Running for the pies

Running for the pies

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

10th May: Fenix 2

Since I've started doing these little runs I have been recording them using a Garmin Forerunner 405cx.

Unfortunately a couple of years back I lost my original one at an event so had to get a replacement. At the time I was only able to get a second hand one which meant that the battery was of an undetermined age and condition, so whilst initially I could get around 7 hours of life out of it, over the last year this has begun to diminish markedly, especially in colder weather, to the point I picked-up another one on eBay to have as a reserve to start when during a race the battery dies.

Recently though the battery has been giving me grief as it will die at any point from 4 hours onwards, so rather than persisting in carrying 2 watches and having long runs split in 2, I decided to take the plunge and get a new watch especially with the forthcoming summer of ultras requiring longer timing than before.

Looking around I found I could get hold of a Garmin factory refurbished Fenix 2 for a fraction of the RRP (shipped over from the States) and for only £20 more than I paid for my original Forerunner... So I indulged myself.

The Fenix 2 seems to be designed for ultra running with a 16 hour battery on it, along with the built-in route following ability that allows you to drop a course in to it and follow visually, so if you drift-off you can see where you are in relation to it and correct yourself - something that could prove to be pretty useful!

The major thing in its favour is that it doesn't have the god-awful irritating touch bezel of the Forerunner that seemed to have a mind of its own and was temperamental in its responsiveness. This watch runs entirely on the 5 buttons in a fairly intuitive manner. Already I'm liking this, plus it works with the existing heart rate monitor and cadence sensor I use so there's no need to buy any accessories.

Another thing in its favour is the ability to charge it  whilst it is in use, so for the forthcoming Lakeland 50 that looks like it would push the 16 hour battery life to its limit, by taking its charging cradle and a small power bar in my running kit I will be able to top-up the power whilst in an aid station and not worry about it dying on me... Result!

I'm looking-forward to playing with my new toy over the next few months!

Eat pies.
Drink beer.
Run far.

3rd May: CTS Pembrokeshire... A marathon Spudding session.

Back to where it all began: The Endurancelife CTS Pembrokeshire Marathon.

In October 2012 I ran this as my first ever organised marathon - and it hurt, boy did it hurt! Then it was part of my challenge to myself of running 12 trail marathons in 12 months, something I managed to drag myself across the finishing line in achieving and have not looked-back since.

On that initial marathon, if you discount the 2 middle-aged ladies who set-out early with the ultra runners and walked every step of the way, then I finished dead last with the final few miles spent having to fight the urge to curl-up by the side of the trail and cry like a baby!

Ok so I’ve improved slightly since then and here I am again in the village of Little Haven on the Pembrokeshire coast for another ‘first’… My first marathon as a canicrosser with Spud as my willing companion.

Since LSS & I found Spud in the on-line classified site ’pre-loved’ (his owner was unable to look after him through illness so she put him on there for adoption) he has become a much-loved addition to the family and a very willing running buddy for the 2 of us. In fact running him has been a really good thing to do as it takes the edge off his continual need to be tearing around at 100mph all day every day - being a cross between a border collie and a springer spaniel he seems to have all the energy of the collie combined with the stupidity of the springer… But in a very loveable huggable kind of way!

As soon as he was old enough we have been taking Spud out on increasing distances and he is certainly ready to be taking-on a marathon distance, especially as now at this time of year it is not too hot or cold and the conditions underfoot being trail will not be damaging to his paws.

LSS joined Spud and myself on the 2 & 1/2 hour journey way out west for the day and we parked for the night over in Broad Haven for some kip before waking at dawn and making our way to the event base and registering for the race.

Excitement at the briefing!
Briefed on the jetty in the village centre, once the hooter went we were off and from the back of the pack starting point, Spud and myself deliberately made our way as far up the field as quickly as we could on the ascent out of the village. Knowing the course here I was aware there is a pinch-point getting on to the coastal path above the village that could have seen a very excitable Spud held in a queue for a few minutes to get through the gate and running again, so it seemed the sensible thing to do to get out of as many people’s way as possible and let them overtake us along the coastal path.

