Sunday, 29 October 2017

Breamore House 10K

I'm just back from the inaugural Breamore 10k. Breamore is an Elizabethan manor house completed in 1583 that sits on a hilltop north of Fordingbridge, on the edge of the New Forest.

M had gone off to a race in Dorset, so for the first time I was going to a race on my own. I like to arrive an hour before the race starts, just to be on the safe side. All was going well until I realised I'd turned left instead of right at Fordingbridge and so ended up in Ringwood with only half an hour to go before the race started. The forest has strict speed limits so I couldn't whizz the nine miles back to Breamore, which in any event is tucked down a little-signposted narrow and ancient country lane. I turned round and tried to stay calm as I went back up the road I'd just driven down, arriving with ten minutes to spare and a heart rate elevated before I'd even run a step. I parked in the field, pulled off my warm layers and hurtled round to the registration tent to collect my number and tie the timing chip round my ankle.

The race director was in full pre-race briefing mode by the time I got there. I spotted my friend Anna so made my way over to her and asked if I'd missed anything important. Only a word of warning about pheasants loose on the course, she whispered back, grinning.

We walked to the start, up a small hill incline, and waited five minutes or so in the cold wind for ten o'clock to chime, discussing how ill-prepared we were for the race. I'd had no time to warm up and hadn't even glanced at the course map; Anna had last run on Monday at Club and was feeling under trained.

We were in mid-chat when a horn sounded and suddenly everyone was running. The start took you up a reasonably significant hill which after a few minutes had some people walking. I said goodbye to Anna and surged off, feeling relatively fit and strong despite a fast parkrun yesterday. I'd put in an 8 mile training run over some hills with the hounds on Wednesday and could feel the benefit of it in my legs.

I got past a few folks and tried to settle into a rhythm, but soon realised this race was either up hill or down; there were relatively few flat bits. After a couple of miles the competitors were pretty spread out, with the same four or five people up ahead and one lady running with me. I'd get ahead on the hills; she'd whoosh past me on the downhills. She was a triathlete, about twenty years older than me and fit as a flea. I knew I was going to have to work hard not to let her get ahead of me.

One long hill half-way round bit, and lots of people were walking. I was dead chuffed to run the whole way up, even if it was snails-pace running. The downhill reward was short lived though- we rounded a corner in a field and were faced with a long, steep hill that wound up into woods. I ran about half way then decided walking was a better option. 

Once at the top I picked up the pace again as a nice downhill carried me back to the start. Here the 5k runners finished and the 10ks went round the loop again. Sometimes laps can be helpful- you know what's coming and you can prepare, but on this race we all knew that it was hills, and more hills ahead. I got half way up the next one (on gravel tracks) and decided to pull back some energy by walking. Anna was coming down the hill so we waved and consoled each other about the gradient.

The walking break worked; feeling restored I pushed on and managed to overtake a couple of people ahead, including the triathlete lady. She stayed just behind me though; hearing someone breathing on your shoulder puts the pressure on and I was waiting for my breath to come back so I could put a bit more distance between us.

The huge hill came round again before I knew it and this time I knew I wouldn't be able to run up all of it. Just as we came out of a farmyard and started the ascent, the lady I'd run past moments before suddenly tripped and fell, flat on her face; a swan dive onto the ground. I stopped and helped her up. Luckily she was OK but I expect it shook her up.

I carried on, the triathlete ahead of me again. I was on her heels though and as she was by now walking she kindly moved to one side so I could get past. Then I needed to walk and she got past me again. Cat and Mouse.

Down the hill, along the hedge line, round the corner, back up the big steep hill, another lady in her 60s ran past me. I congratulated her, then she started to flag so I ran by, then I needed to walk again. The tri lady was hot on my heels, I glanced at my watch and told her we'd only got a km to go. Her watch had stopped working so she was pleased to know that. There was a guy standing at the top of the hill who knew her: less talking, more running! he said, grinning as we trotted past him.

Once at the top I knew the final km was all downhill. There was no way I was going to let her overtake me on the final stretch so I pushed on, trusting that the improvements in my knee over the past fortnight particularly would carry me safely down the steep, pebbly track. It did and I flew, resolutely refusing to think what would happen if I tripped....It was my fastest km of the race: 4.34, I was chuffed. I am getting faster again after a summer of nurse-maiding an injured knee and not really being able to compete and that feel's good.

I got back just under the hour, which shows how steep the race was as I can usually do a 10k comfortably under 53 mins, and if I'm pushing it, closer to 50. I got my medal, grabbed a bottle of water and then chatted to the tri lady who came over to congratulate me and to say thank you for helping her get round. I grinned and told her she'd made me fly down the last hill because I knew if I hadn't, she'd have come past me.

