Utah Day 5 – From the City to the Rock

Breakfast at the hotel in San Francisco was considerably better than what we’d had in Oakhurst. Though not only did we have it later than the previous days, we also left the hotel considerably later than we had in Yosemite in an attempt to avoid rush hour traffic.

Eventually we found a car park outside of pier 39 which advertised a day rate of US$37 which was actually only twelve hours. As it was 09:45 we knew that if we left Alcatraz on the last boat we’d probably have to run back to the car to meet this time.

To start with we headed up Telegraph Hill to Coit Tower via quite a few steps. This tower is named after San Francisco’s first female fire fighter and was built solely as a viewpoint. To go up to the top it cost US$8 per person but from there you could see downtown, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Alcatraz Island.

We had planned to go to the USS Pampanito in the morning, but we’d forgotten about this and instead headed further into the city to walk through Chinatown and photograph the Dragon Arch. This area did genuinely feel very Chinese and in places reminded me of Beijing and Xi’an.

As we weren’t far from Union Square we decided it’d be worth visiting this as well. As I’d got offline maps on my phone it meant this was easy to navigate to. We noticed that in Macy’s they had a Cheesecake Factory – a place we recognised from television. As we wouldn’t be eating until late we decided it would be a good idea to go there for some of their famous cheesecake before continuing on. I went for a large piece of cheesecake that included bits of Snickers bar as topping.

After this our plans weren’t that fixed, and we decided to head towards Columbus Avenue and see where we ended up. I thought it’d be good if we could make it to Fort Mason as there was potential for a good view of the Golden Gate Bridge, though my friend wasn’t feeling great so we sat inside a church for a while before heading back to the car so he could get his sunglasses.

Once my friend had his glasses we doubled back on ourselves and headed in the direction of Fort Mason, but time was now against us. It was this point that we had also realised we’d forgotten about the submarine we’d planned on visiting, so I went on ahead and found out the opening times for the next day before continuing on.

We got as far as the Historical Maritime Park when we decided we couldn’t make it the rest of the way in time so decided I’d run on ahead and attempt to get the photographs I wanted to save time. To start with I walked fast, but then when I got there I found the view of the bridge was terrible – mostly due to the fog.

As I was now running short on time I decided I’d run out to the viewing point on a pier to see if I could get a better view of the bridge. From a certain point of view I could – I could see more of it, but it was still shrouded in clouds. As I was now getting extremely low on time I ran back to the Historical Maritime Park where I’d left my friend.

It was now mid-afternoon and we’d got just over an hour until we needed to be at pier 33 for the Alcatraz tour. We hadn’t yet however had a proper lunch so we went to the Boudin Bakery which are famous for their sourdough. I decided to go for their turkey and avocado sandwich without the avocado and it tasted really good. As this was a quick lunch it then gave us more time than expected to get to the pier so we went back to the car one last time so my friend could change his shoes.

We boarded the boat for the island at 16:15, and only twelve minutes later we’d made it across to the island’s pier. We were greeted by National Park Service guides who then led our group of thirty around the island.

Our tour started in the gatehouse where we were told that Alcatraz Island was first used as a fort with a dry moat and drawbridge to defend against attackers wanting to gain access to the gold in San Francisco during the gold rush. This of course is where the Golden Gate Bridge gets its name from – it spans the gateway to the gold of San Francisco. They never experienced an attack and the island was later converted into a prison upon the orders of President Abraham Lincoln.

After the prison closed due to the amount of money that would have been required to bring it up to standard, it was briefly occupied by native Americans and some buildings knocked down by the government. It was then turned into a national monument however and is now run by the park service to maintain it for future generations to see.

On the other side of the gatehouse we went up the ramp to some destroyed buildings. From there we accessed the first area that was exclusive to the behind-the-scenes tour – the area alongside the power station. At the side of this there is an archway under the road which says to “blow your horn” so that anyone walking out the doors won’t be unexpectedly hit by cars. On the other side of this there is a tunnel that was built by labourers from the prison. At the far end of this the park service has knocked through into another building which is a workshop.

The next off-limits area was the officer’s garden which overlooks San Francisco and Angel Island. From there we headed up to what was formerly the citadel, but later became the main prison building after all but it’s cellar was levelled and rebuilt. Inside here our first stop was another off-limits area that was situated through the visitation area and up some stairs to a chapel. This chapel also doubled as a theatre on some nights, but it was evident that this was also occupied by native Americans after it’s closure.

In “A block” we were then taken to some stairs down into the cellar where the original solitude cells were located. In the later years of the prisons life these cells were closed down due to humanitarian issues and was moved into “D block”. It was said that these cells would drive prisoners insane due to the darkness and the sound of rats amongst them. The cells under the main building were in a place that would once have been the dry moat around the citadel – some of the only remains from that time. Whilst we were there they turned off the lights that the NPS had fitted to demonstrate what it would have been like down there. It was dark. Very dark. In this place there wasn’t even a feint hint of light which is what often helped to drive prisoners mad.

When we reached the barbershop area we were told about one of the murders that had taken place in the prison, and how this was a lovers quarrel. The behind-the-scenes tour then concluded in the dining hall where we were told a story about one of the prisoners and how Alcatraz had turned one prisoner from a non-violent offender into a killer.

We then started an audio tour of Alcatraz starting from the shower block where another of the murders had taken place. This audio tour took us all around the prison and told us about the history, the functions, of the rooms, and what life was like here.

Following this we then went to two talks – one which covered the prison break attempt of one prisoners, and then another that covered details about the number of people involved in another prison break attempt. We left during this one as we decided it’d be better to get the 20:40 boat and get back in early enough for food.

We got back to the parking lot at around 21:15, and went straight to top up the car parking for a couple more hours – costing us another US$15 to do so. When we got back to the car I opened the back of the car up and noticed that there was glass all over the floor – then I realised the window had been smashed. My friend’s camera bag had been left in the back, hidden by the tinted windows – but the thieves had smashed the side windows first and had obviously then seen his bag and subsequently smashed the back to get it.