The coastal path with the dots of runners stretching along it.
On to the coastal path under the sunny sky we wound our way along the sheer clifftops to St. Brides where we descended to its small inlet and rocky beach. From her we turned inland by the church at Check Point 1 for a trip across the western peninsula of this bottom left corner of Wales, via the hamlet of Marloes, to the sheep-poo strewn WWII Coastal Command airfield.

Skipping up some steps.
Once across the flat couple of miles of the airfield and through Check Point 2 at 9 miles you begin the 10k loop of the southern peninsula with the slow easy descent in to the village of Dale… As we hit the outskirts of it we passed a window cleaner working with his dog left in his van, a dog that was not too pleased at all these people passing him by and was very vocal about this. Initially I though he was just having a shout at Spud, but from listening after passing you could tell how many people were behind and how close by the torrent of woofs still to be heard as Spud and I plodded away onwards to the shore.

A 'refined' view.
Through the centre of Dale, being at sea-level it was the start of the ascent back up on to the cliff-tops, and the undulating slog around the headland. On one ascent with the temperature rising I saw through a gap in a hedge a large pond holding water for the farmers fields. With us still being a few miles from the next aid station I ducked-under the fence with Spud to allow him to drink his fill… The pool was absolutely teeming with tadpoles and Spud was straight in there belly deep drinking the water and attempting to eat the tadpoles at the same time!

Teeming with tadpoles.
Passing the Coastguard look-out point we approached the lighthouse and the cottages at St. Ann’s Head, crossing a field to get to it… Unfortunately this field was full of cows, cows that had been wound-up by the passing through their field of countess ultra and marathon runners, and now there was someone with a dog invading their territory.

The cows were split either side of the well-trampled path and as Spud and myself, along with another 2 runners approached them they took a big interest in me and the boy and began to close in on us. To give Spud his dues he was not fazed by this at all, as when he is running that is all he concentrates on (unless he sees a squirrel) so he was ignoring the attention of these large slabs of beef. At this point I slowed a bit to allow the other runners a chance to get away from us as the cows certainly were not interested in them and Spud and I attempted to ‘run the bovine gauntlet’ and get to the exit of the field.

I was looking ahead for an exit strategy. The fence the path leads you to is waist height with 2 rows of barbed wire on top and you need to take a right turn against it and follow the fence for another 100 metres before arriving at the gate to leave the field… Which meant the two of us were potentially going to be pinned against the fence at any point along there.

Maintaining a constant pace Spud carried on running and ignoring what was happening but when we made it through the cows they all converged in a group behind us and began to jog after us matching our pace in the direction of the fence. Looking around I could see there were 2 leaders of the herd that the others were following. Turning my head to keep an eye on what was occurring I could see they were now beginning to speed-up and as we hit the fence there was now a real danger of us being pinned against it.

There were some holiday makers on the other side of the fence who could see what was happening and started shouting at me to let Spud go… The fence was too high to hurdle although I could easily get Spud over it by picking and throwing him across. The thing is Spud was fine with the situation and had not confronted or caused any direct issue with the cows and letting him go would put him and myself in direct danger if he was to bolt and panic the cows.

By this time the other 2 runners were through the gate so were now safe and very relieved! Assessing the situation I took the chance that the cows were really just curious and allowed them to keep following, but when they got to within a metre of my back I took the step of firmly turning my body as I jogged and holding my arm out to them with my palm up I shouted a firm ‘no’ to them. This made them stop which bought us an extra metre before they began to follow again, this time keeping their distance… I covered the last 20 metres or so to the gate with my arm out behind me, palm up and repeating ‘no’ every few paces until we got to the gate and mercifully through it with minimal faff and fumbling of the catch! A close call - although Spud was completely unaware of everything that had gone on and just wanted to keep on running!

