Running for the pies

Running for the pies

Saturday, 24 May 2014

24th May: GB Relay 2014

This arrived in the post for me this morning… My official shirt for the GB Relay 2014.

This is a record attempt inspired by 2012’s Real Relay as held by Endurancelife. The plan is for a GPS tracked baton to be passed from person to person as it circumnavigates mainland Britain. The attempt starts on June 1st and journeys anti-clockwise until completion on the 2nd July.

I have managed to bag stage 433 on the South West Coastal Path, running from the Dorset villages of West Bexington to Langton Herring at 05:44 on June 24th.

Needles to say I’m buzzing for this :)

18th May: Kit

Us runners can get easily excited about the smallest things… The CTS Pembrokeshire marathon trashed my final surviving pair of Trekmates socks that I have been running in since I started on this odyssey - purely using these because they were a pack of 3 good quality hiking socks I had acquired to walk up mountains, and my Scots blood forces me to make use of what I have before spending on a replacement. As a consequence I have now been faced with a dilemma in the form of acquiring some new ones... Whoop-te-effing-do I hear you sigh, but it seems that sock choice is pretty important for us who hurl ourselves up and down hills of varying sizes just for fun.

For the first time in my life I've gone for some proper running socks... You can tell just how proper they are by the fact they have an L an an R written on them so you get them on the correct foot... It seems that gone are the days when I were a lad growing up and you just put on a pair of tatty old footy socks to go for a muddy run and were done with it. Times have a changed and it seems socks are more than just an acrylic tube to cover your feet. My eyes have now been opened to the plethora, nay the miasma of socks designed purely for the purpose of running.

As you start you trawl for them, questions just leap out at you: Do you go for double lined or single, wool or acrylic, long or short, even what kind of running are they for, pavement, trail or fell, do they need to be waterproof or not?.. It seems you need to have a very specific idea for what purpose before purchasing.

The core of my running is 'trail' so I looked at socks specifically for this and I prefer something with a not of length, so they touch the base if your calf at least - after all you don't want ticks chowing down on your ankles! I certainly did not want waterproof as they would hold any water in rather than draining away or wicking it.

The experience of others is a great pointer when looking at kit, and previously I have been recommended by Luke Carter to give Ashmei socks a try. When recommending he did insert the caveat that they are not cheap and to buy them as a 3 pack to reduce the unit price. He also mentioned that he has been using them for a while and found them fantastic and had not suffered from any blistering at all and they have been terrifically hard wearing.

Looking at my trail shoes of choice, More Mile are the manufacturer, so I thought I would look at their wares, knowing that Pini likes their sock offering.

So I have made a decision and purchased 3 pairs each of Ashmei trail running socks and More Mile Montana fell & trail running socks - with the cheaper More Miles to be used for general running & 10k’s and the Ashmei’s for marathons and ultras... Exciting all this sock talk innit!

More Mile Montana.
Ashmei Trail Running socks.
Mentioning the 'u' word I have sorted out some more kit for the looming Classic Quarter Ultramarathon in the form of a different Camelbak pack. This time I have gone for an Octane 18X. This is a size-up from my current Octane XCT, so as well as having a larger stowage capacity for clothing and food, it retains the zipped pockets on the waist band that are so handy for race fuel, the emergency whistle and the pocket on the shoulder strap that I use for my camera… Rather than paying for a new one I managed to snag one off eBay at the third time of trying as it is not something that wears out! As well as ultras, I also intend on using the pack for the round Isle of Wight ride I’m undertaking a matter of two weeks after my debut 'u'.

Camelbak Octane 18X
I’ve also entered myself in to the inaugural running of the VE3K challenge in the fag-end of September, which is an ultra running up and down all 4 of the peaks over 3,000ft high in England. In anticipation of this I have splurged on a proper waterproof lightweight breathable jacket for this and all other forthcoming winter runs when my black Regatta jacket expires… What I have opted for is the Montane Atomic:

So there's been a little updating to my kit list, although I will not be putting them on the tab at the top of the blog just yet until I have used them - as they are only to feature once I have used and approved of them all.

