!
I had the opportunity from a couple of other races that were canned to ‘go run a half-marathon pay the postage and get a medal’ but those things just didn’t interest me. Why? Because me going out to do a 13 mile run on a route of my choice is something I could do (at the time) without putting the effort in. Sure the time would be terrible and sure it wouldn’t be recorded anywhere. But why then would I want to pay for a medal for that?!
I appreciate that you may view this differently and this is totally fine; do what makes you happy. That’s all I’m doing.
Virtual Spine Race
I’ve followed the Montane Spine Race for a few years now, and even worked on the media team in the 2020 Spine Race which was fun. The 2021 race hopes stayed alive up until the 3rd national lockdown in the UK made it an impossibility. The virtual event was created by the team in part to raise some of the £70,000 needed to help the re-roofing of ‘Greg’s Hut’ (a mountain shelter on Cross Fell) as well as (no doubt) helping to cover some of the costs incurred by the late cancellation of the event (many halls and youth hostels are utilised in the supporting of the race).
Unlike the real Spine Race (and the shorter Spine Challenger) the time limit to complete the miles was the month of January, not just 168 hours. And of course unless you lived local to any part of the Pennine Way, the chances are few of the miles would coincide with the actual course.
I set out with a plan to try and get as much of the elevation covered as I could. Although finding an actual number representing the total Pennine Way elevation was somewhat elusive. I managed to find a figure of 36000ft, but later discovered other people chasing up to 49000ft. Even looking at previous Spiners’ Strava output lead to a huge disparity in figures. Anyway, it was a level of detail not required of the challenge.
It feels quite odd to have a ‘real’ Spine Race medal that I’ve actually “earned”. Running 268 miles in a month is a big challenge, but compared to actually completing the Spine Race itself it’s a walk in the park. I certainly couldn’t hang it around my neck and see myself as a legitimate Spiner. But it was far from easy so it is one of the few medals that I actually am proud of. But I’m under no illusions that it’s anything other than a virtual award.
The tale of the duff foot
And things went well for 2 weeks. But following my weekly shift at Lyme Park one Tuesday, my shins, especially the right one, started to act up. A bit of rest seemed to help but only a couple of days later my left shin was aching with no let up. My physio untangled the mess that was my left foot and the hope was that would be it. I managed to finish my Spine mileage but the result was a very swollen left lower leg and foot.
The swelling lasted about 5 days but I’ve actually been off my feet now for 4 weeks. We’re not entirely sure what has happened as it’s none of the usual culprits e.g. shin splints, stress fractures etc. It’s all tendon related and my guess is that it’s the equivalent of carpal tunnel syndrome (usually this occurs in the wrist) but in my ankle; basically the sheath that the tendon runs through has become irritated and just needs time to heal.
All the way through my adult life I’ve been warned that my blood pressure is on the higher side of normal. Despite being an endurance athlete it’s not great surprise as hypertension can be hereditary and it’s something within my family.
A routine check late last year for my medical certificate for Marathon du Mont Blanc flagged that things were getting into new territory, however still (just about) within limits that the doctors were happy with. It was refreshing to have a proper discussion in the light of the results and the fact that I am an endurance athlete. Previously all such conversations I’ve been subjected to have assumed that I’m a couch potato who hasn’t exercised since leaving school, something that gets very tiresome.
I did get referred for an echocardiogram at the hospital (another GP at the practice telling me over the phone that I should consider my lifestyle and whether I should consider taking up some exercise……. yes, that went down about as well as you might expect!) as a precautionary measure being on the limit.
It turns out all was well. Which, given the amount of working out I’ve had my ticker doing these last few years, should not be a surprise. However the news of an ex-colleague suddenly dropping dead last autumn (despite being apparently very fit and well) was a reminder that these things can’t be taken as a given.
At the start of February, as requested, I was asked again to do a week-long average test of my blood pressure. And the results were neither pretty nor marginal. Nor, in fairness, achievable by a pro darts player with 3 darts.
I am now on medication!
The potential impact on my running
Having a chemical intervention on ones cardiovascular system has some consequences.
The headline note from the doctor was having to understand how the medication may impact my strategy around race day. Such medication causes a level of dehydration which in turn can put additional pressure on the kidneys. Indeed my next appointment is a kidney function test to see what impact starting the medication has had on the organ (we did a baseline test in December). Dehydration occurs frequently in races, especially where the athlete is pushing hard.
Managing hydration is important at the best of times, but even more critical if there’s other factors at play such as the impact of medication. This is something I’m going to have to learn to understand exactly how it affects me.
In long ultras, where pain management can be a thing, there is a lot of evidence of the dangers of taking pain relief such as NSAIDS (ibuprofen etc) when the body is dehydrated; it can do serious damage to the kidneys. I’ve never gone along the ibuprofen route in races knowing this. However it appears that I now need to avoid NSAIDS regardless!
That said, the advice so far is that as long as I take reasonable precautions, there is no reason why I can’t continue doing the types of events that I’m increasingly drawn to.
My initial feelings in December when I learned about the complications was that this was A BIG THING. Although it wasn’t the most comprehensive of searches, I didn’t find much information about combining endurance sport with blood pressure medication. Common sense soon prevailed in that I cannot be the first distance runner to be on this medication and I won’t be the last. I’m pleased to have since found out that several running friends are also taking medication to manage their blood pressure without any problem.
But given the seeming lack of real-world information I thought it might be useful to provide some of my own so it’s something I intend to follow up on the blog.
Wrap up: finally some exercise plus music update
After 4 weeks off (save for a very careful stumble around the flatter bits of Lyme Park last week) I finally got outdoors today for a gentle bike ride. Blood pressure was good although my pulse is way higher than I’m used to. So not sure if that’s down to the medication or my fitness having dropped (I’m guessing it’s a bit of both).
As you can imagine, being stuck at home for 4 weeks with no chance to go out for a run, there was a risk of going stir crazy. Instead I challenged myself with some composition and music writing. I had started drafting some ideas at the end of 2020. I do find starting a new project quite daunting as I don’t really know where my inspiration comes from. It’s something that tends to build with increasing momentum as a project progresses, at least that is my experience from the other two albums (albeit 30 years apart).
Perhaps it was the stars aligning but I had a two week period where stuff just happened. Ideas went from embryo to fully assembled tracks that I was excited about. I do the music for me, so when I get excited about where a track is going, that is a wonderful feeling.
I’m in the final stages of the project now. The tracks have all gone off for mastering and I’m working on the album artwork. I wasn’t expecting to be at this point in February 2021. But then again I didn’t anticipate most of what has happened in 2021 so far!