Tuesday 27th July 2021
Well, I did it! Or at least I completed 70km out of the full 102km. I'll come on to why I had to drop out in a moment, but I want to start at the beginning. But first, I should like to thank everyone who donated to Viva! both on Just Giving, and on Facebook Donate. I finished up raising around £1700 which is absolutely amazing! Thank you, each and everyone of you!😍😍
Here's an article that I wrote an article for the Vegan Runners Newsletter, about the whole adventure - and it was an adventure, it was a complete blast!
How I discovered at the age of 82 that I should have been a runner all my life!
Couch to 110k in 93 days!
When the first lockdown began, in March 2020, I figured, like a lot of people, I’d like to come out of it with a new skill. So, inspired by friends who did the local park run, I thought running was maybe something I could do. I measured out a 20 yard track on my back lawn, and, on the 30th March, I began to run round it. I started slowly, running up to a mile a day, in quarter-mile segments. I ran my first full mile after 9 days, my first 5k after 22 days, and my first 10k after 8 weeks. As my stamina built up, I began to feel I could put this exercise to some good use, and, hearing from a friend of mine, that animal sanctuaries were in dire straits because of the lockdown, I thought I would do some fundraising for Dean Farm Sanctuary, where she was a volunteer. So at the end of May, I announced I intended to run 100k over ten days - 10 x 10k over the last 10 days in June.
This is where something completely unexpected happened. I had anticipated that, the further I got into the challenge, each day would be more and more tiring. Instead, by about the 4th day I realised this wasn’t happening, and with each run I was feeling stronger. So, every day, instead of doing 10k, I did a bit more, and by the end of the challenge I’d done a total of 110k over ten days, in the process raising over £4000 for Dean Farm Sanctuary.
Bit of history: I’d tried running in my forties, but had to give up after 6 weeks because of the pain in my knees. This time, at the age of 82, I had no aches, no pains, no twinges, even. What had happened in the meantime was that I had given up all animal products. In the early 2000s, I had given up meat, to avoid Mad Cow Disease (BSE), which was rife at that time. I had never really taken an interest in animal welfare prior to this, but, for some reason I started looking at the dairy and chicken industry. And I didn’t like what I saw - so I went vegan. Surprisingly, after several months on whole food plant-based nutrition, the osteoarthritis I had suffered from for years completely disappeared! The joints of my fingers had become gnarled and twisted, and were getting steadily worse each year. It was painful to shake hands, or change gears, or even to hold a kettle. But giving up all animal products cured all that, and I was now totally pain free.
Vegan Runners Community: UK
All my running up to now had been round the circuit in my garden, in my 10yr-old trainers, but, on the 7th October, armed with some new Asics, I ventured outside. Around this time I was invited by VR Kevin Doherty to join the Vegan Runners page (on Facebook), which I did - and found I had joined an amazing group of people. Not long after I signed up, I mentioned I’d love a VR vest, but was unable to purchase one, since the VR shop was closed. Almost immediately I was offered one by James Tveeg, who had a spare he would let me have, free of charge. Within a few days, the vest arrived in the post and I’ve been wearing it ever since (when running that is! 😀)
And then, when I reported that I was estimating the distance I run with a combination of driving it first, and then checking the mileage on my iPhone. Paul Millsom posted to say: “Pity I just gave my old serviceable Garmin 620 away to someone last month else you could have had it Paul. Maybe someone else who is upgrading might be generous?”, which was a lovely thought. And straight away, Gabrielle Bassett posted: "Paul Youd I have a Forerunner 205 you can have for free if you are ok to pay postage?”. Of course I PM’d her, and a few days later, after Gabrielle checked that the watch was working OK, it came in the post.
Preparation for the ultra - and outreach!
