Running for the pies

Running for the pies

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

10th May: Fenix 2

Since I've started doing these little runs I have been recording them using a Garmin Forerunner 405cx.

Unfortunately a couple of years back I lost my original one at an event so had to get a replacement. At the time I was only able to get a second hand one which meant that the battery was of an undetermined age and condition, so whilst initially I could get around 7 hours of life out of it, over the last year this has begun to diminish markedly, especially in colder weather, to the point I picked-up another one on eBay to have as a reserve to start when during a race the battery dies.

Recently though the battery has been giving me grief as it will die at any point from 4 hours onwards, so rather than persisting in carrying 2 watches and having long runs split in 2, I decided to take the plunge and get a new watch especially with the forthcoming summer of ultras requiring longer timing than before.

Looking around I found I could get hold of a Garmin factory refurbished Fenix 2 for a fraction of the RRP (shipped over from the States) and for only £20 more than I paid for my original Forerunner... So I indulged myself.

The Fenix 2 seems to be designed for ultra running with a 16 hour battery on it, along with the built-in route following ability that allows you to drop a course in to it and follow visually, so if you drift-off you can see where you are in relation to it and correct yourself - something that could prove to be pretty useful!

The major thing in its favour is that it doesn't have the god-awful irritating touch bezel of the Forerunner that seemed to have a mind of its own and was temperamental in its responsiveness. This watch runs entirely on the 5 buttons in a fairly intuitive manner. Already I'm liking this, plus it works with the existing heart rate monitor and cadence sensor I use so there's no need to buy any accessories.

Another thing in its favour is the ability to charge it  whilst it is in use, so for the forthcoming Lakeland 50 that looks like it would push the 16 hour battery life to its limit, by taking its charging cradle and a small power bar in my running kit I will be able to top-up the power whilst in an aid station and not worry about it dying on me... Result!

I'm looking-forward to playing with my new toy over the next few months!

Eat pies.
Drink beer.
Run far.

3rd May: CTS Pembrokeshire... A marathon Spudding session.

Back to where it all began: The Endurancelife CTS Pembrokeshire Marathon.

In October 2012 I ran this as my first ever organised marathon - and it hurt, boy did it hurt! Then it was part of my challenge to myself of running 12 trail marathons in 12 months, something I managed to drag myself across the finishing line in achieving and have not looked-back since.

On that initial marathon, if you discount the 2 middle-aged ladies who set-out early with the ultra runners and walked every step of the way, then I finished dead last with the final few miles spent having to fight the urge to curl-up by the side of the trail and cry like a baby!

Ok so I’ve improved slightly since then and here I am again in the village of Little Haven on the Pembrokeshire coast for another ‘first’… My first marathon as a canicrosser with Spud as my willing companion.

Since LSS & I found Spud in the on-line classified site ’pre-loved’ (his owner was unable to look after him through illness so she put him on there for adoption) he has become a much-loved addition to the family and a very willing running buddy for the 2 of us. In fact running him has been a really good thing to do as it takes the edge off his continual need to be tearing around at 100mph all day every day - being a cross between a border collie and a springer spaniel he seems to have all the energy of the collie combined with the stupidity of the springer… But in a very loveable huggable kind of way!

As soon as he was old enough we have been taking Spud out on increasing distances and he is certainly ready to be taking-on a marathon distance, especially as now at this time of year it is not too hot or cold and the conditions underfoot being trail will not be damaging to his paws.

LSS joined Spud and myself on the 2 & 1/2 hour journey way out west for the day and we parked for the night over in Broad Haven for some kip before waking at dawn and making our way to the event base and registering for the race.

Excitement at the briefing!
Briefed on the jetty in the village centre, once the hooter went we were off and from the back of the pack starting point, Spud and myself deliberately made our way as far up the field as quickly as we could on the ascent out of the village. Knowing the course here I was aware there is a pinch-point getting on to the coastal path above the village that could have seen a very excitable Spud held in a queue for a few minutes to get through the gate and running again, so it seemed the sensible thing to do to get out of as many people’s way as possible and let them overtake us along the coastal path.

The coastal path with the dots of runners stretching along it.
On to the coastal path under the sunny sky we wound our way along the sheer clifftops to St. Brides where we descended to its small inlet and rocky beach. From her we turned inland by the church at Check Point 1 for a trip across the western peninsula of this bottom left corner of Wales, via the hamlet of Marloes, to the sheep-poo strewn WWII Coastal Command airfield.

