Running for the pies

Running for the pies

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

19th January: Anglesey

Wetter than an otter’s pocket… That pretty much sums-up the Anglesey Coastal Trail Series marathon! Imagine you are running through a puddle for 6 hours whilst being rained on continuously for the first 4 and you can get an idea with how sodden the run was. Not that it took anything away from the enjoyment of the day and the run… My one week old calf-strain saw to that!

Last Sunday whilst playing footy for my team, after about 70 minutes my right calf packed-in. I thought that it was cramp at first, but no, it was a proper strain. Unfortunately we only had 1 sub and he was already on the pitch, so rather than the preferred option of going off I had to swap positions with the keeper for the remainder of the game. I suspect that this calf strain is the underlying problem I have been experiencing for a couple of months finally coming to the fore, which now it has manifested itself as a proper strain rather than an ache inside the muscle it may well start the healing process, but this is cold comfort and it was touch and go about even making the start-line for the race. The CTS races aren’t cheap, so I did not want to lose my money on doing a no-show and from looking at the map for the various distances there were several get-outs should the run be too much for me and I could convert the marathon into a 10k or a half marathon completion even if at a stagger… Anything to take as a positive from my potential first DNF in a marathon :(

I had entered this race last year, but with the heavy snow-fall that we experienced then, the race was called-off as the trails were totally un-safe through being covered in a foot deep blanket of snow! The event base was the Breakwater Country Park in the shadow of Anglesey Mountain. The park is the site of the former brickworks and quarry for the stone used in the construction of the harbour’s breakwater, the longest in Europe. You drive up in to the park along what was the railway line that transported the wares to the harbour, not that I could see much of this when I arrived at 2am!

Having necessarily worked a bit longer than I’d hoped to and queued for what seemed like an eternity for a large doner at the village kebab van for mine and LSS’s dinner, I was pretty late in leaving for the 5 hour drive to Anglesey - and on arriving I realised I had forgotten to bring my pillow and duvet. Hunkering down in the back of the van on my new flock covered airbed (which means you don’t slide off it when you move in your sleep) in my new sleeping bag (one that I fit into properly and is designed to work at lower temperatures unlike the previous one), I screwed-up my jacket to use as a pillow and get some well needed shut-eye. With my alarm set for 7am I could hear the rain starting to tap on the van’s roof as I drifted off.

Registration opened in the dark with the rain still coming down. Although to be fair all rain sounds a lot heavier than it really is when under a metal roof. All signed-in I returned to the van for my breakfast of flapjack washed down with a cup of black coffee and changed ready for the event.

I had already planned on wearing calf compression sleeves for this race regardless of the previous week’s injury. I opted to purchase a pair of 2XU ones with stirrups so as to give some support on my ankles as well. With the realisation that my groin muscles no longer need to have the extra support of the neoprene shorts I have been wearing of late, I dropped-down to my more lightweight OMM compression shorts. Over my dodgy calf I sported a doubled-up elastic bandage over the compression sleeve to give as much compressive support as possible.

With the weather forecast I had packed my water-proof regatta jacket, running gloves and a beanie to wear. Normally I don’t wear a hat or gloves to run in as I overheat quite rapidly, but today was looking like the kind of day where I would need to prevent as much heat-loss as possible through the rain sapping it out of my extremities, so I put them on in readiness.

Mud, mud ominous mud.
With the dawn now broken the time was approaching for the safety briefing, so I made my way to the marquee to huddle with all the other runners in anticipation. Outside it appeared one of the marshals was looking to the heavens and praying on our behalf for an end to the rain… With slate grey skies as far as could be seen in all directions, it was certainly a case of we’ll wait and see but don’t hold your breath!

Please stop!
 Checking over the route map again one last time I saw the coolest looking dog ready to go out and run the marathon. Sitting there very calm with its doggles on. I commented to its owner how cool it looked and how its glasses will be great for keeping the rain out of its eyes, only to be told that it was not ‘cool’, the dog has a chronic eye condition that prolonged exposure to UV light could lead to its blindness, so it is of necessity… Well that was me told!

