I have had a good block of training over the last few weeks. Total weekly miles of 45, 51, 42, 49 and 47 during the last month has been my best block this year and I'm pleased with the way I have coped. I know those are not big totals by a lot of runners standards but I am not a big milage trainer; 50 miles in a week is a lot for me and you need to keep in mind the terrain that I generally train in (nothing on the road and a reasonable amount of climbing).
Last weekend I took on a supporting role as my stepfather, Paul, attempted to cycle and run The Two Saints Way which is a footpath route between the cathedral cities of Chester and Lichfield. The route is about 90 miles, consisting of footpaths, bridleways, canal towpaths and a bit of road.
Paul had worked out a plan which would allow him to use his mountain bike when legal to do so and cover the rest (mainly public footpaths) by running. I had no intention of doing the cycling with him as I cannot keep up with him on the bike; he is an animal on that machine as I found out to my cost a while back, so the system involved me, Mom, Paul, a bike and a car.
Having travelled down to my parents house on the Friday night through the storms, it was early to bed as we had to get going early on the Saturday morning. As we left the house to drive to Chester, the weather did not look too bad and over the weekend, I think you could say, we got away with it, with regard to the weather, especially as I was following the West Highland Way race reports/tweets telling of the horrid conditions up in Scotland.
We dodged the traffic wardens outside Chester Cathedral as Paul got himself ready for the first section which would take him about 3 hours on the bike.
This gave me time to head back to the house, have a coffee and collect Mom before leaving to get to the first pit stop where I would join Paul for a long cross-country run of about 16 miles. Paul arrived at the changeover about 10 minutes up on schedule, looking good and really buzzing. It was only after we had started running that he revealed that he had not run longer than a half marathon in recent years and I realised that todays adventure would be a big ask. The first notion I had to get across was to be prepared to walk the rough bits. Anyone who is more used to road or good trail running has to change their perceptions for these long days out; the walks are an important part of the game.
The first couple of hours went well but Paul was starting to suffer a little and the walks became a bit longer each time. I was able to reassure him that there is no problem with this, we took our time and just tried to make steady progress. I think he started to listen to my advice and took on a bit more food which helped, especially as we approached one of the churches on route as we knew Mom would be waiting to replenish our supplies. Half a mile before the church, I said to Paul that he must to put on a happy, confident face, even though he generally looked bad at this point, as Mom might very well call veto and pull the plug on the rest of the challenge. Paul, bless him, rounded the corner into the car park, bounced up to the car and spent 10 minutes telling Mom how much he was enjoying the run. We left for the remaining 5 miles of this run section with Mom none the wiser.
We finally finished the long running section just to the west of Stoke-on-Trent and met Mom for a changeover onto the bike. This is where Paul was put back into his comfort zone; as soon as he climbed onto the bike he looked so much fresher and zoomed off into the distance. Mom and I only just had enough time to sort the car out and drive to Stoke Minster (via home) before Paul arrived having motored the section.
We met again half an hour later with me ready to take over running duties again for the last 4 miles back to the house and the half way point, ready for a good nights sleep. With a good rest only just around the corner and on the back of a few hours fast cycling, Paul was really positive over these last few miles and we had a small welcoming committee at St Luke's, the local church, for the days finish.
It is amazing what a good nights sleep can do for the human body. On the Sunday, Paul was so much stronger on the running sections all day. We walked round to the church first thing in the morning and started a small running section of 3 miles to get the day going before he once again got back on the bike for an hours blast to the start of the first longer run, approaching Stafford.
The running sections on Sunday where much more enjoyable for me personally as the undergrowth was less of an issue. On Saturday, we battled with nettles and brambles all day, to the extent that my legs were still stinging days later, however, Sunday saw us running on well used paths which made the going much easier. We were soon finishing our first 9 miles section and meeting up with Mom again. No worries today about putting on a brave face, Paul knew he was going to make it even by this early stage of the day, making my job easier.
The running sections were broken by short cycles across Cannock Chase but by this time Paul had the bit between his teeth and was hammering the bike sections, only just giving us time to sort the car and move onto the next meeting point.
The final run of about 7 miles down into Lichfield went really well and we were both getting the buzz as we approached the finish. Once you know the end is in sight, you can always find a little extra, no matter how tired you are. The whole adventure finished at St Chad's church, just behind the cathedral, where we met a very relieved Mom who stated categorically "never again".
We had covered about 37 miles of running over the weekend in about 10 hours. When you add on all the cycling as well, you have to think "not bad for an old man!"
For me personally, it was great to repay Paul for his time supporting me on the West Highland Way Race in 2010, to be involved in the first Two Saints Way pilgrimage over just two days and to help Paul raise nearly £2000 for the local church.