My friend no longer felt like going for food, and was suggesting we should drive back to the hotel; though I was insisting we should phone the police and the car rental company first before moving anything. As we were discussing this we were approached by someone visiting from New Jersey to see if we needed help. We explained to him the situation and he quickly dialled 911. It took him several attempts to get through – so a good job it wasn’t an emergency. After he’d explained what had happened to them they said they wouldn’t be sending anyone out, and we should dial 311 to report it for the purpose of insurance.

My friend dialled the number we’d been given and they emailed him a form to fill in to report the incident. Following this we called the car rental company to tell them what had happened, and after giving us an incident number it seemed they expected us to carry on with the car having a smashed window. So I drove us back to the hotel – seemingly one of the longest twenty minute drives of the week whilst my friend, in shock, spoke to his cousin on the phone about what had happened. As I drove back glass continued to drop from the rear window both into the car and onto the road – it didn’t seem like a great idea to be driving this.

When we got back to the hotel we warned the reception that our car may spill glass out into their car park, but they didn’t seem bothered by it – nor did they want to help us. We emptied the car in the pouring rain of anything left in there of value. Over the hours that followed my friend tried to make a list of what he’d lost, and began to pack for the upcoming flight. By the time he’d done it was gone midnight and all we’d eaten was a couple of biscuits.


13.4 miles walked

Utah Day 4 – Yosemite to San Francisco

My original plan had been to get up and run before we returned to San Francisco, but I decided that the efforts from yesterday’s hike were the equivalent to a tough running session. Instead we had a slightly later start, though I didn’t find breakfast that appetising after having had the same for the past couple of days. Even with a slight detour to Starbucks for my friend to buy coffee, we still made it to the entrance to Yosemite just before 09:00.

Our first activity of the day was a short hike to Bridalveil Falls. This one had a car park that was a little flooded, but we made it onto the path without getting wet. As you get closer to the falls though you’re very likely to get damp from the spray being blown across the path and viewing point. Though we managed this without getting too wet.

We then continued around the park, stopping at some of the viewing points we didn’t stop at before and eventually made our way towards the exit for the last time. When we reached Wawona we pulled off down a road which said “Redwoods in Yosemite”, thinking that it was a potential hike. What we found though was that this was the name of a series of holiday cabins, but nearby there is a hike to the Chilnualna Falls.

At Chilnualna Falls there is the option of an eight mile hike that is estimated to take around five hours, or a short one mile hike to the base of a cascade. These falls are quite out of the way and not visited as much, though they’re worth the hike.

Before leaving Yosemite National Park for the last time we stopped briefly at the viewpoint for El Capitan – the first place we’d stopped at on our way in. After that we didn’t stop again until we pulled off into the Sierra National Forest to have a packed lunch.

For the hours that followed we drove ever closer to San Francisco, with one stop for fuel and then with only ninety minutes left we stopped in Gilroy for me to take over the driving. This area was incredibly familiar, and with good reason – we’d driven through this before on our way to San Jose at the end of our Big Sur roadtrip. We also saw what seemed to be a very small twister tearing across a field with some speed.

During my section of the drive it soon started to rain, and it got heavier and heavier until the visibility got bad enough to have to concentrate hard on where the lines were on the road. This felt tiring, but eventually we made it to the Comfort Inn hotel we were staying at.

We heard later that during this storm it had stranded night tours on Alcatraz island, and it wasn’t until a brief lull in the storm after midnight that they’d been able to get a boat out quickly to rescue them. We were lucky we were only driving through it.

Unfortunately, as we were in the middle of nowhere the food options were very limited. The best option we had was the Embassy Suites hotel. Sadly the service was quite poor here. After a ten minute wait my friend decided to find someone to ask them to take our order, and at the end of the meal he had to do the same to get someone to give us the bill. I was picking up the bill for this one and eventually gave up waiting and went to the bar to pay. The food however, although small, was very good.

It’d been a quiet day after a couple of heavy walking days, but it was a chance to rest after our long hike, and before a day of walking around San Francisco and Alcatraz.


2.67 miles walked

Utah Day 3 – Hiking the Upper Yosemite Falls

With a long hike planned for the day, our second day in Yosemite was another early start. We’d decided to set alarms for 06:30 to give that little extra time in hope we could get breakfast early and get on the road that little bit sooner. It worked out that we got on the road ten minutes earlier, and by the time we got to the start of the trail up to the Upper Yosemite Falls it was a little passed 10:00.

The start of this trail zigzags up the side of the mountain for some time before eventually straightening out a little. It eventually crosses a number of waterfalls, though even with the amount of meltwater we were encountering they weren’t too difficult to pass without getting wet. I was in shorts and t-shirt, and carrying a 10kg pack with one litre of water along with camera equipment. This made the climb harder work as it meant I was getting warmer quicker, though even though we’d had a brief stop by this point, we were making good time.

After passing these waterfalls the path then goes back down until you approach Yosemite Falls. Here, depending on the wind, you’ll get a little wet from the spray being blown around – but it wasn’t bad enough to warrant waterproofs. It was a little refreshing.

This area is a great spot for photographing the upper Yosemite Falls and is possibly the best view of them. We stopped here for a while which gave me the chance to use my tripod and capture some of the rainbow arch that appeared through the water. Once passed there the climb continued on to the top, a lot of it without shade, and eventually through streams and snow. We’d taken our time though, and reached the top in 2hr45.

The snow across the last part was quite deep, but the viewpoint area itself was clear of it. A few people were sitting around at the top, but not many were going down to the Yosemite Falls Overlook. These steps were narrow and had a handrail you could cling to in order to avoid falling to your death should you slip. My friend’s fear of heights didn’t help him there, but he made it down. The overlook however wasn’t really worth the effort as you can’t see anything.

Back up the stairs we went looking for the trail to Yosemite Point, but we decided the path was inaccessible without better equipment so we sat and ate lunch. We were after all in shorts, t-shirt, and trainers – not the ideal clothing for hiking across snow.

