Running for the pies

Running for the pies

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

6th October: Relentless

Dear God, that was the singularly most challenging physical act I have undertaken in my whole sorry-arsed life: The Coastal Trail Series Pembrokeshire Marathon.

In preparation I had been out on a few long runs and as blogged before, covered the marathon distance off-road in anticipation, but nothing could have prepared me for what was in store.

After a day of doing some rewiring on a house nearby to me I packed everything into the trusty old motor ready to head west to Wales in the pissing rain. After a decent dinner I said goodbye to LSS a little later than planned and hit the road at 10:30. The rain hammered down the whole journey and I witnessed a casualty of the treacherous driving conditions when passing Swindon: a taxi had spun in the middle lane of the opposite carriageway of the motorway. It had only just happened and I hope everyone driving eastwards managed to avoid the car stranded facing the wrong-way in the road.

After 4 hours of sodden tedium, I pulled in to the car park in Broad Haven, the muster-point for the run. I clambered on to the back seat and setting the alarm for 7am curled-up under a duvet for some shut-eye.

With the weather getting colder, the duvet was not as effective as I would have hoped and I awoke before my alarm feeling a bit chilly so I got up to stretch my legs and had this wonderful view from the bottom of the car-park. You'd hardly think that there'd been 36 hours of continuous rain preceding this morning.

View Right
View Left
Spirits lifted I clambered back in to the car and changed in to my running gear. Seeing as the event was organised by Endurancelife, I decided to sport my shirt from their Real Relay in which I participated. I also wore a long-sleeved base-layer, support shorts and a knee support for my right knee as on my long runs I have been feeling a twinge from it so I figured prevention is better than cure. All greased-up around my vitals to avoid the demon chaffing and the possible knitting of butt-hair as sagely warned of by Smithy after his London Marathon experience, I chowed-down to a spot of brekkie of chocolate flapjacks and a few mouthfuls of supermarket own-brand energy drink, the stuff that wants to be Red Bull but costs the same for 1L of it as does a can of the Toro Rosso… And when you drink it you know exactly why it is so cheap by comparison! I packed into my back-pack my running belt that holds my camera and some gels, and my Vango 2L hydration system - already filled with High5 Zero Extreme berry flavour and all available space stuffed to capacity with gels and breakfast bars, off I traipsed to Little Haven

A pleasant walk of about 10 minutes along the undulating coastal road, past the delightfully graffiti'd place-name sign brought me on to the edge of the village and down a 1 in 4 gradient hill to the start which was still being constructed.

Those running the Ultra marathon had already been briefed and were warming-up ready for their off whereas all us marathon runners who had opted not to go for the early start tried to keep warm in the chilled morning air before heading to the village hall to register.

 After registration, still trying to keep warm, we all traipsed back to the start for the safety briefing. The nature of the courses on the Coastal Trail Series and the fact that they are run through the winter season means safety is taken very seriously by the organisers. You can only run it if you take along some survival gear in the form of first-aid kit, foil blanket, emergency whistle, phone, food for energy, an hydration system, and be suitably attired as well. This is before the briefing about the hazards of the particular course you are running on the day… And in this it's always cheering to be told of someone dying the previous year whilst on the course. Fortunately in our case it was not a runner, but a walker who was attempting to cross one of the numerous stiles along the cliff-top path, had stumbled and gone arse-over-tit ending-up a soggy red mess on the rocks below.

Chastened by the safety briefing making it clear that we really are out on a limb doing a run such like this - there is little support other than the 3 check-points, we awaited the off… And the race was upon us.

Remember that hill I mentioned we walked down to get in to the village, well as we left the start line backwards, we realised this was the first of the day's challenges and set the tone for the rest of the race. Everybody put a brave face on this fiendish climb and made doughty efforts to climb it at a jog, but near the summit only the truly keen and super fit were running, and off the snaked in to the distance leaving us envious lesser mortals to our own personal races and finishing in one piece.

The first section of the course was the route that those doing the 10k race later-on would be traversing. Heading north along the muddy puddled cliffs once through Broad Haven on a fairly easy undulation until we reached Druidston before heading inland and our first sight of the energy sapping glutinous slick mud that would characterise most of the course! The fields through which we were traversing had been well trampled and churned-up by cattle and so sodden were they with the rain that you were ankle-deep most of the time and struggled to make headway greater than a walking-pace with the risk of turning ankles and inflicting injury so early-on in the race.

A tarmac section offered some respite as we ran about a mile till we diverted back on to the footpaths. It was here I had my first fall. Descending a short hill, I was looking ahead paying too much attention to the hairpin right turn at the bottom which meant I lost my footing on the slick surface and found myself sliding downwards to the end of a 15ft drop in to a gorge and some rocks. Fortunately I was able to arrest my slide in time, but it made me see that the course and conditions certainly demand respect at all times.

