Running for the pies

Running for the pies

Sunday, 2 October 2016

20th March: Hampton Court Half

I forgot… I’d forgotten that at the last minute I’d agreed to run the Hampton Court Palace Half Marathon. In mitigation, I had never intended to run this, in fact I have (believe it or not) never run a half marathon before in my life, but due to work issues, one of our old neighbours who had been due to run this with his wife, had to drop-out and in knowing that LSS was running the race, offered his spot to me.

Gathering for the start round the front of the palace.
Driving the 30 miles towards London to the palace and parking in the field next to it on the edge of Bushy Park (at a £5 extra on-the-day charge to the organisers) we met with our neighbour’s wife who was still running and collected his details off of her and I prepared to accompany LSS around the course for her second ever half marathon - and my first… Yep LSS has run more of them than I have!

I did not want to let LSS down by bailing after my gammy hammy episode the previous day in Sussex, but (and I mean this with no offence) I felt I would be unlikely to strain myself further with the combination of the pancake flat course and acting as a pacer for LSS.

Hampton Court Palace is a stunning building built for Henry VIII (although Cardinal Wolsey began the work) as his official residence and since then it has remained one of the ‘Royal Palaces’ and one of the major tourist attractions in London.

Off downriver along the Thames Path.
The runner’s village and the finish line was situated on the green opposite the rear of the palace. Here there was the longest line of portaloos I have ever seen at an event, which meant the unusual experience of no real queuing for a trip to the trotter - a rare luxury!

As the time for our starting wave approached we made our way across the road and in to the palace grounds for the start and before long we were all corralled together and sent on our merry way.

The field was quite compact as we managed to shuffle our way along straight out of the palace grounds on to the Thames Path. As we slowly picked our way through the crowd I counted around a dozen unopened gels that had been unwittingly shed by runners before us, but with all us runners so tightly packed together I could not stoop to grab any to save the littering - and benefit myself & LSS!

Crossing the river.
Along the riverside path for just under 3 miles downriver it was a bit of a metronomic slog, punctuated by a water-stop just towards the end where we immediately climbed up on to the bridge and crossed over the Thames. From here we followed a couple of miles more along the riverside path upriver, before leaving this and heading off into the suburban streets of Thames Ditton - with another water-stop at the furthest south part of the course.

Taking it at LSS’s pace we hit the 8 mile marker and the bridge that took us back over the Thames to the Thames Path in front of the palace and a repetition of the first three miles… Rather than crossing the bridge at the end of this stretch we turned left and headed along the edge of Bushy Park and the final 1.5 of the 2 miles… The final half mile being saved as an extra special treat for LSS.

Looking at the palace from the 'tradesman's entrance'.
Running with me, LSS had pushed herself continually at a pace marginally faster than she would have herself and combined with not as much training as she would have liked, she was really suffering and bordering on a sense of humour failure as we closed-in on what we thought was the finish line: The course leads you straight towards the finish gantry, but just short of it as you reach the green you find you are shepherded away and have to do a lap around the outside of the green in which it rests, before being allowed through the barrier on to the green to re-trace your way back on the other side before finally crossing the finish line… And not a moment too soon from the effing and jeffing of LSS at this evil final half mile! - needless to say she refused my entreaties for a sprint finish ;)

Crossing the line we walked-over to the marquee where they were handing out bananas, water and the bag of finisher’s bling. The finishers tee was an amusing caricature of Henry VIII doing the ‘mobot’ and the medal was big golden effort - something you could inflict serious damage with on someone!

Considering this race is billed as the ‘Hampton Court Palace’ half marathon, you spend about 0.1% of your time there. Instead you are pounding the Thames Path and the local suburban streets, so outside of the physical start line and first 100m you spend no time in the palace grounds, although you do view it twice more as you run past on the Thames Path and the building is a gorgeous spectacle.

Approaching the palace again.
The course is flat and fast, so if you are looking for a PB or for an easy introductory half marathon then this could be a good one for you. The course whilst almost entirely tarmacced - even on the Thames Path, it only has 5 miles on roads over its length, so it is a safe one that allows you to not have to worry about the traffic too much… Would I do it again?.. In short: No. It offers nothing to me over a jog along the canal on my doorstep. If the route were to change to take-in more of the grounds rather than the streets of Thames Ditton then maybe I would soften my stance and come back for a second helping.

What I did enjoy was supporting LSS in her endeavour and successful completion of her second ever half marathon, although her face was almost the same colour as her top by the end of it!

A cheerful LSS resplendent with her medal and bag o' bling!

Eat pies.
Drink beer.
Run far.

19th March: Coastal Trail Series Sussex

Ok, a few weeks back I strained my hamstring and it hasn’t really got worse, but at the same time it has not improved, so I went in to the Endurancelife CTS Sussex Trail Marathon with a healthy dose of trepidation and a very strong pair of neoprene support shorts to compress and hold my gammy hammy together as much as possible in the hope of making it around!

