Running for the pies

Running for the pies

Friday, 27 December 2013

25th December: Festive 500 Fail

This Christmas was only the second 'home' Christmas I have had as an adult. By 'home' I mean spent where I live.

Christmas when growing up meant watching mediocre telly, being told off all the time for the slightest and silliest of things and being sent to my room, and it was the only day of the year (when not grounded) when I could not go out and play with friends as a means of escape.

Until 6 years ago, Christmas's as an adult since my student days were spent in France at the home of my ex-wife's parents, which always allowed me the chance to get up and go for a good long morning run in the French countryside, which I used to really enjoy (and all the other days over Christmas that I would be there doing the same) so being physically active over the Christmas week is not unknown for me.

This year Rapha are running their Festive 500 event, where you cycle 500km over the 8 days from Christmas Eve to Jan 1st. With me planning on cycling too and from the Brutal and the Gut Buster already I figured that I could, with a bit of application, make the challenge work by cycling 40 miles each day.

Killing 2 birds with one stone on Christmas Eve, I cycled off to my parent's and back to drop off their present and the evening ride I went out on followed, in the main part, my normal evening cycle route and allowed me to chalk off 38 miles in total from the target for this first of 8 days.

Common sense did not prevail here and I had not really eaten a great deal all day, so when out on the evening ride I soon found myself 'bonking' where my legs felt leaden and there was nothing in the tank to lift my pace.

On my return I prepped all the Christmas dinner so all that needed to be done was turn everything on so I was able to go-out guilt-free on my Christmas morning ride.

After doing the gift-giving I went out on a longer 27 mile route enjoying the country lanes and surprised with just how busy the more major roads were.

After a hearty Christmas dinner and giving it time to settle I set-out again in the night. I managed 4 miles in to the ride before I could sense something was not right with the bike. It felt like my cranks were wobbling slightly. Dismounting I gave the cranks a good examination and found they were fine; nuts all tight and secure… The wobble was coming from the bottom bracket.

As far as this goes on a bike it's pretty terminal… You can carry on riding, but you don't know for how long until everything breaks and you're stranded.

Nursing the bike around the course I made it home, immediately up-ending the bike in the garage to dismantle and inspect it. After removing the cranks and then the bottom bracket itself I could see the problem… The bearings on one side had completely collapsed, so it was only a matter of time before everything would have failed.

I had planned on cycling to Winchester and back the following morning, but with no spare bottom bracket that was out of the question. I tracked-down via the internet somewhere that would have one the next day, which would still need fitting on my return and the price was double what I would pay for it as an on-line order item, and the cost would be for 2/3rds of the day's distance which would be tricky to make-up once lost.

Reluctantly I realised that through mechanical failure I'd have to bail from the challenge 2 days in and at 137km of the 500 ridden, I was slightly ahead of plan after 1/4 of the time. As disappointing as this was and that it now meant I have to drive to my runs on the Saturday and Sunday, my body was thankful for the chance to rest and recover!

With the marathon being run on the Sunday my body had only enjoyed one day of recovery before it was being pushed again and it was not happy - it was screaming at me to go easy - I was aching in my legs all the time and with the foul weather it meant that every ride meant getting wet through either the rain or surface water, which is never fun… So I suppose my belated Christmas present to myself is a couple of days rest before the Brutal on Saturday!

22nd December: Portsmouth

Today saw the 15th & last marathon of the year and one pretty close to home down on the south coast: The Portsmouth Coastal Waterside Marathon… As far as descriptive names go, this is about as accurate as it gets: Portsmouth, check, Coastal, check, Waterside definite check, as you are never more than 10m from the sea at any point!

The course commences at the Pyramid Leisure Centre on the promenade at Southsea and follows the shore-line around to the east around Langstone Harbour on to the tourist mecca of Hayling Island, then at the 13.1 marker, back we go to the start for the finish. With this route being pretty much as flat as a pancake with just changes of terrain to contend with, I realised this was as good a course as any to make a stab at beating my PB marker I'd set in Reykjavik.

I was not running alone today, as joining me from the village were Moose and Pini. Pini was chalking up another marathon as part of his running schedule to inch him closer towards the 100, and Moose was along as a virgin marathoner.

