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.|
|Cool cocker :)|
|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!|
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.|
|Very tempting to stop and wait-out the rain here!|
|Looking back from the shelter.|
|Looking back from the top.|
|South Stack lighthouse.|
|The 'technical' trail.|
|The jagged rocks.|
|Long way down.|
|Bit of an inlet.|
|Crossing the cave mouth.|
|A sense of scale.|
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 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.|
|The trig point at the mountain's top.|
|The coastguard braving the elements on the exposed summit.|
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.