Running for the pies

Running for the pies

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

10th August: 54321 Again!

It's amazing what a a difference few weeks can make... I came back from my outing in Bath a tad despondent about my performance and how I could not find my running mojo on it. Between then and today I did not go out running at all, letting my legs rest, in particular my calf muscle, and went in to the Salisbury 54321 feeling fresh.

The day saw a weather warning over the whole of the British Isles for the arse-end of hurricane Bertha who had been raging out in the Atlantic and was hitting land, so we were to expect heavy rain and wind.

Driving in to Salisbury there were a couple of downpours en route and it was looking like it could be ideal running conditions for August by being overcast, not too hot and the occasional shower to cool us off.

This was all a huge contrast to last year with the temperature in the mid 20's with not a cloud in the sky.

After collecting my number I bumped into Moose who had entered the ultra in prep for his Marathon des Sables jaunt next spring and wished him all the best in his race.

Moose on the rampage.
All changed I waved-off the ultra runners before waiting at the start line for our marathon start. As we stood there the PA announced that Marathon Man was there ready to go, although perhaps a little slower than normal.

A soggy start.
Over the previous day the North Downs Way 100 ultra marathon had been staged, and with it being a marathon (or rather nearly 4x a marathon), and being held on a Saturday, in his inimitable gonzo style, Marathon Man had decided ‘I’ll have a bit of that’ and had run its full length in just under 24 hours… And after about 2 hours sleep here he was having been driven from the finish of that race in Kent to the start line of the 54321 here in Salisbury for his Sunday marathon.

After a couple of miles on the hill up to the castle, I caught up with him and ran beside him having a chat, mostly to help and keep him awake and his spirits up, as he was pretty much doing a good impression of a zombie, which was understandable having been on his feet for nigh on 36 hours at this point through his covering of the 100 miles! It was a pleasure being able to chat with him again on his record breaking journey - the 100 miler had been an interesting experience for him with hurricane Bertha in effect for part of the journey and the trail cutting-up under foot making it pretty treacherous because of all the rain.

Shortly after leaving marathon man behind (normally he’s way in front of me being a pretty quick runner, but the 100 miles might just have taken a little pace from his legs today), I bumped in to another legend of the marathon circuit: Brian Mills.

I haven’t seen Brian at a race in a while as he mostly runs on tarmac rather than trail, so I figured he must be closing in on 1,000 marathons - yep you read that right 1,000 marathons... I asked where he was at on the count, and today was number 998, with the big one happening in Longford two weeks hence. They were making him a race number of 1,000 for it. With that sheer number of events under his belt, I asked Brian what he has done with all his race numbers etc. He told me he keeps them all filed away safely, as well as the medals!

Whilst we didn’t have the gale force winds from hurricane Bertha promised by the forecasters, we had the showers of rain and fairly low cloud, so all the views were pretty much shrouded from view over the first 2/3 of the run… Nothing to it but to put the head down and concentrate on the running rather than gazing at the surroundings for a change, with not much of a point to stop for photos as a consequence.

After around 6 miles and making good time, the first of the ultra runners caught and overtook us, with Moose well-up the field!.. It was shortly after Moose and the rest of the cream of the ultra field owning most of us mediocre marathoners, that I bumped into a chap called Richard McDonald who was running a pretty similar pace to me and we spent the next few miles having a good chat about why we do these things and life in general.

Rain over, but clouds still overhead.
Richard has run a few of the 54321’s and he also has run the Pilgrim previously, and like me will be again in September. As a Scot based down here, he has been back to the homeland to run marathons, most recently the Edinburgh one, which he warned me should be called the East Lothian marathon as you start on the edge of the centre of Edinburgh and keep running eastward leaving the city behind you… So much for making the best of a beautiful city and all its sights, and that pains him as a native of the city! He has also booked in to the Glasgow marathon which from looking at the course seems to be taking you through all the sights of the city centre and making the best of it, so he’s looking forward this one being better, and as he pointed out with the rivalry between the two cities, Glasgow will certainly want to one-up Edinburgh, which would only be a good thing.

We were chatting about names at one point and he told me of a couple of brothers who were at his school, Alan and Peter Ness... It makes you wonder if their parents really thought through the consequences of naming their boys like that.

One of the few vistas we viewed owing to the cloud finally clearing.
Soon the sun began to break through the clouds and the weather changed to broken sunshine for the rest of the race, with Richard leaving me behind as my pace could not match his… Having said that I managed to keep my tempo up and with the sun not having taken a lot out of me over the first 3/4 of the course, I still had plenty of time banked even though the last 10k was hard work in the heat, and I managed to cross the finish line faster than last year… Not bad having not run a step for a few weeks! A world of difference from the last time out in Bath.

Yomping through the Yew forest.
Marathon Man finished the marathon in around 6 hours, buoyed by the number of fellow runners all stopping to chat with him along the way and keeping him going as he covered over 126 miles under his own steam in a day and a half… A truly phenomenal achievement by any standard.

With a fair bit of solitary running being done, this race's shuffle selection was:

To the World (Lifting Club Experience) - ORGAN
Can U Dig it? - PWEI
She’s Got Time - Newton Faulkner
Viva City - Adamski
Bohemian Like You - Dandy Warhols
God is a DJ - Faithless
Summer Rain - Belinda Carlisle
Be Mine - David Gray
Mr.Integrity - L7
Two Sisters - The Kinks
Sheigra - Finitribe
Hands Open - Stone Roses
Tell Me - Stone Roses
Promises - Sugababes
The Guitar - They Might be Giants
Swamp Thing - The Grid
Super Trouper - Abba
Bump - Fun Lovin Criminals
Gambit - XCNN
Going Down - Stone Roses
Right Here Right Now - Jesus Jones
Whale of a Tail - Finitribe
So Hard - Pet Shop Boys

Sunday, 28 September 2014

27th July: Bath

Bath is a lovely place to go visit; the ancient Roman centre of Aquae Sulis and the baths that give the town its name are well worth time in your life, the Victorian and Edwardian neo-classical architecture of the town centre drawing its inspiration from what was there before. Over the years I’ve been there a good few times from field-trips when at school, journeys with my parents ferrying my sister down there for her ‘latin summer schools’ spent studying the language in more depth, doing the touristy thing as an adult and watching Farnborough taking on Bath City in the football.