After my 110k effort, I had asked on the FB Athlegan page, how I could keep this level of fitness, and someone suggested I might consider doing an Ultra marathon. And when I looked at the website of the SW Coast 2 Coast Ultra, almost on my doorstep, it was love at first sight! I persuaded Alex Laska and James Gibson, both of Vegan Runners, to join me, and we signed up as a team - calling ourselves The Runner Beings. During my preparation for the ultra I would often cut through and around a large estate near my village - always wearing my Vegan Runners vest and my VEGAN AF beanie - and occasionally I’d stop for a chat with anyone who looked approachable. Given my experience doing outreach with Anonymous for the Voiceless (I’m one of the organisers of AV Taunton, and have been a member since April 2018), I find it easy to strike up a conversation with the folks I meet. I had a few conversation starters up my sleeve - the easiest being with families with young children, especially if they are running ahead as children often do. So I would say to the parent/carer, “ You’ve got a budding runner there, don’t you think?” Then I would add something like, “I found out in my 80s that we are all supposed to be runners - kids just love running, but something happens in their teenage years and they don’t follow up with it.”
I began by handing out AV cards to people I met, but then I received a supply of leaflets from the animal rights charity, Viva!, and when they were done I sent away to the Everyday Activism shop and was sent 100 of their high quality - free - leaflets. [pic] As I started fundraising in earnest, I got Jacqui Ahmed Oates to include my story and my fundraising link on one side. [pic] I found these were a brilliant resource to hand out to people. Here are some typical training/outreach sessions:
Brilliant conditions for running, once again, bright sunshine for the most part, with a little wind, but nothing to worry about. I kept my running nice and slow, with an average pace of 14.40, so the 10 miles/16km took me 2:26.46 and put me on 37k for the week, so far. I was out a bit longer than that, since I delivered about 50 Viva! leaflets - along with my chocolate cake recipe, and a link to the Vegan Cookery post on my blog. Plus the link to support and advice (or Veganuary) in case anyone thinks they'd like to go vegan. I was also held up by several conversations that took place, which finished up with me handing out an AV card. The first was to a young guy who was exercising his dog - he was very interested in my training, and, about a vegan diet was '...up for trying anything, really.' the next was to an old friend I last saw at the school gates, 30 years or more ago. He was walking with difficulty, pushing a walking frame, so he got the whole 'I cured my arthritis by going vegan' spiel and he promised to look at 'What the Health'. And the third was a young guy mowing his lawn - which we both agreed was quite ridiculous given that we were halfway through December! He said his wife had seen me running around, and had noticed my Vegan Runners shirt. He did a bit of running himself, and was interested in my Ultra. When I told him about Rich Roll's preference for Ultras over Marathons, since you get pitstops every 12km or so on an Ultra, he said, 'Well, even I might be able to manage that!' He was aware of - and full of admiration for - Fiona Oakes, and knew that she was vegan. When I left, I said, only half joking, ' Well, if you do go vegan, you can come and join us on the Ultra'. He didn't say he wouldn't! :)
Quite a departure from my usual route this morning. I finished on 10.6km, which included a #notparkrun (walk) - 5k in 55:45. The nearby M5 motorway was closed, and all the traffic decanted onto the A38, causing massive tailbacks. The A38 skirts the large estate where I do some of my training - I generally follow it a bit, then dive into the side roads and parks, etc. But not this morning, since I had a captive audience for my Vegan Runners repping. I stuck to the A38, then back again, and doubled back once more, getting plenty of smiles and thumbs ups. This last time I struck up a conversation with a friendly driver who was stationary at the time, telling him that "This too will pass." He told me I would get to Cornwall before he did. So I hopped over the road and gave him a leaflet, telling him about the ultra. I gave another to a family of cyclists, after exchanging greetings; another to a couple of people from the village that I'd known since our kids went to school together; one more to a young mother, whose youngster was skipping and running ahead; then a couple more to two other couples I came across that I'd known for many years. They were suitably impressed by my running, and one of them in particular was very interested in how my osteoarthritis had disappeared after going plant-based. All in all it feels really good to get out there again!
Upped my walking distance again this morning, to 7.7k. I felt really good, and I'm feeling stronger - seems the strength work I've been doing is paying off. And my average pace increased slightly, without any conscious effort on my part - from 5kph to 5.3kph. No hiccups thus far, and I'm starting to feel a lot more positive. 4 weeks tomorrow I'll be on the starting line.
