Running for the pies

Running for the pies

Saturday, 26 January 2013

17th November: Brutal

On a last minute whim I decided to enter one of the Brutal 10k races. These runs are extreme cross country courses on military training land devised by ex-army PT instructors. Living in an area surrounded by army training ranges, these events never tend to be more than around 15-20 miles from where I live so consequently are easy to get to for me and the courses are normally either very hilly or muddy, or both!

A couple of years ago I ran one of their races in Deepcut on a challenge from an ex-army friend who had decided to go for it. That was on a freezing cold Saturday morning in February, and was the first competitive race I undertook. The course that time was through pine forest and was unrelenting sharp ups and downs. They also run a CaniX race for people with their dogs who are their running partners.

This Brutal was over in Bordon camp, one of the army camps in the village of the same name in the middle of Hampshire. I cycled down there arriving just 20 minutes before the off, so enough time for a quick change and stash my bag before the race start. At all their races they provide complimentary camo-cream so you can smear it over your face to get that all messed up before the rest of you follows suit during the race!

Preparing the pooches.

Watching the off.
First up went the CaniX race. I love seeing all those excited dogs raring to run, barking and straining at their leashes and in the 10 minutes between their head-start and the main race we went through the organised warm-up which involved lots of yelling and shouting… Then we were off.

Before the event they posted on Facebook a little about the route, so we knew there would be several stream crossings and a couple of bogs to endure, so from the start it was a question of what we would encounter first and how soon. With those aforementioned streams it was not that surprising one of those fella's was first up within about 1/2 km of the start.

The first of many!
We all knew by entering the race that we would get wet and muddy, so you make the choice there and then about how you approach things. A lot of people were queuing to try and cross the stream at its most shallow and least muddy point. To me, seeing as you know you what you will be like by the end, all you are doing is costing yourself time, getting cold by stopping and waiting and postponing the inevitable rather than doing yourself any favours. Needless to say I just jumped straight in and scrambled out the other side without deviating from my path or breaking stride and off I went, with the shock of cold wet feet like lumps of iron as I continued on through the woodland path.

The next big obstacle was a scramble up a good 20ft tall embankment that needed both hands to pull yourself up due to the sheer slope and the slippery loose mud surface. Over the road on the crest and on the other side you then had to run down the corresponding descent. This with safety in mind they did restrict you to going one at a time to avoid collisions and accidents. I ended up running it sideways so that when my footing slid, all my weight was on the back foot so there was no danger of falling. A photographer was at the bottom of the mound taking photos. As you can see, I was using my arms to balance, so it looks like i could be on a surf-board, although it was not a very macho look for the photo!

Hill surfing
Soon came the first of the bogs/ swamps. These were stinking waiste-deep quagmires that were impossible to run through. All you could do was wade and pull yourself through on fallen logs and branches when you inevitably lost your balance and fell over. It is very difficult trying to judge any footing as depth varied from a matter of 6 inches down to several foot with every step and with it being mud there was no visible means of judging the best spot to tread on.

Bog trotting.

 One of my highlights was coming to the first bog behind a woman a few years younger than myself. She was running with her boyfriend, who it seemed she wanted to impress, and had made a real effort to look the part and share in his interest; wearing brand new expensive jogging gear, hair done immaculately and face covered in just enough make-up so as not to venture beyond subtle. What got me was the girly squeal as she realised she had to physically drag herself through the quagmire and made her first whimpering tentative steps, exclaiming the like of 'ewwww wwwww' and looking like she was going to burst in to tears as her shiney new running gear was getting dirty... Silly moo!

The bogs and streams carried on in a relentless manner, with just enough distance/ time between all of them to run up and down hills in the woodland to warm up after cooling down before you hit the next one.

The biggest longest swamp was a real stinking trek. People were floundering around in it caked in the black watery stench of the mud, trying to find where they could put their feet next, some even crawling through it after making an ill-judged choice on a path to get through. I was feeling kinda smug as I was faring quite well with the bogs, until I got to one which widened out in to a pool of water with a tunnel at the end, the tunnel that the army recruits have to hold their breath and swim under in full kit. Fortunately they did not want us to do the tunnel, but to exit the pool next to it. Unfortunately as I made my way into the wider pool, right in front of a photographer I lost my footing and splashed in, having to swim a few strokes before I managed to get my footing before climbing out!



Another fun part was running along a stream bed and having to scramble on all fours under the fallen trees and plank bridges to follow the path before exiting.

Two exhausting laps of this and the run was over. Soaked but not too cold I crossed the finish line in a time and position I was happy with. 

Final blast
Over the line.