Looking back at the lighthouse.
Relieved to have escaped we took it easy on the last couple of miles to Check Point 3, finishing the loop of the peninsula 16 miles in to the race, with Spud taking on plenty more water at the stop. All the Check Points at the Endurancelife events have tubs of water specifically for the dogs to drink from as part of being canicross friendly events. With us humans running long distances we need to keep ourselves sustained with food, and the same principal it is with dogs - I had taken some high-value treats (to dogs that is) for Spud on the run - a bag of cooked chicken and a bag of chopped Mattesons sausage. As a reward for successfully negotiating the cows I gave him most of the bag of sausage a bit at a time to keep his energy levels up.

Gateholm Island.
From here it was a return to St. Brides along a different route that was mostly on the cliff-tops, passing the sight of Gateholm Island before a quick trip north across the western peninsula and hitting the coastal path once more which will be our companion for the final 10k or so.

On this final 10k, having given Spud most of the chicken I took the opportunity to start a new trend - you may have heard of ‘nutscaping’ where men take a photo of some cracking scenery with one of their hairy ’plums’ blurred in shot at the top well I’ve thought of going one step further but on a tangent; taking photos of cracking landscape with a furry Spud in the corner or the bottom of the shot and calling it ‘muttscaping’… So here’s some of our efforts from the last 10k.

Crossing the finish line half an hour faster than my last effort on the course, Spud had more than taken it all in his stride - in fact as I sat with LSS (who was there to cheer us in) on the grass by the finish to recover my breath, he was straining to go run and play with the other dogs who had run the half marathon or 10k and were all chilling-out in the warm spring sunshine with their tired owners!

A happy chappy sporting his bling.
A cheeky pint in the pub on the quayside followed, where Spud was trying to look as pitiful as possible to cadge food off those eating their lunch before the three of us made our way back up the hill to the fun-bus and the drive home. Once the motor was running, Spud finally gave-in to the effort of the day and curled-up in his travel cage and fell asleep immediately for the entire trip, and well deserved it was too!

Eat pies.
Drink beer.
Run far.

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

17th April: Karrimor Pace Trail 2

With the forthcoming summer of ultras looming large upon the horizon, kicking-off in a matter of weeks with the Jurassic Quarter, I’ve found myself a new pair of trainers for wearing-out on the trail.

As the trail dries-out through spring into summer I move away from my trusty More Mile Cheviot’s and their hardcore tread on the sole to something that is a bit more ‘intermediate’: A trainer that offers grip on the mud still to be found after a summer’s rain on the trail, but one that is also comfortable enough to run in over hardened surfaces - something that Cheviot’s certainly aren’t, and nor were they designed to be!

In my quest for the best ’bang for my buck’ I’ve picked-up another pair of Karrimor’s - this time their ‘Pace Trail 2’ model in black to cope with the summer mileage.

I’ve found with Karrimor that they tend to ‘ape’ the design of Salomon, Inov8 and other ‘premium’ brands but at an rrp of around £20-£25 rather than the £60-£100 you would pay for the premier marques… Yes the ‘build’ quality does not seem to be as good as the premium brands, but they certainly are not 3 or more times worse, so they will always work-out far better in the value per mile stakes. Grip-wise they do not wear-down too quickly either - it always seems with me to be the uppers that give-out first, so loss of grip has not been something I’ve experienced so far.

My previous pair of Karrimor’s are over 400 miles to the good and are still surviving, albeit far closer to the end of their life than the beginning, which has motivated me in buying a new pair as I am not sure whether to trust them to not finally disintegrate over an ultra distance. One thing I don’t want is to end-up with a DNF through early avoidable trainer issues!

