Race Report: Endure 24

According to my 10k training plan, the Endure 24 event didn’t really exist.  The plan told me that I had to do a parkrun on Saturday and a 5 mile steady long run on Sunday. Since Endure 24 consists of 5 mile laps, it seemed to fit in quite well…

On Saturday, I did the parkrun no problem and then followed it up with and extra three 5 mile loops of the Endure 24 course. On Sunday, I did the 5 mile run, and then another one a bit later in the day. It felt like due punishment for missing an interval session earlier in the week because it was too hot.

Pre-race activities

On the day before the race, I drove past the signposts to Endure 24 on my way to and from work. Each time I saw them, I felt a little bit excited.

I finally arrived at the campsite just before 9pm , where my tent had already been set up by some friends earlier in the day. After a brief wander around to discover the event village, I settled down into a camping chair and had a few beers with the rest of the earlier arrivals.

IMG_20180629_222106_846.jpg

I crawled into my tent at about 11pm. Despite being a bit cold during the night, I slept relatively well and woke up next morning in time to join a group who were heading out to Middleton Woods Parkrun.

FB_IMG_1530716394415.jpg

Parkrun because, what’s another 3 miles?

The big day

GoodGym had entered two full teams of eight and one pair. Our final team members continued to arrive throughout the morning at which point we discovered that my team was one woman down, and one woman injured and only intending to run one or two laps at the most. Once most people had arrived, the two separate teams met up to decide strategy, which mainly consisted of setting the order of runners. I was up third.

IMG_20180630_115214.jpg

GoodGymmers raring to go

Lap 1 – 1.20pm

Despite the heat of the day, I was excited to set off, so made my way into the exchange area earlier than I needed to. I hung around there for a bit waiting to spot Mitch bounding over the hill in the distance. With others eagerly awaiting their team members all doing the same, it wasn’t the easiest task to spot him, and even harder for him to spot me.  Lots of teams had something to hold up in the air to help them to stand out. I just relied on shouting his name!

We managed our exchange of the symbolic baton (a red rubber wrist band) without too much fuss. I followed the route across and up the side of a big field before turning off into a thankfully more shaded woody area. The trail tapered gently downhill and past a sign declaring that I was entering Black Fen Drop. This took me past the first km marker before running under a huge ENDURE 24 sign which was strung up high across the path. It was a dry hot day and the runners ahead were kicking clouds of dust behind them as they made their way around.

Around a corner, the trail started to rise gently upwards and then a bit more upwards into a section marked Temple Drag. I came out of the woods after the 2km marker and around another corner. At bottom of the a short but steep hill there was music blaring from a camper van with some men in fancy dress dancing around and livening up the place. Tempting as it was to stay and dance with them, I shot past, giving them the thumbs up, hoping use my downhill momentum to get me part way up the hill on the other side. I’m pretty sure running doesn’t work quite like that but it was worth a try! I later found out that this was called Temptation Corner and that the van was blocking off a short cut which would lead straight across to the 6km point.

The next section of uphill seemed to go on for a long time, past some dancing marshals in grass skirts and the 3km sign, into the Deep Dark Woods. In the bright hot sunshine of the day, they weren’t that dark, but they did offer some tiny respite from the glaring sun en route to the half way point. A lot of it was even downhill. By 4km I was looking forward to the drinks station. By now, sweat, mingled with sunscreen was dripping into my eyes behind my sunglasses, making them sting.

Soon after, the woods opened out into the glaring sun, through Sheep Rush (I can’t remember if there were any sheep there) before I could see the Shambles Cafe drinks station ahead. I grabbed a cup of water, and poured it down my throat. Then I grabbed a cup of pink liquid (presumably rehydration fluids) and drank that too. It was salty and bitter. I immediately regretted it and made a mental note to drink the water after the hydration drink next time!

IMG_20180630_152142.jpg

The glaring sun

Next, the trail sloped gently down and I remembered from my research that the second half of the course was mostly downhill. But when I turned a corner I saw a really steep (but thankfully short) uphill section. Without hesitation, I slowed to a walk. It just didn’t feel possible to run when the flats were already really effortful. Thankfully, it quickly flattened out. The course opened out into less sheltered terrain, allowing a gentle breeze to offer some relief from the heat. A sharp right turn took me onto Festival Crossing which was a short grassy section. At the end of this, my sense of direction told me that I needed to go left – but alas, the route forced me to turn right. It felt like this was moving away from the finish line. Fortunately the 6km marker soon perked me up. Two more km seemed like an acceptable distance to endure before being able to stop. At the bottom of a nice long downhill section, was Dead Tree Drift. To the right a colourful Endure 24 sign decorated the hillside, next to the remnants of a dead tree. The sign was already injured and read ‘ENDURE  4’ (if only!).

The next named section was Ripple Rise – a hill that rose in two rippled stages, with the 7km marker part way up. Again, I walked it. At the top, I spotted the glint of cars ahead, from the festival car park. I was nearly there. Even better, there was a long, glorious downhill section, leading to another rise up to the Mizuno Arch and the giant Mizuno trainer that was visible from the race village. Once I passed through the arch, I knew I’d be visible to the spectators waiting for their next runners to come in. I put on my best ‘I’m not too hot and tired’ run and strode out down the hill, and then up a slight incline (The bloody last bit), onto the grass, around the corner and across the timing mats where Alex was waiting for me. I thrust the red wrist band into his hand and waved him off. Lap one done in 47:12. It was tough!

I was hungry, having held off on lunch until after my lap. I went straight over to the food tent and inhaled a disappointing jacket potato (small, overcooked, meagre fillings). When I calculated that my next lap wouldn’t be for another 4 hours, I went back to camp and opened a bottle of beer to celebrate.

IMG_20180630_144636.jpg

Rehydrating

Lap 2

My second lap came at 6.35pm. Again, I turned up at the start line nice and early so as not to miss Mitch run in. He’d run this one faster, so it was a good job I did!

It was still really hot, but I had to admit that it was noticeably cooler. The shade had started to spread as the sun got lower in the sky, offering a little bit more respite from the heat. As I entered the Deep Dark Woods, I moaned to myself that they weren’t deep or dark enough… but 100m down the line I was thankful that they did provide some element of coolness.

Again, I looked forward to the drinks station, but when I got there,  I decided not to stop. I was running strong and could make it another 3km without a drink.

When I spotted the steep hill after the 5km point I decided that I could run up it this time – and I did. I resolved that I would also try to run up Ripple Rise. I wanted to complete at least one lap without any walking. I developed a mantra: I want to walk, but I don’t need to.

