Monday, 25 June 2012

Summer Solstice 10k - Long Bennington

For a 10k race that took place the day after the summer solstice the weather in the preceding week was poor. Race day bought showers and overcast conditions. By the evening, the rain had stopped and the cool temperatures made for ideal running conditions apart from a brisk wind on the exposed parts of the course.
Robert & Helen ahead of the start

I didn't run this race. It was a club race and so I offered to assist. Being closer to the organising team helped me to appreciate the level of work that goes on behind the scenes. Committee meetings had taken place at regular intervals for the preceding six months. An army of volunteers had been drafted in to help with, marshaling, catering, results, the start, the finish and everything in between. I was particularly surprised to be sent the official, accredited race distance measuring certificate and associated documentary measurement evidence. A  certifyer apparently measures a course on a bicycle and the pursuit of accuracy includes blowing the tyres up to a precise amount of millibars before setting off!

On Friday afternoon I helped set up the course placing "K" signs at regular "K" intervals. In between the K's were directional arrows and signs to warn motorists of the runners who would be gracing the tarmac a few hours later. In addition to race organisation there are a multitude of other bodies which need to be either recruited or kept on side, the highways department, the police, the parish council, St John Ambulance and not forgetting, the burger man and the beer man. The race signs were affixed to the side of the road, steaks stuck in the ground as far as they would go to give them the best chance of surviving the gusty wind which seemed to be increasing. After the race was set up I escaped to pick up Tracy, another willing volunteer.

Lead car & Ropsley Road Runner 
An hour before race start we were back. The atmosphere was building. Race participants were gathering outside. Inside Long Bennington village hall participants gazed sometimes anxiously pondering the 6,5 mile run which lay ahead. I assisted with the inflatable finish gantry. Despite sand bags used to weigh it down, we also tied the huge inflatable to the fence posts to make sure it didn't blow away in the gusty wind that was still blowing. The finish funnel was built and then unbuilt to allow access for an important man, the beer man. The funnel was re built and again dismantled to allow access to another privileged guest, the burger man. The beer man was able to command instant access just by miming the act of knocking a pint back from inside his car. "it's the beer man" I heard someone say, "let him in". Race directors McArdle and Roberts looked relaxed, they milled about directing the final preparations ahead of moving the assembled athletes up the road to the start

I was grateful to be allocated the easy job of assisting in the lead car. I watched in the wing mirror as the race was started at 7:15pm. An ensemble of colourful runners bobbed towards us in a small swarm of energy. The driver used skill to keep enough distance from the leader to avoid choking him with exhaust fumes whilst not compromising his safety. I was supposed to get out at and assist a marshall that was by himself. I never found him, he had positioned himself  far off the course and later wondered why runners didn't pass the lane corner where he stood. Matt Whitfield of Notts AC forged a lead which got bigger as the first 3k progressed. The lead was ultimately to be extended and maintained all the way to the finish. Matt was first back in a time of 33:32. It was exciting watching from the lead car as he extended his lead from the chasing pack. An effortless running style disguised the work that must have been devoted to the race. At the finish the next closest competitor was almost two minutes behind. Rebbecca Taylor was first in the ladies race in a time of 39:18. First Grantham Athlete was Ben Hatherley with Catherine Payne taking the female V45 class prize. 

Post race as competitors washed down burgers with specially commissioned solstice ale, I assisted data entry of the results. Within the first page we hit a snag that required us locating the second female to cross the line. In a disguised fashion we approached fast looking female racers to ask "how they got on?" Thankfully race director McArdle located the required runner and the race number issue was resolved enabling the presentation to take place shortly afterwards. The runners came, the runners ran and then the runners left. The host of helpers mobilised again for respective race clear up duties. I helped dismantle the inflatable gantry along with other helpers who reignited latent child desires by jumping around on the deflating gantry in some cases narrowly avoiding injury! The village hall was cleared and cleaned. The plug was pulled on the burger van (who's owner was apparently in the pub) and off we went for a post race celebration which went onto the night and then into the morning.