After lunch we found an alternative route down to the bridge across the falls, and for the most part managed to stay dry despite the snow. Once over the bridge the climb became far steeper, and was actually very difficult in trainers. My friend went on ahead, so far in fact that I eventually lost sight of him. I was slipping down in the snow frequently, and on one occasion had to backtrack to pick up my lens cap that had been knocked off my camera. Eventually he waited, and I caught up with him – though it was difficult to not show how angry I was about it. If I’d injured myself when sliding in the snow I’d have been on my own – nobody else was in sight.

From there we continued the climb at a slower place and eventually reached the top where we found a rocky outcropping that was free of snow. This was Yosemite Point and had a good view the Yosemite Valley and Half Dome.

Our route back down was much steeper, though we tried our best to keep to areas where people had left footprints in the snow previously. By this time my feet were feeling very cold from the amount of snow that had gotten inside my shoes whilst traipsing across the snow. Even though I was wearing shorts and t-shirt the rest of me wasn’t anywhere near as cold. On this descent my friend slipped on a rock, and grazed his arm – leaving a trail of blood.

Back across the bridge we then paused and looked back at where we’d been. To look at it, it was incredible just how steep it actually was and to know we’d climbed and descended it in the snow. From there we climbed back up to the path down the mountain, crossing the streams we had done previously.

The descent was slow, partly because my friend isn’t keen on heights and so looking down was not doing him much good. We paused a few times as our feet were getting sore from the dampness and the amount of walking we’d done. I also ran out of water eventually and was starting to feel dehydrated.

As we got near to the bottom I slipped on a rock and jarred my neck, though by the time we got to the bottom at 17:05 it had eased off. From there it was a short walk back to the car, from which we drove back to the Yosemite store to buy food for tomorrow’s lunch.

It took 1h20 to get from the store to the hotel, and after dropping off our cameras we headed over the the Sweetwater Steakhouse. I went for the New York steak – it wasn’t bad but there was a lot of fat in the meat which meant although it was sizeable there was quite a bit left over. This with a drink they kept refilling came to $60 with tip.


11.6 miles walked

Utah Day 2 – Hiking the Yosemite Valley

I slept quite well, at least better than I normally do at the start of a trip. I awoke once at 02:00 and thought it was light out. I looked at my phone, and then my laptop and it didn’t make sense that there was light coming in through the window. I then realised it was the light from the corridor, and fell asleep once more until 05:00.

This time when I woke up I decided that although it hadn’t been long since the marathon, I’d go out for a four mile run to loosen my legs. It was still dark when I left out, and a little cold, though there was still the occasional car about. To start with I ran along the pavements on the same side as the hotel, looking at what buildings there were as I passed. I’d decided it’d be a good idea to see what food places were around for later in the day.

Although none of the pavement was particularly well lit I eventually ran out of pavement so decided to turn back and go the other way passed the hotel. Going in the opposite direction I noticed that a new hotel was being built, but also that there was a nice-looking barbecue place over the road – a potential place to eat in the evening.

After a quick shower I went for breakfast, though this was incredibly basic – as American places out on the road often are. I was then able to quickly sort out my camera and what I’d need for the day and we were on the road a little after 08:00. Only twenty minutes later we joined a queue which seemed to not move forever, however in reality we were going again after about fifteen minutes. It seems the queue was something to do with single file traffic whilst they were performing some logging.

We found the park entrance was forty-five minutes from our hotel, and the permit for entering although US$30 would be good for seven days. It was then a long drive down into the Yosemite Valley, though once you’ve passed through the long tunnel the places for stopping become frequent.

One of the first stops along this drive is a great viewing point for imposing rock face of El Capitan. The backdrop to this includes other sights of note such as the iconic Half Dome, cathedral rocks, and Bridalveil Falls. El Capitan can also be seen from at least one other stop, and at this later one you can get a little closer should you wish to.

Most of the places to stop after this are either viewpoints for waterfalls, or are camping sites. Eventually we did park up and went on our first hike of the day. For this we walked along a closed road section and reached a crossroads where we could either go to Mirror Lake, or do the Misty Trail. We decided on the latter.

The Misty Trail can be considered to be a relatively tough trail, especially on legs that had been for a post-marathon recovery run. Some parts of the path are quite steep, but once you’ve crossed the bridge at the bottom of Vernal Falls the path also becomes uneven and rocky. As this trail goes on it also becomes a little damp – damp enough in fact that a coat is recommended.

Once you reach the point of the trail where the wind blows the mist across the path, you then encounter a cave as well – I found this area to be particularly cold as the water vapour cools the air considerably. The path then gets steeper and even wetter. For those that aren’t keen on heights, after this point the path does have a handrail – so this helped my friend get to the top.

Once you reach the point of the trail where the wind blows the mist across the path, you then encounter a cave as well – I found this area to be particularly cold as the water vapour cools the air considerably. The path then gets steeper and even wetter. For those that aren’t keen on heights, after this point the path does have a handrail – so this helped my friend get to the top.

At the top of the falls there is a rail around the edge to stop you going too close to the edge, and also to stop you going into the water due to it being fast flowing. We spent a few minutes there taking photographs back along the canyon, but if my friend hadn’t had tired legs there was also the option to carry on walking to Nevada Falls. This however would have added a few extra miles on to the journey, and my friend was also getting hungry.

Once we’d made it back to the car we set off looking for a place to get some food. The map suggested a couple of places as an option but detours meant we weren’t taking the most direct routes there. Eventually we decided the best option was to use the Yosemite Store and buy things for making lunch with. Rather than eat this in the car park there, we drove on to the car park to Yosemite Falls and ate there instead.

After lunch we went for a walk to the Lower Yosemite Falls, and once again got wet from the wind blowing the spray from the waterfall across the path. This was another area where there was still a considerable amount of snow about, even though it was now in the low twenty degrees Celsius. At the waterfall I was careful, and managed to keep my camera and me mostly dry – even risking some longer exposures on the shots.