The section from 5 – 7km flew by, and before I knew it, I was running under the arch and onto The bloody last bit managing to finish in 44:41 – it would be my fastest lap. Alex was there waiting for me.

After a short recovery, I made a beeline for the food tent and bought a disappointing Chicken Korma (dry chicken and overcooked rice) which I took back to camp so I could eat it with a beer. Others were hanging around, mostly trying to work out when they were next running.

IMG-20180630-WA0000.jpg

Refuelling and rehydrating

By now my skin was covered in sunscreen mingled with sweat and dust, so I decided to try out the showers.

There was a short queue, and while I waited, I saw lots of people come out declaring that they were cold, or just a dribble of water. I joked with Lizzie that mine was going to be luxury.

When it did come to my turn, the man exiting turned to me and I inwardly groaned, waiting for the warning of cold water. Instead, he told me that he’d left some liquid soap in there that I was welcome to use. I got at least 4 presses of hot water from the button shower – enough to wash my hair before it went cold. I had got the luxury one after all!

I went back to camp in clean gear feeling much fresher. By now it was 9pm and my next lap wasn’t due until about 11.30pm. I retired to my tent with the intention of having a nap. The family in the tent next to me had other ideas and continued their loud conversation until I gave up. I was out of water, so I needed to take a trip to the facilities to fill up and brush my teeth. I intended to come back to the tent afterwards, but my legs didn’t really feel like walking any farther, so I stuffed my toothbrush in my fleece pocket and wandered over to the changeover point half an hour early. The sun had set a while ago, but there was still an orange glow on the horizon, rising into pale dusky sky. Runners gathered around the fire pit to keep warm. I sat down on the hay bail sofa, not far from there, soaking up the residual heat from the fire.

IMG_20180630_232040.jpg

Waiting for my night time lap

Lap 3.

Waiting for our runners to come in was a completely different experience after dark. The MC had long since stopped announcing names and it was impossible to distinguish any more than the number of runners coming through, by counting their bobbing head torches. As they arrived at the finish, and searched for their team mates, the finishing runners were also shining bright head torches in our eyes. Even so, I did manage to spot Mitch who arrived back at 11.42pm and tried to hand me his head torch, rather than the red wrist band. We quickly resolved that and I set off on my night lap. The air was gloriously cool. I was even a little bit cold. I made a mental note to appreciate being cold when I was running a sunny lap later on.

As I headed into the woods and along Black Fen Drop I noticed that my torch was considerably dimmer than everyone elses.  As others came up behind me, their lights cast my giant shadow onto the floor in front. It was my first proper night run through a dark wood and a totally different experience. Though I’d done the course twice already, I didn’t know it well enough to be able to orient myself. Often, the parts I expected to be at didn’t appear until farther down the line.

As I passed Temptation Corner at around midnight, I missed the vibrant music that had been there for the daytime laps.

Though there was a chill in the air, I started to feel that I might overheat, so I removed the buff I was wearing underneath the straps of my head torch. This made the torch uncomfortable to wear, but seemed the lesser of two evils.

Again, I ran through the water station and up all of the hills, chanting to myself that though I wanted to walk, I didn’t need to. I crossed my fingers that Alex would be there when I got round to the finish line.

Running up to the last hill, and into the floodlit area, I thought that there were clouds of dust hovering in the air… but as I ran through it, and felt the chill, I realised that there was a mist gathering.

Remembering my struggle to recognise my team mate in the dark, I turned off my head torch as I approached the final corner, and as soon as I crossed the finish line in a time of 45:43, I shouted ‘Alex!’ He immediately stuck out his hand and I passed the wrist band to him.

Now all I needed to do was get back to camp to alert Heather that she was next up. Since Alex had been doing 35 minute laps, there wasn’t that much time. My head torch was rapidly running out of power and I’d forgotten to bring my spare batteries. I hadn’t realised until now I couldn’t see them, how much I’d been relying on the colours of tents to navigate to our little campsite. As I desperately scanned the site for something familiar, I eventually realised that I’d managed to circle back in the opposite direction and I was nearly back at the event village. I quickly found the entrance and tried again – this time jogging in the right direction, making sure I kept the event village behind me. Fortunately Heather was ready to go when I arrived at camp.

I crawled into my tent, changed my head torch batteries, had a quick wet wipe shower changed into my compression leggings, laid out my next set of kit, did some maths, and set my alarm for 4am – estimating my next lap to be starting at around 4:30am.

Lap 4

I had closed my eyes at 1am, and then suddenly awoke to the sound of my alarm. I groaned. It was 4am already. The light inside my tent suggested that it was already daylight outside. There was also a proper chill in the air.

I checked the online chip timing system to see that our team had fallen a little behind where I expected us to be. Stef still wasn’t back in, meaning that Mitch still hadn’t gone out. I considered getting another half an hour’s sleep but I needed the toilet so I reluctantly dressed. By the time I’d done that, the tracker told me that Stef had finished.  I left my tent flap open so that he could see that I was up and about if he got back before I got back from the toilet block.

As soon as Stef arrived back at camp, I set off, shivering in the mist towards the start, feeling very far away from alert!

IMG_20180701_044859.jpg

Misty morning

 

As I waited my turn, Lizzie arrived back from her latest lap which she told me was hard. Mitch wasn’t too far behind her, and so, at 5.16am I set off again. My lungs felt less than healthy and it took half a lap before the aching wheeziness eased off. By now, many of the solo runners had been going for over 17 hours. Lots were walking, some purposefully striding forwards while others were reduced to a painful, but determined shuffle. I gave encouragement to as many of them as I could, telling myself that I was in a much better position than they were. At least I could go back to bed after this one…

After 47 minutes and 37 seconds of running, I found Alex, passed over the wrist band and made my way back to camp. Heather wasn’t in her tent when I got there, so I ate a vanilla crown (which I thought I’d lost) while I waited for her to reappear and make sure she was ready for her next lap.

IMG_20180701_061625.jpg

After another wet wipe shower, some more maths (my next and final lap would be around 10am), and a quick change, I slid back into my sleeping bag and closed my eyes… just as the entire campsite was waking up.

After an hour or so I decided that sleep wasn’t going to happen. The noise on the site was increasing as was the heat inside the tent as the sun rose higher in the sky. I could hear members of the GoodGym teams up and about.  I got up and started to pack up my tent before joining them for my next breakfast, which today, consisted of three mini pork pies and a brownie…

Lap 5

Once I had packed up my tent, I found some of our team in the event village in various states of rest / eating / waiting. Our team’s strategy had been rejigged, meaning that I now wasn’t due on until about 11.30am – and would have the honour of the last lap of the day.

