Tuesday, 3 July 2018

VI Guide Running - Training and First Run

I've had guide running on my mind for a while and more recently when I saw Mr.K had been out with a VI runner at local 10k events. So, I looked in to how to get some training, assuming this is what everybody does if they want to be a VI running guide. The obvious place to look was the England Athletics website as I have also quite recently done their LiRF course, which was paid for by my running club.

EA run some courses in areas where they think there is a shortage of guide runners, so, if you live in an area with lots of registered guides you might find courses are thin on the ground or you have to travel to find one. Luckily I managed to book myself on a VI Awareness and Guide Running course in Oxford on a Friday in June.

The course was at Magdalen College School in what looked like a small drama classroom, with some practical work outside in tennis courts. The course lasted 2 hours and consisted of learning about visual impairment in all its forms, how to talk to visually impaired people, watching a video on guide running and how to guide a runner. To learn about visual impairment we were given lots of different kinds of goggles painted, marked or screened off to give an impression of different kinds of VI. I tried some that were shaded white so I could see big changes in light - I could tell if I was near the window or in a dark corner of the room, but little else - and another which gave me tunnel vision, which I could work around, but needed a lot of scanning around to see my surroundings. As far as talking to visually impaired people is concerned, it was basically about talking to your VI runner about what they could see and how they wanted to go about running with you and also not being worried about the language you use. So it's not politically incorrect to use the word "see". 

We then went outside to pair up to have a go at guiding a runner around the tennis courts. They had spread bins around the courts as obstacles and left gates open for us to negotiate. Guiding was hard to begin with, especially getting into a rhythm with my partner, but we were soon jogging around the courts. Still, it was easy to forget to keep talking and describing every detail of the terrain, from changes in surface and gradient, as well as turns and obstacles. Being guided, wearing a blindfold, was also very disorientating, possibly worse for a sighted person to be suddenly made blind, in the sense that I found myself feeling a bit dizzy and I couldn't run in a straight line and needed to be pulled back on course. After a while we managed to get in step and run in a more natural way, matching my right footfall to my partner's left.

So, having done the course I am now an EA licensed Guide Runner and insured to go out and trip over/run with visually impaired runners. I've also been signed up to the Basingstoke Guide Runners facebook group. It wasn't long after signing up that I had my first opportunity to guide a VI runner. Now, it would be usual to shadow a guide and runner to get some more experience of how it's done, but when I signed up there was just me available. 

I got to Basingstoke parkrun early and met Tony at his taxi by the event car park, helped get him ready and stored his bag away safely, before heading over to the event briefing. I had done Basingstoke parkrun before, so I knew the course a little, but it had changed quite a bit since I last did it in 2011. With increasing numbers, it now starts on an open grass field, rather than a much narrower path. I fact all the narrow twisty paths they used to run on have been taken out to leave wide tarmac paths or open grass fields over the first half of a lap, which is ideal for letting the runners spread out.

We set off near the back of the field and immediately had a few walkers to get by, but were soon jogging along at a steady 12 minute/mile pace. The wide smooth paths meant we could mostly chat rather than have me describe the terrain all the time and for the most part even the transitions between grass and tarmac were easy and we only had one slight wobble coming off the path at the end of lap 1. Tony is very well known at Basingstoke, so there were lots of shouts from people around the course including all the volunteers, faster runners overtaking us near the end of our first lap, and people just out in the park. 

We gradually picked the pace up over the second lap finishing in 38:15 and like a proper sprint guide I made sure Tony crossed the line just ahead of me and, after scanning barcodes we stayed near finish to cheer in the last runners and chat with some of the volunteers before heading home.

Basingstoke parkrun was the perfect gentle introduction to guide running, it being such a hazard free course, so my pre-run nerves weren't really necessary. Tony is a nice guy and quite chatty as well so it was nice to have such an easy course to run. I'm looking forward to some more guide running and might get to do Yateley 10k in August with Tony and possibly more parkruns with him and other runners as another group of guide runners is planning to set up at Prospect parkrun. As it's only been a couple of weeks since being on the EA course my email asking to sign up on the Find a Guide database hasn't come through yet, but I'm happy to have had my first opportunity to guide a VI runner so soon. Even better, we didn't fall over or run into a tree!

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Giant's Head Marathon

I have had this race on my radar for a few years, but never got in on time. This time I had signed up to White Star's facebook page and knew when race was going live and I was damned well going go be online the second that happened. Never mind that this also clashed with meeting up with an old school friend I hadn't seen in about 20 years. So, just after having met John on a street in Soho and found a pub I was keenly ignoring him in favour of my phone hoping I had enough 4G to get on the White Star website at 7pm on 29 Spetember. 10 minutes later I was in and I could return my attention to my friend who thankfully was very understanding having been in a similar state trying to enter a favourite sportive. 

After I had booked I had a chat with the family about who wanted to come camping to the event and the "fun run" Sydling Bell Race. The kids were keen, so I booked them and me in to that and also booked camping.

