Monday, 27 October 2014

Gone Travelling...

Life packed and off on the travel trail.
From June 2014 I've gone to explore the planet. This blog won't see much activity until I get back (in about 10 months) but you can follow the travel path by clicking here.

For the first time in about 20 years I won't be able to run the Bullock Smithy. I considered getting a flight back from Argentina but that would have been a step too far!

A reminder to myself - I still need to post the Arrow Sportive, the Notts 10 and the Baslow Boot Bash.

Keep on running!

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

K42 Mountain Marathon, Laguna Aculeo, Santiago, Chile

A rough cut of a few race images can be found on YouTube here.

The Disaster Finding the Race Start.

My efforts at the  K42 Mountain Marathon in Santiago were matched by the effort it took to find the race start. I'm travelling through South America at the moment. I had "googled" races in Santiago before I left England and found the K42 Marathon in Santiago which would run whilst I was there. I assumed the race was a road marathon in the city and I entered on-line with some difficulty as I couldn't read the Spanish website.  I should have paid more attention, It turned out that the marathon was a trail race in the Altos de Cantillana Mountains.

Altos de Cantillana Mountains from Laguna Aculeo.

We arrived in Santiago a week before the race and took the opportunity to travel south to Rancagua by bus. From Rancagua we would be able to use public transport to find the race start at Rangue, a small hamlet at the foot of the mountain range whose main attraction is the beautiful Laguna Aculeo where the race would begin. A bus, a long wait and another bus later we were in Rangue. The hamlet was sleepy, only occasionally interrupted by the sounds of clopping hoofs as traditional Gaucho's rode through the village on horseback. I admit that I wasn't particularly well prepared for any of this, Initially I thought the race began in Santiago but it then seemed to start 50km South of the city in Rangue, we had got that far but when I re-consulted a page on my phone which had been saved for offline reading I could see the word Cantillana. I showed my phone to a local, his reaction was to look to the mountains whilst extending his arm dismissively upwards. Cantillana, I learnt, was a mountain village much further on and it would take a fiurther two hours of walking to reach it. Four hours later we were back in Rancagua after abandoning our attempt to find the race start. I was beginning to fret. How was I going to get into the mountains in two days time to run this race? We would have to hire  a car.

Asking the Gaucho's for tips.

We managed to find a car hire place in Rancagua. The problem was that they would be closed on Saturday and Sunday meaning we would have to hire the car for 4 days so we could drop it off on Monday morning, something which the traveller's budget couldn't afford. At this point I thought I was beat, I had entered a race I thought began in the city of Santiago, it started in the mountains 50km South, we had done a failed reccy to find the start. I couldn't hire a car as it was too expensive, what could I do, how could I get to race start? The only option was to go 50km back to Santiago and hire a car from the airport where I would be able to drop it off any day of the week, 24/7 and therefore hire it for only one day at cheaper cost. 

The next day we drove out of Santiago Airport in a small Chevrolet courtesy of "Budget Rent a Car". Tracy drove the 50km back down the Pan American Highway to Rangue where we would attempt to find the mountain village of Cantillana. Two hours later we found ourselves on a near vertical rocky road travelling backwards with the wheels spinning beneath us. The Chevrolet wasn't going to make it up this rocky mountain pass. At this point I had a minor mental breakdown, I got of out the car, kicked some rocks and cursed the mountain dogs that had come to investigate our woe. It simply wasn't going to happen now, we had tried everything to find the race start but now I was beat, time to retreat to Rangue and then back to Rancagua for the night. Just before we left, In desperation I looked at my phone to try for a last time to find some more race details, surely a race director wouldn't expect 200 runners to travel up this rocky mountain road , they couldn't all have 4x4s? 
Horses at the summit.

It was Tracy that saved the day, when she looked at my historical e-mails she noticed the word "Los Altos" - "I think we passed that place in Rangue two days ago..." 

We retreated to Rangue and after asking more locals for directions we finally arrived at a non de-script high wooden gate flanked on either side by a six foot stone wall. I got of the car placed my hands on the top of the wall and climbed on to the stone slabs. To my delight and utter surprise, at the other side, I saw Club Marina Alto Laguna  the same place that I remembered in photos of on the race website. It had taken four days, four buses, metros, a car hire, plenty of arguements about who was wrong and right (I was wrong, Tracy was right) but I know knew then, for the first time, that the next day I'd be leaving Laguna Aculeo for the K42 Marathon. 

The Race

Race day morning bought low cloud which concerned me. I was further concerned by a woman that I chatted to at the start. I was grateful that she could speak English, I was ungrateful that she told me the winner would take six and a half hours, a fact which later turned out to be wrong. The race ran from an altitude of approximately 364 metres above sea level to about 2,200 metres, I was hopelessly unable to get the altitude into perspective but I now think I ran about twice the height of Snowdon, If I'd have known that at the time I probably would have stayed in the car! 