Skipping up some steps.
Once across the flat couple of miles of the airfield and through Check Point 2 at 9 miles you begin the 10k loop of the southern peninsula with the slow easy descent in to the village of Dale… As we hit the outskirts of it we passed a window cleaner working with his dog left in his van, a dog that was not too pleased at all these people passing him by and was very vocal about this. Initially I though he was just having a shout at Spud, but from listening after passing you could tell how many people were behind and how close by the torrent of woofs still to be heard as Spud and I plodded away onwards to the shore.

A 'refined' view.
Through the centre of Dale, being at sea-level it was the start of the ascent back up on to the cliff-tops, and the undulating slog around the headland. On one ascent with the temperature rising I saw through a gap in a hedge a large pond holding water for the farmers fields. With us still being a few miles from the next aid station I ducked-under the fence with Spud to allow him to drink his fill… The pool was absolutely teeming with tadpoles and Spud was straight in there belly deep drinking the water and attempting to eat the tadpoles at the same time!

Teeming with tadpoles.
Passing the Coastguard look-out point we approached the lighthouse and the cottages at St. Ann’s Head, crossing a field to get to it… Unfortunately this field was full of cows, cows that had been wound-up by the passing through their field of countess ultra and marathon runners, and now there was someone with a dog invading their territory.

The cows were split either side of the well-trampled path and as Spud and myself, along with another 2 runners approached them they took a big interest in me and the boy and began to close in on us. To give Spud his dues he was not fazed by this at all, as when he is running that is all he concentrates on (unless he sees a squirrel) so he was ignoring the attention of these large slabs of beef. At this point I slowed a bit to allow the other runners a chance to get away from us as the cows certainly were not interested in them and Spud and I attempted to ‘run the bovine gauntlet’ and get to the exit of the field.

I was looking ahead for an exit strategy. The fence the path leads you to is waist height with 2 rows of barbed wire on top and you need to take a right turn against it and follow the fence for another 100 metres before arriving at the gate to leave the field… Which meant the two of us were potentially going to be pinned against the fence at any point along there.

Maintaining a constant pace Spud carried on running and ignoring what was happening but when we made it through the cows they all converged in a group behind us and began to jog after us matching our pace in the direction of the fence. Looking around I could see there were 2 leaders of the herd that the others were following. Turning my head to keep an eye on what was occurring I could see they were now beginning to speed-up and as we hit the fence there was now a real danger of us being pinned against it.

There were some holiday makers on the other side of the fence who could see what was happening and started shouting at me to let Spud go… The fence was too high to hurdle although I could easily get Spud over it by picking and throwing him across. The thing is Spud was fine with the situation and had not confronted or caused any direct issue with the cows and letting him go would put him and myself in direct danger if he was to bolt and panic the cows.

By this time the other 2 runners were through the gate so were now safe and very relieved! Assessing the situation I took the chance that the cows were really just curious and allowed them to keep following, but when they got to within a metre of my back I took the step of firmly turning my body as I jogged and holding my arm out to them with my palm up I shouted a firm ‘no’ to them. This made them stop which bought us an extra metre before they began to follow again, this time keeping their distance… I covered the last 20 metres or so to the gate with my arm out behind me, palm up and repeating ‘no’ every few paces until we got to the gate and mercifully through it with minimal faff and fumbling of the catch! A close call - although Spud was completely unaware of everything that had gone on and just wanted to keep on running!

Looking back at the lighthouse.
Relieved to have escaped we took it easy on the last couple of miles to Check Point 3, finishing the loop of the peninsula 16 miles in to the race, with Spud taking on plenty more water at the stop. All the Check Points at the Endurancelife events have tubs of water specifically for the dogs to drink from as part of being canicross friendly events. With us humans running long distances we need to keep ourselves sustained with food, and the same principal it is with dogs - I had taken some high-value treats (to dogs that is) for Spud on the run - a bag of cooked chicken and a bag of chopped Mattesons sausage. As a reward for successfully negotiating the cows I gave him most of the bag of sausage a bit at a time to keep his energy levels up.

Gateholm Island.
From here it was a return to St. Brides along a different route that was mostly on the cliff-tops, passing the sight of Gateholm Island before a quick trip north across the western peninsula and hitting the coastal path once more which will be our companion for the final 10k or so.