Cool cocker :)
The safety briefing was soon underway, with a different warning this time to ones I’ve heard before… For part of the course we were to run along a promenade and with the poor weather of late it had been closed to pedestrians for their own safety, as the waves crashing against the sea wall had been swamping anything along there and there’s the risk of being dragged-out to sea! However we were permitted to run it - and fortunately whilst there was no real wind to whip the waves up into a frenzy and cause a danger, we were still advised to not run too close to the barriers just in case, plus it would make us even wetter if something does crash over us! We were also informed that the Coastguard would be handling any emergencies as they are responsible for Anglesey, so any emergency calls to be made should request them from the operator and they will direct the appropriate response from there. There would also be a contingent of them on top of the mountain to look out for us whilst we are on the most exposed part of the course.

Pass the flag and follow the arrows, its just 27.6 miles to the finish.
Cold and wet through... And we've not even started yet!
After the briefing it was a short walk to the starting flag and everyone gathered together in a close group as the rain fell on us. Mercifully the wait to get going was not long and after a count down from 10 we were off through the puddles that were covering the entire path. With only the verges at the side allowing a dryish route, people were slowing to a standstill to queue to tippy-toe around the sides. My principal with puddles is just to plough on through, especially when you will definitely be getting soaked on a day like today, so myself and another like-minded soul just steamed on through the middle of them laughing like a couple of children and trying to encourage others to follow suit… And as a consequence I found myself amongst the leaders of the race - well for a few minutes anyway. Certainly the first time I’ve been in the top 10 positions of a marathon, although within half a mile I had certainly been passed by a good few people and I started to gravitate to my natural position of nearing the back, or so it felt!

Winding our way down to sea-level, it was a quick blast over a small pebbled beach and then the climbing started towards Mount Anglesey.

The race for the mountain.
After traversing some very wet grass we hit the slopes of the mountain and the trail turned ‘technical’… The path was narrow in the heather with rocks sticking out at all angles slick with rain so quite treacherous under foot. It seems the natural geology is a strata’d rock that is turned through 90 degrees so you get narrow blades of rock sticking out of the ground, which made you realise that any tumble would be painful at best and catastrophic at worst! As a consequence the pace was eased significantly by one and all as we wound our way upwards, skirting round the side of the mountain peak that was a good 50ft up and to our left. As you run you are simultaneously looking a few paces in front of you to pick your path over the rocks as well as watching where you plant your foot so as to not trip over or catch on anything.

Very tempting to stop and wait-out the rain here!
On the slope we ran past a storm-shelter, which seemed unbelievably tempting to duck in to for a respite from the rain and the wind, some place to warm for a short while before heading on again, but common-sense prevailed as in these conditions it will be VERY hard to start moving again once you stop!

Looking back from the shelter.
As promised the Coast Guard were there to see us along the route at the highest point on this section, giving me a good thumbs-up for the camera as I shuffled past.

Looking back from the top.
Picking my way along the goat-track I took in the stunning view as much as I could, and then as we rounded a corner, from out of nowhere appeared way down below us the South Stack lighthouse, and in the car park at the top of its access road (which was a good foot underwater so we had to run up the banks to get around the flood) was the first check-point at just over 4 miles in - this one being purely a timing point so our chips were read and off we continued southwards.

South Stack lighthouse.
With all the rain on the saturated ground, the entire coastal path was ankle deep in water. As you ran you were attempting to find a way through the rivulets and streams that the whole surface had become and there was nowhere to put your foot that was not entirely underwater! With the terrain having rocks poking-out from the peaty soil you could never be sure on the flat sections that any of the inky black puddles contained a rock or they were fine to plant your foot in with safety, so every step into one was akin to playing russian roulette with a sprained ankle as a consequence. On the inclines and declines however it was fine as you could always see where the ground was as the water cascading over it was always clear. I thought this section was terrific fun and reminded me of past runs on the fell at Winter Hill where I’d ended up waist deep in bog through not knowing what was going to be under my feet!

The 'technical' trail.
The jagged rocks.
Long way down.
Bit of an inlet.
As I rounded one corner I could not help but be awed by what we were about to run across. If you were not paying attention you could quite easily miss that you were running over the roof of a massive 50ft tall sea-cave carved into the cliff. I stopped to take some pictures with runners going over the top just to give a sense of scale and majesty of the feature, even if the rain was falling in to the camera to ruin the ability to auto-focus!