I had a few last minute panics and a crisis conversation with Tracy. I had never been in this mountain range before (I had never been in South America before), there was low cloud and rain forecast, how was I going to find my way? I then remembered that I really wanted to do this race, I've always wanted to run in the mountains. It was time to have a word with myself so I put some unnecessary "comfort" articles in my back pack and like a lamb to the slaughter, I made my way to the start. I stood on the start line sheepishly listening to vital last minute instructions - I couldn't understand a word.    
Race start and finish.

I can describe the race easily - up and down, out and back. If that sounds simple, it wasn't. I ran through a beautiful private nature reserve with a steep inclination to the open mountain. We carried on up to a first summit and then on to a higher summit where we turned and ran back along the same trails to the finish. There were aid stations every 5km but some seemed further spaced out than others. Weathered looking mountain men manned the aid stations. I drank water and ate oranges as the mules looked on over the mountain vista. The mules had carried supplies of water up the mountain for our replenishment. The aid station at half way was adjacent to a corrugated mountain hut, I could see beds inside. So far I'd focused hard on the path in front of me, I didn't want to get freaked out by my ascent into this increasingly remote cloudy place but the refuge hut soberingly interrupted my concentration.
On the way back down.

In honesty I was enjoying myself. I was feeling strong which was odd because I had spent the last three months eating junk food and hardly training as I travelled through Peru. Bolivia, Argentina and into Chile, perhaps the rest had done me good. It seems runners camaraderie is international, as I passed runners in front they seemed to offer encouragement and when I explained that I was English they encouraged even more, Bamos! was the cry (let's go!) 

The summit checkpoint and turnaround point.

It took just short of three hours to get to the summit. I knew I was approaching the summit because the lead runners started to come back towards us careering down the mountain and I reciprocated with the "Bamos!" that I had learnt earlier. The route finding had been easy, red ribbons lined the trail all the way to the top. When we reached the summit there was about half a mile of plateau to run  to the checkpoint, I could see the Chilean flag in the distance. This was the best part of the race, I felt like I was running through the sky. I could see the clouds beneath me and occasionally they broke to reveal a fantastic view across the mountain range. The shrubs on the way up had cut my legs, my fingers had swollen slightly and I was feeling pretty tired but I didn't care, I had ascended almost 2000m and was about to reach half way. I dwelled at the checkpoint to take some pictures until the checkpoint staff advised me to keep moving, this wasn't about racing hard, it was about enjoying the experience and getting down safely.

"Nicole" Female winner begins the descent. 

I left the summit to begin the lengthy descent back to the Lake. Shortly after the turn around I was overtaken by "Nicole" the lead lady that would go on to win her race. We had met on the ascent, I had been grateful to find someone that could speak English, "Come on Paul, this is the best part, I like to run down!" I tried and failed to match Nicole's enthusiasm and pace as she disappeared into the cloud. During the descent I was largely alone. The experience was at first amazing to be running out of the sky but I quickly got sick of the constant leg jarring as I tried to keep myself upright. My post race arms are as stiff as my post race legs where they broke my fall on a few occasions, once narrowly helping my jaw avoid a large rock.                  

I spent less time at the refugee checkpoint keen to get this thing done. It seemed to take ages to get to what had been the first aid station and I actually began to wonder if the race was returning via a different route. I had descended fairly gingerly but in the last 5km there was a level path and a dirt track where I was surprised to find extra reserves and able to find a good pace to the finish, passing a competitor on the way. 

Me and Race Director, Rodrigo Sales.
I crossed the line in 4 hours and 49 minutes finishing in 28th place. It had taken just short of 3 hours to get up and just short of two hours to get down. I was given a race finishers t-shirt in addition to the race starters t-shirt which I had been given earlier and which it was mandatory to wear during the race. The race director was very welcoming and knowing that I couldn't speak Spanish was keen to make sure that I knew where to find the complimentary post race sausage sandwiches, tea and biscuits. I was also given a runners rucksack and a medal a nice end to a great day.     


Sunday, 25 May 2014

Deepings 10k 2014 - Heat & Hot Dogs

Chris & Me
The Deepings 10K is a fast, flat, measured 10K organised by the local Rotary Club. I travelled to this race with two people from work, Chris and Blake. For Chris this would be his 4th 10K and would set him up for the Peterborough Half Marathon later in the year. Blake hoped for a PB after good recent training including the Grantham Triathlon the week before. I've been suffering with early signs of Planter Fasciitis so this race was to be a good test to see how good or band things were on the sole of my foot. The story of this year's race was heat. The sun was out, it was stickily dry and with no wind felt like we were running in an oven.   

