Running for the pies

Running for the pies

Sunday, 30 March 2014

16th March: On the Road Again.

Finally, finally it seems the weather has finally turned and we appear to have days where it rains for less than 18 hours at a time, some of them even one after the other!

I took advantage of feeling good after the Sunday MTB session with a blast out on the road with my Christmas prezzie from LSS of a pair of road trainers - Asics Gel Sugi’s - as the marathon after next is on tarmac so getting them at least broken-in would be advantageous.

The new pavement pounders.
Well I survived and felt ok about it afterwards, so onwards and upwards, as I would like to have a go at a PB in that marathon.

On the Wednesday I managed to drag Kelv out for a ride - the first of the year for me and even longer for him. We went off on our normal route and needless to say, as it was the first ride Kelv has done for several months he was feeling it a bit, namely breathing out of his arse by the time we were 3 miles in!

As part of the normal ride, on the turn for home from the furthest away part of the route we went along a road that had signs in it warning us it was closed and flooded - should be alright I thought as we went wearily along it… Then the puddle started - it was only shallow, at least at first, but it got deeper and deeper. The water was beautifully clear, so crystal clear you could see to the bottom of it through the mist now starting to rise off the top as it flowed the way we had come… Then before I knew it the water was over a foot deep and getting significantly harder to pedal through with the spray from the rear wheel now soaking my arse and needless to say my feet had a good dousing.

Kelv was behind cursing and swearing as he experienced the same, but hey, you’ve got to go through it to get home… Eventually we did, and pretty chilly we were too seeing as the temperature had dropped to near freezing as a mist descended.

At the weekend I decided to re-ride the route to see how the flood looked like in the sunlight. The day was wonderfully sunny celebrating spring had sprung - the trees are in blossom and bud, the birds are singing and building nests, and the road was a river!

It seems that with the excessive rain and the rise in groundwater levels around here a new spring has sprung… The road in question is called ‘Ford Road’, although there’s not normally a river near here! There is also a farm called Ford Farm at the head of the lane which has a stream leading to it from the spring of the River Whitewater around a quarter of a mile away to the north, but nothing has flowed this way in living memory… Until now! It seems that the ground water is so high that there is now a new spring in the field next to the farm which has become a small lake, with the water heading off down the lane from it, in part washing away the road surface at the edge and leaving large craters here and there in the middle of it.

I wonder how long the spring will be active for? Judging by the torrent of water pouring down the road it may be like this for a little while!

Thursday, 27 March 2014

9th March: MTB


With the cruddy weather we’ve been having this year so far in the South of England, I’ve not managed to get out and about on my road bike since my Festive 500 failure, and I have been a bit slack of late in getting out and doing any running with not wishing to push too hard on my dodgy calf for fear of further injury.

With not making the squad for today’s footy match, when Dean sent out a message about going for an MTB session I jumped at the chance… Even though the last time I hit any off-road was a good few years ago!.. In fact the last time I had off-road tyres on my MTB was for the XT Duathlon - one of the things that pushed me in to doing what I am doing now!

One of the reasons behind Dean pushing to get out is that he is the driving force behind a little expedition planned for June: cycling around the Isle of Wight.

Rob, Stu, Dean, and me are all friends from school and back then were all in to our MTB’ing. We are being joined by Greg, who was also at the same school as us, to spend a weekend circumnavigating the island.

The distance of the route at 60 miles by road means you can easily cane it off in a day, however we’re planning on doing it as off-road as possible; so plenty of bridleways and paths and a trip to a dedicated MTB track at the start of day 2.

Physically this will be no challenge for me and only needs an average speed of 5mph to complete it comfortably, so I know I’ll be fine through my base-level of endurance. Rob cycles to and from work on a daily basis, covering around 15 miles, however Dean is recovering from ACL reconstruction surgery so is a long way from being at the level of fitness he was before his op, Stu has not really done any exercise in the last decade, and Greg is pretty much the same.

With the urgent need for time in the saddle, Dean managed to organise for all of us to get together at the same time and cycle some trails.

Picking me up as I was en route for him to get to Tweseldown race-course, the location of the ride, I loaded my bike in to the back of Dean’s motor and off we went to the car park opposite the Forresters pub in Church Crookham.

About 10 minutes after we set-off I took a call from the manager of the footy team asking if I could play… The squad of 14 from the previous evening was down to 9 for the start of the game. 15 minutes earlier and I could have gone and played, but hey, I was committed to the MTB session!

Greg, Stu, Rob & Dean gurning for the camera.
We all met-up in the car park, and finished the final adjustments of the bikes under the clear blue skies and the slight chill of the first properly decent spring morning of the year… And off we ventured into the woodland.