As I always do, I’ve put some sorbothane shock-absorbing insoles into them to help with lessening the impact when 15 stone of idiot comes in to contact with the ground over the forthcoming runs. Safe to say I’m looking-forward to getting some decent mileage out of this new pair over the next few months until I finally manage to kill them off and so long as they get me through the Jurassic Quarter, the UT55 & the Lakeland 50 then I’ll be a happy bunny.

Eat pies.
Drink beer.
Run far.

Monday, 26 December 2016

10th April: CTS Exmoor

I'd been looking forward to getting down to Exmoor for a second run at one of the tougher Endurance life Coastal Trail Series marathons.

I say 'tougher' and that is by Endurancelife’s standards: In just over the standard marathon distance it gives you a vertical mile of ascent, so this course in effect offers you the same challenge-wise as the 'junior' of the Skyrunner series in the British Isles, the Peak Skyrunner, which comes-in at a near identical ascent over 29 miles… It's certainly not a course for the faint-hearted!

This year there had been a slight tweak to the course in that the start and event base was not to be at the Hunter's Lodge pub as before but up on the top of the cliffs just along to the east on the edge of Martinhoe, with the figure of 8 course run in the reverse of my previous time, with the easterly loop the first of the two to be conquered before the shorter but more exposed westerly loop.

What its all about, waking to sight like this!
Following my normal ploy of arriving at midnight I had parked-up and enjoyed a night's kip in the back of the van and when dawn broke and registration opened I went off to undergo the quick and painless process that Endurancelife have managed to make work well for them.

Somewhere under the rainbow...
Walking across the field to the marquee there were some rain clouds hanging ominously behind it with the beginnings of a rainbow arcing across the sky.

First ascent of the day.
The start was a mercifully benign one for a a CTS race: normally you are straight in to a climb, but today from our elevated position it was a good long downhill blast heading eastward to the valley bottom, however with hitting the bottom comes the inevitability of a big climb looming.

God-botherers a go-go.
Ascending to the valley of the rocks it was mercifully nowhere near as windy as it had been on my previous visit and I managed to crack-on making good time through the wooded surrounds as we hit the ’Tarka Trail’. Soon we were hitting the first of the lung-bursting climbs (the kind that makes your Garmin pause as it detects no lateral movement; you just seem to move vertically), as we wound our way up the steep sloping cliff as we overlooked the god-botherers of Lee Abbey below us with their large hill-top crucifix standing-out defiantly against the sea and the wind.

Heading East.
Once atop it was a blast through the ‘Valley of the Rocks’ with its short grassy track well manicured by the wild goats of the area, before we entered the village of Lynton and the descent to the river, following the contours of it round to CP1 after 7 miles at Hillsford Bridge and the short jog on to the idyll of ‘Watersmeet’.

Meeting the water.
From the river at Watersmeet it was another climb back up on to the cliff-top path where I came across a fellow runner who looked like he was on his knees in prayer whilst he was attempting to solve an issue with his kit. I offered a helping hand, but without something like a screwdriver to re-attach an unyielding clip onto a plastic tube, a losing battle was being fought so I wished him the best of luck and carried along my merry way, which was a beautiful slight descent of over a mile in length overlooking the cliffs towards Lynmouth and Lynton before the drop to the sea front.

Praying to the god of kit-repair.
The weather that had threatened to pour with rain had not materialised with the sun now fighting its way out and warming us up noticeably when we were sheltered from the wind, making the climbs all the harder for this.

Off we go chasing the horizon.
Soon after passing some bemused goats on the steep cliffs, we crossed through the grounds of the abbey with some freshly born lambs in the field beside the route and we were through to the halfway mark at CP2 and the end of the easterly loop.

Waterfall en-route.
Nearly back on the top!
On the western half the first challenge is to climb back up to the cliff-tops once more. In the past this has been shortly after the start and the entire field has been stretched-out Indian file along the switch-back path as we all sped-walked up the lung-burster! This year there was no queue and in the heat, the first strong sun of the year, with a half marathon already under my belt it was an effort to keep-going. Fortunately I was on this section with another runner, so we were able to grouse about this section as well as talk the common talk of the trail runner. It seemed that in the valleys just behind the cliffs they experience their own micro-climate. Sheltered from the wind, with the heat beating down it brought out all the moisture in the undergrowth and made it uncomfortably humid.