Crossing the cave mouth.
A sense of scale.
Crossing the fell - which certainly was living up to its name by the number of people who were getting caught-out and slipped/ tripped over making themselves even more wet and sorry-looking - we followed the jagged rocky cliff-path down to sea level, across a beach and then picked-up the road and the first aid-station at checkpoint 2 around 9 miles in. Normally I never stop at aid stations, I just carry on through as with running self-sufficient I carry any food and drink that I need, but today was going to be different and I had already planned to purposely stop at every aid station/ checkpoint to take the time to attend to my calf. I had been promising myself for the last few miles that I would give it a good massage of deep heat to get some warmth back in to it. With the rain battering down continuously and the fact my feet had not been out of water for longer than a couple of minutes at a time, it meant that all the warmth in my legs had been sucked-out, so getting some back in to the calf to allow it to function was a must-do to allow me to continue. Psychologically though I realised that I was in as good a shape as I could have hoped so I decided I would certainly make a go at the marathon distance: buaidh no bas and all that :) After necking a breakfast bar and a gel I sallied forth beyond the point of no return as far as the marathon distance was concerned.

Running along the undulating road to Trearddur I began to be passed by the leaders in the ultra race, running back to the start. A quick think made me realise they were a good 20 miles in, so with me at 10 and them having a 45 minute head start it would be taking me about 2 hours to complete the loop to this point. A dawning realisation that you are still a long way yet to go if ever there was!

In to Trearddur and we traversed the closed promenade. Even with the wind being minimal, with the surging tides and the current water levels, the waves were still breaking over the sea-wall on to the promenade with a satisfying booming thud as they impacted… Not with any force or venom, but if you were there at the wrong time they were enough to give you a light dousing - not that you could really get any wetter than I was from the rain and the ground-water.

South of the village we hit a caravan site and left the tarmac behind for the saturated trail once more, looking out at the rugged rocky coastline wending our way to the 3rd checkpoint at 15 miles… As we approached we dropped-down on to the beach - where the tide was in and found ourselves wading waist deep across the edge of the bay to the checkpoint: one hand bracing your body against the sea-wall as the waves came in one after the other, rolling up on to you from behind… As fun as this was the frigid temperature of the water played havoc with my calf, causing it to tighten painfully and when attempting to rub in the deep heat, the only thing it seemed to be heating was my hand. Putting on my soaking glove it made me realise how cold you could get from not moving as just from having my hand out long enough to see to my leg and eat another breakfast bar and slurp a gel, my fingers were freezing as they were encased in the clinging fabric and took a good 15 minutes to warm up so as not to be noticed.

The wade!
On one stretch of road along a narrow lane, a car came down towards us driven by some old dear. Rather than slowing because of the water all over the road and runners coming towards her on the left, the daft old bag decided that it was more important to skirt puddles and not get her tyres wet and car dirty than avoiding running-down pedestrians… Maniacally staring out in front to the middle distance, gripping her steering wheel so tight at 10 to 2 so the knuckles on her claw like hands whitened, she narrowly missed myself and at least one other runner with her wing mirror without even blinking or seeming to acknowledge we were there - sort out your priorities you coffin dodger!

The rain had now soaked its way through my beanie and it had lost its shape, sagging down over my eyes time and again. I attempted to roll it up as much as I could so as to keep it useful as a head warmer, which seemed to pre-occupy me for a short while, but also making me realise that I was cold, wet and aching in my calf. To try and distract myself I put on my headphones and attempted to get a listen to the Now Show. This next section of the run led us back up the eastern and northern sides of the loop taking-in farmland and marsh. The marsh was at least in part covered by duck-boards for walking over (or sliding over in trail shows as lets face it smooth wet wood is the enemy of good trail shoes!). Then after 4 solid hours of running there was the startling realisation… The rain had stopped, although the sky was still menacing and threatened a re-start at any time. I wrung out as much water from my beanie as I could - or more likely redistributed the water evenly through it and put it back on my head in the hope that I may get it to dry out through evaporation!

It seemed that all too soon we were heading back on to the roads again, so headphones came out of the ears so as not to risk disqualification - its one of the CTS race rules that there’s no headphones to be worn in the first mile, or on any road sections. Heading along the undulating coastal road we made our way back in to Treaddur and the promenade. As I ran along here I passed some marathon runners just going through the village the first time, which was a terrific boost to the ego, realising that there’s people a good hour or two at least behind you so you’re some way off coming in last!

