Running for the pies

Running for the pies

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

17th March: A Festive Reminder

This arrived through the post the other day, which was a very welcome surprise: My patch from Rapha for completing their Festive 500 challenge on Strava.

On the reverse of the card that comes with it, the text reads:
"The fifth annual Rapha Festive 500 was a snowflake-studded journey of self-sufficiency, immovable optimism, thousands of heavy legs and an all-conquering Yuletide spirit.
Almost 50,000 brave souls took up the challenge but you were one of the 8,398 who managed to complete it. Congratulations and thank you from everyone at Rapha for making it such a memorable edition. We hope 2015 brings even more victorious kilometres to you and your legs and we’re pleased to include your commemorative badge marking your completion of the 500."
When you extrapolate the numbers, it equates to a mere 1 in 6 success-rate for the challenge, which hit-home that it really is pretty tricky to come-out the other side of it successfully. There are so many things that can prevent you from finishing, from mechanical (which I know too well of from the previous year), injury, running out of time and adverse winter weather.

Now I've managed to complete the challenge, it has ceased to become one as it holds mystery no longer... If you have managed it the once then you know you can achieve it a second time or more.

And LSS still insists that if I go for it another time and end-up disappearing off for large chunks of the day over the Christmas week, then the bike will be dismantled by her and left in its constituent parts at the bottom of the Basingstoke Canal at various points along its length... So here ends my involvement with the Festive 500!

Eat pies.
Drink beer.
Cycle far.

15th March: Daddy Daughter Parkrun

Having been introduced myself to the joys of the Parkrun of late, I made the suggestion to my eldest daughter on one of her previous visits that she might like to try it herself the next time she was over, which she happily agreed to.

This year, like the last couple, we are going to be running our village's race together and I know that my daughter wants to improve her time from before. Unfortunately she has not been finding a regular opportunity to train and prepare for it, so getting out on the Parkrun, which is a slightly longer distance, would be of a great benefit to her in working on her pace and stamina plus give her the confidence in herself to beat her time.

Leaving the hounds at home this time, LSS accompanied my daughters and me to the Parkrun in the chilly windy morning where she and my youngest took-on the photography duties as her sister and I went out to do the circuits.

We set-off at the speed dictated by my daughter, with me trying to encourage her to maintain a steady pace that was not too fast to allow her to speed-up towards the end should she need to… It seems she has got my habit of going off too quickly, so it was really a case of trying to reign-in her enthusiasm as we went!

After this fast start, admittedly she did struggle at times from the beginning of the second lap, so we did have to slow to a walk at times - although never checking our forward progress, and after the 2.5 laps of the circuit the end was in sight, and she did her normal trick of shooting-off like a whippet over the last 30 metres, crossing the line completely out of breath and a face as pink as the trim on her running top!

A marker has now been laid-down by her on the course and she knows what she has to do to better the time in future runs… Incidentally her time was faster than LSS’s best, although LSS does have the handicap of needing to stop when running for Heidi to have countless wee’s and to 'drop the kids off at the pool' at least once!

My daughter was buzzing with excitement at finishing the run and not coming last, and our photographer was buzzing at the thought of having cake and a cappuccino (decaf of course as she is only 8), so we all went in the centre of Basingstoke to celebrate the achievement in one of the many coffee shops, with Parkrun now to be established as a regular event for us all.

Eat pies.
Drink beer.
Run far.

8th March: Granola

Before my races I breakfast on black coffee and granola/ flapjack, but of late getting hold of the trays of the stuff has been increasingly difficult.

I live in a village which has its own supermarket - the one with the blue and white stripes, which is worse than useless for many reasons… The main one is it abuses the monopoly it has by removing the cheaper own brand goods after it establishes a market for them and replaces them with their premium own-brand and major brands, therefore upping the spend of people who want to buy a particular item and further line their share-holders pockets, and an item that has been for sale for years often disappears over night to make room on the shelves for the replacements above, never to be seen again.

One of the casualties of this practice has been the disappearance of the tray-bake flapjack and granola - not that it amounts to a hill of beans to anyone other than me!

Due to its disappearance, LSS has come up with the plan of making our own granola, so as of now we are in the very tasty experimental stage of getting my pre-race brekkie sorted.