On the cliff-tops and Westward-ho we go.
Once back on top of the cliffs it was a lot easier to get moving consistently under the bruising sky as an ominous-looking cloud moved towards us threatening rain. As we wound our way along the coastal path with its undulations till we reached the furthest westerly point and we tabbed inland across the moor through CP3, passing the cairn on Trentishoe Down and the silent woody descent where you feel that there is not another soul for miles around.

Crossing the moor.
Turning left at the cairn.
Following the trail we wound our way across to the Hunter’s Lodge and a final sun-drenched climb up to the coastal path for the last mile and change taking-in the sumptuous views across to the distant Gower peninsula in Wales, where the CTS has a November race. Looking down in to the coves as I ran I spotted a seal calmly swimming around on the hunt for some fish, the first time in many a year that I have spotted one in the wild.

Always bittersweet seeing these signs... One more mile of pain but only one more mile of views like this!
On a high from this I crossed the finish in the spring sun, cream-crackered but happy to have finished the race in one piece… Last time out I suffered equipment failure with my Vango hydration pack failing to any longer hold-on to the 'mandatory equipment' pouch that I carry the items in, which led me to get a Camelbak (which I still run in) and with shredded feet - which were doused in the stream by the Hunter's Lodge in the fresh freezing water to clean them and numb the pain. This time round it was down to the Hunter's Lodge with fellow runner Luke for a post-run pint before heading home for a welcome shower and some burgers!

Eat pies.
Drink beer.
Run far.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

20th March: Hampton Court Half

I forgot… I’d forgotten that at the last minute I’d agreed to run the Hampton Court Palace Half Marathon. In mitigation, I had never intended to run this, in fact I have (believe it or not) never run a half marathon before in my life, but due to work issues, one of our old neighbours who had been due to run this with his wife, had to drop-out and in knowing that LSS was running the race, offered his spot to me.

Gathering for the start round the front of the palace.
Driving the 30 miles towards London to the palace and parking in the field next to it on the edge of Bushy Park (at a £5 extra on-the-day charge to the organisers) we met with our neighbour’s wife who was still running and collected his details off of her and I prepared to accompany LSS around the course for her second ever half marathon - and my first… Yep LSS has run more of them than I have!

I did not want to let LSS down by bailing after my gammy hammy episode the previous day in Sussex, but (and I mean this with no offence) I felt I would be unlikely to strain myself further with the combination of the pancake flat course and acting as a pacer for LSS.

Hampton Court Palace is a stunning building built for Henry VIII (although Cardinal Wolsey began the work) as his official residence and since then it has remained one of the ‘Royal Palaces’ and one of the major tourist attractions in London.

Off downriver along the Thames Path.
The runner’s village and the finish line was situated on the green opposite the rear of the palace. Here there was the longest line of portaloos I have ever seen at an event, which meant the unusual experience of no real queuing for a trip to the trotter - a rare luxury!

As the time for our starting wave approached we made our way across the road and in to the palace grounds for the start and before long we were all corralled together and sent on our merry way.

The field was quite compact as we managed to shuffle our way along straight out of the palace grounds on to the Thames Path. As we slowly picked our way through the crowd I counted around a dozen unopened gels that had been unwittingly shed by runners before us, but with all us runners so tightly packed together I could not stoop to grab any to save the littering - and benefit myself & LSS!

Crossing the river.
Along the riverside path for just under 3 miles downriver it was a bit of a metronomic slog, punctuated by a water-stop just towards the end where we immediately climbed up on to the bridge and crossed over the Thames. From here we followed a couple of miles more along the riverside path upriver, before leaving this and heading off into the suburban streets of Thames Ditton - with another water-stop at the furthest south part of the course.