I ate a big piece of Rocky Road while I waited… Lots of the team members had already done their last laps, so they had showered, changed and collected their medals. Others were keeping their running kit on just in case. The other GoodGym team even changed their running order around to make it more likely they’d  be able to send an extra person out before midday.

Bored of waiting, I went over to the changeover point relatively early. Which was fortunate, because Mitch ran his lap really fast! He sprinted over the line, shirtless (making my trying to remember what colour t-shirt he was wearing redundant) and passed me the wrist band.

I set off, initially pleasantly surprised at the slight breeze – it wasn’t as hot as I was expecting it to feel – for the first two minutes anyway. There was no pressure on this lap. It was 11.28am when I set off, so there was no hope of getting anyone else out before midday. I could even walk it if I wanted… but at the same time I didn’t want it to take over an hour.

At the first slight incline I decided to walk. My lungs were in distress and I was far too hot. This would be how I got round this last lap. I was pleased to see that the music at Temptation Corner had resumed. I fully intended to stop for a drink at the drinks station, but when I got there, decided not to. By then it looked like I might be able to stick to around 10 minute miles, even with walking up all the hills, but I didn’t need anything else to slow me down.

As I ran past the last marshal station, they were packing down their gazebo – but still cheering people on as they passed. Lots of teams were out on the course now, gathering around the Endure 24 signs for photos (the Dead Tree Drift one now just said ENDURE), or running in with their team mates.

When it came to the short hill before the Mizuno Arch, I decided that I could run up it and through to the end. Stef was standing at the top and cheered me through. There were now crowds of people, all wearing blue Endure 24 tshirts gathered around the finishing funnel making it difficult to spot my turning. Still, I managed it. I half expected some of my team mates to join me on the run in… I heard my name shouted a few times, and the MC mentioned my earlier tweet about finding my lost vanilla crown at 4am that morning. Lap 5 done in 50:41.

IMG_20180701_122945.jpg

By the time I got home, I was feeling quite ill from lack of sleep. My right eye was streaming, no doubt full of sweat, dust and sun cream, making me feel worse. I dumped my bags in the hallway and had a much needed shower. I found some leftover chicken in the fridge and ate it cold and then climbed into bed.

Advertisements

Race report: Lakeland Trails half marathon

The build up

My preparation for this race amounted to basically nothing. I don’t particularly want to become a runner who only races and never trains, but with the number of races I’ve put in the calendar this year, I can’t train for them all!

The day before the race I did Whinlatter parkrun, AKA the hilliest parkrun in the world (probably). I tried quite hard, but still managed to finish about 8 minutes slower than I usually would in a parkrun and had to walk a good deal of it.

After that, I met up with some friends for a 3 mile walk up Loughrigg. Nine miles later, we tucked our tired legs back into the car and drove back to base for the evening’s pasta meal.

Predictions

The cut off time for the half marathon race was 3 hours. Given that I’m still relatively new to trail racing, I didn’t really have much of an idea what to expect. I was pretty sure that I’d be able to run under 3 hours, but there was a niggling doubt. My Race the Train 14 mile time for the previous year (the only comparable race I have) was 2 hours 30 so technically I thought I’d be able to manage about 2.15. But… at Race the Train I was marathon training. This time I was only 4 weeks away from having completed a 66 mile ultra and I wasn’t convinced I was properly recovered. Lately, all running felt hard. When people asked how fast/slow I’d be, I said to expect me in any time between 2:15 and 3 hours.

The race

Confusingly for some, the Lakeland Trails at Coniston offer a half marathon race, half marathon challenge, marathon race and marathon challenge.  The difference between the races and the challenges is just in the cut off times.

My start time was the latest at 11am. I arrived at Coniston for 8ish with a view to hanging around with the GoodGym crew and cheering the marathon and half marathon challenge runners out. The weekend so far had been hot and humid but now the sun had started to find it’s way out from behind the clouds, the air started to feel a little bit clearer.

The course had us running out on the flat towards some looming hills.

received_10155436367475933.jpeg

Heading for the hills

We ran through some woodlands before rejoining a road which started to wind upwards. That’s where I started to make excellent use of run walk strategies.

IMG_20180603_113429.jpg

Up up up!

To finish within the 3 hour cut off,  I worked out that I needed to run 13ish minute miles and that would give me 11 minutes to spare. As my watch beeped in at every mile, I mentally stored how many minutes I had saved – so if a mile came in at 10 minutes, I had 3 minutes in the bank.  My watch was set to lap pace, so I couldn’t see my cumulative time. I was using mental arithmetic to work it out – a much more effective distraction technique than pressing the watch button a few times to change the display!

Four miles in, I had slowed down a lot for the hills, but I had 7 minutes in the bank so I wasn’t at all concerned. By now, the runners were spreading out. At certain points on the course, I couldn’t see anyone ahead of me. A few times I came to a fork in the trail and I wasn’t sure which way to go. It turned out that these paths were signposted, but you just had to really look for the arrow!

I spent some time passing and being overtaken by the same lady who powered up the hills (while I walked). She then maintained the same pace on the flats and downhill sections, where I picked up speed. We passed walkers on their day out in the lakes, some of whom were curious about what the event was.

I knew that the worst of the uphill section would be over by half way and that was what kept me going. At around 10km we came out onto a path around Tarn Hows, joining in with other runners who were coming from a different direction. I guessed that we must do a lap of this lake and these guys were just a lap ahead of me. I carried on around Tarn Hows, starting to feel tired now. A few people were sat out having picnics and cheering us on as we passed.  As I slogged my way round, I realised that I couldn’t see any of the people I’d been running alongside in the recent miles. I started to worry that perhaps I’d missed a turning and accidentally skipped a lap. There were no distance markers on the course, so there was no immediate way of working out whether I had gone wrong.

IMG_20180603_122418.jpg

Tarn Hows

The path along the lake seemed to go on and on. Finally, I reached the branching point which confirmed that I hadn’t inadvertently cheated. Though by the time I saw it, I fleetingly considered skipping the second lap on purpose.

The final uphill climb came just after that second lap of Tarn Hows. It was moments after I’d decided to walk the hill, that a photographer appeared. I broke into a trot for the photo opp with the stunning backdrop of the lake behind me.

IMG_20180603_124637.jpg

Selfie from the top of (one of) the hill(s)

Back into the woods and again, I couldn’t see anyone ahead of or behind me. Though I’d followed a very clear arrow towards the gloriously long section of downhill track , I started to doubt I was going the right way. Gravity pulled me down for a speedy mile until I eventually saw the comforting sight of another runner up ahead. Phew!