When I discovered that there was a trail marathon in Bath, part of Relish Running's 'Bath Running Festival', I put it in to the diary and I’ve been looking forward to going down there for the run. Bath is a pretty hilly place - like Rome it is built on 7 of the feckers, so one thing’s for sure… It won’t be a totally flat course!

A 90 minute blast down the M4 into the wild west-country and I was in the land of cider and cheese that is Somerset on the Sunday morning… I had misjudged the time it would take me, so I was at the event base of the university very early, in fact so early they had not even  set-up the gazebos for the registration!

The good part of this meant that I was able to choose my parking space - cunningly under a tree to keep the van out of as much direct sun as possible and kill some time over a breakfast of coffee and flapjack whilst reading a mag & grabbing a bit of a snooze before having to register and ready myself.

Bath University is a centre of sporting excellence - quite a lot of the elite athletes representing Team GB have studied or are based there. The uni footy team rose through the ranks to the 6th tier of the national game here in Britain before resigning its position as the intention was not to end-up with a professional/ high level semi-professional football team on its hands. As you walk in to the sports centre you are confronted with floor to ceiling banners of their athletic alumnus and their achievements… It gives you a real sense of being close to greatness, about as close to that as I will ever get!

All changed I made my way down to the start line - where I bumped in to Robert Young, or ‘Marathon Man’. I’ve seen him in a few previous races (well you can’t miss him as he runs in a kilt) and have been in touch with him on Facebook, so I went over to say hello and wish him all the best with this his latest run.

Marathon Man is going all-out to achieve something that most people would not believe is possible; he’s running at least a marathon a day over the course of a year to hopefully set a new world record marker for the distance… He’s about a third of the way in now and still going strong.

Awaiting the start in the shade.
From the start line we headed out of the university, which is sited on a plateau atop one of the hills, and off on a 5k loop over the fields that surround the campus.

The view from the loop around the campus.
Looking back to those behind me (although not for much longer).
Running through some woodlands leading to those fields, we were all blindly following the arrows that marked the route, until we came to a fork in the path, where unfortunately the arrows had vamoosed, so all of us were faced with a 50/50 choice - uphill or downhill… Now this is where I’ll surprise you; being a fat bastard, you’d expect me to choose the path of least resistance and head downwards, but I chose the harder option and went up, which in about 20 metres vindicated my choice as there were more arrows to be found, so those of us on the uphill called-back to those behind trying to make a choice to go for the right one (in this case the left) to save them the frustration of running an unnecessary extra distance - and a hilly distance at that!

The shaded trail.
Towards the end of the loop we had our first view of the centre of Bath from our lofty position, glimpsed through a gap in the trees as we crossed a meadow.

Bath below.
Shortly thereafter we found ourselves turning a corner, hitting the road and making our way towards the town centre.

Down into town.
As the road levelled-out we made our way down some steps and on to the Kennet and Avon canal, running through a couple of small tunnels as we hit the main part of the run - 2 laps of a lollipop shape with the canal stretch and the river Avon being the stick and a steep climb to the top of one of the other hills and the descent being the ‘sweet’.

Traversing a tunnel.
The run along the canal was a real trudge, just unremitting… The tow path was popular with people out walking in the heat of the Sunday midday morning, the sun beating down on us with no shelter and the humidity being pretty high. I found the slog along here relentless, the dusty tow-path reflecting the glare of the sun and for appearances sake you really felt like you should not stop along here with all the passer’s-by looking on at you!.. Eventually it came to an end and we had a short stretch a long a road down to lovely pub/ restaurant just over a bridge on the River Avon. Here we jinked off to the side of the road and looped around on to a path that took us under the bridge. and along the river for another mile or so to the aid-station that marked the beginning of the ‘sweet’ of this lollipop section.

The slog along the tow-path.
Immediately we found ourselves climbing up a long steep hill that formed part of the Roman’s ‘Fosse Way’ road to the plateau on top and the 10 mile marker (it felt like so much more by then), before heading down and up another hill, this one immortalised in song by Peter Gabriel: Solsbury Hill (You can hear it here) skirting round the edge of the Iron Age fort, before heading back down to the river, the canal, touching a bridge and repeating it all again.

Climbing up on Solsbury HIll.
I don’t know what it was, but by the time I had hit the plateau at the top of the lollipop I just could not find my running mojo. Maybe it was the heat? Maybe it was the running along the tow-path? Maybe it was the time of year?.. I don’t know, I just could not get myself enthused or my legs working in a consistent manner. One thing was for sure though; my choice in footwear was not helping.

With the ground being hardened after so very little rain of late and plenty of sun, I chose to wear my road shoes rather than trail shoes, as grip on soft ground was not going to be an issue here… This was a sound decision on that basis, however the less robust nature of the trainers, with their soles being considerably thinner, made sure I felt every root, rock and stone that I ran over and the discomfort that entailed, which fair to say led to me getting a bit of a grump on with every wince of pain.

This time last year I ran the Fairlands Valley Challenge, which I also did not enjoy - but that was more for the organisation of the event combined with the route - having to orienteer it rather than run it. Here in Bath, the views we had of the city were lovely, the course on paper was not that tricky, the hills were no worse than many I have had to traverse on my travels, but something was not working for me today in a big way… It all became a trudge, a case of putting one foot in front of the other and dragging my sorry arse to the finish.

The next dozen miles seemed to take forever… I found myself stopping at aid stations to chat with the marshals in an attempt to prolong the inevitable re-starting along the way… By the time I got to the end of the lolly stick for the second time, the end could not come soon enough in my mind, and the long slow plod up the hill to the uni campus at least meant I was close to the end, eventually crossing the line with a sense of relief rather than elation.

After composing myself I grabbed my gear and went back in to the sports complex and used the showers… Its always good to be able to have a shower after a marathon, but sadly not something that is often available, so I was eager to take advantage whilst I could.

Walking along to the changing rooms I passed by a bank of offices, one of which was the headquarters of the British Bobsleigh and Skeleton teams, the latter being hugely successful in the Winter Olympics of late, producing in the last 4 games in the women’s event, Bronze, Silver, Gold and Gold - these two being for Amy Williams and Lizzy Yarnold, both of whom were based here at the university. As I mentioned earlier, its a privilege to be close to greatness!