I am now to be fuelled before a race by a baked mixture of:

Pumpkin seeds
Sesame seeds
Sunflower seeds
Chia seeds

Its just a question of getting the quantities right and the baking time sorted so it neither falls to pieces in your hands or shatters your teeth when you try to take a bite… But its damned fine eating the results every time :)

The other thing is any other ingredient can be added or taken away should we want to in the quest to achieve the perfect pre-race breakfast for my marathon madness.

Loving it so far!

Eat pies.
Drink beer.
Run far.

Monday, 20 April 2015

1st March: Shared Runs

Since her declaration of intent to get out and running, LSS has been been steadily and surely going out and pounding the pathways and trails around where we live.

She has gone from 0k to 10k in distance with ease and has even managed to get herself around on a 14 mile route - terrific progress in such a short space of time.

To encourage each other in our running and to spend some more quality time together we have been going out with the dogs running on Sunday mornings, which keeps me going at a slower steady pace and speeds up LSS a bit, although when we get to a certain point, Spud and myself will carry on for a longer route than LSS and Heidi who head for home.

Having walked the CTS Sussex 10k route LSS now knows what she is up against and with the lack of hills in our immediate area she has decided to up her running time/ distance to prepare for the hills of the Seven Sisters… On top of this she has also decided to enter a half marathon later this year (with Heidi of course), so long as she manages to survive Sussex which is the first hill to climb so as to speak!

I’m very proud of LSS’s efforts and look forward to seeing her with her first finishers medal in a few weeks time.

Eat pies.
Drink beer.
Run far.

22nd February: Parkrun

Yesterday I popped my park run cherry along with LSS, Spud and Heidi… We all piled in to the van and headed off 8 miles down the road to Basingstoke for the Parkrun there. Having been told of the battle to get a parking space, we decided to park in the centre of town, paying for a couple of hours just to be sure and walked the short distance to the start line with the dogs eager and ready to run.

Heidi & Spud eager to go.
We arrived with about 20 minutes to go for the start and watched as more and more people arrived till I estimated around 400 of us were gathered for the start… All shapes and sizes, all abilities and about a dozen people running with canine companions. After the briefing we all filed along to the start where when 9 o'clock arrived and we departed as a mass start.

The march to the start.
The Parkrun organisation has been burgeoning over the last few years since its inception and there are now 300 of them in the UK. They are also active in the USA, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Poland, Denmark and Russia. The runs are simple in their organisation, with volunteers manning them, and wherever they are, they will always start at 9am on the Saturday. All of the runs are 3 miles (5k) in length, and they work on a barcode basis where upon finishing you are given a positional fob with a barcode that is scanned along with your unique Parkrun ID barcode (allocated for free upon registering on the Parkrun website) and everything is reconciled and published on the run's website later that day.

Ultra-runner extraordinaire Barry Miller has previously recommended me adding Parkruns to my training mix as a way to boost my VO2 levels so that when needs be I can up my tempo for a good few miles at the very least. Pini has also been a good exponent of the virtues of them, as has my uni-friend Claire who has become a regular at her parkrun down Pompey way… and it was one of her chats with LSS that piqued her interest and made the suggestion we head down for her first ever organised run.

I had been warned by Pini that because of it being a massed start, if you want to get away quick and minimise your time then you need to elbow your way to the front of the group. With Spud roped to me I could not really do that and besides I knew I would certainly not be one of the fastest runners, so I started about a third of the way back, leaving LSS and a very excited and chunnering Heidi towards the rear.

From my trail running experiences, a bit of mud holds no fear for me, and with Spud running alongside I decided to stick to the grass and mud beside the path rather than clog-up the tarmac with everybody else. Soon I was well in to my stride and moving through the field, getting plenty of surprised looks from those being overtaken by a fat bloke with a dog running over the slippery mud with greater ease than they could ever dream of and faster than them on Tarmac… The secret of this purely being the trail trainers on my feet as opposed to the road trainers favoured by nigh-on everyone else!

The course was 2.5 laps of Basingstoke's War Memorial Park, with a stretch of about 150 metres being across a playing field, which really slowed down those without any grips in their trainers, and allowed me to chuckle at a few Bambi on ice impersonations in front of me. At around half distance, Spud decided he really needed to lay some cable, so he dropped his bum and deposited what could best be described as a blancmange, which I had to do my best to scoop into a poo-bag and deposit in the nearest bin. This cost us a minute in time and plenty of places, but hey, it's the hazard of running with a hound, so we continued onwards at our previous pace trying to regain those places we had lost.