This race weekend came two weeks after Endure 24 - my 'A' race for the frist half of the year and having done 75 miles, I was still definitely in a recovery and rebuilding phase. So, GHM was going to be treated as a marathon fun run. The weather ahead of the weekend looked ideal for spectators, marshals and kids playing in the streams through Sydling village, but on the hot side for runners. Alfred, Elinor and I had packed on Thursday and I got off early from work on Friday to load the car and await their return from school. We set off about 4pm and had a somewhat tortuous journey to Sydling arriving just after 7pm. We left pitching tents until after dinner and headed straight for the village pub, The Greyhound, for a nice meal and pint. With tents up and camp sorted, pitched next to club-mate Lance and his partner Cass, I was in bed by 10:30 with several alarms set for 6am.

With sunrise before 5am it was easy to get up for breakfast in the sunshine of what was going to be a gloriously hot day. Race start was at 8:30am and I had got Alf and Elinor volunteer marshal jobs handing out water to the finishers of the 10k and marathon and helping sort out medals and t-shirts, so I got the kids up to come and collect my race number and find out when and where they needed to be.

I got the rest of my race kit sorted, covered up or covered in sun cream and headed back to the villlage green for a race briefing. The village of Sydling St Nicholas is a beautiful little hamlet of stone and thatched cottages nestled in among chalk hills northwest of Dorchester. Our camp site was a farmer's field just a few minute's walk from the village green and village hall, where the local W.I. and families had put on dinner and breakfast and were hosting a BBQ after the races. The hall was also to be used for a barn dance on Saturday night and there was a well stocked beer tent also by the village hall. It's an absolutely perfect set up for a race weekend.

After the race briefing by the village hall most of the runners spread out on the main road but I was far too close to the pointy end of the race, so when the gun went I waited for most of the runners to pass, before inviting Alf and Elinor to run with me to the edge of the village. They left me by the last house and went back to help out at the finish and looking back I was almost last along with Danny 'The Legend' Kay, a veteran 100 Marathon Club member in his mid 70s who has run over 700 marathons. We chatted for a while while we made our way to the first hill.

Through Huish Farm and not yet 1 mile in and we were climbing the concrete track of Sheerplace Hill, then over and down a long, long gravel track eventually sweeping round a smooth grassy hill, down still along a long lumpy ankle snappy rough path through long grass to Bushes Barn to ring the bell in the steeple and up the second big hill past Jackman's Cross and the first big views of lush fields of wheat and barley. Just around here I met up with Sandhurst Jogger Andrea and we trotted along chatting about her recent runs (Hampshire Hoppit the previous week!) 

Now north and running on the high ridge parallel to our former valley run down from Sheerplace Hill staedily climbing over Crete Hill to mile 5 and on to a chalk path to drop in to the aid station just by Large Bar Hill. A blindingly bright chalk track then past Higher City Farm and here was a problem! The farmer had opened the wrong gate and we were heading along a field edge instead of a parallel track on the other side of the fence, so we missed the right turn. We were lucky that somebody spotted this when we were only 100m past the turn and we went back, but many people ahead of us went wrong and added 1 or 2 bonus miles to their run.

Back on track through a wheat field for our Gladiator moment, although nowadays wheat grows so short you have to stoop for the same effect.
Around mile 8 we descended steeply off Wean Common Hill and rounded a bend to see the Cerne Abbas Giant relaxing in all his splendour on the hillside opposite before tackling Giant Hill itself around 10 miles and the steep descent to Mintern Parva and the lovely sight of another aid station. This one was ably guarded by a small girl with a huge water gun. Very refreshing!

Out of Mintern Parva there was another climb (surely just to add some more fun) and soon dropping again to Mintern Magna at 12 miles, to East Hill to the west and then we were half way (or maybe not - it's hard to say with White Star events, they are often generous with the mileage, so let's say half way-ish). 15 miles and more climbing up the long trail to Weather Hill and turning to briefly join the Wessex Ridgeway.

Between 17 and 18 miles passing by Sydling Woods and I came up to a woman who had taken a tumble on the hard stony ground a mile or so before and bashed her knees quite badly. She was OK struggling on and was helped along by all the runners coming up to her to check how she was. In fact, at 20 miles, at the Love Station, she came trotting by looking much better, while I was having some tasty snacks washed down with a couole of cups of beer. 

Now, 6 miles-ish to go. How many more hills could there be?
Gently down we went skirting around a hill into Up Sydling, another pretty village, and followed Sydling Water, known for it's watercress farms a bit firther downstream. Here we go then. 22 miles and we turned to face the next big beast of Ellston Hill on another blinding white and viciously steep chalk track which felt like being beaten on the sun's anvil. A mile of climbing back to the Wessex Ridgeway and steady flat trail on the ridge with more glorious views of the valleys and hills around, the hum and buzz of insects. This is fun, but right now it could be more fun sitting back with a cool beer and just watching the cut hay dry in the sun. 

Past 25 miles and I was bracing myself for at least 27 miles to finish and then comes Higher City Farm again and there is the little girl with the big water gun for another cooling blast that I could have done with more of and soon after another aid station. The last one before the end, they said with just one more little nipper of a hill at 26 miles - steep down then steep up - I thought of running it, but could already hear my heart hammering in my ears, so thought better of it. Made it to the top, jogged to the edge of the field and saw a village below me, the now familiar church on the far side and knew I was almost home. Just a flowing and rapid drop off Cowdown Hill, a final chalk track, turn right and then, surprise, there is the village green full of coloured flags and cheering clapping people and a clock that says it's not quite 6 hours. 