Where it all happens.
After a bit of reflection and there was no logical reason for my running mojo not being there - its true I don’t enjoy running in the heat as much as I enjoy the winter running, but the course held nothing untoward, and in fact I have run far harder routes in the heat, so I’ll just have to put this down to a bit of an off-day at the office so as to speak… Then again, after 27 marathons to only have had 2 ‘iffy’ runs, that’s not bad going, and unlike Stevenage I reckon I’ll be back in the future to run it again, and hopefully set a far better marker as to what I am capable of and have this particular lollipop licked.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

8th June: Coniston

The Coniston marathon was a first for me; the chance to go for one of these runs in the Lake District, an area of Britain that I love and is close to my heart having dragged LSS up Skiddaw mountain in a torrential rainstorm whilst it also blew a hoolie, to get down on one knee and propose to her! Coniston Water is not a place I had been before and I was looking forward to seeing the site of Malcolm Campbell's setting of the water speed record and his son Donald’s ill-fated attempt to push it even faster.

The weather was an awful lot kinder to us for this visit than when I proposed to LSS, which was fortunate as we had decided to camp overnight for the event and let's face it, camping in the rain isn't really much fun! Lakeland Trails, the organisers of the event have based their event at Coniston Hall, with its adjacent camp site, so with LSS’s parents living only an hour and change south of the Lake District we went up to stay with them on the Friday before heading off to Coniston on the Saturday to pitch our tent about as close to the start/finish line of a marathon as you will get.

After setting up the tent I wandered down to the start to register before we headed off to Keswick to spend the rest of the day.

After returning we took a wander off to the Ship Inn pub for the evening, taking-in the Netherlands Costa Rica game on the tele, the Dutch triumphing on penalties 4-3 to advance to the semi finals of the World Cup.

Walking the shoreline as the sun waned.
Staggering back across the fields in the darkness we hunkered-down for the night.

The becalmed lake of the morning.
Up bright and early, changed and breakfasted I headed-off to the start with LSS - the first time she had been able to see me start one of these little runs, and after the obligatory wait we were away and running.

Waiting for the start.
The first mile or so was on the flat paths around the western side of the lake and in to the village before crossing the road and beginning our jaunt in to the countryside over a gently undulating woodland path under the gaze of the Old Man of Coniston heading steadily northwards and in to the wooded hills.

Along the edge of the woodland trail.
Running past a quarry on a wide stony sheltered path, my legs were feeling a bit leaden and I was struggling to get my running mojo on… My pace wasn’t bad, I was just feeling generally sluggish as I ran along, although a sudden and unexpected intervention saw to that… All of a sudden I could feel something on the back of my head, then a sharp painful stabbing sensation as a wasp had landed on me and decided to get feisty with me. Yelping in surprise, I grasped at the wasp and yanked it off, squeezing it and throwing it away once it was out, the little fecker deserved to die!

All of a sudden I found myself shooting-off at a far faster pace; life was back in my legs as I began to chew the trail-up beneath me. I don’t know what’s in wasp venom, or whether it was a reaction to the shock of being stung, but it seemed to have a positive affect on my pace! Fortunately I always run these things with a medical kit - as its demanded of other races, so in a rare example of a good habit for me I always have it in the running pack no matter what the race. Unfortunately one thing that is not in it is an antihistamine cream, mostly because I am yet to find something I am allergic to and would need it for, however with my body being pushed in an extreme way I was a little wary that this may be the time I react! As soon as I got to the next aid station, I asked them to have a look to see if there was any sign of a flare-up and fortunately there was none!

The view rounding the north side of the course.
The next stage took us on a turn to the south and the very tranquil location of Tarn Hows where we circuited for a lap and a half of it before heading south in to the forest to the east of Coniston Water and a steady climb.

Leaving the Tarn after the circuits.
Running along the wide forest ranger’s metalled paths the sun was glaring down on us. Along this stretch I was joined by a runner of the previous year’s race. Last year it had been his first ever attempt at a marathon and he had just gone for it hell-for-leather, way too fast. He realised this after about 6 miles in when he was in the top 10 and the dawning realisation hit him that he could not sustain that kind of pace - although he tried his best, literally running till he dropped not much further along from where we were. He said that one minute he was upright, and the next he was on the floor ‘communing with the dragonflies’ that his fevered mind was telling him were flying around in front of his face! He picked himself up and attempted to nurse himself around to the end!

Coniston village re-appearing in the distance.
After a section through the pine trees we suddenly went out through a clearing and there we were running along a ridge looking down upon Coniston Water to our right. I had to stop to savour the view, watching the tiny specs of people canoeing on the becalmed surface from up here on high… As I stopped to photograph the sight I was joined by a couple of runners in Orange - one sporting the jersey of the Oranje - the Dutch national football team. Chatting with them as they caught their breath to admire the view I asked if they go looking for hills to run up because there’s not too many where they live… and the answer came that is exactly what they do; they go running hilly marathons all over Europe, in the Alps, Pyrenees, wherever there’s good hills and good views, although they were feeling this run more than others having spent the previous evening celebrating the football victory!

Looking north.

Looking South

Looking at the trail in front, safe to say this was a favourite running experience of mine!

The descent... All good things must come to an end.
Soon the ridge run ran its course as the south of the lake was reached and the descent back down off the cool heights with their gentle breeze to the still air of the waterside began, overtaking some of the early start runners who were dressed as Red Indian squaws!

Running along some country lanes we soon found ourselves off the flat of the bottom of the valley and heading back uphill and onto Blawith Fell. Climbing up the grassy hillside, or rather fellside, we were met with the welcome sight of Beacon Tarn. After the long slow climb up here in the roasting still conditions I couldn’t help but walk right in to it and cool off - sinking my wrists into the clear cold water and filling my cap before putting it back on my head.

The view of the tarn from in the tarn.
From the tarn we crossed the fell and the winding descent back to the waterside. The path, for large swathes of the way down whilst visible in being able to tell there was one, because t was surrounded by waist-high bracken, did a great job of making it impossible to see where you were putting your feet. This element of jeapordy added to the fun, with me only stumbling once and at least keeping my balance, although I can't be sure of the same for other people! It was comical watching what looked like disembodied upper torsos following a narrow path through a river of bracken leaves.

