Running for the pies

Running for the pies

Sunday, 24 November 2013

24th November: Hawley

I had to work early on Saturday morning so took the opportunity to stop on the way home and go for a jaunt around where I first started XC running seeing as it lay between the work location and home. The inspiration for this had started from a discussion on Strava amongst people looking for different local routes, preferably with a bit of hill to them and my mind had been drawn back to Hawley Woods where on a personal level running cross country began for me.

It all started one afternoon in 1995 on a weekend in the summer after my first year at uni, when I had an urge just to get out and run - so I did just that, and could not believe how hard it felt and how rewarding afterwards when I had been running for over an hour for the first time in my life.

Growing up on the edge of Hawley Woods living first on the south and then the north sides, I spent a large chunk of my childhood playing in there, building camps, finding and collecting spent ordnance… Oh yes, its an army training area for Gibraltar Barracks where they send the new recruits to the Royal Engineers! As a result I know my way around these woods like the back of my hand and have watched it change over the years. Originally part of the south end of the woods served as a base for the Canadian Army during WWII and what was the parade ground was used for army HGV driver training long after their barracks had been demolished… The UK HQ of Sun Microsystems is now on this site!

I have not run on this particular figure of 8 route of 2 laps taking in the main part of the woods since 1998! so I was looking forward to revisiting it, although I had decided to incorporate towards the end of my run a bit more hill-work into it by revisiting a chunk of the route I had run on the XT Duathlon when I raced there a couple of years ago.

Parking by the Memorial Hall and a quick change out of my work clothes into my running gear, I set-out into the cold autumn morning air armed with my camera and faithfully retraced my steps from years ago.

Up on to the airfield.
The first point of note on this route is the old airfield in the middle of the woods. This is a large cleared plateau with a single take-off and landing strip that dates back to WWII and its use as a dispersal site for the nearby airfield at Blackbushe, as well as a take-off and landing point for the Special Operations Executive doing covert drops into occupied Europe. During the summer you get all the adders coming onto the tarmac deck to bask in the heat, and with it being an active MoD property you sometimes get the odd surprise when you arrive up the hill and round the corner… Such like one time I came face to face with a flight of Lynx helicopters armed with TOW missiles ready to fly-off to Salisbury Plain for an attack in a large military exercise as they were using the strip as a forward operating base! A few times over the years Harriers had been known to have landed and taken off from there to practice on a 'rough' landing strip and I've watched a Chinook touch down and disgorge its payload of troops before flying off… Today all there was were a couple of mini-buses for the Air Cadets who must have been camping out doing some field craft!

Looking in to the trees.
Descending from the plateau I joined the road around the lake and 'Hawley Hard' where I learned to sail on Bosun's as a teenager, looping round the back of the lake bordering the Pinewood Park estate where I lived for the first 8 years of my life, before climbing the long hill that nearly takes me all the way back to the van.

First glimpse of the lake.
Bemused onlookers.
Looking back across at the Hard.
As I rejoined the track near where my run started, rather than climb back on to the airfield, I took a left and the path that runs around the base of the hill as I start the second of the two laps.

A splash of green amongst the browns, golds, oranges and yellows.
The woods still seemed to be as popular as ever with dog-walkers; lots of energetic springers, collies and the likes galavanting through the undergrowth having a whale of a time, probably chasing the squirrels of which I spotted a good dozen!

Circling the lake in the opposite direction as I arrived at Hawley Hard I took a diversion left from the road on to the XT trail I ran and headed over the sandy tracks up in to the woods again to pay a visit to the old railway bridge.

The railway bridge.
Across the top of the bridge.
Looking down at the trail leading to the bridge.
As far as I'm aware, this bridge never had a proper railway servicing it, merely constructed with a small amount of track along the bridge and underneath it to simulate a railway bridge for practice in attack and defence of such structures. When I was a lad there were still things like disused bogies and railway gear lurking around in the undergrowth.

Where to next?
There was an orienteering mark on a tree next to the parapet, and with spotting some more further along around the airfield I suspect those cadets whose van's I passed earlier were embarking on an orienteering exercise.