A complimentary handful of chocolates, a banana and a recovery drink, then it was a case of getting changed for the tiring 15 mile cycle home!

I ran this race using my recently acquired trail-running shoes. They are a pair of More Mile Cheviot's that I managed to obtain FoC coincidentally just as I needed a pair! Reading Outdoor Fitness just after the Pembrokeshire CTS I noticed that their subscriber free gift offer was a pair of these trainers, so I thought why not? I read the mag each month, and if I don't get along with the trainers then I haven't lost anything even if I do sling them in the bin. Within a couple of weeks they had arrived and this was their first serious test... Which they passed with flying colours. Incidentally I decided to put elasticated laces in to them so as to never suffer the problem of stopping to tie them during a race as they will never come undone. So blister free I think these will become my trainers of choice for proper cross country running with the Asics - which are more comfortable, left for less arduous/ firmer trails and pavement pounding.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

13th October: Reflection

I thought this week would be a nice and easy one after the exertions on the Welsh coast, but that would be too fanciful!.. Driving back after the run I took a call from my team's manager telling me that they only had 10 players so could I play the next morning. He'd been warned that I was not planning on being around, but if in desperation I had told him to consider me for a 3rd sub just in case of injury to a player during the game, however circumstance conspired against me and at 10:30 on Sunday I was lining up on our home pitch for kick-off and a full 90 minutes. It took a few minutes to get the legs moving, but after 7 minutes I managed to score my first goal at home for a couple of years!

I'd promised myself that when I scored I would run over to the memorial bench for my friend Ritchie with whom I played up-front with when I first started at the club over a decade ago.

Ritchie was the same age as I was and one night went home from his brother's after saying he did not feel too great. He couldn't get to sleep so went to kip on the couch so as not to disturb his wife… And never woke up. His heart stopped during the night.

So I ran across the length of the park to his bench and sat on it - much to the bemusement of my team-mates who aside from a couple of them never really knew Ritchie or the significance behind what I was doing! At half time the manager explained to the team what I had done as there were a few questions about what on earth I was on!

Anyway, we won and I felt surprisingly fresh at full-time, on the pitch as the game wore-on and others tired, my stamina certainly kicked-in and enabled me to blend-in with the pace of those around me.

Well it took about 4 days for me to stop walking like John Wayne and get the full use of my body back. No strains or long-term injuries were suffered from running or kicking a ball around… So in this time-off it gave me a chance to think about what to do next and what I learnt from the run.

The most major thing was a footwear issue… Mine were inadequate for the trail in those conditions. I just could not get enough traction through the grips with all the slick mud. Whilst very comfortable and water-resistant through their gore-tex coating my Asics were just not 'man enough' for these extreme conditions, even though they were marketed as 'trail running trainers'.

Looking at what most people were wearing for the run, it seems that Salomon, Saucony and Inov8 were the makers of choice for most. Looking at the marks left in the mud by others, these trainers certainly have better far larger lugs for purchasing a grip in the mud and I feel these are definitely the way to go for me.

The second most pertinent part was looking and interpreting the GPS data for the event in greater detail beforehand so I can gauge what lies in front of me… Lots of saw-teeth = lots of sharp ascents and descents rather than long drawn-out climbs! Failing on this point meant that I really had not put in enough hill-work (for 'enough' read any)... I had been concentrating too much on ensuring I could last the distance and not worked on the undulation of the terrain that I would face, which cost me dear in terms of time and sapping my energy, which combined with the footwear issue proved to be counter-productive. Both of these can be dealt with by a bit of sensible training and a change in footwear!

With the shortfalls here it blew-out my plan of treating the race as 4x10k legs to make it more digestible on a psychological level. By the time I had reached the third and final checkpoint, my spirit and will had been pretty-much drained as a consequence, so my time was rubbish to say the least even though I was on-track for what I wanted after the half distance. It appears that I can run for about 15 miles without too much of an issue, but any longer and I have extreme difficulty in making a good time. This must be my natural 'wall' and I need to work on psychologically breaking through this as much as I do physically. It may be a case that I have to just go for 15+ miles before I even stop for a breather as once I stop beyond 13 miles my mojo seems to disappear and I can't get started properly again thereafter.

In my hydration pack I had carried around 3L on my back. By the time I reached the finish line I still had around half of it left! So I had carried around twice what I needed, expending more energy, and restricting what else I could carry in the back-pack. I think I need to step it down to 2L of fluid in the bladder for the future. The checkpoints had plenty of things like jelly sweets and flap-jacks for snacking to the point I did not need anything with me bar my gels, so again something to bare in mind.

At least being critical in an assessment of where I fell down in the race I know I can take stock, make changes and learn from historic failures!