The post race reviews confirm that the event passed swimmingly with good racing a few Pb's and satisfied runners who seemed to enjoy the event. One for the diary in 2013.




Monday, 18 June 2012

Summer Solstice Race - Friday 22nd June 2012

A quick plug for this excellent race, organised by the illustrious Grantham Athletics Club.

Friday night Race
Bottle of ale for each finisher
Fast course
Beginner friendly

Race start - Long Bennington (just off A1 between Newark and Grantham).

This Friday - 7:15pm

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

LDWA 100 - DNF

Lonely registration
There are a few excuses  but the bottom line is that I wasn't mentally tough enough to run 100 miles. I have learnt a lot from my first attempt at the distance, experience which I will use on my next attempt.

I had imagined a busy scene of like minded runners at the start of the 100 at Gainsborough Primary School in Hackney, East London. Instead I met the only other 2pm starter, Iain Connell who was intending to walk. Iain had decided to start at 2pm in order to be able to access Windsor Park gates before they were locked. He could then walk the final part of the 100 mile route up 'the long walk' a straight road leading to Windsor Castle. The start of the big event was an anti climax, Iain, myself and a gaggle of supporters all drinking tea on the third floor of an empty east London primary school whilst waiting for the clock to move closer to 2pm on Saturday afternoon.
Iain Connell and I at the start olympic stadium in b/g
Shortly before 2pm we were escorted through the streets of East London to the official start at White Post Bridge. The organiser was particularly keen that we appreciate the view of the Olympic stadium before turning our backs on it to focus on the road ahead, the road that would be the start of the first mile of the Long Distance Walkers Association 100 mile event. This year marked the 40th anniversary of the LDWA. I felt slightly embarrassed to turn and shake Iain's hand. I knew I was about to leave him and felt on an odd sense of loyalty given that we were the only two people present who were about to undertake the task ahead. I wished him well before the organiser released us and I ran away from both men and accompanying supporters into the streets of London on a sunny but overcast day. It felt surreal. I had just begun the biggest event of my running career yet it was a lower key start than I ever could have imagined. I had run away from my only compatriot leaving him to walk alone.
Good fuel
I ran through Victoria Park, getting used to reading the 36 page route description which was to detail every turn and twist of the forthcoming route. I ran against a tide of Londoners and tourists that were arriving in the park to participate in what looked like a live music event. Soon I was on the Grand Union Canal. I reminisced about my time running along a different strech of the same canal in West London during a spell living in the capital some years earlier. The Grand Union Canal gave way to Lime House Basin and on to Canary Wharf Tower. I passed right underneath the apartments where we had stayed the night before the London Marathon. I had no idea in April that I would tread the same route two months later as part of the 100 mile event. On to Obika restaurant. The route description had intrigued me by suggesting that we would pass through the restaurant. We did. Through the glass revolving doors over the restaurant plaza, me in my running shorts and back pack passing  through latte drinkers and out the other side. This was weird running. The Greenwich pedestrian tunnel under the Thames added to the strangeness of the opening stage. I ran zig zagging tourists then walked quickly up the stairs at the other side and out to Cutty Sark. I felt like I didn't belong to an event I was simply by myself running through crowds of tourists , enjoying myself but having to remind myself that this was serious business, I was doing the 100. 
As each page of the route description ended I therapeutically took it out of the A4 folder in which it was carried. I ripped up each page and deposited it in the nearest bin. A great comfort was finding hundreds of other identical pages of the route description in the same bins, evidence that other participants had passed earlier in the day. It felt like I was following a Hansel and Gretal trail but the bins were a comforting reminder that I was on the right track. Occasionally I thought about Iain walking behind me and wondered if he would yet have passed through Victoria Park. I knew there was approximately 500 people in front, perhaps 4 hours in front. I questioned when I would catch up with the back markers.