Then I went to wait for Anna. She wasn't far behind and I cheered and clapped as she ran down to the finish, looking elegant as usual. The organisers had put on tea and cake for everyone, so we sat in the sun-dappled courtyard while the prize-giving happened eating the most delicious stodgy, gooey, chocolatey fudge cake and drinking tea from china cups, nattering about the race and about her daughter, who is an ultra marathon runner and has a second attempt at a 100 mile race coming up.

It was a top race, which I really enjoyed, and a lovely setting too.

Hope you're all well?

CT :o)

The only flat bit - the car park!

Breamore House

Monday, 23 October 2017

Blenheim 10k

It was another early start on Sunday to get to Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, near Oxford, for the rotary 10k. I had gone prepared with woolly hat and gloves (much to M's amusement), but I had the last laugh because it was bloomin' freezing when we arrived. I'd just furnished us both with padded jackets to wear before and after winter races (cue much resistance from M who tends to eschew warm layers in favour of shorts and t-shirts in a hard-man sort-of way, regardless of the time of year, but I was fed up with worrying about him turning blue after races), and boy did they come into their own yesterday. The remnants of Storm Brian was making itself known and everyone was shivering and jumping up and down to keep warm.

I'd not been to Blenheim before; the house is a wonderful, honey-coloured Cotswold stone creation, home to the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough and birthplace of Winston Churchill. The park, which we ran through, was created from 1763 by Capability Brown, including the marvellous bridge above, which we ran over.

200 or so runners gathered at the start and set off at 10am towards the house. I was being cautious with my knee, so ran the first couple of kms on the grass either side of the metalled estate roads. After a while of this I got fed up with the number of people who were overtaking me, so decided to push on. It was a decision I did not regret- my knee was fine throughout and I have no pain, stiffness or discomfort in it today, so it was the right thing to test it a bit more.

The first hill bit and the people around me began to drop back. I caught up with the back runners of the lot who'd streamed past me over the first 2 kms and managed to hold my position once we'd reached the top of the hill. I don't think many people do hill work; it's the one area of a race I'm pretty much guaranteed to over take (my peers - not the speedy guys out front) and as such makes a difference to my mental approach when I'm racing. 

Anyway, we went on, me chasing a lady way ahead in a silver jacket whom I'd set my sights on. She was running really strongly so I figured it was going to take me a while to catch up with her. In the mean time I caught up with a much older lady who'd zoomed past me at the start and was pleased when I got past her. Then came a tubby chap who was puffing and heaving away. I got past him and ran on to catch the next person on my list: another bloke, this time one who tried to speed up as I drew level. I could tell from his breathing he was working quite hard and was pretty sure he wouldn't keep up the increased pace and I was right. After struggling to stay with me for a few paces he dropped back too. 

Next I was overtaken by a young woman in full-length running tights and a full-length top with a pony tail that swished back and forth as she ran. Too many clothes, I thought, she'll never keep that pace up, and I was right: no sooner had the second hill bit than she slowed right down and I sailed on past. 

The lady in the silver coat was still too far ahead and I didn't seem to be gaining on her. I prayed silently for a proper hill and one appeared. I made up a few more places there and gradually, gradually, began to catch up with her. She looked a very proficient runner with a strong, economical, competent style and an elegant stride- she was fast and she made it look easy. As we came to the top of the long hill my lungs were aching fit to burst and my legs felt like someone had superglued a pair of irons to my feet, but I'd closed the distance between us to a few metres and there was no way I was going to let her extend it again. I pushed on, and, as the land did me another favour by sweeping downhill for the next km or so, I decided it was worth quickening my pace more in order to catch and go past her. 

This is where training helps. My fitness has got a lot better over the past couple of months of concentrating on competing at 10k level most weekends (these races are faster than half marathons), and I was able to draw on that, accelerate and go past her. I called out a well done! as I went, which she called back. Then I felt a moment's panic that I'd gone past way too soon in the race because I knew she'd be chasing me and I wouldn't be able to see how near she was. There were still about three miles to go. If I'd worked too hard too quickly I'd soon run out of energy and she'd get back in front. Grimly, I ran on, trying to get my breathing back under control without slowing down.

It didn't last long; as the land levelled out she drew alongside and sailed past, looking strong and serene. Her breath was steady and rhythmic too. Hmmm. The battle was on, clearly. I decided to let her do the work for the next couple of kms and slotted in behind her for a rest, trying to not let her get too far ahead of me. 

At the start of the race I'd done my usual, breezy: oh, I'm not competing today; my knee isn't quite there yet. I'm just going to enjoy a nice trot round. I think M has stopped bothering to contradict this as he didn't say anything. Of course, it's complete rubbish: I simply can not run in a race and not find at least one person I want to come in ahead of. So it continued; the lady in silver effortlessly sweeping on ahead and me running determinedly behind.

