Running for the pies

Running for the pies

Sunday, 15 May 2016

17th January: CTS Dover

Two weeks in to the new year and its time for my first marathon of 2016 down on the south east coast in Kent, where in another first, this run was the Inaugural Coastal Trail Series Dover event.

Previously the January race of the series has been on the isle of Anglesey on the most north westerly tip of Wales (and a ball-ache for me to get to), so whilst it was a shame to not be running up and down Mount Anglesey and its surroundings, it was certainly a far more convenient journey. I was also intrigued as to what the course here in Dover would be like, when my only experience of it is passing through the port whilst escaping to mainland Europe!

Following my normal plan I drove to the event base for midnight. Finding there was no available parking nearby I pulled-up on a verge at the side of the road and hunkered-down for a kip… A slightly more comfortable one than previous time as I had fitted a ‘rock n roll bed’ in the back of the van.

In the midst of a week long cold-snap, I knew it would be a chilly night, but even with the floor, walls & ceiling of the van insulated and foiled ‘space blanket’ panels covering the windows, I woke up to find a thin layer of ice on the inside of the glass!

It turned out I was opposite the field which was the event parking, so I drove across the road and breakfasted as the sun slowly rose before heading down the hill to the visitors centre at the Coastguard base and registering under the watchful gaze of Dover Castle… At least with how cold it was there was no danger of the van getting bogged-down in mud whilst I went off gallivanting!

Frosted grass and a quiet port.
The ground was crisp underfoot and whitened with the frost. As the sun rose over the becalmed harbour beneath us we could see there were no clouds in the sky, so today’s race, whilst cold, was looking to be in glorious sunshine with cracking visibility and maybe a little bit of warmth from the winter’s rays - well you can but hope!

The castle perched above everything.
As it was the first time running the course, all we had to go-on before the race was the published map of the route on event organisers Endurancelife’s website, which whilst an OS one, you still really need to be ‘on the ground’ to put a context to everything… From what I could tell it was a figure of 8 of equal halves with the southerly one first before the northerly and a very steep climb in both halves.

Parading along the promenade.
After the briefing we were off descending the cliff path and the pavement in to the centre of Dover itself before heading up and out the other side of the cliff road. I was making good pace at the start towards the back of the leading bunch with all this descending, but after we had made our way out the other side and found ourselves climbing the steep path alongside the A20, all the signage had disappeared. Like sheep we must have blindly followed the leaders past a right turn… Decision time now: turn back and re-tread 1/4 mile downhill and repeat the ascent the other side of the wall, or forge onwards with the climb, cross the road and tack-around till you pick-up the course again. I chose the latter alongside a couple of others and soon enough we rejoined the course on the edge of a housing estate, having not gained an advantage of cutting distance or disadvantaging ourselves by adding on a good half mile like the others did.

Looking back on the port on the way up and out.
The cliff-top path looming large (we diverted right at the base of the hill).
Back on the course we were now heading down away from the A20 and Dover, passed the ventilation shafts for the channel tunnel down to our left, before running through a tunnel that spat us out in open countryside beneath the cliffs, following the trail along through a nature reserve and over the pebbled beach parallel to the railway in the direction of Folkestone.

About to enter the cavernous hole.
Inside the tunnel.
Along here I found myself running with a local guy raised in Deal and who was loving the chance to run in a race where he grew-up. He explained to me that the nature reserve we were on was reclaimed land made from the spoil of the channel tunnel excavations. They deliberately piled it all up there to protect the railway line which kept on being damaged by storms and high tides. The net result was a good 50m of extra land extending out in to the sea around 5-10m higher than what there was before and stretching for a couple of miles!

Hitting the shingle of the beach.
He was very impressed to be so far in front of the field, to which I explained about those at the very front having taken a wrong turn so they were about 10 minutes behind, so expect within about 15 minutes to half an hour to have a steady stream of people come passing by!

A stream on the beach.
Soon I was by myself again as I picked my way over the boulders and mud that was making up the going underfoot as it changed from the grassy nature reserve to the pebbled beach.

Under the white cliffs.

Back across the beach
Looking forward along the sea wall.
Progress along here was considerably slower, but under the sunny skies it was nonetheless enjoyable; just you the waves beside you and the birds calling above… A quick scramble up on to the sea wall and a short blast along here we had reached roughly 10k and the furthest away part of the initial loop - and the climb up over the famous white cliffs… The steep promise on the map. This was slow, hot and heavy progress: step after step until finally the top was reached and the first of the day’s aid stations.