Beginning the descent.
More cracking views :)
The final stretch of the route was back along the lake's western shore; in and out of the shade of the trees lining the lakeside, the path undulating continuously until it all cleared the woodland as Coniston Hall was sighted. Back skirting along the edge of the campsite, running past my tent and the van on the other side of the hedge, before we entered the field where it all began and doing half a lap of it past the assembled masses of those who had already finished before crossing the line… With LSS waiting for me along with our new addition to the ‘family’: Spud the Springer Spaniel/ Border Collie cross we have recently re-homed. This is the first time that LSS has been there to see me off and back for one of these runs… I suspect it may be the first and last time she does the ‘double’ with how early they tend to start!

With the calm lake being right next to the finish line it seemed churlish not to utilise the body to cool off mine, so like countless others I walked in to the wonderfully chilly water and stood in there up to my waste as I recovered, with Spud swimming out to me as LSS waited patiently on the shore for me to cool-down and emerge from the lake dripping wet, but at least not dripping with sweat as I was before.

Once cooled I took the chance to sample a Bambi-burger being served by one of the food stalls that were around the start/ finish line, and whilst sitting and eating we were entertained by a local musician as he sang and strummed for the benefit of those of us there. The tee they gave to all finishers is a lovely one and already its a favourite without even wearing it: a pale blue background with the outline of the lake picked-out in yellow.

Once recovered it was time to change and dismantle the tent ready for the trip back to LSS's parents. It was a shame we did not have more time, but at least we saw some of the sights that nature had to offer us around Coniston.

The run itself was not too taxing terrain-wise, which was more of a relief than anything else as when the sun was unfettered by clouds, the heat quickly rose - so the ample areas of shaded running were a boon, and if I was not nursing my calf injury I would have been around at least 15 minutes quicker; but these runs aren't so much about times as about what you see around you, which was certainly plentiful in grace and splendour. Combining the race with almost a festival feel with the music and the food stalls and having a campsite next door made it a great relaxing time for both LSS and Spud as well as me, and we both have decided that I should definitely go back in the future to give it another run.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

24th June: Leg 433

After the poking and prodding of physio last night, this morning was my scheduled running of leg 433 of the GB Relay. Rather than my normal tactic of traveling down the night before I decided just to get-up extra early and drive down there in time for the scheduled handover of 05:44 seeing as it was only around a 2 hour journey to get there.

Before I hit the sack the previous night I was aware that the baton was running late by around a couple of hours, so I figured the night-shift of runners would have held fast on the delay, or perhaps even clawed-back some of the time.

My stage was to be run from West Bexington to Langton Herring, with the handover to me taking place in West Bexington’s beach-side car-park and the handover from me in the village centre of Langton Herring.

Parking-up I had a breakfast and switched my phone on to check on the updates… It seemed the baton had not managed to gain time, so it was a case of sitting and waiting.

I changed in readiness and went to stretch my legs as the dawn fully broke, the beach being surprisingly busy at stupid o’clock in the morning with anglers coming along and staking their claim on a particular part of the shingle beach.

Early morning anglers playing with their rods.
Come the appointed time and there was no sign of the baton as I had expected. I received a communication from the relay HQ that the handover from me to the next group would no longer take place in the village of Langton Herring, but on the coastal path before it so as to claw back some time… This shaved about a mile off my run as the last part was uphill into Langton Herring, and after handing over, the next runner was to retrace my steps back down on to the coastal path, so it was decided to just hand over where the 2 legs met on the coastal path.

Checking one more time for an update on the Facebook page and there were comments about the baton being 4 hours+ behind schedule, so I figured I’d be fine for a bit of shut-eye, so went for a nap in the back of the van.

With me being in a proper car park I woke up at the time the metering was about to come into force and went and paid for a day ticket, as at this rate I did not know what time things would start or finish so best to err on the side of caution… Checking again for updates on Facebook, again their was nothing, so I went and had another snooze for an hour ensuring I was awake for the 4 hour lag to end.

With it being the middle of a decent spell of summer weather, the sun was climbing high in a cloudless sky and increasing in strength as it went as I sat there twiddling my thumbs, reading and waiting.

As the temperature rose to the mid twenties centigrade, eventually I saw a shimmer on the horizon… For those of you who have watched Lawrence of Arabia and the entrance of Sheriff Ali through the heat-haze across the Sahara desert, it was something akin to that, the blurring shape slowly getting bigger and more distinctive, and eventually after all my waiting the baton was in sight.

If you ever need proof of the world being small and how everyone can connect to any person famous, infamous or insignificant within 7 handshakes, then what happened next proved this to me inexorably!

In 2012 I took part in the Real Relay by running the stage from Tadley to Basingstoke. The previous stage runners had been a small group from the Hungerford Hares led by Stuart March and Barry Miller - both of whom I managed to catch-up with at the Portsmouth marathon before last Christmas… Now completely by chance, the person handing the baton to me was a lady called Kirstin Hay… Who informed me as the baton was passed over, that she’s the girlfriend of none other than Barry Miller! How about that for a strange set of joined-up circumstances?

The approach of Kirstin.
As we jogged along together for the last 50 metres or so of her leg, Kirstin informed me how hard the stage had been running through the shingle beach… I did not think too much of this, but as the car-park ended, the coastal path turned into ankle-deep pea-shingle, something that is impossible to get through at anything resembling speed! It made me realise how tough the previous leg had been on Kirstin and anyone else before who had the misfortune of running over the shingle along this coastline - its not a pleasant experience in the slightest and I would not wish this upon anyone!

The evil shingle.
The ‘baton’ in this relay was more something akin to a child’s lunchbox in size and shape, and not much heavier. It is made of a solid plastic case with the GPS tracker and battery pack inside it. It also has a time-lapse camera on the bottom of it to ensure that there is a continuous record of the journey every 30 seconds or so, so as to enable the record attempt adjudicators to tell if the baton has been ‘dropped’ or on the ground.

Both sides of 'Casey'.
Because of its shape, size and construction, the baton had been given the nickname of ‘Casey’, and by the time that ‘Casey’ was in my hands she(?) was looking a little the worse for wear! She had been stickered by some previous holders to mark the tenure of their geographic legs, and a velcro strap was on there as well so you could wrap it around your wrist so as to act as a safety strap in case of droppage.

