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Russ Still Running

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Russ Still Running

Post by russwyd on Wed Feb 10, 2016 6:34 am

Ok, it's been a long time, so apologies for my absence and also for what is likely to be a long update!

I think I last posted a review of my progress through to the Grand Union Canal Race (GUCR) in May 2015 - 145.4 miles from Birmingham to London with a time limit of 45 hours and race rules that runners cannot stop for more than 40 minutes at any point. I had been ill through the winter 2014/15 and went down with a really bad virus early 2015 that had lasted for months - had been prescribed antibiotics just prior to the GUCR and was still badly affected. I managed to run the race but knew from early on that things were not going well - I was sweating profusely and finding it hard to maintain any kind of target pace, dropping back towards 9 hours at 50 miles and 20:30 at 100, then being reduced to a grinding shuffle all the way to the finish. I made it in 33:18, a respectable time but well outside my 30 hour target, and was wondering what had gone wrong.

I went back to the doctor for more tests - had pacemaker checks all ok and various blood tests. Since I had endocarditis as a result of my PM change in 2008 (and ended up in hospital for nearly three months), my blood levels have been quite problematic, with low white cell counts making me more susceptible to infection. My white cells were still critically low, and there were issues with platelets and a few other things that the doctors spotted, but they put things down to a post-viral problem and told me to just back off and rest to allow it to improve.

GUCR was officially my 100th "marathon" to enter the 100 Marathon Club, but I ran the North Downs Way Marathon in July purely to receive my award from the club at the finish. That was a hot and very hilly trail race and I suffered badly with heavy sweating and fatigue. I spent a few weeks in the US in August and ran in the western states in desert heat - still having the sweating problems but putting it down partly at least to the climate. That included a run at the Flagstaff Trail Half Marathon that was pretty hard going - I finished in around 1:57, very slow for me but it was hard work at 8000+ feet elevation and on trails with deep mud due to a huge thunderstorm overnight.

I underwent more medical investigations in the Autumn, and was eventually diagnosed with hormone level problems. Began taking meds and saw some improvements in running and general wellbeing - the sweats disappeared and I could recover from training etc. Apparently the low levels had meant that my muscles were not repairing and I was just getting progressively more and more fatigued. My first longer training race back was the hard, hilly Beachy Head Trail Marathon in October - I run this every year as a training run and didn't want to miss it. I ran stronger than expected, though was still backing right off and chose to run with a friend to keep her company, finishing in 4:21. A couple of weeks later I ran the Meon Valley Marathon (again, muddy trail and very hilly) in 4:04, feeling stronger now, then the Gatliff 34 mile event (extreme weather, deep mud) and the Portsmouth Coastal Trail Marathon in 3:41 - a little way off my target 3:20-3:30 but I figured that four marathons in eight weeks, with 60-80 miles per week training in between and no tapering or recovery periods meant that I was bound to be tired.

I decided with my coach to enter the Rocky Raccoon 100 mile trail race in Huntsville, Texas, in February 2016. We had talked about this as a possible race earlier in the year (it is a favourite with some of the elite UK runners), but decided to see how I got through the Autumn training block first and if my medical issues were improving. I spent the Xmas and New Year period running some quality miles - back-to-back 30/20 mile pace runs and some tempo runs up to 15 miles, and things seemed to be on track so I went for it and booked my flights. I ran the Winter Tanners 30 miles in January - another one with big hills and very deep mud plus navigation etc - taking a group round in 5:50, which is a respectable time on that event, even if it appears very slow!

My friend Russ Tullett volunteered to accompany me to Houston, and we set off on Thursday 4 February to fly from London Heathrow. From Houston it was a fairly simple drive up to Huntsville to our base at the Days Inn hotel. Following advice from my coach, we stayed on UK time - 6 hours behind local time, getting up at 2am (and grabbing some breakfast in the 24 hour Walmart!) and getting to bed by around 6pm if possible. We drove down to Huntsville State Park for registration at 3pm on Friday, then went back to the hotel to get some sleep. Back up at 2am local time for breakfast and headed back into the park at 4am to get a decent parking spot near the start/finish turnaround crew point. We waited in the car while a big lightning storm passed overhead, then walked over to the start.

The race consists of 5 x 20 mile loops all on undulating trail, around 7000 feet of ascent overall but no real climbs, just lots (and lots) of small undulations throughout. Starting at 6am in the dark, we had daylight from around 7am to 7pm then back into darkness. The biggest issue for me (and many others on the day) was the ground conditions - the course is covered in hundreds of partially hidden tree roots, making tripping and falling a real problem.

I set off well and settled into the group. Saw Russ at the 3 mile checkpoint and stopped to take off my long sleeve top, as it was already warming up - night time temperatures are very low (close to freezing) but are mild/warm during the day. Once the sun began to rise, I could drop my head torch at the 6 mile checkpoint (named Dam-Nation, this is a checkpoint you head through then run a 7 mile loop back through again in the opposite direction) and start to run a little more comfortably as the field had spread out. I was in around 20-30th position in a field of around 400 runners and it was beautiful to be running through woodland in the mist.

