Running for the pies

Running for the pies

Sunday, 14 February 2016

8th November: Meander

At the start of the year I set some goals, one of which was to get a sub 4 hour time for a marathon and today marked my first of 2 attempts to hit this mark, at Hermes Running’s Thames Meander Marathon.

The Thames Mender is a bit of a ‘Ronseal’ event (exactly what it says on the tin) for the course is a meander along the river Thames from the Hawker leisure centre near Richmond to Putney Bridge and back again. The leisure centre originally set-up for the employees of the famous Hawker Siddeley aircraft factory - which has long since moved and has now become an housing estate next door, where you register and gather for the start on the Thames Path.

The forecast for today was far from rosy, but at least it was supposed to be warm whilst it was to chuck it down with rain - which it certainly was on the drive there, during registration and just as we started!

The route is a very simple out and back along the river-side path, which is mostly a metalled surface rather than tarmacced and with it being next to the river, its about as flat as it gets! Due to a rowing race being held on the Thames, the authority in charge of the river had forbade the organisers to continue to the original turn-point as they did not want any issues with runners and spectators getting in each other’s way on the path, so rather than just heading downriver and back, we had to head upriver for a mile’s loop, which was to be repeated before we crossed the finish line at the end.

Killing time for the start of the run, I could see loads of runners gathering for the Saturday morning Parkrun in the field next to where we were… Part of me thought that this would make a good warm-up for the marathon as you could finish that before running the latter, but common-sense kicked in and made me realise that a fast-paced 3 miles before hitting another 26 and a bit would not necessarily be ideal so I knocked that on the head and waited with the other runners for the race to commence!

As the rain began to fall we all huddled together at the start, trying to stay out of this and the occasional cold gusts of wind before we were set on our merry way… The tempo at first was quite a fast one with the field stretching-out almost from the beginning as we went on the up-river loop, well marshalled by some army cadets, with the rain cooling us all off in a pleasant manner as we all warmed-up as our bodies acclimatised to running rather than standing.

Arriving back at the start-finish line I could see a familiar be-kilted figure standing there in the guise of local resident Rob Young, or ‘MarathonmanUK’ who after running the most marathons in a calendar year and winning the race across the USA, had recently set the record for the longest non-stop run of some 300+ miles. I stopped to say hello again and thank him for coming and cheering us all on in the rain before carrying on.

The rain was beginning to get heavier and with all the footfall on the path, the sections that held water were starting to churn-up noticeably, although with a fair chunk of the route being under trees it was not getting too wet everywhere and with the air temperature being warm, it was not at all uncomfortable to be out running, even when the wind did gust hard… That was until we passed through Mortlake and the exposed section of the course, where it began to hammer it down with a vengeance!

No matter what, we were all getting soaked so everyone had their minds on getting to the turn as soon as they could and get back to the start!.. Speaking of which, I made the halfway in slightly under 2 hours, which was bang on target for my ultimate goal, but I knew I would not be making it as the last couple of miles to the turn had been one of building pain in my knees from the constant hammering on the hard path. As I munched on a breakfast bar I necked a couple of pain killers and did the best I could, but from around the 16th mile onwards my mile times were beginning to lengthen through me just adopting a run/walk strategy to get to the finish.

Eventually, soaking wet and with aching knees I crossed the finish line in a decent time for me, but one which was pants in comparison to what it could have been with the pace I ran the first half in… Oh well, shit happens, but on the positive, setting a 1:56 for a half marathon time was a PB for me so there was a positive to be taken from today.

The course along the Thames path is unremarkable in its nature - there is not a great deal of sights to behold; the river is always on one side and on the other you always seem to have trees or a fence/ wall so your field of vision is not brilliant, so vista wise it was a bit ‘meh’ especially having been spoilt from running in plenty of testing trails in areas of outstanding natural beauty… There were plenty of people to chat with along the way and the atmosphere was very friendly. The aid stations were well stocked and were serving tangerine flavour ’Gu’ gels which I consumed along the way having disposed of my last batch of homemade gels from the adverse affect they had on me! They run the Meander a few times each year, but will I be back?.. I don’t know - perhaps when I am looking to set a good time for the distance, especially with it being one of the closer marathons to me, but it won’t become a race that becomes a regular in my diary as there are plenty of other races out there still to be run first!

Eat pies.
Drink beer.
Run far.