11th May: Porthtowan

After the foot blistering exploits of last Sunday’s madathon, its been a week of gingerly walking around sans socks when in the house to try and let the skin dry out and heal properly.

On Thursday LSS’s car was needing some repairs, which I had no alternative but to do that evening with me heading off to Cornwall for a stag-do the next day… Unfortunately due to the part in question turning out to be just one of a sequence of problems that compounded each other, for which I only had the replacement bits for the first, as darkness fell I was forced to give-up and admit defeat - something not normally found in my stubborn character.

The only solution now was to drop the car off the following morning over at our mechanics' and let them sort out the mess! Now driving there was fun, especially as the brakes were pretty much non existent through the problems, but deliver the car I did.

The garage’s location is a good 5 miles from our gaff, and with 2 hours until I was due to be driving the van full of stag attendee’s golf bats, plus the stag and Pini I needed to get a wiggle on.

I had hoped to get the chance to do some running on the stag, so this enforced run would at least suss-out if my feet were up to it for the next day, and thankfully I survived, completing the road-run back at a decent tempo with no ill effects.

Safe in the knowledge that I could run again I packed my running gear with Pini already having thrown his in the back of the van.

On the Saturday, after a Friday of alcoholic stupor and some morning quad bike racing, there was a spare window of 4 hours to kill before heading off for a brewery tour and both Pini and myself decided to hit the coastal path outside Porthtowan for an hour or so’s run.

Looking north from Porthtowan.
The weather conditions were a little blowy to say the least, but it just added to the fun. The surf was breaking over the reef below and the occasional shower was scudding over head, the wind too strong for any of them to linger.

We headed north out of the village, up the hill at the start and wound our way northwards up and down the cliff tops, where we experienced how strong the wind really was although it was slightly to our backs as it blew off the sea.

Up on the top we could see the headlands jutting out in front of us, each one becoming another target, with the distant picturesque abandoned tin mine workings of Wheal Coates slowly inching closer to us. On arriving at the solid stone shells of the buildings we saw a family huddled behind one of the walls of the roofless engine house to shelter from the wind and the rain.

From here we ran through the abandoned heaps of spoil piled high from the centuries of mining before the site was abandoned. With one more long lung-bursting climb we twisted our way on to a plateau as we reached St. Agnes Head and the lookout station and the 3 miles ticked-over, so upon touching the next gate we turned and headed for home.

On the return, the wind was now blowing against us just to make life even harder. It was so strong that as you strode along the path, when your right leg went forward it was being blown in to your planted left leg, tripping you and making you stumble! This compounded the technical nature of the single-track path strewn with jutting rocks that made the return as much a mental exercise as a physical one, you had to pick each footstep carefully as you struggled to remain upright through nature’s attempts to make you tumble with the path’s surface and the wind regardless of travelling up or downhill.

Wind whipped surf.
Pini was truly in his element on this track and continually sped ahead of me, slowing down on the hill tops to let me catch-up as my pace certainly held him back from doing a decent tempo run. I keep telling him to enter one of the CTS races to try more of this sort of terrain, so hopefully he’ll put himself down for one in the next series after running this.

Down the hill back in to Porthtowan.
I found the return easier and very enjoyable, and in no time we were back at the top of the cliffs at Porthtowan and the descent in to the village. For a 10k run, it was certainly a slow one with all the hills - ticking over at 1:09 when I can do a flat road one 20-25 mins quicker, but then again I was certainly not pushing it and still suffering from drinking my weight in Tribute Ale over the course of 12 hours the previous day.

And back at the hostel it was time for a steak and chips, another Tribute before heading in to Truro for the Skinners brewery tour - which if you like your ale I would thoroughly recommend.