I made the turn at 20 miles in 3:07, reasonably close to my target 3:00, and grabbed some food, drink and a change of bottle in my belt. I headed out on the second lap and noticed that it was already warming up. I always have a dip between around 25-35 miles and today was no different - I was getting too warm and feeling a little light-headed and sick. I ran into the turnaround in 3:26, so 40 miles in 6:33 - around 15-20 minutes outside target and feeling a bit under the weather. I stopped a little longer this time and took on food and drink to try to shake myself out, then headed off for lap three as a make-or-break section of the race. This went well - I felt stronger and began running more freely and relaxed. Lap 3 was completed in 3:38 and my 60 mile time of 10:12 was reasonably close to my original target. I made a quick turnaround and headed out on Lap 4 running well, grabbing my head torch as it would be dark within a couple of hours.

Darkness was to bring some further problems, however, and I suffered the first of a number of very heavy falls on the Dam-Nation loop, tripping on a tree root and hitting the ground hard. I fell three or four times on that loop, cutting my hands and bruising my knees, arms and ribs, though I was happy to complete the lap in 3:48. After a short checkpoint stop to put on a long sleeve top (it was dark and now getting very cold), I set out on Lap 5 having completed 80 miles in 14:06 including the stops. I still had hopes of running close to or under 18 hours, but would need another very good lap to get there. I was moving through the field, though it is hard to tell positions as I was lapping many others in the race who would be running overnight and into the next day - the race cut-off is 30 hours. Apparently I had moved up into the top 15, though I didn't know it at the time.

Unfortunately, I suffered several more heavy falls, hitting my hands and face and further bruising my knees. This was very frustrating - I was still pretty strong and wanted to keep running, but my confidence was taking a battering along with my body at every trip, and I was reduced to walking the more obviously difficult sections (though once I began running again on what looked like a clearer path, my feet would just find another obstacle and I would hit the deck again). Time was slipping away and I was getting very cold - many runners wrap up with multiple layers and jackets, hats and gloves, while I was still wearing a long sleeve standard top and shorts.

Eventually I ran into the finish having completed Lap 5 in 4:32 (around 30 minutes off target). My finish time was 18:37:33, just under a minute outside my PR and a very good run in the circumstances. I was 13th overall and second in the Masters competition - receiving a fantastic Sub 24 hour belt buckle and a trophy of a mounted Texas Longhorn.

I am delighted with my race - disappointed with the trips and a little sad that I didn't finish with a slightly quicker time, but at the same time over the moon that the health problems seem to be behind me and I am getting back into some proper training and racing. My next target will be the GUCR 2016 in May (145.4 miles), then the Liverpool to Leeds Canal Race (LLCR, 130 miles) in August and hopefully the Centurion Autumn 100 miles in October.

Onwards and upwards!

Russ
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Re: Russ Still Running

Post by DonSoule on Thu Feb 11, 2016 9:04 am

Congratulations Russ!!!! cheers cheers cheers

Like I said on Facebook
"Just WOW!!!!"

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Re: Russ Still Running

Post by Dave Tuttle on Thu Feb 11, 2016 3:42 pm

Absolutely amazing Russ!!! Congratulations on an EPIC race!!

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Re: Russ Still Running

Post by twal on Thu Feb 11, 2016 8:44 pm

Outstanding. Very Happy

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Re: Russ Still Running

Post by Gary E on Sat Feb 13, 2016 10:57 pm

Wow, Russ, you are one amazing dude!  How can you possibly run that fast over such long distances (and with such difficult terrain that you seem to always encounter)?  We may just have to revoke your membership in this organization of "damaged goods" if you continue to show us up so badly.  

But until that vote is requested, we sure admire all that you have done. Way to go big guy!!!
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Re: Russ Still Running

Post by russwyd on Sun Feb 14, 2016 4:38 pm

Gary E wrote:Wow, Russ, you are one amazing dude!  How can you possibly run that fast over such long distances (and with such difficult terrain that you seem to always encounter)?  We may just have to revoke your membership in this organization of "damaged goods" if you continue to show us up so badly.  

But until that vote is requested, we sure admire all that you have done. Way to go big guy!!!

Thanks Gary. I'm actually trying to show up the "non damaged" runners - a 53 year old cardiac cripple can still hang right in there with them.
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Re: Russ Still Running

Post by LMRun on Sun Feb 14, 2016 7:18 pm

russwyd wrote:
Gary E wrote: I'm actually trying to show up the "non damaged" runners - a 53 year old cardiac cripple can still hang right in there with them.

You betcha!  Russ, you are an inspiration to all of us.  Smile

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Re: Russ Still Running

Post by echoguy on Wed Feb 17, 2016 9:02 pm

Amazing run Russ!! Thanks so much for taking the time to fill us all in on the details. Also for your amazing patience for coming back from setbacks. You are enticing me to want to go long again.....don't tell Martha!!

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Re: Russ Still Running

Post by russwyd on Thu Feb 18, 2016 6:12 pm

echoguy wrote:Amazing run Russ!!  Thanks so much for taking the time to fill us all in on the details. Also for your amazing patience for coming back from setbacks. You are enticing me to want to go long again.....don't tell Martha!!

Go for it while you're still young Brian ;-)
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