The route then followed along the Southern bank of the Thames, past the Old Royal Naval College and eventually on to the Thames Barrier. I was running strong at this point. I was benefiting from the lack of pressure, running solo but still feeling isolated by my remoteness from the rest of the event. I remember being glad to reach one of the first check points at Millwall Rugby Club and for the first time in ages I was reminded that I was actually taking part in an organised event. The checkpoint was billed as "splash and dash". I splashed my water bottle and dashed off towards the second checkpoint at Meridian Sports Club near Greenwich.   I was getting used to the abbreviations on the route description and was encouraged that I could read a few lines ahead and keep running. At CP 2 still no sign of any back markers in fact I was told that the last person had left over an hour earlier. I got lost between CP 2 and CP 3. I crossed Eltham Common and came out at the wrong end. I ran around the perimeter before fighting through bushes in an attempt to get back on to the common but the thicket was too dense. I was a bit disheartened, perhaps 16 miles in and I had already got lost. Eventually I asked a passing pedestrian the way to Shooters Hill, he obliged, I ran on and reorientated myself with the route description shortly afterwards phew!
The main pack

CP3 at Mottingham Scout HQ arrived and I was glad to see Tracy who had benefited from a shopping trip to the vast Westfield Centre adjacent to the start in Stratford East London. Here I was to realise the vast amounts of food layed on for entrants which was to continue through the event. Biscuits, cakes, sweets, fruit, custard and all manner of cold and hot drinks. I was now 18.2 miles in and feeling great. I was excited about the anticipation of gaining on the field of participants in front. The route then headed South towards Surrey. The urban sprawl of Greater London gave way to cricket fields and railway tracks, woods and country parks.

I don't remember the route in detail after this. I do remember getting lost in a wood again and it taking me a while to re orientate myself, again, with the help of a passing pedestrian. I began to pick up the back marker walkers after perhaps 25 miles and I was glad to at last feel part of the event. I recall passing over lots of railway lines and I questioned where so many lines could lead. It was great to be following a route description through areas that I had never travelled. Navigating the woods was challenging and there were endless dogs to negotiate but no harm caused.