Anyway, back to the running and finally after moving off the shingle and on to the concrete and tarmac path and being able to pick up my pace, the realisation of how hot it was now dawned upon me and how ill-prepared I was for running in the midday sun. I had come prepared for an early morning jaunt, so I did not have any sun-block on me, or a sun hat to protect my head, nor did I have anything approaching enough fluid with me for the run in these conditions. I had planned on running to the handover and back, to total a distance of around 2/3 a marathon and be all finished by around 9am and the worst of the heat… Instead I was now in the blazing sun of midday. But there were 432 legs behind me and another couple of hundred in front of me that owed my dedication to just push myself as hard as I could and get to the handover holding as close to time as possible.

After arriving at the East Bexington’s beach-side car park the path took a turn slightly inland and part way up the side of the first hill. Crossing a stream I made my way along the path through cow-pastures, having to shoo a load of them out the way at one point! Above me cresting the hill looking over the village of Abbotsbury stood St. Catherine’s Chapel. The pasture gave way to some woodland and another stream fording as I rounded a farmhouse before joining a country lane and heading round past the car park for the visitor’s centre of the Abbotsbury Swannery. Beyond here it was a mile or so of undulating country lane that was bereft of any shelter. The sun was beating down with such ferocity that the road surface was now melting, with the bitumen in patches all black and sticky as it began to blister.

Looking back along the melty road to Abbotsbury & St. Catherine's Chapel.
At the next farm yard the path took me through some woods and a short respite from the sun’s rays before spitting me out of the other side into fields, traversing the edges of the hard-baked ground leading me on to the edge of the ‘Fleet’; the tidal lagoon to the rear of Chesil Beach, which loomed on the other side of the water, the ‘beach’ being formed of a bund of shingle around 10m high between the lagoon and the English Channel.

The Fleet lagoon.
Through one final wheat field and a corridor of reeds and rushes I was at the handover, where no sooner had they taken ‘Casey’ from me, leg 244 disappeared off in to the distance like their arses were on fire determined to make-up as much time as they possibly could!

Stopping here to gather my thoughts as I felt as though heat-stroke might get me, I took stock of my situation and decided on the best option for the return journey whilst not causing myself a mischief in doing so - I concluded the only sensible option would be to walk - as although it would take much longer than a jog I was critically low on water, which would certainly not last me running even a quarter of the distance back. I wrapped my technical t-shirt over my head to keep the sun off my ears & neck as well as my head to act as a partial respite and attempt to ward-off any ill effect from an even more prolonged exposure to the sun and started off for the van.

After what seemed forever and a day, I finally returned to the van and made a bee-line for the 2L of water I had in the back, drinking enough to quench my immediate thirst, then walked down across the shingle beach to the sea and had a good sit in it; allowing the cool salt water to chill my core temperature back to a normal level and help me feel like a functioning human being once more!

The baton long-gone, all that was for me to do was to travel home. The feeling you get from these long-distance relays is a strange one. You feel achievement in that you have been part of something, you know you are part of something, but as much as you are part of a greater whole, your individual contributory part is a very solitary one… Its not like a normal event or race where there are those to cheer you and slap you on the back for something well done as you go about the route, there’s only you and you must be able to motivate yourself to push as hard as you can. Then after the baton has been passed there’s just a wait, a long wait until the relay is over to get your sense of completion and fulfilment that you and everyone else has got the job done.

There may not have been anyone there to cheer me, but at least I know I managed to play my small part and complete my leg holding to my allotted pace and time as much as I physically could in the conditions, and passed-on the baton to the next leg with it not having left my hand for the journey… Good luck ‘Casey’ for your many stages to come!

Thursday, 18 September 2014

23rd June: Physio

For the first time in my life tonight I had physio!

I’d made the decision last week after dwelling on my Classic Quarter experience for a couple of days, as it seems from that race my troublesome calf is not clearing-up on its own.

It first surfaced in a major way on the Devon CTS Marathon just before Christmas, where I nursed it through the rest of the race. The muscle completely gave-out during a football match at the beginning of January and with my tight schedule for running it has not felt like it has properly got better, even when there has been 4-6 weeks between races.

Since January I’ve been nursing it around my races, as it is fine except from when I attempt to climb steep hills and whilst this is not a huge problem, being wary of it every time I hit a hill of any size is impacting on my enjoyment of the marathons, or any run for that matter, as I have to reign myself in rather than just go at the pace I desire.

A little while ago I carried-out some work for a customer in the next village along, and with her and her husband both being outdoorsy types we got chatting about the running. During the conversation she suggested that if I ever have any injury problems then to get in touch as perhaps she could sort me out through being a physio.

I dropped her a line after the Classic Quarter detailing the injury and I ended up having my first session today… Boy was that an experience!

After a good long assessment I now know I have a slight tear of a couple of centimetres in length deep inside the top part of my calf. This was massaged in a way that made me want to howl like a dog having its ears pulled-off, although straight after pain-wise it did ease-off when manipulated again! As part of the examination I now know my left calf is also stronger and more developed than my right, most likely through over-compensation.. I also have been informed I over pronate most likely due to the fact I have dropped arches, and I also have tendinitis in my ankle as well!

The tendinitis could also be an overuse injury caused by the ankle over-compensating because of the calf, but the over-pronating thing, well there’s nowt to be done about that, except perhaps get a proper gait analysis at a running shop and go for trainers that are specifically aimed at over-pronators

I’ve been given a daily program of exercises to undertake to stretch and strengthen the muscle. I’ve also been recommended orthotics for my right heel to stack it up so as to take the strain off my calf muscle. These are to be worn all day every day and to reduce them over time as the injury improves.

Here’s to hoping they work in ridding me of the niggle!

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

22nd June: Wight Around

And so began the great expedition… This weekend saw the jaunt around the Isle of Wight by Rob, Stu, Dean and myself - all meticulously organised by Dean. We had ferry crossings booked and a place for the night awaiting us, plus a route with all the pubs we would pass marked on it... For refreshment purposes of course should dehydration require warding off. All that was needed now was to turn up in Portsmouth at the right time to make it on to the island, and to get half way round before nightfall where our beds were waiting!