3 leaflets handed out - one to a youngish foreman on a nearby construction worker, who was very impressed; one to a friend of my son's I stopped to chat with; and the other to an ex-neighbour I came across - he was stooped over and was shuffling along, poor chap.
Out in my Vegan Runners vest this morning, and did my longest run to date - 17k, beating the 16k I did last month, including a few hill reps. I was aiming for 17k, since that's a third of the distance I hope to cover each day on my Ultra. My aim is to do 3 of these in one day sometime early in the NY. Towards the end of my run I passed a gang of bricklayers I'd seen several times on my runs, and they'd always given me a cheery wave as I ran past. This morning I stopped and told them why I was often to be seen out running - and they were well impressed. I also threw in the fact that I'd tried to run 40 years ago, but my knees became too painful to continue. But since going vegan - for the animals -my arthritis has completely disappeared and I'm now pain free. I urged them to watch The Game Changers, using my usual line of "It's about top sports men and women going vegan and finding their performance is enhanced - and not just on the playing field." Later on in the run I said "Hello" and 'Thank you" to a couple of women when they moved aside to let me pass. They were very friendly, saying they'd seen me running often - so I told them I was training for an ultra, and about Viva! the charity I was supporting. They were quite chatty, asking about my Vegan Runners shirt, so I told them that the VR club is one of the largest running clubs in the UK - one of them said she was going to Google that when she got home. One of women had done a 10k in the past. I was able to do a bit of outreach, since they were curious, asking about my age, how long I'd been vegan. One of them had arthritis so I told them about the benefits of whole food plant-based nutrition - they got the whole spiel! As I left, they said they would check me out on FB.
It's been my intention all along on these runs to portray myself as The Friendly Vegan Runner - I make a point of greeting everyone with a big smile and 'Hello'. If I come across any dog walkers - and I meet quite a few - I try and greet the dog first, generally complementing the walkers on having a lovely dog. Any parents with children, I always greet the child first, if it's appropriate. Wearing a Vegan Runners vest, I feel as if I'm representing the vegan community - I want people to see vegans in a good light, as it were.
My knee injury:
Observant readers will have notice that my training consisted of both running and walking at different times. At the end of January I strained my knee somehow, and although I rested it for good fortnight, and only started back walking slowly, it stubbornly refused to heal. At various times I felt I could run on it, but inevitably, the niggle would return. I did the ultra wearing two knee braces, as a precaution, and I’m glad to say that my knees were absolutely fine. However, the problem still persists - my physio tells me that ligaments can take as long as 18 months to recover. So, in the meantime I’m concentrating on walking and strength and conditioning exercises.
The day of the ultra:
On the Friday evening, my son, Ben, and I drove to Minehead and parked at the Northfield Hotel (not recommended, since I found I had to make my own bed!), then went and completed the initial registration. Up around 5.30, we had a breakfast of porridge oats and dried fruit which we'd brought with us, and set off for the start. There were about 1200 people starting that day, at different times, and we were in the 7.40 group. So, after a bit of zumba to warm up, we were on our way. A walk through the streets of Minehead, first, then we were on the path up to Dunkery Beacon.
The walk was initially quite easy, and the path not too steep. The weather, which had been threatening, held off, and the first part of the climb was quite pleasant. However, about halfway up, the rain and wind struck with a vengeance - and there were thunderstorms about. I struggled to put my poncho on, which was quite difficult in the wind. I had one hand trying to hold the hood over my head, while the other alternated between holding it down at the front and pulling it down at the back - whilst trying to keep my glasses clear so that I could see the slippery, stony track in front of us. I’ve described the conditions elsewhere as ‘brutal’, and indeed they were - but I said to my son and anyone else who would listen, “There’s just nowhere else I’d rather be!” I don’t remember feeling so alive as I did climbing that hill! Needless to say, the temperature dropped and it was freezing. The rest of the day is a bit of a blur - it was just a case of putting one foot in front of the other. When we got to the halfway finish point there were cheerleaders and an MC, encouraging the finishers through the finish line. The MC was congratulating everyone for having come through those terrible conditions, and, as I went past him, I said, as an aside, “It was a bit of a doddle, really.” He called me back and asked me my age. When I told him I’d be 84 in September, he announced to the crowd, “This man is 84 and he’s just told me it was a doddle!” Which made everyone chuckle. I told him that I was there with my son, and said: “I’ve been looking after him for 43 years and today he’s been looking after me.” Which the MC duly relayed to the crowd.