This event can be a family affair, as we arrived the children's race had just begun. The children run a shortened version of the full 10K and the two races are perhaps an hour apart. I guess there is pressure on some parents to take on both distances. It was fun to watch the kids come home, many running gingerly only to put on an impassioned sprint across the final 100m in front of Mum and Dad. It was also disheartening to witness some of the parents post race "pep" talks including one particularly bad example of a mother that scorned her son for getting his new trainers dirty! We had our own race to prepare for and so Chris and I warmed up and Blake went for a whizz.        

Post race rewards. 
The gun fired and I left the second row of starters. A bloke with a big frame came sprinting past and I doubted he would last the distance at the same speed. He came back to me within2K. My strategy was to start steadily and build into a rhythm that I could sustain across the 10 kilometres. My method was blown apart because, at 3K I tried to pass a runner in front only for the runner to speed up when I was alongside -there was a race on! We carried on in the same racing way through to about 5K. We were cat and mouse, me overtaking only for my racing friend to come  back past a few meters further on. The effect of this daft encounter was that I was running much faster than I had anticipated or prepared for. I wasn't really fit enough for the pace but stubbornness took over. By 5K I managed a sustained increase in pace and began to pass others in front. Gradually I must have left my competitor behind and I could only now feel the pressure of having to sustain my efforts to the finish.

10K's demand a fast pace, I think its a horrible distance. You can't let your foot off the gas, its all about getting to your threshold and maintaining it. Sense cries slow down but sense on 10K's is not common. It is more popular to separate mind and body and thrash on to the finish where you can fall on the grass, catch your breath and recollect the insanity of it all.

I ran towards the finish and turned into the playing field for the last 100m. I noticed a runner in front swaying badly with jelly legs. I've seen this before, usually on marathons. The Deepings 10K in 2014 was seriously hot and the runner in front had come to grief not 100m from the finish line. I ran past confident that the runner would make it home even if he continued to stagger but things got worse. I witnessed someone with deep concern, run out of the crowd towards him. I crossed the finish line and alerted the marshal that the man behind needed first aid. Gladly, first aid had already got to the man who was by now lay out on the floor.

A bloody good sausage and a cup o' cha
I finished 27th in 40:53 not a bad time given the conditions and no doubt helped by my race within a race. My foot was characteristically sore the next morning but none worse than in the previous week. Blake PB'd in 50:02 and Chris, glad to get out of the heat romped home in 1:00:45.

A good day out was concluded with a Lincolnshire sausage bap. Billed as a 'hot dog' this, as the picture shows, is no hot dog. Lincolnshire is the home of good sausages but this isn't the first time I have seen them advertised as 'hot dogs'. A hot dog is found in a "Ye Olde Oak" tin or at a push, and I mean at a push, a "Princes" tin. It's great that this blog can set the record straight on these things!           

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Audrius Klimasauskas the Relentless Marathon Runner

Audrius Klimasauskas 
On Saturday morning I was travelling in the car along the A52 from Grantham to Spalding. Between Grantham and the east coast there is perhaps 60 miles of nothing. Think, ultra flat Fenland country. There are miles and miles of massive agricultural fields all accommodating huge volumes of commercial crops. I sometimes think the Fen is England's answer to the American Midwest, you half expect to see a child playing a banjo by the side of the road.

Imagine my surprise when perhaps twenty or so miles into the trip, I could make out the figure of a runner in the distance running on the road in front. The A52 is a single carriageway without a pavement. In addition to cars, the road is frequented by HGV's and heavy agricultural vehicles. The straightness of the road lends itself to high speed. In short - the A52 isn't your usual Saturday morning running territory. 

When we got closer it was clear that the runner running in the same direction as us was kitted out in ultra gear. The man was shuffling at a fair pace but he looked as if he had run a long way. He was wearing a back pack and was holding bottles in his hands. As we flashed by I got a glimpse of what looked like a race number of his top. I wasn't aware that there was an ultra race this weekend so I pulled over a bit further along the road. I could sense that Tracy was a bit uneasy because I was about to accost the stranger that was approaching but the man was a runner for goodness sake, there would be no barriers! 

Nice motto.
I now know the runner to be Audrius Klimasauskas and he wasn't taking part in an ultra race. Audrius lost his mother to cancer last December and in her memory he has decided to devote every weekend since her passing, to running ridiculous distances in her memory. Audrius calls his mission the "relentless marathon" and his project has no end. 