In what seemed like a flash, well 22 minutes and change, it was all over and Spud and myself waited at the finish for LSS and Heidi to finish their round; crossing the line pink of cheek and short of breath. She had made it… LSS had finished her first ever organised run having thoroughly enjoyed herself.

About to cross the finish line.
All smiles.
The atmosphere of the event was very laid-back and enjoyable. There were runners of ages 5-85 there, with some seriously quick times laid-down at the front of the run and times for those who had managed to get around by walking, which were as big an achievement as anyone's... Let’s not forget that all of them are far faster than those people still tucked-up in bed on a winter Saturday’s morn.

Aside from the two of us, there were a few other out there running with their dogs - a mixed bunch of breeds and sizes, with the organisers really welcoming the four legged runners to the event, although there were a few sniffy looks from some runners - mostly those who were not happy at being overtaken by a dog and its owner as they ran flat-out on their own effort.

Both LSS and I thoroughly enjoyed the run and will certainly be back for more with the dogs. A big thank you goes to the volunteers who organise the runs on a weekly basis and the atmosphere, which for the majority, was very friendly.

Eat pies.
Drink beer.
Run far.

15th February: Rest

With there being a while between the South Devon and Sussex marathons, I thought of running the Steyning Stinger later this month, but with the attack of the lurgy and last year's experience of recovering fro it I have decided that the best thing in all likelihood is to have a rest.

Between now and the Sussex CTS marathon I won't worry about covering the marathon distance, just keep doing the training miles as and when and hope the fitness returns sooner rather than later... Finger's crossed!

Eat pies.
Drink beer.
Run far.

8th February: South Devon

Having been lurgified of late, and recovered enough to be able to run without feeling like death warmed-up, I drove down to the small village of Beesands on the south coast of Devon for the Endurancelife Coastal Trail Series South Devon marathon.

I had a plan, and that plan was low on the expectation front after my experiences of running Rivington when in the midst of the flu and struggling to regain my fitness thereafter… I had made it to the start line and I was damned sure I would make the finish line, just not sure how long the time to get there would be, just a hope that I would be faster than the first time I ran this 2 years previously.

Driving down to arrive at midnight I parked on the seafront listening to the wind and the sound of the waves crashing onto the boulders that formed the ‘riprap’ rock armour that had been placed there to protect the coast from the ravages of the sea. After putting the foil insulation in the van windows to make it light-tight from the rotating beam of the Start Point lighthouse I lay back and fell asleep, wondering how things would look in the morning.

As dawn broke I was up and out, looking around to see how things have changed over the last year since Beesands was battered by storms… The roadway between the sea and the village green is still no longer there and appears it will not be re-made, so there’s no parking along the sea front in that direction and the start and finish, rather than sitting on the green have also remained at last year’s location a little way up the hill leaving the village. Unlike last year where we ran in extremely high gusting winds which enforced changes to the route, now there was no risk to life or limb through stormy weather, the normal course had been re-instated so the 8 mile loop at the end that takes you all the way out to Slapton Sands was back on.

Beesands at dawn.
I attended the brief, readied myself and trotted-out along the fields in the midst of everyone.
The stretch along the coastal path to the first checkpoint is probably my favourite stretch of running of all the courses I have been on: a mix of rocky cliff path, beach and grassy trail continually overlooking the spectacular sea-views, rounding the light-house at Start Point. The nature of the trail that large parts of it are single-file, so not really conducive for chatting with fellow runners, and along here the field stretches out with people finding their space in the pack naturally with very little overtaking occurring.

The fun really starts when the ultra-runners come back on to the course and you have the 2 way traffic along the single track path, which makes for some interesting passing manoeuvres!

The highlight of the day for me was seeing a pair of Peregrine Falcons, a bird I have always wanted to see. There was an almighty squawking as one of the birds flew to its mate on the cliff-face as we rounded a cove and presented it with some fresh meat that they both tucked in to.

With all these CTS races, the landscape was the star, so the fact I was alone for the vast majority of the race today was fine, you could say that the run for me in a way was as uneventful as it was beautiful. Running around on my todd without any human company for distraction I could soak-up the sights around me and truly appreciate my surroundings.

As such here’s a gallery of trail-porn from the course:

In the end I finished the race in one piece, half an hour faster than I had the first time I ran it, which shows an improvement over the 2 calendar years since then… Not as quick as I would have hoped to without being affected by the lurgy, but hey, beggars can’t be choosers.

Eat pies.
Drink beer.
Run far.