After driving back on the Sunday, Pini decided to go for a half marathon run and join me on a bike ride in the early evening, as he's doing a sportive in a month or so's time and needs to get in the saddle and more confidence on a road bike. We duly went out for a 15 mile pedal to round off the week and its stag weekend... Not bad for going off on a bender: running 5 miles on the Friday before leaving, 6 miles on the coastal path on the Saturday whilst on the stag, and cycling 15 miles on returning on Sunday :)

Friday, 9 May 2014

3rd May: Slaying my Welsh dragon

Marathon number 23 saw me journey down to the south west of Wales for the penultimate leg of the 2013/14 Endurancelife Coastal Trail Series in Pembrokeshire. This was a return to the scene of my first organised trail marathon back in October ’12. As my first, running this stretch of coast around Little Haven will forever make it special to me and having finished last time completely exhausted, it made me realise what running a trail marathon was all about. Yes, you could say the course gave me a schooling in what to expected in a trail marathon and how to deal with it, and it damned near broke me through my not being well enough prepared for the challenge mentally as much as physically, but whilst it may have left a large mark on my psyche, I prevailed over it… Well today I was back to slay my dragons from before.

Last time round I was sorely hampered through not having the right trainers. There had been plenty of rain in the lead-up to the event and the coastal path was a glorified slip ’n slide and I was not sporting adequate grip to deal with it, so this time round I had my Cheviot’s to cut through even the worst that could be thrown at me by the course.

I was determined that in this race I would not be last, with the 'lantern rouge' being the dubious honour for someone else. I was also looking forward to being able to run the section south of Little Haven on the coastal path (the section that had the beating of me last time through the footwear issue) and to taking off as much time from last year’s as I possibly could to show the course what I am more realistically capable of.

With the duff weather so far this year there were to be changes to the course from before. Gone was the 10k loop through Broad Haven to the north (and mercifully the hill that separates the Little and Broad Havens) with the extra distance being put on the southerly section of the course: The ultra runners doing two laps of the Dale peninsular to the mere one for us marathoners. The half marathon was to loop back on itself from just over 10k south of Little Haven along the route of the marathon course, with the 10k runners being bussed to their start point on the coastal path and all running home.

On the Friday night after dining on the food of champions: a large doner kebab with chillies, I made the drive westwards to the location, paying my 'Taff tax' on the bridge in to Wales (to enter Wales you must pay, but to escape it is free) and parked-up in Broad Haven to kip for the night in the same car park as last year.

Facing a good mile's walk to the event base in the next village up and over a large hill, as soon as I woke I left to register, munching some pre-race fuel of flapjack on the way. As I climbed the hill I could see signs for ‘event parking’ with marshals directing cars in to a field on the crest… Making a mental note I carried on down to the village hall and signed-in before making the return trek to the van and driving back up to the top once more to park, breakfast and change.

Not a bad view for a car park.
Walking down the hill once more I gathered with my fellow marathoners on the harbour wall for the safety briefing. It was pretty obvious that there was easily threefold the number from the season opening race of 2012's Coastal Trail Series and we all listened to the essential info, which did not tell of previous deaths on the path this year!

Being briefed.
Whilst listening and seeing how everyone else was dressed, I made the decision to go without my jacket and just run in a T-shirt over my base layer - I figured that it was warm enough to be worth the risk as there was little to no rain forecast and the wind was pretty non existent. Dumping my bag I bumped in to Luke who had been forced to drop-out of the rest of the CTS season after Sussex through his injury, although he was present to act as support crew for his wife in the half distance, repaying her for all the times when the trail shoe has been on the other foot.

James doing an 'I'm a little teapot' impersonation during his countdown.
Follow the leader.
Soon we had the count down from 10 and we were off, traipsing up the hill southwards out of Little Haven. At the top of the hill we ground to a halt as we had to queue to get through a kissing gate on to the coastal path.