Earlier this year Moose decided to become an Iron-Man and has been training himself as a means to this end; entering Tri's and 1/2 Iron Man's to get his body closer to the big event in Lanzarote. As a consequence, he needed to start putting himself through the mincer over the marathon distance to see what shape he emerges from it as it is the third leg of an Iron Man, and this was his chosen first stab at it.

Driving down in the darkness and rain stupidly early on the day after the shortest day, we parked on the sea-front just along from the leisure centre as dawn broke over the choppy sea; the waves crashing on to the shingle beach. Registering in the leisure centre was a doodle and they had a Cliff stall there giving out free samples of the jelly shots and bars… And some free chocolate flavoured gels.

Returning to the van we all prepped for the race before wandering back to the promenade to warm-up in the case of the other two, or just hang around and attempt to keep warm in my case!

The event base at the Pyramid.
They had a troupe of drummers outside to entertain and inspire us 1,000 or so runners as we hovered in anticipation, then around 10 minutes before the start the heaven's opened deluging us all. Most of us made our way back in to the leisure centre for shelter and wait the final 10 minutes before the start.

Looking at my watch and seeing there was around 5 minutes left, Moose and myself made our way to the doors amongst the throng of people doing likewise, then 2 minutes before the scheduled start and without any warning, all of us assembled watched the race get underway! Near panic ensued… It seemed that over 500 people were now rushing to get to the start and get their race underway as everyone else was making their way over the starting mat and getting their race on.

Fighting my way through the stampede and over the mat I was off with everyone else along the promenade in the pissing rain. The field was quite compact at this stage and the promenade was strewn with all the debris from the stormy weather of late: shingle seaweed and other assorted flotsam & jetsam making it quite uneven and treacherous going underfoot. I stuck on the far left hand side to allow me to avoid weaving my way through the field in order to run my own pace and overtake on the outside of everyone who was slower than me. Soon there was a cycle-path on the road so I hopped-off the kerb to run on that to keep the terrain as flat as possible - as did quite a few others around me.

A couple of miles in and the rain eased then petered out as we hit our first change of terrain and traversed a bottle-neck of a gap in a fence to leave the tarmac and cross some slick muddy grass and a shingle beach. Here the less hardy of the runners tried picking their way around the dry parts of the beach, whereas some like me just piled-on through the little streams that flowed across it, gaining plenty of places in doing so and finally getting some elbow room as the field began to spread out.

From here we made our way round the edge of a boat yard and we were on the coastal path that borders the western side of Langstone harbour.

As I jogged along here I was pretty sure I recognised a couple of the figures in front as I ran up behind them: Stuart March and Barry Miller - who was running dressed as a Santa… Both of them are runners from the Hungerford Hares club who bore the Real Relay torch on the leg before me back in the summer of 2012. I was able to keep up with them for a couple of miles and tap them for advice on ultra running. Stuart has completed a Marathon des Sables amongst others and Barry has just run the Centurion Winter 100 and has won a place in the entry ballot for the Western States 100 next year I managed to hold on to their pace for about 2 miles as we ran this stretch and turned on to the northern section, where I had to relax my pace for fear of over-stretching myself, and they motored off.

The view from behind Barry 'Santa' Miller.
The first half of this stretch was parallel to 6 lanes of motorway, with the noise of this killing-off much chance of conversation, so not being with company it did not matter too much. The second part was along the exposed front of the harbour, fortunately the wind being to our backs… Speaking of backs, we briefly turned them on the sea and traversed a path of slick grass & mud like a herd of Bambi's on ice to a bottle-neck of a marshalled kissing gate, before making our way back towards the sea. Once across a small stretch of shingle beach the path turned to residential road and all of a sudden another aid-station appeared as we joined the main road at the head of the bridge to Hayling Island, with the tourist-welcoming flags flapping in the breeze.
One of the least glamorous sights seen from a marathon trail!
Grabbing a couple of gels on the way through, once across the bridge and onto the island we were greeted by a well trodden path that was slick mud and puddles as we ticked-over the 10 mile mark. Sploshing down the pathway, we had been advised to keep to the left, which was sensible as we approached the turnabout and when we got to about 11 miles then a couple of marshals came cycling towards us on the other side to make sure that everyone was heeding the instructions and a couple of minutes later the leaders were sighted. As they passed us, with one of Santa's Elves positioning very highly, I kept a count to see where my compadres were in the race… Moose was in 63rd position, which I called out to him as he passed and Pini was in 86th, which I also called out to him, so that they had a perspective on their positions to get an idea for planning the rest of their races.