IMG_20180603_124230.jpg

I’d been doing my maths all the way around, so when my watch told me I’d managed 10 miles, I estimated that I had been running for around 2:10. With three more flat miles to go I should be done in 2:40. I switched my watch to see what my actual  time was. I was confused to find that read just over 1:50. Somewhere the maths had gone wrong and I just couldn’t work out how. I quickly gave up and recalculated that I might be able to finish in 2:20. By mile 11 Lake Coniston was back in view and I could hear the cheering crowd around the finish line. Rather than make a beeline for it, our course took the long way round,  past the lake and in completely the wrong direction for a mile or so before we got to turn back. On my way, I rescued a runner from turning off on the wrong path.

With so much time to spare, I did break into the odd walk in those last few miles. There were more people around by then, many of them heading back into the town after finishing their own races. They encouraged me to keep on going, but I just told them that I was saving myself for the finishing sprint! It occurred to me that this was a trail race, so there was a chance that my watch might measure the course as much longer than 13.1 miles. When I made it to the last corner, I was relieved to see that my watch thought it was actually a little bit shorter (12.9 miles)!

FB_IMG_1529332898844.jpg

Nearly finished

The GoodGym gang were out in force, cheering me along to the finishing line and I was able to pick up into a vaguely convincing faster run to the end.

Finishing time: 02:22:15

Some of our gang were still out on the course, but I risked missing them for a quick trip to the car to collect my flip flops. I was hot and tired. Right now, I just wanted to wade into the lake to cool off.

Back at the finish line, I saw Nick and Lizzie come in for their final few hundred metres. As soon as they finished, I wandered off to submerge myself in the lake.

It was hard to keep the flip flops on as I waded into the water, pausing frequently to get used to the icy cold feeling of water lapping around my legs. As one couple convinced me to come and join them in a neck deep section, I stepped into some sand and my shoe was sucked under. At the same time, the shock of suddenly being submerged in cold water (even though I’d intentionally done it) took my breath away. While I was gasping, I frantically groped around in the water, to retrieve the flip flop whilst attempting to explain I’d lost it to the onlooking couple. My breath wouldn’t flow properly to support the words and they worried that I might be in trouble as I flapped around, gasping unintelligible things at them.  After a few seconds, I did get my breath back enough to explain that I was fine, I always lose the ability to breathe for a bit after entering cold water, and I was mainly worried about losing my flip flop!

I stayed in the same spot and groped at the floor for a few minutes looking for the lost footwear. I found a stick instead. By now, it was looking unlikely that I’d get it back, but I used the stick to prod the ground aimlessly. Eventually, my flip flop did float to the surface. My GoodGym pals, who had just arrived at the lakeside found me victoriously waving it in the air, shouting about how I would have been better off coming in with my trainers on!

A hog roast sandwich later, I bid farewell and set off home so that I could rest my weary legs (and drink prosecco).

Race Report: The Isle of Wight Challenge

When you live in North Yorkshire, the Isle of Wight is very far away. It took the best part of a day to get there. Ellie and I arrived at camp in Chale with and empty tummy, and just enough daylight left to put up the tent. Meanwhile, Becky and Tim were still back on the mainland, waiting for a delayed train. They would arrive well after we’d already gone to bed.

We’d booked the optional extra Friday night dinner, which was available from the main tent. There was a variety of food on offer, including soup, bread, pasta, and a couple of different curries… I decided that curry probably wasn’t a good idea the night before a big run, so stuck to spaghetti bolognese. Even better there was a selection of amazing desserts including banoffee cheesecake, apple and blackberry crumble, sponge cake and profiteroles.

Though the weather was forecast to be warm for the weekend, the cloudless sky meant that the night was cool, so I spent most of it trying to burrow myself farther into my sleeping bag, wishing I’d have brought some warmer clothes, unsuccessfully trying to warm up my cold nose. I must have dropped off for a bit because I awoke at the unreasonable hour of 5.30am, about half an hour before my alarm was due to go off.

I zipped open the tent to see people already wandering around in sports kit, packing up their tents. Even at this early hour, the sun was casting warmth down on the Isle. There wasn’t a single visible cloud. I removed the extra layer from my running bag. There didn’t seem much point in lugging that around all day!

Maker:S,Date:2017-9-25,Ver:6,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar02,E-Y

Registration was quick and easy. I was issued with an envelope containing everything I needed and a lanyard which I could use to carry my tracking barcode. Participants were set off at twenty minute intervals according to their booked start time. While the 7am wave of runners started on their journey, we sat down for breakfast. There was a range of breakfast food available, from pastries to porridge. I went for the full on fried breakfast (followed by Jaffa Cakes for breakfast pudding) and a takeaway pain au chocolat for later. We dropped our bags for transportation to the half way point and then milled around near the start for a while, taking photos and waiting for the 8am wave of participants to be invited into the starting pen.

Stage 1: Chale to the Needles (21km)

There was a short warm up, during which we hung around at the back of the pen taking photos and talking last minute strategies. While three of us were signed up to complete the challenge over two days, Tim was doing it all in one go. He reiterated his plans to stick with us for the whole first half  – he’d even changed his start time so that he could set off with us.

starters

It wasn’t long before we were let loose on the narrow track that took us out onto the cliff tops. We probably should have started closer to the front, as we were now stuck behind a long line of walkers. The only thing for it was to weave around them, hopping in and out of the long grass, and risking twisted ankles on the uneven ground. Within 200m, we’d lost sight of Tim who trotted off into the distance…

It was quite a sight to see hundreds of people snaking their way along the coastal path following the numerous pink arrows which served as waymarkers. It was an absolute joy to be out running under the warmth of the early morning sun.

As we approached the 5th km, we could see a long line of stationary participants forming  a queue up ahead. It wasn’t clear quite what they were queuing for, but we joined in anyway. We stood still for a few minutes, before deciding to move forward a bit. That’s how we found Tim again! He was waiting at a point where we could see a line of people carefully making their way down what turned out to be some pretty steep, nettle-lined steps. Some of the runners and walkers opted out of the queuing and decided to find a different route around the obstacle. We were well aware that we had another 60+ more miles to run before the weekend was over, so waited our turn. Within 15 minutes we were on the move again, dipping down into a valley and back up the other side to join the coastal path. We jogged, skipped and chatted all the way to the Isle of Wight Pearl – our mid-point stop. I put in a surge of speed at the last minute to pip the unsuspecting Tim to the post for first check in.

