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.