Running along the track that ran across the top of the bridge I returned to the airfield before detouring round to the bottom of the hill to jog up the fiendish hill. Once I was on a morning run when I looked like this:

only wearing running gear, and approaching the hill I saw for the second time on the run a bunch of new recruits out on one of their first PT runs with their instructors yelling at them to pick-up the pace and keep running in orderly lines of 2 equally spaced apart. The recruit's faces were nearly as red as the shirts they were wearing; collectively puffing and wheezing as they attempted to get up the hill as I easily caught and jogged past them. Seeing this their PTI's were less than impressed with their charges, one of them yelling at them about how useless they were as I had just run past them with ease having been running for longer and I looked like a 'fucking girl'!

Another time around on part of the hill and it was back across the airfield and to the car-park concluding my trip down memory lane… I'm pretty sure I'll be returning, only next time running across the heathland to the north as well to increase the mileage.

Monday, 18 November 2013

17th November: Gower

Not David the languid free-flowing arguably most technically gifted batsmen produced by England in the latter half of the 20th century, but the peninsular in South West Wales just beyond Swansea and setting for the latest round in the Endurancelife Coastal Trail Series.

Following my normal pattern, I left late on Friday evening killing the time of the drive by listening to the commentary of England losing 2-0 in an abject performance in an international friendly to Chile. A few hours later and having travelled through a village that sounds like some veterinarian ailment suffered by sheep: Scurlage, I pulled-up at the Worm's Head car park around midnight before hunkering down for the night... It turns out the etymology of 'worm's head' is a corruption of the Viking word for Dragon: 'wurme'.

This was the first time I'd taken the van to an overnight trip and it was great to have the extra space in the back in which to stretch out. With the walls, floor and roof of the van insulated the temperature was fine, not that it was too chilly outside in the first-place.

I awoke the next morning and had the delights of this view from behind the van, looking down the cliff to Rhossili beach below.

Breakfasting on flapjack and coffee and keeping an eye on the time I decided to saunter off to register for the event. There was no early start offered for the marathoners so running-out with the ultra's was not an option (although with my times improving I don't really need to be doing this now) so it meant the slight luxury of a 45 minute later start.

The walk to the event base of the Rhossili Bunk House only took around 10 minutes so it was an easy trek not expending too much energy. Upon leaving the Worm's Head car park looking at the beach you could see the huge hills overlooking and the ominous dawning realisation that these were most likely to be ascended on the course pretty-much immediately!

Hmm might we be scaling these?
Back in the van after registering I changed in the back and read a little as I psyched myself up for the journey ahead. With the temperature predicted to be around 10 to 12C all day and little wind to speak of I decided not to bother with a jacket and instead just had my long-sleeved base-layer with my CTS 7x shirt on top for the run. Walking back to the Bunk-House again for the safety briefing I watched a sheep-dog practicing by itself; herding half a dozen ponies whilst the farmer tended to some cows in the shed next to the paddock, whilst the pack of ultra-runners could be sighted haring off in to the distance behind the field.

No warnings of deaths en-route this time!
As we milled around for the safety briefing a couple of people had a chat with me about the shirt, asking what ones I had run before and if I had done this one. One gent has thrown himself in for the 7x challenge this year and today was his first steps to the goal, so naturally I wished him all the best as if my portly frame can make it then he certainly can!

And then we were off in to the morning sea air, jogging down towards the coastal path before turning right and the path around the Worm's Head headland back towards Rhossili. Jogging past the car park and my van, countless supporters were gathered waving on their family members and loved-ones as the car park swelled with those arriving for the half marathon, 10k events and day trippers. Rhossili and the surrounding area is also a surfing hot-spot, so there were a few day-vans, mostly converted VW Transporters parking-up with their occupant's decks lashed to their roofs.
Nearly at the top!

My earlier hunch about the hill by the beach was as correct as it was unsurprising and we had to scale this to the cliff top as we traversed the undulations northwards. I had the chance of a chat with a couple of people along the way, one gent is starting-out marathon running and this was his third, having just run the Bournemouth and Eden marathons. He has decided to do them mostly as XC to save the wear and tear on his body and enjoy the scenery.

Running atop the hills.
Looking back to Worm's Head.
Wending our way along the cliff top we passed the remnants of a WWII radar station facing out in to the Atlantic. All that remains are the concrete foundations for the steel masts and the buildings, the only man-made structure to be seen for a few miles before and after!