When I met him on the A52 in the middle of nowhere he had run about 90 miles and he had about 20 miles left to go before he arrived at his destination. Audrius left Peterborough on Friday evening at 6pm his route took him to Market Deeping- Bourne - Colsterworth - Grantham - Sleaford - Donnington - Spalding - Holbeach and Wisbech. That's 102 miles of running which was due to finish at 1am on Sunday! Audrius has been doing similar runs every weekend since last December.      
Not wanting to delay his efforts any further I shook the man's hand checked the back of the car to see if there was any food that we could offer him (there wasn't) and we left feeling fully inspired. We watched Audrius through the rear view mirror until he was out of sight. 

Audrius is raising money for Cancer Research. His motto "cancer stole my mum, so I'm going to steal cancer from everybody else"

His just giving page is here and it also has a record of the different stages that he has run on previous weekends.

Nice one Audrius - keep on running! 


Monday, 14 April 2014

London Marathon 2014 - The Man in the Mankini

Runners cross Blackheath to the starts
I arrived on Blackheath with time to spare. Like an army of ants, thousands of runners had completed their winter's work and were making the pilgrimage to the red, green and blue start  areas.  I was lucky enough to have been allocated to the "good for age" area adjacent to the red start and I sat on the grass in the sunshine to contemplate the 26.2 miles that lay ahead.

As I reflected, I heard a big cheer. Mo Farah was warming up in the field next to our starting area. A man in a mankini ("MITM") had decided to keep him company as he jogged round the field limbering up. I was a bit worried that the MITM might interrupt Mo's focus for this for Mo was serious business. It wasn't to be the last time during the day that I would be concerned about MITM.

Waiting in the GFA holding area. 
You could say that I had similar race goals to Mo, only in my case the race goals would be an hour later. I had predicted in my previous post that I would run between 3 hours and 3:10 and I had put particular significance on my recent Ashby 20 time which suggested that I would run 3:07. As always I set off with the intent of breaking the hallowed sub three target but I knew realistically that sub three was a big ask. The forecasted cloud cover was absent and the heat from the bright sunshine posed a further obstacle that would have to be overcome.

My strategy was to coast to half way and push from there. Mathew Kingston Lee of GRC (who ran 2:46 at Rotterdam yesterday) has described the marathon as a final 20 mile training run with a "balls out" 10k at the end of it. After 20 miles of racing there would be no balls out 10ks for me! but I understood the intention from the message - try and get to 20 with something left in the tank. With all that in mind, I made my way to the start and I  got a good position which after the claxon sounded enabled me to cross the line about 40 seconds later.

The tools of the trade.
It is always a relief to get on the start line feeling healthy. It's a further relief to actually start running. The anticipation builds in the weeks before the marathon and in my case, although I 'enjoy' it, I was ready just to get the race done. The first five miles was uneventful. I knew I had got into a steady rhythm and I was well ahead of sub three hour pace. 

It was at about five miles that I noticed the crowds had suddenly become more enthusiastic. The crowd support at London is second to none but for some reason around five miles the spectators where whooping and hollering more than usual. It turned out that MITM was back. MITM was running alongside me wearing nothing but a luminous bright green mankini, complete with a tattoo of the Welsh dragon on either of his well tanned arse cheeks and a black wig on his head. This was a problem for two reasons. Firstly I like to think that I run at the sharp end of the marathon field alongside serious club athletes. It kind of knocks the wind out of your sails and disturbs your focus when every time you look up you see two tanned male arse cheeks staring back at you. Secondly, and even more pretentiously on my part, what would become of my race photos? How could I maintain the respect of my mates at work. They too think I'm a serious runner but if I had to show them photies of me running next to the  MITM any credibility that I had cultivated over time would be shot in an instant. Please take the time to click here  and meet "Nigel", straight in at number 6 and also know as my race partner from 5 through to 13 miles where we parted. I tried in vain to shake him off at various times but it just seemed that our paces were evenly matched even if our fashion sense wasn't.

I ran through half way in about 1:28:30. I was feeling fine, I didn't feel like I had exerted myself and my breath wasn't really laboured. This gave me a fighting chance of sub 3. it was time to steadily push on to 20 to see what I had left but then the inevitable happened.

Misery at 40k courtesy of Keith Measure.
Somewhere between 13 and 16 miles, I went from feeling good and optimistic to feeling awful and down. What happens is that the body clams up, the legs feel heavy and you can't manage to keep a good stride. The length of stride or "kick" becomes more and more restricted until you are left with nothing more than a runners shuffle to get you home. My breathing was still ok and I felt like I had energy but my body wasn't keeping up. My pace slowed right down, the sub three hour pacer came past me and as soon as I tried to stay with him, the slight increase in pace resulted in spasms, twitches and shoots of cramp. It was clear that I was in for a tough final 10 miles.

