Running for the pies

Running for the pies

Sunday, 27 October 2013

27th October: Lull

Bit of a quiet one this week with pulling some long days at work, although come this morning I was itching to get out and run.

With the next marathon 3 weeks off I felt the need to put in some hill-work in preparation. I have been scoping-out a couple of potentials - one of which I cycled last week on the way back from the Brutal, and decided that I would combine a 12 mile run with some hill reps.

On the abandoned side of the canal near me there is a grassy hill that gets pretty slippy and muddy, so I went out on my normal XC 10k route on to the canal and instead of the turn for home, carried on to the abandoned side and did 10 reps going up the hill working on my technique: small steps, high knees, work the arms.

By the end of the 10 reps I was pretty creamed, but as much as I was feeling good for doing it as I jogged-on with the rest of my route, I don't think the hill is long or high enough to really be worthwhile using as a mainstay of training.

After reaching the end of the canal I joined the road taking me over the motorway and passed the Andwell Brewery before crossing the A30 at the bottom of 'Scures hill'... Whilst the hill is not an off-road trail, it does climb a good hundred feet over around 3/4 of a mile, and up I went it to the village of Newnham.

This may well be the hill I use for my reps as it is a reasonably quiet road, so putting a good 5 or 10 reps on this will certainly get my legs going and better used to the rigours demanded on the XC marathons, as I lose a lot of time through my lack of pace up the hills at present. Even better if I have run the 7 miles or thereabouts to get there to drag my semi-knackered arse up and down again several times before stumbling across the golf course, the fields and home!

The view at the top of those hill-reps... Makes them all worthwhile :)
The clocks have changed today, so any running and cycling will definitely be in the dark during the week from now on. At least I've picked-up a decent LED head torch for work that will be good enough for running (I hope) so I'm looking forward to taking it out for a test at some point to ascertain exactly how good it will perform in the dark and if it will be good enough to allow me to do any XC at night, which would be great as I hate the night-time trudge around the tarmac doing loops of the village till the evenings lighten. I suspect there'll be a fair bit of bike and eliptical work this winter rather than pavement-pounding to assist with my training and fitness levels.

Something I have been doing more of this week is looking at other races for the forthcoming year. With the 5 rounds of the CTS coming early-on the immediate part is already taken care of, but with a gap for the month of April, and from June onwards there's nothing booked.

I have decided that I will go for a road marathon in April - with Blackpool, where I have run plenty of times along the beach and on the promenade being the most likely candidate. June may well see me go for the Classic Quarter as my first ultra... So potentially my marathon calendar could be looking like this:

Jan:  Anglesey CTS
Feb: South Devon CTS
Mar: Sussex CTS
Apr: Blackpool
May: Pembroke CTS
May: Flete CTS
Jun:  Classic Quarter
Jun:  South Downs
Jul:   Bath
Aug: Salisbury 54321
Sep:  Farnham Pilgrim
Oct:  Glencoe
Nov: CTS?
Dec: CTS?
Dec: Portsmouth

With Blackpool and Portsmouth both being road marathons that'll be 1/5 of the way to satisfying that part of the 100 marathon club, so potentially by the end of 2014 I could be on 30 qualifying marathons already!

There's another couple of runs I've seen that I like the look of - The Wall, a 2 day ultra along the length of Hadrian's Wall & City to Summit - a 2 day ironman or duathlon if you don't like the swimming where you start in Edinburgh and end up on Ben Nevis, and the Fandance - a replication of the SAS selection run up and down Pen-Y-Fan.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

20th October: Brutal

As part of my training for the next marathon I entered the latest Brutal 10k event which was held not too far away from me and just a few miles further south from the one I ran last year.

These runs are quite intensive. They may only be 10k in length but they are deliberately as tricky underfoot as they can possibly be, with lots of short-sharp hills, mud, bogs, streams etc. so it acts as good training for being back on the CTS runs as of next month.

To make this run more of a challenge I decided to cycle the 17 miles there and back so as to build on the time of cardio activity and make it better for endurance training with a combined total of around 3.5 hours with very little rest between the 3 legs. I planned to leave a good 2 hours before the event's start so I could take it easy on the ride there… Unfortunately with me being rubbish at getting out of bed, I did not leave until 8:30 with the race due-off at 10, so it was a flat-out hard cycle the whole way there, with me arriving with just 15 minutes to register and change for the start!

At least with only 15 minutes I did not have time to get cold and I had also heeded lessons from the last time out and from the Grim, and arrived wearing the clothes I would run in and brought a towel and a change of clothes for afterwards as being wet and cold is never fun when having to cycle a long distance.

The event base was on the edge of a live firing range, with an open-fronted wooden pavilion being the baggage store and registration area. Collecting my number the ladies on the desk could see that I had cycled there and asked how far. When I told them the distance they were impressed in a 'you must be nuts' kind of way as it seems I was the only person to cycle to the event this time.

My first step on the journey to this marathon madness can be traced back to a challenge laid down by one of the guys I grew-up with to run a Brutal over in Deepcut a few February's back. The run was a real eye-opener as to what proper trail-running is and the experience made me realise how unfit I was at the time and how much fun running through the countryside really is and spurred me on to the path (trail?) of where I am now. As such the Brutal 10's are always have a special place in my heart.

From the previous races I've figured that the trick with these, especially as they are only 10k, is to put your head down and keep going as hard as you can for you can afford to blow all your energy over the hour and change that it takes to complete, rather than having to conserve anything as you do in longer distances. With the terrain how it is, there are very few opportunities to get a good speed up and work on a decent time, so if you're slow and steady like me then it plays in to your hands as the field is pretty-much reduced to my level with the enforced stopping and starting for traversing ditches and trenches and picking your way over heather-clad heathland - if anything I am more sure-footed than most through being used to this kind of track and the fact I am not worried about getting wet or clarted in mud! Bearing this in mind along with the need to push myself in training, for today's race I had set myself the target for the race of running every step of the course, no matter how bad the hills would be, so I was psyched-up to get to the end in a decent time for myself.