Taking it at LSS’s pace we hit the 8 mile marker and the bridge that took us back over the Thames to the Thames Path in front of the palace and a repetition of the first three miles… Rather than crossing the bridge at the end of this stretch we turned left and headed along the edge of Bushy Park and the final 1.5 of the 2 miles… The final half mile being saved as an extra special treat for LSS.

Looking at the palace from the 'tradesman's entrance'.
Running with me, LSS had pushed herself continually at a pace marginally faster than she would have herself and combined with not as much training as she would have liked, she was really suffering and bordering on a sense of humour failure as we closed-in on what we thought was the finish line: The course leads you straight towards the finish gantry, but just short of it as you reach the green you find you are shepherded away and have to do a lap around the outside of the green in which it rests, before being allowed through the barrier on to the green to re-trace your way back on the other side before finally crossing the finish line… And not a moment too soon from the effing and jeffing of LSS at this evil final half mile! - needless to say she refused my entreaties for a sprint finish ;)

Crossing the line we walked-over to the marquee where they were handing out bananas, water and the bag of finisher’s bling. The finishers tee was an amusing caricature of Henry VIII doing the ‘mobot’ and the medal was big golden effort - something you could inflict serious damage with on someone!

Considering this race is billed as the ‘Hampton Court Palace’ half marathon, you spend about 0.1% of your time there. Instead you are pounding the Thames Path and the local suburban streets, so outside of the physical start line and first 100m you spend no time in the palace grounds, although you do view it twice more as you run past on the Thames Path and the building is a gorgeous spectacle.

Approaching the palace again.
The course is flat and fast, so if you are looking for a PB or for an easy introductory half marathon then this could be a good one for you. The course whilst almost entirely tarmacced - even on the Thames Path, it only has 5 miles on roads over its length, so it is a safe one that allows you to not have to worry about the traffic too much… Would I do it again?.. In short: No. It offers nothing to me over a jog along the canal on my doorstep. If the route were to change to take-in more of the grounds rather than the streets of Thames Ditton then maybe I would soften my stance and come back for a second helping.

What I did enjoy was supporting LSS in her endeavour and successful completion of her second ever half marathon, although her face was almost the same colour as her top by the end of it!

A cheerful LSS resplendent with her medal and bag o' bling!

Eat pies.
Drink beer.
Run far.

19th March: Coastal Trail Series Sussex

Ok, a few weeks back I strained my hamstring and it hasn’t really got worse, but at the same time it has not improved, so I went in to the Endurancelife CTS Sussex Trail Marathon with a healthy dose of trepidation and a very strong pair of neoprene support shorts to compress and hold my gammy hammy together as much as possible in the hope of making it around!

'Man at C&A' posing in registration.
Every time I run this race it seems to be different for me. Last time out I had the pleasure of traversing Beachy Head with LSS and Spud as they ran the 10k course and our paths converged. Previously I’ve had to brave gale-force winds, sleet and freezing rain… Today it was just muscle knack and the weather was looking pretty conducive for trail running - which was a bit frustrating as I knew I would not be able to push hard and do myself justice.

I followed my normal plan of driving-down to the event base for midnight and hunkered-down in the van over at Birling Gap listening to the howl of the wind as it occasionally rocked the van and to the patter of the rain on the roof as I settled-down to my slumber.

Waking the next morning I walked the mile to the registration marquee, passing the single file snake of ultra runners as they set-off on their adventure.

Ultra conga!
All registered and laden with my complimentary Endurancelife tech tee given to all competitors (I now have a sizeable collection of these!) and a Cliff bar I went back to change for the race.

Straight from the off and it was up the hill overlooking Birling Gap itself and on to the undulations of the ’Seven Sisters’ until they peter-out in the course’s low-point at the salt-marsh nature reserve. From this low the slow steady climb to the highest part of the course commences, punctuated by the first aid station at Littlington.

