2016 Custom Challenges! COMPLETED!!

Pushing myself further by integrating running to the challenges - which is brand new to me!

Understanding Me

I grew up under the cloud of having asthma which would always present itself particularly when running. Therefore, sports was never really part of my childhood or onwards in to adulthood. Fast forward to my thirties, with lots of pies and beer under the bridge…

Step 1; Daniel (2006)

My mind-set of ‘what is possible in life’ began to change when Daniel was born – watching him fight from 26 weeks and seeing him flourish thereafter does give you a different perspective and children are brilliant for instilling motivation.

I found Neonatal Intensive Care really interesting to see the nudges of doctor’s decisions and physical support provided but at the end of the day, life fights through to survive.

Step 2; Weight (2012)

As Daniel grew up I looked at myself and considered whether my 19st obesity was a good role-model for Daniel. Yep, so I hit the low-carb diet for 12 months and lost over 6 stones to be just overweight (in BMI terms at least).

During this time, I recognized my 'controlled obsession' approach which helped me keep the weight away after the loss-phase.

Step 3; Cycling (2013)

A few years earlier (pre-weight loss) I had bought a bike though the ride-to-work scheme – I had one ride out of about half a mile up a small hill which took me 1 full hour to recover. The bike collected dust thereafter.

After the weight loss though, I decided to try again – at first it wasn’t much easier; it turns out looking slim doesn’t make you fit! I stuck with it though, until I was able to ride the 6 miles to/from work (with plenty of rest stops). Daniel had also grown to really enjoy cycling, so I naturally want to support him too.

Step 4; Charity (2014)

Hello Strava – I discovered this fantastic GPS tracking tool which switched on my obsession and drove me to improve cycling daily. Each day I would push myself to be better (to the edge of vomit!) and pour over the stats afterwards. I soon bought a road bike, ramping up the miles and pushing constantly.

I even seem to lose 90% of the effects of asthma; my recovery time dropped to being in seconds rather than minutes and I’d learnt how to kick it in early and recover so that the remainder of the ride would be much less troublesome.

I could tell I was in the early days of an improvement curve and therefore tried to utilise the situation for a good cause, therefore I signed up for a London-Paris ride for NDCS, since I felt in debt to them for their support with Daniel. This fed my obsession and identified my 'definition of a challenge'; something you physically cannot achieve at the time you first say you will do it.

Step 5; Challenge (2015)

This is when I consolidated all my newly acquired facets together of motivation, health, cycling, charity and challenge. The custom goal was to cycle solo from Leeds to London in a day, then take part in a large cycle event around London before cycling home (all over a long weekend).

This was definitely very tough for me and did hurt a lot – though it presented an incredible feeling as I approached the end. To try to help fundraising, I even sold-out on my previous blackout-out of all internet presence and signed up to social media – which was also a big mental deal for me (being an introvert / ISTP) that I doubt many realise.

Step 6; Running (2016)

Right after the London event, I looked at myself and wondered 'what can’t I do?' – with the now different outlook on life I knew that really, there were probably a lot less things than I actually tell myself. Therefore, I dug in to my childhood nemesis of running, and joined my local running club Farsley Flyers since I genuinely had no idea about running.

I do have to take a moment to thank Farsley Flyers, not just Alison and the leaders who are all voluntary in this free club, but also every member as it’s about being a positive social group. I’m not saying I’m a particularly social peep in a group setting (a strong ISTP trait for sure) but it’s great to hear so many personal stories of achievement – a great way to set your own thoughts in to perspective.

2016 Training

After totalling a mere 68 miles of running (in my life!) I signed up for the Yorkshire Marathon (plus Hull/Leeds/York 10ks) 1 year in advance but soon set my goal of cycling to/from each event in order to personalise them to be my own. In my mind, lots of people run marathons (a formidable goal in itself) but my definition of a challenge is to push that bit further and therefore the comfort zone of cycling was logical. Which, to be fair, I believe was successful as it’s proved to be a prime talking point about the Marathon.

My run-training began in November and on 2nd December I managed my first commute to & from work by running – 10k in each direction. It did hurt, but it started to once again to show me the possibilities. I did manage to repeat that 3 more times before Christmas but a strain developed and I had to back off running altogether for a few weeks then took it easy until March.

Strain injuries were my main worry for the Marathon – I knew marathons burn about 4000 calories and I’d previously had rides in excess of 7000 calories, but my legs just didn’t seem up to the task of running distances reliably.

All my running so far had some form of niggle on every run. I wasn’t sure whether I was going through the leg-building phase or whether the knee pains were a result of my many cycling injuries (my knee is a diary) – and thus would I ever be able to run a marathon?