Heading out of Trearddur I noticed one of the houses on my left overlooking the bay was sporting a blue plaque to Thomas Telford who lived in the house when working on reconstructing the road from Anglesey to London. Thinking about him and his civil engineering achievements (for my sins I completed the first year of a civil engineering degree before being asked to leave the university for bringing it in to disrepute) occupied a few minutes as I plodded along the tarmac back towards the site of checkpoint 2 and a turn off the road across country.

Stopping at the aid station I took some more time to lard my calf with Deep Heat, but with how wet my leg and the compression sleeve was, all that I seemed to be doing was just smearing it around over the skin rather than rubbing it in. I was also realising that at this stage there was nothing I could really do as the Deep Heat was no longer having any effect and the painkillers were no longer killing the pain. I chatted with the marshals about this, concluding that I’m really at the point of just doing it more as a placebo than anything truly effective, besides there was only 6 miles left to go to the finish and the only way back was to follow the track onwards. The good news was psychologically I knew from this point I would make the finish, no matter how bad my calf would get… It was a question of acknowledging the pain; it is telling me of the damage sustained after all, and trying to not let it increase and just ease my way onwards without pushing too hard… Which is tricky when somehow you are slowly reeling-in people in front of you!

The cross country section only lasted for a couple of miles before we were back on the be-puddled road again for the final section towards the mountain. At the checkpoint we had picked-up the half marathon course and I found myself amongst some of the half marathoners, which is always a terrific fillip to the spirits - knowing that you have managed to be fast enough to run more than 20 miles albeit with a 90 minute head start in the time that it has taken them to run 8 or so!

The road was leading us inexorably onwards towards the mountain. We knew we had to get over it to get to the finish. We hit the slopes of it at 25 miles, and so began the trudge up the side of it, the water cascading down the paths, running over your feet as we ascended.

The paths that were streaming water.
Splashing onwards and upwards.
It does get closer with every step, honest.
Looking back where we have come from.
The view near the summit.
Taking the time to look back at where I had come from I noticed that over the port there was a partial rainbow, so I had to stop to get a snap of that, no matter how poor the quality, as how often do you ever get the chance to photograph a rainbow?

 My calf was really biting with every extension of the muscle as I clambered up and over the rocks, but knowing the finish was literally at the foot on the other side there was no chance of being beaten… Stopping to get a good photo of the gents from the Coastguard on the very top of the mountain I made the precarious descent off the immediate summit and on to the pathway down…

The trig point at the mountain's top.
The coastguard braving the elements on the exposed summit.
And in a few minutes I could see the flags of the finish line. In true Endurancelife style, the path to the finish was not a straight line as you would hope, instead they diverted us off around the former brickworks part of the Breakwater Country Park for a few hundred more metres as a final tease before crossing the finish line.

My time was slower than I would have hoped by around 30 minutes due to having to nurse myself around with the calf injury, but somehow I managed to place 57/107 overall, by far the furthest up a field I have come in a marathon! It must be down to the inclement conditions and soaked terrain. Being fat and slow the weather doesn’t seem to have much of an effect on me, and after years of running up and down council footy pitches ankle deep in mud, I’m pretty used to heavy going underfoot!

Its fair to say that I’d have enjoyed the run more had my calf not been distracting me with pain the whole time, but this had nothing to do with the event or its setting as it was well organised, well marshalled, very clearly marked and the scenery was stunning as it always is on the Coastal Trail Series. Running in the rain is something I need to get more accustomed to with my long term goal of running the UTMB and the likelihood of being rained on during that race! and having survived the driving freezing rain in sub zero temperatures of last year’s Sussex CTS marathon, the weather for this run had nothing on that!.. Apart from the absorbency of my hat and and gloves, the rest of my equipment was absolutely fine. I think as a consequence that I need to find another beanie that’s water-proof to wear in the rain - and I think with the gloves, whilst they did absorb water, they acted like a wetsuit as whilst getting wet my hands did not get cold.

The calf compression sleeves seemed to work a treat as the next day my left calf was noticeably fresher than it has been in the past after marathons, and the right one, whilst sore, wasn't totally trashed although it does mean I'll have to take a 2 week break from any running at least to enable it to heal sufficiently.

