Running for the pies

Running for the pies

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

1st June: Canicross

Having enjoyed the glorious spring sunshine on the coast in Devon for the last of this season’s Coastal Trail Series, the next morning saw me go out on a recovery run… albeit one with a difference in the torrential downpour the weather had changed to overnight.

I’ve mentioned previously the sight of canicross runners at the Brutal events, and Heidi my spaniel has shown a potential to become one on the times we have gone out running together, so when one of my clients was instrumental in setting up a local informal canicross running group, I thought now was the time to go for Heidi and me to jump in the deep end.

The previous Thursday I had been out with Heidi on a run along the canal with my client and her English Setter by means of acclimatising Heidi to see if she could cope running with another dog, and she easily survived, so I arranged to tag along to Hawley Woods and dive in at the deep end…

We all met up first thing on the bank holiday Monday, a mixed group of runners of varying abilities and an equally disparate group of hounds and in the pouring rain we were all soaked in a matter of minutes, so off we all went and climbed and descended the wood and scrub land, before heading up the hill in the direction of the Blackbushe flats, where we were aurally assaulted by the 10am test of the Broadmoor siren, the warning system for those nearby of an escape by one of the patients from the secure hospital of Broadmoor. The sound carried across from nearby Crowthorne; reverberating off the underside of the low clouds, the air was still, becalmed of wind to give an almost eerie sensation that the siren was next to you, coming at you from all directions with the only other sound the rain pouring down.

From here we headed towards Minley and toured around some good single-track in the land behind Minley Manor. This building was until recently the officer’s mess for the training garrison of Gibraltar Barracks nestled on the edge of Hawley Woods. Built in a French style in the Victorian era, the house has been used as a film and TV location - most notably of late in the film ‘Stardust’.

Taking a breather under some trees in Minley
We wrapped-up a good 10 mile circuitous route with a lap of Hawley Lake - allowing the dogs to drink and wallow in the water after all their efforts. Whilst there we ended up having a ‘discussion’ with a jobs-worth security guard in his hi-vis vest of power and 4WD vehicle that no doubt served to overcompensate for any shortcomings elsewhere, attempting to play the big man and implying we were not welcome to run with dogs there, despite being on common land and not contravening any of the military by-laws that govern MoD land in the area where we live… The fella must have been bored with nothing better to do, although you would have thought that some of their job training would involve detailed knowledge of the by-laws their company has been sub-contracted out to protect… Although the contract was most probably awarded to the organisation that tendered the lowest price for the service, and as we all know, if you pay peanuts you end up with monkeys.

Back at the van after the soaking of this run, Heidi was not deterred despite her pitiful looking up at me with wide eyes, flattened ears and the occasional shiver for effect - which were all soon cured with a handful of dog treats, and a few days later with some better weather we ventured out to Caesar’s Camp for another, and this time dry, evening run with some other members. Heading out from the car park towards the ‘Grim' course I had previously run, this route included a good few stops for the hounds to go paddle and cool off in ponds when we passed them.

Cooling dip.
The tempo of this run was a lot more easy-going than the pace of the Monday, which I had found heavy on my legs with the marathon being run the previous day! The distance clocked this time was around the 5k mark, but a good way to round-off a hard day’s work.
Managing to squeeze in one final canicross run this week before the forthcoming exertions of the Classic Quarter, the venue was once more Caesar’s Camp, but this time a different side which took us up and around the reservoir, incorporating a good few hills and single-track… A short way in to the run we came to the first reservoir and crashed through the woods and the shrubs to the water side to be confronted by a rather amorous couple in a very passionate clinch, only to have their moment of intimacy ruined by a bunch of runners and their hounds that proceeded to jump in to the water and have a good swim and splash in front of them, well and truly ruining their moment! although from looking at the couple it was probably just as well that we arrived when we did as if we had been 5 minutes later, then it could have been a whole world of awkwardness for everyone!