The former radar station.
The good thing is that for every climb there is a descent… And boy was this descent fun! It was probably the most exhilarating piece of running I have had the pleasure of doing! We went from cliff top to sea level, 500ft to 0ft over a quarter mile - that works out as a 1 in 2 gradient. Being a fat-bloke I carry a bit more weight out front than others, so when I lean forward momentum takes over and the speed quickens. I found myself bounding down the hill-side like a hyperactive mountain goat, overtaking people gingerly side-stepping or baby-stepping downwards. A bit of a killer on the big-toe nails with them slamming in to the toes of the trainers it may have been, but one hell of a rush! and at the caravan park at the foot of the hill was the first check-point of the day.

Starting the descent.
The beach below.
Looking back... You can just see the little figures on the crest and descending the green strip in the middle.
Emerging from the checkpoint we headed on to the beach and the first of the 2 extended beach runs. Each of these 2 sections is a mile of flat unremitting sand, with a third half miler thrown in for good measure after these two! The hardest part of the beach run is working your way through the ankle deep loose sand from the dunes, on to the beach top and then finding your way down to a point close to the water's edge where the sand is at its hardest and easiest to run on, and continuing along this section in as straight a line as you can to get to the other end of the sand. This stretch had me reaching for the headphones and listening to something to counteract the unremitting slog across the flat featureless terrain.

The mile of sand.
The end of the beach was the furthest north that we reached on the course and we headed in an easterly direction back on to the cliffs with the bay formed by the estuary of the River Loughor to our left. Ascending on to the cliffs I spotted a Stonechat - a striking coloured red and dark brown finch-like bird in one of the gorse thickets.

Running along here admiring the scenery, I made the fatal mistake of not paying enough attention to where I was putting my feet and tripped on a rock jutting out of the ground and turned ankle. Not fighting to keep balance as the terrain was soft slightly muddy grass I just fell on to my knees, picked myself up and hobbled-on hoping to not have knacked my ankle too seriously. After a minute or so of taking it easy, no pain had started to shoot forth, so I figured I had dodged the bullet this time. Nonetheless I necked a couple of anti-inflammatories as a precaution can carried on regardless and soon we wound our way down to the second of the two caravan parks and the second checkpoint not far beyond that.

From here we headed up on to the exposed moorland, traversing the ridge of the highest point of the peninsular as we worked our way notionally from westerly to easterly points of the course. Traversing this leg I had the chance to chat with another fellow runner in the form of Luke Carter who said he recognised me from a few of the races last year. He too was sporting his 7x tee under his jacket and like me he has the bug for these runs. He had run this race last year and was telling me that the difference between the two was immense, as last year it was a quagmire and that fun descent I mentioned before was so treacherous that a lot of people had decided it was safer to slide down slowly on their arse rather than attempt remaining upright! The conditions were so much better this year that he was already over an hour in front of the time it had taken him to get to this point in the previous running, and then he disappeared off in to the distance to finish around 10 minutes ahead of me by the race's finish.

Views from on the moor, left and right.
The end of the moorland section gave us a good downhill stretch to the next checkpoint and our second beach stage. After a section of running through the sand dunes we traversed a bridge over a stream and then the solid mile of sand.

Crossing the bridge
Soon after starting on this soulless stretch I found myself being joined by an overtaker who ran with me for the length of the beach. Since finishing uni in Swansea he has found himself in running as a hobby and lifestyle that defines him and he goes out for around 70 miles each week. This area of hills and beaches is one he loves to run having done it countless times, so with all of his practice in the area he was made-up to be running in a timed event on his training ground! It seems he has a few like minded friends who enjoy their distance running and doing things out of the ordinary. Earlier this year they completed what they describe as the 3-3-3 challenge: 3 marathons, 3,000 miles and 3 weeks. They flew out to Houston and ran the marathon there, then drove from Houston to Vegas where they based themselves whilst they ran the Red Rock Canyon Marathon, before getting back to their rooms at the MGM grand that night and chilling in the hot-tub with a few beers before heading off to the Bellagio for a buffet Kobe beef supper. Truly a once in a lifetime day! The last leg was a drive to LA and running the marathon there.