Following the leader.
Dean and Rob know the area very well with Dean especially familiar with all the nooks and crannies having lived next to it for a decade, so the two of them would be the ones to guide us around. The plan was to not be too strenuous with it being first time out this year and naturally we would be travelling at the speed of the slowest rider. Both Dean and Rob are quite serious about their MTB riding still and consequently have plenty of experience, so are quite adept at throwing their bikes around and knowing the realms as to what is possible… Whereas I’m back in this frame of things after a 20 year gap, so I can certainly match their speeds from all the cycling I do on a straight line in the open, but not the confidence of knowing what is and is not a goer on single tracks - so caution is erred on on my behalf, sometimes more than is necessary, which slows me down noticeably.

Looking back.
The first stretch was a long gradual ascent to get us up on to the race-course area - passing plenty of joggers, fellow cyclists and CaniX runners. Once on top we followed some single-track then the main routes around to the balancing pond which was still in flood from the shite winter weather. From here we diverted on a decent single-track stage with some fast descents - which certainly made me remember how to balance on the bike at speed as well as how to avoid hitting trees with my body and stumps with the front wheel... The biggest lesson I’m relearning is to trust the bike and let it take you and when not to brake, just let it roll and you will be fine rather than being overly cautious.

Looking from the southerly most part to 'Caesar's Camp' in the middle.
There was plenty of stopping and starting to ensure that we all remained as a group, Dean and Rob taking it in turn leading and bringing-up the rear as they knew the routes rather than us other 3 novices.

Once at the bottom of the area it was a long climb back to the very top. The slow ascent with the sun beating down upon us was a welcome hello to the spring, and made us realise that winter gear was a little OTT for today as we all began to bake as butterflies were hatching out and drying their wings on the flinty paths.

Stopping at the top to take in the view down over Farnborough and Aldershit - as well as some water; sharing the summit with families picnicking and dog-walkers mooching we readied ourselves for the return to the start, and most importantly the pub. This location was originally a Roman hill fort dating back to their conquest of Britain. From the commanding views, you can understand why they decided that this could be a strategically important area.

Admiring the view from the hill top.
Unfortunately a few minutes later on the descent I felt my rear tyre begin to go ‘squidgy’ and sure enough, I’d blown it out with a puncture that held us up for around 10 minutes as I fixed it.

At this point I think all our minds had certainly turned to the pub and its beckoning siren-like call and once back on the track we wound our way via a swamp that had confused another group of bikers who were trying to figure a way around as we just ploughed through it, albeit on foot, taking a fairly direct route back to the cars and a post-ride sit in the pub’s beer garden and reflection on our first ride as a a group.

Dean and Rob 'inaction'.
Ok, we were slow and the stop-start nature of the ride did not help with this, but it was good to get everyone together and riding. The Isle of Wight will be an entirely different proposition as the way will be clearly marked with just plenty of hills to contend with en-route, but time in the saddle is always a good thing, especially as I’m not used to the geometry of an MTB these days after being on the road bike for so long!

I’m certainly looking forward to my next session off-road!

Thursday, 20 March 2014

2nd March: Stung

Originally I’d planned to be running with Pini at the Cambridge Boundary marathon in, well, Cambridge… However by the time I’d got my thumb out my arse to organise an entry I’d missed the boat as the event had filled-up. Seeing as I’d decided to run a race this week I cast my eye around as to what was organised and found something pretty much on my doorstep: the Steyning Stinger.

Just over an hour’s drive away and over the trails up on to the South Downs around Steyning, it fit the bill perfectly for one of my kind of races, so I did not hesitate in booking-in to the event.

With its proximity to home I did not need to drive down overnight and sleep in the van, however it was an early 5am alarm call and a drive off along deserted roads to West Sussex and the event base of Steyning Grammar School.

Arriving a good hour ahead of the off for the race, I signed-in and was allocated the number of 35 - they dish them out in the order of registration on the day rather than allocating a number to a name in advance.

Back in the van I breakfasted, changed and waited for the start by reading a bit of Outdoor Fitness and with 10 minutes to go I decided to venture to the start… And as soon as I got out of the van I had a change of mind on the kit front.

Originally I had planned on wearing my jacket with the pockets loaded with iPod, gloves, hat and buff, but from standing outside I could sense my original plan was going to become too hot and uncomfortable after a short amount of time, so I decided to ditch the jacket and stuff everything else into any available part of the Camelbak, and made my way to the start.

The race gets its name of the ‘stinger’ from the number of hills over the route. There are 4 major climbs over the course, which give rise to the term ‘stings’, but for every ascent there is a decent descent, so hopefully some good time can be gained to make-up for anything lost on the climbs.