IMG_20180511_215135_704.jpg

Chale (the start) to the Isle of Wight Pearl (10km)

The fresh chunks of pineapple and melon on offer went down well, but after only 90 minutes of running, I wasn’t quite ready to take advantage of the piles of pastries and brownies! We stayed there for about five minutes before moving on. Running 10km didn’t seem to merit any more rest than that.

There was more coastal path, a pebbly beach, a big hill with a monument on top and then a glorious downhill to the quarter way checkpoint. The participants who were doing the quarter island challenge got to run up another hill to go and see the Needles. They stayed firmly out of sight for us full islanders.

IMG_20180511_215524_073.jpg

Isle of Wight Pearl (10km) to Nodewell Farm (21km)

As we ran into the checkpoint, I stuck close on Tim’s heels and thrust my tracker in front of the scanner when we crossed the line to try to steal the ‘win’. Unfortunately he was ready for me this time and  just pipped me to the post.

Although it was only 11.16am, this 21km point was officially our lunch stop. We stayed for about 20 minutes. Though lunch wasn’t provided, there were hot and cold sandwiches on sale. None of us were really hungry yet, so stuck to the free snacks.

Stage distance: 21km   

Ascent: 528m

Time: 03:16:08   

 Stage 2: The Needles to Northwood House, West Cowes (31km)

We left the quarter way point together. The route took us on a snaking path through a wooded area and our little group started to settle into slightly different paces. We occasionally lost sight of each other along the twisting path. I was grateful for the shade as the sun was now reaching it’s highest point. The woodland led us out onto a promenade. I kept sight of Becky and Tim for a little while longer before they disappeared around the next corner. By the time we were running along the roadside through Yarmouth they were too far ahead for me to see, and Ellie had dropped out of sight behind me. I was on my own.

We had been warned about mud between 30 – 45km. When it came to 30km, I was still on solid pavement. I wasn’t really expecting it to be that bad anyway. There had been a few days of warm weather, so surely it should be drying out by now?

I started thinking about finishing times for the day. It was in the back of my mind that runners were expected to finish the first half within 8 hours (though that wasn’t an official cut off). This would mean a 4pm finish for the day. So far it was looking good. I estimated I’d be at the mid-way point for this leg by 1pm. The final section was the longest (17km) but I knew from my training that I could do that in just over two and a half hours. I’d have time to spare.

IMG_20180511_215854_055.jpg

Nodewell Farm (21km) to Hampstead Farm (35km)

At 33km the mud finally reared its squelchy head. It was a path through a shaded woodland. I caught up with walkers and runners trying to keep their feet dry by picking their way around. After the first bog, I gave up on that and opted to try to stay upright rather than clean and dry. It was still a challenge, with my feet sinking into the ground and sliding a good few centimetres with every step. As I emerged from the other side, my feet were completely coated in sludge as high as my ankle. It wasn’t particularly wet mud so they still felt relatively dry. Plus, I was still upright.  Soon after, I caught up with Becky who’d taken a more cautious approach to the mud. This had been our longest stretch without a break so far and we were both craving a rest stop – one which looked like it would never emerge! I’d slowed down considerably in the mud – it was already past 1pm. By now my 8 hour target seemed much less likely.

As we came out of the woods, there were a couple of girls with a table of iced water and cakes, and a donation bucket. It crossed my mind that this might be it for the rest stop. It obviously wasn’t, as they didn’t have scanners to check us in. Their iced water was much more appealing than the luke warm stuff that I was carrying with me.

Finally, the ‘Approaching rest stop’ sign appeared and we ran into camp at 1.31pm to find Tim, already chilling out in the tent with a drink. He’d been there for a few minutes. Ellie was just a few minutes behind us. She arrived to catch me eyeing up the pick n mix.

Maker:S,Date:2017-9-25,Ver:6,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar02,E-Y

Leaving Hampstead Farm, I worked out that if I could stick to 12 minute miles (seemed doable) I might still be able to get to half way in under 8 hours. For five miles that sort of worked. The woodland  gave way to roads. I ran along country lanes and through villages, just about managing to resist the temptation to pop into one of the pubs where people were lounging around in beer gardens under the afternoon sun.

Tim and Becky had run on ahead and and I lost Ellie in my focus to stick to my pace. Though the scenery wasn’t particularly inspiring on this roady section, the surfaces were amenable to faster running. I had a few passing conversations with others (Are we on the right path? – Oh yes, there’s the pink arrow; which challenge are you doing? How did you get on with the mud?) but for the most part I was running alone and getting very very bored with the roads.

Finally the pink arrows directed me onto a public footpath and I breathed a sigh of relief as I started to run alongside a much more picturesque field. The relief was short lived – around 46km there was mud again – and lots of it. I slowed dramatically as I slid through the swamp, mentally waving goodbye to my 8 hour goal with a 20 minute mile. It was getting harder to lift my fatigued legs up from the heavy ground, and to keep my balance.  Once I’d traversed the mud, it was straight onto the beach. A lovely coating of sand stuck to the fresh mud on my trainers.

IMG_20180511_220344_930.jpg

Hampstead Farm (35km) to Northwood House (52km)

I was ready to stop running now. Across the other side of the beach, the path rose up again. I mentally noted that there was only a parkrun to go. I was flagging, as was a man nearby. He’d done the challenge before, but was planning on retiring at half way this time. He wasn’t where he expected to be by now and said the heat was getting to him.

I grabbed a Hi5 energy gel from my bag and drank it down. They weren’t really part of my nutrition plan for the event, but I’d picked it up from one of the rest stops and I knew that one near the end of the day’s running wouldn’t do me any harm. It was the most delicious thing I’d ever tasted.

The course led me back onto roads again and up a very steep hill. I was in a residential area and there was a man walking the other way with a box of ice lollies. I considered offering him £20 for them. Then I hoped that there would be a shop at the top of the hill so I could get one. There wasn’t- but there was a downhill section to compensate. Eventually the roads led out onto the promenade and right past an ice cream shop.  I stopped dead and waited behind a family to get my ice lolly. There were 4 children, all taking their time to choose what they wanted. Once that was sorted I got my money ready – my turn. Except now the adults were dithering about what they wanted. I turned and ran on, too tired to have the patience to wait. I couldn’t be that far from the end now.

There seemed to be miles and miles of promenade. When I finally saw the 50km marker, I decided there would be no more walking breaks. I could run the whole way into the 52km rest stop, where I’d be able to have a proper break. That kind of worked, except for the steep hill and steps into the park led to the rest stop. I had to walk again. It flattened out enough so that I could pick up into a half-hearted run for the finishing strait – this must be the ultra runners equivalent of the sprint finish.