Soon we made the turn, which was literally that, a division in the path, switching sides from left to right as we rounded it before heading-off the way we came… The thing is they had an aid station pretty much on the apex of the turn, with everyone stopping to fuel and water and combining this with the spectators there cheering us all on, it was almost impossible to run through here with the extreme congestion. Another couple of gels and a cereal bar and I was on my way for the return, having made good time to this point in my pursuit of a PB.

On the return.
The view across Langstone Harbour to Pompey.
Running back along the path I was pleased to see that there were plenty of people behind me still to reach the turn and I was still passing the back-markers as I approached the Hayling Island bridge.

The Hayling Island bridge.
The return across the north section of the harbour was much harder with the wind now being firmly in our faces. The whole section I found was a proper struggle, and running along the side of a motorway it made me thankful for most of the races I have run fantastic views! I found I was having to dig really deep to keep motivated and my pace as high as possible to keep me on track for the PB, so after finishing listening to an episode of Radio 4's 'The News Quiz' to get me chuckling away to myself, I turned the iPod on to shuffle… And the following played out to me on the way back towards the finish:

Ashes - Embrace
Sexy Boy - Air
Blue Monday '88 - New Order
Lost in Space - Apollo 440
Frances Farmer will Have her Revenge on Seattle - Nirvana
Love Me - Chumbawamba
Buddha For Mary - 30 Seconds to Mars
Street Fighting Man - Rolling Stones
Serious Stuff - Eve's Plum
Galaxy - Curve
Marooned - Pink Floyd
To A Little Radio - Chumbawamba
Stop Me if You Think You've Heard This One Before - The Smiths

As we approached the boat yard that marks the end of the western stretch of the harbour we were confronted by a group of people standing by the side of the pathway holding a direction sign telling us to carry straight on and follow the signs. This took us past a pub and on to the streets of residential Southsea. After a couple of streets I realised there were no signs to follow, so I just carried on following those runners who were in front.

Fortunately I knew where I was through driving in this way so I was not overly concerned as I knew we were kind of making our way back on to the promenade, eventually reaching the sea-front at a roundabout. As I waited to cross the road I could see other runners on the promenade to my left and I put 2 and 2 together...

The person with the sign and the others with him were not marshals, supporters or anything... Just some local scrote and a bunch of hangers-on who had blocked the true path, removed the signage and deliberately sent us on the wrong way. Fortunately for us it seems that we managed to get ourselves back to where we should've been, despite the fucker's best efforts, although it did add a 1/4 mile to our distance.

As I ran along the final stretches of the promenade, past the pier and in sight of the finishing line with 1/2 a mile left. I could make out that both sides of the barriers had people shouting and cheering us to the finish… My PB was in sight, spirits were soaring, then OUCH - my right calf cramped and would no longer flex. With everyone looking back and cheering, I felt I couldn't face being seen to stop now so close to the line to stretch it out and cost myself time. I decided I would tough it out for this final length and I gritted my teeth fighting the pain through good old mind-over-matter. Just then, Olympian by Gene - one of my favourite songs - began to play. It was the perfect thing to listen to and instantly it lifted my spirits as I managed to get myself towards the line. On the right just before the mat Moose and Pini were there having showered and changed in the hour they'd been hanging around waiting for me to finish and Moose gave me a High-5 as I crossed the line in 4:25:43 in 702/1165th place, knocking a full 7 minutes off my previous marathon best!

After a quick chat with Moose and Pini to find out how their races had gone, I collected my bounty and a mince pie and sat on the steps to recover some composure. Moose had found it a lot harder the longer the race went on through fatigue and a problem with his left quadriceps that meant he could not stride properly and found himself slipping back through the field - although not by much as he finished in an excellent 76th overall in his first ever attempt at the distance. Pini had steadily progressed through the field and finished in 45th position - a very good end to a terrific year's running for him. As I sat there chatting to someone who had also just finished I recognised a face coming towards me from previous marathons: Andy Chandler, with whom I had a brief chat before he had to run off and find his other half!

Grabbing my minging post-race recovery shake and scotch eggs from the van I made my way back to the seafront and waddled off in to the sea for an ice-bath.