On this final 10k, having given Spud most of the chicken I took the opportunity to start a new trend - you may have heard of ‘nutscaping’ where men take a photo of some cracking scenery with one of their hairy ’plums’ blurred in shot at the top well I’ve thought of going one step further but on a tangent; taking photos of cracking landscape with a furry Spud in the corner or the bottom of the shot and calling it ‘muttscaping’… So here’s some of our efforts from the last 10k.

Crossing the finish line half an hour faster than my last effort on the course, Spud had more than taken it all in his stride - in fact as I sat with LSS (who was there to cheer us in) on the grass by the finish to recover my breath, he was straining to go run and play with the other dogs who had run the half marathon or 10k and were all chilling-out in the warm spring sunshine with their tired owners!

A happy chappy sporting his bling.
A cheeky pint in the pub on the quayside followed, where Spud was trying to look as pitiful as possible to cadge food off those eating their lunch before the three of us made our way back up the hill to the fun-bus and the drive home. Once the motor was running, Spud finally gave-in to the effort of the day and curled-up in his travel cage and fell asleep immediately for the entire trip, and well deserved it was too!

Eat pies.
Drink beer.
Run far.

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

17th April: Karrimor Pace Trail 2

With the forthcoming summer of ultras looming large upon the horizon, kicking-off in a matter of weeks with the Jurassic Quarter, I’ve found myself a new pair of trainers for wearing-out on the trail.

As the trail dries-out through spring into summer I move away from my trusty More Mile Cheviot’s and their hardcore tread on the sole to something that is a bit more ‘intermediate’: A trainer that offers grip on the mud still to be found after a summer’s rain on the trail, but one that is also comfortable enough to run in over hardened surfaces - something that Cheviot’s certainly aren’t, and nor were they designed to be!

In my quest for the best ’bang for my buck’ I’ve picked-up another pair of Karrimor’s - this time their ‘Pace Trail 2’ model in black to cope with the summer mileage.

I’ve found with Karrimor that they tend to ‘ape’ the design of Salomon, Inov8 and other ‘premium’ brands but at an rrp of around £20-£25 rather than the £60-£100 you would pay for the premier marques… Yes the ‘build’ quality does not seem to be as good as the premium brands, but they certainly are not 3 or more times worse, so they will always work-out far better in the value per mile stakes. Grip-wise they do not wear-down too quickly either - it always seems with me to be the uppers that give-out first, so loss of grip has not been something I’ve experienced so far.

My previous pair of Karrimor’s are over 400 miles to the good and are still surviving, albeit far closer to the end of their life than the beginning, which has motivated me in buying a new pair as I am not sure whether to trust them to not finally disintegrate over an ultra distance. One thing I don’t want is to end-up with a DNF through early avoidable trainer issues!

As I always do, I’ve put some sorbothane shock-absorbing insoles into them to help with lessening the impact when 15 stone of idiot comes in to contact with the ground over the forthcoming runs. Safe to say I’m looking-forward to getting some decent mileage out of this new pair over the next few months until I finally manage to kill them off and so long as they get me through the Jurassic Quarter, the UT55 & the Lakeland 50 then I’ll be a happy bunny.

Eat pies.
Drink beer.
Run far.

Monday, 26 December 2016

10th April: CTS Exmoor

I'd been looking forward to getting down to Exmoor for a second run at one of the tougher Endurance life Coastal Trail Series marathons.

I say 'tougher' and that is by Endurancelife’s standards: In just over the standard marathon distance it gives you a vertical mile of ascent, so this course in effect offers you the same challenge-wise as the 'junior' of the Skyrunner series in the British Isles, the Peak Skyrunner, which comes-in at a near identical ascent over 29 miles… It's certainly not a course for the faint-hearted!

This year there had been a slight tweak to the course in that the start and event base was not to be at the Hunter's Lodge pub as before but up on the top of the cliffs just along to the east on the edge of Martinhoe, with the figure of 8 course run in the reverse of my previous time, with the easterly loop the first of the two to be conquered before the shorter but more exposed westerly loop.

What its all about, waking to sight like this!
Following my normal ploy of arriving at midnight I had parked-up and enjoyed a night's kip in the back of the van and when dawn broke and registration opened I went off to undergo the quick and painless process that Endurancelife have managed to make work well for them.