I finished with welcome hugs, lots of water and an ice cream with the kids in a shady spot, to cheer in more runners.
Recovery Ice Cream
Having started plumb last and just tried to manage the heat by running along at a steady pace. I wasn't expecting anything other than a grand day out, especially having recently done Endure 24. 465 people are listed in the results with all of them finishers. 5:58 brought me home in 135th place. First to last took from 3:13 to 8:23 and I think the person who came in last was doing their first marathon. 

The distance? 26.5 miles. Spot on ....ish. 

Monday, 18 June 2018

Endure 24 Solo - June 2018

I did this event as a solo a couple of years ago, so what possessed me to do it again? 24 hours, loads of fanfare and noise, camping, 5 mile laps, busy course with lots of fast people passing by and it's an absolute blast as a team. I'd have to say my first solo attempt left me with a feeling of unfinished business as, not only had I deferred the race due to injury in 2015, I had very poor training going into the event with many bouts of illness and in the race managed just 60 miles. The only positive thing from last time was I managed that 60 miles including stopping to watch the footy on the big screen and falling asleep for 4 hours when I had meant to have an hour's nap.

Race Village
So, having 5.5 hours to play with, a PB should be on the cards. The only thing was, I couldn't bring myself to actually train for this event as one might for, say, a 100 miler. I just kept up my usual hit rate of marathons/ultras of one or two a month from January through to June, but making sure I was getting in some hilly and possibly hot weather runs in as well. Thanks to my decision to run a few White Star Running events this year, hills and bonus miles were guaranteed and at The Ox 50 I also learned some new stuff about feeding and staying hydrated an longer runs. Still, even with these kind of big events, it's not what you'd call training and I'd have to say I feel a lot slower than last year. That may just be down to carrying a hamstring and glute niggle into this event and to feeling generally more tired physically. However, I think I am actually stronger and better prepared mentally to just keep going for the longer ultras. Let's hope so.

So, the plan as usual for this event, was to knock off work early on Friday, get to the venue in lovely countryside just north of the Aldermaston Atomic Weapons Establishment at around 2pm and set up camp. I managed to get a prime spot just next to the road to "Hill of No Return" in the solo/pairs camp. This meant I was no more than 2 steps off the course to my tent and food. I brought my huge family tent, as it's tall enough to stand up in with loads of room for a bed and space to set out all my gear and food.

With MrK just before the start
MrK also arrived and, having camped together at The Ox races, we set up together to share a gazebo. MrK had brought along his mate Dennis Devey (85yo I think) who was also here to do some solo laps and sink plenty of Prosecco! Having got camp set up for me, I went off to find the Frimley Flyers team to set up a tent for my son Alfred who was running with them and drop off another tent with my club mates, Sandhurst Joggers. With them and the JLPT teams there would be upwards of 50 people that I know running that weekend.

I spent the rest of Friday at home sorting out kit, having dinner and a decent sleep before arriving at about 9:30 Saturday morning to unload the gear and food, get Alf set up with his camp and check in with the Sandhurst teams. I had all my food set up by a chair in the tent and four sets of running kit in the bedroom/changing room. I had compression type shorts, toe socks and calf guards and had decided to run the first and last lap in my club vest, but go for compression tops the rest of the time to minimise chaffage. Shoes were Hoka Mafate Speed 2 trail shoes and Hoka Bondi 4 road shoes. I started in the Mafates. I brought walking poles too.

At 11:45 I wandered over with the other runners to the start, waved a quick hello to WhiteStar Andy and made my way to the back of the field with MrK and a whole load of other solo runners. The 12 o'clock horn went and we were off, jogging past vast cheering crowds of other team's runners and supporters and out on to the tarmac road to Hill of No Return. The start was a great experience and the noisy crowds make you feel like a hero about to start some great adventure! However, after just 200m it's just you and the other runners.

Hill of No Return
The route rises on tarmac road through woodland uphill, which I walked from the first lap, then across a boarded cattle grid on to a wide gravel track past open fields, then a narrower wooded track with another short hill to check point 1 at just past 2k. The route then undulates on a hard packed cambered track before a flat km of stony gravel then grey road chippings to get to 4k and the VDUB bar where Cliff and his mate were banging out some great ska and rock steady tunes.

VDUB Bar with Cliff keeping the Beat Going
They also had some tasty apple flavoured energy drink which I had every lap. From this point there was a long mostly downhill km to the aid station where they had water, shot blocks, bits of Cliff energy bar and some kind of supposedly fruity energy drink. I had one mouthful of this chemical disaster and no more. Just past the aid station there were loos - the long drop eco-smelly kind - before a short jog to Heartbreak Hill. Last time I did this it always felt massive and a big struggle to get up this hill, but now it just felt like a pretty short hill that I was always up in just 5 minutes walking. After this big-ish hill there is less than 2 miles to get back to the end of the lap, but it is mostly on pretty woodland trail with a couple of nice technical twisty rooty sections before the race village field and the finish line.