Knee deep in the Solent.
The view to my right.
As I stood there, gritting my teeth and attempting to stand in for as long as I could in the painfully cold sea before it all became too much, I could see something in the water just in front and to the side of me… Someone swimming in the swell, the freezing swell. I watched as they slowly swam past, skin salmon pink with the cold, thankfully with a swimming cap on their head and goggles as well. Fair play to that person, whoever they are!

The spray in the centre is from the swimmer's kicks!
On the way back the 3 of us stopped at the Poacher Inn pub in South Warnborough for a celebratory beer - each supping on a pint of King John - one of the beers from our local Andwell Brewing Company which is at the foot of the hill as you leave our village to the west.

Today was a great way to finish-off my year's marathons: Setting a PB and putting 15 under my belt over the course of 12 months, running it with a couple of friends and chatting to others with whom I have met through the running escapades over the last year or so. Finishing closer to the middle of the pack in this race and the last one makes me appreciate how far I have come as a marathon runner since finishing 3rd last in my first competitive race in the Pembroke CTS a little over a year ago

I'm pretty sure I'll be back to run this one again as it is so close to home and being so close to Christmas it does not clash with anything on the date. The free gels at the aid stations was a great thing to have and the stations were well supplied and well manned throughout. The marshals were numerous and friendly and the event was very well marked and organised - bar the chaos of the start, which had the weather been anything other than what it was would not have happened!.. Oh and the local shit who stitched us all up with the signage at the boat yard. But then again, the organisers can't legislate for wankers who happen to live there and want to cause problems. It happens with races all over the place unfortunately. I just hope the tosser in question gets a good dose of karma jammed sideways up his arse when he's not expecting it!

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

15th December: Christmas Challenge

Bit of a blow-out week with work and weather, so I've been looking at the Christmas break and how to keep on top of my fitness in anticipation of the Anglesey marathon in mid January.

Whilst Sunday sees the Portsmouth coastal marathon with Moose and Pini in the field alongside me - well at the start anyway as they will soon be disappearing off in to the distance ahead of me, I've decided to go for a bit of extra activity to bust any belly growth over a week or so of seasonal excess.

Strava in association with Rapha have set a challenge open to all of riding 500k in 8 days over Christmas starting on the 24th December… So naturally I've gone for that!

I figured I will be cycling 40 miles on the 29th for the journey to and from the Brutal 16k race and at least 15 miles for the Gut Buster on the 30th, so there already was a chunk of distance planned to be cycled before the challenge came along. With having to cover an average of 35 miles a day I'm sure I'll be able to get a couple of decent loops sorted for some good riding, probably doing 2 rides on most days of 25 and 15 miles or thereabouts and I hope a second riding of the Winchester and back ride from the summer. I'm not planning on doing any other running between Sunday's Portsmouth coastal marathon and the end of the challenge, so hopefully this will keep me in good stead for CV work… I'm also intrigued as to how busy the roads will or won't be on Christmas day!

I've also entered my first ultra: In June I'll be running the 40 or so miles from Cornwall's Lizard Point to Land's End in the Endurancelife Classic Quarter in my first attempt at pitting myself against a serious distance. So far the furthest I've gone is 29 miles, but with how good I've felt at the end of the Dorset and Gower runs I reckon I could be able to get through it within the cut-off times! I'm intrigued to see how I fare and if this will open the door to other longer distances as I need to step-up a level if I'm ever to conquer the South Downs 100mile and start to think of the UTMB!

For next year I've also had an idea for a nutty challenge that I've laid-down in front of Pini to see if he is up for it - which he reckons he will be. It all depends on our timings but when things are definite then I'll be posting the details up here. Suffice to say its a bit different!

Finally. I opened up this month's Outdoor Fitness and saw a picture at the bottom of p23 of my belly crossing the finishing line at Reykjavik which brought a smile to my face and the response from my eldest when I showed her of "Awesome"… Followed by "Daddy why are you in that magazine?"… What is given with one hand is swiftly taken away with the other… Kid's, you've gotta love them! (no not in a Michael Jackson/ Jimmy Saville kind of way).

Thursday, 12 December 2013

8th December: Dorset

Wow… Normally I'm not too effusive over these runs but, simply wow. This run was as beautiful as it was tough!

The run in question is the CTS Dorset marathon of 27.3 miles along the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site and crossing the Lulworth Ranges, a live-firing range the army uses and consequently not always open to be traversed. This is the 9th different Endurancelife Coastal Trail Series  course that I have run, and so far the best yet for beauty, as well as certainly the most challenging!