'Man at C&A' posing in registration.
Every time I run this race it seems to be different for me. Last time out I had the pleasure of traversing Beachy Head with LSS and Spud as they ran the 10k course and our paths converged. Previously I’ve had to brave gale-force winds, sleet and freezing rain… Today it was just muscle knack and the weather was looking pretty conducive for trail running - which was a bit frustrating as I knew I would not be able to push hard and do myself justice.

I followed my normal plan of driving-down to the event base for midnight and hunkered-down in the van over at Birling Gap listening to the howl of the wind as it occasionally rocked the van and to the patter of the rain on the roof as I settled-down to my slumber.

Waking the next morning I walked the mile to the registration marquee, passing the single file snake of ultra runners as they set-off on their adventure.

Ultra conga!
All registered and laden with my complimentary Endurancelife tech tee given to all competitors (I now have a sizeable collection of these!) and a Cliff bar I went back to change for the race.

Straight from the off and it was up the hill overlooking Birling Gap itself and on to the undulations of the ’Seven Sisters’ until they peter-out in the course’s low-point at the salt-marsh nature reserve. From this low the slow steady climb to the highest part of the course commences, punctuated by the first aid station at Littlington.

Just past Littlington we run across a causeway in a water-meadow that had been totally flooded over the winter with the torrential rains the area experienced, but thanks to nature’s ability to rejuvenate itself you couldn’t see any sign of what had happened.

Over the Seven Sisters.
From here we turned west and began our climb proper on to the exposed South Downs Way skirting along the feet of the ‘Long Man’ carved out of the grass covered chalk to stand watch over the valley, summitting shortly thereafter and enjoying the leisurely descent over the next few miles to the halfway checkpoint.

It was on the way down I could start to feel my hammy biting and at this point I had to drop my pace noticeably, letting CTS stalwart Luke with whom I had been running for a while and a few guys who were out on their final serious race practice before the Marathon des Sables - running in their full kit for that, disappear off in front of me.

The aid station is at the bottom of the hill, which meant a climb out from it to head back to the coastal path… It was on this climb I started to descend in to a dark place and consider quitting as I knew I would be passing the van and shortly thereafter the finish line. Quitting would break my consecutive streak of finishes. I know that every race completed brings you closer to the first you will start but not finish, but I managed to persuade myself to stay in the game and at least get back to the van, as here I could spend some time assessing how I really was.

It may only have been a matter of a couple of miles or so, but they were not fun in the slightest as I clenched my teeth and struck-out at the fastest walking hobble I could muster to get to the car-park… Once here I opened the van, took off my back-pack and had a few deep breaths.

I had a can of Red Bull lying around so I took my time to drink that and to give my hammy a good hard massage, really pushing deep in to where it felt tightest, then well and truly larded it with ‘Deep Heat’. Ten minutes had passed and already it no longer felt as bad as it had been - I was around 16 miles in to the race, so a matter of 10 to go, so I felt I might as well just crack-on but take it easy as I know the course and that the terrain underfoot was not going to prove tricky in any way… So off I climbed out of Birling Gap and made the ascent of Beachy Head.

View from the 'top' of the course.
Before I knew it I was at the climb in to the western edge of Eastbourne feeling no more the worse for wear from when I left the van, and the turn for home at the final checkpoint was upon me, so I just carried-on through it on a concerted charge ascending on to the path to the farm track along the ridge overlooking the channel, safe in the knowledge that the end was rapidly approaching.

It was along here that I caught-up with and passed fellow marathoner Cecilia, who as I passed let-out a sob… It was one of those moments when you know the person is not in a good state, and seeing her face, eyes reddened, I knew she was in a definite low, so I slowed to walk and talk to her.

Back along Beachy Head
She was really suffering but was determined to reach the end - which was only about 3 miles at this point, so I decided to just keep her talking to take her mind off the pain and get her to the finish line in one piece - it turned-out she was from Reading, one of the nearest towns to me and she was running the event with her fella who was in the Ultra. I think she was just struck by the pain and the demoralising sensation of watching all sorts of runners pass her and the ‘loneliness of the long-distance runner’ in moments such as these as you watch yourself moving backwards through the field… So the pair of us crocks just spoke of running, injuries and our philosophies on running, foodstuffs and the like - the easy common-ground for all us people on these silly adventures, and before you knew it we were both able to manage a jog at times, taking us both in to the finish in a not too disrespectful time considering we were both falling apart at the seams!

Beachy Head lighthouse.
This race was certainly a frustrating run for me in not being able to push myself, but also valuable in learning that sometimes you just need to take a break and a rest to assess things, manage a muscle and to then push-on to the finish. I know I have been through similar with tearing my calf muscle, but that was far more serious than this as it is just a ’strain’ so it was certainly a case of figuring out the limits of it and to work around it so it would not be worsened… Time for a bit of a rest till the next event and hope it heals as I’m really looking forward to my second visit to Exmoor and one of the tougher CTS courses down there.

Oh and hopefully I’ll remember my camera for the next run so I won’t be relying on my phone!

Eat pies.
Drink beer.
Run far.