I'd certainly like to think I'll be back in the future to give the course a go in a fully fit state to give a good account of myself. I've just got to concentrate now on getting fit for the South Devon CTS Marathon in 3 weeks time, the first marathon I will be running twice, so I will be looking forward to seeing how far I have progressed over the previous year.

Monday, 20 January 2014

12th January: Buaidh no bas

Just before Christmas I managed to grab a bit of time to myself to do something I've been meaning to have done since I was 18... Get a tattoo!

Over the years I've had various ideas of what to have done, but never made an effort to go out and commit to one.

Watching an episode of Comic Book Men last year I saw Kevin Smith reveal where he had a tattoo done and realised it was also the perfect place for me... and I already had in mind what was to be done.

After researching fonts I finally had what I was wanting and how it should look.

On my mother's side I am of the clan McNeill of Barra. The motto of the clan as found on the arms of the clan chief is 'buaidh no bas' (bwee no bahs) - gaelic for 'victory or death'.

This is what I have gone for on the inside of my right forearm in celtic script. It is there to remind me, be it in my normal life or on one of my runs, that when the chips are down and times are hard that quitting is not an option: It's victory or death.

The tattoo's purpose is not to scream out at people and make a statement, it's designed to be inconspicuous, but also there in my sight all the time to remind and inspire...

Incidentally it will also be on-show if I'm snapped at races pulling a moose when my sleeves are up, so I guess it will feature vicariously on the blog a few times.

Monday, 6 January 2014

29th December: Gut Busting Blues

The first time I’ve done a double header and a fitting end to a monster year of running in 2014: part 2 of my Blues Brothers 10 Miler.

This second instalment was the Winter Gut Buster over in Mortimer & Silchester. It was the same course as the one I had run last year, although this time around I had been more organised and entered properly rather than having a wait-list place on the day.

With the beautiful sunshine all day for yesterday’s Brutal, the clear conditions had prevailed overnight producing quite a hard frost with sub-zero temperatures.

Driving the short journey from home to the overflow car-park at Wokefield Park, where I had been allocated a parking space with bus transfer to the start, I lost control of the van on black ice on one of the country lanes: As I went around a right hand bend, the back stepped-out and I lost control… Fortunately I reacted as you should (this is not the first time I’ve had a skid in a car) and was fortunate enough to regain control before I hit the hedge at the side of the road.

I say its not the first time, the worst time I had was when I was caught by a gust of wind and aquaplaned off a motorway in France at around 70mph, flying off the side and barrel-rolling the car through 540 degrees through the air before landing upside down and then rolling a couple more times on the ground for good measure. The end result was this:

Just a couple of scratches.
A bit of panel-beating and she'll be fine!
Anyway, back to the running!

Just as I parked-up I watched the transfer bus pull away, so figured I’d have a bit of time to kill, so I had my pre-race brekkie of a Cliff bar and drank some energy drink before half-changing in the back of the van. For the Brutal I had forgotten to wear my support shorts, but I came-out of the run unscathed - I wear them to support my right groin muscle more than anything, but with minimal lateral movement exerted when running, unlike in football, it seems I can easily survive without them, so I decided to do without them again today.

When I saw the bus pulling in to the estate I shoved the rest of my gear in my bag I made my way to the queue, taking my seat with everyone else once the doors opened.

A 10 minute ride and we were at the race-base of Butlers Lands Farm and I went through the registration process before looking for a place to change, only to be informed on inquiring that there was not one, so I snuck in to a barn behind a tractor and turned from fat bloke in to Blues Brother.

Milling around I bumped into Dennis ‘Carthorse’ Cartwright - of the ‘Den’s Got the Runs’ blog, and we were able to have a chat about what he’s got coming-up. He was using today as a training-run ready for the Enigma Winter Double - two marathons in two days the following weekend!

As the clock ticked its approach to the 10am start everyone gathered in the farmyard for the safety briefing. Just looking around it was easy to see that there were far more people than the previous year. Today was the Gut Buster’s third time of running and word has certainly spread!