Experience matters in theses events and I knew from eight previous marathons, that if I could carry on at some kind of reasonable pace, there were similarly reasonable prospects of overcoming the wall. I staggered on in misery, mentally bemoaning how I had come to grief so early in the race. This year grandfather depletion visited early. At least I didn't have to endure the untimely visit with MITM, that might have tipped me over the edge!

At 20ish miles I saw Neil Thompson of Stockport Harriers, he was stood in the middle of the road having  a chat with another Harrier coming the opposite way. I resisted the strong urge to scream for help and instead smiled and exchanged a pleasantry as If nothing was wrong. By this point I was exhausted and I need to draw on a bit more experience by promising myself a treat at a point further along the course. I decided I would allow myself a squat in the underpass. Only a squat to relive the lactic acid, a quick up and down might do the trick. I was reluctant to stop. I wanted to be able to say that I ran it all but by the time the underpass arrived (which seemed to take ages) I was hurting too much. I shuffled to the pavement and got down in a position like a poised frog. That was a big mistake because I struggle to get back up and when I did groan back to an upright position (and God did I groan) my legs where spasming all over the pace.

Until next time.
Three miles to go, time to draw from more experience - eat everything you've got. I ate the last off my shot blocks and a gel and washed them down with Buxton water. Three miles to parliament seems close but Westminster was very far. I turned the bend on towards bird cage walk and tried again to muster something of a more respectable pace. The shooting pain in my groin put me straight back into place and thereafter I death marched up the  mall to finish in 3:07. I had called it right in the previous blog post - you can't cheat the rules of marathon running.   

Despite the misery of the final miles I'm now very happy to have completed my ninth London Marathon. Therein lies a problem - you can't do nine of something can you?

Thanks as always to everyone who has offered  support and encouragement. The marathon is a great event and an event that I respect more and more after each completion. If you haven't yet, but are thinking of entering for 2015, just do it. Its a life experience just watch out fort the man in the mankini!     


Friday, 11 April 2014

London Marathon Preview

It's that time again.

My race number is 32975 and you can track my live progress here.HERE.

There are more details about how to track runners HERE.  

An understatement.

On Sunday I'll line up with about 35,000 other subjects to try and run 26.2 miles in under 3 hours.  Ive been trying to run sub three since the turn of the century.

The tale of my marathon tape is:

2013 - 3:02:49

2012 - 3:05:40
2011 - 3:06:01
2005 - 3:11:59
2004 - 3:11:54
2002 - 3:03:25
2001 - 3:20:12
2000 - 3:23:23

All London Marathons

I happened to be in London today so, like a horse looking at the finishing straight I wondered to Embankment and walked the last three miles of the route. I was surprised at the lack of evidence that a major city marathon is about to happen. Aside from a few barriers being put into place and a few signs to warn traffic there was little to suggest a carnival will take place along the same streets in two days time. 

Barriers at the ready.
It's difficult to predict how fit I am this year. I feel good and I've lost a little weight but I haven't raced as much. There aren't as many previous times upon which to compare. In addition to a duty to running I have an occasional responsibility to a social life. This year I sacrificed the Stamford 30k, the Stafford 20 and the Friskney Half Marathon in favour of other fun but less taxing pursuits (weddings, stag doos and the like) although I did race a memorably miserable Folksworth 15. I had better success during back to back long days running the Belvoir Challenge and the Cambridge Boundary Run, they should have reawakened my endurance capacity just in time.

For speed I remember at least three track sessions of high intensity repeats and perhaps three dredful hill rep sessions with GRC including a particularly bad "Gerry's HIT session" which I've filed to the painful reserves of my mind. Aside from that, it's been bread and butter lunchtime six mile runs, evening runs and a few long trips out across the Vale of Belvoir. 

This year I've altered my diet by replacing filled barm cakes for lunch in favour of salads. I picked up a tip from Runner's World boot camp - try to just eat lots of different types of foods types with each meal to increase nutrition. I've probably not drunk as much booze and I seem to go to bed earlier these days both of those seem to be a consequence of age rather than a bespoke training strategy.
The finish but you can't see it yet.
And so on paper things look pretty good but caution a reflection on my recent Ashby 20 time which was a full 5 mimutes slower than last year. That is a majorly worrying statistic, you can't escape the rules of running and this year's time at Ashby suggests I'll run 3.07 at London at best. Last year's Ashby time suggested I would run bang on 3 hours at London but I Ran 3.02.49 which gives me further cause for concern this year. This years Ashby race was however run the weekend after back to back marathons on consecutive days (Belvoir and Cambridge as above) but there should be no excuses, I had a good race at Ashby, felt strong and came up short.

