Tuesday, 26 March 2019

Eastleigh 10k

Running shoes have been the bane of my life for the last three years. All I want is one pair for the road and one for the trails that a) fit, b) don't give me blisters and c) have the correct heel drop (around 10mm) to avoid my calves screaming the following day. I've had the road shoes sorted for a while now (Brooks Ghost) but the trails! Who knew it would be so hard to find a pair that worked? Anyway, long, boring story short, I've got a pair of speedcross that I did our new parkrun in at the weekend and all was good. I hardly dare hope that two years of annoyance and trying hundreds of pairs on is over....

Sunday was Eastleigh 10k race day. On paper, not one I'd usually enter being urban roads, flat topography and a large field of runners, some of whom fly in from far away lands to do it, but M was away running up and down the Brecon Beacons and I thought I might as well go along and chip away at one of my goals for this year which is a sub-50 minute 10k time, my previous best being an annoying 51:04 from two years ago.

When I woke up I really didn't feel like going at all. parkrun the previous day had felt more like 9 miles than the 3 it actually was (it's a proper technical cross country course with numerous twists and turns and lumps and bumps and full of roots and branches and a long length of draining camber that you run three times) plus I'd run some longer miles during the week so I wasn't really feeling it. But, I'd paid my dues and lots of friends were going so I thought I'd just go and trot round, collect the t-shirt and medal, catch up with buddies and then push off back home for a peaceful afternoon.

I parked in a side street and wandered down through the cold bright sunshine to the leisure centre where a couple of thousand runners were having massages/ collecting t-shirts/ chatting to friends/ warming up. I found Eddie and we had a good moan about how unlike running we felt, then my friend Maureen turned up, so we had a moan about how unlike running we felt, and then I saw Gerry and Theresa, and I moaned to them about how I didn't feel like running either! Eventually, I spotted a gang of my fellow club members doing a mass warm-up. You not running? they asked, seeing as I was still in trackie bottoms and a hoodie with a bag slung over my shoulder and showing no sign of joining in with the getting-the-muscles-ready-to-race activity with only ten mins to go before the start. I am, I said absently, thinking that I should probably go and get ready.

I got into race gear with enormous reluctance, left my bag in the sports hall with everyone else's and headed over to the start, putting myself in the 50-55 minute pacer bracket. Maureen was there too so we had a bit more of a natter, then the whistle went and everyone set off.

There is always a great rush at the start of races with people jostling for position- some flying off ahead and others falling back. I get very irritated by it. If anything, all that flurry of activity makes me go slower. As I ran along trying to avoid people's elbows I was thinking: what am I doing here? Another urban race with too many people, I could be at home in bed reading. I could barely see the ground in front of me for other people's feet.

Anyway, there was a hill close to the start which meant lots of people immediately slowed down and I was able to overtake a sizeable chunk by running up the outside. I guess it woke me up and got my head back in the game because after a mile I started to feel better, so I decided I would pick up the pace just a little and see what would happen.

Maureen, whom I met at the Wickham 10k last autumn and with whom I am relatively matched pace-wise, had run off strongly at the start and I assumed I wouldn't see her till the end, but around mile three I caught up with and overtook her so decisively I realised I must be running more strongly than I'd thought. Rich, who had whizzed off away from me at the start was also in my sights by mile 4 and I knew when I ran past him that he wasn't going to catch me again. I glanced at my watch and realised if I kept it up I would probably get back with a new PB of a shade under 51 minutes which I'd have been pleased with, given the way the race started. By that point it was close enough to be worth working a bit harder for it, so I picked up the pace a bit more, trying to tread that fine line between gaining enough speed to beat the previous time, but not so much that you can't sustain it and end up blowing up before you've crossed the finish line.