Starting the climb up the cliff.
Crossing the railway bridge.
Back on the cliff top path we were soon cooled by the breeze as from our on-high vantage point we could see Dover getting bigger in the distance as we headed back towards it and the halfway mark.

Looking down on the sea-wall we had just run along.
'Operation Stack' in force on the HGV's approaching the port.
Approaching the town centre, we detoured to the left, climbing towards the wartime fortifications on the ridge-like hill with the rest of the town of Dover below us to the left. Up here with the sun able to hit the ground, the hard icy surface had given way to a slick muddy trail underfoot and some people were skating all-over the place through not having footwear adequate for handling these conditions!

Rampaging over the ramparts.
From the fortifications it was back down to the sea front and the reverse of the initial mile under the castle, before climbing back to near the start and continuing round overlooking the now thronging ferry port. On the path here, the chalky mud was sticking to your feet like shit to a blanket - filling your grips and making your trainers useless for any purchase on the ground and weighing a ton as you tried not to slide all over the place.

Just about to drop in to the town centre.
All alone with the crisp clear air, cracking views and slow progress through the cloying mud, for the first time in a while at a race on went the iPod and shuffling through there were a couple of cracking tracks that made the next couple of miles along the cliffs, down to St. Margaret’s and the slow climb up the steps on the cliff face fly past. I always find the miles 15-20 psychologically the hardest of all in a marathon as you have just gone past the halfway and the end is not yet on the horizon, so I’ll take anything to help with the slog!

Climbing back out the far side of the port.
Soon we descended into Kingsdown and the promenade along to Deal before the turn for home… It was along this stretch I was caught by a couple of familiar faces in the form of Cliff & Roxi, a pair of Canicross runners from ‘back home’. The 3 of us made our way along the flat tarmac to the aid station before they pushed-on leaving me to keep on trucking with just my tunes for company.

Claggy mud!
From the turn it was pretty much uphill to the end, so I tried to push as hard as I could as the sun began to wane, the shadows lengthening and the chill factor rising (or should it really be plummeting?)… After a few miles I caught Cliff & Roxi again as they were slowing down through Cliff picking-up a knee niggle and they were praying for the end to come sooner rather than later, as with only a couple of miles to go it would be quicker to struggle to the end rather than any thoughts of dropping-out!.. When they had passed me they had taken-on another dog from a third runner who had to drop-out through injury approaching the halfway. This meant Cliff was attempting to get a dog he knew, but had never run with before, to run in sync with his faithful hound and obey his commands and do things at his pace, which was adding further stress to just getting round the course in one piece!

Lengthening shadows.
As the sun nearly disappeared over the horizon in front of me I eventually I crossed the line after a touch over 28 miles with the ground beginning to freeze-over again in the darkening skies, for a 74th place finish out of 127 who toed the line at the start.

Waning sun on the final leg.
I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by the scenery through which we ran - including the ubiquitous white cliffs, and running beneath them you appreciate their size and majesty all the more.. When you say Dover, you think dull, grey and industrial as all you tend to see is the road in and the port, with the town itself hidden over the other side of the cliffs, however there is a helluva lot more than just the port and town: there’s miles of rolling cliff-top hills and fields to either side of it and to the north.

Sunset over the port.
The difficulty grading of this course is only given as a 2/5 (although Endurancelife’s difficulty ratings would have a standard town-centre marathon as about 0.1/5) it still has plenty of challenge and a relentless final 10k of uphill slog, plus scaling and descending the white cliffs twice is not the easiest of feats… At least I can now say I went up and down them twice in a day!

Cliff & Roxi crossing the line.
For the record, these are the tracks on shuffle that accompanied my trek:

Dido - Slide
Jamie Myerson - Revisions 

Metallica - The Struggle Within
New Order - Mesh
The Beatles - A Hard Day’s Night
Flowered Up - Phobia
Pixies - Ana
IAM - Petit Frère
The Stone Roses - I Wanna be Adored
Crowded House - Fall at Your Feet
Trinity-X - Forever
Goldie Looking Chain - Time to Make a Change
Manfred Mann - Doo Wah Diddy 

Iron Maiden - Iron Maiden
Rui de Silva - Touch Me
INXS - Kill the Pain
BT & Tori Amos - Blue Skies
Basement Jaxx - Fly Life
Carter USM - Second to Last Will and Testament
Louis Armstrong - We Have all the Time in the World
Jellyfish - The Ghost at Number One

Eat pies.
Drink beer.
Run far.