Start/Finish handover area for the teams
I completed a lap in about an hour and ducked in to my tent to change to my Captain America top and arm sleeves to head out for more laps.

This I kept up until I had met my first target of getting past marathon distance and finishing 30 miles. I then decided to have a break, see how Alf was getting on with the Frimley Flyers and visit my Sandhurst Joggers club mates. I got the kettle on for a cuppa and found myself drawn to the SJ club cocktail bar for a double rhubarb vodka on ice, before wending my way back after about an hour for more laps.

My laps by now were pretty consistent at around 90 minutes. Feeding again was my big problem. Here's the food and drink that I brought:
Milk, pineapple juice, tomato juice, water, coconut water, bananas, tomatoes, pita bread with hummus, peanut butter and nutella, mini scotch eggs, porridge pots, ambrosia rice, flapjack, jaffa cakes, chocolate and fruit jelly sweets. 

What I managed to eat each lap was milk, juice, 1 or 2 mini scotch eggs or 1 or 2 flapjack bites and a bite of a banana. Anything more and I felt really uncomfortable. I also had half a cup of appletizer, a cup of water and 2 shot blocks out on the course and I think I had three salt tablets over the first day when it was warm to help hydration.

Over the 24 race I probably had 5 pints of milk, a litre of coconut water, a litre of pineapple juice and nearly a litre of tomato juice, and I felt that was a good way to get some protein and minerals, as well as energy. By 2am and 50 miles, though I felt really low on energy and rather than get really miserable I decided on a bit of rest and went to bed for a 2 hour nap.

Up at 4am for more laps. I had breakfast of milk, bananas and flapjack and got out on the course. I was wearing a long sleeve top thinking I might be cold and after 200m regretted it as it was a really muggy morning. I was half way up Hill of No Return by the time I realised and so I had to just sweat through that lap. I had also changed my shoes to Hoka Bondi and, even though I have done over 400 comfortable miles in them I quickly started to feel a hot spot on my left little toe. Both the shirt and shoes were changed back at camp.

The laps ticked by and I thought this could be pretty monotonous, but on every lap there were a few shouts from Sandhurst Joggers or Frimley Flyers runners as they went past or stopped for a few seconds to chat and check up on me and that, along with the general runners calls of "Well done Solo!" really kept me going. I still stuck to my usual plan of having a chat with everyone I caught up with and had a fun little natter with Fetchies Serrendippily and StuH and of course CStar (SJ Charlie). Come 10:30 I and there was definitely time for another lap. I had got to my second target of beating my previous highest distance of 60 miles and reached 70. 

One more would get me to 75 miles, so I set off with that in mind as my last lap and made it in to the race village field with time to spare and being in real danger of crossing the line with enough time to start another lap. There was a lot of high fiving to do and stopping to have a few hugs with friends and the supporters who were camped by the course and called out well done for all of my laps. Just before the finish straight I found my wife and daughter for a quick hug and photo, before Elinor grabbed my hand and dragged me running towards the finish line at 23:56:42. But, not wanting to spoil the moment I decided to round it up and call it a day.

After the finish I felt pretty tired and shuffled around in a daze for a few minutes with Elinor and Julia, before heading off to pack up my tent and find out how my other running friends had done. There were a lot of great achievements, particularly Cove Jogger's MrK who reached 100 miles and our own SJ Lina Johnson who reached 90 miles and was placed third female solo. I got to 75 miles with not a whole load of pain, no blisters and no feeling like a zombie on a death march. I was very surprised to see out of 130 male solos I was 40th, I thought there loads of solos passing me all the time who probably hadn't been for cocktails at 7 or had a couple of hours kip. There's still room for improvement and maybe 100 miles will be my target next time.

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Dorchester Marathon 2018

Dorchester Marathon is an unusual thing for a White Star Running event in that it is almost entirely on road, rather than trails, however the signature White Star event elements are all there, including camping for the weekend, on site food, booze and entertainment and excellent aid stations out on the course. The race was on Sunday of the bank holiday weekend in late May and so I started off on Saturday with the usual family run at Frimley Lodge parkrun. Normally, on a race weekend, that would mean taking it easy and having a chatty run with Elinor, but we agreed that I would set up the Garmin virtual pacer for 26 minutes (close to her PB) and we would see what happened. She ran hard all the way and I kept pace giving encouragement until she smashed her previous best of 3 years ago by 55 seconds and sub-25 minutes. Even better news, was finding out that son Alfred also beat his PB of 3 years ago, shaving 2 seconds off to go 21:30 and only 12 seconds off my own PB. Brilliant! - I helped them celebrate by having a huge cooked breakfast.

I was looking forward to the marathon next day, my second with WSR, but was a bit wary about the weather forecast. On Friday it was saying there would be thunder storms during the race, on Saturday morning this had changed to raining all day, by the evening it had changed to raining all morning, but with thunder storms overnight. I got my gear together and packed the car thinking I had everything and set off following the sat nav which I had set to somewhere near the start/finish camp site, guessing I would see signs when I got close. I only lost about 20 minutes through traffic, spotted a WSR event sign and loads of Dorset county flags near the outskirts of Dorchester and was quickly directed to the camp site registration and then off to my pitch for the weekend. I had my tent up quickly and then helped out neighbours Claire and Marina with theirs as it was getting windy. 