On their website they had it down as a 5/5 difficulty rating: 'Extreme' although I found this was far tougher than their other course of the same rating - Exmoor, and far more challenging than my previous favourite for scenery the 4/5 'Severe' South Devon… I had been warned by previous runners of the course about the number and scale of the hills and how it knocks the stuffing out of you with how relentless it is but hey, I'm not in to doing these for a comfy stroll and my eyes are certainly wide open when it comes to getting into this!

True to my normal form I drove down to the event base at Lulworth Cove the night before. Parking-up around midnight I chose a spot in the car-park which had a surprising number of cars already there and hunkered down on the airbed in the back of the van.

Dawn breaks.
I was awoken by my alarm as the first rays of light began to appear along with all the runners for the ultra and early arriving fellow marathoners, so I ambled over to the registration tent and signed-in for the race before returning to the van to hear on the radio about how poorly England were performing in the Ashes in Oz. Changed and breakfasted on coffee and flapjack I thought I would wander over in anticipation of the briefing now that dawn had well and truly dawned.

Ultra's away.
En route I watched the ultra's disappearing off up the first hill; a distant snaking line along the steep incline looking like ants as they round the summit. Watching this it certainly made you realise that we were up for a tough run from the very beginning.

James did his briefing, cautioning us that if anyone is hunting for a pb, then forget about it! No warnings about deaths on the course or animals of which to beware this time, but tips on plenty of good sights to look out for.

I sloped off back to the van after making a change of mind on the kit front. Being December I thought I would definitely be wearing my 'winter' running jacket, however looking at the clouds out to sea rising in height and the rays of sunshine poking through them, I took a judgement call on the prevailing conditions and ditched the jacket and picked-up my running sunnies before joining the throng at the start.

Ubiquitous start photo.
The start amused me no end. We counted down from 10 in unison and we were off. Without fail everyone ran across the start line and after around 100m I don't think a single person was not walking up the side of that hill! To the casual onlooker who does not know about these events, I suspect they must have been thoroughly bemused at how a bunch of people so enthusiastic for the event, start as you should expect a race would, only for them all to have ground to a near halt a matter of metres later as they took around 7 minutes to walk up to the top of a hill… Not much of a spectator spectacle!

What these runs are all about: The views.
Once on the top of the cliff-line the views were stunning, with the undulations leading us to one of the sights I always have wanted to see since I were a nipper: Durdle Dor.
The 'Dor.
The field was fairly compact all the way along this first stretch through the very slow ascents and the descents that matched through their inverse gradients. These descents in the most did not offer any opportunity to make time on the course through a combination of the number of people walking 'indian file' on the narrow foot-worn paths with long grasses that disguise ankle-turning holes and divots to the side of these, so blundering through at speed was not a safe option.

One of the gentle climbs from a distance.
The gentle climb up close.
Almost there!
My right calf muscle had started to smart quite noticeably on the climbs (more so than the left one) in a repeat of a niggle I was feeling in the CTS Gower Marathon a few weeks previous, and the fact that the pain in the calves was lop-sided made me realise that there's something not right here rather than a general ache of extreme usage. It seems that the pressure inside the right calf was just building and building till it felt like it wanted to explode. Every steep climb without fail it was this way only for it to disappear once the inclines level-off to a less severe gradient. This has made me think that I may have to go down the route of compression calf-guards that other runners on these events are fond of to relieve some of the burden on them under extreme loads… And I can understand why they are so popular now!

Eventually the hills petered out and we moved on to some more even terrain. At this point I was running with a couple of others, unfortunately I did not catch the name of the guy with whom I was chatting but he is a veteran of plenty of marathons and feats of endurance. He had also run the South Devon marathon earlier this year but had the misfortune of tearing his calf muscle on the run - although not realising at the time that the injury was as serious as this, so he had to take a bit of time off to recover and get back in to the running again. He managed to finish the marathon though, although he said the drive back was fun and the person he travelled with was in a state of near total exhaustion so was not much use pitching in with the driving to save his calf! The other runner was a lady who is on her 38th marathon. Her preference is for ultras and regularly runs these and multi-day events. She decided to do the marathon today as she was staying with friends locally so it allowed her more drinking time last night and after the race! So you could say today was a bit of a jog for her, especially coming off the back of a 50 miler a week or so before that included running through an hail storm!