I ran into CP 5 at Biggin Hill and was surprised. It was very busy, I had managed to catch up with the 10am walkers. It was going dusk outside and it had begun to rain. My spirits were high. I had run 30 miles and felt strong upbeat and excited. I was now part of the event at last. I felt sorry for Iain miles behind. I didn't dwell at Biggin Hill. I was keen to get as far as possible before the night set in. I wanted to get to another checkpoint before donning my head torch and night clothes. I left the checkpoint and was surprised that the rain had turned heavier. I retrieved my Ronhill perspex jacket and pulled it over my buff which I had fastened over my head. I ran on to Woldingham Scout hut and was surprised that in that six mile leg I had got wet through. The dark had fallen and in hindsight during that six miles I experienced the first hint of demoralisation. Each checkpoint was getting busier and I noticed some other walking participants looking increasingly tired. Between checkpoints I was passing lots of walkers and I hoped they didn't find me big headed running past them at times when perhaps they too were beginning to feel the strain of the event.
Someone escaped for a kip behind that red curtain
It was now very dark I was wearing my head torch. the rain continued to fall and the route began crossing through endless woodland tracks. The route description had mentioned the chalk stone characteristics of the area. The chalk stone trails were awash. It was difficult to read the route description because I kept having to wipe the rain from the map case and direct my breathing away from my head lamp to direct the breath mist elsewhere. Progress inevitably slowed and I found it occasionally easier to sit behind walking packs until I could summon the energy to pass. Running was becoming increasingly difficult due to the dark, the difficulty reading the route descriptions, the muddy wet slushy underfoot conditions and the various walking packs that I encountered on the trail. I wasn't absolutely down beat at this point but I remember things were getting harder and I was getting slower. At the checkpoint at Merstham Village Hall I woolfed two plates of macaroni cheese on toast, it tasted amazing. I sat next to a runner who was demoralised. He was considering sleeping to see if the rain might stop. He disappeared shortly afterwards and I think he went behind a curtain on the stage to get his head down. I left back into the rain. At one point I crossed a valley and looked behind. I could see a progressive line of head torches milling their way down towards the remote country valley perhaps a mile behind me in the pitch black and along the route which I had just run.
A typical woodland trail but dry.
The leg to Boxhill at 52 miles was were it began to fall apart. I was soaked and cold. I had struggled up a washy muddy incline to the checkpoint and taken a minor wrong turn at the top. It was soon rectified but I questioned what would have happened if I had got lost in the wood. I staggered into the checkpoint and moaned to Tracy. I think she was surprised that I had become down beat so soon. I was now well into the night, in fact not far off dawn. I ate. It tasted even better than the macaroni cheese. The treat this time was cheese on toast followed by a few plates of carrot cake and anything else I could find washed down by tea. I had been taking electrolyte drinks through the day and felt well hydrated, tea and coffee was now a welcome alternative. The checkpoint was busy but I was surrounded by tired looking walkers. After food warmth and tea I felt much better and was ready to face the outdoors but I didn't much fancy going back into the woods I was getting sick of them. All the tracks looked the same and the swelly underfoot conditions had slowed me down. I left the checkpoint and walked briskly down the road. Immediately after leaving the check point my warmth was lost and I began to shiver. I was still wearing my perspex wind jacket over a running bear fleece jumper with a t-shirt underneath. It wasn't enough. I tried to jog down the road but my teeth chattered and in and admittedly wimpish way I began to worry that I might go back into the wood get cold and have to retreat to the checkpoint by which time my support would have left. I turned round and ran back to the car still and professed for the first time that I was going to quit. I'd run 52 miles I was tired, cold, wet and miserable (nothing in hindsight that everyone else who finished the event would also likely have been feeling) but Tracy wasn't having any of it. I took her support in the offer of her proper North face jacket. i was reminded that I wanted to at least run into dawn, My my sight was directed towards the sky. Tracy was right, there was a hint of blue. If I could carry on I would likely run a leg into the morning. Dawn might pick up my spirits. I tried again running along the road and back into that bloody horrible wood.
Only a mile later I was too warm, unzipping the zip of the North Face and again feeling more upbeat. My legs were tired but that wasn't a surprise. Dawn was gradually becoming and sure enough my spirits lifted ever so slightly. The rain continued to hammer down and the new jacket quickly became engulfed. Sadly at some point in the next wood I took a further wrong turn. I was trying not to stop and read the route description so much in an effort to keep warm but the plan backfired. I became suspicious after I stopped gaining and passing walkers in front. The trail became remote and once again It felt like I had become detached from the event. I was high on a cliff and I recognised that I should have been running parallel but miles below somewhere near Boxhill Country park. Eventually I reorientated myself and took a very steep descent to the 'A' road below. I had missed a self clip and had to retreat to find it. It was a bad time to get lost and felt worse to have to be running against a tide of walkers explaining that I had missed the self clip. Some miles later I passing them again in the right direction but I was again getting cold, demotivated and miserable.