Tim and Becky were already in the tent. Becky had passed Tim a few km back and got there first. Now she was worrying about how grey he looked.

Maker:S,Date:2017-9-25,Ver:6,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar02,E-Y

Becky relieved that the day is over, Tim contemplating the next 54km

I knew that I needed to sit down, but also drink electrolyte drinks. And stretch. And elevate my legs. And eat. The jumble of thoughts led to me pacing backwards and forwards for a few minutes, with indecision about what to do. I finally grabbed a bottle of water and poured some Dioralyte into it. It tasted disgusting, so I gave it to Tim, who probably needed it more than me anyway. Ellie was back by now and together, we all made Tim eat something, even though he wasn’t hungry and of course, ate some food ourselves.  The first day was done!

Stage distance: 31km            Total distance: 52km

Ascent: 265m                           Total Ascent: 793m

Stage time 05:01:05                Total time: 08:17:13

After a long sit down, we saw Tim off onto the second half of his run and then went to find our bags and the campsite. We were classed as early arrivals, which basically meant that things weren’t signposted quite as well as they were later on in the day. With tired legs and brains it was quite a task to find the entrance!

The only camping option for the evening was a pre-pitched tent. They were a little pricey at £80 for two people, but they did come with sleeping mats, eye masks and ear plugs. More importantly, they came with indoor showers and toilets (the campsite at Chale only had a few porta-showers and portaloos). It was a few hours before we were all clean and freshly squeezed into our compression gear. We thought it would be wise to keep moving, so used our stiff legs to walk into Cowes and found a pub for a pint (of Coke).

We crawled into our tents at about 9,30pm, with alarms set for 4.45am the next day. I decided to keep my compression gear on all night to let it work its magic.

By midnight I woke up, a little bit cold, and needing to go to the toilet. Since that’s quite inconvenient when you’re sleeping in a tent, I tried to hold off. As a result I woke up about every hour, with increasing pressure on my bladder. Confusingly, my legs didn’t ache at all.  At 4am I finally groped my way out of the tent. It took an age to find all the zips. Even when standing up and walking, my leg muscles didn’t have any sign of soreness. I decided that my new compression tights must be magic.

Stage 3: Northwood House to Culver Down – 31km

After my 4am bathroom visit, I didn’t get to sleep again. When Ellie got up at 4.30am I decided to stop trying to sleep and get ready to start the day. My muddy trail shoes were still a tad damp, so I opted to wear my road shoes on this second day. There had been talk from other participants that it was mostly roads and pavements anyway.

We arrived back at Northwood house just after 5am, where we registered for day two and traded in our breakfast tokens for food. I’d been checking my phone all morning for news of Tim’s progress. He finally showed up as having finished the course at 5.38am, just as we were finishing breakfast.

Everyone on day two was starting at the same time: 6am.  There was another mass warm-up which combined participants on the two day challenge as well as fresh runners and walkers who were only tackling the second half (or third quarter). This section started with a short run through West Cowes under the rising sun. Next, we boarded the chain ferry for a few minutes float across the water. Once back on solid ground, the pink arrows pointed us along roads. Our group of three had decided that today, we just needed to run at our own comfortable paces, and not worry too much about staying together. We soon separated out with Becky in the lead, me in the middle and Ellie just a few metres behind.

My legs felt absolutely fine, and not even slightly sore. It seemed that yesterday had more of an impact on my lungs. Getting enough oxygen out of the air didn’t come as easily. It felt more of an effort than it should have done for the pace. This eventually settled down as I found my rhythm.

There was an early morning mist hovering over the fields on either side of the road and hills looming out of the horizon in the distance. I could see glow sticks hanging from some of the trees and lampposts that lined the route. Through the night, they had lit the way for those who had chosen not to sleep.

Since the sun was still waking up, it was pleasantly cool as we made our way along the roads. I overtook Becky on one of the hills, and she caught up with me soon after. We settled into pace that was comfortable for both of us and stayed together for the rest of the day.

We made a special stop at 64km to take a photo. I turned my phone on to post the ‘Only a marathon to go’ picture on Facebook and it started ringing. It was my mum. Since we were walking up a hill by that point I answered. At 7.45am she didn’t expect that I’d be running yet. I explained that I’d been running for almost two hours now! We finished the conversation when the hill ended and it was time for more running.

IMG_20180512_081915_558.jpg

Northwood House (52km) to Simeon Recreation ground (66km)

We started to pass walkers who’d been going all through the night. One particular walker attracted more attention than others, since he was taking on the challenge with a fridge on his back. We congratulated him as we went past. He was looking very very weary and unlikely to finish the event by that point. Even so, he was still smiling in response to the encouragement of the participants who passed him.

The mid-way point for this quarter was promised at 66km, but at that stage, we were still running along a promenade, with no sign of a big white tent, or any place that there was likely to be one. It finally appeared just before 67km. I wasn’t particularly hungry or thirsty, but had a few cups of electrolyte drink and some slices of melon. Ellie arrived just as we were considering moving on, so we had a quick chat before we went. We probably only spent about 5 minutes at that stop.

We kept following the arrows, along the coast line, down promenade after promenade, much of it flat tarmac, with only a few fields to break up the monotony. I occasionally stopped for walk breaks on the flat bits when my lungs felt tired. Having Becky there meant that I probably started running again sooner than I would have done if was on my own.

IMG_20180512_082252_803.jpg

Simeon Recreation Ground (67km) to Culver Down (83km)

We came across a few people running in the opposite direction, out for their early training runs. Many of them seemed to know about the challenge and called out support. The promenades eventually gave way to more interesting winding woodland paths. We hit 80km where we expected the next rest stop to be. It wasn’t. No need to panic though- it would probably be closer to 81km. By the time we saw the 82km marker we started to worry that we’d somehow missed it. We saw a non-participating runner coming the other way.

“Have you seen a big white tent anywhere?”

“It’s about 1km away – just at the top of that hill.” He said pointing to what looked like a huge mountain. “Lovely views from up there.”

On our way up the big hill, some walkers asked us whether we’d seen a rest stop anywhere – so we weren’t the only ones starting to doubt its existence. Thankfully, it was just over the hill.

Even though it was only 10.20am, we treated this as the lunch stop. We helped ourselves to drinks and slices of pizza and took them over to a patch of shade, just outside the tent. Inside the tent was slightly too warm. Obviously a couple of runners sitting on the floor were a cause for concern for the staff as several of them popped over to see how we were doing.