Ready with minutes to spare I half-heartedly joined in the warm-up with the rest of the runners (having already sufficiently warmed-up from my cycle there).

The army PT led warm-up
We ran from just beside one firing range, off past the armoury and skirted a pond that reeked of the eggy smell of swamp gas.

The start with the firing-range in front.
Picking our way over the tussock strewn peat bog that the pond led us to it was slow going and single file as people kept tripping and falling over hidden obstacles before we found our way in to some woodland. The next mile was pretty straight-forward with easy undulations and a long flat stretch that was ankle-deep in water after the rain of the previous couple of days.

This was where the 'warm-up' section ended, and I was already breathing out of my arse and regretting the effort I had to put in to the ride there, cursing myself for failing to stir from my lovely warm bed in a decent time. Fortunately the terrain got a little harder again, having to run single file through a drainage ditch...

Ditch running.
...and over some 6ft deep grooves worn-out of an embankment of sand so I was able to take as much of a breather as I could, before we had to traverse a stile and were confronted with this:

Mercifully short but very steep!
The vehicle proving ground, and its hill-climb meant to test how good a pull vehicles have on an extreme gradient. At this point I caught the last of the CaniX runners: a woman being pulled-up the hill by her rottweiler - which seemed like an unfair assistance!

Leaving the test-track we traversed pine forest full of what were akin to moguls on a ski-slope, continually going up and down as well as a couple of decent hills and descents thrown in for good measure.

A decent descent.
Then crossing more moorland we had our first piece of proper fun: a 6ft drop into a 6ft wide ditch that was waist high in stinking black water, with a scramble out the other side.

The start of the fun!
Another trek across moor and through wood and then we had our next big challenge: the 'river' I put it in inverted commas as it was more like a deep drainage ditch that we all had to wade through, trying to not stumble and fall on the logs that were in the muddy bottom and totally invisible through the ink-black water coloured by the peaty soil.

Taking the plunge into the 'river'.
Wading through the mire.
My target was to get through the run without reducing to a walk, but by the time we went beyond the 8km and we were faced with another steep hill with overhanging branches that made it impossible to run without stooping at the same time, I succumbed to the temptation of following the lead of those in front and walking up it as fast as I could.

Down the other side and around a corner; tantalisingly seeing the finish line in the distance on the course that snakes around the area like a tapeworm we were still a good mile plus away from it, and next we had the novelty of running across a live firing range! fortunately not in use today, but certainly the first time I have legged-it across one of these.

The last challenge was a wade through that stinking pond we had passed just beyond the start and a short jog to the finish line.

The slow plough through the treacle-like stinking swamp mud!
Grabbing my bag from the the baggage drop I went behind the pavilion and gathered my senses, changing in to some clean dry tops and socks for the cycle back. I took the following photo of my mud covered legs. I wore a pair of old football socks for this and remembered why I shouldn't use these for running as they just filled with sand and mud during the run - oh well you live and learn!

Pure filth
After chowing down on a Kit-Kat I mounted the trusty steed and off I went to Hook, completely cream-crackered after my efforts. On the route, every traffic light I came to was on red, so it was a very stop-start journey and before I was even half way home the heavens opened and soaked me to the skin. Eventually I made it home to a bacon sanger and a warm shower to get all of that mud off.

The Brutal series of runs is certainly growing in popularity with the fields getting larger with each event I participate in, and the popularity amongst women is certainly growing more noticeably than the men. To be frank, the first one I did was a bit of a sausage-fest with hardly any women present but now I would say getting on for a third of the field is female - most likely because of the shorter distance of 10k being more attractive to a half or a full marathon for getting started on challenging cross country runs! But it is great to see that the appeal of the event is universal amongst both sexes. I thoroughly enjoy these shorter (yet challenging) runs and I have a window in my schedule for their Christmas run on the 28th December - perfect for blasting the mince pies, booze and turkey dinner away!

For the race I wore my new (I say new although they were bought in April but not yet worn) intermediate trail trainers for this, a pair of 'Karrimor Excel Dual' trail shoes and I was happy to get-along with them, although I will need to put an insole in them for longer distances and change-out the laces for elasticated ones, but grip was absolutely fine so I expect they will be a decent wear on forthcoming trail marathons.

The new trail shoes (slightly different colour though).
Oh and time-wise I did pretty good, finishing in the 38th percentile!

13th October: Grid Iron (again)

My cousin has set-up a group on Facebook by the name of Hot'n Healthy Hamsters to encourage a load of us to get fitter and healthier with the idea that each week we publish our minutes of physical activity. The activity can be anything of your choice from walking to swimming and all we have to do is add up the time. I think this approach is a really good idea as its not a measure of people's ability or fitness stacking-up against one another so it does not matter about your gender, age or size… Its a measure of the effort you are putting in to being healthy.

I have not put any of the marathon times into this as I feel that entering a time for an endurance event is a bit unfair on everyone else. Instead I have put in times so far for training minutes - mostly on the bike.

Speaking of being on the bike, the weekend saw a blank fixture week for footy so there was nothing to do on Sunday morning, and with all the Hook lads away for the weekend on a 'pseudo stag do' there was no-one around to go cycling with, so I decided to head down to do the Wessex CTC New Forest Gridiron once more.

Looking at the website it said it was full, so firing off an email to Dan & Mart's dad who is involved in running the event he said it would be fine just to turn-up at the event and ride-out with everyone else.

The event base this year has changed to a much larger one a few miles to the south from the one used in previous years, as the Grid Iron has become a victim of its own success with 1,000 confirmed riders.

Weghing-up what I had been told I decided that I did not want to put any extra strain on the event, so I drove down to the previous base and set-out from there by myself under overcast skies shouting promises of rain to come.

The route is essentially the same as the previous years I have ridden it, just a different start and end point, so after riding out on to the main part of the loop I was already in amongst all the other riders on the event.

I had decided to head-down a bit later than the official start of the real event and to ride the 60 mile route solo non-stop, something I could do by not being part of the official event as normally it requires you to stop at 2 checkpoints to have your card stamped.