We then thought we could quickly do the Upper Yosemite Falls as the map suggested it was only a couple of more miles and didn’t indicate and level of difficulty. On the way to the path though we asked a ranger how far it was and was told the trail takes about seven hours on average but can be anywhere between five to ten. We certainly didn’t have time for that, so instantly made the plan to do that as our hike for the following day.

As we still had some time left we decided to loop back around to where we’d come from and hike across to Mirror Lake. The signs though for this are completely wrong – at one point it says 1.2 miles and approximately half a mile later it said one mile. In reality it was more like two miles across uneven terrain so does take close to an hour to get to.

The Mirror Lake is a fairly scenic area, and finally gave me an opportunity to use my new lightweight tripod – proving that it was not just worth the purchase, but worthwhile me carrying it along on these hikes.

By the time we’d arrived back at the car we’d covered 12.2 miles during the course of the day, but then had almost two hours of driving to go to get back to Oakhurst. When we arrived back we filled up with fuel ready for the next day, and then went over to eat at Alice’s BBQ. I went for a BBQ chicken special with beans and fries. It wasn’t too bad, but I’ve certainly had better barbecues elsewhere.


12.2 miles walked, 4.2 miles run

Utah Day 1 – Birmingham to San Francisco

Due to a combination of not having much time, and also a bit of poor planning on my part. It meant that at 02:15, just fourteen hours after finishing the Greater Manchester Marathon, I needed to get a taxi to the airport. Sleep that night had been the broken sleep that you’re rewarded with following some effort in a long run. My legs didn’t ache, I’d been lucky for that to not last long, but I was tired.

The taxi ride there was quick, and it felt like the driver thought he was a reincarnation of Ayrton Senna. He was taking the roads and corners as quickly as he could. No mercy. No surrender. When I got to the airport I found that the check-in desk wasn’t opening until two hours before the flight so I had some time to sit around.

I hoped that for once I’d be able to sleep on the flight – though the first one would be too short to as I was flying to Frankfurt first. Getting through Frankfurt Airport was stressful. In addition to having to rush from one terminal to another I then had to go through security again. This time though they swabbed my camera gear and camera – and this tested positive for explosives. They called over some armed security guards, and noted down my flight number and my passport number, then got me to prove my laptop was working. They then retested my backpack and laptop – this time, thankfully, it was testing negative. That was a stressful few minutes though.

I got to the gate with time to spare and was soon boarding the flight to San Francisco. On this flight they served a snack fairly early on, and then served a warm meal. During this time I watched “Arrival”, and then after closing my eyes for a while I watched “Passengers”.

Before we landed in San Francisco they served another snack, and then eventually another warm meal. Even though we’d left Frankfurt thirty minutes late we’d been told that we would still get into San Francisco on time. We did however get stuck in a holding pattern for fifteen minutes which meant we landed late.
Immigration was relatively quick, and the baggage collection was even quicker. From there I took the AirTrain to the rental desk and met up with my friend. We upgraded the car to a Kia Sorento – something that might be more comfortable, and began our journey.

We left the car rental place a little after 15:00, but found that the traffic was awful. It wasn’t just getting across San Francisco that was the problem, but most of the way to Oakhurst. It was really hard to stay awake during this time, but I managed to until we reached a Burger King in Merced. After I’d eaten I felt more awake until we arrived at the Yosemite Sierra Inn.

Check-in took a while as my friend decided to talk to the owner about India before getting the room keys. Finally though, at around 21:15, 27 hours after I’d gotten up in Leicester, I was in the hotel room and able to go to sleep in California.

Greater Manchester Marathon 2017

Last year the Greater Manchester Marathon was a PB race for me, despite having had a 50K ultra marathon thirteen days before. I’d hoped with a solid winter of training I’d be able to improve upon this further and I’d once again set myself three different goals using the same naming technique as before:

  • Gold: 3h10
  • Silver: 3h15
  • Bronze: 3h20

When I got back from the Nepal International Marathon I found that it took a bit more work to get back into longer runs, probably because I’d had a week off running whilst I was in Nepal. This then offset my training plans by about a month, and then in January, to fit running around work, I shuffled some runs around and this resulted in an inflamed achilles. This meant I wasn’t running at all for a couple of weeks, and it was a few more weeks before I could get back into long runs. I adjusted my training plans accordingly but it meant I’d be about two months behind where I wanted to be, and catching back up wouldn’t be easy.

With about a month to go before the race day I was back to getting in long runs at the pace I wanted to be doing Manchester at; but by the time of my longest run, which was only 22 miles, I could only sustain the required pace for 17 miles. It was looking like I could finish a marathon with some walking, but I wasn’t going to be getting a PB. This then left me changing my goals to some that were more realistic.

  • Gold: 3h19
  • Silver: 3h25
  • Bronze: 3h35

Towards the end of training I also squeezed in a 10K and half marathon race, just to try and work on getting some of that speed back. Neither of these went to plan though, and were far slower than I’d have liked.


Pre-race Day

Once again I’d decided to take the train up to Manchester, and with an early start it meant I’d have the afternoon spare to look around the city. I decided that it’d make sense to get one of the £5.80 weekend travel cards again to make it easier to get around. The main difference this time was that I didn’t have any friends to meet-up with so would have about eight hours to waste before a group meal in the evening.

I wandered around the city for a time, trying to avoid the rain showers. Eventually though I was able to check into the hotel and lay my kit out for the morning.

The hotel was well situated, not far from the start and finish lines, and also not far the Tollgate Inn where the post-race meet-up would be.

After a wasted afternoon I headed back into the city to meet the others at Frankie & Bennys. It was busy on the trams due to a football match having just finished. It was sunny though, and showing signs of it warming up.

A common pre-race meal for a marathon is spaghetti bolognese so I didn’t disappoint and ordered it without looking at the menu. It was good to meet up with some familiar faces for food, and the restaurant staff were entertaining.

After a short tram ride back to the hotel it was an early night ready for the big day ahead.