Amongst the throng.
Just across the road from the school we all gathered in ankle deep cloying mud ready to go, with a bit of small-talk amongst us as to surviving the mud and the stings. Taking the obligatory 'gathering for the start photo' my camera started flashing a battery warning at me despite the previous night's check showing it to be fine, so I realised photo's en-route would be minimal for this race... And all of a sudden we were off.

The first mile we had to traverse was more of the same mud. Remaining upright was not too much of a problem for me... The problem was keeping my trainers on my feet. The suction of the mud was such that I lost a trainer 3 times in the course of this first mile, which moved me from the middle of the pack to the back, so at least it meant I would not be overtaken by too many people and would hopefully be hunting-down a few runners over the next 25.2 miles!

After a brief stretch of road we were off in to some woodland and the climb up on to the downs, where the mud was worse than before: The trail had been churned-up into a greyish soup - the grey colour coming from the chalk rock that underlies the South Downs.

The grey soupy quagmire of the trail - good fun though!
People were slipping and sliding all over this section as grip was at a premium to say the least! This stretch was largely up-hill so the slog was quite relentless and there were a few casualties from strains sprains and pulls along here… I really feel sorry for everyone who suffers an injury in a race, all that training, all that hope now left by the wayside and so close to the start its even more of a heart-breaker for them.

Once we had hit the top of the woodland trail we had a good sharp downhill section, which required careful footing as the ground was so slippery, although you could still get a decent speed-up. At the bottom of the hill we pretty much crashed in to a stile and squelched our way across some flooded pasture to get on to some road. The person behind me unfortunately lost his footing just as we left the field via some more slippery mud, splatting down within inches of a cow-pat! The field led to another road section and at around 5 miles we found the first of the aid stations.

Still smiling as its only part-way up the first 'sting'!
Jogging through the checkpoint I carried-on rather than taking a break and began the ascent of the first of the 4 stings... As we topped-out we found ourselves running through a farmers field, buffeted by the wind on the hill’s ridge as we made our way to a switch-back, where I had the chance to look-back and see how many other runners, if any, were behind me… And I was pleased to see around 20, so I figured I may be dodging the wooden spoon again!

From the peak of the hill we had a good flowing downhill for a couple of miles to the next aid station - before we had to repeat the ascent of the second of the stings. Following the South Downs Way we climbed to the highest point of the course and Chanctonbury Ring.

Chanctonbury Ring behind the 'moose'.
Approaching the summit the clouds were beginning to darken and threaten a downpour, with the wind whipping-up and buffeting us as we ran along the ridge, I was wondering if leaving my jacket behind would prove wise and I turned down the sleeves on my base-layer to try and preserve core warmth after facing the full brunt of the wind having just passed the photographer... Turning to begin the descent towards Worthing and seeing the Englsh Channel glittering on the horizon we were running into a continual head-wind which took a lot of the enjoyment out of the section; making the downhill feel like an uphill slog!

Worthing and the shimmering English Channel beyond.
Now on the loop on the bottom left of the course looking down and to the right over the seaside town of Worthing, we were traipsing through a plethora of muddy puddles that seemed to form more of the path than the path itself. Here I found myself yo-yoing in position with a guy who was running in what appeared to be a cross between flip-flops and gladiator sandals... I know there’s a trend for ‘barefoot’ running, but that is one extreme to take it to! I could never be comfortable in anything like that - I can’t even abide the sensation of a flip-flop as it sits between my toes, but what I’ve learned when it come to running, is its a case of ‘different strokes for different folks’ and it obviously works for him and works well!

Scenery like this is what its all about!
This loop which included the third of the ‘stings’ began and ended at Cissbury Ring. The second largest hill fort in Britain. You can understand from the geography when running past both here and Chanctonbury Ring as to why they were important sites for building forts back in the bronze and iron ages - the locations commanding fantastic views of the surrounding land for miles, although for those living in them it would not have been the cosiest of existences, especially when the shelter of the valley bottoms are not too far away!

From this section we headed east to the next out and back loop on the bottom right of the course. Soon I was being greeted by the sight of runners way ahead of me finishing their loop. One of the things I love about these cross country marathons is the camaraderie - those runners passing in front always seem to have a cheery 'good-luck’ or something of that ilk to say as they pass which keeps your spirits up. On this part I caught-up and ran for a brief time with one lady who had come down from Kent. This was her first Cross Country marathon, something she is looking to get in to more of after running plenty of shorter distances in the past. Primarily she is a road-biker and is used to going out and doing ‘sportives’ so is used to being on the go in the saddle for 6 to 8 hours at a stretch. She was feeling it a bit at this point in the race having felt that she had gone-out a bit too ‘hot’ in the early stages, especially in the cloying mud which had sucked a lot of energy out of her making her suffer now!