As the three of us jogged on and spoke amongst ourselves we entered a wonderful wooded avenue, the floor almost yellow with the fallen leaves…

Woody glade.
And in no time we were at the first checkpoint where we dibbed-in our timing chips and went on our merry way. My tactic for checkpoints in races is to check-in and carry on without any delay as every second delayed counts towards your final time, so off I went rather than hanging around taking on drinks or jelly babies. If I do need to fuel then I will do so walking up a hill away from the checkpoint as this way I am not costing myself anything.This event only had two checkpoints, so the stretch between this and the next one was 18 miles!.. Although there were 2 water stops in between at around 12 and 16 miles for us to refill should we need it.

The return leg.

This second leg took us back towards Lulworth but this time on top of the ridge a little further inland than before, so it afforded us a second glance over the view out to sea (only this time running from west to east), as well as some unseen pastures to gaze over that lay between the ridge and the cliffs. The terrain up on here was more even than the previous wild undulations with it being on the ridge of and underfoot was mostly well grazed grass. Around midway through this section I passed an hobbling ultra runner. I could not help but fell really gutted for him. It must be really frustrating for you to be all psyched-up for the race having trained to be at the level to complete, only to break-down so soon after starting… When I pass someone in that state it always makes me cross my fingers and hope that it does not happen to me, as so far I've been ok, but the more you race then surely the chances of this occurring increases? At this point as well the leading runners from the half marathon had caught us marathoners up and began steaming past, so I had to remember to check my pace and not get sucked-in to upping it because of the faster runners around me.

Lulworth on the return!
In no time I noticed Lulworth was below me and had the realisation that we were on the top of the first hill we ascended and a careful big toe-nail killing descent led us back into the start/ finish, where the runners for the 10k were gathering for their impending race, who cheered and applauded us all on our merry way as we plodded through them and down to the cove itself.

Mouth of the cove.
Now at sea level, there was only one direction to go and that unfortunately meant another steep slow calf exploding climb up the steps. The path was very much single file at this point and with the main half marathon pack catching and passing us slow marathoners it was interesting going: trying to duck in to the side wherever possible to let the racers through as they chased their times.

On the top of the cliff overlooking the cove it made you realise how turquoise and inviting the water was, just begging to be swum in and you could really see the break between the calmer waters of this natural harbour and the sea beyond its rocky walls. On this section I was plodding along with first time marathoner Matthew Smith who had travelled all the way down from Sheffield. He was running the event for a Leukaemia charity and has raised over £1,000 in the process. He was finding it harder than he anticipated, so I tried to cheer him up by telling him it is only natural and how fine he will be as it was the same for me in Pembroke a year ago, which by comparison was a walk in the park to this one! A truly noble gesture by him in putting himself through the mincer running this as he was really suffering for his fund raising and a better man than I.. At least he kind of smiled for the camera despite the agonies of the slog!

Matthew Smith
Once around the cove we made our way on to the Lulworth ranges, which are a live-firing range for the army to practice with their tanks and other pieces of kit. Obviously they were not in use today so we were able to go through the gates and take advantage of the opportunity to jog along a stretch of land that is not always open. The terrain was back to its beasting hilly best, coming at us relentlessly. After one slow descent surrounded by the mid-field of the half marathon race we rounded a corner to come face to face with another sheer climb.

From about a quarter mile away, I could hear voices urging us on like a siren's call, saying how well we were doing and to keep on… The closer I got to the hill which needed the use of hands to scramble up, the voices got louder and louder until I could make out the source. Sitting half way up was a father and his 2 children, obviously waiting for their mum to pass and were really getting in to encouraging everyone onwards which raised everyone's spirits. I took the time to tell them how far away we could hear them and how great it was to be encouraged from afar and to keep up the good work!

A few yards beyond I was employing my tactic of not looking up to see how far was left to climb. As such my eyes were firmly looking at where my feet were to be placed next, then I saw this:

If ever you needed a reminder that you were on a live firing range its seeing a bullet by your feet. Naturally I picked it up and kept it as a souvenir and I may have to carve my name in to it like Baldrick!