The queue...
For the chance to run this!
By this point I was already feeling pain in the instep of both my feet from rubbing - Not carrying anything to remedy the problem I decided to ignore it and necked a couple of pain killers, as if I was feeling it now, I would be feeling it all the more in 27 miles time!

Some trail porn.
The section on the coastal path fell 1/4 to 1/2 way through the course last year and how wet the trail was under foot combined with my rubbish choice in footwear, I was unable to run barely more than a few steps, whereas now it was rock hard so I was able to properly run the undulations and savour the views of the rugged coast.

Looking back at those yet to overtake me.
Eventually the cliffs fell away and we found ourselves in the inlet of St. Brides, where as we scrambled over the rocks and shingle of the natural harbour a gaggle of scuba divers were gathering ready to go out exploring wrecks under the waves.

Having gone through the first checkpoint by St. Bride's churchyard and heading south across fields and farmland I was aware of the distinct lack of sheep around - there were plenty of signs of sheep having been there, but it seems they'd all been squirrelled away by the locals fearing the invasion of interlopers from outside, after all these cliff-top dwelling sheep are highly prized and sought after as they know from being close to the cliff edges how to dig their hooves in and push backwards.

The fields and paths gave way to the abandoned and derelict WWII airfield RAF Dale, with us running down its westerly edge then across the south, continually buffeted by the winds off the sea as we headed off on to the main difference from last year: the circuit of the Dale peninsular.

Approaching Dale.
Descending from the plateau of the airfield through the second checkpoint you could see the brightly coloured rows of houses stretching inland along the valley from the old port with Milford Haven looming on the horizon across the other side of the bay.

Watwick Point Beacon looming large.
Milford Haven on the horizon.
Through Dale we climbed back up on to the cliff-top path and journeyed past the Watwick Point Beacon which is used by shipping to judge where they are in relation to the safe channel of entry in to Milford Haven… Something that the Sea Empress failed to manage back in 1996, running aground not far from Watwick Bay and spilling 73,000 tonnes of crude oil in a huge ecological disaster.

The Blockhouse.
Past Watwick Bay saw us skirt around the coastal fortification of West Blockhouse that was built to protect the port of Milford Haven and its anchorages from attack by the Spanish and French.

It was assistance from France rather than an invasion that is commemorated shortly after the Blockhouse on our run around the peninsular. The path overlooking Mill Bay carries a plaque noting the site of Henry VII and his landing from exile in France and the commencement of his march forth to defeat Richard III at the battle of Bosworth Field.

The plaque in question.
Mill Bay ends at St. Ann’s Head where we ran past what is described as ‘the most remote street in Britain’: the terrace of 5 houses that line-up against the lighthouse and the helipad. At present these are for sale at a guide price of just under £1M - although they need complete refurbishment inside and out, and not forgetting the neighbouring light which might get on your nerves when its working!

You can rent out the control tower of the lighthouse for your holidays as the building has been converted into two cottages - with the tower commanding terrific views in clear weather.

The control tower.
The 'street' for sale.
From here we continued northwards to complete the loop, ‘dibbing-in’ at the checkpoint then heading back across the bottom of the airfield then inland to the point where the 10k runners had started from in their point-to-point journey.

As you passed the sign for the start of the 10k race, you could not fail to gain a psychological boost knowing you were closing in on the finish, entering in to the last quarter of the run. This final section run entirely on the cliff tops with the cracking views that this afforded. Ok it was pretty much the same route as we had run on our way out, but seeing it from this different perspective made it seem entirely new.

More trail porn.
As much as I was enjoying the run, my feet were really uncomfortable through the blistering, so it was a case of asserting mind over matter and trying to ignore the pain of each step, with painkillers having no effect now.

A bemused on-looker.
As the coastal path wound around, I could see Broad Haven in the distance getting closer so I knew the end was in sight and soon the coastal path led us in to the beautiful Bluebell woods that meant we were nearly back at the top of the hill at Little Haven.

