Hi, I’m Jon Waller and this is my first ever blog. Thank you to Stu Hale for asking me to write this, something that I would never have thought of doing!
I’m a keen fell runner and at the end of April I competed in the ‘3 peaks’, a legendary Fell Race over the sacred Yorkshire mountains consisting of Pen-Y-Ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough. It’s 23 miles long, has 5000ft of ascent and each year consists of every conceivable type of weather, leading to the dilemma of what to wear to prevent both sunburn and frostbite. I’ve run this race 4 times now and although I didn’t quite PB this year, it was the one that meant the most. After a lengthy period of injury, it has been a difficult and long journey (a word that makes me cringe) to actually get back to this point. Although, it has taught me something about myself and changed me ultimately for the better as I enter my veteran years.
Above: Down Whernside.
Sport has always been my escape. I’ve always had an overactive mind, a slave to my head. Even as a child I struggled to sleep due to the perpetual whirring of ideas and thoughts in my brain! I think that’s why I fell in love with exercise, it offered some respite. By the age of 13, I was mad about cycling, easily spotted in the peloton with my embarrassing ginger ponytail and shaved legs. Since then, I moved on to triathlon, ironman and eventually fell running (although I’d been running for fun on the hills for years). Fell running has been the most effective way of leaving my thoughts behind, there’s something about being in the wilds that just seems to simplify life. A pair of fell shoes, shorts and a mountain: a perfect natural assault course which had the uncanny ability to (sometimes falsely) allow me think that life’s problems had gone away. Then I got injured and my physical and emotional crutch broke!
My injury started in spring of last year, after a good winter’s training for the fell racing season. Having never really been injured before, I couldn’t accept that I might have to actually stop and recover. I remember the increasing use of injury tape with each training session, cutting multiple strips for the growing pain in my abdomen and inner thighs. Running was becoming really painful and the physical joy of it all was fading, but my mind pushed on! The fear of a wasted winter of training and worse, the unknown void of not being able to run and the inevitable whirring thoughts were more painful than the physical symptoms.
This is where Stu Hale and the team from Accelerate step in, I owe them a lot of gratitude. Finding I was going downhill quickly, (but not in the way I wanted) the team spent a good deal of time diagnosing the cause of my injury and stopped me from running. Stopping training was a huge shock but also a relief, I knew I couldn’t go on but wouldn’t have made the decision alone. So, after 26 years, I stopped being able to do what I had previously just taken for granted. Suddenly, I found that there was something missing from my life. Writing this down makes it sound so daft, trivial even; so I couldn’t go for a run, hardly serious when you think about the problems that others face every day! But without skipping over the misty fells, I suddenly found that I couldn’t relax, my mood darkened and I realised that the link between exercise and my emotional well-being had become too strong, unhealthy in many ways. That’s when it clicked, as if someone had just turned a light on; running (which I love) had become an obsession, no longer just a hobby and I knew I had to make a change.
In a strange way being injured has been a blessing. The injury period afforded me time to completely rethink my relationship with exercise and forced me to find entirely new, more effective ways of coping with the ‘mind whir!.’
Over a number of months I received some great physio sessions from Pete and Izzy at Accelerate and I was given core strength exercises for my specific injury. It was the first time I’d ever done core strength work, always thinking ‘how on earth can that be more beneficial than going out for a run?’ Well, I was completely wrong! I gradually recovered, getting out of bed in the morning became pain free again. I returned to running gradually in the early winter, with Stu Hale re teaching me how to run properly after finding that the majority of my past running was ‘quad dominant’ and the likely cause of my injury. I steadily built the miles up, just enjoying the feeling of being out and about again, with Stu carefully putting together a programme that (purposely) kept me off the hills until I was ready. At the end of Jan I ran in the Northern XC Champs, followed by the Heartbeat Hobble Fell Race in the North Yorkshire Moors and Pendle Hill Dark Dash Fell Race, coming just outside the top 10 on limited hill work and mainly just speed by attending the Accelerate Thursday night speed sessions at the Olympic Legacy Park in Sheffield.
Serious hill work started in late March, with a family holiday to the Canary Islands, where I swapped the Peak District clag for my own personal volcano, enjoying a very different early morning vantage point. Once home the hard work continued with hill reps up Win Hill and Lose Hill, some of my favourite places.
Above: Race start, 3 Peaks 2019.
And then the 3 peaks. I love this race, the hills, the people, the crowds, the weather and the sheer complexity of it. I look upon this course as 3 races in 1. The first 12 miles is relatively easy and all runnable. Pen-Y-Ghent is the first mountain to be tackled followed by a XC run to the Ribblehead Viaduct. 3 peaks first timers often take this bit too quick and suffer the consequences later on. It is at this point where I feel the real race begins or race 2 as I see it. At first, a scramble to the top of Whernside, the highest of the 3 peaks (the summit is actually in Cumbria, when surely the border should be moved specially on race days to make it an all Yorkshire race). Then, a taxing downhill to the bottom of Ingleborough, followed by (race 3) a climb on paved slabs and a scramble to the summit. It’s then downhill to the finish, which is about 5 miles long and covered in slippery limestone.
When the starting gun went for this year’s race, it felt great just to be able to run again, to feel part of the action. Catching up with some good running friends on the uphill section to Pen-Y-Ghent that I’d not seen for some time was great. I’d written some split times on my hand for the checkpoints, just to make sure I didn’t go off too fast and I used my heart rate monitor as a guide at some points to prevent ‘blowing’ later on. I met my splits pretty much exactly all the way to Ribblehead Viaduct and started Whernside feeling good, making sure I fuelled well. At the top, I felt okay with a bit of niggling cramp in my quads but managed to shake it off on the downhill. I paced myself well, wanting to keep enough in reserve to push quickly down Ingleborough in a good time. Sheltered from the wind on the ascent of Ingleborough, I reached the summit feeling the arctic like conditions, with horizontal rain and driving wind. I was glad to begin the downhill and towards Horton in Ribblesdale and started off well. About 2 miles on, I tripped on some limestone and tensed up, leading to cramp from the bottom of my right leg to the very top. I came to a grinding hold as I tried to stretch it out. Unfortunately I lost about 5 mins, but I love the way that despite being in a race, every runner who came past checked to make sure I was okay. That’s fell running for you!
Above: Feeling good.
Down to the finish line and I was through in 3h59 mins and glad to be under 4 hours.
It may not have been a PB, but I got so much more than a decent time from this year’s 3 peaks race than any of the others.
So, however frustrating, an injury can sometimes be an opportunity for reflection and a time to make a change for the better, both physically and mentally.
Thanks to everyone at Accelerate for their support and expertise in getting me up and running again, it’s really appreciated!