Huddling like penguins to keep warm at the briefing.
With the organisers saying that the field is nearly double from what it has been previously and the interest was for plenty more places if they could have offered them. Looking at the attire of my fellow runners, there seemed to be less in the way of pavement-pounders out for a change of scenery that I saw last year and more in the way of ‘serious’ runners shod in trail shoes. But then again after the quagmire conditions last year, I think people would have heard what to expect on the course.

After the briefing we were ushered around the corner for the start and we were all off.

The throng behind me!
I set off at what I thought was a reasonable pace, but turned out to be quite a pace!.. Both the 10k & 10M races had started at the same time and although I was towards the middle of the field, it seemed like I was trying to just hold-on with those around me, which at the time I put-down to tired-legs from yesterday’s Brutal.

As I was fighting my way up the first hill, a figure appeared on my right shoulder and enquired if I was who I am… I turned to see a familiar face - someone who I had not seen since I was 19, which makes it pretty much as long since as we were old back then! I knew Tania back from schooldays in Yateley, and at that point in her life, she really wanted to get in to running cross country, which I was getting in to at the time when back from uni, so I agreed to take her out on to the trails at Blackbushe to do a couple of miles. Its amazing to see how far someone has come from being a reluctant teenager exhausted after running for around half an hour - these days Tania has several marathons under her belt as well as plenty of other races at shorter lengths and is now getting her pace up for an assault on the CTS South Devon half marathon in Feb, supported by her husband who is also a keen (and quick) runner… I tried for all I was worth to keep-up with Tania’s pace and to have a decent chat, but my being a fat-bloke got in the way and I had to make my excuses for holding her up as I really couldn’t keep the pace going for much longer and needed to throttle back, plus I did not want to ruin her race - and with that she shot-off in to the distance en-route to her finish of 7th female!.. Sorry Tania, I probably cost you a place or 2 but it was good to catch-up, albeit briefly, whilst I was struggling to breathe and talk at the same time… and fair play for spotting me through my fancy dress as well!

Up the first hill - Tania's arm to my right as she cunningly hid behind the fella in green as we approached the photographer!
As I eased-off the pace, I found I really did not have too much choice in the matter anyway. With the icy conditions overnight, the tarmac on which we were running for this stage was slick with the cold stuff and at times everyone was struggling to stay upright - trying to pick a path through the worst of it or attempting to run on the narrowest of grass verges on the road side. With most people sporting trail shoes, the grip you get on the ice is even less than normal as you only have the tips of the lugs on the sole contacting the ground, so you tend to do bambi-on-ice impersonations whether you like it or not.

Around the icy bend just before the ford.
As we arrived at the ford there was the choice again of going on the narrow bridge or through the water. Naturally I chose the wet option even though I would not need to queue for the bridge this year, but if you’re going to be getting wet and muddy, you’re only postponing the inevitable so through the water I ploughed without breaking stride.

Hitting the wall.
Up the hill from the ford and soon we were at the walls of Silchester and around the city walls we went, although this year we did not do a complete circuit around them, instead cutting through the main street through the middle of the city and back out past the llama’s.

Glowing Llama!
Crossing the denuded sprout field, the going was a lot easier than last year as only sometimes did your foot sink down to the ankle rather than all the time, and after traversing this it was another road section up the hill to the split for the 10M & 10K.

Just after the split I found myself yo-yoing positions with a girl called Tiffany. Before her superior pace allowed her to pull away we naturally got to chatting about running and it turns out we're both down to do the Classic Quarter ultra in June. Today was her first foray back out running in an organised event as she builds-up her fitness levels ready for the terrific undertaking that will be the Classic Quarter. She was persuaded to go for it by one of her friends as it is on her birthday! What a way to celebrate - getting a finish in an ultra under your belt, surely a birthday you would not forget in a hurry. Good luck in your training Tiffany and hopefully I'll bump into you at the start in June.

Hitting the long and winding road section.
The next section of the course was exactly as I remembered it from last year: the longest road section of short steep undulating hills. This part last year had me suffering from my wearing of new trail shoes not yet fully worn-in. A year on the same shoes have been well and truly worn-out having seen me through a good few marathons and have proved awesome on the softest of ground, but unfortunately they are now nearing the end of their life with the seams to the side of the toe splitting on both sides on both shoes. They are now going from race to race awaiting their fate.