Just past Littlington we run across a causeway in a water-meadow that had been totally flooded over the winter with the torrential rains the area experienced, but thanks to nature’s ability to rejuvenate itself you couldn’t see any sign of what had happened.

Over the Seven Sisters.
From here we turned west and began our climb proper on to the exposed South Downs Way skirting along the feet of the ‘Long Man’ carved out of the grass covered chalk to stand watch over the valley, summitting shortly thereafter and enjoying the leisurely descent over the next few miles to the halfway checkpoint.

It was on the way down I could start to feel my hammy biting and at this point I had to drop my pace noticeably, letting CTS stalwart Luke with whom I had been running for a while and a few guys who were out on their final serious race practice before the Marathon des Sables - running in their full kit for that, disappear off in front of me.

The aid station is at the bottom of the hill, which meant a climb out from it to head back to the coastal path… It was on this climb I started to descend in to a dark place and consider quitting as I knew I would be passing the van and shortly thereafter the finish line. Quitting would break my consecutive streak of finishes. I know that every race completed brings you closer to the first you will start but not finish, but I managed to persuade myself to stay in the game and at least get back to the van, as here I could spend some time assessing how I really was.

It may only have been a matter of a couple of miles or so, but they were not fun in the slightest as I clenched my teeth and struck-out at the fastest walking hobble I could muster to get to the car-park… Once here I opened the van, took off my back-pack and had a few deep breaths.

I had a can of Red Bull lying around so I took my time to drink that and to give my hammy a good hard massage, really pushing deep in to where it felt tightest, then well and truly larded it with ‘Deep Heat’. Ten minutes had passed and already it no longer felt as bad as it had been - I was around 16 miles in to the race, so a matter of 10 to go, so I felt I might as well just crack-on but take it easy as I know the course and that the terrain underfoot was not going to prove tricky in any way… So off I climbed out of Birling Gap and made the ascent of Beachy Head.

View from the 'top' of the course.
Before I knew it I was at the climb in to the western edge of Eastbourne feeling no more the worse for wear from when I left the van, and the turn for home at the final checkpoint was upon me, so I just carried-on through it on a concerted charge ascending on to the path to the farm track along the ridge overlooking the channel, safe in the knowledge that the end was rapidly approaching.

It was along here that I caught-up with and passed fellow marathoner Cecilia, who as I passed let-out a sob… It was one of those moments when you know the person is not in a good state, and seeing her face, eyes reddened, I knew she was in a definite low, so I slowed to walk and talk to her.

Back along Beachy Head
She was really suffering but was determined to reach the end - which was only about 3 miles at this point, so I decided to just keep her talking to take her mind off the pain and get her to the finish line in one piece - it turned-out she was from Reading, one of the nearest towns to me and she was running the event with her fella who was in the Ultra. I think she was just struck by the pain and the demoralising sensation of watching all sorts of runners pass her and the ‘loneliness of the long-distance runner’ in moments such as these as you watch yourself moving backwards through the field… So the pair of us crocks just spoke of running, injuries and our philosophies on running, foodstuffs and the like - the easy common-ground for all us people on these silly adventures, and before you knew it we were both able to manage a jog at times, taking us both in to the finish in a not too disrespectful time considering we were both falling apart at the seams!

Beachy Head lighthouse.
This race was certainly a frustrating run for me in not being able to push myself, but also valuable in learning that sometimes you just need to take a break and a rest to assess things, manage a muscle and to then push-on to the finish. I know I have been through similar with tearing my calf muscle, but that was far more serious than this as it is just a ’strain’ so it was certainly a case of figuring out the limits of it and to work around it so it would not be worsened… Time for a bit of a rest till the next event and hope it heals as I’m really looking forward to my second visit to Exmoor and one of the tougher CTS courses down there.