April saw me reach the half-marathon distance, crucially with only minor pain. May was when my confidence started to build as I was beginning to be able to run consistently without pain and after swiftly polishing off a Farsley Flyers hill-climbing challenge, I was fit and ready for my first event.

When it comes to training (cycling & running), pretty much all of mine comes from either commuting in to Leeds or running with the Farsley Flyers. This day-in-day-out approach does pose difficulties regarding 'training smart' and having the important rest days. However, I personally think it builds endurance and the ability to recover quickly.

Hull 10k

Not the easiest of the 2016 challenges to start with – cycling over 60 miles to Hull, running the 10k then cycling back again all on the same day. At this point I wasn’t worried about the running distance, but had not yet attempted a long cycle combined with a run, so was pretty exciting to be honest.

A 4:30am cycling start wasn’t the most attractive facet of this though – I do remember heading through Leeds city centre and seeing everyone milling around in bars and catching taxis which was a little surreal as I was heading to the 10k. I knew the majority of the roads to Hull very well, therefore was able to set a pace suitable to maintain energy with a nice 17mph average.

For this challenge I had pre-arranged with the Hull Deaf Centre to kindly leave my bike there while I ran. This was one aspect which was awkward on all the other runs after that – as leaving a respectable bike just locked up on a street doesn’t fill me with confidence.

The run itself was well organised and I happily jaunted round, probably with a smile on my face and whistling most of the time as I felt really good that day. However, when reaching the last mile I saw someone up ahead on the floor with a couple of people around.

As a work first aider, I headed straight for them and experienced my first proper start of a medical event. A man was apparently struggling to breath and I could see the cyanosis around his face. As things panned out, he was having a severe fit, and I stayed with him the whole time with the event first aider as he was unresponsive to drugs and clearly in a bad way, with firemen and finally the ambulance arriving over the course of 40 minutes.

I did then finish off the last mile, but the time was obviously of no importance. However, with very few runners still around, I did happen to get a few good photos from the event photographers making the purchase price acceptable for a Yorkshire man.

I was fortunate to get a nice day, so treated the ride back relatively leisurely but in time to head out with Daniel for a pizza to restock up the energy levels.

Leeds 10k

This was a different animal and technically the easiest of my challenges. Therefore I treated it as a true fun run including fancy dress for both myself and Daniel. Daniel rode the mere 6 miles in to Leeds with me while I used the bike I had customised for the Farsley Weekend.

Overall I think the effect was pretty ‘special’ and I was amazed how many people wanted to take a selfie with me – wow!

I did try for a respectable pace, but came in at my usual 10k timing – I have no aspirations of being fast when it comes to running, I’m (even now) just soaking up the feeling that I can run these distances after a lifetime of incorrectly believing that I couldn’t. Mind you, whilst I did try, I was more than conscious that my next event was the following weekend so could not afford an injury as it was going to be very tough.

Liverpool Nightrider

I slipped this cycling event in to my 2016 schedule because it neatly brought together my recently acquired desire to ride the Leeds-Liverpool canal as well as following on from the previous year’s ride to London to take part in the Nightrider there.

Cycling 130 miles by road isn’t something that causes much apprehension these days, but it would be a complete unknown to me to do any decent distance off-road on a mountain bike. The furthest I’d previously ridden by mountain bike was about 20 miles. The bike I have is definitely in the ‘standard’ category rather than top end at all but I do maintain things well and had only ridden it about 400 miles in total, so should be in good condition.

A 5:30am start kicked through the very scenic canal winding paths, forcing myself to stop every 10 miles to eat. I had no real time pressure so was initially concerned with recovery for the 60miles Nightrider the following day.

All was good until about 30 miles in, I discovered the nice canal path we have grown to know around Leeds comes to an end and you’re on to mud, rock, grass and tree root trails. Ah, this could really burn my energy especially as I was hauling 50lbs of bike and luggage. My inexperience on a mountain bike soon showed too as I took a fall when my front and rear wheels had a falling out over which track to follow as things started to get damp – this tore up my leg a little and still over 90 miles to go!

Once exiting Yorkshire the Lancashire climate took over and the temperature dropped, as did the rain. Mile upon mile of mud, grass, puddles and annoying towpath gates lay before me.

The riding took incredibly tense concentration on the slippery surfaces. I couldn’t take pleasure from the surroundings and just had to dig deep and enjoy the gritty challenge aspect.

The rain also removed my desire to stop and eat which I knew full well is a bad place to be if you need to recover or continue with an endurance event. I basically just concentrated on the day at hand and prioritised arriving in Liverpool sooner, over being in a well-recovered form the following day.