Climbing up to the high-point.
The run took us up and round towards the viewpoint from the top of Caesar’s Camp looking down over Farnborough and Aldershot. Right next to us was the finish line of an event put on by the Army Orienteering club, where as an exercise there were plenty of recruits testing their running and map reading skills, mercifully for them in running gear rather than in fatigues!

Heidi being camera-shy as always!
After posing for a photo we wound our way back down from this highest point and back in to the cars for what was a decent pacey 10k.

Over the course of the run, you really gained a great impression of how important this area of land is for people's recreation. Aside from solo joggers, cyclists and dog walkers, we encountered the local triathlon club doing circuits of the reservoir and fartlek work, a couple of large organised groups of MTBers and smaller bands of friends on their evening ride together. When you add us in to the mix and the Army Orienteering club, then you could say that the area was heaving… Although it is that large that any contact with other users was minimal to say the least.

Happy Heidi!
Well the most important part of my ‘dogging' is Heidi, and she seems to enjoy these runs more with each time… I now know that Heidi prefers to run as part of the pack content to be near the front but not in the lead, except on woodland single-track; she absolutely adores these and strains to get to the front, really pulling at the lead. It may have something to do with the enclosed nature of the woodland having less distractions than the open scrubland or tarmac stretches, but she certainly favours it, although she still will not run through a puddle and actively skirts round mud where she has a choice. Now when I ask Heidi if she wants to go for a run she goes bat-shit crazy with excitement pogoing around and eager to get in to the van and run.

The group with whom I have been out, Hart and Rushmoor Canicrossers, are a friendly bunch meeting informally a few times a week with runs of different lengths at different paces to cater for all abilities of dog and owner from the most fleet of foot to ponderous of plodder - I’ll leave it to you to decide whether I am describing humans or hounds there!

If you are in or near the Hart or Rushmoor area of Hampshire and want to go out on a social run with your dog over some lovely countryside terrain, then get in touch with them, they'll make you and your dog feel most welcome.

Monday, 21 July 2014

25th May: Flete of foot

Today was the 10th and last race in the Endurancelife Coastal Trail Series 13/14 season down on the Flete Estate in south Devon and my 7th appearance in this year's series.

My race here was with one eye on my first ultra in 2 weeks time and I came in to the race having attempted to train as much as I could between my last mara and this one, which included a final run of a 10 miler on the Thursday evening preceding the event with my spaniel Heidi roped to me, the closest to a race that I have been out and done a decent distance.

Having watched the Champions League final where Real gubbed Atletico 4-1 after extra time in the all Madrid final, I drove down to the event base arriving at around 1am due to the game's overrunning, and parked around the corner for my night’s kip.

Awaking early on the Sunday I parked in the event base, a field a little way up the hill from the estuary. I made sure I reversed in towards the perimeter hedge as I had brought a new toy with me to use today: a solar shower. The shower works through heat conduction from the sun through a special membrane in a 20L bag of water, with a hose and a rudimentary shower head on the end of the bag to turn on and off to let the warm water flood out. According to the manufacturer, all you have to do is leave it out in the sun and it will heat to a usable temperature even without strong summer sun, so the plan is to leave it on top of the van whilst I run to warm up over the hours. I have also sorted out a tarpaulin that wraps around the open rear doors of the van with the help of some bungee cords to create a cubicle for a spot of privacy, as the last thing people will want to see after enduring a long exhausting run is my fat hairy arse being lathered up!

This year the course had been reversed from last due to tide times, which meant that rather than running 3/4 of the course before hitting the evil coastal hills between Bigbury and the event base and crossing the estuary before the final mile, you pretty much ran across the water like a herd of Jesus’s at the start before tackling the hills immediately after - far better in my book to get the hardest part out of the way at the start on fresh legs rather than encountering them when near exhaustion at the end!