A circuit of the island is only in the region of 70 miles, so to cycle 35 in a day seemed easily within all our grasps, and as a consequence Rob and I had decided to add an extra bit of spice by cycling from our respective houses to the ferry at Portsmouth… We knew the time we needed to get there, so in effect we were giving ourselves a time-trial on the MTB’s over the 40 odd miles of road to the ferry.

Once on the island, the clockwise route from Ryde was planned to be as off-road as possible, with the rest of it on back-roads. We would be using the round the island path where we could, however certain stretches are pedestrian only so we had to find alternative routes, which Dean had already plotted. The nature of the terrain of the island meant that the first day would see the bulk of the off-roading as once the needles have been reached at the most westerly tip, then the terrain is pretty flat to the north and urbanised - as much as the Isle of Wight can be - from Cowes onwards to Ryde.

A few weeks previous I had ordered a new front mech for my MTB as the current one had completely seized and was useless; the chain as a consequence being stuck permanently on the largest of the rings. With work pressures I had not found the time to change it yet, so on the Friday night I went to finally do so only to discover that I had inadvertently ordered a bottom pull mech rather than a top pull - doesn’t sound like much to a non bike-tech savvy reader, but the reality is if you put the wrong one on then it won’t work… So I had to undo everything and put the old one back on, knowing that I would be facing the off-road sections with only 7 gears, and none of them particularly useful for going uphill!

Up at stupid o’clock on the Saturday morning, I got on the bike and started n a southerly direction for Portsmouth. I knew the average speed I needed to notionally be hitting in order to make it, so I was aware at all times of the effort required. Fortunately I had cycled the route previously so at least the route held no surprises.

To be honest it felt weird riding a long distance at a high tempo on an MTB after so long riding on a road bike with its geometry, and the feeling of less power and response to every pedal push was marked. Fortunately my calculations for time and speeds needed took in to account the slower speed of cycling on the MTB.

Approaching Waterlooville and the drop down the hill in to Cosham and Pompey itself, I heard something behind me and looking round, Rob appeared at my shoulder!.. It turns out that whilst we had gone through Odiham at the same time, we had cycled slightly different routes before converging on this point, Rob choosing a longer route by mileage but with easier terrain to my shorter more hilly route - which both spat us out on the same point at the same time!.. We cycled onto the flat through Cosham into Pompey itself, both of us wanting to take it easy having come this far at tempo, but realising that we were really up against the clock with around 10 minutes to get the last three miles covered, so we absolutely hammered it to get to the ferry terminus, arriving at the train station with minutes to go, only for us not to be able to find where to board the ferry. After a frantic few minutes of cycling round the block and asking a taxi driver, we found that to get to the ferry you had to go into the station itself to get there. Finally at the terminus, we rendezvoused with Dean & Stu who had enjoyed pleasant train rides down and were relieved we had made it, even if it was tight for the deadline, which Dean then revealed he had deliberately told us was 15 minutes earlier than we needed to be there to allow for us both being tardy.

Aboard the ferry we sat on the deck bathed in the morning sun for the half hour crossing. The breeze over the sea was a good coolant from the heat generated by the ride and I sat and ate my final Cliff bar to top myself up with some fuel for the ride ahead, with no further sustenance on hand for me until we stop somewhere.

We disembarked on to the long wooden pier, applied sunscreen and readied ourselves for the beginning of the ride proper…

Getting creamed before getting cream-crackered.
...And of course stopping to take the obligitory ‘before’ group photo and getting underway with the ride down the pier and in to Ryde.

As we left the pier behind and turned left on to the road, I could not help but notice every now and again we would see some runners along the roadside. Not joggers, runners. They were all wearing hydration packs or belts and all had numbers pinned to their clothes, and looking at the state of them they had been on the go for a while already... I made a mental note to research what the race was when I returned home after the expedition.

From the promenade in Ryde we had the first hill of the day; a sharp incline that led us out of the town centre and half way up it with a crunch my chain jumped-off the rear cassette and wedged itself in between there and the frame… Lovely! Stopping I had to wrestle it out of its wedged state as the others made-off in front. At least time was not an issue now so it could have been worse if it had happened on the time-trial to Portsmouth.

Having survived this first taster of climbing for the day, the route took us through a park and followed a path along the railway line.

The railway on the Isle of Wight is served by some truly vintage machines: former London Underground ‘tube’ trains built in 1938! and a couple of them rumbled past us as we ran alongside and over the line at various points in the day.

Posing for the first group shot of the day.
A mix of country roads and farm tracks took us close to Bembridge, where we made the conscious choice to take the path of least resistance down a long hill to the beach, where we stopped for the first time for an ice-cream overlooking the sea… 6 miles down and 29 left to go.

The beach at Bembridge guarded by its sea-fort.
Parking-up for ice cream.
Relaxed and refreshed we toured around Bembridge harbour, crossing the causeway before heading in land towards the ascent of the suicide hot-spot of Culver Down with its monument and summit pub.

The harbour at Bembridge... Think the tide might be out!
Sailing on a tussock.
After the long slow climb up we pulled-in to the pub and settled down for a bacon butty and liquid refreshment, sitting with countless day-trippers on the cliff-top downland, all gathering to watch the ‘Round the Island Race

Dean with the route plugged-in to his Garmin led the way back down the hill and onwards - he had plotted a downhill section following one of the numerous bridleways, so we left the roads and made the climb up to the top of one of the nearest high-points and prepared for a good blast down the other side… We were prepared, but with so many bridleways on the map of the island it seems that not all of them are well used, and this one seemed to be one of them. Every time we built-up a head of speed we had to stop to dodge inch-thick brambles that were crossing the path at body or head height, our legs and arms being continually whipped by stinging nettles as we struggled to remain upright on the path that was invisible at times through the overgrowth of grass as nature was reclaiming the path for itself.

At the bottom we were all quite down-hearted about the state of the path and how it prevented us enjoying a good downhill run, so much so that when we had the choice of following a bridleway again shortly thereafter, we all opted for the road instead!