Having loaded the route from the previous year into my Garmin I followed the arrow (and its occasional wrong turns through slow turning of arrows at junctions and crossroads) riding at my own targeted pace.

It was great to be on my 'bitsa' bike - my own custom-built hybrid road bike that I constructed a couple of years ago from bits of this and bits of that bought off e-bay and online cycle shops to see if I could get along with a road bike by making a halfway step in the form of a hybrid, and the answer is 'yes I can' and I will now get a proper road-bike organised at some point. I cycled on to the main route into the midst of the riders who had set-off around 30 mins into the event departure time. Joining the steady throng of riders I found myself considerably faster than most of these riders, with most of them saddled upon pretty expensive pieces of machinery, and I enjoyed spending the ride overtaking people, which is not bad considering that when you ride by yourself you do not have the advantage of being in a line of riders and getting a tow in the slipstream to rest. The only time I was overtaken was after the first rest-stop for everyone (naturally I had carried-on past it) where a couple of miles beyond I was overtaken by a handful of very keen club cyclists fully rested from their break and doing their machines justice by steaming past in a train at a good 5mph faster more than I was!

After a wrong turn shortly after the halfway marker that took me on a loop that added another 5 miles to the journey, the heavens began to open and within minutes I was drenched - although mercifully not frozen as the temperature was fairly warm and the wind not too strong. This made me redouble my efforts in getting to the finish and with turning in to the headwind on the final third I was grateful for the podcasts to which I was listening to take my mind off the dour weather.

Some 4 and 1/4 hours after leaving I made my way back to the car park and was able to get changed out of my wet cycling gear. 65 miles is a first for me in that it is the longest distance I have ridden non-stop, and with a bit of sensible fuelling I reckon I would be good to go on an audax 100 mile route.

The purpose of putting the time in on the bike was to prove to myself that I could do it non-stop at a speed over 15mph and to spend some serious hours of a cardio workout without stressing my knees or ankles with the marathons still to come!

I tell a lie, the real purpose of the ride was to get this elusive photo that has eluded me on all the previous Grid Iron rides… I know its puerile, but it makes me smile!

Sandy balls are never welcome!

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

6th October: Clarendon

Up and attem for another early start, and unfortunately a very unprepared one having only looked at the route the previous night.

The Clarendon Marathon is a point-to-point along the ancient Clarendon Way footpath from Salisbury to Winchester across country, a route that offers something rare: the chance to run between two ancient cities over trails at exactly a marathon distance.

You have two choices for this event for where you park your car. You can either drive to the start in Salisbury, run to Winchester and be bussed back, or do the exact opposite. I opted for the latter as driving to the car park in Winchester only takes around 20 minutes from home rather than an hour to Salisbury and it meant I could make an immediate getaway after the run.

I said how disorganised I was, well I did not manage to sort out an entry before the online registration closed the previous week, so I just made my way there for an on the day cancellation spot, which they had stated would be available for only a £3 premium over the normal race ticket price.

Parking alongside the motorway at the Winchester park & ride it was still swathed in a blanket of autumnal morning fog and I joined the queue for the transfer bus to the start. Climbing up the stairs of the double-decker I took a seat and read a copy of Outdoor Fitness as the bus took us on its 45 minute journey to the event base in Salisbury; the Wyvern school.

On the buses.
The sports hall was long opened and already full of the gathering masses for the marathon and the marathon relay's first leg. I managed to pick-up my cancellation entry and set-about preparing myself for the start.

I decided it would be the best plan to empty the old bladder before the start of the race, so I went to find the toilets. Unfortunately for all of us, the facilities for the event consisted of 5 portaloos for everyone to sort themselves out, and the queue with about 20 minutes to the start was getting on for 100 people deep!

The snaking queue of trotters for the trotters.
Standing in line I struck-up a conversation with the person in front of me. He was running the first leg of the marathon relay and unfortunately had drawn the short straw of having to register all 4 of his team and sort the numbers; running with them all in hand to pass on to the next person. Normally he's a cyclist who regularly rides audax events with his circle of friends, so pretty much a 100km ride before lunch on a Saturday morning, come rain or shine, with the line drawn at ice. Today he volunteered for the first leg and has left his bike at the changeover so he can enjoy a good ride home after the warm-up of a 10k run.

After making the end of the queue for the trotters with 10 minutes to spare (with an equal number behind me as had been when I joined it), it was a jaunt up the steps on to the playing fields to congregate under blue skies with everyone else for the start, and the realisation about how un prepared I was for this race; my body telling me that it did not feel too good about the thought of the distance to come. With the sun out I was now wishing I had brought my cap and sun-block as it was certain to be a fairly hot one, but foolishly I had consulted the weather forecast which had the day as overcast throughout and had not bothered with them rather than erring on the side of caution.

Up the hill to the field.
No fog anymore!
Off we jogged from the school, through a few streets and up a hill until we found the trail and a single-file run skirting field and woodland on a trail that was very reminiscent of the Pilgrim, including some more bemused llamas to stare at us as we all filed past.

Inquisitive llama's.
On this first leg I was running alongside a truly remarkable gentleman. He is in his mid 50's and in remission from leukaemia. Before the illness he was a keen runner and had embraced triathlon, but after falling ill he had to take a lengthy break and was now attempting to come back stronger than ever with a new focus on life. Through his illness he has realised you only get one life and having nearly seen it ripped from him before his time he is determined to run all those races he has always wanted to compete in before it is all too late... So far he has managed to finish the Iron Man Zurich in the summer after a lot of hard training to make the start of it and he is now looking to other extreme endurance events, with the Marathon des Sables on his ultimate list, although he realises that he may have difficulty gaining an entry as he will need a doctor's sign-off to compete in line with all the other entrants of the event, and he is naturally worried that he may not get this with the leukaemia and his dream will be denied him… Soon enough, being a far fitter specimen than me he hared-off in to the distance leaving me to plod along by myself.