Another hill; I overtook her; another levelling out; she sailed past me. I hung on grimly to her heels as we turned into the final 2km of the race. I felt she was stronger and I was tiring. The path turned off the metalled roads at this point and onto rough stones. Yipee! I thought this is my kind of terrain! Maybe it gave me a mental boost, knowing how much other runners detest grass and stones. 

A little further up I could see a grey-haired man walking. As we drew up beside him I asked him if he was OK. I glanced at him and could see he looked a bit pale. He said yes then a minute later appeared at my elbow, running once more. Thank you so much for checking I was OK, he said, I was actually just being lazy, although I do have to watch my heart rate doesn't get too high. We fell in beside one another and started chatting, and before I knew it, because I'd stopped concentrating on catching the Silver Lady, suddenly we'd gone past her. She picked up her pace to catch up and the three of us ran the next half kilometre together, talking about the course, the winds that had been a struggle to run against and how pretty a setting this was for a race. 

As the course turned left off the grass and back out onto metalled roads, a km from the finish, she said she was going to try for the finish, and off she went. I stayed with the grey-haired chap, who had told me he'd wanted to get round in under 60 mins as he'd just turned sixty. I told him we'd run together and each make sure the other made it. Silver Lady was now some way ahead but I was having such a nice chat with the grey-haired chap, who told me he wouldn't have started running again if I hadn't asked how he was, that I thought well, I'll just stay with him and make sure he gets back under his 60 mins. I'd had a great run, felt I'd run strongly and had no knee pain, I didn't really need to get in ahead of Silver Lady.....did I?

A short while on there was M with the camera, waving and yelling. We were now only a hundred metres from the finish. Do you want to sprint? I asked the grey-haired chap, but he waved me on: No, you go for it.  So I did. Silver Lady was close to but not yet over the line. I wonder, I thought to myself. I went for it (of course). I ran as fast as I could, to the point that my legs stopped feeling like they belonged to me and I was convinced I would either a) fall over or b) not be able to stop.

I caught her with seconds to go before the line and zoomed over it just ahead of her. Woo Hoo!

I turned back to see her finish and we grinned at each other. She came up to get some water and I told her I'd been chasing her the entire race and thanked her for making me up my game. She was lovely, congratulated me on pipping her to the post and told me she'd been training for a flat (and therefore fast) half marathon, which was presumably why she looked so competent in the 10k. M appeared and then shortly after that my grey-haired friend crossed the line. I introduced him to M, and he said your wife got me to the finish line, which I thought was very nice of him. He'd beaten his 60 minute time comprehensively.

The new puffy jacket went on and I felt warm as toast as we headed back to the car, another great race under our belts.

Onwards and upwards, eh?

CT :o)

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Storm Brian Buffets parkrun!

We woke up to high winds and driving rain this morning. Getting out of bed to drive over to parkrun before nine wasn't, I'll admit, an appetising thought, but on the other hand there's something exhilarating about being out in stormy weather, (I especially love running through it and coming home to a hot shower), so we got up, dressed in shorts and t-shirts and headed over to the local park.

There were a surprising number of people there, given the conditions. This morning's race was a cross country so it was wet and muddy. We set off at a brisk pace, buffeted about by the high winds and spat at by the rain. The first hill began to sort the men from the boys and I gained a few paces (always encouraging) up it, and managed to hold on to them on the following downhill.

It's a three lap course and I kept getting glimpses of M, and our friends Matt and Rob who were all up with the leaders. It was one of those runs where everything clicks into place (let's hope I haven't peaked too soon as we've got a race tomorrow!) and I felt comfortable and that I was running steadily and at times strongly. I wasn't especially fast, but I felt technically it was a good run. The wind trying to blow you off your feet in places didn't help with a speedy time and the puddles were interesting- lots of people tried to skirt round them, I just did what I usually do and ran through the middle. Great fun.

On the last lap I pushed on up the hill, got my breathing right and felt good all the way up, overtaking a few more tiring runners. The marshal at the top was trying to be supportive by telling everyone 'this is a horrible hill' but it made me reflect that, when you're marshalling, it's really important to be positive. Better to have said: "Great running, everyone! You're making that hill look easy!" instead of commiserating about how tough it was. Your mental approach makes a world of difference to the way you run, especially on the final lap of a race.

I found out last night that I won my age category in last week's race (by default really- the lady who won it also came top three in the whole race, and as you can't get two prizes for one race, I've slipped in), so I've got £10 prize money, free entry to next year's competition and a trophy! Dead chuffed- it's the first running prize I've won (unless you count our village fete fun run, which I don't :o) ). Anyhoo, I was thinking about this as I ran this morning and it really gave me a boost. Definitely a lesson to remember. Think strong: run strong.

I finished with a strong sprint and grinned when Conqueror of Mountains John said: how come you look so elegant when you're finishing and we all looked utterly ragged? Mainly because they'd all run twice as fast as me :o) Rob came in first place which was fantastic.

