Sunday, 3 April 2011

Challenge66 - Quite a Challenge!


Just a short post tonight as I follow up on the Challenge66 Charity Run that I mentioned last month.  It involves Andy McMenemy running 66 Ultra Marathons in 66 Days, one from each of the 66 official Cities in the United Kingdom.

Well yesterday I joined Andy for his 18th Ultra in Hove Park, within the City of Brighton and Hove.  The 50km ultra started at 9am, coinciding with the Hove Park 5km Park Run.  This was my first experience of  Park Run, and what I saw looked great.  There was a friendly, supportive atmosphere, where runners of all ages and abilities were able to run 5km within Hove Park, on a smooth tarmacked path, at whatever pace they chose.  A chance to race, but for most just a chance to participate with around 300 other runners.

So Andy, myself, Martin (a runner from Bracknell training for the Edinburgh marathon) and a young lad from the ABS The Soldiers Charity started the 50km Ultra amongst the 5km runners.  The course consisted of a small loop of around 1.2km and then 2 laps of around 1.9km.  With this being Andy's 18th Ultra we started of at a conservative pace letting the 5km runners speed off, although throughout the first 5km we were constantly amongst other runners, including being lapped, and we finished in 280th equal place out of the 301 finishers.  The image below shows the small loop and the large laps of Hove Park.  The green arrow indicates the start.  The 5km Park Run ran in an anti-clockwise direction.

Immediately upon finishing the 5km, we simply turned around and ran back in the opposite direction, first the big lap twice and then the small loop to get back to the start, thereby covering 10km.  The young lad after completing the 5km swapped over with another youngster from The Soldiers Charity who jogged with us for a lap.  This process of changing direction and alternating small loops and large laps was to be repeated a total of 5 times, to register the 50 kilometres!  Our time for the first 5km was 32:50, with the next 5km taking 35:35, so the first 10km was completed in 1 hour 8minutes and 25 seconds.

As the three of us continued to run around Hove Park we simply chatted about various things, previous races we had run, our views on recovery, ice baths, types of shoes, briefly our day jobs, just to mention a few topics.  The pace was quite slow, and alternated between slightly less than 3 metres per second (around 9mins 30secss per miles) and slightly less than 2 metres per second (around 14 mins per mile) when we walked.  The images below are some traces from a mega expensive GPS unit I was wearing (see comments re GPS unit below).  Firstly the first 5kms, then a section of the first 5km zoomed in onto a transition from jogging to walking, then the 5km section from 20 - 25km, and finally the entire 25 kilometres I ran.

The path around Hove Park was quite undulating, especially if this was your 18th Ultra in 18 days and you were suffering from a torn Achilles tendon.  As was the case with Andy, although I must state that you wouldn't have known it, Andy only mentioned his injury once, at the start of the run, and then he never mentioned again.  Never having met Andy before yesterday, first hearing about the injury there was just that slight bit of apprehension that maybe Andy may be your typical runner, who loves talking about running injuries.  I wasn't sure how many hours of injury stories I could handle!!!  But no, I had no need to worry, Andy was a great guy, and was great company during the run.  Although Andy didn't repeatedly mention his injury, one could tell that he wasn't totally comfortable with his running, so frequently as the gradient changed to go uphill we would adjust to a brisk walk.

Working at the University of Brighton, our Sports Science Department had recently purchased some mega expensive GPS units  which are designed for team sports, that not only track the distance and speed covered by GPS, also contain accelerometers to measure each foot's impact with the ground.  So running the same circuit repeatedly I thought it would be interesting to test the units out.  I haven't had a close look at the acceleration data (Up within the above images), although one of the images above shows a zoomed in section as we transition from jogging to walking.  There is a significant decrease in vertical acceleration.  However, overall I was not impressed with the units.  We ran the same course repeatedly, however, the GPS trace shows quite different paths.  Rather poor tracking, heaps worse that my Garmin 305, which is about one fifteenth of the price!

As I started the run yesterday morning, I  hadn't decided how far I would run with Andy.  I wanted to support him and Challenge66 by running with him, but 50 km on road, consisting of 30 laps wasn't really my ideal run!  So during a short break for a toilet stop, Martin and I chatted about the durations of our runs.  He was intending to stop at 25 kms, so I thought rather than us dropping out separately, and possibly repeatedly affecting Andy's focus, I decided that I would stop also at the same time, at halfway.  So shortly after, we told Andy of our plans, which he was happy with.  He was very grateful for the company and support, no matter how short the distance we ran.

So after 3 hours 10 minutes and 39 seconds we completed our fifth 5 km course, thereby totalling 25km, and for Martin and myself we had completed our run for the day, Andy was just halfway!  Andy had a five minute lunch stop planned at 25km, so it was an opportunity for a few photos, and some final words of encouragement, before Andy got his ipod out from his kit bag and headed off for the remaining 25km with now music or podcasts to help past the time.  The photo below has Andy on the left of the photo, me in the middle, Martin from Bracknell on the right of the photo.  Taken after 25kilometres as Martin and I stop!

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed my mornings run.  Experiencing a Park Run for the first time was an added bonus.  The Park Run is a great concept, focusing running for inclusion, encouraging all abilities to get involved.  It reminder me of the Hagley Park Summer 5km Runs that I participated in back in Christchurch, New Zealand, way back during the summer of 1992/93!  Running with Andy was an interesting experience.  His adventure is titled Challenge66, and it is indeed a challenge, on two different levels.  Firstly there is the physical challenge.  Not in terms of cardiovascular fitness, but simply in terms of mechanical damage to the lower limbs.  Already Andy has a damaged Achilles tendon, and there are still 46 ultras to go!  But I think more demanding is that the actual routes, most of the runs consist of.  This being multiple laps within a park.  Therefore there isn't the usual enjoyment one gets when running, of getting somewhere, running through varying landscapes, over a variety of terrains.  I think for me, I 'm not sure how I would 'handle' the multiple laps.  I think the joy of running would rapidly disappear within a few days.  How Andy manages to keep going, lap after lap, day after day, is an amazing achievement and I wish him, and his support team, all the best for the remainder of their amazing journey.  If Andy is running near you over the coming weeks, I'm sure he would be grateful for some support.  His un schedule is listed on the Challenge66 website.

I will sign off with a quote posted on the Challenge66 website:  "Only those who will risk going too far ... can possibly find out how far one can go."  T.S. Elliot.

All the best to you all with your various challenges,


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