I had probably seen Claire at other marathon events around the south of England and she had also been at the Ox races two weeks ago, but we had never met. She had brought loads of gear and quickly got a kettle going for tea. I had only brought cereal for breakfast and a few snacks and was hoping to find food on site. At around 7pm I set off to the big event tent to see what was on offer. There were a couple of stalls outside, but I went in to see what food was there, only to be told that it was all pre-booked only and only available past 8pm if you hadn't booked a meal. So no lasagne or sausage and mash for me and I went back outside to find a choice of pizza or chicken jambalaya. I went for the jambalaya, a kind of spicy chicken and rice with loads of watercress on top. It was a big portion and went down well with a pint of Piddle IPA.

The tent was about half full of families and the White Star team having dinner and listening to an old couple playing accordion and banjo ukulele for a bit of country dancing. I had my dinner and ale which were both very tasty and then went off to check my race kit for the next day finding I had forgotten running underpants and my glasses. So, a quick search found spare contact lenses in my race kit, so I would be OK with just an early night, and pants I had on would have to do (actually not so bad as they were for running and I had showered mid-day). I set my alarm for 6am for the 8:30 start and got to bed by 10:30, laying awake watching lightening flashes and listening to the thunder around the campsite. Fortunately it never got that close and I got a decent night's sleep.

Up at 6am, it was dry so I made a dash for the loos, then back for breakfast of muesli and banana and the rest of a pint of milk, before getting my race kit on.
I decided to go for a base layer, club vest, light weight arm guards, a cap to keep the rain off, trail running shorts with loads of pockets for gels, calf guards, toe socks as they help me avoid blisters and Hoka Bondi 4 shoes, which should be comfy all day for a road marathon. I got the tent packed away and thrown in the car just before the rain came down hard and then sheltered in the car or with Claire and Marina having tea in their tent till just before the start. 

I was going to wear my rain jacket for the morning run in the rain, but a last check of the weather forecast looked like it would just be raining for an hour or so, so I ditched the jacket and headed off to the loos of which there were loads and only a short queue, before lining up at the back of the marathon field and finding former club mate and now Stubbington Green runner Simon Gibbon and fellow SJ runner Lance King.

By now the rain had stopped and the sun had come out and we set off for what turned out to be a day of hot sunshine and not a drop of rain. So much for the weather forecast, but at least I wasn't carrying a jacket round with me all day! I remembered Claire had set off for the start wearing her rain jacket and hoped she had managed to leave it behind as, even leaving Cokers Frome Farm on to the road into Dorchester, it was heating up and humid with steam rising off the tarmac.

On the steady climb up the high street I first passed multiple 100 marathon runners Karen Summerville and Ruth Benzimra [aka PloddingHippo] for a little chat and catch up and then caught up with the green team from Stubbington including Simon. It looked like they were going to all run together and I thought I would join them, but after a few more miles I eased away at my own comfortable pace.

The course starts off crossing the River Frome, climbing up the High Street before turning south and then east to head out of Dorchester on gently undulating roads following the River Frome past Frome Hill, and lovely little villages of West Stafford and Woodsford. Here the course turns north through Tincleton, with a small hill up to mile 9 before the bigger undulations start to come in for the second half of the course. I made it to half way in about 2:18 which seemed sensible given the hot conditions and the hills to come.
WSR had us all taken care of with really nice aid stations with squash and water, sweets and savoury snacks and a cooling sponge. I was glad of my cap to keep the sun off and dowse in water to cool my head, and also the arm guards that acted as sun-block and felt very cooling with a bit of water to soak them. 

After mile 14 we were running alongside the River Piddle through Briantspuddle and Affpuddle and to another aid station at Tolpuddle around mile 18 where I was met by a former Sandhurst Jogger, Marian Eldridge. She was stood in a shady spot and I was happy to stop for a chat for a few minutes before setting off again.

The next two miles were a bit of a trial with no shade and a steady gentle climb on hot tarmac until we turned off oddly on to a concrete farm track. It's supposed to be a road marathon, but this change of surface was a nice little distraction whose purpose soon became clear when I rounded a corner to be met by the LOVE STATION.

This was just what I needed. First to be met by a lovely cold wet woman who offered me a "wet hug" and then squished two sponges of cold water down my neck. Then over to the barn with a band playing Handbags and Gladrags for snacks and drinks including some beer. This was my slowest mile, but with the heat, definitely one of the most enjoyable. Out of the farm we crossed over the A35 and the only time we were subjected to any road noise on the whole route, which is almost all on small B-roads closed to traffic and only a couple of miles where traffic was coned off from us. This made for a gloriously peaceful run in the countryside with just the wind in the trees and birdsong to accompany us.

To mile 23 and the last aid station with a sign claiming the road ahead to be the Last Big Hill. It certainly felt huge, but the views as we climbed up higher and higher were spectacular.