The LA marathon happened to be on St. Patrick's day and just for amusement's sake they decided to run it in super-hero costumes, namely Batman and Robin. It seems that those running the LA marathon are a bit too serious and po-faced as he cannot recall seeing anyone else running in fancy dress… Except for one man.

This one man was spray-painted green head to toe wearing only green shorts and trainers, so could only be described as a kind of leprechaun and was running whilst drinking beers with a maniacal glint in his eyes that could only mean he was high on something, be it life, liquor or lines of the white stuff!

At the far side of the beach saw for me the hardest part of the run; what seemed like an unending sheer staircase cut in to the side of the tree covered cliff. Each step was a foot in height so you were climbing plenty of elevation in not much forward travel. This just knocked the wind clean out of me in the same manner as the evil hill on the last CTS event I ran at Flete.

Around halfway I stopped for 30 seconds just to compose myself before slowly traversing onwards. to the top. As soon as the top was reached then it was gently undulating woodland path which brought with is another peril. With the autumnal shedding of leaves they were now lying over the path on the wooded floor, so were camouflaging the exposed roots and rocks, which made it an interesting section to traverse as I was reluctant to get up any speed with the risk of a plummet off the sheer cliff-side if you took a trip and a tumble! The woodlands eventually gave-way to more stunning cliff-top views out over the Atlantic as the final checkpoint loomed ahead about a mile away.

Lovely slope to a sheer drop onto rocks.
The final leg of the run started with a shorter beach section than the previous 2, this one only about half a mile, before heading up some steps onto a path behind some houses and then back up on to the cliff-tops with more undulations than we had come-across before. It was unrelenting changes of ascent to descent, some sharper than others, all of them reminding me of the Pembroke race and how far I have come since then just over a year ago.

Eventually I could see Rhossili once more and the flags of the finish line, although we just seemed to run parallel to it on our right not teasing us by not getting any closer until eventually the path took a right and finally we were approaching the finish flags and the end of the race.

Finishing this year there were no dog-tag as before, but a 2013 series medal with the race name stamped on it… Only another 6 to hopefully collect over as many forthcoming months :) Picking-up my bag I walked back to the car feeling surprisingly sprightly, most probably high on the endorphins from finishing the run, and feeling sorry for those whose races had taken a heavier toll on their bodies in far worse a shape as they limped and hobbled away. Whilst my time was not brilliant, I had finished around 2/3rds down the field, I was happy with how strong I had felt - especially in the latter stages of the race and immeasurably better an all-round showing than this time last year where I finished 3rd last in my first competitive run! It also put my performance in October's Clarendon into perspective where I did not perform to the level I thought I would have on a course far easier than this!

After my post-race protein shake (I can't wait to finish that foul stuff) and a couple of scotch eggs keeping warm in the back of the van, I changed and drove back stopping for a celebratory Whopper en-route knowing that part 2 of my weekend's activity was still to come. On the way back I passed Swansea airport, which is far more grandiose sounding than the reality - its about the same size as our local airstrip of Blackbushe (as recently featured in the film Rush doubling up as a 70's Grand Prix circuit), but there was a Hawker Hunter. in the RAE colours that we used to see flying out of Farnborough Airdrome when I was growing up, parked next to the runway, which I hope they get flying again one day.

This week I had been wearing new work boots which had been rubbing my little toes like crazy, blistering them in the process, so I knew my feet would not be good after the race before I had even started, but nothing was going to put me off the marathon! No matter how much vaseline I put on the toes before the run I knew it would not prevent the inevitable bursts and soreness, so this morning when I had to put on my football boots to play a full 90, as there were only 11 players available including me, it was truly agonising until about 10 minutes in to the game… It was one of those days where we turned-up with a scratch 11 fearing for the worst, only to find the opposition had just 10! So definitely worth putting in the extra shift to help-out and earn us a hard-won 3 points.

Needless to say after 90 minutes of solid stop-start running I was feeling the exertions of the last 36 hours!

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

11th November: Torch

The essence of doing all these marathons cross-country was to not have to pavement-pound and go round in circles seeing the same shit time after time. The problem in training for these runs in the winter months is the available hours tend to be in darkness, so any running gets reduced to the monotonous trudge of pavement-pounding.