Here are my pre-race thoughts on potential post run results:

+3.10 there will be a smidgin of dissapointment but, as ever, ill be glad to simply get round another London Marathon. 

sub 3.05 ill be happy - that should get me a "good for age" place so I can do it all again another year.

sub 3.02.49 even better that would be a PB but oh so close to sub 3!

sub 3.00 the elation cannot be described....

Good luck to everyone taking part. 

Leave it all out there.....

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Ashby 20 2014

The Ashby 20 mile race is a popular event in the lead up to spring marathons. For many it will be the last long race before pounding the streets of London in a few weeks time. In contrast to last year we were treated to wall to wall sunshine which illuminated the mainly rural route. This race runs through two laps of about 9 miles each with a bottle neck that runners run up and down at the start an finish.

Team GRC
I turned out at Ashby after doing consecutive long events the weekend before. I had mainly rested in the preceding week apart from a game of squash and a six mile steady run. I had also been given a travel vaccination the day before the race, the doctor advised me not to run but he didn't advise it with any conviction so I traveled to Ashby with a live yellow fever antidote swimming inside me.  By 10am on race day I was stood on the start line feeling rested and confident. There was a good turnout of runners from Grantham Running Club and we all looked set for a good day.

I intentionally started, at a steady, not easy pace. Last year I had run 2:15 on the same course and I wondered how my fitness would compare. The first lap went well and I arrived a 10 miles feeling fresh but like I had put in a bit of effort. I noticed that I ran through half way in 1:09ish which was a bit off pace but I was encouraged that I was running strong and feeling good. The are plenty of undulations on these rural roads. The Stamford 30k is widely agreed to be a tougher course but nonetheless there are testing undulations at Ashby. They seem to continually arrive just after you have got back into rhythm after the previous one. There are frequent water stations spread out at useful intervals. the water stations also offer a bit of food, jelly babies, chocolate, I even picked up a high five energy gel which was most welcome at a time when I was starting to flag.

Race Start
I tried to keep my pace through to 15 miles. I try to break this race down into 5 miles segments and I was reminded on the first lap that the part at 10-15 miles was going to be tough when I passed later. I got my head down and seemed to carry a good pace through to 15. The next milestone that I allowed myself to think about was 18 miles, after that two left, one of which includes the glory mile.

Somewhere between 17-18 miles the wheels came off big time. I slowed quite dramatically and suddenly in a way similar to hitting the wall at the marathon. 18-20 was no fun, it was stagger home time. I was surprised how at the Belvoir Challenge the week before I had run a miserable event only to come to life with three miles to go. The opposite happened at Ashby.

Final Approach
I was grateful to finish 113th in 2:20:51, a bit disappointed with my time but encouraged that for the first time in ages I had felt good apart from the last three miles. The best part about Ashby is the goodie bag which includes a cheese barm (you can't say fairer than that) and a hoodie - yes a hoodie, this year it was black.  In my view the Ashby race is a top event and if you haven't run it - you should!

A good day was ended watching England beat Wales in the rugby whilst explaining to other club members that they hadn't received two texts from the Ashby organisers with their race times attached but instead the first text was a text from the race the year before....       

Sunday, 2 March 2014

The Belvoir Challenge 2014

A muddy race.
I had managed to get some good miles on my legs in the weeks before the Belvoir Challenge and I went into the event in a positive mood. I decided to "double up" this weekend and the Belvoir Challenge would be the first of two marathons, the second would be The Cambridge Boundary Run the following day.

I woke up to a crisp day of bright sunshine with a slight frost. The blue sky was uninterrupted and the good conditions only added to my enthusiasm. I drove to the start and as part of the usual routine, I played a bit of fast paced, big beat, house music to pump me up a bit more. By the time I got to Harby I was brimming, on it, up for it, this was my day! The registration hall was packed, as was the surrounding car park and streets. Make no mistake, this is a very popular event. the Belvoir Challenge sells out far in advance of race day. In addition to the 26 mile marathon that I had chosen to do, there is also a 15 mile version. I made my way the start line harnessing the positive vibe, the sun, the music, race day. I'd got my head around this one, it was going to be a good day.     

Event start at Harby.
We left Harby promptly at 9am and set off for Barkstone - Redmile - Belvoir Castle - Woolsthorpe - near Denton - near Harston - Croxton Kerrial - near Branston - through the beautiful Belvoir Estate - up through Bunkers Wood - on to and along the Escarpment before descending to Stathern - Harby.

The feature of this event was mud. Mud mud and more mud. In the first five miles my pre-race enthusiasm was knocked out of me, the house music in my head was replaced with Barry Manilow. It was grim mile after mile of bog. Mile after mile of struggling to stay upright.  At one part we approached a gate opening in a field and the mud had formed a swamp. It was the type of swamp that you needed to "negotiate". It was too early in the event  to be reckless so I tiptoed gingerly round the edge. As I did, a couple of other runners decided to run straight through. They decided to miss the orderly queue of gingerly folk and loped full on, into the swamp. What they hadn't bargained for was the swamp lasting about another 50 metres after the gate opening and I noticed they were as quick to leap out as they were to leap in. The damage was done they were soaked.