I had decided to take some new running techniques in to the race and see how they panned-out, mostly making the most of the downhill sections when I can. Being a fat bloke, once the belly gets momentum its great for getting down hills pretty damn quick, so after reading up on descending techniques, it seems you should lean forward and go for it!.. However the inverse is true on the climbs and my belly seems to hold me back as I struggle to ascend with any form of pace or consistency… So I’ve decided to try swinging my arms in time to attempt to gain more momentum and leverage when going up hills.

From the off it was a downward mile to the estuary, where I decided to put the above in to practice and soon I found myself cutting through the field as the estuary was reached and I marched through the knee-deep water towards the head of the field.

Cooling off before we had a chance to get hot!
Over the other side and the climbing to the cliff tops commenced - and people began to file past me putting me back towards where I should be in the pack as we reached the grassy cliff tops and travelled southwards, contending with chest-high thistles and the occasional stile as we admired the views out to the sea from up on high.

Up on to the cliffs.

Heading East.

The mighty thistles!
These rolling cliff-top hills were proving a great place to practice the ascent and descent technique theories and the down hills were going phenomenally well, however I think I over-did it in the intensity as on the uphills my left quad was burning through the lactic acid not dissipating with building through the continual changes in attitude not giving them a chance to recover and I was forced to stop and massage it out as the burn was becoming too uncomfortable.

Looking back over a couple of the hills.
A stop for a good massage seemed to alleviate the problem and I continued on to Bigbury and the descent on to the beach where I caught up with fellow runner Gary from not too far from me in Surrey. He has set himself the challenge of the dozen marathons in a year as I originally did and is mixing road and trails both here and overseas to see more of the UK and the world.

Beach combing.
Crossing the beach I found myself catching and drawing level with James & Dan who were doing this marathon as preparation for the Classic Quarter relay. Previously they have done a few of the CTS half marathons, but this was their first go at the full distance on one of the series, although they have raced the Portsmouth marathon back in December, so we discussed our experiences of that as we climbed off the beach and up the hills for the inland stretch.

Traversing golf course, country lanes and woodlands, after checkpoint 2 the marathon course soon merged with that of the half and the trail began to fill-up with more runners in front of me… The good and the bad of this was at over half distance gone in the marathon, a load of speedier runners are introduced in front of you and your natural instinct is to try and keep up or catch them, even though they are racing on a shorter course and therefore have burnt a lot less energy and naturally will be quicker. That said, I couldn’t help but catch them without seeming to make an increase in my pace and as we went through a lovely section of single-track woodlands as it overlooked the trail as it followed a path up the Erme estuary and I found myself being held-up by them so ended up overtaking as and when the trail allowed so I could keep on at my own pace. I soon found myself caught up with Gary again who had had the same experience, so we ran the next couple of miles over the estuary bridge with its beautiful bouquet of rotting seaweed from the tidal marsh and along to the third checkpoint.

Looking up the Erme.
I dibbed-in at the checkpoint and carried on through without stopping, pulling a cliff bar out of my pack and eating it as I walked along the driveway of the Flete Estate and out by the lodge-house at the entrance… Once out it was a pleasant shaded road with a slight cooling breeze offering a decent respite from the sun.

At this point I found myself on my todd for the first time in the race, not bad considering that it was now around 2/3 the way through, so I thought I’d put some tunes on to while away the next few miles before I caught up with humanity in one form or another.

After a couple of songs I passed the course split where the halfers head back in to the finish and us more hardy of souls head on for the final 10k loop. This split took us up an enclosed path that at some point had been a raging torrent in the recent floods; you had to pick your way through the rocks, pieces of tree and general detritus that had been deposited there by the water as it scoured its way down. The gradient was unforgiving and with the trees closing over head it seemed like an endless tunnel through which to plod… At this point the next song on the iPod began to play and the low-slung baseline of 'I Wanna Be Adored’ by the Stone Roses began to fade in from nothing and fill my ears, and instantly my spirits were lifted.