25th October: CTS Suffolk

As a completist I have been looking forward to the chance of running the Endurancelife Coastal Trail Series Suffolk marathon. This is the only recurring race on their calendar that I have yet to experience, so when this year’s schedule fell favourably I jumped at the chance to book in.

Looking out to sea on the beach at Dunwich.
Suffolk is a place I have never been to, so I was already interested to see what it looks like in this part of the country - aside from the obvious ’flat'! With the nature of the terrain this is one of the fastest trail marathon routes on the calendar, plus it is one of the few marathons where you run below sea level!

The event base is Dunwich which for those of you who watch the BBC series 'Springwatch' is next to the RSPB Minsmere reserve where they film it.

Following my normal pattern I arrived at the event base around midnight, parked-up for the night and on waking I sauntered-off to register.

The registration marquee and the start and finish line were in the grounds of a ruined medieval monastery: You walk in through the still-standing gateway in the perimeter wall and beyond this there's little more remaining beyond a solitary wall of one building in the middle of what is now a field!

Being briefed.
All registered, breakfasted and changed I perched on a haystack in the field for the briefing which was straightforward with no real issues to watch out for and in no-time we were off and running on the course: A figure of 8 with the northerly loop first then the southerly, both in an anti-clockwise direction.

I knew it would be flat and fast so I planned to go as hard as I could for the first half and see what happened beyond then. Pushing myself I was making good pace, running through scrub, over boardwalks and on dykes as we hugged the coastline, before heading inland and over more boardwalks as we traversed a swampy woodland.

Straddling a dyke.
Trying to avoid the mistakes of the past I ensured I began to eat from the 2 hour mark, scoffing a nutria-grain bar to keep my energy levels topped-up, with the plan to have one on the hour from hereon and a gel on every half-hour.

Following my plan, whilst traipsing through a CP just over 2.5 hours into the race I necked a gel - one of the same home-made batch as the last one and carried onwards… All was fine for about another 10 minutes, when at this point I began to have a weird floating sensation, an almost outer-body like feeling. The feeling was similar to the kind I intentionally experienced on a regular basis as part of my mis-spent youth, but back then it was not in the midst of a marathon where I need to be continually moving forwards as fast as I can muster and concentrating on my surroundings!

As well as the ‘floatyness’ I was getting really bad stomach cramps - it felt like my stomach was turning itself inside out - much the same as on the last marathon, but this was far worse - although back then I had a stomach full of liquid, so this must have diluted everything and lessened its effects… It dawned on me that there was a common factor here… both experiences had occurred after consuming one of my own gels - I must have wrongly measured the amount of caffeine that went in it by a LARGE amount!

The thing was, I’m halfway through a marathon so its just as far to go if you continue or drop-out - so there was one option: carry-on and attempt to fight my way through this trippy poisoning, ride-out the storm so-as-to-speak. The problem was the cramps were so uncomfortable, it felt like I wanted to honk my guts with every step, and to do so would surely have brought a relief, but nothing was happening. I forced myself to eat and drink some more so as to dilute what was going-on in an attempt to beat it.

My running was reduced to run a half, walk a half just to keep me ticking-over and get myself to the finish line and the discomfort was certainly stopping me from enduring my surroundings.

Just beyond the twenty mile mark we passed the perimeter fence of the Sizewell nuclear power station, skirting the north of the buildings that towered ominously above us, the hum of the plant audible as we went past.

Looking back on Sizewell.
Once past the the power plant we hit the beach and the flat 4 mile stretch to the next check-point. The beach and its fine shingle and sand was incredibly hard-going for traction, so for the most part I ended-up speed walking this section as it was just as fast as jogging and used up less energy.

The coastal path here overlooked the Minsmere reserve, where we could see across to the cabin where the presenters of Springwatch base themselves for their broadcasts. The bird-watchers were out in force, the path being full of plenty of people out with telescopes, binoculars and telescopes who seemed bemused by all of us runners heading along the path towards them.

After the final check point it was a brief couple of miles inland where I had recovered my equilibrium enough to be able to run the last couple of miles and cross the finish line in a distinctly uninspiring time!

The course was certainly flat, fast and very different from the other CTS routes I have been around. With the ground being so flat, there are not many great vistas to be seen - sure the place is quiet and tranquil, but it lacks the rugged beauty of the other courses, so not one for hunters of ‘trail porn’ but one for those who want to run a fast trail ultra/ marathon/ half/ 10k.

Eat pies.
Drink beer.
Run far.