Race Day

The hotel was noisy as from my room I could hear a 50th birthday party, and also the drone of an air conditioning unit. Eventually I got some sleep but still awoke at 04:00. I took advantage of this extra time to check in for my flight in 24 hours time. After taking my time to have breakfast and get ready, I relaxed for a bit and headed over to Hotel Football for a group meet-up.

There were quite a few of us there for the pre-race photo – a mixture of new and familiar faces.

The start line was in the same place as last year so it felt very familiar. Though this time the pens went along a different road. I could see the 3:15 pacer a long way in front of me and I knew I wanted to catch up.

By the time I crossed the start line the 3:15 pacer was about a minute in front of me. Almost immediately I spotted Chalky and had a chat with him – he was going for about 3:00.

Last year the course looped through Media City and I remembered that bit well as I’d taken that bit too quickly. This year the course had changed and instead went through a housing estate – which I think was better for crowd support.

Running felt good and to start with I was putting in the miles at an average of 07:00min/mile. Around mile 3 the route passed the hotel I stayed in this year and then shortly after it passed the hotel from last year.

After that I’m not sure how much, if any, of the route differs to last year. Done hits definitely felt familiar though some of it also seemed alien.

By 5.5 miles I’d not only caught up with the 3:15 pacer, I’d over taken him. It felt good and it felt like I could continue at this pace for some time. It’s what I’d trained for, even if I hadn’t had the amount of practice I’d hoped for.

After crossing the splits mat at 10K I tried to get a bottle of water but fumbled it. A mistake that could have cost me greatly as I knew I’d need to take on water very soon but there wasn’t another official water stop until around mile 9. I got lucky though and over a mile down the road I was given a bottle of water I took a few quick sips from before discarding it.

Around this time I noticed a few messages of support from Twitter appear on my Garmin. It’s amazing what an advantage that is as by mile 8 it had started to become mentally challenging.

The section through Altrincham was probably one of the harder sections for me this year, but I really wanted to complete the marathon without walking. I thought maybe I could get to mile 21 like that – 4 miles further than I had in training.

As we got there the elite runners had just started to pass in the opposite direction – slighter further into the run than when I’d seen them last year, but that could have been down to route changes.

Once the loop through there was complete it was a relief as although there were a few hill climbs I could take it easy on the descents.

Seeing runners in the opposite direction also made it easier as it becomes a welcome distraction to spot other runners I know. I saw a few in #ukrunchat tees but hadn’t spotted most of them early enough to say anything, and a few I didn’t recognise. I then saw Sherie and got to high-five her on passing, and a little way down the road I saw Rachel after she shouted me!

I remembered last year that it had been around this point I had to remove a layer. This year there were no layers to remove, but it was plenty warm. I decided to stick to shaded areas when I could.

At mile 17 I was only two minutes over two hours and I realised at this pace I was on target for a good PB. I also felt like I could continue for the remaining 9.2 miles so all seemed good.

As I got closer to Carrington I started to slow down. It was okay though as I figured even if I slowed to 8min/mile I’d still get 3:15 – my best-case-scenario target. I’d even stopped taking on fuel at this point as jelly babies were not tasting nice.

However after mile 19 the 3:15 pace group stormed through. I kept with them for as long as I could, even whilst the pacer nipped into the bushes to relieve himself. I kept with the group until after he’d rejoined the group.

I was feeling tired but at mile 21 I thought perhaps I could keep on running until the end – a first for me. If I could cover those 5.2 miles in 50 minutes then all would be good. What I hadn’t anticipated was that my legs would decide they didn’t want to continue at that pace. Instead of slowing down, but continuing to run, I slowed to a walk after mile 22. Then I realised how thirsty I was after the long stretch in the sun.

Over the next 4.2 miles it got harder, and each mile seemed to last forever. I took on water in this time, but slowly and in small, infrequent amounts in case I was dehydrated. Eventually the end was in sight and it felt like the longest half a mile ever – it never seemed to get any closer.

I walked a couple of times in this stretch but eventually started to run properly again and picked up the pace. As soon as the guy next to me started to sprint I decided I would too – I didn’t know him, but I wanted to beat him to crossing the finish line. I did.

I’d missed the 3:15 target, but Strava indicated my time was 3:17:12 – a new personal best! I’ve still got a long way to go before I can run Boston, but this was a small step closer.

The support on this race was amazing, and I couldn’t name a single part of the race where there wasn’t someone cheering us all on. I think it’s this that makes Manchester a nice place to visit and race in.

At the finish it was far more organised than last year as the athletes village is inside Old Trafford and the spectators aren’t allowed in. This made the entire process easy and quick.

In the finishers bag there was:

  • Finishers medal,
  • Finishers tee,
  • A bottle of water,
  • An Asics foil blanket,
  • And a mint chocolate protein bar.

From there I collected my bag from the hotel and met up with the others at the Tollgate Inn. By the time the next finisher arrived I’d already eaten, but it was good to see a familiar face. It was great to meet up with @EmaJoyC as well who is a local fitness blogger that I know via Twitter. It was nice to talk to her.

I had decided not to do Manchester next year, but now I’m undecided. I think there’s a chance I’ll be back for the third year running though it will depend on how it fits in with visiting New Zealand.

My official time was 3:17:51 in position 1087 out of 18127 finishes (first 5.9%).

Utah Trip Preparation

When planning for Arizona I’d come up with the idea of a road trip from San Francisco to Yosemite National Park, and then down into Nevada. The first two places were about the only parts of California I’d not visited after having been to the state first for Comic Con, and then later for a Big Sur road trip. There were a few National Parks in Utah that one of my friends wanted to visit as well so combining our ideas resulted in what we thought might be a good trip.

As we planned more of this we decided we’d leave out the section of the trip that would go through Nevada, and instead fly from San Francisco to Salt Lake City once we’d done Yosemite. This meant we’d have more time in the National Parks, and less time driving. I had hoped we could fit in a visit to Antelope Canyon which we’d missed whilst in Arizona, but unfortunately it didn’t quite fit with the time we had.