Monday, 9 May 2016

1st January: Forthcoming in sweet '16

Looking to the new year, I’ve already booked in to races that will have me going further than before and races that will be physically harder than before, all part of pushing myself further and (hopefully) faster… I will be racing quite a few of the runs I have done previously, so the aim is to better my times on every race that I have previously run (injury permitting). The ‘A’ race out of them all for me is without doubt the Lakeland 50 in the last week of July… So training in effect starts now as I really cannot afford to turn-up ill-prepared for that, especially with my desire of a sub 16 hour finish to qualify for a place in a future 100.

As such, once the CTS series finishes I’ll be hitting some ultras to prepare myself for the LL50, one of which in the Lake District, and will attempt to recce the last 15 miles of the course from Ambleside to Coniston so as to have covered at least part of the course that I will most-likely end-up traversing in darkness!.. Plus it means an excuse to go up there for another time :)

Over the last couple of months of the year I neglected my training, which in part was responsible for failure to hit a sub 4 hour time in a marathon, with my weight steadily creeping higher over this time to the point I am at the heaviest I have been for a while, and now to the point I could ideally be some 2 stone lighter come the LL50, so one of the goals must surely be to drop down to this ready to toe the start-line!

The other goal is notionally to cycle 3,000 miles and run 1,500 miles over the course of the year, with no stipulation on the number of times I must run or ride, nor the distances that each should cover… Its just that with figures that high then it means I WILL have to go out more times this year as the distances are double those I put under my belt in 2015. That said, these goals are something to push towards so if I do not achieve them then I will not be beating myself up over not hitting them… A sub 4 hour marathon at some point would still be a great goal to achieve as well!

Eat pies.
Drink beer.
Run far.

20th December: Portsmouth Coasting

I ran the Portsmouth Coastal Marathon today for the third time… Not much else to say really! I might as well put it all out on front-street here and admit that I was completely unfit and in poor condition to achieve my original goal for this race of a sub-4 hour time, so I just went out this morning to complete the run and round-off 2015 with a finish in my 50th marathon.

Last year I was slower than I had hoped because of the recovery from the flu, but this time my lack of pace was through a general malaise when it came to putting-in training hours over the weeks before hand and readily getting in to the Christmas spirit of eating, drinking and being merry a bit more than I should have!.. Also going out for the 'Happy Hookers' Christmas meal the night before and eating 1.5 Christmas dinners and washing it down with a couple of pints was probably not ideal last-minute prep for race day!..

Well I managed to drag, or should that be wobble my arse around the course, which is flat and fast (and pretty unspectacular for photography), to chalk-off a pretty big milestone even if it was in an underwhelming manner.

At the finish the goody-bag had a buff - always useful, a bottle of beer and the finishers medal which has a built-in bottle opener.

I was met at the finish by my long-time friend from Uni and Pompey resident Claire, to whom I am scheduled to hand the baton to in the Great British Relay in 2016, so had a good recovery cuppa and chin-wag at her sea-front gaff overlooking the sea as the sun waned and set before heading back home, fortunately to no LSS with a broken nose like last year... LSS insists that Spud did it deliberately in revenge for taking him to the vets a couple of weeks before to have his nuts off!

So here ends 2015's adventures, and here's to 2016 and bigger things with any luck!

Eat pies.
Drink beer.
Run far.

13th December: Jelly!

I’ve enjoyed having a chew on the occasional Cliff ‘Shot Blok’ since I first came across them at the Portsmouth Coastal marathon a couple of years back and when on occasions I have been given a free pack at races, or seen them at aid stations, they have always been gratefully received by me… So I looked in to what they are and what they offer you, then had a bit of lateral thinking on the matter:


It turns out that jelly cubes offer you twice the hit of sugar/ carbs by weight as do energy gels and ‘shot bloks’!.. So before the Dorset CTS I had stocked-up on some packs and chucked them in my backpack for eating on the run, and I have to say they are a success. I certainly got an energy blast off them, much more than with gels and they will become a regular staple for me from now on… There are a couple of drawbacks though over the commercially available things like ‘shot bloks’ though:

The slabs of jelly cubes are far tougher to chew over ‘shot bloks’ which have a gum mix to soften them rather than being pure jelly, so it certainly takes a while to tear and chew your way through them, although it does make you feel like you are eating something more substantial than a gel as you make you way through them. Because of how solid they are and the fact they are a dehydrated/ concentrated sugar solution they can dry your mouth quite noticeably so you need to slurp a drink every now and again as you go along to prevent cotton-mouth!