1st February: Lurgy again :(

The lurgy has made a return :( I was generously given it by a work colleague and it completely wiped me out... After all the good work I have put in to training and running so far this year I have been unable to get out for 2 weeks and my fitness is back to what it was in early November. I just hope it doesn't take as long to get back to running as well as I should be.

Eat pies.
Drink beer.
Run (not very) far (at present).

26th January: Cheviot

A couple of years back after the chastening experience of running my first official trail marathon with footwear that turned-out to be somewhat less than ideal, a subscriber offer came-up on a magazine that I was looking to subscribe to and I became the owner of a pair of More Mile Cheviot trail running shoes.

I eagerly began running the winter trails in these and they soon became a firm favourite of mine… They are by no means the ‘perfect’ trainer, as they are somewhat lacking in the cushioning department so I require an insole to be fitted, but for free they were fantastic… So much so that when they died I bought another pair, even though they have been superseded by the ‘Cheviot 2’.

This second par has now bitten the dust and when I spotted a deal on at the More Mile stockists Start Fitness, I ordered pairs number 3&4!

Since using Strava to record my runs in detail I am able to track the mileage on my trainers quite accurately and the Cheviot's are good for 200 miles before dying. These miles though as a rule are trail marathon miles through the winter when the need for the very aggressive lugs on the soles are required… So in effect they are good for me to get around 7-10 trail marathons in the most tricky of conditions.

So below is my long term review of the More Mile Cheviot having tested 2 pairs to destruction!

Introducing the Cheviot…

Named after the range of hills found on the eastern border of England and Scotland, the trainer’s monicker is a giveaway to their nature: one that is at its happiest in the rugged wilds of hills, fells and the harsher of the trails.

In the box.
In case you have never heard of them, the Cheviot’s manufacturer More Mile are a British maker of sporting goods, both clothing and footwear, primarily aimed at those who run, cycle or partake in triathlon and the company has built up a deserved reputation for value for money over more established ‘premium’ brands in the marketplace. They are also the kit suppliers to the English School’s Athletic Association.

For me, the colour of a trainer is not a really important consideration, as this does not impact performance in any way, shape or form - unlike with cars where everybody knows that red cars go faster!.. With the Cheviot’s at present you have 3 options available to you in lime green, grey with yellow flashing and grey with blue flashing. I opted for the former!

No danger of not being seen from a distance!
Their construction seems to have been based on an almost indestructible sole and worked upwards from there. The lugs on the sole are the deepest I have seen out there on the market, affording tractor-levels of grip that would happily allow you to play rugby in them and still remain poised on both feet. The problem you could face with very deep lugs is the aggregation of mud between them, building up to a level that the grip is reduced over a long-run to almost zero. With the wide spacing of the Cheviot’s lugs the chance of mud building up is minimised to the point that you would have to be in a really sticky clay-based mire for a significant loss of grip to occur and with the flex of the trainer’s sole, once out the other side, the claggy chunks of mud are soon kicked clear through the normal action of running and any lost grip is restored.

Get a load of them lugs!
The toe-box has a heavy-duty rubber toe guard around it to protect against stubbing on rocks and tree-roots, with the rest of the upper being made from synthetic mesh-like fabric that allows for easy and rapid draining when you do have the misfortune of immersing your foot entirely whilst fording a stream or ploughing through deep puddles. This also ensures your feet do not overheat through these uppers being naturally breathable.

Turning your attention to the inside, the padding is quite minimal. Outside of the heel padding which is high and holds you quite snug and guards agains the ingress of small rocks, the only other noticeable area of padding is the underside of the tongue - whilst having minimal padding inside the trainer does denying you the sensation of having your feet cradled by warm purring kittens, it does mean there is a lot less in there to soak-up water and add weight through absorption rather than draining away.

I have found that I personally need to add a layer of cushioning to the insole, as it is very spartan, with the addition of sorbothane shock-absorbers to increase the comfort and reduce any jarring my body may experience… But that is something personal to me.

Taking them out on a run, you can tell these are definitely at their most happy in the more extreme conditions. The wide spacing between the deep lugs when on tarmac or other hard flat surfaces gives you the impression of your feet rolling around over a series of points on their underside so is not the most comfortable of experience - but as soon as you hit dirt they come in to their own, affording a good even grip over the entire sole and keeping you firmly on your feet able to carry on running where other trainers would have you on your backside… The only times these trainers are not 100% happy off-road is over the 2 types of ground that all trainers do not like or manage a perfect grip on: wet rocks and ice!