An unexpected surprise.
Proof there's more culture on the island than a carton of yoghurt.
Our next rest came shortly after 4 when the Argentina game kicked-off. We pulled in to a pub for some chips and something to drink as we watched the first half of the game… As we sat there it seemed the sight of Stu in his lycra was too much for one old dear who shuffled through like one of Harry Enfield’s ‘Lovely Wobbly Randy Old Ladies’ pointing at Dean saying, ‘Not sure about you’, to Rob ‘Hmmm’ and to Stu: ‘I like the look of you, the sight of you in that is making an old lady very happy’. I pointed out to her there were plenty more men in lycra in the beer garden and she replied ‘I’ve already had a good look at them, and he’s the best’ before shuffling off on her merry way.

Amused by this we left the pub for the next stage and it seemed to have an almost immediate evil climb. Dean had determined he would not put a foot down on any climb all trip, so he pedalled as best as he could up the sharp gradient with Rob in pursuit, Stu and me bringing up the rear. My bike really was not up to climbing any gradient of consequence through its mechanical state, so I was reduced to pushing pretty much the whole way to the summit where we caught our breath before moving on again.

The shadows were now beginning to lengthen as the sun was falling whilst we traversed the country lanes. It was here I completely bonked. I had completely underestimated the number of times we were going to stop for food and I had not taken any extra food to consume beyond the ride in to Portsmouth. Now as a result I was running on empty having only eaten a couple of Cliff bars an ice-cream, a bacon sarnie and a portion of chips since leaving in the morning. As we stopped for a drink, I kindly accepted the offer of fig-rolls and smarties from Rob & Dean to act as a pick-me-up. My sole focus now was just getting to the camp-site as soon as I could so as to get some food inside me.

Shadows begin to lengthen as the day wanes.
Lowering sun over the downs.
Stu was suffering as well, the final climb of the day being another steep one as we ascended through Shorwell onto the Worsley Trail that traverses a ridgeway that overlooks the south of the island to the English Channel. Before long we could see the sight of the holiday camp on the other side of Brighstone below us a distance away, and then the fun started… Unlike our bridleway downhill earlier, this had a decent clear track between the hedgerows that bordered it as we blasted down to the trail’s end, emerging onto the streets in the village of Brighstone.

What's that coming over the hill, is it a Bunyan?
Conscious of the time, as we entered the village we passed the village pub, and deliberately took the time to stop and enquire as to when the kitchen would be open until, as the only alternative would be trying to find a takeaway or organise taxis in to a larger village. Fortunately the answer was a time that was doable to get to the holiday camp and back… so off we went on the final leg of the day; the last mile and a half to the Brighstone Holiday Centre.

When we arrived it was to a general state of pandemonium, the owners could not be found, or anyone who seemed to know where hey were to check us in, as there was an ultra marathon finishing in the grounds!.. It transpired the runners we had seen during the day were to be staying the night here as part of a 2 day double ultra!

Chatting with one of the runners who had already finished and was enjoying a well-earned bottle of beer. He informed me that they were racing a complete circumference around the island over the 2 days. They started today in Cowes and ran the first 35 or so miles around to the campsite here, where they were all hunkering down for the night after a good dinner, before setting off tomorrow after breakfast and the remaining 35 miles back to the start.

The event was organised by Extreme Energy, and called ‘Round the Island
and from seeing what the terrain involves and the organisation of it (it also carries 2 points for UTMB qualification), then this could well appear on my ‘to run’ list for 2015 :) and certainly explained my sighting of runners at the start of the ride in Ryde.

After managing to secure the keys to the rooms, we showered and changed in a hurry, before jumping back on the bikes and returning to the Brighstone pub.

The hostelry in question was the Three Bishops where we tucked-in to a hearty dinner, where I made sure I ate my fill to replace the calories I’d burned and we enjoyed a couple of celebratory pints about making it this far as we watched Germany take on Ghana. We were all feeling a tad cream-crackered by this point and Stu was wilting more than the rest of us, so headed back by himself as Rob, Stu and myself watched the remainder of the game before following in Stu’s footsteps and the good night’s sleep of the knackered!

Despite the many and varied bouts of physical stupidity I have undertaken in my life, this is the first time I have ever done something over a second day!.. So waking up and knowing there was more of the same to come was a new novel feeling, one I was looking forward to, but first things first and the matter of a good big brekkie, a full English with plenty of toast to ensure I had plenty of fuel for the first part of the day.

We all sat in the dining hut for brekkie with the stragglers of the ultra marathon finishing off theirs before disappearing off for part 2 of their jaunt around the island.

Fired up and ready to go.
As breakfast digested Rob and I wandered around the campsite. It seems the whole location is prone to erosion. They are sited on top of a sandstone cliff that is falling in to the sea. There are the remnants of a toilet block’s poured concrete floor that is now half in the sea and half still on the cliff top, and a whole line of huts have been abandoned to the whims of nature… Its only a matter of time before more is lost, in particular their indoor swimming-pool complex which is now around 10 metres in from the cliff edge. The whole site looks like it was built shortly after the second world war and has a nostalgic charm about it; all the huts are wooden, the facilities are basic, and with nature claiming the plot of land I doubt there will be much money spent on any modernisation there, just concentrating on maintaining what remains. That said the whole place was perfect for what we were using it for, and the breakfast was full in its Englishness, tasty and hearty in size.

Saddling up we headed-off in a westerly direction towards our first target of the day: The Needles.

Looking for a needle on the horizon.
After about a mile on the road - with Rob finding almost immediately that he had lost most of the air in his rear tyre overnight, we turned-off on to a farm track where he was able to stop to squeeze some air back in, and fortunately there it remained rather than escaping via a puncture.

The farm track led us inland to country lanes, passing a very picturesque little church and up an ever increasing gradient as we turned left and right to find our way back on to the ridge we had descended yesterday evening. My climbing ability on the bike was worse than useless so with leaden legs still to warm-up I found myself pushing the bike for fair chunks, with the only good news being that I was not holding-up our progress as a group, for the hills were that steep that even whilst he was riding them I was keeping pace with Stu, so I did not feel guilty about doing this.

The picturesque church.
The weather this morning looked a good prospect to be more of the same from the previous day, but with one change - the air was still, and with no breeze to cool the land the humidity was soaring and we were all sweating like Michael Jackson on Sesame Street without having to do much.