Picking your way along the path.
Music when you run can have such a huge positive impact on your mood, and can really imprint itself on a visual memory of where you were when listening: I will forever be taken back to running along the cliff path on the 2013 South Devon CTS when I hear the Fat Boy Slim remix of the Beastie Boys ‘Body Movin’ which lifted me then, and when I hear Dido’s ‘White Flag’ I am instantly taken to the bleak cold windiness of running the ridge back from Eastbourne to the finish of the 2013 CTS Sussex in sub zero temperatures… I couldn’t help but sing along to this ‘Roses classic as I ran, safe in the knowledge that there was no-one in earshot of my tone deaf wailings as believe me, I cannot carry a tune in a bucket!

Out at the top of the hill it was a winding way through country lanes and across farmland, crossing stiles and opening and closing plenty of gates - one of which had been re-chained closed by a previous runner and I could not slip it off, spending a few minutes wrestling with it and tearing my hand on some barbed wire before I managed to free the chain to walk through it - hindsight tells me ‘why didn’t you climb the gate you numpty?’ but at that distance, the last thing I wanted to be doing was anything more than necessary to get to the finish.

Once over the farmland with the sun beating down as the afternoon sun was reaching its full power, we found ourselves in a welcomed avenue of a farm track, the trail being one of mud and water under foot… I soon found myself catching up on a handful of runners in front as I took the principal of just ploughing through the mud and puddles in a straight line rather than those in front who danced around from side to side of the track trying to avoid them. The muddy water was a welcome coolant to my overheating feet, thoroughly refreshing them by the time the final checkpoint was reached at the end of the path.

Through this checkpoint and it was back on to the sun drenched farmland and narrow winding country lanes, until all of a sudden we crossed a road, funnelled down a footpath and without warning we were confronted by this:

I see the sea!
Back on to the coastal path!

A few tricky twists and turns traversing the narrowest of paths worn in to the cliff-top, the long grasses obscuring everything and battling our way through chest-high thistles again and we were on to some open pasture and with the bright sun and its heat taking full effect again, the most wonderful of sights in front of me on the path… A full cattle trough.

I poured the fresh cold water over my head, enjoying the instant cooling effect, revelling in the relief… For all of 30 seconds... When the water began to wash the salt from my sweat into my eyes and run off my brow and over the lenses of my sunnies, giving them a smeary outlook that I was unable to do anything about as I had nothing about my person absorbent enough to clean them, so cursing cruel hubris I continued this last 10k stretch with the choice of impaired shaded vision or unimpaired squint-worthy vision through the glare of the sun.

Where does the land end and the sea begin?
Off the pasture and back on to the path, it seemed that this stretch of the coastal path has not seen much use so far this year as the vegetation has not been worn back through a decent trampling. The width of the trail naturally is about that of your foot and with the long grass obscuring your sight of it at times it was difficult to see where you were going to land, and hoped that you would not find a rock or a pit to turn your ankle. Running this required total concentration, so I had no choice but to lift the sunnies for this as the smears were obscuring things just a little too much for safety, and even then I still caught my foot on something and felt myself overbalance. There was to be no stumbling recovery from this so I had to go with gravity and try to make the easiest landing possible, bracing myself for the sting of nettles or pricking of thistles as I dropped my shoulder and went with the motion of the fall, rolling into the undergrowth… Dear god that was lucky, I must have found the only patch on the whole length without vindictive vegetation to arrest my tumble and miraculously unscathed, apart from the small bruise to the ego, I picked myself up and carried on with my trot towards the finish.

Going back in land for the final stage.
As we approached the end of this section of cliff-top path it defended gradually until we encountered some pretty steep steps down onto the beach at Meadowsfoot, the small but sandy - energy sappingly sandy - beach that seemed to drag what remnants of va-va-voom that were still within you and spat it out on to the sun-drenched sand. Mercifully in a short time we were over it and soon back under cover of woodland and wound our way back to the turn for the finish, the last mile on a steady uphill gradient. The closer you got to the finish line, the faint murmur of the PA increased in volume, then people started appearing by the side of the path sheltering in the shade of the avenue’s boughs either waiting for the appearance of their loved one or friend, or just those who had finished their races and encouraging others.