We headed back in to Broad Haven, running through the car park that was filling nicely with those awaiting the 10k - all looking at us runners festooned in mud with some trepidation as they realised what they had let themselves in for. Across to Little Haven and past the start/ finish line and off we climbed back up on to the coastal path, and the start of the spectacular scenery, and the more spectacular mud. The path was so churned-up in places it was impossible to run as there was simply no traction to be had. It was hard enough trying to get up the hills at a walk the grip was so poor, that I had changed tactic from running 10k's and resting 10 minutes at the water stations to walking up the hills as I found it impossible and running the flats and descents. A lot of the time you are sliding around there is a mere hedge between you and the sea a couple of hundred feet below.

Some shots of the scenery can be seen below. It truly was a pleasure to be out running in this kind of surrounding. The sun was out to around 15 degrees but feeling hotter as there was no shelter from the glare. Not a wave to be seen down below, just you and the birds. It was pretty much just me by myself for the rest of the race as I was well and truly towards the back of the race, not that I was racing anyone other than myself.

My initial goal of beating my previous time for the marathon was on-track until the half-way mark, but the cloying mud had taken a big toll on my physically and I found I was walking more than running at times as I struggled with the terrain.

By the time the furthest point was reached, Gateholm Island (pictured below) my mind was turning to survival and merely completing the race. All thoughts of a time had blown away on the coastal breeze. As an aside, Gateholm Island featured on Time Team in its first episode of the 2012 series, digging-up what was a monastery on the far-end of it. From heading past it you can understand why it was chosen for its offer of solitude by the fact that it is only accessible by a tidal causeway.

 I managed to keep myself going by looking forward to my recovery shakes and an ice-bath once I had finished… The last leg seemed to last an eternity, although the ever changing views aground the cliff-tops certainly offered something to take the mind off the pain. Within a couple of miles of the finish my body had reached the point of exhaustion and the inner voice was telling me to stop and sit down and take a rest - the voice I know not to listen to and just fight on through it. Soon enough I was at the finish line, managing a steady jog for the last half mile or so and the tape was broken in a running time of 6h18m - Unerringly accurate a prediction when the organisers on their website tell you that you take your time for running a marathon and add an hour to it which will be the time you will roughly finish a CTS Marathon!

After crossing the finish line I collected my bag and wandered, or should that be hobbled, down the beach and stripped-off my mud splattered trainers, knee brace and support bandages. Bernard had not given me any real problems which was a relief, although he did not appreciate running on large loose stones. To give myself a good recovery I waded out in to nature's own ice-bath drinking my recovery shake and munching on a flap-jack. I stood in the very cold water for 10 minutes, bracing myself for the first agonising brush of a freezing wave on my ball-bag which soon happened!.. Once that was out the way I was able to relax and drink my shake with ease!

You never get this on a road race :)
Having successfully warmed-down it was time to go home... The problem was the car was over in Broad Haven, and I was still in Little Haven... With that big hill in the way. I really did not fancy another trek up that hill again along the road to the car park, so a bit of lateral thinking here, I'm wet, the sand is soft and flat - okay there's a small rocky headland that may need climbing over, but this route was certainly the most appealing method of trudging back to the car.

The flat walk to the car-park!

Sunday, 9 December 2012

16th September: Burn

The second long training run for the CTS Pembrokeshire. This time I opted for a 3/4 length marathon distance. Starting from my house it was off on the roads to pick-up the canal at Winchfield, follow it to Greywell then across fields and woodland following the collapsed Greywell tunnel to the abandoned section of the canal and a jog to its terminal point. From here I took a northerly path to get a decent-sized hill under my belt in the form of Scures Hill, through the grounds of Tylney Hall with its golf-course and across the fields of Rotherwick to home.

All well and good in theory but practice proved problematic!.. As I joined the canal, the ligaments in my right knee felt like someone had set fire to them, so I had to stop for a few minutes and stretch-out the knee, which seemed to ease things up. Well it did until I got to Greywell and it flared-up again! When here I decided to move the elastic bandage protecting Bernard to my knee. Whether it was a placebo effect or not, it seemed to do the trick!

I had decided to do this run with my Karrimor running belt and the two water bottles that sit in pouches either side. I had run the Hook 10 miles with these and all was fine so I thought nothing of it. Unfortunately the capacity of both bottles amounted to a mere 1/3L of fluid, which ran-out when traversing the Greyell Tunnel, leaving me parched for the last third of the run in the warm autumnal cloudless skies.