The event carried on like that, miles and miles of muddy boggy tracks. The kind of mud that either  tries to make you fall over or wants to come with you by clinging on to your shoes until it feels like you are wearing dumb bells on either foot. At Belvoir Castle the routes split. I felt slightly envious as I watched the shorter course participants turn back towards Harby. I ran on to Chequers at Woolsthorpe where the checkpoint in the car park offered fabulous cakes which I accepted with thanks and desperation.

Belvoir Castle. 
Although the sun continued to shine I was having a difficult run. Pressure had built up around my pelvis making it feel like I need to be put on a stretching rack. I could only put it down to a speed session on the track the previous Wednesday evening. A speed session is unusual for me and I think it had shocked my body a little.

I staggered on up the grassy bank and reflected how I had run down the same back just over two months earlier as part of Grantham Running Club's Christmas Eve run. I continued a reverse of that route until we hit the track that took us almost all the way to Croxton Kerrial. For the first time that day, I managed to find a regular pace and passed a couple of others on the way. The checkpoint at Croxton was just as well stocked. I'd intended to visit the WC in the school. The pressure was below my stomach but I thought a toilet trip couldn't do any harm, I was willing to try anything if it helped. It turned out that the aid station was in the car park so I gave the WC a miss. I quaffed some more cake and carried on.

The part between Croxton and the escarpment was unfamiliar but this event is very well marked with tape every so often. The sun glistened off the lake in the Belvoir estate that houses the River Devon. I had to squint as I glanced at swans swimming gracefully to my left. These were great conditions for running, the sun and the occasional snow drops along the route suggested that spring was about to spring.

The escarpment with great views to the west

I was grateful to reach the escarpment, I knew it wasn't far to go and there was a checkpoint still to visit where I could replenish my energy reserves for the last four miles. At the checkpoint, in addition to the usual array of fine cakes, there was a massive block of blue cheese supported by an army of crackers. Despite having run 22 miles I thought it would have been crackers not to have a bit, so I ate some and then ran on towards the finish. It was good to see Tracy in the last four miles, she had decided to do her own version of the walk and ended up clocking 13.2 miles.

Oddly the heaviness and pelvis pressure that had bugged me all day seemed to lift over the last two miles. I think it helped to see the finish village in the distance. I was able to stretch out a bit and pass a few others not before body planting in the latest muddy bog. I  was relived to cross the line in 4:07 but I was a bit miffed that I had felt so rough throughout and would have at least liked to go under 4 hours. Interestingly I just looked at my Belvoir Challenge post from last year and I bemoaned a tough day last year too. I think this is just a tough event.




Cambridge Boundary Run 2014

The Cambridge Boundary Run
The Cambridge Boundary Run was to be the second marathon of the weekend after completing the Belvoir Challenge the day before. I stiffly got out of bed and loosened off on the way to bathroom. I knew today was going to be a challenge but I only wanted one thing - not to have the pelvis pressure of the previous day. Today's challenge was about finishing rather than competing. I knew I was in a bit of trouble when I struggled to get out of the car. My legs had stiffened up again during the drive and I had to extrapolate myself from the passenger seat using my hands and arms as much as my feet and legs. I hoped with some intensity that things would loosen off in the first few miles.

Catherine Payne & Coach McArdle
The clue is in the tile of the Cambridge Boundary Run. The route runs anti clockwise around the university city of Cambridge. The evidence of university city status is found when you meet the event organisers, a cast of able students under the banner of their running club, Cambridge University Hare and Hounds. I had read mixed reviews of the previous year's event which suggested that organisation was a bit "relaxed". Some folk from previous years complained of a lack of marshalls at road crossings and a lack of directional arrows to mark the route. I say learn to cross the road and carry a map. I took part in a good, no fuss event with a nice laid back feel. I think it only cost £10 to enter and entry incudes a cotton t-shirt. I arrived to start at 11am. I'd misread the race information because the event started at 11:30 meaning I had to loiter around the reception of the Holiday inn adjacent to race start for 30 minutes in a effort to keep warm.