Brian is set to clear here tonight, so tomorrow's race should be a good 'un. I will report back. Lots of friends are running Abingdon tomorrow (fast, flat road marathon that gets used as a chance to nab a 'good for age' cat for London). Spare a thought for two Romsey Road Running buddies Captain Bex who's pulled her back and it's touch and go whether she'll be able to run, and buddy Brenda who hasn't had the best training run up to it and I know is approaching the race with less than confident feelings. Not ideal when it's a marathon, but she's hugely experienced and I have every confidence she'll pull it out of the bag.

Hope you're all having a lovely weekend, and managing to stay dry/ not get blown over if you're UK based.

CT :o)

Thursday, 19 October 2017

New Forest Stinger

Morning all,

Apologies for my absence and if I've missed any of your posts. We've had no internet for a week, ironically because it was being upgraded to faster broadband! All working now and much faster than it was before so the delay was probably worth it. 

L is happy. He dealt with the absence stoically, making sure he downloaded piles of books onto his kindle while at college :o). He has a reasonably light timetable this year so is often home during the day. This is lovely for me; he is very independent but it's just nice to have him around. This week, however, he elected to remain in college from dawn to dusk because they had internet connection. How quickly it has become an integral part of life. 

It's damp here today and the dogs and I have already been out for a four-mile run round the misty, muddy fields, so I am feeling virtuous. Last weekend we raced in The Stinger, a run through the New Forest. I did the 5 mile and it was hard work! The course is off road and goes through some beautiful countryside around Acres Down and Minstead, and has a couple of good hills thrown in for good measure. We were warned by the race director to watch out for rutting deer (stags in autumn are dangerous beings) but we didn't see any deer anywhere, and only a handful of ponies who stared out as us from beneath dripping branches.

There weren't all that many competitors which surprised us, possibly because many had run in the Hampshire Cross Country League the day before. Romsey did well across the three disciplines of half marathon, ten and five mile races. It's been a good year for the club. Poor old Mark, a club member who ran an ultra marathon across Exmoor at the start of the year and then succumbed to Glandular Fever, is now struggling with post-viral fatigue. He ran the first five miles of the ten mile race then was forced to walk the remainder home. He still managed to do that in under two hours!

My race went well, although I didn't have masses of energy having upped my mileage last week. I kept a steady pace and managed to pull back some lost places by overtaking on the hills. The last mile contains the sting of the Stinger- it is uphill all the way (more or less). This is especially sneaky because the half mile before it is all downhill and therefore lulls you into a false sense of security. Not having run the race before, and making the school girl error of failing to check out the finish before we started, I happily flew along the final downhill, putting in my fastest km, confidently overtaking the man in front and then putting a good distance between us, before seeing the hill looming ahead.

It wasn't especially steep; it just went on, and on, and on. I ran quickly up the first half, then slowed down to pick my way through sections of mud and clay which really zapped my energy. There was one runner ahead who was walking and for a while as I trudged onwards, (still running but by this time at the kind of pace a child walking briskly could have overtaken), I did think I might catch him. If the race had been a mile longer I probably would have done it, but as it was I was forced to walk myself at that point or fall over and so the distance between us remained.

The final 200 metres was delineated by orange tape with the finish gantry visible as you turned the final corner. I managed to sprint over the line and although my time wasn't particularly speedy, I was thrilled to come second in my age category.

I'm now back to pondering a Spring marathon. You may remember I had Edinburgh all lined up and ready to go, but have more-or-less decided not to do it and to find a trail marathon instead. There are a few contenders: The Neolithic (if it runs) and Stroud, both in May, appeal to me. The first task is to get the training for the Grizzly underway (starts mid Dec), and see how I feel after the long miles start to kick in (my training programme has 16, 17, 19 and 20 mile runs in it), but it would be nice to have a focus for a marathon too. Luckily, now the internet is back, I can spend as many hours as I want researching interesting, gnarly trail runs :o)

Hope you're all well?

CT x

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Running Through Autumn Fields

After four days off running to recover from the Clarendon, I was eager to get back to the fields, with only the badgers and the buzzards for company (and the dogs too, of course).

We set off around the edge of the resting field long since denuded of crops, enjoying the crunching sounds of acorns beneath the old oak. Blood red berries have appeared on the holly, a stark contrast to the haw berries which have matured beyond their plump, ruby red youthfulness into the leathery look of past-their-sell-by-date age.

We went on, past the small pits dug in the sandy soil marking the extent of the badgers nightly boundary patrols; past the hazel hedges hung with the frolicking tails of young male catkins; on round the corner where the remnants of this year's crab apples lie discarded in the soil, split from receiving the pressure of feet and wheels, slowly fermenting as they rot back into the earth.

