Running from Shadows

My Marathon des Sables . . . and beyond

A Rude Awakening In Pendle’s Shadow

I’ve been bumbling along at idle speed for a few weeks now: 2-3 gym schedules per week with a few PowerHour sessions on the treadmill (they hurt!) and fast 3 mile runs also on the treadmill (they hurt too!). I’m not yet fully back on the training cycle so it’s been a case of slowly building back up to some passing nod to being fit before I restart with a vengeance!

The PowerHour, introduced to me by performance coach Rory Coleman, is a tough, tough session and hasn’t always resulted in the full hour being completed. It’s a gruelling hell designed to ensure the heart rate doesn’t get much opportunity to rest during the hour, instead steadily climbing in what becomes a very hot gym to finish at a barely-sustainable maximum. I can literally wring out my T-shirt of sweat once I’ve finished but in terms of fitness and speed improvement it’s a session that produces quick results.

Here’s my heart rate graph from mid-July on only my second PowerHour session completed since February:

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The keen-eyed amongst you will see this PowerHour only lasted 40 minutes before an enforced jog and then a determined final effort. Average heart rate for this session? 161 beats per minute (bpm). The maximum? 182bpm. Yikes! Theoretically my heart shouldn’t be able to beat that fast if you take the standard “220 minus your age” method of finding a maximum heart rate (which is admittedly only intended as a guide). What this all shows is how unfit I’ve become! We’ll see in a few weeks how an improved level of fitness shows up on the heart rate graph.

Still, a few of those sessions once a week since mid-July has definitely seen my average and maximum heart rates drop . . . meaning I felt ready for yesterday’s Long Distance Walkers Association Challenge event, In Pendle’s Shadow.

I love LDWA Challenges! If you didn’t know already the LDWA’s Challenges are fantastic off-road events open to runners (non-Challenge events are for walkers only) across the country’s most challenging terrains in all weathers. While they’re not officially races running them introduces the urgent need to catch up and beat the person you can see ahead of you, or not depending on how you feel for the day. Some map-reading ability is a must, as is reading a detailed set of double-sided A4 sheets of instructions to get you through a number of checkpoints to the finish via farm yards, rivers, acres of cow muck, endless sticky bogs, ankle-twisting rocks and steep, wet, grassy descents that threaten to catapult you over the stile at the bottom of a field. The copious amounts of cake and sweets at the checkpoints make it all worthwhile though.

But the instructions can’t always help. For example: after a quick-ish lung- and quad muscles-busting ascent I took this photo at the summit of Pendle Hill (1,827 feet) at which point the route instructions stated “Continue in a northerly direction past the beacon towards a ladder stile over a wall 0.2 miles ahead . . .”

Fog at the top meant the instruction was tricky to follow

Fog at the top meant the instruction was tricky to follow

No, I couldn’t see it either. And not having run a LDWA Challenge event for many months I soon realised from the instructions (Cross over the stile and continue on a 320-degree bearing . . .) I’d forgotten a piece of vital equipment for these types of outings: my compass.

I’d opted this year for the shorter course at a published 11 miles rather than the long course 20 miler I did a few years ago. With my longest run since Jordan in February being a mere 7 miles on the treadmill 20 miles would have been ambitious.

And what better event to highlight my current wheezing lack of fitness? Here’s the hill profile for what turned out to be 12.15 miles for an 11 mile course, the inevitable mathematics of off-road events:

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It felt hard, hard work with 2,400 feet of total elevation by the finish in quite humid conditions, not a breeze to be had, in the tail end of the fantastic summer we’ve had in the UK. But it was great fun: I was a grinning giddy kipper on the descent from Pendle Hill as my legs ran away from me on the steep, wet grassy bottom that finished sharply in a barbed wire fence (narrowly avoided); a huge brown hare was sat right next to my feet once I stopped after quietly trotting up to a stone wall, trying to hide, giving me a fright as it urgently scampered off.

“Mmmm, lean protein . . .” I thought, but settled instead for a bowl of soup and lemon drizzle cake at the finish.

Can’t wait for the next one!

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