After this session of calf killing and reached the summit, a bit of sea mist blew in and a light drizzle wafted over us for a couple of minutes, cooling us down which was a welcome respite! Down the other side of this hill and up one more we were on the top of the cliffs again for a few miles of ridge running through a graveyard of old tanks that have been left there for their rusting hulks to be used as target practice. The child still within me (not too far below the surface) made me think about having a clamber around one of them, but it would have cost me plenty of time, so I decided I would have to leave that for another day!

Down the other side of the hill and we were at the 16 mile aid station - which had run out of water! Fortunately for me it did not have an affect because I always carry more than necessary in my Camlebak, however other runners were not so fortunate. On the water carrying front, I used to have to listen to the sloshing of it with every step, but it was pointed out to me by a fellow runner on the Gower that to cure this, turn it upside down once you've filled it and suck out the air. The result is no more sloshing: A BIG THANK YOU for this info, whoever you were!

Looking back down at the aid station.
At this point we bade farewell to the half marathon runners who veered off inland whilst us and the ultras - the stragglers of which I had begun to catch and pass, continued along the coast towards a loop at the most easterly point. Just before the loop there was plenty of 2-way traffic of ultras coming back towards us having completed it, so I figured that I must be a good hour off from returning along here, what with them having started 45 minutes before us in the morning and me being a fat slow knacker!

The most easterly point of the course, was a nodding donkey pumping oil out of the ground. Something you expect to see in Texas, not on the Devon coast, and from here the trail led north and inland before heading westward. As we ran across another ridge, I could see a faint white spike sticking-out on the horizon, which I figured was the next check-point at 23 miles. However I did not seem to be moving in its direction for a long time.

Once the loop was completed we headed north again to the abandoned village of Tyneham.

Tyneham was commandeered by the MoD during WWII when they created the firing ranges here. Over time the village has been destroyed so only the walls of the buildings remain - except the church, which resplendent with all its gravestones and stained-glass remains untouched by the ravages of time or the British war-machine at play.

Leaving Tyneham we headed north up the hill to the ever larger white spike which you could now see was definitely one of the Endurancelife banners and the location of a checkpoint… And one with water! Psychologically this was huge. It was the second and last of the check-points and at 23 miles in it meant that there was only a paltry 4 to go until the finish! You can't help but continually work-out the maths of distance and time as you plod along the routes, and it now meant only around 50 minutes until the end.

Lengthening shadows.
This checkpoint was nearly at the summit, so true to form on all these CTS marathons, as soon as you start from the checkpoint you're climbing again and up on to another ridge and the views over the darkening sea.

The last signs of the sun.
Being just a couple of weeks shy of the winter solstice the sun was beginning to wane and the temperature was certainly dropping now the feeble rays that had kept temperatures up had all but disappeared. So as the wind was now beginning to chill rather than cool you down as you ran the ridge it was time to roll the sleeves back down and keep on pushing till the end.

This last section was a first for me. I had an inkling that I may be further up the field than around the stragglers and back-markers that I am used to running amongst, by the fact I could see a steady stream of people in front of me, some of whom seemed to be in a far worse state than I was to the point I was able to catch and pass some runners.

Heading back.
After the final of the evil hill-climbs I could see from around a mile away a runner who I was reeling-in. His body language was one of exhaustion and defeat. It was easy to see how bad a state he was in with just a few miles left: the course had nearly broken him. As I came up alongside him I struck up a conversation to try and take his mind off of his situation. He was a youngish lad called Edward Hornby who had travelled down from Oxford for the marathon, like the other lad I had spoken to in the race, it was also his first. I told him of my experience in my first CTS and how I knew exactly how he felt: just wanting to curl-up by the side of the trail and cry… But you just keep on going. I kept engaging him in conversation, trying to get him to laugh to take his mind off things and get him out from the rut he was stuck in. I encouraged him to start a jog on the first slight downhill we came across and he picked-up his speed, and soon the two of us were jogging along at a comfortable pace, even catching and passing another runner! The rest of the route was largely downhill, and all of a sudden we could see the marquee and the finish line below and hear the claps and cheers of those gathered around the finish line, a sound that certainly lifts the spirits.

As we descended the steps to Lulworth Cove, rounded the corner and hit the tarmac with just a couple of hundred metres left to go, waiting for Edward was his dad, who proudly ran with his son to the finish line, the pace building all the time to what felt like a near sprint - although to any onlookers it was more likely still a slow jog!