The long hard slog across the soaking fields made-up the last couple of miles. Seeing the farm and the finish line on the horizon, and hearing the tannoy welcoming the finishers home I remembered that its a tease… You think you’re going straight there, only to divert away and then skirt around the edges of the fields before it relents and you turn for home. At least time I was prepared for the energy sapping incline through the cloying mud that this section is and I managed to keep myself on a pace to get to the finish in one piece… I may not have won the race, or come any where near winning the race, but at least the man on the tannoy congratulated me as being the winner of the fancy-dress race... If they were to have had one!

With my medal around my neck from one of the marshals and my timing chip taken from me, I made a bee-line for the mulled-wine and mince pies available for the finishers. Scoffing one and savouring the warm spiciness of the wine I made my way back to the finish to clap home fellow finishers.

I had realised whilst running that Carthorse had not passed me during the race so he would surely be appearing soon and sure enough a few minutes later he crossed the line and after he’d composed himself I congratulated him and enquired how he had found it - and the smile on his face said it all! He was surprised at how quick he had managed to cover the course - well ahead of the time he thought he would have, and the same was applicable for me as well.

I finished 7 minutes faster than I ran the course last year in a finish of 149/259 so a decent 58%... My assault on mid-table mediocrity carries-on apace!

The Gut Buster event is well organised and a great fixture to have on the door-step just before New Year's. With how popular it is getting I am wondering how they will be able to cope if they are going to grow it further, and if it is already at capacity then it will become one of those events that you need to book your entry as soon as they open as it will sell-out quicker by the year.

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Wednesday, 1 January 2014

28th December: Brutal Blues

After a couple of days of eating, drinking and being merry I was back in action this morning for the first part of today and tomorrow’s 10 mile cross-country double header. I had chosen to run this race (and tomorrow's Gut Buster) dressed as a Blues Brother just to be different as no-one seems to do these in fancy dress, and with the time of year I thought it would bring a bit of festive cheer.

After the Christmas Day collapse of my bike’s bottom-bracket, today saw me driving off to the Brutal 10 - or in this race's case: the Brutal 16. Normally the Brutal's are 10k races, hence the name, with the Brutal being a reference to the terrain: lots of short sharp hills, mud, swamp, puddle, pond and more mud (as detailed in previous blogs), but this race for a change had 2 options: an 8k or 16k distance, with the 16k being a different route to the 8k rather than 2 loops of it as you may suspect. Naturally I had opted for the 16k version of the run: looking forward to pitting myself against the usual terrain only over the longer distance to see how I held-up.

Driving the 20 miles to the event's location of the Longmoor Camp army base, we passed through security at the gate-house and on to the camp itself, following the marshal's directions to the race base of the camp's gymnasium. The weather was looking perfect for the run: Glorious clear skies, a pale winter sun shining upon us and a chill in the air that meant we would not be overheating on the run. With all the rain of the previous week the Brutal gods were really smiling down on us today having been busy prepping the course perfectly then giving us the conditions to enjoy it at its best.

The gymnasium base.
Parking on the field next to the start/finish it was a quick registration and I hung round to watch the CaniX racers get their run underway before heading back to the van to get changed in to my fancy dress.

Dogs taking their owners for a run!
Taking my place amongst all the other starters it was not long until we were off in pursuit of those hounds.

Under starters orders...
...and then it was all a blur.
 The first stretch of about a quarter mile lulled us in to a false sense of security: a nice easy downward stretch out of the centre of the camp and on to the training grounds… And then the mud, sand and hills began.

The easy bit!
Yours truly on the ascent.

Looking back from the sandy summit.
After weaving our way across the sandy plain and climbing the short steep hill at the end it was the first stretch of many through the pine woods that make the bulk of the camp’s terrain. With the torrential rain we have had of late I was half expecting to be running through a continual quagmire, but with hills a plenty under the trees it was soft pine needles under foot - until we hit the first bit of fun - the course’s inaugural stream.

Taking a breather... The guy on the right prepares for his dip.
Queuing to cross there was a chance for a snatch of breath and recovery, before taking the first of many icy plunges of the day. Scrambling out the other side freezing cold, you were eager to get moving again to get some warmth back in to your legs, to stamp the frigid water out of your shoes to try and get some life back in to what felt like two solid blocks of ice dangling off the end of your legs… And then straight up a very steep slippery hill.