Running across the rolls and undulations of the countryside, crossing field after field we eventually managed to reach the second check-point and the start point of the half marathon in Broughton and a slight relief that I was making ok time to this point. The second half continued much the same as the first, with the hills that we did face being mercifully small and short.
Runners snaking off in to the distance.
Looking back from the end of the field above.
Soon after this half-way marker I was caught by Jason & Leanne, a husband and wife both running their first marathon, and doing it together! They had put the miles in to their training so were progressing steadily, although they were now realising the scale of what they were doing and the fact that no matter how hard you are finding it, you've just got to keep on going till you cross that line at the end. They seemed to be enjoying it and I asked if they were considering more… and the same with pretty much every one on the first run, they replied that they would decide after they have survived this one. I told them how hard I found my first CTS one in Pembroke, especially with around 5 miles to go just wanting to curl up and cry like a baby as it nearly beat me, and said to them that they know they have the mileage within them to get to the end, the rest is purely psychological and they can pull each other along. Soon enough after yo-yo ing position with them, they disappeared off into the wide green yonder to finish 10 minutes ahead of me.

Jason & Leanne heading off.
You know that bit about the hills being mercifully small and short… Well it certainly changed for the worse after 16 miles where we encountered a series of steep sharp climbs and descents that stepped the elevation up by around 500 foot over 5 miles by the end of the sequence, having endured 1000 foot of total ascent to get there. The worst part by far was after the aid station at around 17 miles and we were faced with an absolute lung-burster, and that was just walking it! This section was a killer and certainly removed the chance of beating any PB as I certainly had not banked enough time to take this into account before I got here.

Another field to cover!
Whilst on the subject of hills, the photographers for this event were Sussex Sports Photography, who seem to do most of the events in Hampshire/ Surrey/ Sussex, and had been doing the Pilgrim a few weeks before. These guys always seem to station themselves at the top of hills, so its almost impossible to muster enough steam to get a good run towards them as an action shot, so mine tend to resemble 'inaction' shots. Anyway, I was pulling my 'moose' every time I passed them which caused a couple of the photographers to comment 'oh its you again'. It seems that I may be one of the few people who strike a pose on the way past them rather than trying to look like a determined pro runner chasing a win - something I definitely am not! At least its something different for them to shoot and they always seem to smile as I mount the antlers on approaching them!

At one point we ran along a track through farmland and on one side of the path across a fence was a herd of 30 cows and their calves, all of them black in colour. On the other side of the path across a fence was another herd of 30 cows and their calves, all of them fresians… And both sets of cows were facing one another bellowing as loud as they could, staring each other out in some form of sectarian bovine stand-off. It was as though both sides were calling the other out in a 'come and have a go if you think you're hard enough' kind of way, which was very surreal to run through the middle of.

At one point the trail dropped down to the river Test, which meant to me that Winchester could not be too far off.

Crossing the Test
Verdant river banks.
Crossing the narrow wooden bridge over the shallow fast flowing water I noticed a sign with the Endurancelife chevrons on it pointing back the way we had come… They must have been here for one of their races some time in the past!

Those familiar chevrons!
On this last stage I was caught and overtaken by another first-timer who was feeling the distance. She had been driven up from Pompey by her boyfriend who was awaiting her appearance to take a photo as she conquered the trails. He normally does things like this and she has driven him to and from countless events so with him suffering an injury it was her time to go running and him to be the support crew!.. She has only really started running seriously in the last year and is doing this to prove to herself that she has it within her to run a marathon, and was now wishing she had chosen a bit of a flatter easier course, although with a nagging back injury she was running the marathon on the trail to minimise any discomfort with the softer surface under foot.

More of the rolling countryside.

Soon after being left on my own once more, the trail ended and the road began as the edge of Winchester was found, and before long the Kings School and the finish was in sight. Crossing the line I collapsed to get my breath for a few minutes before picking up my back from the drop tent and wandered in to the school to find the showers - something that few of these events have so I was glad to be able to take advantage of them. We had been warned in advance that the hot water was a finite supply and it had certainly long run-out by the time I had got there. Braving the freezing blast I managed to shower-down, hopefully as an ice-bath benefit which soon had me cooled down and I emerged clean and changed in to normal clothes.

Scoffing my scotch eggs awaiting the transfer bus back to the park and ride I saw Jagjit standing there awaiting the same bus, so we had a bit of a chat as I had not seen him since the South Downs although he had run the Pilgrim a few weeks before. After a wait of around half an hour the bus arrived and off we all went.

The event was a good simple course with not too much on the road and as mentioned was quite similar to the Pilgrim. I did not manage to do justice to it in terms of a time through my poor preparation (I certainly did not abide by the British Army rule of the 7p's: Perfect Planning & Preparation Prevents Piss-Poor Performance) so I would like to run it again at some point to rectify this. The course was well signed and marshalled and the mile markers counted down to the finish rather than up from the start which was a welcome change as you certainly knew exactly where you were with this. I'd recommend the Clarendon to others as a simple and straightforward course that was not too challenging in the hill department, and consequently the scenery was not as spectacular as seen in other races, although there is never a dull sight when you are running through a rural landscape!

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

30th September: Introspection pt2: Learning

After going for 13 of these little jog things, you can't help but learn as you go and accordingly adapt and change your behaviour or approach. The last post looked at how my wardrobe has developed and in this slice of introspection, here's some lessons from my learning-curve in getting to this point and the onward's march:

Red Bull/ energy drinks make you piss like a diuretic camel! After drinking a few cans before that first canal marathon it forced me to drain the vein every 15 minutes, which was an irritant to say the least... So energy drinks are reduced to a maximum of a single can/ a few swigs out of a bottle when heading in to a race.

Vaseline... There's no such thing as too much of it! Pembroke taught me that I need to grease my toes and the balls of my feet as well as my vitals (a very sage piece of advice from Smithy about greasing up those bad-boys!), and if you get too sweaty or soaking wet then the vaseline can rub off of said vitals, so a small tub to carry in the kit for emergency application would be advantageous.