When testing them to destruction, the weak-point that develops is the just behind the toe-box, where through the creasing action on the material through the foot flexing in the shoe, the uppers seem to give-way at roughly the same time on the corresponding location on both shoes, and on both sides of each shoe.

The value for money on these shoes is phenomenal. You can pick them up for around £20-£25 a pair - which is 3-4 times cheaper than the nearest equivalent soled Salomon or Inov8’s. When you extrapolate out the mileage and pound costs, you could go through 3-4 pairs of Cheviot’s before you have reached the cost of the Salomon/ Inov8’s, but would these two brands have survived the combined ‘hard’ mileage of 600-800 miles of the Cheviot’s?.. Especially when you are recommended to replace your trainers between 300-500 miles, and let’s face it, trail running is particularly tough on trainers!

I would recommend these trainers to anyone who is hard on theirs when trail running over the winter months when grip is at a premium. They are comfortable and capable enough to be running marathons and ultras in them over the sternest of courses… And for those out there who are worried about damage/ wearing to their premium brand of trainers, you can’t go wrong by getting a pair of these to do your winter training miles in and save the more expensive pair for race day, although I bet you would soon be converted to using the Cheviot as your race shoe by the time that day comes.

Price £20-£30
Longevity 3/5
Comfort 3/5 (with an additional insole) 4/5
Value for Money 5/5

Overall 4/5

Eat pies.
Drink beer.
Run far.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

25th January: LSS Starts

With all of this running lunacy over the last couple of years, LSS has become a bit of a running widdow at times when I have disappeared off to all corners of the British Isles for the occasional day here and there… She has also seen the benefits that running stupid distances has brought to me fitness wise and with the exception of that niggling calf injury I have been entirely injury free from running 35 marathons!

When I first started on this odyssey LSS stated that the words ‘fun’ and ‘run’ are not 2 words that go together and she was firmly convinced and she would never be seen dead spatulated into lycra.

Now a couple of years down the line, just before the Christmas period LSS came out with the earth-shattering revelation she had realised that as time marches on, her long-standing ability to eat cheese, chocolate and enjoy drinking wine without consequence to her frame has begun to lessen and she now needed to find a way to keep the pounds at bay having not exercised since giving up horse riding in her late teens.

Combining the need to walk our dogs on a daily basis with exercise, LSS has decided that she will run as a canicrosser, as that way she has a companion with her, it burns-off some of our dog’s energy and it gives her a reason to be out and running… As a means to following-through on this plan she has even booked herself in to March’s CTS Sussex 10k, as with a commitment in the diary she cannot back-out!

I am in awe at her decision to go for it, as to do something so out of anyone’s comfort-zone is incredibly courageous and I have been supporting her on her first steps along the way, especially as her body (mostly her knees, shins, ankles) adjusts to running for the first time since school with all the aches and pains you endure in the process.

As part of being the supportive husband, I suggested we go down to Birling Gap and walk the 10k course with the dogs so when the big day arrives then there will be no surprises or fears of the unknown for her, so she can just concentrate on getting herself across the finish line.

This morning we took ourselves down there and had a good morning’s walk with the hounds over the running route and took in the sights above and below the Beachy Head cliff face.

Gazing over at Beachy Head
Below the cliffs you run on top of at Birling Gap.
Looking west over the 'Seven Sisters'
As we trundled along the beach, the erosion of the chalk and the flint stones revealed this to us, I think it looks like a cartoon skull smiling out at you!

Eat pies.
Drink beer.
Run far.

24th January: Training

In keeping with my resolution I have been getting out as often as possible between races to put quality miles in, something that my finish at Anglesey has also mentally encouraged me to do… I have now seen a direct result from all the hard work I put in over the Christmas period in regaining - and perhaps exceeding the fitness I had lost to the lurgy late-on last year. What’s more, I have really enjoyed getting out there and doing training.

I said ‘quality miles’ as I am wary of the theory of training just being ‘junk miles’ in other words, just going out for the sake of doing so with no real plan or goals, so you just churn out X number of miles and are done with it.

One of my goals has been to increase my pace over the shorter distances when I go out (10k) with a view to it improving my overall pace on longer runs and give me an extra gear to step in to on my marathons should I feel I need to.