The end
More relentless woodland paths continued until I reached the next CP at the idyllic setting of Tanners Hatch Youth Hostel, 57  miles into the route and deep in the wood. It was surreal approaching the checkpoint at perhaps 6am. The CP was adjacent to a white cottage building. Wooden benches stood inside gazebos which graced the grass lawn providing a kind of shelter from the incessant rain. I was offered a hot dog. I accepted. It came and out and was given to someone else by accident, just the luck I needed. I ordered another and wolfed it down. I was too tired to talk to the man next to me. he looked rough, pale and sleepy, his head was in his hands. I watched inquisitively, slightly concerned when all of a sudden he raised his head and declared "That's it, I want to quit". The CP staff reminded him that this was not a roadside check point and he couldn't really quit as there was no way of getting him out. I had seen enough. I retrieved my ruck sac and walked back out into the rain. I was cold again the path was a wash with streams of water and I staggered on at a slow pace up the adjacent hill. I don't remember running much through the next leg. It was now well light and had been for some hours. My initial raised spirits were long forgotten. I wasn't able to run fast enough to keep warm. the North face jacket was now in the same state as the Ronhill perspex which had been abandoned earlier. I had become obsessed with the route description "ahead 90 yards" was acceptable, "ahead 400 yards" wasn't.   I'd had enough. I was not prepared to keep going in these conditions for another 12 hours plus. I was approaching 63.4 miles and had been out for 18 hours. It was approaching 8am. I began running at 2pm the day before. "Where the hell was Iain?", I wondered, surely he will have quit too? I rolled into the checkpoint at Belmont School and before Tracy had chance to acknowledge me I professed with great certainty and confidence, "That's it, don't try to convince me I've had enough". She didn't, apparantly I was convincing. 
Wet foot
I took my shoes off and assessed the damage. My feet were wrinkled with the rain and I had a few blisters around the ankles. The wool socks had burnt the top of my feet and it felt mighty good to have them exposed. During breakfast I spotted a familiar face, Jerzy George Matuszewski, a familiar face from events in the Peak District, an every time finisher of my favourite event the Bullock Smithy and a definite strong man. I knew George would not approve of my retirement. I tried to hide as he approached but my body was too stiff to bend below the table. His eyes fixed upon me recognising me with a tilt of his head "what are you doing here?" I explained that I had started at 2pm and thus caught up the main pack of the 10am starters. "Great how you feeling?" I explained that I had just retired. To his credit George tried to get me to continue and walk with him. George is a 'lively'character. He can talk. He is perhaps not the most couth person you could happen across. In common with many long distance walkers George's mental mechanism is perhaps slightly challenged. I say that in the best possible sense, for it is such mental skeewiffness which I think enables participants to carry on when sensible, rational thought tells you to stop. I obviously think too sensibly at the first sign of difficulty. Either way I declined George's offer of companionship several times before it was accepted. After that came the heckling, "wimp" he exclaimed "wimp" "wimp" all the way back to his chair on the opposite side of the room. I didn't care, I was too tired to be bothered but it did trigger a few others to offer support and encouragement which signalled the good nature of the event. Just before I left I noticed the participant from the previous check point who had wanted to quit in the forest. A vehicle had obvioulsy got into him as he was sat looking much better at Belmont.

The Retirement

When I retired I was quite sure the majority of the field would be doing the same. I was wrong. Out out of 488 started 383 finished. I think I got overtaken by an unrealistic view of how bad conditions were. It was wet which made me cold but that's all. In hindsight I wished I had taken a fully waterproof running jacket, that would have helped. I also would in hindsight have preferred to start at 10am and feel  part of the event and run with people of similar ability. It might have helped to group with those of similar ability during the night. I never caught the runners that started at 10am. Make no mistake about it even if the matters above were addressed I might not have finished. I have to improve mental strength and refuse to accept demorolization. The biggest disappointment is knowing that I will probably not get the chance to do such an easy urban course again. Next year's event is across Dartmoor and the year after the Welsh Valley's I don't much feel like being demoralised in either location!

Thank you to all the people that organised the event. The organisation must be colossal. Different regional groups of the LDWA run the different checkpoints, the support and encouragement of the volunteers is second to none.

As for my sole 2pm starting compatriot Iain the results show that he made it to CP 14 at 81.9 miles. I have no idea how he managed to get that far after starting at 2pm and walking I am surprised he wasn't timed out, perhaps he was.....I hope he wasn't.

Next year's event details are found here