On the way down the other side I was jogging along entertaining cyclists battling the hill with a cheery wave and calling out to them "Come on, Well Done! You Can Do It! You're Nearly There!" With a mile to go passing the 25 mile sign I could hear the announcer at he finish line and with half a mile to go could see the turn in to the farm ahead with a small crowd of marshals and first aiders to show me the way. Then, as I made the turn for the last 200m, I got a call on my phone. I thought, "That can wait" and ran down to through the finish line crowds to the glorious sound of the theme tune to Super Mario Brothers! Quite a finish.

I finished in about 5:06 something, collected a lovely medal, a t-shirt and a handshake from the Mayor of Dorchester. I staggered around a bit wondering what to do next and found someone giving away free smoothies of ice cold watercress, spinach and mango; very healthy sounding, and also delicious. Then headed off to the car to get ready for the journey home - unfortunately that call I missed was to say there had been a fire at the in-law's house, so I had to go straight away. 
Here's the profile. It's a bit lumpy but the scenery was wonderful all the way round and even though it was hot and challenging, it was a superb event with great marshals, well stocked aid stations, the brilliant LOVE STATION and a really nice spot to camp for the weekend. They also have a half marathon which is also scenic (i.e. hilly) and also really popular.

Friday, 18 May 2018

White Star Running Ox Races - 11-13 May 2018

This last weekend I did my first White Star event. I had heard about their Giant's Head, Bad Cow and Larmer Tree events but never got in on time or they clashed with races already booked, but this year I hung on the phone one night in October while in a pub in SoHo to get my name down for Giant’s Head and, flushed with success, booked some more WSR races: The Ox, Dorchester and Dorset Invader. 

The Ox races came around in May after doing a marathon or ultra a month since January, so distance should normally be OK, but I had been carrying a hamstring and glute niggle for about 6 weeks and that had been affecting how I could run above about 15 miles – I couldn’t really pick my right leg up. So, arriving at race HQ at Rushmore Park west of Salisbury I was wondering whether it was such a great idea to have signed up for both the Dark Ox 10k on Friday night before the Ox 50 which would start at 7:30am the next morning - I was suckered in by the extra medal I would get, so the decision was pure vanity!

The race was set up a bit like Endure 24 with camping near the start finish area, which had Race HQ, a couple of food and cider stalls, and a big tent with sheltered seating and a TV which seemed to be set up for people to watch Eurovision on Saturday night. I had arrived at 4pm and drove through to the far end of the camp looking for my running buddy for the weekend Cove Jogger, Kelvin Gower. Once the tent was up we headed to race HQ to pick up race numbers and get dinner, a tasty lamb burger.

The first race of the weekend started at 9:30pm and head torches and waterproof tops were the fashion. There was a brief briefing which mainly warned people to take it easy and don’t fall over and noting where the beer stop would be. Off we went down a gentle cobbly slope and in only 400m I saw one of the quicker runners being escorted back to the start area with a cut to his head. 

The terrain was hilly with a few tricky stony descents, but time was definitely not a factor on this run, just getting around in one piece was important. I think a lot of people running were thinking the same and were running the next day or Sunday, so it was a steady chatty run on the whole, with just one Bambi-on-ice moment for me, coming down a muddy hill.

After just a mile we came across the beer stop where I had about a ¼ pint of Piddle IPA and a mile later we were at the excellent aid station known as the Love Station. There were lots of nice things to eat and drink – more beer, vodka shots or even water.

After six hilly, wet miles in a gentle 1 hour 14 I grabbed my medal, beer and biscuits and headed straight for the showers. These were OK, but unlit and the shower was more of a strong dribble than a proper drench, but at least it was hot and I felt much better for it. Then it was straight to bed by 11pm, remembering to set my alarm for just before 6 as the 50 mile runners were starting at 7:30 the next morning. 

After a fitful night’s almost sleeping and resorting to earplugs to block out the late night chat going on round the campsite I woke to a cool, overcast morning, found a loo with bogroll still in it and then sat in my tent eating muesli for breakfast. Kelvin got up and fired up the kettle and I had a cup of his weird chocolate orange flavoured coffee. 

On the start line there were about 80 runners, about half of which were doing some form of multi-race challenge, with another 10k (Light Ox) and Ox Half the next day. There was even a 12 hour race on the same course starting half an hour after our 50 mile run, which meant there was something for everyone over the weekend. After a briefing to tell us how many laps we needed to do (8) we were off.

My Captain America running top, appropriate for an ultra for the Cap's "I can do this all day" catch phrase.
And, bonus for this event!, it features a White Star.
The route was similar to the night before, but just over half a mile longer. Down we went for the first mile, then a short steep ascent before getting into a tunnel of trees descending again to come out by a pristine golf course. I had passed by this last night but didn’t see it at all in the rain and tunnel vision from my head torch. Passing the golf course the route went into a large stand of beech trees at 2 miles before the long straight steady climb on a grassy wide open chalk path up to the Love Station at 3 miles. I fuelled up on jaffa cakes, chocolate flapjack, crisps and little sausages washed down with a little squash and beer (at 8:30 in the morning!) 