To help achieve this, when it has come to running around the block on my normal 10k route I have been accompanied by Spud, our Springer Spaniel/ Border Collie cross (Sprollie?) who in his desire to run, and run as fast as he can, is akin to strapping a turbo charger to you... He has helped me to cut 7 minutes off my previous best time for the run as he makes you go as fast as you are able the whole way round, certainly faster than you thought you were capable of pacing yourself, so as far as speed-work goes, Spud certainly beats fartleks as rather than upping tempo between every second lamp-post or what have you, you go at that speed the whole time.

Running with Spud is also beneficial for him as it burns-off some energy by doing something he loves - and energy is something he has in abundance! The aim is for him to be able to accompany me on the occasional marathon, and so far he can easily cope with 10k’s and manages half marathon distance with me no problem.

I have also been keeping to my long run at least once a week regime, which is all well and good until you tread in a puddle that turns out to be a pot-hole that trips you up and you end up looking like this:

Eat pies.
Drink beer.
Run far.

18th January: Anglesey

Anglesey is one of those places that is a pain in the arse to get to… From my gaff you drive all the way on the motorway to the junction for Chester in about 3 hours, then you’ve got a similar time to head west over North Wales pretty much until you fall off the far north west corner of the known land into what would say on an ‘olde worlde’ map: “here be monsters” with an image of a kraken cavorting in the sea… The reason for this 6 hour drive is the latest leg of the Endurancelife Coastal Trail Series: a jaunt around the farthest north westerly part of Anglesey; the farthest north westerly part of Wales. With these CTS races there are 4 distances on the day’s menu: 10k, half marathon, marathon and ultra… Naturally I’m taking the marathon option as per normal.

After around 6 hours of driving I parked-up close by the event base and slept for the rest of the night. The parking in Breakwater Country Park car park was not available to us this year, so I was stopped in an area as close to the registration tent as I could.

Last year once here, the rain started and did not stop… Well it did stop eventually, that eventually being 4 hours in to the marathon the following morning. As stunning as the scenery was and the location beautiful, as a consequence the run was a bit of a miserable experience at times: akin to running through an ankle deep puddle for 27 miles whilst being rained on for those first 4 hours!

Waking up the next morning the conditions could not be more different than last year, yes it was chilly, but it was looking like it was going to be mostly bright with sunshine and a light covering of cloud.

After some granola and coffee, I was on the way in to register when I bumped in to a familiar face, calling me out from the gloom of the dawn in an easily recognisable American twang: Theresa from October’s Glencoe marathon. She was running in the ultra, her first Endurancelife event and was looking forward to seeing part of Britain she had not yet seen whilst she is over this side of the pond.

Walking back to the van after registering I could tell that the weather should be fine rain-wise, but there was a bit of a chill wind blowing, which turned my mind to a bit of a problem…

As I drove up the previous night, upon passing Brum (a good 2 hours in to my journey) I had a nagging feeling at the back of my mind: I was not sure I had packed my running jacket: my protection from wind and showers. I distinctly remember putting my charged and synced iPod in the chest pocket, gloves in the side pockets and a buff in the map pocket. I distinctly remember putting the jacket on the back of a dining room chair... What I did not distinctly remember was picking it up and putting it in the van... And upon checking when I arrived, it was nowhere to be seen.

Fortunately I keep an old snowboarding jacket in the van, one with a detachable inner jacket, so I decided to improvise. You have to have a jacket for these Coastal Trail Series races as a compulsory kit item, so my only choice was to detach the inner and wear this… It may not be much use in a downpour, but it at least had a hood, would afford a barrier against the wind, plus fastening using poppers it meant it would be good at letting the heat out.

Don't we all look thrilled to be here at stupid o'clock on a cold winter's morn!
I lined-up with everyone else ready for our getaway, and in no time we were all galloping down the former railway line towards the seashore and the first of the day’s two climbs up Holyhead Mountain.

Onto the shore.
Only one way from sea-level: upwards.
With less than a month since the winter solstice, the sun was struggling its way upwards towards its low maximum and was beginning to give a little warmth through the patchy cloud, although not enough to take your mind away from the stiff chilly breeze from the sea which seemed to increase in its feistiness as we climbed further up the side of Holyhead Mountain.

Onwards and upwards.
Successfully over the top and on the way down we rounded South Stack and the lovely lonely lighthouse perched on the promontory of rock before breezing through CP1 and descending over some grassy heathland which was mercifully nowhere near as waterlogged as last year. That said, my trainers were almost sucked from my feet a couple of times by mud, so I made the decision to avoid any more occurrences of this by stopping to re-lace them and ensure they were as tight as can be.