Choose the right footwear: Running on the slick surface of well pounded muddy paths on the coastal trail of Pembroke following a solid 24 hours of rain made me realise you need specifically designed trail shoes, not trainers from ordinary manufacturers that claim to be for trails… Simply put they do not cut-it on mud and rock. Conversely, for 2 runs where I wore these specific trail shoes, the ordinary 'trail' trainers would have been better, so taking both to a run and choosing on the day after speaking to the organisers is the best policy. Also Gore-Tex may be great for keeping water out but it also seems to hold it in very well so not a good plan for a material in trail-shoes as it feels like you have a brick tied to either foot after running through where water can get in!.. Also change the laces in the trainers to elasticated ones so they never come undone whilst running which is a right royal ball-ache.

Have a winter jacket for running in the extreme cold and a lighter one for running in the not-so-cold so you do not overheat and end up running with your jacket unzipped and flapping in the breeze the whole time.

Run with a Camelbak pack with pockets on the belt strap so you carry everything easily to hand in there rather than in your jacket pockets, as seasonal changes will mean that the jacket is not needed and you no longer have the pockets that you previously relied on to carry any essentials. Also the food & gels weigh the jacket pockets down so it can annoy whilst running, especially if you run with the jacket unzipped because you're heating up.

Running belts are irritating and keep bouncing/ moving around and offer little in the way of practical storage - also the water bottles moving if carried can cause friction burns as I will attest to :(

Neck 2 pain killers/ anti inflammatories before the start of the race and top-up with a couple every 2 hours. Normally I do not use them EVER - something that stupefies LSS, but best to prevent the onset of pain rather than reacting to discomfort and the delay endured as you wait for the pain relief to kick-in... Although I'm pretty sure a lot of the pain killing is a placebo effect at work here, but it seems fine by me if by whatever reason I do not feel pain!

Do not drink too much due to the unpleasant sloshing sensation in the guts and do not eat anything too heavy as it makes you feel ill, even if chewed to a paste before swallowing.

If wearing a Garmin, load the course on to that so you can follow the arrow if needed in case of getting lost - so long as the course is the same as the previous year!

Assess if hat/ gloves/ buff are really needed for a race. It may be brass-monkey whilst you're standing there awaiting the off, but after 15 mins of running you will be too hot and end-up taking them off just to sit in your pocket for the remaining 9/10ths of a race.

Pin your race number to the leg of your shorts as you never take your shorts off - however you may remove a top with your number on it or put something on over the top of it and obscure it.

When running in hot conditions take your rings off beforehand as your fingers can expand alarmingly so they resemble a bunch of bananas and the rings just feel very uncomfortable.

As a rule, don't stop at aid stations if running self sufficient… In fact don't stop at all, ever! slow down to a walk yes but never arrest your progress as you are just adding time in a pointless manner that is not achieving anything. The exception to this though is when you feel your heart pounding so fast it wants to leap out of your chest and run-off by itself. That is a very good time just to stop and regain your composure!

Talk to people - pretty much everyone running a trail marathon has a good story about why they are there, and a chat for a little while can really help the miles drop away.

Other people run other races, you run your personal one. Keep going at your own pace that you feel comfortable with. The challenge is the finish, the time is secondary; manage your goals and pursue them whilst ignoring what is going on with those around you.

Lastly NEVER GIVE UP!.. In a marathon, as much as there are mountainous highs of elation, there are canyons of despair when all alone in the middle of nowhere you feel your whole body tiring, screaming at you to just stop and rest as you wonder whether you can physically make it to the end. Don't do it! The only way to the finish is to put one foot in front of the other and keep on with the journey as each step brings you closer to your destination.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

29th September: Introspection pt 1: Wardrobe

Now I've gone through this whole 12 in 12 thang, I'm getting all introspective... As you most probably guessed by my last entry where looking behind me I have gazed at a distant horizon in the future. In doing so, I've been thinking (and yes it does hurt at times) about what I have learned and how things have changed and progressed over the last year. One of the major things has been my running wardrobe.

Plenty of blogs out there will have reviews of products by some lucky beggar who has been comped a freebie piece of kit or clothing and is obliged to put it to the test. I'm not (and never will) be one of those fortunate few, so over the course of the last year I have collected together and refined my personal running wardrobe to something I am happy with in all seasons.

Before I took this malarky seriously, I used to go out in a battered old t-shirt, old footy shorts and footy socks with a heavy cotton drill-top over the tee if it were cold enough to warrant it. Since evolving from the casual jogger to bat-shit crazy runs runner, these have now been jettisoned (although I still love my drill tops - one especially as it is my university football one) and it certainly has been the right decision - it has also meant that not once have I suffered from the dreaded jogger's nipple, which the rubbing of a cotton tee soaked in sweat would in the past give me every now and again, especially in the hot weather!

Some things I wear are a constant, others change. For example the constants are:

Underwear - a pair of cotton briefs worn inside the shorts as I am definitely not Superman.
Lonsdale neoprene support shorts, to hold my ailing groins & hips together.
Umbro football shorts as me in lycra (spandex for you crazy yanks) is far from a welcome sight.
Trekking socks - wicking & quick drying.

As an aside, the 3 pairs of socks I bought for these runs are now wearing out, so I will be looking for something new soon - as always I'll have to give them a try before a proper race!

I have 2 different base-layer tops, one for summer, one for winter. The winter one is a long sleeve thick one in black by Crane and the summer a thinner short sleeve Nike pro-combat in white. The top shirt varies, but either a 'tech' tee or a Farnborough footy shirt... For the tech tees I have tended to wear the white of Endurancelife, for the footy top it has been a 4 season's old FFC top by Lotto, which is a nice snug fit. For future races I suspect I will be mostly wearing one of my my 7x tees or the Reykjavik tee, as I am very proud to be entitled to wear them - like a badge of honour so as to speak :) In the heat of the summer marathons, I have never felt as though I was getting too hot or uncomfortably soggy wearing the two tops, so I suppose the science behind the base-layer theory and the wicking/ cooling theory is a sound one!