After narrowly avoiding a wrong turn, on a downhill section I found myself pulling away from her and once again I was by myself to plough my own furrow. The last of the two loops now complete, and taking care to greet the few runners I saw on their ‘out’ section the course bore north and the ascent of the fourth and final ‘sting’... My pace so far had been quite good as I chased a sub 5 hour trail marathon time, and close-in on a pb for the type of terrain, but this final of the 4 hills was proving to be a little too much for me and I felt it slowly slip away and my new target was to get in as close after 5 hours as I could.

Stung by this final sting, at least from here it was essentially downhill to the finish. This section was a quite technical and steep descent through muddy woodland, dodging ruts, rivulets and roots at speed with the track being quite loose and strewn with stones. At the bottom of the woods it was a turn to the left and a short but very steep bit of hill, which made my heart feel as though it was going to explode out of my chest!.. Slowing me down to a virtual stagger I caught my breath as best as I could, commenting to a fellow runner that this little section was by far the hardest part of the marathon, to which she agreed!

The long and winding road.
Following the path around the edge of the pasture fields we were closing-in on the finish. The fields soon turned from the lush grass in to the mud we had experienced at the beginning and I had to run with curled toes to brace my feet in my trainers to avoid losing them to the mire once more! Ploughing through the brown stuff I could see a little sign by the side of the trail… 800m to go! Nearly there I thought, but my elation came crashing down as over the distance it took from here to the finish on those slippery muddy fields I ended-up on my arse twice in getting across the finish line having managed to stay on my feet for the previous 26 miles, just in time to be photographed. Doh!

My time was a touch over the 5 hours target at 5:03 and just 9 minutes outside of my PB, so a fairly satisfying run, although as ever when you narrowly miss a goal you look back and think where you could have done better, and straight away there were the 3 minuted lost to putting my trainers back on right at the start of the race!

Grabbing a handful of quality street from the tin at the finishing line I had a good chat with a guy who had finished about a minute in front of me. We had been standing together at the start and commenting on the hills and the mud and pretty much finished together!.. He is in the midst of his final ‘season’ of ironman racing so today was part of his training, getting out and running a hard marathon. As his body is not getting any younger he has decided to give ironmans a rest and take-up CaniX running. He has a Belgian Shepherd puppy that he will be training to run with him as soon as it is old enough to be doing so. Dropping down to 10k and half marathons will also mean he can get out more for the racing as it will not be so intense a strain on him and the recovery times considerably less! Noticing me wearing my 'Brutal' shirt he mentioned that he’d run a couple in the past and it was seeing the dogs at these runs that had sown the seeds in his mind. I told him about the Coastal Trail Series now being dog friendly so the 10k’s and half marathons should appear on his radar as something to do when the time is right for him.

Trashed socks and clarted trainers!
Slowly wandering back in to the school-hall, leaving muddy trainers in a stack outside the door with everyone else’s, I picked-up my finishers medal, which is probably the coolest one I have had so far. Medal in hand it was time for the part all of us racers had been waiting for: The fry-up.

A medal with a sting in its tail.
As part of the race package there’s a fried brekkie awaiting you in the canteen and believe me it was very welcome - sitting down to a piping hot traditional full English and getting those fried proteins inside me.

Suitably recovered it was time to change and drive home to the commentary of the League Cup final on the radio with Man City overturning Sunderland’s one goal lead to run-out 3-1 winners.

When the results came out it turned out that I was 129/196 finishers which was a pleasant surprise as I thought I was further back down the field than that, so I reckon my being a slow and steady fat-bloke seems to make me run at an even pace so when the conditions are poor it does not affect my speed as much as those around me and pushes me further up the field - as Pini has pointed out to me, the harder the conditions are the better I seem to do! Whilst today was not the most sociable of runs that I have been on - the field seemed to be a bit too spread-out for me to be running alongside anyone for a chat, the scenery was a welcome diversion, especially the views when up on top of the hills. I reckon I’ll definitely be back to run it again at some point in the future.

With the wind today it was not too conducive to listening to much on the old iPod, but what did crop up was the following over the course from the end of the second loop, over the final sting and to the finish and as you can see it is as eclectic a mix as ever:

Plastic Man - The Kinks

Love Me Do - The Beatles
Red Blooded Woman - Kylie
Of Wolf and Man - Metallica
Pennsylvania 65000 - Glenn Miller

Madeleine - Saint Etienne
Strange Desire - INXS
Sailortown - Energy Orchard
Flagpole Sitta - Harvey Danger
Freedom - Rage Against The Machine

And here's me crossing the finish-line, wearing the field through which I'd just run:

Belly's Gonna Get-Ya!