Hitting the top of the ridge was a relief as there was a gentle breeze up on here. Once the gradient had levelled we were able to make good progress along the grassy chalk, taking the undulations in our stride, and hitting a good couple of downhill sections… It was great to be able to let-go and just concentrate on remaining upright as you bounced around over the trail. This time there were no walls of stinging nettles and brambles to hem us in so we could enjoy keeping one eye on the scenery as we hurtled along.

Looking back at a recently hurtled-down hill.
As we approached the town of Freshwater the trail took us through a golf-course. The trail is part of the round the island footpath, so we were not trespassing in any way, and there were plenty of users of the path in the other direction, but the filthy looks and muttered abuse we had from the majority of those middle-aged men out hitting a small ball with sticks made me realise exactly why it is that I don’t play golf!

Getting closer to the needles.
We passed through Freshwater from South East to South West and climbed the long slow climb towards The Needles. Topping-out we were rewarded with a mile or so of downhill to the car park over fresh smooth tarmac.

Whilst we stopped for drinks and photos, we noticed a Sunseeker pleasure cruiser heading round The Needles and past us, bouncing over what few waves there were on a pretty becalmed day.

The Needles.
Retracing our steps, my legs now warmed-up and with plenty of life in them we meandered back to the north side of Freshwater, seeing the Tennyson Memorial high on a hill as we skirted around its base.

Before heading out of Freshwater we passed a Co-op that was open for business, so we decided to have a pit-stop with the rising temperature and apply some sun cream as well as stock-up on provisions for there would be no real chance to stop now until lunch be it in Cowes, Fishbourne or Ryde.

From here we took the path of the former light railway that once ran between Freshwater and Yarmouth, skirting the east side of the estuary of the river Yar; the way for the most part being under an avenue of trees and their welcome cooling shade, before we hit the tarmac again as we arrived at the edge of the town.

A surprised looking tree.
Skirting the south of Yarmouth we headed inland before turning north. The terrain of the inland route was flat open farmland; the wheat yellowing in the fields as a gentle breeze wafted over them cooling us down as we cycled at a decent average speed. Making the turn for the north we had an extended journey along farm tracks, allowing us to enjoy the last kind of ‘off-roading’ that we would have the opportunity to do today.

Eventually we found our way back onto the roads as we hit the southern edge of the wonderfully named village of ‘Gurnard’, in case you are wondering what the village is named after, or if it is at all familiar, a Gurnard is a type of fish!

Dean gurns-hard.
Entering the village we travelled down on to the coast and joined the esplanade, which was heaving with people out enjoying the beautiful Sunday weather. As we rounded the headland to get in to West Cowes and to the chain ferry, we noticed pootling along out to sea from us on the promenade was the same Sunseeker that we had seen over at the Needles a few hours before… So it goes to show that it was quicker to ride in a not too fast roundabout route from the Needles to Cowes than it was to sail it directly on a power-boat!

Back on to the coast.
As we rolled down the slip-way to the chain ferry, it was just starting to take passengers aboard, so without having to stop we were straight on to the boat and once the ferry had clanked its way over the other side, we were the first off… A fierce debate was raging about what we should do for lunch… Should we stop here in Cowes, or head on to Fishbourne or Ryde and celebrate with a late lunch once it was all finished? It was safe to say that there was no consensus, although we realised from trying to cycle through it how heaving with tourists East Cowes was, especially with it being lunch time, so we decided to push onwards and make as much time as we could, the debate now being whether to stop in Fishbourne or Ryde… Our stomachs got the better of us all, so the former was chosen and we continued.

The ride was now just a case of touring around the roads on the built-up north east of the island, however when we passed through Wootton Bridge and a rather pleasing downhill section over the bridge I had a spot of fun… On the bridge are speed cameras, so all the traffic was slowing to ensure they went through under the limit, so for shits and giggles I deliberately sped-up to above the limit and overtook a car on the outside as it went over the white hatches where the camera was active in the aim of sneakily triggering the camera… Not that the driver would be prosecuted as I would be in the picture as well, so they could argue their way out of a fine by saying ‘wasn’t me, it was the cyclist!'

Shortly after this merry escapade we stopped in Binstead at the top of a hill in to re-group at a spot that just happened to be by a war memorial. As I stood there waiting I scanned the names upon it, and amongst the innumerable sacrifices of the fallen from this village alone was a solitary lady: Mary Gartside Tipping decorated with the Croix de Guerre: a very high honour from the French people. Above her was another Gartside Tipping - this time a Lieutenant Commander of the Royal Navy Reserve. I figured that he must have been her husband or father, so on returning I researched the names and found the former was the case and the following document on the web that tells you more of their tragic tale.

The names on the memorial
We rolled-on in to Fishbourne, following the road until we came to the very imaginatively named pub 'The Fishbourne' for a spot of lunch, and with this being the final pub we would stop in, we all had a celebratory beer to mark the 2 days of hard cycling.

Cooling refreshment.
From the pub it was not too far a ride back to Ryde, where we made it with enough time to the pier to stop for an ice-cream before the ferry trip back to Pompey.

The ride from Ryde to Ryde is ridden.
Back on the mainland, Stu had to dash immediately we disembarked with his train waiting at the platform, whereas Dean, Stu and me cycled round the corner into Gunwharf Quays and one final beer whilst they awaited their train. Soon LSS came to join us and when Dean & Rob departed, the two of us went for tapas as a means of me saying a thank you to LSS for indulging me in my bouts of physical stupidity (and for giving me and the bike a lift back home as I really did not fancy riding another 40 miles!).

Over the 2 days I cycled a total of 110 miles on roads (mostly) and trails (some). I had naively thought that the trip would be easier and not at all taxing just by looking at the number of miles - but off-roading is far harder than the road-riding that I’m used to these days, and to try this route in one day would have been a major challenge - circumnavigating the island’s 70 miles on the road would not be taxing at all, but this was whole different kettle of bananas, especially riding a bike that was crap dealing with any gradient of note! Fair play to my partners in this madness: Dean for organising it all and a big thanks for making this all happen, Stu for pushing himself well out of his comfort zone in riding this and dealing with it all in his stride, and Rob for cycling another 16 miles further than me. We’ve just got to think about what we will do next time... Devon coast to coast? Hadrian’s Wall? The Ridgeway? I’m open to suggestions!