The other learning point of the day was when you’re navigating a canal, you need to think like a boatsman. I hadn’t done much route planning as I had figured 'how far can you go wrong on a canal?'. Well there may have only been a couple of junctions but I got them both wrong briefly! The signposts are on the waterway easy for boats to see – if you’re on the towpath there’s nothing clear in front of you. Foulridge tunnel was a little interesting to navigate around as you would probably see from my Strava track getting lost.

A quick call out to the Canal and River Trust who do a great job of looking after these long and to be honest, very popular stretches of canals. I do think they are worth supports, therefore sponsored a stretch myself but they also kindly reciprocated with a 'Human' write-up!

Upon arriving at the hotel in Liverpool (tired, wet, sore and looking like a mud monster) the next challenge would be to change without leaving the contents of the canal around the room. I also had the challenge to cover up my torn leg such that the bed wouldn’t look like I murdered somebody.

The next day, I met Julie and Daniel off the train (not sure it sounded any more civilised than my journey) and we spent the day being tourists. Whilst I hadn’t given Liverpool much thought what it would be like, I can say I really did like the place.

At the Liverpool Nightrider event, Julie and Daniel came along to wave me off (with Daniel excited about staying up late!). I also met up and said ‘Hi’ to the mechanics from Bike Swanky who I’d met the previous year. They were really kind and helpful as usual, and did put in the extra hand to help me with the challenge overall.

The Nightrider went without a hitch; I preferred the fast-moving route of Liverpool to the congestion of the London Nightrider.

There weren’t many other people on mountain bikes (sensibly!) so I had wondered how much of a drag it would turn out to be. However, the answer was 'none really' as I steamed through the whole route and pounded up the hills (I do like a hill these days). I also love the extra strength you gain 24hrs after a major exertion – I notice it on all my multiday events; as long as you apply your recovery correctly you get stronger day after day.

OK, maybe I pushed it a little too much, as Sunday was a killer! More tourist activities with Julie and Daniel but chiefly desperately trying to build up the energy reserves for the 130 miles of canal going back.

On Monday I was thankful that the weather seemed to be pretty much dry and warm. I’ve got to say this made for a wholly different experience on the return. The grass/dirt trails are still hard going in terms of effort but the concentration demand is way lower than when you’re contending with tens of miles of constant slipping and spinning. I really enjoyed the day and had plenty of energy for a good blast on the empty paths near the end.

As with all my events, I had funded them myself so that all donations can fully go to the charities. I also take annual leave from work and was pleased I’d added Tuesday as a contingency day as it was one of the hottest of the year – I took the very rare opportunity to do nothing but sunbathe in the garden recuperating and rehydrating while Daniel was at school.

York 10k

In terms of effort, the York 10k was going to be one of those ‘neither here nor there’ pitches. That is, a little too awkward to do fancy dress and a little too short to be an effort challenge.

However, with my real thoughts now being firmly fixed on the Yorkshire Marathon (also around York) I was using the 10k as the logistics trial.

The 6am start was reasonably palatable though the strong winds not quite so. I had expected to receive a good strong tailwind for the journey, but that was only partially delivered and at times was definitely fighting against me. Still, a respectable 19mph average / 1.5 hr ride to York to be pleased with.

The only real stand-out feature of the 10k (other than the obvious scenery) was how narrow much of the route was. Since I typically don’t go for a fast pace, I don’t push myself too far forward in the starting lines – though in this case the narrow route meant for much of the time you felt trapped behind the running crowds.

The return cycle leg was a little tortuous mind. The wind had really whipped up now and I was looking at a 30 miles / 2500ft of 30mph direct headwind.

I always give it full effort, so was tired when arriving home, though with the very strong thought that the route could be a struggle when returning from the Marathon as I expect my leg power to be crippled following that.

Yorkshire Marathon

OK, this is it. Whilst the Marathon may have only be a 1 day event and my cycle challenges are typically multiple consecutive days of similar effort each day, the running aspect is still very much unproven ground for me. I gave myself a massive confidence boost 2 weeks earlier by running 22 miles and then 10 miles in the same day at a slow pace but felt completely fine – I think this was double edged though as it gave me a little too much confidence and my inexperienced/rookie abilities appeared.

I arrived at the Yorkshire Marathon very relaxed after a pleasant 30 miles cycle over. Lots of time to lock up, change (once again in a tiny portaloo – very tricky!). I took my place at the start line and began the barrage of tweets!