The nutritional details on the back of a jelly pack.
Cost-wise a pack of jelly is around the 70p mark, as opposed to a gel which is £1 to £1.50 and you get twice the punch by weight as the gel - ok some experts out there will say that the sugars in gels are different and are absorbed quicker etc. but at the end of the day sugar is sugar and when you are not competing at the front-end of a race are the ‘marginal gains’ that a different rate of sugar absorption offers really that important?

There’s also plenty of flavours out there to choose from so you can mix-up what you are carrying rather than being stuck with all one flavour over a long distance run… Below I have drawn-out a simplistic comparison between gels and jelly with the common factor between the two being weight (or as close as I can for parity’s sake) for a typical amount that would be carried for a marathon.

Gels                    Jelly

660g (10 gels)    675g (5pks)

£15 (10x£1.5)    £3.50 (5x£0.70)

Kcal/ 100g
144                     296


Double the energy punch of gels.
Half the cost of gels.
No leaky sticky packaging in pocket after eating.


Tough chewing.
Cotton mouth.
Non vegetarian/ vegan.

So on an energy return basis, so long as you are not a veggie or vegan who will not be able to have jelly, then jelly cubes give you 4x the energy over gels for the same spend (jelly half the cost and double the energy of gels so scaling to 1:1 on cost you get 2x jelly @ double the energy = 4x)… Something to chew over for all you endurance sports peeps out there, maybe we do not have to fall for the marketing all the time?

Definitely a stack of these bad-boys will be accompanying me in the future on my marathons!

Eat pies.
Drink beer.
Run far.

6th December: CTS Dorset

There is nothing happier on this fair planet than a dog with its head out the window of a moving car, and today I managed to experience exactly why they enjoy it so much, complete with jowls flapping in the wind!… Yep, today was a little bit on the blowy side to say the least!

The Coastal Trail Series Dorset marathon course is rated as a 5/5 difficulty and labelled ‘Extreme’ by the organisers Endurancelife.  This has to be one of my favourite courses out there: Yes its hard, but it also rewards you with the beauty of the views the tricky nature of the course throws your way.

Underfoot the course never seems to be too heavy-going even after prolonged bad weather with the majority of it covering the grass-covered chalk cliffs of the area which drain well and the only mud really to be found is the crossing of a farmer’s field at the most easterly point of the route… Rather than overcoming slippery conditions underfoot, the difficulty of this course is found in getting up and down the very steep and numerous cliff hills along the way.

Over the preceding week we had been warned by the Met Office about gale-force winds blowing-in that would make life interesting on exposed parts of the south coast, but at least it was forecast to stay dry for the duration, although with it supposed to be overcast all day and with the shortest day approaching, light may prove to be an issue for any late finishers on the marathon, with those in the ultra & ultra plus, bar the quickest in the field all but guaranteed a finish in darkness.

All registered in the simple quick, effective and painless Endurancelife ‘conveyor belt’ manner, I joined the throng awaiting the start in the relative shelter of Lulworth Cove, although the howl of the wind on the hills above could already be heard even from down where we were!

The upwards procession from Lulworth.
Off and running - or should that be hiking - up the steep ascent from the start line to the cliff-tops, we were soon exposed to the delights of the wind - blowing consistently strong the whole time, with gusts that forced you to a near standstill as you advanced in the face of it.

Looking back on passing the 'Dor
Scaling the first hill everyone was forced to tighten-up any loose clothing flapping in the persistent wind to prevent it from creating progression-hindering drag. At least we found shelter on the steep uphills as the ground shielded us from the onslaught, which kind of made you look forward to them for a change! Soon we had passed Durdle Dor, squinting to stare at the beautiful rock and its cove as your eyes struggled to stay open in the blast of the wind… Which was so strong on the way down the hills that it was physically blowing me off balance: I would line-up a step only to have the wind take me - all 15 stone of this idiot - and blow me a couple of inches sideways whilst airborne in mid stride, so my foot was landing away from where I would expect it to be. The problem was it was not consistent, as if it was you would simply aim a set distance to the side and land where you expect every time, but with the wind varying in speed and gusts you did not know how much you would be moved and trying to get your foot to land in a rutted track just over a foot-width wide was tricky and required a lot of concentration!

A good 10k of these to conquer!
After my experience on the Gower last time out with the wind driving rain and severely impairing visibility, I have decided to add another item to my kit to help me see in such conditions. With the tint on my sunnies too strong to be useful for seeing clearly in overcast conditions, I realised the clear lensed cycling glasses I use for night riding (which allow me to keep my eyes open and look at the road whilst protecting them from foreign bodies and the slipstream) would be perfect! So at one point where the wind was picking-up sand off the ground and blowing it into our faces I made the decision to stop, get them out of my pack and put them on; and immediately I began to scamper past those forced to slow-down with their hands in front of their eye to protect them.