From here the course turned down hill on a long sweeping descent before turning uphill on a long trail through pine woodland. After a muddy downhill section there were another couple of long uphill sections through old oaks with bluebells and wild garlic through route came out into a grassy field for a gentle run back to the start/finish area. Here there was just water at the aid station, which was OK for the first lap, but I knew I would need more later and I would have to use up the recovery food I had in my bag, bananas and a pint of milk.

Three laps in to the race and I was feeling OK but starting to get swollen fingers, a sure sign I was getting low on salt. I tried going to the loo to check urine colour and it was a bit dark, not too bad but it was time to start upping my water intake. At the aid stations I started having two cups of water and added a small beer at the Love Station. To avoid getting hyponatremia I also started taking a salt tablet each lap and this helped with the swollen fingers so that after a few more laps my hands were feeling OK again.

Going back to lap 4, half way, I noted that my Garmin was reading 27 miles. WSR events are notorious for their generosity with the mileage, so I was now prepared to be doing 54 miles, not just 50! At this point I decided I would pick up my walking poles. I had been walking up the hills anyway, but this was still starting to overstress my niggling hamstring and glute on my right leg. Using the poles took the load off my legs a bit, especially going up steep hills. They were pretty useless going downhill, though, so I just held them midway along on the descents to keep them out of the way while I ran. I checked the pace I could manage with and without the poles, walking up the steady hills and I was about 15 second a mile quicker with them and, even though I wasn’t used to using them, my arms weren’t tired at all.

Over lap 5 and 6 I was thinking about how close the cut off would be. We had until 7:30 or maybe 8:00pm to get out on our last lap. I wasn’t clear on this as the written instructions said 7:30 and the race briefing 8pm so went for the 7:30 cut off. I figured on having a good hour in hand, so I kept the time at the aid stations to a minimum, no sitting down just a bit of boogying to the music at the LoveStation. Fortunately my shoes stayed comfortable, without the need to even re-lace them and the little gaiters I had on kept out dust and stones. Lap 7 came along and finished with about 75 minutes till the cut-off.

The last lap was a fairly lonely affair as faster runners had finished their 50 miles and the 12 hours runners had mostly quit after 4 or 5 laps having done a marathon or ultra. But the course is well away from any road and the woodland was gloriously peaceful with just the sound of birdsong, woodpeckers and a cuckoo that seemed to have been following me round the course.  Approaching the Love Station I could hear the Kaiser Chiefs booming out down the long approach, not everyone's cup of tea, but having the beat to pace me up the climb was a real boost, as was the great reception by the Love Station crew.  Another little beer and snack and off again.  Reaching the crest of the last hill I caught up with a couple of women, one of whom was still to finish, then a crowd of her friends who were waiting for her. Then, after having walked the last 2 miles to this point and having nothing to gain but finishing a 13 hour race 30 seconds quicker, I got into a little race to the finish.

As I approached the finish line the marshals started ringing bells to warn people there was a runner coming in and this raised loud cheers and applause from the folks outside the beer tent which was great to experience. I finished 54 very hilly miles in 13:09:35, and shuffled off to race HQ to collect my medals, t-shirt and buff, and then find a burger and the odd experience of having my recovery meal in amongst what looked like a Mexican Day of the Dead themed Eurovision party.

My first White Star event turned out to be a great experience.  The Ox races are set up to provide something for everyone and have a great relaxed atmosphere.  Highly recommended and I'm really looking forward to my next outing with the Love Station team at Dorchester and then bringing the kids along to Giant's Head.

Leon the Runner challenge 7th April 2018

Phoenix Running's Leon the Runner challenge - Marathon #66 - was planned around my Sandhurst Jogger friend and long-running buddy Leon Hicks' 100th marathon, so it was booked well in advance. It was another run from the Weir Pub going upstream out and back just past Walton Bridge with 16 crossings of That Bloody Bridge for a marathon distance. To go along with Phoenix's penchant for movie related medals Leon had designed the medal around the Leon the Professional, Jean Reno/Natalie Portman hitman movie - basically the L for Leon was a Beretta pistol.

The run was widely advertised within our club and we had about 20 club members turn up to run from half to full marathon. Oddly we weren't the biggest club there as Northampton Road Runners had booked a coach full of places with several of their runners here to do their first marathon - possibly encouraged by the 7 hour cut off.

Part of the reason I like these events is they are so easy to get to for me, being only a 40 minute drive away. The new HUB athletics and football stadiums were open for parking which was only another minute's walk away from the usual car park and I had picked up my number in the Xcel Leisure Centre by 8:30. At 9:15 with nearly everyone arrived, we went out for the briefing and the now usual presentations of medals/certificates/T-shirts for people that have done the various marathon or half marathon challenges. Then, as a mark of respect and remembrance for Liam Whelan, a member of Barnes Runners and regular marathoner who had recently died, we walked in silence from the leisure centre to the start.

The start was packed with people trying to get their bags into the small tent/bag drop and this was a bit of a scrum, so I dropped my bag, got my Garmin fired up and stood near the start line. The start was a bit congested as people were funneled from the wide tarmac path on to the muddy wooded and narrow trail and some people chose to divert on road to run around the muddy section. I was fine with my Hoka Mafate semi-trail shoes, which had enough grip for the muddy parts.