The start of the Marathon headed through the city centre street of York – all very scenic with great crowds lining the way. It threw me at first as people shouted my name…then I remembered it’s written on my race number at the front – duh.

All went well up to the half way mark and I was heading for a 4 hour Marathon time which I was really pleased about. However, shortly after that I could feel a few pains kicking in but also the legs were starting to feel some of the strain.

Stamford Bridge was a good section with the crowds and the only ‘hill’; not really by West Yorkshire standards, but by now it did feel like one especially as you had to cruelly run over it twice at least.

It was at 18 miles though when the acids started to kick in and the legs became very painful. This was the first time I’d experienced this feeling so I wasn’t sure what the best thing to do was. Eventually I thought I’d try walking for a minute every mile…bad move. This basically made it harder to start running again.

All I kept picturing was wanting to get back on the bike in to what is my comfort zone – I’ve suffered on the bike a lot, but I know my bounds there, but with running it’s all new.

I did however, persevere on with walking and running and managed to hobble over the line (at 4hrs 38m) and be greeted by Daniel. At this point I was definitely in the mind-set of ‘nope, I won’t be running any more Marathons’!

The focus now switched to the ride home. To change back in to the cycling gear, I used a first aid tent – though this was an interesting experience as the legs just didn’t want to support my weight when bending. I was slightly concerned about the riding, but knew that once I got the legs spinning, they would keep on going – and that is exactly what happened.

I didn’t have very much leg power on the bike, but it doesn’t take that much to maintain speed, though I chose a 10 miles longer route to save about 1000ft of climbing. Unfortunately, all that seemed to happen is that I exchanged the hill-climb for longer time spent in head-wind, so I’m not convinced that it turned out to be a net-benefit.

The journey home largely just felt like another one of my typical tough bike challenges – where I know I can keep on going, even if it does hurt somewhat.

At a couple of points I did start to deplete and felt dizzy, though I found a couple of gels tucked away in a pocket which bounced me back. I had planned to stop for a full meal somewhere, but to be honest I feared that the legs really wouldn’t want to move again if I had done that.

Twelve hours and 7000 calories after having set off in the morning, I did arrive safely back home. First things first though, recovery is key, so straight on to the recovery shakes to be in with half a chance of cycling to work the following day!

Recovery was successful, to the extent that I could function with a grimace. I was definitely still in the mind-set that I’d not run another Marathon and was really looking forward to a stress-free relaxing winter with reduced training and maybe start swimming.

Life though, had other plans, and that very day the London Marathon 2017 ballot entry I’d applied for a few months earlier landed - I’d been accepted in!

What’s Next?

I now have the London Marathon 2017 place so run-training has to continue in order to exit winter at the same or better level that I’m going in to it at.

My main plan for next year is to switch focus to helping other people improve their own lifestyles. This includes plans for becoming a run lead and improving focus on health and wellbeing at work.

Charities

My default position on charities, especially national ones, is to be cautious over how much money is raised versus how much support they really provide. Therefore those I do choose have demonstrated real value in my eyes.

Both of these charities share the same principle that doing the best you can for children is likely to provide less challenges for them in adulthood.

National Deaf Children’s Society - A world without barriers.

I have been supporting the National Deaf Children’s Society for a number of years now. My experience has always been positive in how much (constantly updated) relevant material they have available. However, I’m also really impressed with their responsiveness and proactive drive within children’s services to get the right thing done.

Finally, there’s the obvious side of the fun, constructive and highly valuable events they organise. I can’t stress how important it feels for Daniel to interact with other deaf children in the early years. No one wants to stand out for something they cannot influence and these interactions go a long way to show normality takes many forms.

One of my biggest bug-bears are that adults shouldn’t try to shy away from showing they wear (or need) hearing aids. I’ve seen the little confidence boosts that Daniel gets from seeing that they are part of everyday life. Not only that, but as Daniel grows up, I’m sure he will receive less remarks from his peers if they too have seen how normal it is in adulthood.

Leeds Children’s Hospital Appeal - Better, brighter, happier.

Daniel spent his first months of life at the Leeds General Infirmary / Peter Congdon Neonatal Unit, where he fought through intensive care for about 6 weeks, on to high dependency for a month then the last few weeks progressed to home nursery before heading home still on oxygen support and daily contact with the unit's outreach nurses.

I'm sure many parents go through the similar journey and in most cases I would assume, as with Daniel, you'd never guess the battle they had as babies to earn their right to life. However, on their side they have the genuine care and expertise of all the medical staff on the ground.

Since our time there, the Leeds Children’s Hospital has been created. The aim of the appeal is to give the children being cared for, a better experience through the rough times they are experiencing.