Running for the pies

Running for the pies

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

26th May: Flete-ing

Following my normal pattern for these events, I arrived at the location for the final round of this season's Endurancelife Coastal Trail Series: Flete in South Devon shortly after midnight and I parked-up around the corner from the event base as its field and the adjacent car park were already locked for the night. I had taken a new airbed along with me so for once I would be able to get a full night's sleep without waking to find the bed had gone flat!

The alarm sounded at 6 for me to find myself surrounded by a beautiful cloudless sky, although there was some frost on the ground in the sheltered part of the event base's field into which I drove after a bit of breakfast and a change into my running gear. Whilst I was one of the first there, others soon followed and I watched as the field began to fill with quite a few camper vans, vans and estate cars as I breakfasted properly. Speaking of filling-up, one of the 4 provided site portaloos packed in. This left the event 25% down on the facilities, which with the nature of long distance running, where everyone seeks to purge themselves as much as possible before the start of the run, the queues were a bit longer than they could have been in an ideal world!

Early arrivals
There was no early start as such for marathoners in this race. With everything being governed by the timings of the tide on the river Erme, they had elected to start the ultras 15 minutes before the marathoners, so pretty much both races were signing in at registration at the same time. After I had negotiated the simple hassle-free process of registering, I noticed my chip was a different number to my race number so naturally I went back and queried if this was supposed to be the case. Fortunately I did this as they had put wrong chip on my wrist and so changed it to avoid me running someone else's race and vice-versa!

With my collection of Endurancelife running tees burgeoning to say the least, at this event we had the choice of a tee, a buff or a race belt. Seeing as I had just bought a race belt at the Hart Sprint Triathlon the other week I went for a buff as I have found them to be very useful in winter and it helps to have a few - so this one goes to join my mementos from the Brutal 10k this November gone and the XT Duathlon from a few years back.

Standing in the field awaiting the briefing and enjoying the warmth of the morning sun I noticed that standing nearby me, also in a world of his own, was Richard Lander-Stow writer of the Bike Run Swim blog, which is well worth reading if you enjoy endurance activities and the man himself is one of those inspirational people who cannot help but make you want to go outdoors and do something physical! I've seen him at a few of the same CTS events so I went over and said hello and we spoke of our experiences in the series and what is up next. He was saying that after doing the running this last year his big one now is preparation for next year's Ironman Wales, which for anyone an endurance race of this distance is a terrific challenge and he will be gearing his training towards this so will not be seen at as many events come the autumn and beyond. I whole-heartedly wish him well with his endeavours... Top fella that he is.

Off for the final briefing of the series, with no warning of hazards, deaths or injuries for once, just a keep your eyes open for the sights, especially the woodlands with their flowers. We were also set a challenge of finding a piece of litter each to bring back with a prize for the 'best' one... Whether or not there will be one is another matter, but hey, anything that will encourage people to clean up the environment gets my vote!

The view in front as we set off.
And the view behind
The race started with a trek out the field and through some woodland paths down to the river which with high tide was at its fullest and at this point a chocolate brown in colour, before we made a right turn on hitting about 20 yards of beachy river bank and heading uphill to the coastal path then round inland to the first water station and checkpoint at 4.9 miles.

Placid seas
Some a-moos-ed bovines, two of which appear to share one head.
A spot of descent.
Sometimes the 'inland' legs of these runs can be a little uninspiring, with a plod along farm tracks with high hedges on either side obscuring any view and field after field which seem to merge into one before we manage to find the coast again.

Inland views.
Down along the river.
This time going inland was certainly a highlight with decent views to be had at almost every turn!.. The inland section was through the Flete estate so was along woodland paths that were surrounded by a carpet of bluebells and some long stemmed pink flowers.

Blooming Ramsons

Also the Ramsons, or wild garlic was in bloom, with the scent of it filling your nostrils, giving the woodland stretches an aroma an Italian restaurant's kitchen, something you either love or hate! The River Erme and the estuary was in view most of the time, snaking in land on the first section, then flowing outwards via some mud flats.
The checkpoint that divided the in and out sections of this inland stretch was itself under the gaze of Flete House, up high on the steep hill as we were in the valley floor. From here it was across the river, passing by a ruined watermill

The mill that resembled me: ruined.
and more delightful woodland trails, including a fallen tree blocked route which we had to scramble under.

On this section I ended up running for a stretch with a Dutchman from the Hague. He had driven all the way here on holiday with his family, with the first day of the holiday being this marathon! Fair play to him, and it seems that the nutter element of these events is not confined to the UK! I told him about my August trip to Iceland where we arrive on the Friday and I run the Reykjavik marathon on the Saturday, and he totally agrees with the sensible way of combining a good run with a holiday.