Just before the finish line the rest of his family were waiting for him and roared him on till he made it. I congratulated him on his race, a terrific achievement for a first marathon, a very tough one at that, and he gave me a hug for helping him to get there. At the end of the day he made it himself, making the choice to put one foot in front of the other so he was able to come in to sight of his dad then the rest of his family genuinely running the course, taking it on and beating it, rather than allowing the course and the distance to have the upper hand on him.

Unfortunately the printer for the results was not working so I had to wait for the results the following day, but I finished a very respectable 93/148 which percentage-wise puts me in the highest I have been for any marathon. Something worth kicking-on from for sure!.. Next stop Portsmouth.

I did not have time to hang around and take an ice-bath in the cove as I had hoped - I needed to get back home for a Christmas meal: 35 of us from, or formerly from, the village where I live were out in a pub near Basingstoke for a good get-together. The village in question is Hook, with the unofficial name of the gathering being the 'Hooker's Christmas meal' - which always looks good on a bank statement when you have an outgoing written as 'Hookers'.

Me pulling the moose for the camera as per normal :)

Monday, 2 December 2013

1st December: Daddy Daughter Running 2

This Saturday was one of the few days each year that I see my daughters and with my youngest disappearing to her BFF's birthday party for the morning of the day, in advance my eldest had asked that we go running together again in the absence of her little sister. Naturally I jumped at the chance for a bit of quality daddy-daughter time and had already planned the day to fit around this.

With my eldest easily managing a muddy 3 mile XC with me earlier this year and completing the 3.5 mile Hook fun run (as previously seen on this blog), I suggested when she brought up the subject of distance and route that we go one stage further and run a 10k and to my pleasant surprise she went for it!

Turning up on the morning, the ex had rather helpfully dressed my daughter in the clothes to go running in... but without a change for after and with fashion trainers on her feet that aren't really suitable for running, especially XC, rather than her proper running trainers which were 'still at school'. The little thing was really excited to be running with me so I knew we had to go for it even if her attire was not totally ideal!

That morning after brekkie we went out to the village store to get food for lunch and dinner together and we discussed the pending run; how we would approach it, the route and that we would not stop, just slow down to a walk and after a pre-run watching 'Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen' we left for our jaunt.

True to form the little monkey was very eager and wanted to run at a pace that would burn her out in no time, so I had to rein her in, explaining that the distance was nearly twice as far as she had run before.

We're off!
Settling down to a more manageable pace for her we made it up on to the common and our close encounter of the hairy kind with the Highland cattle. 

Tread carefully, there be hairy beasts about!
Deciding to walk past them it gave her the chance of a small rest before we went up and over the motorway bridge.

Over the motorway.
Once through the woods we were further than she had run before from the house, although she had walked further and we carried on across to the water meadow and on to the canal. After a bit of mixed running and walking we reached King John's castle and jogged round and inside it before making it to the end of the canal and the halfway point.

Arriving in King John's Castle.
Poor little thing was starting to feel it now as we made our way on to the fields and the way back in the direction of home. It was here that she started to notice the rubbing of her little toe on the side of her trainer and asked if she could take it off to run. Explaining why this was not such a good idea with what she was running over I tried the old trick of misdirection and started talking to her about how we were going to have the chicken nuggets we had bought as soon as we returned to the house, which seemed to work, although I could tell she was being genuine about the pain.

Returning over the motorway.
Working within her energy levels we ran and walked our way back across the woods, the motorway and the common to the last stretch home that was thankfully downhill she found her second wind and hared-off at the speed she started the run so I had to up my pace to keep up with her! After 1h23 we were back at the house with a very hot and rosy-cheeked young lady panting like a steam engine from her terrific achievement!

She was really made-up with the fact she'd managed to complete a 10k XC and quite rightly so! At 9 years old I am incredibly proud of her in running further than most adults ever will at such a young age, and hopefully now she has proved to herself what she is capable of doing already and who knows, it may encourage her to push-on to bigger and better things now she has this under her belt!

On a different note I've managed to get a wait-list place in the Portsmouth Coastal Marathon at the end of December as I realised that I was going to have 6 weeks between the Dorset next week and the Anglesey in January, so squeezing this one in at the mid-point seemed a sensible option and will also mean I would have clocked-up 15 in the space of a year! I have also entered a Brutal 20k and the Winter Gut Buster 10M as back-to-back runs on the 29th and 30th of December so as to not let my fitness levels drop too much over the Christmas period.