Another un-anticipated side-effect of the running belt was the chafing caused by the full bottles. By the time the run had finished I was red-raw with the top layers of skin removed… The below picture is how it appeared a couple of days later!

Fun when it continually weeps and glues itself to your clothing :(
As I ran through the grounds of Tylney Hall, I passed the air-raid shelter built for the property in WWII. It was very cunningly built into the main avenue from the rear of the house so that you cannot see it from there, the illusion is just a continual stretch of grass! During the war a stick of bombs were dropped around here straddling the railway line about a mile from the property that resulted in the death of a bomb-disposal expert who was killed when one of the bombs that failed to explode detonated whilst he was working on it.

The photos show the view up to the rear of the house and walking through the inside of the shelter, one photo taken without the flash, the other with.

Looking back up at the big house.

Entrance including 'blast wall'

It be dark in here!

That's better!

Built cunningly in to the terrain.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

1st September: Start

With time now ticking towards almost a year I felt Bernard was finally being beaten in to submission through time rather than anything else. I have made sure that for all the time I have been on my feet of late that I have had sorbothane shock absorbing insoles to give as much support and cushioning as possible, so without telling LSS of my true intentions i decided that the time for my first marathon was now. Having survived Winter Hill I knew that I should be able to make it so off I went.

Waking early I hopped on the train from Hook to Brookwood to follow the Basingstoke Canal all the way home.

When I go for my half marathons I tend to run all the way to the Barley Mow pub in Winchfield before picking up the canal and heading homewards so the route is a familiar one with the psychological boost of knowing once I get to this point then I truly am approaching the end.

I have cycled the length of the canal a couple of times so I am familiar with the terrain and doing it in this direction I am well aware of what awaits me.

At 8am I emerged from the station and began my trot. Within a mile I had joined the tow-path and it was just me and it standing between me and home.

The start

The weather was slightly overcast so perfect for running and with the date being the first of September the air temperature was still pleasantly warm.

The first thing that struck me on this first stage of the run, apart from how stagnant the water is around there with a thick scummy layer of duck-weed and algae giving off a mighty honk, was how the 2 cans of energy drink were going right through me. Every 10 minutes or so I was having to stop to drain the vein!

Stagnant water covered in duck-weed = lovely aromas ;)
I had set myself a target of 10 minute miles for the duration and according to my Garmin I was pretty much on-track for that over the first half. My only contact with other humans was the occasional cyclist passing me in the other direction. Most of them in pairs and in their 40's, and about a dozen joggers also in pairs going the opposite way. The interesting thing was the ratio of women joggers to men was 8 to 1 over the whole route with a full ate range represented. Most of the women running in pairs. Maybe with it being a Saturday they have been able to leave their other halves at home to care for the kids whilst they take advantage of some safe running in daylight, or that jogging seems to have fallen out of favour for fitness with men - eschewing it for gyms and cycling.

As I approached Farnborough Airport, I was at the halfway mark and paused briefly for a short rest as I took this photo from the bottom of the runway. Munching on a cereal bar and slurping down a gel.

The view along the runway @ Farnborough

Hindsight is a wonderful thing and I realise that this stopping was probably the worst thing to do as from this point it was incredibly hard to consistently get things going. From this halfway point my mile times fell off a cliff, rocketing from the 10 minutes to a mix of 13 to 16. 

The stretch of the canal from Brookwood through to Fleet is extensively bordered by military land and as such was an area of national importance from the late 19th century to the end of the second world war as the hub of the British war machine. As such the canal was fortified to protect from invasion and some of these still remain:

Pill Box

Tank-Trap, although why a tank would try driving down the canal is beyond me!

 The further in I got to the run then the more the cloud-cover began to lift and the temperature rose. By the time I reached the most exposed part of the route the sun was blazing down, with little shelter on offer for this Elephant Hawk moth caterpillar that was crawling across the tow-path.

A tasty snack!

Eventually I made it home with leaden legs, completely cream-crackered but able to at least lay claim to the boast that I have run a marathon, a huge psychological lift so that the first 'competitive' race I run will not be totally foreign to me as I will have the distance under my belt - or in this case 27 miles so a little bit longer.

As a recovery I made myself a bacon sandwich for a blast of proteins and staggered up the stairs in to the coldest bath I could run to ease my aching muscles, confessing to LSS what I had done, which she had kinda guessed by me saying I was off for a long run and had not returned within 2 hours.

What I have learned from this run is that the wall is hard on the body just to keep yourself running and stopping makes it so very difficult to restart. Also cans of energy drink before a run are not necessarily the best thing.