My passport was damaged in Arizona, and after being questioned about this when I went to Nepal I decided I’d need to get that sorted. This also meant a new ESTA was required before I could fly out, but other than that everything was fairly easy to book. Most things were booked only a couple of months before, as it never felt like we needed to rush. We’d even pre-booked a four hour tour of Alcatraz to make sure we’d see as much of the island as possible.

For this trip I’d decided to get a new travel tripod – Manfrotto Befree Carbon. This meant it’d now be easier to carry a tripod around with me so would more likely make use of it, and would open up possibilities during the road trip.

I did a little research before the trip to see where would be good to run, and what other sights we could see whilst in San Francisco. I hoped we’d get to cross the Golden Gate Bridge as I heard there were good views from a lighthouse in Marin County.

The only downside as far as planning was concerned, was that the exchange rate for Pound Sterling to US Dollars had plummeted. There was no sign of it recovering either which meant the trip would be more expensive than we’d hoped.

Coventry Half Marathon 2017

I’ve not had a brilliant track record with attempting this race. In 2015 I wanted to do this, but it clashed with another race I was doing. In 2016 I actually entered the race, but couldn’t train at the time the race happened due to flu which was at it’s worse around the day of the race. It then looked like this race wasn’t going to be going ahead in 2017 after there was talk of the race organisers not having renewed their contract – but fortunately it did.

The weekend before this race I did a 22 mile run – the longest run before my second attempt at the Great Manchester Marathon. This meant that this race would become part of a taper towards the marathon, without easing off the effort too much. In recent weeks there had been a lot of rain, and the temperatures were inconsistent making it difficult to decide what kit to use.

I didn’t even know what pace to try and aim for. A year ago I was running 10 miles in 64 minutes and I’d hoped to PB at this distance in the near future. Now, I’m not quite back there, yet I felt even if I couldn’t hit the time I wanted last year that I might just be able to improve upon my 91 minute PB. On the drive to Coventry I thought some more about this and decided that as I’d been told it was a flat course, and the race briefing suggested it was all down hill except for one hill, I might just try sub-90. If there was only one hill, then to account for all the down hill sections it talked about it must be a pretty sharp hill.

When I arrived in Coventry the parking was quick and easy, and was also free due to the parking meter not working. I decided to warm up by jogging slowly over to the race village, which is where I wandered around until I was spotted by William and Colin. We then stood talking inside the nearby coffee shop until 35 minutes before the race when we parted ways to get ready. I joined the toilet queue, but by the time it was my turn they’d run out of paper – so instead headed over to the race start.

I made it to the race start with about 5 minutes to spare, but the starting area was that crowded I had to start about 10 metres behind the 90 minute pacer. There was promise this was going to be a fast race with how many people were looking at sub-90. This made my mind up – I’d attempt to stick with the pacer for the entire race.

When the race started though the pacer was off like a rocket and covered the first mile in about 06:30. I hadn’t anticipated sub-90 meaning quite that much pace as I’d been expecting to be a little slower. As I was losing ground on the pacer I decided to speed up in the second mile, and somehow overtook him. Whilst he was behind me I heard a noise from about 10-15 metres behind and noticed that a runner was getting back after having fallen over. I couldn’t be sure, but I think the flag on the pacer’s backpack had caught the wind and blown him over.

For the remainder of the second mile, I stayed in front of the pacer thinking that I was now going at around the same pace as he was. Part way into the third mile though I felt a runner run straight into the back of me – kicking my feet, and then barging through. I had no idea why he’d done that – although there were runners either side of me, he could have got passed by going around them. There was space!

During the third mile I started to get warm and was regretting wearing a compression layer under my t-shirt. Eventually the pacer caught up with me whilst I was still doing 6:40min/mile pace and over took me. I knew I couldn’t maintain the pace he was going at and so I realised I wouldn’t be getting the sub-90 time I’d hoped for. I started to calculate paces in my head and thought to myself that for a sub-90 time I only needed to maintain 6:50min/mile, but maybe I’d miscalculated. Or maybe the pacer knew something I didn’t and was going quicker now to make up for time that would be lost later.

Before reaching the 4 mile marker I suddenly found myself going up hill. It came as a bit of a surprise as on Twitter I’d been told it was a “flat PB course”, and the only hill of mention in the notes was one around mile 8-9. I knew strong winds were a possibility, but hadn’t expected more than one hill so I quickly slowed to a walk briefly before running up the hill. At the top of the hill I found I was starting to overheat so slowed to a walk once more so I could take off my compression layer. Just before I was ready the course then started to go back down hill, before repeatedly going up hill over the next four miles. These miles were hard work and between them and the wind I didn’t think I could run them – I was soon walking more and more.

By this point I couldn’t imagine how far in front the sub-90 pacer must be, but I’d assumed he’d slowed the pace considerably by now. I was certain the quicker miles at the start were to account for a steady 4 mile up-hill section. It may have been a relatively flat course compared to one such as the Nepal Marathon which is on a mountain, but I was certainly not prepared to call this one flat.

More or less immediately after the mile 8 marker it was then a steady down hill, with the exception of a loop down one road where you run down it, then up it. Half way down this road I did see the sub-90 pacer coming the opposite way and I calculated that I was a few minutes behind. I’d hoped that as it looked like it would be down hill for a while that I’d now run all the way to the finish – this was not the case though as I found running back up that loop was more of a walk.

But from the time I reached the top I ran most of the way from there to the finish. There was one or two slight hills I walked up on the way, but not for long. In places I noticed that the wind had been that strong that it had blown over some of the road closure barriers, and a little down the road they sent a bike along the course to move us over as the cones were being blown over as well. When I saw the 13 mile marker it was a relief, but I couldn’t be bothered to sprint to the finish.