Looking back down the steep slippery slope.
Just as some life had been brought back in to the frozen feet then it was back in more water for a knee-deep jog, then waist deep wade through more icy water, where for the first time in the run the water was deep enough to give that freezing cold stroke of the scrote that makes all men gasp, and instantly sends your knackers retreating back in to your body for some shelter, only to reappear when having a warm shower long after the event has ended.

Lovely weather for a paddle.
The course continued as an enjoyable, as much as it was challenging, blend of hills, streams and mud, with your feet never getting a chance to warm above a certain temperature from hereon through continual immersions. Approaching the half distance, the field had spread-out and there was little in the way of overtaking going on around me, so I decided I would do my utmost to keep in touch with the people in front and if possible reel them in one at a time. The trouble with running these courses by yourself is when you hit the swamps and the mud you have no reference point of where the good path through is in order to steer clear of the submerged obstacles, as there’s no watching others making mistakes and falling over! It certainly slows you down having to tentatively find your own path. 

The view from the most easterly part of the course.
At the halfway there was a drinks station, where I stopped for a cup of water before carrying on my way. The second half started with a run through more pine woods with the 8k runners who were with us on this section of the course splitting off in a different direction. This stretch was more wading through blackened swamp so pace was reduced somewhat once more!

The long final wade.
Catching up on a CaniX runner.
By the time we emerged from this section, a breather could be had as I joined the queue for the last long watery wade of the day. I could see on the opposite side of the water a couple of the CaniX runners were there, so I must have been doing alright for time if I was able to reel-in back-markers…

Climbing through the heathery heath.
Out the other side and a climb up some heather & gorse covered heathland and I caught and passed the second of the two CaniX runners, the dog not looking too impressed with its owner as it trotted along clarted in mud and its coat all soaked.

Hello & goodbye!
One soggy doggy.
A rumble of traffic meant we were near the A3 and the knowledge that we were approaching the closing stages. As we ran along one of the woody tracks we passed another of the CaniX runners by the side of the trail. Unfortunately the race had been too much for the poor dog - what looked like an Irish Setter, as it was wrapped in a foil space-blanket to warm it up, and being held tight by its owner as they awaited a rescue to the finish… It turned out the dog was fine, it was just exhausted from the running in the cold and the soakings, which for the dogs amounted to several total immersions, had gotten the better of it. Perhaps the 16k in the cold of December on a course like this is a little too much to ask of the dog's no matter how eager they are to get out and run.

One last hill and a few muddy twists and turns and the finish was in sight, crossing the line to the customary round of applause from those already finished, the welcome post-race snack of a banana, a few Quality Street and a cup or two of water.

Running dressed as a Blues Brother seemed to amuse quite a few people, with (understandable) questions of whether I was on a 'mission from God', or 'getting the band back together' and engendered some respect for taking on the course attired this way. At the finish, I could see one of the marshals looking at my feet so I couldn't help but look down myself to see if there was something the matter. He noticed I as following his gaze and said "I was just checking to see if you had run it in proper shoes". I told him that even I'm not that mental to attempt the course in them!.. The costume itself was surprisingly unrestrictive on my movement whilst running through an environment as demanding as this, although at one point I did overstretch a little and tear the stitching on the crotch. It was also cool enough to not make me overheat, so as far as costumes go its a pretty easy one to get along with whilst running.

I thoroughly enjoy these Brutal runs as they are not too serious and the entry field is wide in its age-range and is edging closer to a 50/50 split on male/female entrants. They are well organised with very friendly marshals cheering you onwards around the course. The races are getting ever more poplar as even more people discover them and word of mouth spreads. It seems as though there's a majority of runners in the field that wear their Brutal jerseys at the races, so there's certainly a 'Brutal cult' developing out there - of which I am one!

I think the idea of having the 2 lengths of race was a good idea and something worth them pursuing for other dates - perhaps keeping them to the Christmas and last ones of their season so as to keep the idea as a novelty and something special for an event and to not move away from the core idea of the runs: a brutal 10k course.

In case you're curious, position-wise I finished in the middle of the pack: 125/245 so a decent end-result for me as I aim to get my speeds up to the 50% finishing mark in my races for 2014.

Pulling a Blues moose :)