For the colder months a jacket is sported over the top of this. I certainly did not regret having one to run and wear in for the sub-zero temp of the Sussex race. In fact I was very impressed that I did not feel cold at any point, despite the driving rain and howling gale! This jacket is a lightweight black Regatta wind & shower proof zip-up with a flap for covering the zip, and for the slightly warmer yet still cold times, there's an ultra lightweight blue Dare2b shower-proof zip-up.

I always tend to run in sunnies, as I hate glare on my eyes. My running sunnies are a pair of wrap-around 'Evolution' ones that I also use for cycling. They are fitted with a light grey lens rather than rose or orange and they come from a local internet-based supplier to me: Sunglasses for Sport. I say local, they're in the next village down the A30!

Headwear tends to be a beany hat if needed for the extreme cold - the only time I kept it on for the vast majority of a race has been Sussex. I have been known to sport a buff around my neck as well - either the Snow+Rock from the XT Duathlon or the Brutal 10k one. In the sun I have been wearing a cycling cap as it is smaller and less obtrusive than a baseball cap plus the visor flips up and down. I trashed my Wessex CTC cap by washing it (the bill snapped inside) so I have replaced it with a bright yellow team 'Meractone Uno' one - the team of the late great Italian cyclist Marco Pantani.

When needed in the cold I sport a thin pair of Karrimor running gloves and a thicker pair for when it is REALLY cold. I don't like wearing too much extra clothing when running as I tend to be able to warm up easily, what with all the pie blubber I carry around on me, so I tend not have a hat, gloves nor buff on unless really necessary as they always seem to end-up in my pockets getting in the way after around 15 minutes of running. As a consequence, when its chilly immediately before a race it is just a case of being 'hard' enough to tough-out the chill until the start.

I suppose I should also mention my Camelbak as technically it is worn! I have abandoned the Vango one I started out with as it was not up-to it with regards to storage. One side-effect of the Camelbak is the waist belt causes my shirts to ride-up, so I have to safety-pin them down so as to not need to pull the tops down to where they should sit, covering my overhang.

Lastly there's the footwear. I have now acquired 3 sets of trail trainers. The first and most lightweight are the Asics ones, which are good for an ordinary dry/ damp trail. The second are an 'intermediate' pair when it comes to the grips - these are made by Karrimor and I have not actually run in these just yet! And the third are the seriously hard-core More Mile trainers which have grips on them the size of some of the hills I run-up. These are cracking for dealing with the hardest of terrain, although very spartan on the old comfort level!

So there you have it, a run-down of my wardrobe from top to bulbous bottom.

22nd September: What next?

As I have gone along I have now picked up quite a collection of medals, which my girls love to look at, as well as copious amounts of t-shirts to the point I may never have to buy one again. I'm also thinking of wearing them as normal leisure-wear just to get some use out of them, rather than a 'look at me and this wonderful race I have run' statement. With the Endurancelife events you get the same tee every time (not a criticism at all, far from it in fact!) so I have begun to acquire them in different sizes to me to give away to other people who run and can get a use out of them as having an ever increasing stash of them for personal use is a bit of a pointless exercise!

Looking at all of these ill-gotten-gains, and proving to myself that I am a marathon runner and have the right to call myself that - more specifically a cross country, or trail marathon runner, it begs the question of 'Where do I go from here?'... When you tell people you run marathons for fun they give you a fair bit of respect as it is something out of the ordinary and outside of most people's experience… When you say you run them cross country they look at you like you're bat-shit crazy… So where do I go from here? Do I carry on as I am or do I ramp things up to challenge myself harder still and push my body even further outside of its comfort zone?

To be honest, I have found I enjoy these marathons… Not just the runs themselves but the whole adventure of going off and doing them, be it fairly local where I can run meeting people I already know from round this way, or travelling to the opposite end of the country or overseas and seeing new sights and meeting new people. One of the best buzzes I have had is arriving in darkness at an event base and falling asleep to awake somewhere I have never been nor seen before, all ready for me to explore.

As you can guess, the runs are not going to stop and they will be continuing in this kind of frequency, however I will not be obsessive about this (promise!). I will endeavour to keep going at one a month (as long as my knees last), until I qualify to join the 100 marathon club... If it takes me a decade, then so be it, but hey you've got to have a goal!

I will be looking to do new races as well as repeating some of those already done, but if there is a clash, then I will always look to favour a new race over an old one. Also to qualify for the 100 marathon club, then you must have completed at least 10 UK road marathons… So that's 10 I still need to do. Realistically I think I will need to slip in 2 a year! Also my canal marathon will not count for the 100, so I will have run 101 to qualify to wear the blue and yellow shirt. and I am already 12/100 there!

With the initial challenge of 12 in 2012 morphing in to 12 in 12 months and now 13 in 2013, the title of the blog is becoming, or indeed has become, somewhat redundant. Whilst out on the trail running Pilgrim I thought of a new title for the blog:

'Running for the pies'

Because let's face it, I'm still just a pie and a pint away from being a fat bastard even after running 13 marathons!

On the weight front, this is something that needs to be addressed. I am easily around 2 stone overweight - yes I'm 6' tall and have a good level of base fitness and powerful muscle mass in my legs through playing football and cycling since I were a lad, but my diet is letting me down and the gut is expanding, so hopefully over the next 12 months/ 12 marathons I'll be able to work on this, and improving my times in the races as a consequence.

I've come a long way from the Pembroke CTS where I finished 3rd last and on a good day I can get to around 2/3 down the finishers list, and by knocking 30 minutes off my times I would be finishing round about the 50 percentile.

I would also love to run some Ultras - although realistically I need to be able to regularly do sub 4:30 trail marathons to build my speed/ fitness and stamina before embarking on them.

Over this year, with all the people I have met and whose adventures I have heard first hand, or read about second hand I have now started to form a 'bucket list' of races. In no particular order they are:

Classic Quarter
Ultra Trail Mt. Blanc
Jurassic Challenge
Centurion South Downs Way 100
Laugevegur Marathon
Matterhorn Ultraks
Marathon des Sables

I'm no where near ready to go for any of these just yet, but perhaps in 2015 I'll start to chip away at them?.. Time will tell.