I crossed the finish line in position 240 out of 2876 finishers (first 8%), with a chip time of 1:34:45. It was quite a way off from my personal best, but I guess it could have been worse under the circumstances. Upon crossing the finish line I had to jump to the side to avoid a runner who had decided to come to a complete standstill less than half a metre from the finish line, but fortunately I wasn’t moving quickly.

At the exit to the finishers area they hand you a water bottle, and a carrier bag containing a finishers medal, leaflets, and a bar of something. I was that annoyed with myself I walked straight back to my car (having taken a wrong turn once whilst trying to find it) and didn’t look at the medal until hours after I’d gotten home.

It’s safe to say I won’t hit my target at the Greater Manchester Marathon in 13 days, but I’ll try my best to get as close to it as I can. Maybe later in the year I can find another half marathon to enter and improve on this, and maybe even get the sub-90 time I want.

Ashbourne 10 2017

I hadn’t raced since the Nepal Marathon during the previous year, and my hope was that I could have a winter of training that would help me get to the point where I could set new personal bests for each of the distances I run. The first of the races I hoped to PB at was the Ashbourne 10, though sadly I missed a lot of runs in January and February as training didn’t go to plan for one reason or another.

By the time the race day arrived I’d just about turned training back around but was nowhere near where I wanted to be. In fact, I had no idea what sort of pace I’d be able to sustain on the day. This was compounded even more when I saw the forecast was for wind and rain, and that it was going to be almost freezing out. I don’t mind running in the cold, and I don’t mind running when it’s raining – the two together though I’m not so keen on. It helps though if the rain doesn’t start until I’m already running as at least then I’ve had time to generate some body heat. I’d decided I couldn’t PB at this race and would instead take it as an easy training run.

On the way to Ashbourne it started to rain, and didn’t stop until I got home a few hours later. I arrived at the Ashbourne Leisure Centre a couple of hours before the race so stood around waiting for the race start, trying not to get too cold – I’d at least found a spot that sheltered me from the rain. The positioning of the leisure centre was good for race HQ as we’d be all be running along the Tissington Trail – a former railway line which cuts through the Derbyshire Dales. The route has a crushed limestone surface so my hope was that it wouldn’t be too bad.

Today there were multiple distances being raced concurrently so to start with they sent the 10 mile runners off. After another 5 minutes it was then the turn of the canicross runners along with 10K runners, and the finally the 5K runners behind us. During the race briefing everyone was told to keep to the left due as everyone would be doing an out and back route, no matter what the distance.

As the canicross runners had to start at the front of the 10K pack it meant I was on their heels immediately, but couldn’t easily pass them. Whilst standing outside, my prescription glasses which have reaction lenses went dark so that when we went through the tunnel at the start I couldn’t see a thing. A couple of runners had Saint John’s ambulance medics assisting them after falling off the path and twisting their ankles.

The trail then dips down and goes back up sharply – the only real hill during the entire route. A little after the initial dip I ran out onto the muddy embankment to pass the last of the canicross runners. I’d already found myself passing runners doing the 10 mile race as well and for the next 3 miles I found myself having to frequently run out onto the embankment, slipping and sliding across it, in order to pass runners that were in some cases running three or four abreast. Some would also run around onto the right-hand side, despite the notice during the race briefing, to avoid the puddles in the path.

I’d started off the race leaping over puddles to avoid getting my feet too wet as well, thinking they might blister, but after how muddy and wet they got whilst passing I eventually stopped leaping over puddles and just ran straight through them. Before I got to the turnaround point I’d started to think that instead of setting runners off by distance they’d have been better off sending the fastest 10 mile runners off first, and then after a few minutes send off the rest of the runners organised by expected pace. That way those doing the shorter distances, which usually allow for a faster pace, wouldn’t be hitting the back of those doing the longer runs.

I eventually lost count of the number of times I slipped on the embankment, but somehow I never got to the point of falling over completely. After the turnaround point the oncoming runners, for the most part, were more considerate and would move over to their left-hand side to let people pass. It started to become more fun, though it seemed strange to not be pushing myself in a race. As my Achilles tendon had been sore recently I didn’t want to risk it getting worse when I’d still got a 22 mile training run to do the following weekend.

Not long after the turnaround point I started to pass 5K runners travelling in the same direction as me though at this point there were very few of them. Eventually the oncoming runners stopped as well, so all that was left was the occasional 5K runner in front. Occasionally I could see another 10K runner in front of me, but I had no intention of trying to catch them up. I wanted an easy run, so much so I was actually wearing a hoodie and a disposable poncho to keep my top half dry. Of course though, me legs and particularly my feet were drenched. My toes had also gone numb, but I figured I’d only be out running for less than an hour so could cope with that. It was impressive how many people had turned up to brave the heavy rain in fact.

By the time I got back to the dip in the trail the rain had seemed to have slowed down. I decided not to risk going to fast on the downhill though – thinking that with it being wet I might slip. The up-hill bit was pretty muddy as I had to run across the mud again to overtake. I’d been waiting to see the tunnel again for ages on the return journey – but it was finally in front of me. Knowing I’d barely seen anything going through it the first time I looked ahead for silhouettes before entering it.

As I ran through the tunnel I came across some runners that were running the full width of the path and wouldn’t let anyone overtake. My only choice was to take a measured stride off the path and onto the gravel, speed passed them, and jump back onto the path. The timing was lucky though as a few seconds later I was around the mid-point of the tunnel where once again I couldn’t see a thing so kept running forwards and hoped for the best.

Eventually I was close enough to the exit for the path to be lit again, and around that point I started to wonder how far it was until the finish. I couldn’t remember how quickly we’d entered the tunnel on the way out, but I soon found that it wasn’t that far to the finish. As I reached the funnel to the finish I decided as my legs still felt fresh I might as well sprint to the finish to give them something to do. It didn’t last long, but it was faster than I’d run in months.

Crossing the finished I noticed that there were probably about a dozen people at most around, though a lot of them seemed to be 5K runners. I noticed one of them had a print-out of their time, so hoping that I’d made it into the first 10 I went over and got mine printed too.