On the coastal path once more.
As we made our way out to the coast again, a group of 5 of us ended up congregating together and spent a few miles swapping stories and tales of our motivation for doing crazy things. One lady was running her second marathon and she had come from just 5 miles away, another was here with her fiancé who was in the ultra marathon, the other gent in the group beside me was a vegan runner who I have seen at a couple of the other events and had chatted with briefly way back at the Pembrokeshire marathon. He has a mischievous sense of humour and a good collection of jokes, many involving sheep it seems - I hope to bump in to him on future runs as his enthusiasm and sense of humour was certainly uplifting. The last member of our group was one remarkable lady who seems to thrive on endurance events.

The previous weekend she had cycled 130 miles around London over 2 days and had run the Dorset CTS late last year just 6 weeks after breaking a rib tripping over a tree-root in darkening woodland on an endurance walk in Surrey. Distance cycling is mainly her thing at the moment, but with a boyfriend based in Devon she takes any opportunity to get down this way from her base in Surrey. She was remarkable at running up hills. Whilst all of us would pretty much walk them she would merrily skip up them - well jog them anyway, although she was feeling the strain on her body after the previous week's cycle and in the end, as a group we dropped her when she stopped at the top of one hill to empty gravel from her shoes.

Shortly before this happened, the group of 5 of us were running past some houses near Bigbury and the lady owner rushed out of the house with a pitcher of water and cups and insisted we all stop for water - which we gladly did, serenaded by her collie with its head sticking out through the cat flap in the door. With the dog clamouring for attention it was let out and given a good fuss by all of us. A shared moment like this makes you feel wonderful about humanity and the good nature of a lot of people. I never knew who this lady was but thank you, whoever you are!

Like the Northumberland marathon, we had an extended section over the beaches as we approached Bigbury and rounded the headland with Burgh Island on our left.

Beachy running.
 We were running as a group of 4 at that point and it was amusing seeing the looks people were giving us as we jogged in a line abreast across the hard flat sand, picking our way between the sunbathers! Naturally as we got to the steps for the CP at the end of the beach, myself and the other gent in our quartet allowed the ladies to go first!

A couple of miles along the coast and we came across a beast of a hill and I was dropped by all the others - and rightly so. The contours to mark the gradient on the OS map seemed to have it as vertical - and it damned well felt like it! I had to stop 3 times just trying to walk up it. I honestly think it was worse than the hill in South Devon that was making hardened ultra runners weep! With the stopping I was able to sit there and enjoy some of the sun and the stunning view back towards Burgh Island that was in front of me.

The view from on the beast of a hill.
Eventually I summitted it and was able to to resume running, or jogging, or staggering - whatever you feel is the most appropriate term for my running style, towards the finish through a flock of judgemental sheep.

You must be baa-rmy trying to get up here on 2 legs, its hard enough on 4!
Soon I rounded a headland and could see on the other side of the estuary the flags of the event marquee, and I knew that it was only going to be 2-3 miles left till I was finished.

The path worked its way inland and down to the water's edge before we forded the estuary and the final ascent to the finish.

Crossing the line I qualified for the 7x t-shirt that is earned after finishing 7 of the CTS runs in a season. The limited edition black shirt cannot be bought and is only supplied to those that qualify to wear it once they have double checked on everything to make sure only those who truly earn it get it, so I can look forward to it in the post some time in the summer!

My time was a slight disappointment to me, however it turns out that my time goal would have put me 14th in the race so it was neither realistic nor obtainable for me with my level of fitness! I had set this goal based on the 2/5 difficulty factor assigned to the race by Endurancelife. In reality I found this course on a par with South Devon and Exmoor, and certainly harder than the 3/5 North Yorkshire Moors that I had run the other week. Chatting with others at the finish they all seem to be of a similar opinion that it certainly is a lot harder than the 'official' rating, especially when there were a lot there who have run the Exmoor course 6 weeks ago so can compare quite easily.

With the sun still high in the sky and a decent warmth I chilled-out on the grass after changing out of my running gear before making the drive home.

I've thoroughly enjoyed running these 7 CTS marathons and I have already made up my mind to go back for more - my preference is to run those that I have not yet done so as a priority and to revisit some of these 7 to card a second time to establish if I am improving as a cross country marathoner… I may even be tempted to run some of them as ultras to really put myself through the rinser!

Here's a shot of me crossing the estuary waving the piece of litter I picked up - a frayed piece of fisherman's rope, which LSS has pointed out looks like Ken Dodd's tickling stick and thinks I should be off to the jam-butty mines!