The Epic

It all started several years ago when on holiday in Slovenia. Not content with the usual holiday pursuits of the resort including mountain walking and cycling, we decided to do something different. We decided to run up the notorious Vriscic Pass, 7 miles up and a vicious 1000M assent and then, run down. (See “Passing Out”, July 2016)

Surprisingly the whole experience was totally amazing and ever since then we have made a point of doing the annual “Epic Adventure” during our summer holiday. To qualify as “Epic” it has to be something that if you were to describe it to fellow guests they would look at you as it you were from a different planet or worse, be sectioned under the mental health act.

This year for a late summer break, we visited a little piece of paradise which is the Miramare Hotel in the resort town of Agios Nikolaus (Ag Nik for short) in Crete. Around 6 miles up the coast is another town called Elounda which is stunningly beautiful and near the famous fortress island: Spinalonga. It is an easy bus trip from Ag Nik to Elounda and our plan was to run back. The problem is that the 6 mile road route is narrow, busy and has no footpath so not good for running. We therefore decided to plan a route across the network of mountain tracks, a journey of about 9.5 miles back to Ag Nik, with a maximum height gain of about 1500 feet. The average daily maximum temperature has been around 28 degrees celsius and the sun gets high and relentless early on, but we always seem to manage these challenges in the warm Mediterranean summer. So, when we caught the 9:00 AM bus this morning, we had a high degree of confidence that we could do this thing!

I had put a significant degree of confidence in the running app “MapMyRun”, which is a pretty good way of planning routes and mostly, if it reckons the route is passable, it is. I had pre-planned the route and downloaded it to my phone so, if the little blue dot remains on the red line, you are on course (all of this utterly depends on your phone not running out of battery, so be prepared).

As we started up the little road out of Elounda, it soon turned into a rough dirt track which rapidly became obviously impassable to motor vehicles, which is fine since the reason for choosing the mountain path was to avoid traffic.

The basics of the route is that the first three miles takes you up into the mountains and then the last 6 consist of a gentle downward path that ends up in the centre of town. This means that you have to be prepared to work hard for the first third of the route! I think I am doing pretty well coming back to fitness after my virus but there’s no way I could keep up with Helen my wife who seemed to skip gazelle-like up the steep mountain tracks. Even walk-running the route was brutal but we were rewarded by the most spectacular views.

Yes, the views are something really special and this here’s the really odd thing: apart from one local (whom we presume was a farmer), on all those spectacular mountain trails we didn’t see a single other soul. I haven’t got any objection to having this amazing place oll to ourselves but here we are at the height of the tourist season and I have to wonder what all these people are doing with their day. There is so much to see here yet the more attractive thing seems to be the swimming pool!

You don’t have to pay the tour operators a fortune in trips. The local buses here are brilliant and my chosen navigation app worked fine and with one slight error and correction we were able to find our way back to the little freshwater lake at Agios Nikolaos harbour where we stopped and had a large Mythos lager each.

This afternoon we deserve the facilities of the hotel bar and restaurant but after such an amazing morning, we are already planning our next Epic.

“You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”

‭‭Psalms‬ ‭16:11‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬

The right trousers

Since I wrote about my journey back to fitness last week, quite a lot has happened. I confess I was quite apprehensive about the race I was due to run on Sunday and wasn’t at all sure about whether I would be truly ready.

On Tuesday of last week I led training at the running club as usual. Our session was a gentle social run that we do from time to time where everyone runs at their own pace, stopping every so often for a little chat and a chance for people not running so fast to catch up. I really felt good during this session and was able to run at various paces with ease. I then did a couple of runs on my own over the next few days and for the first time since I was ill, I could let my mind wander and not be totally focussed on finding the energy simply to put one foot in front of another! Progress indeed.

Now we come to the weekend. My club had two things on over the weekend. On Saturday morning we took over Rothwell parkrun (filling nearly all of the volunteer roles) and thankfully everything went smoothly. On Sunday we were going to run the Leeds Country Way relay where so many things had to fall into place logistically for the team and, personally, I had the challenge to make it to the end of my leg. So, I turned up at the race HQ to register the team at 7:00 AM and set our first two runners off on the first leg, which started at 8:00AM. Then, it was up to our first three pairs of runners to get the baton round to the hand-over point in Thornbury, Bradford from where I (and my partner) would carry it through to the next pair waiting at Golden Acre Park.

I was running my leg with a very capable and experienced athlete, our club chairman, “Rocket” Ron Needham. Ron, who is just over 10 years my senior, recently came out of “running retirement” to take an active part in many club events. At the peak of his career, Ron was the kind of athlete who won mass running races and the nickname of “Rocket” is very appropriate. On Sunday the reality of the situation was that it would be me making an effort to keep up with Ron rather than the other way round. Maybe it was that motivation that worked because, to my surprise, I managed to shave some minutes off my time for the same leg last year, even though I was much fitter back then.

The Leeds Country Way is different to most other running events in that runners are supposed to learn the route through the footpaths around Leeds and find their way without marshals! At some places the going is very tough and seldom used footpaths are over-grown with nettles, thistles and brambles. It is for this reason that I always wear long running tights for this route regardless of the warm weather. On Sunday this was a wise move because many bare legged runners were red and raw!

Reflecting on my own recovery and my impatience to return to full fitness I have to put things in perspective. I can today at 58 years of age run 11.5 miles through hilly and bramble ridden footpaths in under 2 hours without feeling worse for wear. When I look at Ron being able to do what I do while being 10 years older, it spurs me on. This weekend has reminded me not to feel sorry for myself but keep on going; running shorts or longs, whatever, the right trousers!

“Remember the days of old; consider the generations long past. Ask your father and he will tell you, your elders, and they will explain to you.”

‭‭Deuteronomy‬ ‭32:7‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬

The Journey

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It doesn’t seem that long ago since I was publishing a daily blog about my challenge to run 10K every day during June.  That was an amazing experience and it was topped by a couple of brilliant races I had during July.

That was when I was struck down by a flu like virus which took me out of action for pretty much a whole month.  Even now I feel some residual effects and some of the things I could do with ease just a few months ago now feel like a real struggle.  I haven’t really added much to my blog since I fell ill but yesterday I thought that I ought to write.  The journey back to health and fitness is a real story and is definitely something that ought to be written about.   When you, as a runner, are inured or ill it can be very discouraging and you can be downhearted.  However, for me, I have been here before and know I can come back and be even better than I was before.  It’s not going to be easy but in this game, no one ever said it would.

So, in the last month or so my best 10K time is around 10 minutes off where I would like it to be.  In a few races I did a personal worst time and as I said, quite a few things I take for granted are a struggle.   In 7 days time I am competing in a race called the Leeds Country Way Relay as captain of my team.   This requires me to run, with a partner, a gruelling 11.5 mile trail route though the hilly countryside north of Leeds and it’s tough even if you are fit.  We did a practice run last week and my partner (some years my senior) and my wife Helen (who I can usually beat over any distance) had to wait for me to catch up on many occasions.  Will I be much better next week?  Time will tell.

On the plus side, I went out running with Helen today and we ran a lovely route through the countryside by a lake, even though it was about 26 degrees Celsius (feeling more like 30).   Although this was tough it was fun and that, after all, it what it’s all about.

My plan therefore is to blog about my journey back to full fitness.  Hopefully it will be interesting and by the end of it I will be recounting some much better performances and results.

“The Lord will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
8 the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.”

Psalm 121:7-8