Somewhere under the rainbow...
Walking across the field to the marquee there were some rain clouds hanging ominously behind it with the beginnings of a rainbow arcing across the sky.

First ascent of the day.
The start was a mercifully benign one for a a CTS race: normally you are straight in to a climb, but today from our elevated position it was a good long downhill blast heading eastward to the valley bottom, however with hitting the bottom comes the inevitability of a big climb looming.

God-botherers a go-go.
Ascending to the valley of the rocks it was mercifully nowhere near as windy as it had been on my previous visit and I managed to crack-on making good time through the wooded surrounds as we hit the ’Tarka Trail’. Soon we were hitting the first of the lung-bursting climbs (the kind that makes your Garmin pause as it detects no lateral movement; you just seem to move vertically), as we wound our way up the steep sloping cliff as we overlooked the god-botherers of Lee Abbey below us with their large hill-top crucifix standing-out defiantly against the sea and the wind.

Heading East.
Once atop it was a blast through the ‘Valley of the Rocks’ with its short grassy track well manicured by the wild goats of the area, before we entered the village of Lynton and the descent to the river, following the contours of it round to CP1 after 7 miles at Hillsford Bridge and the short jog on to the idyll of ‘Watersmeet’.

Meeting the water.
From the river at Watersmeet it was another climb back up on to the cliff-top path where I came across a fellow runner who looked like he was on his knees in prayer whilst he was attempting to solve an issue with his kit. I offered a helping hand, but without something like a screwdriver to re-attach an unyielding clip onto a plastic tube, a losing battle was being fought so I wished him the best of luck and carried along my merry way, which was a beautiful slight descent of over a mile in length overlooking the cliffs towards Lynmouth and Lynton before the drop to the sea front.

Praying to the god of kit-repair.
The weather that had threatened to pour with rain had not materialised with the sun now fighting its way out and warming us up noticeably when we were sheltered from the wind, making the climbs all the harder for this.

Off we go chasing the horizon.
Soon after passing some bemused goats on the steep cliffs, we crossed through the grounds of the abbey with some freshly born lambs in the field beside the route and we were through to the halfway mark at CP2 and the end of the easterly loop.

Waterfall en-route.
Nearly back on the top!
On the western half the first challenge is to climb back up to the cliff-tops once more. In the past this has been shortly after the start and the entire field has been stretched-out Indian file along the switch-back path as we all sped-walked up the lung-burster! This year there was no queue and in the heat, the first strong sun of the year, with a half marathon already under my belt it was an effort to keep-going. Fortunately I was on this section with another runner, so we were able to grouse about this section as well as talk the common talk of the trail runner. It seemed that in the valleys just behind the cliffs they experience their own micro-climate. Sheltered from the wind, with the heat beating down it brought out all the moisture in the undergrowth and made it uncomfortably humid.

On the cliff-tops and Westward-ho we go.
Once back on top of the cliffs it was a lot easier to get moving consistently under the bruising sky as an ominous-looking cloud moved towards us threatening rain. As we wound our way along the coastal path with its undulations till we reached the furthest westerly point and we tabbed inland across the moor through CP3, passing the cairn on Trentishoe Down and the silent woody descent where you feel that there is not another soul for miles around.

Crossing the moor.
Turning left at the cairn.
Following the trail we wound our way across to the Hunter’s Lodge and a final sun-drenched climb up to the coastal path for the last mile and change taking-in the sumptuous views across to the distant Gower peninsula in Wales, where the CTS has a November race. Looking down in to the coves as I ran I spotted a seal calmly swimming around on the hunt for some fish, the first time in many a year that I have spotted one in the wild.

Always bittersweet seeing these signs... One more mile of pain but only one more mile of views like this!
On a high from this I crossed the finish in the spring sun, cream-crackered but happy to have finished the race in one piece… Last time out I suffered equipment failure with my Vango hydration pack failing to any longer hold-on to the 'mandatory equipment' pouch that I carry the items in, which led me to get a Camelbak (which I still run in) and with shredded feet - which were doused in the stream by the Hunter's Lodge in the fresh freezing water to clean them and numb the pain. This time round it was down to the Hunter's Lodge with fellow runner Luke for a post-run pint before heading home for a welcome shower and some burgers!

Eat pies.
Drink beer.
Run far.