Looking back at Holyhead from the mountain.
The first sight of South Stack lighthouse.
Passing the lighthouse.
Leaving the lighthouse.
Whilst sitting on the grass undertaking this it seemed most of the field had passed me. I had estimated my position going over the mountain at about half way through the field and with the steady stream of people passing by over the 5 minutes I must have taken, I figured my new position to be around 3/4 or lower… Which is more reflective of a normal finish for me!

A bit of trailporn.
I now had an incentive now to try and reel-in some of those who had passed me, so I set-about doing so without over-cooking myself. Before stopping I had been running at a speed a bit faster than most of them by the nature of being in front of them, so continuing at my previous pace I bade my time as I steadily caught up a handful of them, yo-yoing with some runners and gliding past others; although by being at a different speed to those around me I could see this run developing into quite a lonely race and with my iPod sitting a good few hundred miles away it was to be just my own thoughts for company… Anyway, with the constant roar of the gusty wind in my ears I probably would not have heard a great deal even if I did have my iPod on!

Run to the sun.
In to CP2 and the following tarmac stretch through the village of Trearddur then it was back on to the coastal path, undulating our way to the caravan park and the start of the southerly loop on the course. CP3 was pretty much at the most southerly point and at a notional 15 miles, once through this you know for sure that every step is now counting down to the finish.

A couple of the many coves we passed.
Last year due to the tide times and the surge being experienced from the recent storms the trek across the beach was a thigh-high wade bracing ourselves against the sea-wall to keep balanced, so I was prepared for more of the same… As we approached, from a mile away on the cliff-top path, looking down I could see the beach where CP3 is situated - and by the fact I could see there was a beach I knew it would be different this time around!

A bit of an easier route this time round!

Dropping down on to the beach the tide was a good 100m or so away from us rather than lapping around our midriffs, so it was an easy trot along the rocks and sand to ‘dib-in’ before crossing to the other side of the beach and climbing up on to the inland section of the course.

Crossing the beach.
This inland trail saw an extended section through what looked like a nature reserve, jogging along over the duck-boards that formed the walk-way, crossing styles and fences with the occasional squelch through ankle-deep mud. It was trotting through here that I was passed in the opposite direction by some of the other marathoners who were running the course with their dogs, which surprised me no end! They must have taken a wrong turn at the start of the loop  just before CP3 to end-up running this section in reverse!

Heading inland.
As I finished the loop and rejoined the out-and-back section I was not passing anyone still doing the outward leg, so I figured that the last person was at worst an hour behind me, so it was safe to say I was towards the back of the field.

Getting in to Trearddur again at last I was catching-up with a fellow runner, whose football allegiance was easy to ascertain by the Rangers scarf around his neck - I joked with him about being a ‘Hun’, which threw him a bit in being labelled thus outside of Scotland - so I told him how I follow St. Johnstone through the family tie to the city of Perth and had once been to Ibrox, the home of Rangers in the heart of Govan, to see St. Johnstone take on Rangers in the Scottish Cup.

At this point we picked-up another runner in Dewi and the three of us continued along until Dewi and myself forged ahead.

Dewi was pretty-much running on home-ground coming from just along the north welsh coast in Colwyn Bay. We passed the next couple of miles to the checkpoint chatting a bit about his local club which are in the Conference North, the same level as my team of Farnborough (Conference South) with Colwyn Bay recently being in the news through the resignation of their manager - former Premier League player and Jamaican international Frank Sinclair due to a financial crisis at the club with the loss of their main backers.

Passing through CP2 again for the final stretch of the run inland and our second ascent of Holyhead Mountain, we noticed how we had jumped about 10 places through not stopping longer than necessary at the CP and from the steady pace we had been making over the last couple of miles; clocking-in around the 10 minute mile mark and still feeling kind of fresh.

The course now differed from last year a little bit. In previous runnings (last year included) Endurancelife had not managed to secure permission from a landowner to take the most desirable direct route back across to the mountain, necessitating in a diversion back over roads until you get to the mountain’s foot. This year after a successful negotiation we had a new section to traverse, mostly of muddy fields whilst being stared at by some bemused cows.