The slow upwards slog.
This run from the start to the furthest westerly point of the course was an absolute hoot, and with the turn inland to the first checkpoint gave us some wooded shelter and a bit of respite before heading back to Lulworth a little higher up on the cliff-top ridge but now with the wind behind us. The mostly grassy undulating trail culminated with its sharp descent to the start line, with the added fun of the wind trying to blow you down the hill which felt like having two hands on your back pushing you downwards… This meant leaning back as much as you could but at the same time not altering your centre of balance so much that your feet slid out in front of you putting you on your arse on the very steep slope down to the visitor centre!

Along here I was blown sideways mid-air :)
About to descend to the visitor centre.
A trip around the shore of the cove itself and we were climbing up on to the cliffs and across the firing range… and the most evil hill of hills that is by far the biggest of these beasts on the whole Coastal Trail Series! The ascent was not as bad as my previous times through having the welcome assistance of the wind at our backs, so much so that as you approached the summit and the gradient levelled-off, the strength of it forced you in to a run over the final few metres… All well and good except after those final few metres is a barbed-wire fence with a narrow gate in it, so you had to aim for it whilst trying to slow down so as not to find yourself unwittingly blown on to the barbed wire.

Around Lulworth Cove itself.
A small respite was to be found on the flat cliff summit, being blown on our way from the wind at our backs roaring past our ears like a jet engine, passing the derelict tanks on the firing range before hitting the next of the hills. All the half marathoners were out here at the same time as us marathoners and going up and down the peaks was a steady procession of runners, each watching the other being buffeted in the winds, trying to get a clue as to how to deal with the conditions, sometimes nearly being blown over as they went, groups of people moving tightly-packed together trying to utilise fellow runners as wind-breaks with plenty of shouted conversations and laughter to be heard.

'That' hill!
This section has a series of steep ups and downs punctuated by the third checkpoint and its welcome respite, before continuing a couple more miles eastward over farmland to the edge of Kimmeridge Bay with its nodding donkey pumping the oil and our turn for home.

Another tricky descent!
Crossing the muddy farmer’s field, we turned from the wind at our backs to being hit broadside, to being blown backwards again as we ascended on to the coastal ridge and a dawning realisation that this return was going to be fun as the wind ripped in to us once more… A good 7 miles of slog in to the relentless blast that was strengthening as the day went on.

It was a case of safety specs on again, lean in to wind and make as quick a pace as I could. The downhills were very amusing being almost blown back up them, allowing you to lean ridiculously far forwards without losing balance; the blast so strong as to catch your cheeks and blow them out. At times I was struggling to breath with the force of the wind at my mouth so had to cup a hand over my face as I went to cope better.  Along the ridge and over the hills, another respite was offered with our descent from the ridges north side towards the abandoned village of Tyneham, mercifully affording us some more shelter. although the pay-back was the long slow ascent to the final aid station, the most exposed of the day, and the last leg to the finish line.

Counting the bumps to the finish.
From the aid station we were back on to the ridge and the rest of the course to the finish was laid out to see before us. Scanning the horizon for the finish it was a case of working-out how many ‘bumps’ were needed to be traversed till the final descent in to the cove and the finish.

Cloud descending onto us blown in on the gale.
Eventually I made it to the line, exhausted but having loved every step, in what today was a proper battle with the elements… My time was not too hot, but hey, today was not about that as these CTS races are not flat-track PB routes, it was about getting to the end in one piece and enjoying yourself as much as you could along the way! Just a few hours away from the mundanity of a daily life out there jogging in interesting conditions and some cracking scenery. No music on today's run again either as the sound of the wind would have drowned-out everything and you needed to have total concentration for extended periods of time.

Damned sight more than '39 Steps'.
Leading to the Cove below.
Upon returning home and some homemade burgers, I looked-up the wind speeds for Lulworth out of curiosity and they were recording gusts in the mid seventies mph throughout the time we were on the course!.. I hope the weather calms-down in time for my final marathon of the year down in Portsmouth in a couple of weeks.

As a rule I don't normally 'do' selfies, as these runs are about the landscape in which I am plodding, but I couldn't resist: as you can see in this very unflattering image, I'm doing my impersonation of a dog with its head out of the car window with my jowls flapping away inflated by the wind!

Eat pies.
Drink beer.
Run far.