I could feel the lactic acid building in the last half mile - the nausea and faintness coming on more strongly along with more laboured breathing. Had the race been any longer I would not have been able to sustain the pace, as it was, I was forced to slow down feet from the finish line (I reckon I lost between 5-10 seconds) because it's a narrow paved path and the spectators were pressed in on the side preventing people from overtaking on the grass (someone had even allowed their child to run alongside the runners who were sprinting by then for the finish- I thought that was dangerous because, given the lack of space and the adrenaline that kicks in at the end of a race, the little chap could easily have been sent flying by a runner, as it was he slowed me down because I had to dodge to miss crashing into him). Annoyingly, there were also three blokes in front of me taking up the entire path who were not sprinting. This meant I had to slow down again for them because they'd taken up all the room and there was nowhere for me to go. Bad race etiquette. I can not wait to get back to smaller races where there is actually space to run at the pace you want to go at and where the finish is wide enough for a proper sprint without the fear of crashing into people. I feel it should have been better organised. 

Anyway, grumble over. I stopped my watch as I crossed the line and couldn't quite believe that the number began with 49. Dead chuffed, even if I did have to put my hands on my thighs and bend over for a few seconds to stop myself being sick :o).

How was your weekend?


Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Bath Half Marathon 2019

As you know, I tend to stay away from big city road races, preferring to get out into the land in all weathers and run with a mad minimal bunch of similarly-minded people. Bath, which has 15,000 runners, is the opposite of that. We'd entered it two years ago, deferred to last year and then when that was snowed off, got an automatic entry for this year's race, so we thought we might as well do it.

Bath is on lock down when the race is on, but luckily we have cousins living there so headed over to their house first thing where we had tea and a natter before Rob kindly dropped us into the city. M had omitted to give his predicted finish time when we sorted the entries and belatedly we realised he'd been put in the fancy dress starting pen at the back of the field. The organisation was faultless and they swiftly upgraded him to the right pen, asking us to collect the new number from the registration tent in the runners' village first thing, which we did.

The queues for the loo were crazy as always, so we decided to drop our bag off early before all the people queuing for the loo got into the bag drop queue. This meant we had very little on to protect us from the biting wind. It was freeezing. Luckily, I had stuck two bin bags in our bag the night before so we got into those. Never let it be said that we don't make sartorial efforts when we go to big city races :o). It kinda worked but it will still pretty damn chilly when the sun went in, and because there were so many people we had over an hour to wait like that before the race got underway.

Eventually we were called to our respective pens: M up front in the white section with the elite and super-speedies, me in the middle with the greens and the slower and fancy dress runners in the orange at the back. All on Great Pulteney Street. More loos here and we still had forty minutes before the start so I joined the smaller queue for a final pre-race wee.

With five mins to go everyone started peeling off their bin bags/ charity sweatshirts/ extra tee-shirts; there was a comical few minutes where all around me clothes were flying through the air, some landing on the heads of the spectators who laughed in a good-natured way, removed the top that had landed on them and deposited it in the 'for charity' bags than had been strung up all along the fence line.

Finally, the race began- but it took me nine minutes to get to the start, such were the numbers of people around. And then we were off, running along Great Pulteney Street and hanging right towards the river.

The Bath Half is a two-loop course that follows the river so it's mainly flat. I reckon I'm reasonably practiced at race discipline now and know not to go off too fast at the start, but the atmosphere kinda carried me along and I ran the first 5k too quickly. There were crowds lining the route and the support was fantastic- everyone was cheering and clapping, there were bands playing live music, a drummer in a tent, a double decker bus filled with people with a woman on the top rapping. Friends and family with signs encouraging loved ones. It was amazing, I've not experienced anything like it before.

I'm used to races thinning out after the first few miles where everyone settles into their stride but not this one- I ran in a solid pack of people the entire thirteen miles. It was unsettling, as was the constant presence of spectators and the continual noise of the crowd. I couldn't get my pace under control and I felt my race strategy slipping away from me. I gave myself a good talking to: get your pace down to 5:30 mins/ km. forget about feeling grumpy with all the people, think of this as an experience and enjoy it. And as soon as I'd given myself that pep talk I felt better. I relaxed into the race; got control of my pace and began to smile and enjoy the atmosphere. I never got used to all the other runners being so close, but hey, it was a one off.

Six miles in I saw our cousins and their girls waving and cheering beneath an enormous colourful home-made banner which had mine and M's names painted on it. It gave me such a huge lift that I accidentally sped up and ran the next km at closer to 5 mins :o). Another talking to and I settled down again. Towards the end of the first lap the lead runner came by- can you believe that? He'd run twelve miles in the time it took me to do 6 (about 54 mins for me). He won the race in 1 hour 5 mins. Astonishing.