Oh and I'd like to do some proper triathlons as well, maybe even building up to an Iron Man one day, but that my friends is something else entirely different!

21st September: Tour of Britain

The very much smaller brother of the Tour de France was running this week: the Tour of Britain, which saw some of the world's top cyclists hooning around on these shores on 2 wheels, including Sir Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish and Nairo Quintana.

On its penultimate day, this year's route took a meander close to where I live - Stage 7 from Epsom racecourse to Guildford. The course took the riders through Surrey and in particular through the village Farnham at its most westerly extremity, with Farnham being a mere 10 miles from home.

I had mentioned several times to the guys down the pub about going to cheer on the riders and by the time I left our weekly drink after closing time in the pub on Thursday, the yes's and maybe's had dwindled down to just Pini and myself.

On the Saturday I put on my MAMIL gear and knocked on Pini's door and off we cycled to Farnham. 10 miles isn't too far, but there is the small matter of an effing big hill in the way. It may not be Mont Ventoux, but by the time you get to the top of that you feel you really have been cycling and its classified as a 'Category 4' climb on the cycling website Strava - 4 being the lowest of hill climb gradings when they become worthwhile grading! At least from the top of this hill there's a quick steep descent in to Farnham itself so you do not need to pedal for the last mile.

We arrived and took our position on the bottom of Castle Street - the road on which we came in to the town, and where the riders would soon zoom past.

The crowd was already quite numerous and there were loads of people who like us had cycled along to see the spectacle amongst the normal throng of Saturday shoppers. The closer it got to the riders appearing the denser the crowd became until it was approaching the numbers of the Olympic Road Race when that came along last year - although in West Byfleet they had barriers to keep people away, here it was like the Tour de France - a free for all with regards to where you wish to stand.

Not a bad crowd, and this was with 20 minutes to go before the race arrived!
About 15 minutes before the riders arrived a couple came and stood beside Pini and myself - and I saw the guy was wearing a Reykjavik Marathon shirt! Naturally I couldn't help but start a conversation seeing as a mere few weeks ago the 2 of us had unknowingly been running the same race and now we were standing in a different country next to one another!

The guy was originally from South Africa and both he and his girlfriend are avid runners and are getting into the whole marathon thing. He has run 16 and she has 13 to her name and slowly but surely they re chipping them off in the hope of one day reaching the 100 club - exactly as Pini and myself are. They mentioned the events they were looking to compete in later this year, with him flying out to Berlin for that race in a couple of weeks. They had both run the Farnham Pilgrim the previous week as well… Its a small world!

The race had a small break-away on the front of it, so they came through after preceding waves of police motorbikes and event security motorbikes, sponsors cars and media motors. Then a few minutes later came the peloton. Camera at the ready I managed to get a few shots of them as they came past, however I didn't manage to get Wiggo this year. You can just make out a small fleck of yellow that is his helmet in the background of one of the photos, and you can kind of see Mark Cavendish, although I did get an 'in action' shot of Nairo Quintana who finished 2nd in this years Tour de France.

The last rider in white on the left is Mark Cavendish, with the tiny smudge of yellow just over his shoulder being Sir Bradley Wiggins!
Nairo Qunitana in full blurry flight.
 As soon as the riders had pedalled in to Farnham, they were gone and there were the hollow cheers for all the team cars and of course the 'broom wagon' bringing up the rear.

The front of the team Sky Jaguar.
After bidding goodbye to the couple of runners and wishing them all the future luck with their runs, a swift pint of the local Hog's Back Brewery 'T.E.A.' was consumed in the Nelson. The Hog's Back is the road from Farnham in to Guildford over which the Tour of Britain riders were riding as I supped, so it seemed only right!

Onto the bikes it was for the return home and the immediate mile long climb to the top of the big hill, although it does mean you get a long blast downhill almost immediately afterwards - on which I managed to get my speed up to a touch over 40mph.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

15th September: Pilgrim

If crossing the line in Reykjavik proved I can easily fit 10 marathons into a year - considering I ran none from mid October last year till mid Feb of this, then this should be something I keep on with until my knees can take it no more, so the Farnham Pilgrim trail marathon marks the first steps in the secondary (sub) challenge; the extension of the 12 in 12 to 13 in 2013! Making this round 11 of 13 with a few months left to go to squeeze the last couple out.

Pini has raced this one the last couple of years, finishing 9th last year and 3rd in his category in the half marathon the year before that. It is a race he has recommended heartily so it definitely was one I was looking forward to shuffling around. He informed me that the terrain is fairly easy going with one rather large hill before the halfway turn, and the rest really being undulations rather than anything else, unlike the South Downs we ran together.

Going in to this race I was looking forward to it being a chance to get that sub 5 hour trail time. Psychologically going in to the run having just finished a fag-end over 4:30 on the road, I felt that it was definitely within me to achieve this. My times approaching had been getting closer and closer to this goal so I felt that it was really a case of mind over matter more than anything else and I was not going to let anything get in the way.

I gave Pini a lift down to the start just by Farnham golf club and we duly changed and registered for the off. Pini was chasing a result in this one again this year, putting in the miles to attempt a higher finish and better time.

A decent bit of early autumn sun.
Pini ready to run for a placing.
Come the off Pini was straight to the front and hared-off with the best of them whilst I plodded along towards the back of the group off into the countryside heading eastwards.

The weather was fairly cool with broken sunshine so it was good not to be overheating from a beating baking sun and able just to concentrate on getting the miles under my belt.

Funky cloud patterns and con-trails above us.
Underfoot the terrain seemed to be for the most part bridleway/ right of way footpaths, with the occasional bit on country roads for variety the going was not too hard or soft and with the first 10k of the route being broadly down-hill a decent chance to get some good times into the bank in case of a later slump.