Uphill now, and my breathing changes, deepening and tightening at the same time, as my lungs work harder to power me up the gradient and over the rutted ground. Sometimes, I wish for the simple lack of thought that road running offers; the ability not to concentrate on every single step. But not often, and not today.

A bird is singing somewhere in the hedge; I mark the song because it is different to the summer calls I've been hearing these past months. This one descends with a steady stream of even notes. I can't place it. Some newly arrived visitor perhaps, come to spend the winter.

We reach the hole in the hedge that marks the crest of the hill. I am grateful: my legs are tired. But I am also happy that we ran all the way. We duck through the hedge, coming out on the other side into a world where the plough has turned the earth from green to brown. The field before me is littered with shredded yellow petals; corn chamomile, which sprung up as the crop was harvested; a vibrant fragment of the living seed bed lying dormant beneath our feet. It looks like confetti scattered at some bucolic wedding.

We put our feet to the wet grass of the margins of the field, coming closer to the strip of ancient woodland where in springtime wild daffodils spill and tumble. Pop has shot on ahead but Teddy remains a little behind me, shepherding me safely down the hill. I pause mid-way and squat down to see whether the Ivy Mining Bees (who each September make this small borderland of field and wood their home), have survived the silver turning of the plough. At first I am concerned: all evidence of their holes in the sandy soil has gone. But then a crawling movement takes my eyes and I find one of them, then another, then a third. Eventually, I locate the small, neat spoil heaps that form outside their tunnels. They are still here; they are re-building. I smile, and make a mental note to tell the farmer next year so he can decide to avoid their nesting place. It's only a very small area to him, after all.

At the bottom of the hill the air is colder, the valley a tunnel trapped between two hills, funnelling chilled air left over from the night. We run on through it, me glad of my woolly hat and gloves, because last week when I ran this way without them it took fifteen minutes for the feeling to return to my fingers. Ted runs up beside me now, confident that he won't lose me, while I whistle for Pop, who emerges at the gallop out of the green lane, small brown face wet, leaping like a deer over tall grasses.

The dogs run on together up ahead, past where a small flock of skylarks are displaying over the Chalk. I count fifteen of them, soaring up above the ploughed land, singing and chasing one another. The dogs, eyes on the ash tree where squirrels tease them safe in the knowledge that dogs can't climb trees, miss completely the hare who is sitting folded up in silent stillness beside the path. He looks so much like a lumpen thing of soil that for a heartbeat I doubt the evidence of my own eyes. But as I get closer he unfolds; long ears rise from his back, long legs stretch out in strength and certainty, and he is no longer a creature made of earth and flint, but a living being of fur and blood and bone and muscle and sinew. He turns and sees me, and for one long moment our eyes connect and I am drawn into his world, into the wild where people don't belong anymore, and then he is off. Running slowly at first, as if testing the necessity, his paws sure and steady and certain on the earth. The dogs, with their backs to him, have still not seen him, so it is only I who stands and watches, spell-bound, as this creature of myth holding the magic of the ancient land in his paws, accelerates away up the flint chipped hill with breath-taking speed and simple ease.

It takes me a few moments to gather myself and then I call the dogs and we run on, past Badgers Wood where excavations have been taking place in preparation for a winter passed largely underground. I smile, as I always do, at the thought of the black-and-white bears of the night tucked up safely beneath the ground, warm and gently snoring in their carefully constructed subterranean chambers.

The path turns right past their sett up a long, long, long hill. It isn't steep but it challenges lungs and legs to just keep going. I know it well by now; I consider it my friend, although it was a friendship that exacted a price. It is my familiarity with this hill that enabled me to overtake people on the hills at Club on Monday. It is this hill that means I can accelerate on the inclines in races. It is this hill that enables improvements in my fitness even when I don't feel them. And always, the reward comes at the top, where the ground levels out and you can look back and see how far you've come. 

Trudging up it, trying to find my breathing rhythm, I nod to the buzzard who sits on a low branch of an ash tree dipping over the track. He watches me carefully. We see each other most days when I come this way and if he ever isn't here I find myself wondering why not and where he might have got to. As I pass beneath his branch, his amber eyes still rest on me and he rightly judges that there is no need to move. 

The dogs dip into the wood that runs parallel to the path as I push on up the hill. They re-emerge as I knew they would at the top where they pause, waiting for me to catch up. Pop is looking for a sign as to which way we are going. Ted is following Pop. Because sometimes we run on, tracking the line of the ancient hedge that weaves across the Chalk, an echo of the wood that once stretched right across this land. And sometimes we turn right through the hedge, back along the Roman road and down into the fields.

Today, I am feeling weary, so we cut through the hedge and run on down the farm track before turning right into more fields. Here, more pheasants scatter and stutter as Pop runs through them. She isn't interested in actually catching any; she simply enjoys watching them fly up squawking into the wind-tumbled air at her approach.

