MoBike or NoBike

As I lurk around the backstreets of Manchester, I begin to think that this may be taking my daily commute a bit far.  Unsuspecting passers-by probably think I’m either geocaching, hunting Pokémon or am just slightly weird.   Whilst it could be any if these, today I’m a “MoBiker” a brave new city cyclist, staring intently at the map on my phone seeking out any nearby GPS-equipped MoBikes.

So what exactly is a MoBike?  They’re Manchester’s answer to the Boris Bike – an easy way of hiring a bike to get you easily around the city.  After downloading the app, paying a refundable deposit and loading up your account with some credit, you’re ready to go bike-hunting.  Simply take a look at the map, spot your closest MoBike, find it, scan the barcode and it’s yours for 50p for every 30 minutes that you use it.  The bikes are certainly easy to spot with their Trump-esque orange wheels and their ability to be right in your face when you’re not looking for one.

A sight you may never see when you really need a MoBike

The scheme sounds perfect, but in practice it can be a different story.  Whilst MoBike encourage you to park them in sensible locations, the reality is you can leave them anywhere.  Whilst this can be very convenient, it can also be very frustrating.  Yesterday, as I glided into Manchester Piccadilly on the train I immediately started scouring the app to find my closest bike.  None at the station entrance, which isn’t a great start, but just a couple of hundred metres away there’s one by Canal Street so I reserve it and head over.  As I arrive there is no reassuring bike gleaming back at me.  Nothing.  Looking closer at the app, it actually looks like it’s IN the canal.  I glance at the water and imagine the GPS tracker silently blinking in the murky depths.   I resume my search….

On another occasion I head over to an area bordering Moss Side and the bike location appears to be inside a rather suspicious looking car garage.  Looking as tough as possible I strut past and glance inside but there’s no MoBike to be seen.  This is either an elaborate ploy to snare an unsuspecting MoBiker, or the bike is long gone and sold for scrap.  It’s not all bad though, as a few times I’ve emerged from Piccadilly, scanned a bike right outside and am quickly on my way.  As the students and workers south of Manchester embrace the cycling culture – it almost a pleasure to pootle along Oxford Road’s segregated cycle lanes – it’s not as much fun in the heart of the city as you play a game of pedestrian / traffic dodging.  Knowing they’re not for pavement riding but feeling quite vulnerable on the city streets, a more cycle friendly city centre would be amazing.

The MoBike is a brilliant idea as it’s simple, affordable transport at everyone’s fingertips.  However, they’re open for abuse and many have been vandalised, or just been left in awkward, difficult to spot, places (like the bottom of a canal).  Having tried to use them to regularly commute from Piccadilly to Oxford Road it’s been a mixed experience, but the potential lack of immediate availability when you need one, and the missing bikes, makes it a pretty unreliable form of transport for the regular commuter.  I need to know that the vast majority of the time I’ll be able to pick one up from our major train station, but that just isn’t the case – unfortunately it’s quite often been NoBike rather than MoBike.

Liverpool to Manchester 50 miler Report

I’m not a morning runner.  I’m not even a moaning runner, but I do moan about mornings.  Especially 4am ones somewhere on the outskirts of Liverpool.  Of course, it’s a lot easier to get up for exciting things such as jetting off on a remote holiday.  Or running an ultra.

As is the norm with such races I’m standing in the middle of a field with a bunch of compression clad warriors decked from head-to-toe with the latest stretch fabric, multi-bottle, hydro-ultra-tech-lightweight rucksacks crammed with expensive waterproofs that no-one wants to actually use.

This is the Liverpool to Manchester Ultra Marathon, a 50 mile jaunt along the Trans Pennine Trail (TPT) starting close to Aintree in Liverpool and finishing in Didsbury in Manchester.  For those who have a strange desire to run back to Liverpool there is 100 mile option (on a different date).

Silence falls over the field for a minute in honour of Stephen Carragher before an enthusiastic cowbell signals the start of the race.  My strategy is to take it easy at the start, running around a 6 minute kilometre, but knowing I’ll slow down and hopefully finish in 8-9 hours.  Others clearly have different plans as I glance concerningly at a stocky fellow powering past me during the first kilometre huffing and puffing like a steam train.  I hope he didn’t misread the distance when he entered this one……

The marked route was easy enough to follow although it soon begins to blur into one, moving from long sections of road/tarmac to basic trails.  Suddenly, out of nowhere, a smell permeated my nostrils that is so foul my carefully planned nutrition strategy is almost ruined but I know immediately where I am.

Widnes.

I had experienced this smell some 18 years earlier when I worked there for several months and it was almost like I’d never left.  My pace quickens as I continue out of the area into the fresh air beyond.

As an extra twist the race organisers have offered up Gold medals to the top 50 finishers, silver for 51-100 and bronze for all finishers after that.  Deep-down I want a gold medal but as the pack thins I don’t really have any idea of my position, so I just concentrate on moving forwards.

Ultras are a great social experience and I chat to loads of people along the route, many saying this is their second time at the L2M after the inaugural one last year.  Somewhere after halfway I start running with Dave Fort from Burnley (more accurately Padiham), and we soon stick together to start ticking off the miles and discussing how we felt about the race so far.  In one of those “small-world” moments, it turns out Dave knows my auntie, but then I imagine most people in Padiham know my auntie, but that’s a different story altogether……

Men being such fine examples of humanity, we soon start discussing how “stomach problems” can become an issue on ultras.  Earlier on I’d made a rather horrific trip to the bushes which emotionally I hadn’t yet recovered from.  Dave casually announced he just popped in to a luxurious Premier Inn (I’m still dubious about the existence of this) along the way which made my hunt for a secluded spot seem ludicrous. Note to self – mark Premier Inn’s on race maps in future.