Ten miles in and I realised people around me were starting to fade while I was beginning to pick the pace up for the final three miles. I ran the last 5k in 4:45-5 min/ kms, felt strong and in control although it was very hard to overtake as everyone was slowing down and the road was getting very clogged. Luckily, a slight hill intervened and I was able to run on the outside and overtake people. The end was in sight- a left turn into Great Pulteney Street and the finish a short sprint away. I realised I was on to significantly break my HM PB so I sprinted for all I was worth, quite surprised by the energy that was left in my legs and heart, and was thrilled to cross the line in 1:53, a new PB by nine minutes. This is a little misleading because my previous official HM PB was on a very hilly course and Bath is almost flat, but nevertheless I was thrilled - I finished feeling strong and was able to run down to the runners' village to collect my goodie bag and find M, who had run an absolute blinder, finishing in 1:20, his fastest half mara time in 23 years! Amazing. There is life in the old dog yet :o).

Because M is so super-speedy, he'd already collected our bag from the bag drop at a time when there were no queues- as we looked around us all we could see were long long lines of people waiting patiently to get theirs. I was so grateful for this because it meant I could put on a warm top and drink my protein shake straightaway.

We decided to walk back up to Rob and Sal's- they were waiting by the finish for their youngest who ran a super first half mara time of 2:01 in the end. I was glad of the opportunity to stretch my legs and suggested to M we run, but he was feeling a bit stiff in the leg department by then so we walked back up the hill.

All in all it was a super experience. The race was very well organised, the officials were wonderfully calm and in control given the HUGE number of people they were looking after. The marshals were great and the crowds were just so brilliant and encouraging. The course was nice and Bath is a lovely city. Would I do it again? Probably, but it did make me spend an hour looking up trail races in the middle of nowhere when we got home...

Hope you are all well. How was your weekend?


Thursday, 14 March 2019

Grizzly Cub 2019

Unusual for me, I actually brushed my fell shoes ahead of the race

Relieved to see Mike back home safe

This band were amazing!

A surprise in the goodie bag, post-run rum :o)

As is becoming usual when we're travelling to a race, Sunday dawned wet and windy and it only got worse as we headed into Devon. Gale force winds had been forecast and they did not disappoint. We parked, had a wander round race HQ then met up with friends in the cafe for tea and toast. 

A little before 10:30, nearly 2000 runners in varying states of undress and brightly-coloured lycra congregated at the start on Seaton seafront to hear Tony, laconic RD, do the briefing: 'we've knocked about a km off the full Grizzly route because the wind is deemed too dangerous in that section and it'll be a pain if you get blown off a cliff, but don't worry, we've replaced it with an extra bog', and then the Town Crier gave his usual much-loved address to the runners before we were counted down and set off up the road.

Only a short distance of tarmac is allowed in the Grizzly (or so it feels) because soon we'd peeled off onto the beach and were crunching over the pebbles trying not to twist our collective ankles. I saw a dead dogfish (I assume- it certainly looked like one) washed up high on the pebbles presumably by the storm winds, but other than that there was no time to look at anything much except where you were putting your feet. 

After half a mile of this dogged and tiring terrain, we were back on the tarmac, this time heading up the hill that leads out of Seaton. It does go on a bit that hill but I was enjoying it because, as you know, I like hills. I started overtaking people and that always feels good. 

Round a bend, downhill for a bit, round another bend away from the sea and up another long, steep hill where everyone was walking, before plunging down into Beer with a pirate chasing me. Another steep climb up out of Beer and you're into the caravan park. Through that and out onto the hills proper- steep, steep, green hills with the steely grey sea, white-tipped this morning with churning white horses, spreading out to one side of you.

When we came out onto the cliffs, we also came out into the wind proper. I've never run in anything like it before. It nearly blew me off my feet more than once. Everyone was running at crooked angles into it, bent over fighting to remain upright. I shamelessly took advantage of the wind break offered by an old guy who was running by my side, then nearly fell over when the wind whipped round and tugged at me from another angle. There was a lot of general laughter about it as we all fought our way forward through it together. Thankfully, it was not raining. It wasn't even cold, just insanely windy.