The race organiser made a brief speech which concluded in rapturous applause from the assembled race prepared masses. The applause released a sense of anticipation that had been building around registration. I have no idea where this event travelled, I just followed the people in front (there was plenty) and I followed the markers on the ground that had been laid with flour and water, something I had not witnessed before but it proved effective.
My Favourite Hat
There was plenty of road during the first half of this event and in difference to yesterday's event, all the tracks were runable. I was grateful that I was able to 'run out' the initial stiffness in my legs and I was surprised to find that I was running at a strong pace in the first five miles. Most importantly, the pelvis pain had all but gone although it threatened from a distance. I was running so strong in the initial miles that I had to reign myself in a bit, there was a long way to go. Although I didn't know the route I guessed that the big modern grey building was Addenbrookes Hospital and I knew the airport that we ran alongside in the final few miles was Cambridge Airport. The other point of interest was the guided bus system.  On two occasions we ran adjacent to wide sunken roads that looked liked something a tram would run along but there were no tracks. In front of me there was a runner with Cambridge vest so I asked him about the guided bus. I asked him if the guided bus was a bus without a driver (I was thinking of the Docklands Light railway) he moved slightly away from me as we carried on running and answered in the negative whilst giving me a concerned type of puzzled look. I could of explained but its difficult to hold a conversation when your running so I ran on pondering the guided bus system as my new mate pondered my sanity. I still have no idea.

I had run strong to half way, 13 miles in 1:45 but I was beginning to tire. I blocked thoughts of' another half left to do' out of my mind and carried on. I had taken a back pack today. At the Belvoir Challenge I ran without any form of bag but I wasn't sure what the checkpoints at this event would offer so I took my own food. The checkpoints stocked sweets, biscuits and occasional bananas. Many folk ran this like a road marathon wearing nothing more than a t-shirt and shorts. I was grateful for my own supply of Jaffa cake bars, a couple of naff gels and some electrolyte tablets.      

A quick pit stop at 22 miles
By 20 miles I had had enough. By 22 miles I was getting lost. I ran passed a directional arrow that was attached to a post. Somehow it looked suspicious. The obvious route was straight on as the arrow suggested but when I looked up the alternative 'right' I thought I could see another arrow in the distance. I decided to take the obvious path and If I didn't find another arrow I would reluctantly retreat back to where I had come. Perhaps half a mile further on and after not passing any more arrows, a runner in front stood in the distance looking back at me with his hands in the air. We had gone wrong and it seemed we should have turned right. I retrieved a dishevelled map out of my pocket for the first time. The map was sodden with sweat and was hard to decipherer. Together me and the other runner managed to locate ourselves and we worked out that if we took a right now and ran along the road we should re-join the official route at about 23 miles. It was nasty going wrong so late in the run but by the time we repatriated I doubt we had lost much time.

The final three miles was really hard. I was looking forward to a water station but one never came. Eventually we reached Cambridge Airport. I knew from my pre race study of the map that we had to run the entire length of the airport on a road that runs parallel with the runway. I cursed the length of the runway which seemed to go on forever. I was able to pick up the pace in the last few miles. The runner I had helped with the map had run ahead but I reeled him in with about a mile to go and I passed a couple of other 'staggerers' that were clearly paying a price, perhaps for going off too fast earlier in the day. There was no stopping me after that point. It was time to run back to nice things like food and clothes and lager. I finished my second marathon in consecutive days in 3 hours 51 minutes that was 16 minutes quicker than the day before and I had slowed down considerably in the second half.  I sat with two good things, Tracy and a Stella whilst waiting for two other Grantham runners to cross the line. Coach McArdle came home in 4:15 and Catherine a minute earlier (4:14) only after leaving Robert to out sprint another female runner that she spotted in the final few hundred yards.



Monday, 10 February 2014

Folksworth 15 2014

This was my first race of the new year. Despite getting good miles on my legs in the early part of January, I struggled round this 15 mile undulating course. The race is run through three laps, two large laps and a shorter lap to the finish. There are, from memory, three hills which are long and steady rather than short or steep. The race runs along country lanes, parts of the course are exposed and it would be more difficult if race day coincided with strong winds.  

Me chasing Matthew Kingston-Lee (that was the last I saw of him).

I had a hard race at Folksworth. Sometimes you run from the start at a steady pace and it becomes worrying because even steady seems tough to maintain. It wasn't until I was well into the second lap that my initial laziness lifted and I was able to run at a better pace. During the second lap I found myself running with two others in a kind of mini peloton. We worked well together and it helped to bring me further out of the slump which I was experiencing. I felt better in the last five miles than I did the previous ten but I was grateful to finish in 1:42:41. I'll need to run much faster if I'm to have a chance of sub 3 at London. First Grantham runner home was Matthew Kingston Lee in a super fast 1:28:39 which is equivalent to a fast half marathon time for me. 

Grantham Running Club

This race was well organised by Yaxley Runners. A local primary school housed the pre race preparations and the local village hall offered bacon barms and hot drinks for finishers. Each finisher was awarded a bright orange t-shirt and a goody bag which included chocolate and water for their efforts.