With around 25km to go, one of the friendly aid station volunteers let slip that Dave, myself and Paul Carse (who we’d also spent some time running with) were in 42nd, 43rd and 44th position.  Now this is serious!  We know there is a lot of time to gain some places, but also plenty of time to lose some places.  The focus moves on to keeping position, so with military type enthusiasm I scoff another pork pie and we plough on.  Our heads regularly spin around like paranoid owls as we keep checking if anyone is on our tail.  Occasionally runners crept into our rear view so we push on as hard as we can knowing that our gold medals are at stake.

We have a minor panic towards the end as we took a couple of wrong turnings but emerged victoriously into the final field where, in one last cruel twist, the route continues past the finish, around a large field before crossing the finish line.  Job done.  I complete it in 41st position in 8 hours 43 minutes.

Can you order me a lager please?

So how would I rate this race?  The organisation was top-notch, especially considering the three recces to covering the entire route offered in advance.  There was lots of social media buzz, plenty of information sent out and a true enthusiasm towards getting people through an ultra.  Reflecting on the route I’ve realised I like to be inspired by running down a valley, remote woodland trails, or climbing a peak to witness natures beauty stretch out below.  Whilst you won’t get this at the L2M, what you will get is a solidly organised race, huge support at the aid stations and a great crack at a 50 mile PB!  Thanks GBUltras!

Pimp my medal

TV and some Snow Running

As the new year is fading into a distant memory, it’s been relatively quiet in All Hail The Trail world. Other than a random TV appearance of course! OK it was only for a few seconds and was Freeview Channel 7 but it’s a start! It was “Photo of the Day” on the news which happened to be a rather nice view from my work desk. I put it on Twitter with a #Manchester and the channel contacted me to ask if they could use it.  Shows the power of a mere hash tag!

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The first @allhailthetrail TV appearance

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The original picture.  It was a nice view!

On to running news, the reality has now truly kicked in that I won’t be at all ready for the Oldham Way Ultra in March as I’ve had to take it really easy due to tightness in the hip.  18 miles a week an ultrarunner does not make.  I’m progressing though and trying to remain sensible and planning a gradual build up to make sure I’m ready for races later in the year…. next stop Liverpool to Manchester in April, I hope.

I’ve also ticked off my first “proper” trail run since moving to Glossop it was tough, not due to distance, but weather.  The observant amongst us will notice it’s been snowing….. and in the Peak District it was snowing a lot!  I started gently due to my hip but it seemed to ease off as I ascended towards the summit of Cock Hill (mainly walking to be honest).

ds

The weather got more and more extreme and as I ran over towards Clough Edge and I began to go blind in my right eye as the snow and wind battered the muscles around my right eye socket and eye lid.  I started to have one of those strange moments of euphoria as nature was showing me who was boss.

snow2

snow1

I continued down into the relative calmness of the Longdendale Trail and along the road back into Glossop.

Talking of Glossop a final picture of the view from my spare bedroom window.  What a change from City Centre Living!

glossop

Lots more planned for this site and a great carb loading recipe coming up soon for all the marathon runners – chicken, lemon and rice stew.  White pasta gorgers move along, there’s nothing for you here!

Easing into the New Year

Its been a tough start to the New Year in a “1st world problems” type of way because I haven’t been able to get into the training that I wanted.

At the end of November I completed my longest ever race, the Wendover Woods 50.  It went better than planned.  I kept a reasonably consistent pace throughout the whole very hilly 50 miles, finished without any blisters, or “serious” pain other than the fully anticipated tired/aching muscles.  Stairs were a problem for two days, but after that I did a small bit of tentative running on a treadmill and all seemed ok.

Within two weeks, a friend was coming back to visit and before I knew it I was on a hilly two hour trail run in the Peaks.  It was great.  Apart from my hip.  And my feet.  Since Wendover I seemed to have developed various problems – significant tightness in the hip, pain in the top of both feet, dodgy shoulder and sore coccyx. Perhaps I’m not as “ultra-ready” as I though I was!

Anyway, this site isn’t about moaning, so I’ve been on “active” recovery i.e. a few very slow runs, some HIIT work, lots of stretching and foam rolling, basically anything which doesn’t bring back any recurring problems.

It’s a odd time of the year to be doing it though as everyone has suddenly gone fitness crazy.  I feel like a school kid in detention, nose pressed against the window, watching all the other kids play football outside.  Marathon plans have started, gyms are bulging at the seams, and parkrun attendance figures have shot up.  My running friends are building up the mileage for spring races and banging out interval training like its gone out of fashion, but I’m worried to accelerate above anything that might break a sweat!  But actually, I’m kind of easing back into it now, I’ve had a (very painful) phsyio session recently which has helped and kept the runs sensible and am feeling ready to start ramping things up which is great!

So in summary I need to (wo)man up and get back into being an……

ultra-runner

Final couple of updates, knowing that I’m moving to Glossop shorty, I’ve planned my run-commute! A mere 25km from Manchester City, through Ashton-under-Lyne, Stalybridge, Hadfield and into Glossop.  Its got a “lighter-nights” feel about it though, but i’m looking forward to doing it!  Click the pic for the Strava route!

route-manchester-to-glossop-25km

I’ve also updated my Race Results page, just into a more easily readable table format.  Definitely looking forward to developing this site further with a few new recipes and routes!

Until next time…