Ted has little time for pheasants, however; he runs on ahead of me, occasionally looking back over his shoulder to be sure I am still there. This is easy running now; a steady downhill on comfortable tracks where acorns pop and snap beneath our feet. The morning light strobes through the branches, glittering in the dew gathered on spiders' webs strung up along the hedgerows like threads left out to dry.

I have warmed up and my breath has evened out. My feet are falling onto the ground in a steady rhythm I feel I could keep up for hours and hours and hours. This is the simple joy of running; of freedom, of wildness, of light. This is the half hour that sets me up for the whole of the rest of the day, and all the days beyond it.

We pass through a gateway and track right, Ted following, Pop ahead. More pheasants explode into the air, flustered. At the bottom of the track the entrance to the Green Lane is marked with a stile: depending on whether you have two legs or four, you either go over or under it. A fallen tree blocks the way immediately after the stile. It's been there for years and we all three jump over it. The dogs go on down the green lane, I turn out into the field and run along the margin, beneath the collective boughs of oak, ash, sycamore, cherry, feet wet now but not caring, just enjoying being outside and feeling my heart pumping and my blood flowing.

The three of us meet up again at the bottom of the hill; the dogs emerge from the darkness of the ancient lane with their tongues lolling and tails wagging in joyful greeting. This is a routine we know well, the three of us: it's what we always do and none of us ever tire of it. It's a game- will we time our descent perfectly and all come out together, or will they get there before me?

Together, we turn right and whoosh up the final hill, the heaviness in my legs a pleasing testament to effort and achievement. From inside the old lane a Tawny Owl, unseen, hoots. The dogs pause to listen to this sound that isn't ordinary for the day, and he calls again, the sentinel of the night bidding farewell as light floods through his trees.

We reach the top of the hill, duck back through the hole in the hedge, run down the hill, back past the badger pits, back over the crunching acorns, back along the field's edge where summer's vegetation lies desiccating into winter, back to where the car waits to take us home.


Monday, 9 October 2017

Grizzly 2018 Ballot Results.

Today has been a nerve-wracking day: it's results day for the Grizzly 2018 race ballot, and my phone has been pinging all afternoon since the first set of results began coming out at lunchtime with friends who've either got in and are ecstatic or haven't and are sad.

You may remember me running the Grizzly Cub back in March of this year- it was the first real race I'd done: 9 miles over the cliffs and around the beaches between Seaton and Branscombe. The race is hosted by Axe Valley Runners and pulls in about 1500 competitors  from all round the country and a few from abroad split between the two distances (9 mile Cub, 20 mile Grizzly). M has been doing it for years, in all weathers and in all conditions. Some years I've sunbathed on the beach waiting for him to finish, others it's hailed and blizzarded, and one memorable year it blew a gale - Louise and I sat in a coffee shop staring out at the driving rain while bins and shop signs hurtled past the windows. Last year the Gods Of Grizzly were kind and the weather was just about perfect for running. The low-key, minimal fuss, no razzmatazz of it suits me perfectly. Instead of bells and whistles, it's all about the running. And the T-Shirt at the end of course, which has over the years achieved a kind-of cult status among trail runners. My Grizzly hat is one of my most prized possessions :o)

Last week, I heard back from London that I hadn't got a marathon place. This was no biggy as I had no intention of running it in 2018 anyway. It would have been handy because I could have refunded my Edinburgh entry on the strength of it, but c'est la vie. Out of the two, the Grizz was the one I really wanted.

Just after lunch I checked my phone and an email pinged up saying: Grizzly Ballot Success. I'm in! Yay! And this time I'm going for the Full Grizzly Experience: 20 miles of cliffs, bogs, pebbles, rivers and general hard-core running. Training starts mid-December, something the new trail shoes above will doubtless come into their own for. The other set I was advised to get were clearly sold by a road runner; they weren't gore-tex so at the first sign of wet weather running they baptised my feet soundly. These new inov8's are gore-tex'd up to their eyeballs and should keep my feet nice and dry through a winter's worth of marathon training. And you've gotta love running shoes that are called Trail Talons. If I'm feeling tired all I'll need to do is channel the wild energy implied and it'll get me round.

Hope all are well?


Monday, 2 October 2017

Clarendon Half Marathon

So, after a week of will I/ won't I, I decided on Saturday afternoon to go ahead and run the Clarendon Half. On the basis that when I'd run on Thursday, my knee had ached for the first couple of miles then been fine, and that my physio has been telling me to keep running.

We woke at 6am to fine drizzle, got up, had pre-race breakfasts of oats, seeds and fruit then M made tuna mayo and cucumber sandwiches (my pre and post race pick-me-up) while I made up two bottles of electrolytes. Gathering all the kit together is now down to a fine art, so we were off on time (8.25) to drive into Romsey to collect Matt and Ian who were also running.