The blooming bluebells.
Through the kissing gate again - this time without a queue and I was on to the road as it mercifully began its descent in to the village… Although there was one little twist in that the finish line was in the same place as last year, perched on the cliff above the harbour so soon there was another sign leading us back across to the left and over some fields. In front I could see another runner who had carried on past the turn, so I gave them a shout, which fortunately he heard and was able to get back at a cost of only about 100m extra journey.

It turned out he was an ultra runner - how gutting would that be to lose yourself completely after 35 miles and in sight of the finish?

Across the field and a few twists, turns, ups and downs and the finish line was in sight, with people lounging around on the grass soaking up some of the afternoon sun to applaud us tardy of finishers home - welcome sight and experience as always.

My legs felt pretty fresh, but my feet felt battered, the former probably because of the latter but taking a positive I'm hoping that's a good sign for coping with the extra distance of the Classic Quarter Ultra next month. I collected my bag from the drop and hobbled in to the sea like a fully clothed Reggie Perrin. The tide was out to its furthest extent as I waded in up to my knees to give my calves and feet a good soak as I figured an ice-cold saline bath might help to clean out any damaged areas.

Looking back on Little Haven from in the sea.
Having drunk my recovery shake I waded back to shore and suffered the inhumanity of the climb up what now felt like a mountain rather than a hill to the car park, where I rested, changed and inspected the damage before heading back to Hampshire to the remarkable sounds of Man Utd. losing to Sunderland at Old Trafford for the first time since 1967!

Upon arrival I attempted to upload the run from my Garmin, only to find it had corrupted so I had lost all my data :( I know my finish time and I also know that for mile 22 I put in a good low 11 minute time for that from looking at the Garmin as it ticked over, but everything else: nada! From looking up the problem on the Garmin site its a frequent glitch that people experience - an activity refuses to upload through corruption and the only way to cure is a master re-set. Of late I have had difficulty picking up satellite signals with it, so probably both are tied together.

I felt pretty strong in the latter stages of the race and that 22 mile time is a huge boost to my confidence and I am sure that without the continual pain from every step of the 27.9 miles I would have been quicker. That said, I owed this course a proper running to show what I am more capable of on the terrain. I may only have come in 74th of 97 finishers in 5:44:40, however I’m confident that I would easily have been 15 minutes faster without the feet problem which certainly held me back, and regardless I was over an hour faster than before - even if over a slightly different course and certainly a marked improvement on 3rd last - only beating 2 ladies who walked the whole route!

For the record, here's the lovely sight of my burst blistered insteps:

This race was not too sociable a one for me, only running for around a mile with one other entrant, and with the pain of every step I needed a distraction, so from hitting the runway of the airfield the iPod saw service from here till the end with a listen to Episode 300 pt1 of Kevin Smith & Scott Mosier’s ‘SMODcast’ with its true tale of the suicidal parrot (it has to be heard to be believed), followed by an episode of the BBC 5Live sporting panel show ‘Fighting Talk’.

On the eclectic shuffle I had the following accompany me home:

Weather Storm - Craig Armstrong
Dry County - The B-52’s
That Man - Caro Emerald
Vamos - The Pixies
Plastic Man - The Kinks
No Other Love - Blue Amazon
Why Won’t you Give me your Love - The Zutons
Strange News from Another Star - Blur
Darkside of the Moon - Ernesto & Bastian
When You’re in Love - The Proclaimers
Country Boys and City Girls - The Fratellis
Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites - Skrillex
Nice Guys Finish Last - Green Day
Embarrassment - Madness
Never Wake Up - Sum 41
Je te Reve Encore - KYO
Echoes - Marco V
Walk in Love - Energy Orchard
Lonesome Tonight - New Order
Spectators of Suicide - Manic Street Preachers
Promises - Sugababes
Digital - Joy Division