Eventually, we dropped down a (very) muddy track onto Branscombe Beach where the full Grizzly runners (20 miles) went on to the right away from the sea and the Cub runners (9), headed left along the beach back towards Beer, but not before the lovely race organisers had led us all through an ice cold, over-the-ankle river (twice). The Griz is famous for its bogs and rivers. By cunningly avoiding running the full version I had, until now, avoided getting my feet wet and muddy. Not any more. This year they changed the course to make sure we all got wet. And bloody hell was it cold water! And the buggers made us run through it twice! With perfectly serviceable dry pebbles on either side too. I got some good photos though :o)

A little way along the beach there was a memorial where runners could tie ribbons in memory of lost loved ones. I tied a yellow ribbon for Pa, who was a bit of a cross country runner back in the day. It was a lovely and thoughtful touch in a race that is special in so many ways.

As we trudged wearily along (yet more) pebbles on the beach, I reflected that when I last ran the Cub (two years ago- last year we were snowed in so missed it), the tide was out and I ran along lovely, firm, gold, smooth sand by the calmly lapping water's edge. No chance of that today - the tide was in and all there was to run on was chunky grey pebbles or tiny weeny gravel-like particles that I didn't fancy getting in my fell shoes. Boy do those big pebbles zap your energy though. I stopped briefly for a breather only to be urged on by the lady behind who called out that I was her inspiration so please could I not stop :o).

On through the gully below the over-hanging cliffs where there is a definite pre-historic feel (well, this is the Jurassic Coast after all) and on up over the roots and rocks of the Stairway to Heaven where two years ago a strange man in a black cloak was declaiming from a book while swigging from a hip flask. I still haven't worked out whether he was actually part of the race or just a random, slightly bonkers, bloke on a day out. Steep isn't the word for the Stairway to Heaven. I don't actually have a word for it. The coastguard were out in force on this section, fully kitted up, obviously prepared for casualties, and cheerfully telling everyone not to go too close to the edge and to be very careful coming over the top because the wind was mighty strong up there.

And so it was. But I like this section- after half a mile of pebble beach and what feels the same of climbing up a cliff face, suddenly you're out on good, firm, sloping slightly downhill Chalk and you can whizz along at a cracking pace. So I did, pretending I was flying in the wind. I might even have had my arms out aeroplane style for a bit :o)

Back through the caravan park where people were handing out jelly babies and children were encouraging the runners on: 'don't stop now! you can do it!' and holding their hands out for high-fives. Some folks stopped for a beer at a truck here, but I reckoned that was the last thing you needed with another mile or so of running ahead, so I pushed on, back down the road into Beer where the locals were still lining the main street clapping and cheering, then up some very steep steps and on over another hill, along a footpath that emerges onto the road and on over one final hill up through the wood which waits to snag the weary and unwary. I was feeling strong and enjoying myself so I pushed on, eager to catch the lass in front. I eventually caught her at the top of the hill where the runners turned right off the road through some gardens. I could tell from her breathing that she was working harder than I was, so I went past but I could feel her redouble her efforts to keep up with me. As we came out of the garden and onto the final stretch the finish line was ahead and she overtook me. I thought about letting her go for a split second, then sped up and just pipped her before the line. We had a quick high-five as she came over the finish behind me, because the nature of the Grizzly is tough but friendly, and competition is expected, and then a few minutes later as I was heading back to the car to get some warm gear on and find my protein shake, there was a tap on my shoulder and it was the lady who'd said she was relying on me on the beach section. It turned out this was her first Cub so we had a hug and I congratulated her on a brilliant run.

I reckoned I had an hour before M was due back, so back at the car I peeled off my wet kit and put on warm, dry stuff (my new Grizzly hoodie was lurvely) in the car park (I'm getting used to changing in car parks!), grabbed my protein shake and a sausage roll and headed back into town to wait for the others to come in. There was a brilliant band playing, drums and sticks kinda thing, which just infused energy into the air, so I bopped about to that for a bit then saw our friend Mike running down the hill towards the finish- this time last year he came very close to dying from a heart attack, so I was super pleased that he'd got round in one piece. And soon after Mike, M came hurtling down the hill, having run the full 20 miles in some ridiculously fast time, and coming home top 40.