Ellie wasn’t far behind us. She joined us for lunch, and introduced us to her dad who had come to support. We stayed there for about half an hour before setting off on the final leg. Surely the hard bit was done now…?

Stage distance: 31km          Total distance: 83km

Stage Ascent: 480m              Total Ascent: 1273m

Stage time: 04:19:39             Total time: 12:36:52

Stage 4: Culver Down to Chale – 26km

We trotted down the hill from Culver Down together. Becky’s hips were hurting and my little toe was starting to feel squashed. As soon as we were back onto running flat promenades, I stopped to put on a plaster for blister prevention. In the process I put the mouthpiece from my hydration bag in some sand. My next few sips of water were decidedly gritty. I’d only packed giant plasters for some reason, so did my best to mould it around my toe, heeding the advice of pretty much everyone to deal with blisters at the earliest opportunity, or suffer later.

I picked up speed to catch up with Becky and Ellie, weaving in and out of the scores of bank holiday weekend tourists who were out for a day at the beach. “I can’t wait for a hill.” one of our group commented, much to the amusement of some passers by. “We get to walk up hills.” I explained.

We eventually found our opportunity to walk – up a set of lung bursting steps and then out onto the roads, before running back into the woods on winding undulating trails. Having to concentrate on not tripping over tree roots was great fun, mostly because it took my mind off the effort of endurance for a while. We passed lots of walkers and told them that they were all amazing. “But you’re running!” They exclaimed. “We slept last night!” we replied, hoping that it sounded more like admiration and less like gloating.

The woods led out onto more flat promenades. This time we could see the big white rest-stop tent perched half way up a big hill as we approached it. We could also see a shop which sold ice lollies at the bottom of the hill. Even though the rest stop was only about 400m away, we stopped to buy some. It was probably the wisest decision of the day.

IMG_20180512_082712_165.jpg

Culver Down (83km) to Ventnor Park (96km)

We stayed at the Ventnor Park rest stop for a good 25 minutes where I changed my bumper sized plaster for a little-toe sized one and helped myself to more food.

The three of us left Ventor Park together in good spirits – we’d done the bulk of the work now. We followed the coastal path down into a seaside town. It was then that we realised the pink arrows had disappeared, as had my phone reception. We retraced our steps and bumped into two separate groups of walkers who had also gone off track somewhere. We suspected that some local comedians might have moved some of the arrows at a particularly confusing point on the route. Fortunately, one of the walkers did have a phone signal, and therefore access to a map. He led us back on track.

The coastal paths gave way to winding roads, which we ran and walked on and up, eagerly looking out for the 100km sign for a photo. Though the road was steadily climbing, it wasn’t the sudden steep ascent I was expecting from looking at the course profile. I kept expecting some more lung busting steps to appear. They never did.

IMG_20180512_105325_485.jpg

Ventnor Park (95km) to Chale (109km)

At around 101km the race director and some of his team were setting up tanks of water on a wall. They called out to ask us if we needed to refill our water – a mark of the care that was been taken to look after everyone who was still out on the course, and a reminder about how hot it was.

Once we turned off the road, and back onto trails it felt like we should be nearly there. We were back on clifftops with a sea view to our left and bright yellow fields to our right. When we finally caught glimpse of the big white tent at Chale, it still seemed to be a really long way away. But the distance markers told us it was only a couple of km away and at least we could see it.

I picked up speed at the 105km marker. Though my Garmin told me that I’d already run way over 106km today, the official route marker told me that there was only a km to go. It was a really long km. Not just psychologically, but also in reality!

As we turned into the field where the finish line became visible, the arrows directed us around the field, instead of the sensible route, straight across it. We groaned and obediently followed the arrows. It wasn’t that much farther after all. As we approached, the announcer mentioned us by name. Tim was standing next to him watching us run in, and Ellie’s dad was there taking photos.

Becky and I ran across the line together and then jostled for position to get our barcode scanned. Neither of them worked, so they had to be entered manually.

Someone put a medal round our necks. We walked over to the stand to collect our t-shirts and a cone of cava and then took it back to the finish line to watch Ellie run in.

We’d done it!

Stage distance: 26km          Total distance: 109km (officially 106km)

Stage Ascent: 440m              Total Ascent: 1713m

Stage time: 04:55:48             Total time: 17:30:40

finishers

Finishers

Once all of us were back together again, we hopped on and off the stage to take photos in front of the finishers board, as if we hadn’t all run 110km in the last 32 hours.

Then it was over to the tent to refuel before the long journey home.  The food at the finish line was the most disappointing – over-cooked meat, devoid of moisture and burnt pastries for pudding, with luke warm water to wash it down. It didn’t matter at this stage though. We ate, we smiled, we caught up with Tim’s tales of endurance and blisters, I stuck my legs up in the air, I binned my trainers because they had a little hole in the side (and I’d accidentally run through a cow pat), and Becky danced around the tent because she didn’t have to run anymore.

We were all winners today!

Preparing for my first Ultra Marathon

A few months ago, I volunteered to join my colleague, Ellie in running the Isle of Wight Challenge which entails 65 miles of running around the coast of the Isle of Wight. It was the first very-long distance race I’d signed up to since I retired from running marathons in October 2017, and my first ultra marathon. Well, technically my first two ultra marathons, since I’d chosen the option to run it over two days. I don’t know why I thought it was a good idea to run two of them in as many days, especially when the challenge does offer half and quarter island options… I guess when you’re going all the way to the Isle of Wight for a couple of days, you might as well see it all!

Soon after I signed up, I persuaded a couple of my GoodGym buddies to join us (i.e. I mentioned I was doing it, and then they signed up), which completed our group of four first time ultra runners.

Training

I was training for a couple of 10 mile races back at the beginning of February when Ellie text me with the news that she had entered, and I had to make good on my promise to join her in the race. True to my word, I signed up, but decided to wait until after the Snake Lane 10 before thinking about adjusting my training.

IMG_20180225_115643_1.jpg

After the Snake Lane 10

There never was a proper training plan. At one point I decided that I was just going to run everywhere, which resulted in covering 13 miles in a normal (non-long run) day. Soon after, I realised that wasn’t really that practical as I could only carry a limited load whilst running, and it wasn’t always appropriate to turn up to wherever I was going in sweaty sports gear.

Running to far-away park runs brought me a bit more success in clocking up the mileage. Even getting across to Heslington on the other side of York (and back) added 12 miles to what would have been a 5km run. When visiting Paul’s parents, I chose a parkrun eight miles away, instead of just a mile away from where we were staying.