I summoned up what I had within me and jogged the last few hundred metres, turning round the corner and in to the field for the finish… And a kit check.

I knew I had raced a strong race for me, but I was not able to revel in my own personal glory there and then… These events come with a mandatory kit list which you must carry with you - and I was taken aside along with the lady who had just finished in front of me to have our packs checked to ensure we were running in compliance with the race rules. The kit they require you to carry is a good sensible safety measure: medical kit, foil blanked, emergency whistle, food, drink, cash, hat and a windproof jacket.

I always ensure I comply with all the medical and safety kit, as the last thing I want to do is DQ having driven all the way to the event and hauled my sorry arse around the marathon course, but today with it being summer(ish) I did not take a jacket with me as I felt the weather made it unnecessary, but it is on the mandatory kit list and as such I was marked down, but fortunately not DQ’d… This is the first time in 14 of the CTS races that I have had my kit checked, and I have no problem with this as it is important that people do run whilst prepared for the worst, it would just be better all round to do random sampling of entrants before a race and with the shop on-site there is an opportunity for people to purchase anything missing from their list to ensure running with total compliance.

After the baggage check I walked through to be given my print-off of the time, medal, Cliff builders bar, and a hearty congratulations and a handshake from James the race director, as I had managed my second successful 7x challenge in the series, which I felt was a nice touch.

I saw behind at the finish queuing to have his kit examined was Gary so I went over to him and congratulated him on his race, thanking him for the conversation and companionship during the run, which is what these events are about, being able to chat with the like-minded, finding out about their personal journey that has led them to be up stupidly early in the morning and running a marathon across mud in the middle of nowhere!

Breath now caught and my body calming down I staggered over to the van and had my first post-race shower at a CTS event - and refreshing it was too. The water had warmed a little, but not a great deal, but it was good to be able to wash the sweat and grime off you after the race, get changed in to clean clothes and not wander around smelling like something had just died, with a sickly aroma of body spray applied way too liberally in a vain attempt to camouflage it.

I wandered back to the finish line to clap fellow runners home and enjoy my post-race protein shake and scotch eggs. I soon noticed sitting there having not long finished were James & Dan, so went over and had a chat with them and how we were all looking forward to the big one in a few weeks: The Classic Quarter. After a bit of a rest it was time to leave sunny Devon and this season’s Coastal Trail Series behind for home.

It turned out that I finished 37/76 starters - my first time in the top 50% of a marathon field! Naturally I was elated at this, although I reckon I could have gone around 10 mins quicker if not for my dodgy quad but hey, I really can’t complain with the result and time and I’m really looking forward to the forthcoming Classic Quarter although with trepidation seeing as it will be my longest distance covered by nearly 15 miles… Or another 50% extra distance!

For the record, here's the mix of music that shuffled along as I shuffled along:

Polly - Nirvana
Les Filles de Redon - Tri Yann
X-Files - Music Sculptors
Tri Martolod - Tri Yann
I Wanna be Adored - Stone Roses
One Night - Travis
She’s So High - Blur
Nes Sous La Meme Etoile - IAM
Where the Streets Have no Name - U2
World in Motion - New Order
Heaven - Frazier Chorus
Open Heart Surgery - Brian Jonestown Massacre
Winning the War - Carter USM
Are You Out There - Crescendo
Planete Mars - IAM
Wallpaper - My Life Story
Come On - The Verve
I’m Too Sexy - Right Said Fred
Dumbing Down - Chumbawamba
I Will Survive - Diana Ross
The Word Hurricane - Air
Poison - The Prodigy
The Sound of Silence - Simon & Garfunkel
King of the Road - The Proclaimers