I finished in chip position 4 with a time of 43:03. I was pretty shocked! I knew it had felt like an easy run, but my time suggested it was barely a steady run, and a minute slower than what I’d normally get through the first 10K of a 10 mile tempo training run in. There was a time not that long ago when this would have been a time that seemed unimaginable to me during a race, but things change.

What surprised me more was the position – even more so when I noticed I was the 2nd in my age category. In a proper race I’ve never come this close to a podium finish, and it gave me some hope that maybe one day it’ll be possible. Although not physically demanding, the race was tough mentally due to the rain and cold weather (it took a lot of effort to convince myself to run in this rain). I’m glad I did it, though now I’m thinking that it might be worth doing this again next year to race it properly.

Sadly the printed result was incorrect as when the official results were released I’d finished in position 6. I thought I was still quite a way from managing a podium finish, but then it was revealed that some runners had started with the wrong race. Once the results were updated to correct this my final position was determined – 2nd male, and 3rd overall. My first podium finish!

My next race should hopefully be the Coventry Half Marathon – I doubt I’ll be ready to run a PB there, but I’ll see what the legs feel like doing!

Nepal Day 14 – Everest

The final day had arrived with me getting up at 04:45 to be ready and outside the hotel for 05:30. I hadn’t intended to get up quite so early, but the noise in Kathmandu finishes late and starts early so not much chance for proper sleep. Good ear plugs is something I’d definitely recommend – unfortunately mine didn’t work great.

When we got to the airport we had to figure it out for ourselves. Fortunately I noticed in the small print of the ticket receipt which airline it was so was able to queue in the right place. Although our booked flight said 102, the one we were given tickets for was 100. It didn’t seem to matter though as in the departure hall there were multiple fights with Buddha Air all at the same time.

The scheduled flight time arrived, but they updated their PowerPoint presentation used for departure information to say it was awaiting a weather report. Apparently domestic flights are frequently cancelled or delayed depending on how much fog is about. This delay was only for 15 minutes, and although ours was the first in the list, when the time came ours was delayed a further 15 minutes and the others boarded. I started to keep a close eye on the time as each delay would eat into the time I’d have between flights.

By the time the plane finally took off it was 08:00 and the flight lasted for around an hour. To start with the left-hand side of the plane got to see the Himalayan mountain range including the all-important Everest. Whilst this was happening the other side got to visit the cockpit, and once the plane turned I was able to do the same. As my seat was at the front of the plane it also meant that I got in there quickly enough to see Everest from the cockpit which was quite cool!

Upon landing my only thought was making sure I got my luggage from the hotel to make it back to the airport in time. As my fight was scheduled for 13:05 (and delayed until 13:15) I wanted to be at the airport for 10:00, but Trek Nepal had insisted that I leave the hotel at 10:00 instead. They must do this a lot so it made sense to trust them, though I’d definitely feel more comfortable about it once checked in for the flight.

I was back at the hotel for 09:30 so quickly got my luggage moved to the lobby and found I’d got 15 minutes to have breakfast. As we were late having breakfast there wasn’t much left and what there was didn’t taste that appetising so had a few bits, a cup of tea and then made a move to check out. At this point the hotel said they’d just ordered the taxi and it’d be 15 minutes meaning I wouldn’t catch it until 10:15!

I waited and waited, but the taxi didn’t arrive until 10:25 – much later than had been agreed. It meant I wasn’t at the airport until 10:50 which gave me less time than normal. Fortunately it was still enough to go through airport security, check-in, and embarkation in plenty of time. The embarkation queue and form was far simpler and more organised than the visa on arrival. In fact, all of the departure area seemed more organised!

Before going through security I bought a Buddha statue for $12, and bought some lunch. For 1000 rupees I was able to get a chicken burger, snickers duo, and a can of Coca Cola. The burger was the most appealing of what they had, but still wasn’t great.

At 11:45 I started queueing for security and was surprised that they have a queue for men, and a queue for women. The queue for men was twice as long so they moved some of us into the business class queue which moved far quicker and I got through in 15 minutes. It was then a long wait, almost until the departure time, before a gate was announced. This was due to the plane getting in late and causing a 35 minute delay. When leaving the gate they pat you down one last time in case anything has changed since the last two security checks.

It was the second time I’d taken off on a flight from this airport in the space of 6 hours – it can’t be often that happens! During the flight I watched an episode of The Big Bang Theory, and then Now You See Me 2, Everest, Eddie the Eagle, and Birdman. It was a lot to watch but it helped me to keep my eyes open during the flight so it’d help with adjusting back.

The Everest film told of how during a tourist trip up to the summit the weather had turned and stranded people there – some people losing their life as a result. It was based on a true story and demonstrated just how difficult a climb it is. It also reminded me that after the marathon some had gone on a trek to it’s base camp.

There were two meals served during the flight, a chicken dinner early on, and then some sort of vegetable dish covered in grease about an hour before landing. I wasn’t keen on either which meant it’d worked out well that I’d had the chicken burger in the airport.

The eventual landing was just before 22:00 Nepal time, so around 19:15 local time. Before I could make my connecting flight I then had to get through security once more, a process that was now becoming tedious – four checks for the journey even though I’d got international transfers. Fortunately this last one didn’t have a queue.

On my way to the gate they made the first call for passengers for the flight so had to speed up getting across the airport. When I got there though there weren’t yet many people about so had probably put the message out to get people there early.

This flight was a little more comfortable than the last and again served some food I didn’t bother with. I spent the time on this flight watching episodes of The Big Bang Theory and the 5 hours seemed to pass in no time at all and I was back in the UK once more, and home after 26 hours of being awake.

It’d been quite an adventure over the past two weeks, and quite different from trips in the past. The organisation and execution of the first week had been amazing, and went well enough that I’d recommend an Impact Marathon Series race to anyone. It had been a chance to look closer at what the country was really like, and then in the second week to see more of the place, and do the sort of activities that tourists usually go there for. This was definitely an adventure in the Himalayas.