We arrived at Wyvern college in Laverstoke a little after nine to find the hall rapidly filling with runners collecting numbers while JJ, (who, with a vast team of volunteer helpers organises the marathon, relay, half and 5 mile races, as well as all the walkers who also do the event but start earlier) talked people through various admin stuff on a megaphone.

Our running club had several members doing the full and half events and there were also lots of friends competing so it was all very social. We managed a group photo, taken by an old boy who told the men to stick their chests out. You can imagine what he said next to the ladies. There was a collective wince at this but he didn't seem to notice. 

There has been some hearty competition among the boys in the run-up to this race, with daily comparisons of training runs taking place each night after work on Strava. The fact is the four of them are all pretty equal in terms of speed so trying to keep the competitive factor low was always going to be impossible.

Friend Peat runs for Winchester and had done a maximum total of 6 miles as his longest training run for the Clarendon. He's a very experienced distance runner but that was cutting it fine even for him. M asked him what happened on a marathon to someone who'd only trained up to six miles, Peat's reply: that person gets to 16 miles and falls over.  We waited to see.

Friend and fellow club runner Sue was on her fifth of five consecutive races. In a little over 6 weeks she's done: The New Forest Marathon, the Solent Half, the Hursley 10k, the Dorset Beast and now the Clarendon Marathon. I asked her how she was doing, her reply: I'm tired. But Sue is WonderWoman so I suspected she'd pull something amazing out of the bag for this one.

Sue's husband was running the Clarendon Half as his first half marathon. I asked him how he was and he said bit nervous, because the Clarendon is not an easy run. It's hilly, it's long and it's all off road, plus it had rained last week and more was forecast for the day. Those kinds of conditions never make for an easy race. Mike did the Beast with me a month ago so I knew he was capable of the Clarendon, but nerves are nerves.

The marathon runners were called to the start at 10:15. It was chilly and windy. I stayed to see them off at 10:30.

I drove the fifteen minutes along the old Roman Road to Broughton where the Half started and left the car at the Buffalo Farm from where it was a ten minute walk along the footpath to the village hall, where numbers were to be collected. I'd not eaten much breakfast, feeling unusually nervous, so knew I needed to stuff some food down because running thirteen miles on empty isn't a sensible move. I ate half a pitta, glugged down half a bottle of water and set off for the hall. 

Once I got to the hall I collected my number, found friends Mike, Penny, Bob and Roger, and put my bag on the bus along with everyone else's....

...and hoped it would survive.

I'd been looking forward to the Clarendon for ages, not least because it's a home run and one I know well (although I'd never raced it myself M has been doing it for years and I've been going as support crew all that time, plus we've done training runs over most of it), but also because I was due to meet Small P, bloggy friend and fellow runner, for the first time. She was also running the half. We'd exchanged photos so we knew what we looked like, but there were 400 or so runners gathering at the village hall and I wondered if we'd miss each other, but then suddenly there she was. We had a big hug and then pretty much didn't stop talking until the race started!

Here we are at the start. Initially, we took a selfie, but were both so appalled at the double chins it gave us...

That we asked the nice man standing behind us (laughing at our double chin woes) to take this one for us instead...

Much better.

I'd been hoping to get up to the Greyhound pub at the other end of the village to see M come through at 12 but there just hadn't been enough time, so I was thrilled when my dear father in law suddenly popped up a minute before we were due to start to wish me luck and to tell me that M had gone through on time looking good. It meant so much to see him there, especially because he's in his eighties and it was long walk from one end of the village to the other and he'd done it just to come and give me a hug and wish me luck.

There wasn't time for any further chat though because the klaxon sounded and we were off, running down the lane before cutting through a hedge and up onto a farm track that takes you between Broughton and Houghton villages. I trotted along beside Mike chatting while Small P ran on ahead beside another friend from the club. The course takes you almost immediately up a hill. In training over the summer in heat this hill was hard work, but now I flew up it quite happily and with plenty of breath for talking to a lady who'd fallen in beside me. The next three miles flew by as we chatted about running and races, then we came out onto the road into Houghton before turning down another footpath and crossing the river Test. 

There is a enormous hill a little further on from the river. The advantage of knowing the course became obvious here where some folks tried to run up it and others (like me) knowing what still lay ahead walked. When I got to the top there was Club Captain Bex waving and yelling encouragement  She'd seen M go through and told me he was doing really well which gave me a boost.

Round the corner and the road drops steeply into Kings Somborne. Everyone was flying down it but I was extremely sensible and walked (mindful of the knee). It was here that Sue came past. I asked her how she was doing and she said OK.

At the bottom of the hill the cars were being kept waiting as the runners streamed over. I picked up the pace again and started overtaking people as we headed to the second big hill of the course which runs off road over fields up onto the ridge. I ran half it then walked the rest, knowing that there were more hills ahead and I needed to conserve some energy.