After the mud, the usual concrete and mostly hard packed gravel with some cobbles by the recently refurbished Anglers pub, before tackling That Bloody Bridge for the first of 16 times.

The path west of the bridge seemed to have been relaid, but the gravel/clay wasn't dried out and had an odd texture like running on plasticine. Then past Walton Bridge to the turnaround point manned by a marshal with a road cone hat. 

The return was where this type of run comes into its own as I went past all the other runners coming behind me to waves and cheers, which continued all day. A real lift to the spirits, especially when my right leg fell off!

I had been carrying a niggle for a few weeks, a tight calf and hamstring that hadn't stopped me training, but slowed me down at parkruns. I got to half way in a decent 2:05 and then the hamstring started to play up making it increasingly difficult to pick up my right leg. This slowed me right down and I thought there's no way I'm quitting this run, but let's not be stupid and cause a proper injury, so I slowed down and started looking for people to chat to while jog/walking. I was caught by clubmate Blanche on our 6th lap and ran in the last 2 miles of the lap at 9min/mile pace to help her get a sub 3:30 nearly 20 miles, then had to recover for a lap walking with another runner for lap 7 before deciding 8 laps was enough today and running in to just scrape a sub 5 hour time.

Then it was just a case of waiting for Leon and the rest of my club mates to arrive at the finish. Finishing 100 marathons was obviously an emotional experience for Leon, so it was a good thing he wasn't called on to make a speech for a few minutes while we waited for some more people to finish.
The wait was worth it to see him get his vest and then tuck in to some cake.

Phoenix Running - Spring Marathon - 3 March 2018

Phoenix Spring Marathon felt distinctly wintery. In to March and having seen crocuses and daffodils in the week before my hopes for a mild and relatively easy training run building up for the Ox 50 miler in May were dashed by the Beast from the East and storm Emma combining to dust the south of England with a few inches of snow. Although this had the benefit of a couple of enforced days working from home including a couple of breaks for tobogganing with the kids, it looked like the Spring Marathon could be in jeopardy.

However, race organiser RiK Vercoe had ran the course and declared the course along the Thames between Walton and Hampton Court even prettier than usual and runnable and the local roads all OK. It was then left to people to see if they could make it to the event, with those that couldn't able to transfer to a later run - very fair in the circumstances. 

There was snow forecast on Friday night, so to give myself a fighting chance of getting to a main road on race morning I moved the car off the hill we live on to flat ground in the evening. I needn't have worried, as by Saturday morning there had been no more snow and the temperature was above freezing. I made it to the race HQ at Walton Leisure Centre just after 8 for a 9am start. 

68 people out of registered field of 150 managed to get to the event which was enough to attract the attentions of Sky News who had a crew on hand to do a live interview with Rik, unfortunately just after we had all set off on the run. Link (roll over me to see where I go)

The course is a mixture of tarmac and concrete paths and woodland and park trails all alongside the Thames. We headed off from outside The Weir pub going downstream with the river on our left and, keeping the river close by it's impossible to get lost. All the paths were initially covered with snow, and I thought this could have been a real problem if it was at all icy. I wasn't so much thnking about falling, but just the loss of traction and how much wasted energy there would be just keeping moving forward. 

The snow wasn't actually that much of a problem. It was like running on a loose gravel path and my Hoka Mafate Speed trail shoes provided enough grip. I combined these with gaiters so I didn't get icy slush dripping into my shoes and my feet stayed reasonably warm and dry for the day. 

I had started off the race with an idea of beating the last time that I did here on a similar course of 4:58 and set off from the front of the pack only so I might get on the telly (Sky News failed me!). We were quite quickly distanced by some very quick runners who seemed to be running 3 miles for my 2, and it wasn't long before I felt I was running mostly by myself at a comfortable 9:30 minutes per mile. I also had in mind that at my previous marathon I had run to about 13 miles without walking, so this was going to be another long training run and I had a target of at least 15 miles to get to.

The course along the river was pleasant, though I was concentrating on staying upright more than the scenery. We first pass Sunbury Lock, then the intake pumps to Walton water treatment works, Molesey Reservoirs nature reserve, through Hurst park and past Molsey Rowing club almost to Hampton Court Bridge, a distance of 3.25 miles and where the aid station was located. This was manned by two of my marathon running friends Leon and Davo. It was nice to see friends at the aid station but every time Leon saw me coming he moved the turn around traffic cone further away - what a joker! :-)

On the way back to the start I heard someone running behind me. We were going at the same pace and for a couple of miles I could hear their footsteps. At the start/finish aid station I grabbed a drink, cola bottles and a couple of Freddoes and set off again for lap 2 of 4, but rather than upping the pace to break the elastic to the guy behind I let him catch me up to have a chat; you can get to hear some interesting stories along the trail. Neil Addington was part way through running 105 marathons in 105 days raising money for mental health charity Mind. He had been given a 4 month sabbatical from his work building trucks and he told me about the friends he had who had suffered with mental health issues, one even committing suicide. We spent about an hour of the race talking and running together.

The weather seemed to warm a little as the race went on and the snow turned to slush after half way and then to mud on the wooded sections for the last lap. I managed to keep going with a brisk run-walk so I didn't have any really slow miles the whole race and finished in 4:48.