The next day a woman told me that when she’d heard that it had moved her to tears!”
That night we stayed in a hotel in Tiverton - a couple of miles away from the campsite. We got a taxi there, but had to walk back the next morning, ready for a 6.30 start. This is when my failure to buy a new rucksack, at the urging of my son, came back to bite me. For the last ten or so km on the previous day I had found myself bending further and further over to my left, to compensate for my ill-fitting rucksack. I thought this wouldn’t be too much of a problem on the second day, but I was wrong - as soon as I put my rucksack on, I began to bend over again. I struggled on as best I could, with my son carrying my rucksack for long periods. But, 2k after the first pitstop of the day, at the 70k mark, my son asked me if I honestly felt I could continue walking almost doubled over, for the next 30k - and I thought, no, I don’t think I can. So I pulled out at this point. I got a shuttle bus to the next couple of stops, whilst Ben carried on walking. I went to see the medics as soon as I could and was given an ibuprofen spray and some paracetamol, which pretty well sorted me out. I was there at the finish line to greet him, and the MC suggested I present Ben with his medal, which I did, to much applause.
My impressions of the whole ultra experience: I’m so glad I did it. I’m still savouring the sheer pleasure the weekend gave me. Everything was great! The terrain - challenging at times, given the severe weather we experienced climbing Dunkery Beacon - the company, everyone of whom had their own story - and the staff, nothing was too much trouble. The food wasn't great - or even available at times, but, in the whole scheme of things, that was a minor issue.
Probably the best thing about the weekend was that my son came along, too, so we spent a rare 48 hours together - which was pretty special.
I was also able to do quite a bit of outreach over the two days. I did the whole journey in my Vegan Runners vest, and anyone who showed the slightest interest in my story received a leaflet. I think I handed out about 50 all told, and they were all well received.
But I've now got unfinished business - I intend to complete it next year. And I may run part of it - it will be so good to get back into running again.
There remained one last bit of outreach. On the train back to Taunton from Dawlish, I was still wearing my race number on my VR vest, which was noticed by a young guy, one of a group of three, who asked me, as he was passing up the train, what race I’d just done. When the train started I walked up the carriage, found the guys, and told them the story of the weekend. They were drinking small bottles of Budweiser, and insisted I take one, “Because you’ve earned it, mate!” In return, they each got a leaflet. And that Budweiser tasted great, I have to report!
What next? Well, there’s the Chiltern 50 later this month - and I’m getting a new rucksack for my upcoming birthday.
[It's my intention to run an Ultra-marathon next July - and this is where I shall detail all my preparations. How I got to where I am today - at the foot of this post]
The ultra I'm planning to run is the South West Ultra Marathon - 102 kms between Minehead and Dawlish, over two days next July.
If you'd like to support my fundraising, there are two ways you can do this:
Click here if you would like to donate through Just Giving.
Click here if you prefer to donate through Facebook.
Thursday 24th June 2021
Back to see the physio, yesterday, and the good news is that my knee seems to be improving slightly. I got permission from him to start gentle walking again - so I did 3.5k yesterday, and 5k+ this morning with no problem. I'm hoping to add to this daily, until I'm at least doing 20k plus a day. Whatever happens I'll be on that starting line in - less than 30 days, now!
Monday 21st September 2020
Wednesday 16th September 2020
ATM, I'm running a long run and two shorter ones each week, gradually building up the distance. On Monday of this week I ran 16k, and this morning I did 6k. Over the summer I was averaging around 20k a week, but from the end of July, when I decided to do an ultra, I've been gradually increasing this. Last week I did 25k and I'm on course to do 28k this week.
I ran my 6k this morning in 46:42 - the first 5k I averaged 7.50 per km, and the last I ran in 7.33. I almost always finish feeling I can do more, so I up the pace in the last km.