In an effort to alleviate this I've noticed the surge in popularity of head-torches for running, and having a simple LED one for my daily work as an electrician in cramped dark places, I appreciate how useful they are and would be a useful tool for night-time running.

You can spend a fortune buying a head torch by Petzl or other 'brand' manufacturers out there, but I don't have the resources to go drop the best part of £300 on a head torch, so looking around for an alternative I turned to what I use on my bike for lighting as a starter.

My riding set-up is 2x Cree Q5 LED torches on the front of my bike, one set on mid beam and the other on flood to illuminate the road from directly in front of the wheel to what's a good 50 yards away and the life on the batteries is pretty good. My mates have been impressed with them and a couple have bought them just to use as torches as they are only around a tenner on E-Bay, the size of a MagLight and WAY more powerful. Thinking laterally I had a search to see if there were any Cree Q5 based head torches out there and lo and behold I stumbled across this bad-boy on Amazon for £9.98, putting it firmly in the bracket of 'if it's rubbish then at this price it don't matter!

It arrived on Saturday and I've been waiting till this evening to get out and running with it... And I have to say I'm not disappointed.

I went off on my canal 10k route which is in total darkness with no street lighting for 98% of the time, and switched it on at the first spot where the road turns to track and the puddles and pot-holes begin.

The view given by the torch on its flood setting was fantastic, emitting a cone of light that shines upon the ground in front of you to a distance of about 10m, although it takes a little bit of getting used to the tunnel-vision of staring down the cone of light that's coming from your head... The weather conditions were misty, so you could really see the whole beam reflecting off the mist and made you feel like a Dalek! It also makes you realise that you have the same problem as when you drive your car in the fog when you use this; the light rebounds off the fog particles and glares back at you rather than lighting what's in front.

I managed to traverse the common, spotting the sleeping Highland cattle on the path and able to run around them rather than running in to them, and I was able to traverse the muddy woodland and the water meadow without incident. Its amazing how different a familiar track seems when you view it at an alternative time of day. The highlights of the run were when you catch the glowing eyes of wildlife staring at you from in the undergrowth!

At the end of the canal there's the road section that takes me back to the woodlands and at this point I was glad for one of the other features of the head-torch: The battery-pack light. When you turn it on, the battery pack lights-up with its own LED glowing red in colour so you are more visible to those behind you on the road - a very good idea. I also wore a Hi-Vis vest to maximise my visibility to other road users as well.

I was not feeling too cocky so did not hurdle the fallen tree from the storm that now blocks the path in the woods, nor try running across the cattle-grid on the common, so following common-sense I went round one and walked the few steps over the other rather than coming a cropper with the marathon on Saturday!

Checking the time when I returned home I was less than 5 mins slower than my PB on this 10k route; definitely a decent showing for the first time of use! In fact I've run that course a lot slower during broad daylight, so the fact it was night and I was wearing a torch did not really have any affect on my running pace. The torch was very comfortable to wear and you did not feel like you were carrying any weight on your head, and the battery pack with its rubber casing remained in place the whole time, the only thing reminding me of what was on my head was the beam in front of me! The fact that the light has a hinge on it meant you could adjust the angle of dip on the beam for when you want a better view of what is immediately in front or what was further-off on the flat surface of the road.

Judging by this initial use, its definitely a successful purchase and has opened-up the opportunity of running XC's no matter what time of day it is, although I will stick to routes I know rather than run the risk of coming a cropper somewhere unfamiliar. Definitely a recommend for what it's worth!

Monday, 11 November 2013

10th November: Inspired

After the blow-out of last week where through working stupid hours I managed the grand total of 0 minutes exercise and with the CTS Gower marathon looming on the horizon I really needed to redouble my efforts in exercising/ training this week no matter how late the finish of my work or what the weather was like.

Having to confess to my fellow hamsters on Facebook on Sunday about not having managed anything, my paltry performance was brought in to perspective by Beth Risdon, author of the Shut Up and Run blog that I follow, who was in action in the Florida Iron Man race the previous day.