Along the woodland trail.
Taking in the views of the fields and trees as I ran, I was amazed at the sheer number of marshals and aid stations. It is extremely well organised, with someone at every corner just to help you should you run the risk of losing the track. There were plenty of people out supporting the event as well which is always great to have - random people clapping and cheering you onwards.

After running past another golf course and the Greyfriars Vineyard we hit the river Wey that runs through Guildford, so I knew now that we must be at the valley's bottom. It was a short flattish section here and we were able to watch boaters along the river working the lock-gates as they went on their own journey.

The Wey lock.
If you're at the bottom there's only one way to go and sure enough we started to steadily climb and we entered the Chilworth Manor estate, and were confronted by herd of llama's - which was a welcome change from seeing cows and sheep! At this point I recognised a voice as it jogged past and a familiar conversational topic 'don't do the Fairlands Valley in Stevenage' I looked across and found Andy from the Salisbury 54321 was alongside me, overtaking with a couple of other people. Realising who it was I said hello and chipped-in with my tuppence worth about the event!.. It turns out that since Salisbury Andy has run another couple of races, one of which was in Cheltenham which he said was nearly as badly organised a route and to avoid that one as well! It seems he has managed to regain his fitness having worked through his injury problems and I let them all steam off in front as I stopped to photograph more llama's.

Loadsa Llamas
The slow gradual climb was beginning to take its toll on some people and there was a bit of yo-yoing as people's different tactics for the climb came in to effect. In the distance ahead of me I could make out the figure of Carthorse, a fellow Farnborough FC fan and distance runner, so I attempted to maintain the gap as much as possible to get a chance to have a chat with him after the race.

Proof there really are runners behind me!
As we approached the halfway we encountered the hill Pini warned me about. The terrain here switched to sand, so it made the run harder still but fortunately with the rain we had recently had the sand was damp and held together fairly well. As we wound our way up the hill to the church of St. Martha at its summit (the hill has taken the name of its crowning church), in the distance you could hear a voice shouting and hollering on in encouragement. About 1/2 a mile later I saw who it was, possibly the loudest most cheerful marshall ever. She was bouncing around encouraging everyone to do their best in a manner that had her accompanying labrador attempting to hide itself away in embarrassment!

Enthusiasm that knew no boundaries!
About 1/4 mile after we were at the summit and the great view across Surrey that it afforded. They really chose a very picturesque place to plonk a church.

The picturesque church on the hill.
The descent started here and I found myself running alongside a lady who was running her first marathon for charity and had brought a throng of cheerleaders with her; around 30 people were gathered cheering and clapping her on. When you run past people as enthusiastic as that it can't help but inspire you as well to redouble you're efforts!
The view down to the valley floor.
All too soon we were back down at the valley floor and crossed behind the goals of a Sunday league football match on the park just before re-crossing the Wey at a more northerly point. It was here that I caught up with Carthorse who was feeling a little leaden of leg.

We jogged along for a bit chatting about our shared interest in Farnborough FC and the trials and tribulations that go with it - believe me if there ever were a soap-opera of a football club then the last decade Farnborough would have been top of the viewing figures, unfortunately for off-field rather than on-field reasons. At least you can say following FFC its never dull for a while!

Carthorse writes his own blog on his running exploits: Den's Got the Runs which is worth a read for his ultra-running exploits. The Farnham Pilgrim starts a couple of miles from his house so he tends to run it each year as much for its scenic nature as its proximity to home. This race is merely a warm-up for the Berlin marathon in a couple of weeks so a PB chase is on the cards there.

The course soon led us up another small but very steep hill. Carthorse warned me that it is largely a pointless effort as you can skirt round the bottom of this mound covering an equal distance, if not further rather than going up and down. The mound in question is exactly that, with St. Catherine's Chapel sitting on top of it. So you go up, along and down the other side and soon you're crossing the road leaving it behind.

The ruins on the mound (I'm not talking about the runners).
After a couple of miles of run-walking and chatting about next year's plans for running, in order for me to hit my 5h mark I had to get a wiggle-on so I had to leave the struggling Carthorse behind bemoaning the state of his legs and cursing not having any electrolyte to hand on him.

The view from the sandy heath.
Sauntering over the sand.

The course soon doubled back on itself, before leading us across some sandy heathland where we looped around on the top of a plateau then down in to some woods, where a group of marshals sporting fancy dress of an old crone, a monk (the race's logo) and a peasant were pointing the way forwards. Soon after we were heading back in towards the golf course and the finish line, with the last half mile an agonising incline!

Making it back to the field where the race began I could see Pini already changed and waiting, cheering me on and giving a High 5 as I approached the line and crossed it in a recorded time of 4:57:00 and proof to myself that I can complete a sub 5h trail marathon.

High-5ing Pini across the finish line.
The goody-bag for this race contained a mug as well as a cotton tee with a front and back print as well as a medal. With this mug, like the water bottle in Reykjavik, it is a useful memento of the race that you can get some everyday use out of.

Pini beat his time of last year by 2 minutes, but in doing so also became a victim of the race's success and growing popularity… He may have run the course faster this year, but finished 2 places lower in 11th. Which is a shame for him to say the least although the race this year was a fast one as both the first two finishers broke the course record!

I indulged in some complimentary cake and one of my scotch eggs in the hospitality tent before starting back to the van. During the race I had only consumed 3 gels and nothing else, which is by far the least fuelling I have felt the need to undertake, so I was quite happy to have been ideally fuelled before starting (I saved the delights of the minging recovery shake till I got home).

Walking back to the van I was able to cheer-on Carthorse as he approached the finish line around 20 minutes behind me, and on the ride home we were able to tune in to the thrilling conclusion to the ITU Triathlon final on the London 2012 course, where after all that time spent swimming, cycling and running it came down to a sprint finish between 2 evenly matched athletes over the last few metres; with Javier Gomez beating
the 'tactical muppet' Jonathan Brownlee as described by his brother Alistair in the post-race interview!

I thoroughly enjoyed this run, and with it sitting on my doorstep I'm sure to be back in the future and heartily recommend it to anyone who fancies a go.

Doing the moose for the camera as always :)