The support out on the course was fantastic, not just from the brilliant marshals and the folk manning the water stations, but from the public who were out and about cheering and clapping and waving. An innovation this year was having our names printed on our numbers. Having someone cheer you on by name makes all the difference. There was a lovely lady on the hill above calling everyone on by name. Having trained up this hill more than once I found it easy going this time round, although it was pretty slippy.

We went on, across fields, along footpaths, through woods. By now about six miles in, the race had settled and I was running with more or less the same group of people. Sometimes I overtook, sometimes I was overtaken. Every now and then a full marathon runner would come past, legs plastered in mud but a feeling of strength and fitness about them.

We got up to the high point of Farley Mount and I found a second wind and picked up my pace, clocking three kms under 6 minutes which I was pleased with. The knee was holding well with no pain and as I reached the seven and then eight mile markers I realised I was doing better than I'd expected, and I might, just might, get round the whole race without needing a lift. Was it possible race strategy 1) was actually going to happen (get round, no knee pain, a good time). It had seemed so impossible last week.

The route came out on the lane between Farley and West Wood. This was a change-over point for the relay runners and suddenly we went from empty countryside in the middle of no-where high up on the Chalk with only runners in sight, to crowds of people clapping and cheering. It was a tiny bit surreal. I ran on quickly past them, wanting to get back into the peace and solitude of the land. The track dipped down into West Wood and I was back among the trees and a handful of runners, which is much the way I like things to be.

The course twists and turns through the woods and eventually pops back up near a road at ten miles, only to vanish back into the woods. Ten miles is a hard point in a half marathon. On the one hand, you've got a Parkrun left to run, on the other you've got ten miles in your legs. Given that I last ran twelve miles a month ago and haven't been able to train at distance since, I did wonder how long I would hold out. But I reached ten miles feeling strong if tired.

M andI I had recceed the final two miles on Saturday. I was really pleased we had as I knew there was a final hill lying in wait on the last mile. Those final three miles dragged. It started to rain, but there was great camaraderie among my fellow runners. We started to talk about our suppers that night- one chap was making roast pork, we were having fish n' chips. Each time a mile marker came up someone would shout out Thank God! and the rest of us would cheer.

Just as we turned out onto the lane for the final mile I heard a runner behind me shout Go, Romsey! I turned round to see Peat, Mr Six Mile Training, coming up behind me. I have to say he looked bloody marvellous. How are you? I asked. Tired came the reply, but I'm finishing even if it kills me. There's a marathon runners mindset for you, right there.

He went on ahead because, just as we reached the 20km point (a half marathon in 21km, or 13.1 miles) my knee suddenly announced that it was no longer quite so happy to be running. I slowed to a walk, praying it was going to hold out. You've done so well, i told it, just a few more paces, that's all. 

I'd forgotten there was a runner near me and he looked at me with a grin. Motivational speaking? he asked. Yes, I said, for my knee. It turned out he'd also had an injured knee and it had been touch and go whether he'd run it, so we congratulated one another on getting this far.

There was then only the final four hundred metres to go, as a lovely marshal was rather wonderfully telling everyone, so I ran on, knee fine, and down into the field where the finish lay.

I looked round the sea of faces clustered round the tape that led to the finish arch and heard someone screaming my name. It was Small P! Wrapped up in silver tin foil and beaming. I waved frantically at her, a huge grin on my face, and crossed the line in time to hear the announcer call out my name and then tell everyone listening that I had a lot of family support with me and they'd had a nice chat with Bob, my father in law. 

Small P found me after I'd got my medal and while I was trying to get myself inside the tin foil wrapper (easier said then done; I usually end up with my head in an arm hole), and we had a big congratulatory hug, then M appeared and told me he'd done a good time, then my in laws came along and everyone was generally beaming and very happy.

The only downside to the day was the baggage bus breaking down, so there was a hall full of shivering, hungry, damp marathon runners in various stages of decline.

All our friends did really well; Mike did his first half in 2:30, a fabulous time for a first hm on a very technical, tricky and demanding course; Sue came in 2nd lady; Tam was 10th lady; the boys took 3rd, 4th and 5th places in the full marathon and I got round in a far better time that expected. In fact, it was so far above my expectations it took a while to sink in that I'd actually done it. I've never enjoyed a race more. It was a fabulous day out.

Once home, I spent some time brushing the mud off my legs before I felt safe to go inside for a bath....Nice :o)

And as for the knee? Well, I won't lie: it is stiff today; I'm hobbling about like an old lady and the bag of frozen peas in the freezer is seeing a lot of daylight, but it got me round a really tough half marathon, and aching at 20k is far far better than aching at 10k, so I think we can say the muscle strengthening work is working.

Hope you all had a good weekend?

CT :o)