Beth had posted her race number on line and you could follow her progress through the Iron Man website, so all day from the off I was checking-in on a regular basis to see how she was faring. She has become an Iron Man (should that be Iron Woman?) from scratch in the space of a few months. She runs a great deal anyway so had a good level of fitness to start with and had completed triathlons and a half iron man in past years but doing an Ironman was not on her radar until she was approached to do one! You can read her account of her achievement on the blog with her entries for the run, the bike and the swim, and those waves getting in to the sea looked pretty damned gnarly!

Seeing Beth going about her way to finishing the Ironman was awesome, and a real motivator to get off my sorry arse and do something!.. And there was also another couple of motivators as well.

This week the organisers of the Brutal run series in whose events I have run have started a running club on Strava, which I use for tracking my cycling, with the intention of allowing those who run in their events to keep tabs on how they perform against others in training or running in general each week. At the same time, one of my clients in the village who is a keen XC runner with her dog and is getting involved in CaniX running also set-up a running club for the village so those who sign-up can again see how they stack-up against fellow members.

Unfortunately the running on Strava is kept separate from the cycling, so any mileage on your bike does not count towards your weekly output for the purpose of the running clubs, which is understandable. If you have a varied diet of training on both then you can feel that you are missing on competing against everyone else by interchanging your disciplines, however if you're just using it to keep tabs on yourself and you know you'll never top-out the rankings then there's no harm in ensuring you're not propping up the foot of the rankings at the very least!

Taking my inspiration from all of the above I resolved to get out as often as I can this week on a mixed-bag of activities.

Monday saw me return home from work early for once, so I was able to get out and go for a cheeky 10k XC on my canal route as the sun hung low in the sky. Fully rested after the week of nothingness I was feeling good from the first step and when I finished the run, having dodged cows, horses and one of this year's Roe Deer fawns on the common, I had finished the route in the fastest time I have recorded in the 4 years I have run it!

On the Tuesday I cycled off to the leisure centre in the next town for a 500m swim before jumping on the bike for the ride home. This was the first time I have ventured in to the pool since the sprint triathlon and the combination of the swim with an immediate cycle it acts as a form of 'brick' training combining the changeover from one discipline to the other.

I was determined on Wednesday to get out on a run no matter how late after Kelv sussed-out of cycling again, so at 10pm with the wind starting to get up and the rain drizzling down I emerged from the house for a session of pavement-pounding, the first time I've been out running circuits of the block in the village for a long while as I try to minimise my pavement mileage.

Having missed on the ride the previous day, Thursday saw me out on the bike on my normal circuit, although this one had an enforced detour as the underpass was underwater through the amount of rain we have experienced of late.

All of these activities were undertaken on an empty stomach - I don't tend to eat whilst I'm working, only drink so I tend to get-by on tea (if offered) or sugar free energy drinks, which is less than ideal for getting out and exercising! and I keep-on being scalded by people for doing it this way, but the way I see it is if I can consistently burn off more than is put-in, then I may cease to be a fat bastard at some point in the future

Friday and Saturday saw days of rest and today with football called-off I had the chance to get out on a longer run. In the morning after a decent lie-in LSS and I took the dogs on a long walk down the canal following my 10km running route. After a spot of lunch and washing two filthy spaniels I managed to get myself together for a run as the sun began to set, retracing the first half of the dog walk from earlier before pushing-on over the abandoned side of the canal and then through the Newnham, to Rotherwick and home.

I wanted to have done some hill-reps in preparation for next weekend's marathon - which (from looking at a GPS tracking of someone who ran it last year) has a combined ascent of more than Ben Nevis over its length! But the lateness of the day meant I could do the near 12 mile route but without hill-reps before darkness would leave me stranded, so I opted for doing the miles rather than the reps. Even so, on the last section back in to the village from Rotherwick over the fields I found myself in near darkness!

This week is certainly a contrast to the previous, with managing activities on 5 days out of the 7, each of them weighing in around the hour or longer. I'm hoping to build on this for the future and do this every week, however I'm conscious about not over-doing it this week with the marathon coming along on Saturday… As such I will not run beyond Wednesday and will certainly not be doing anything on Friday as the evening will see the 3-4 hour drive down to the Gower peninsular in South Wales.