We'd both had an absolute ball and agreed there really is nothing quite like the Grizzly. I can see that next year I'm going to have to bite the bullet and do the full 20.

Hope all is well with all of you? Any adventures of your own recently?


Tuesday, 5 March 2019

New parkrun Adventure, Goring 10k & An Early Run In To Work

figuring out how to work the megaphone!

they're off!

putting the finish tokens back in order....great job, guys!

sorting out the results in the cafe post-parkrun...

River Test

We've had a busy few days. Saturday saw the inauguration of our new parkrun. Social media had been rife with rumours about the start date for weeks and we'd been doing our best to firefight these, keep expectations low and avoid a mass announcement of the date, because the site is small, parking is limited and the course is over rough terrain, and also because the core team wanted to have a chance to get the hang of hosting it and ironing out any teething problems without hundreds of people there.

Some hope! In the end, we got almost 300, a record for all the new parkruns starting that day. But everyone was lovely- the atmosphere was super, all the runners were really supportive of what we were trying to achieve and the course ran well. Phew! M and I were RDs (Run Directors), which basically means you take responsibility for the event in the week leading up to it and on the day itself. M did most of the pre leg-work as I was tied up with other things last week, but on the day we shared duties. I gave the first timers briefing (about 30 people who were brand new to parkrun) and M did the main briefing with Sue who has spent the last four years putting the whole thing together and getting it off the ground- which included sourcing the venue, raising the funds, getting the volunteers together, working out the course etc etc. It's a massive undertaking and she has worked so hard at it - I was so pleased for her that it went so well on the day. All the feedback was positive and lots of our lovely running friends were there to help, many had volunteered to marshal, time keep, hand out the finish tokens etch and then came to the cafe afterwards to sort the tokens back into order and lend moral support while M worked out the process of uploading and validating the results which the computer then automatically sends out to everyone who was registered as running. This was the bit I'd been most worried about- 300 people's results in our hands! But fortunately all went well and the one small hiccup that occured with one runner's number was swiftly rectified. Lord knows what will happen next week, I suspect we may get more than 300, but at least now we know what we're doing and hopefully it won't be quite so nerve-wracking. We might even get a full night's sleep beforehand devoid of dreams about gates shrinking so no-one could get through them or mud swallowing people whole :o)

Saturday afternoon we took the dogs out for a run by the river and over the Chalk. Ted, who will be ten this summer, ran 8 miles across the fields. I made sure I walked sections so he could slow down but he wasn't having any of it and ran on. He is amazing. I wonder whether there are many nearly-ten-year-old Westies who can do that? Pop of course finds 8 miles easy peasy.

Sunday we were up early again and headed down to Oxfordshire for the Goring 10k, a hilly race through Storm Freya's headwinds. It was a fund-raiser for the local primary's PTA and was very well attended and cheerful. The children were all involved in handing out medals and numbers, there were fresh flapjacks for all the finishers and the loos were the school ones- haven't sat on such a tiny loo seat in years! I got a decent time given the conditions and was pleased with how my race went, but what was really inspiring was the oldest competitor, who came in in a little under one hour 30 mins and was 88! I really hope I am still running six miles when I'm that age. What an amazing man.

Last night we went to a talk at the running club by a team GB marathon coach which was very interesting- he talked a lot about nutrition, sleep and rest as well as training zones. I was pleased to see that the changes I've recently made to my diet fitted in with good running fuel! Did you know that smiling lowers your heart rate? Nope, me neither. I have a fairly low resting heart rate now from all the running I do (its about 47 when I'm marathon training, 54 otherwise) but it can rocket when I'm running hard so I shall try smiling more often when I'm training :o).

This morning we were up early again (before 6- the dawn chorus was just starting with a blackbird leading the way), to run the nine miles in to work. This week it was easier- I didn't fall over in a bog and the weather was beautiful, sunshine and wisps of mist drifting over the river. It felt a real pleasure to be out. Although the stream is now too big to jump and the ice coating it wasn't thick enough to hold my weight :o). A perfect way to start the day.

Hope all are well?