It was along here that Dewi and myself caught-up with Paula, who was running the ultra having returned to full fitness following injury as part of her training plan for an attempt to set a woman’s world record timed ascent of Mount Kilimanjaro… Her race CV was as impressive in its difficulty as it was long, including time as a sponsored athlete for North Face. She has also changed her lifestyle of late to become a vegan and felt that her performance was beginning to reap the benefits, although the strict nature of the diet was still a learning curve for her… All the best of luck to her and in keeping clear of injury in the future having compiled a comprehensive catalogue of misfortune in those she has suffered so far including a nasty one from a surfboard!

As the three of us trundled along together across the fields, the bottom of the mountain was almost in touching distance when we had one final mud-patch to clear. The other two decided to skirt round its edge but me being me I decided to plough straight on through it… Only to find that it was somewhat deeper than I had anticipated and after a couple of paces both my feet became glued in to the sucking cloying mud at the same time. I could feel myself falling forward, so I stuck my hands out to avoid face-planting, and my hands sunk in to halfway up my forearms.

The sight of this had Dewi and Paula in hysterics, with Paula pulling out her phone and snapping away at the ridiculous sight of me on all fours wallowing in the mud whilst laughing.

As I had toppled in, I caught a glimpse of something just in front of my face, and as I extricated my hands from the quagmire I grabbed at what I had seen: someone’s trainer. This was a fresh loss from today as the inside was still clean and dry, not covered in mud as it would be if it had lain there for days or weeks in the winter weather surrounded by a herd of cows. At the start of the race we had been urged to pick-up any rubbish we found on the way, so my mischievous side decided that this would be the perfect piece of litter to carry to the finish - and hopefully to re-unite it with its rightful owner.

Out the other side of the field and we found ourselves on the climb up Mount Holyhead and in the final mile of the marathon course. We weaved our way up still chatting, with Dewi and myself knowing that the hard work was over once we had reached the peak, but Paula still would have to do the 10k course on top of the marathon with its double climb of the mountain still to be done.

Paula & Dewi
On top of the mountain in the beautifully clear crisp sunshine it was great to be able to soak-up the 360 degree view. At least the mountain rescue staff assembled up here for our benefit were not being rained-on today and the wind, whilst gusting strongly, was not making life too difficult for them or us competitors… And the sight of me with a third shoe on one of my hands amused them no end :)

Now all that there was to face was the final descent down the other side back in to Breakwater Country Park and the teasing diversion around the ponds when the finish line is in sight.

After a rock-hopping gallop down the mountain I crossed the line, shoe in hand, whereupon I was asked how on earth I came to be in possession of a trainer? I explained how I had come by it and if anyone had reported losing one… My enquiries found that someone had indeed lost their trainer, had decided to carry-on with only the one, then had slipped and turned their ankle shortly after continuing their quest for the finish line, and had to be medivacced off the course as they were unable to continue. I left the shoe with lost property in the hope that it did get reunited with its rightful owner - although I firmly believe the shoe should get its own medal as it did complete the course!

The trainer rescued from the muddy mire.
When I had finally recovered and got my breath back, I had a look at the times for the returning ultra runners and decided I could not really hang around for them to finish as only 15 of the field of nearly 70 had crossed the line so far (sorry for not being there to clap you across the line Theresa!) so I made my way straight back to the van to change and recover for the drive home.

As I hit the pathway back to where I was parked I saw a familiar face next to me… Paula! She had taken her time through the CP and had started out again on the last loop for the ultra, so I jogged along with her, with her attempts at cajoling me in to joining her in completing the ultra falling on deaf ears, and at the van I wished her all the best and she was off.

Today I was wearing the pair of Karrimor’s that I had damaged on their first real outing in the Gower marathon, and today had taken a further toll upon them, with the uppers on both shoes now split. This was a bit frustrating considering how few miles they had done so far, as you would hope to get at least 200 miles out of a pair of trainers before destroying them, but hey, I only paid around £25 for them and would be really gutted if it was the same to be said for a pair of Salomon’s or Inov8’s.

The death of another pair of trainers?
Having had he last 2 months of '14 wiped-out with recovery from flu leading to near wooden-spoon levels of performance in 3 of my final 4 marathons of the year, as you know from a previous post on here I had set myself a goal for 2015 of finishing in the top 50% of a marathon field, with no specifics or caveat's on when or where it would happen... Yesterday I placed 59/119 :) a shade inside the 50 percentile, but inside it nonetheless and a full 20 minutes faster than last year’s time… Looks like I'm getting a little less slow after all. It’s funny what happens when you put the hours in to training: you improve!

Eat pies.
Drink beer.
Run far.