Oh and hopefully I’ll remember my camera for the next run so I won’t be relying on my phone!

Eat pies.
Drink beer.
Run far.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

6th March: Steyning

I ran the Steyning Stinger a couple of years ago and thoroughly enjoyed the muddy fun that the race provided, so I was looking forward to getting-out on the course again with the good views from atop the ridges of the South Downs Way - that and the fried breakfast they give you at the finish!

With the Stinger being a relatively local race I woke as dawn cracked and drove down to the grammar school in the middle of the village of Steyning where the event organised by Steyning Athletic Club has its base, registered and changed for the off in plenty of time.

It seemed a bit busier than the previous time here with everyone milling-around through registration, although when I crossed the road in to the field ready for the official start, I could see a crowd of runners already heading-off in to the distance who formed the early start of the race for the slower runners.

All calm before the storm.
Attempting to keep warm in the crisp clear winter morning air us runners began to huddle a bit closer together before the countdown and we were unleashed onto the chocolate-pudding like mud of the field that formed the first part of the course.

Climbing up to the top of the downs.
Last time I ran it I lost a trainer in the mud 3 times within the first mile, but this time I managed to keep it down to just the one, although slipping your cold wet mud-soaked sock back in to your trainer straight after losing it is never a fun experience!

Sheep no doubt thinking we're baa-rmy.
Just beyond the first half mile as we came off the field and on to some tarmac I passed the first person to drop-out, pulling-up lame with what looked like a hamstring strain - I felt sorry for the guy as he’d probably trained hard to get to the start-line only to have every bit of preparation undone within the first five minutes of the race, something I have been mercifully spared from so far on this running odyssey of mine.

I understood what the guy was going through as the previous day I had set my parkrun PB running with Spud only to feel my hamstring tighten-up in the process within the first hundred metres of the mad dash off the start line… So here this morning I was acutely aware of managing the strain and not letting it develop in to a proper pull and seeing the poor chap was a cautionary tale for me about taking it easy.

On to the tarmac for a short while, we plodded along uphill until we hit the turn on to the trails and the mud with the trek and climb up on to the South Downs and the fabulous views from on top.

North to Surrey...
... and south to the sea.
The course was not as muddy as before, bar on the forested paths which were full of plenty of the grey cloying claggy clay-based mud, and once through the trees and on to the fields that form the top of the downs the running was good firm grassy pasture under foot and with the clear crisp air we could see for several miles from on top of the ridge north through Sussex towards Surrey and south out in to the channel.

It didn’t seem too long until I was running past Chanctonbury Ring, mercifully not as cold as before where the wind and an overcast sky really bit in to you back then, before heading south to Cissbury Ring and doing the loop passing the golf course overlooking Wareham before the lonely drag of the next loop of Steep Down.

Sauntering up to the ring.
North from the ring.
Mercifully once you have completed this final loop you know you are on the home stretch and heading back to Steyning and the finish… With the fun steep descent through the woods off of the downs before hitting the tease of the final few fields that divert you here and there whilst in sight of the finish but never seeming to approach it until the final drag including one last quagmire before the finishing line… And the fry-up.

Last views of the channel before turning for home.
Today was one of those runs where everything passed without trouble, but with my position in the field of runners, I was alone for long chunks of time with just the company of my podcasts to amuse me along the route.

With my gammy hammy I had to reign myself in at times when I felt I could have pushed harder - which did me another favour in preventing me from ‘blowing-up’ by going too hard or too fast so hopefully led to a better more even pace throughout my escapade that brought me home 8 minutes faster than before in 106/192 finishers…

What we run this race for!
A pretty good day out for me I felt, and then there was the fried brekkie and the uneventful drive home. The next time I’ll be in Steyning will be the halfway point of my planned 2 day MTB traverse of the South Downs Way in August with Dean, Rob & Stu - at least it should be warmer then, if not as bright and sunny!

Eat pies.
Drink beer.
Run far.