Maker:S,Date:2017-9-25,Ver:6,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar02,E-Y

Arriving at Croxteth Hall Parkrun, after an 8 mile run

Parkrun tourism, wasn’t quite enough though – the endless tarmac just didn’t reflect the coastal paths that made up a lot of the Isle of Wight Challenge route. My GoodGym buddies were on hand to help, by inviting me along to a few social trail runs.

IMG_20180227_204020.jpg

Running in the Wolds, around Roseberry Topping and the Howardian Hills

There were also a few far-away GoodGym missions that I would ordinarily have cycled to. Instead, I ditched my bike and laced up my trainers to clock up some more miles.

IMG_20180303_095444

A post-parkrun trot to a mission in Naburn

I’d been advised that it would be good to mix in some hiking – just in case I found that running wasn’t an option on the second day of the challenge, and also as a good opportunity to practise walking up hills. After all, I didn’t intend to actually run up any of them when it came to the weekend of the challenge!

IMG_20180311_193622_906

Walking around Hovingham

I knew that strengthening exercises were good for the running legs, so I picked a workout from my strength training for runners book and planned to do it every week… I lasted two weeks and then never found the time again… Half an hour of squats, lunges and core exercises was really boring, even with Netflix on in the background to help pass the time.

As the challenge drew closer, I started to make the effort to find some trails of my own and drove out to the coast to run 22 miles from Scarborough to Whitby.

Maker:S,Date:2017-9-25,Ver:6,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar02,E-Y

Scarborough to Whitby along the Cleveland Way

A few weeks later I found an OS map of York lying around the house, and took myself off on a 17 mile running adventure to Wetherby. The following week, I ventured out towards Huddersfield to meet up with Ellie where we ran the Holme Valley Circular route (25.5 miles) in the mud and fog.

Holme Valley

Those three runs in particular gave me confidence that I could survive day one of the Isle of Wight challenge (32.5 miles), but I was far less certain about getting up and doing it all again the next day. I did manage some short runs on the day after my long training runs, but they all felt very very hard.

My last long activity before the challenge was Keswick parkrun, followed by a 14 mile hike up Skiddaw and some of its surrounding peaks. It took about a week for my muscles to completely recover from that, so it provided me with a nicely-enforced taper!

Lakes

Paul Kelly took this photo.

Goals

I was catapulting myself into the unknown with a double ultra but I did have some vague goals. You can sign up to the challenge as a runner (if you anticipate finishing in under 8 hours per day), a jogger (finishing between 8 and 10 hours per day) or a walker (10+ hours per day). Though Ellie signed us up as runners, without really reading the guidelines, I felt that we were more within the jogger category. Since there was no strict cut off, we didn’t change our categories. In my head, I wanted to finish each day in under 10 hours, with a best case scenario of coming in at 8 hours.

In the week running up to the challenge, I jotted down some approximate timings on a bit of paper. Running the route in my head, with some basic data about distance between rest stops and elevation on the route helped to break down the enormity of the challenge into manageable pieces.

Race kit and final prep

One of the first few new things I bought after signing up to the race was a hydration pack with 8L storage capacity. Instead of top of the range kit, I went for a more affordable Aonijie bag which fared me well over my training, though it did limit what I was able to carry with me.

Other new things I bought were:

  • A showerproof running jacket
  • A baseball cap
  • Expensive (yet highly recommended) sunscreen
  • Sunglasses (an impulse buy a few days before the race)
  • Compression tights to wear for recovery
  • Runderwear

I considered getting some fancy new running socks too, but since I’ve never suffered from blisters, it didn’t really seem worth it.

In the fortnight running up to the event, I started a list of things I’d need to pack, so when it was time to throw it all in a bag, it didn’t take too long.

A few days before we were due to drive down to the Isle of Wight, I dragged my tent down from the loft and checked that it hadn’t grown any mould since we last used it, then added it to the pile of luggage.

I also watched all of the briefing videos, provided by the Action Challenge organisers. Lots of it wasn’t new to me, but it reassured me that I was as prepared as I could be… after all, it was too late for another training run now!

Coming up next: Race report for the Isle of Wight Challenge

Race Report: Fountain’s 10k

The Fountain’s 10k was a race I stumbled across when I was browsing a list of races on RaceBest. When I read that there were guaranteed wet feet and a pork pie in the goody bag, I just couldn’t resist. Lots of people I spoke to about this race assumed that it takes place in the grounds of Fountain’s Abbey. This isn’t the case. It starts and finishes in Grantley, just outside of Ripon, and loops around the beautiful, undulating Nidderdale countryside.

The day before this race, I ran across a field on the way back from a GoodGym mission (good trail training) and went over on my ankle when a dog growled at me (not so good trail training). The dog then promptly ran away from me, but I’m still attributing blame! Fortunately it wasn’t serious. It felt a bit tender that evening, and a bit stiff in the morning, but didn’t seem to affect my running.

Race day

After a hearty breakfast of buttermilk pancakes topped with bacon and maple syrup I set out on my journey to the race which started at the very reasonable time of 11am. After waiting my turn for a parking spot along a country lane, I started the walk to race HQ (the earlier you get there, the closer to the start you get to park – I wasn’t early!) Everyone seemed friendly and I chatted to a fellow runner as we made our way. She too had been attracted by the promised pork pie in the goody bag, but was less enthused about the wet feet thing.

Down at Grantley Village Hall, everything was really well organised, with race bib, timing chip and safety pins packaged up in a sealed envelope ready for collection. From there, it was just a short walk to the start where a brass band was set up under a blossoming tree, their music adding to the lovely community atmosphere. It was a cool and breezy 8 degrees with dark grey clouds in the sky, contrasting beautifully with the many greens of the surrounding countryside. As the race director briefed us, we were assured that ‘The Puddle’ had been filled up that morning and was looking nice and deep. I wasn’t sure if he was joking or not!

The first km of the race took us uphill on a country lane and past all of the parked cars. The road was narrow, making it a tad difficult to pass people who were not yet spread out enough to make the space.

We turned off onto a trail just before the 2km marker and headed out onto the moor, via ‘The Puddle’ which was clearly signposted and nestled itself behind an open gate. It consisted of a short section of ankle deep bog. The relatively steep and rocky downhill section which led down to The Puddle was approached with caution by many of the runners, forcing me to slow down behind them. Most of the runners in the area were also taking a cautious, yet slower route around the outside of The Puddle and I joined the queue to minimise the need to clean my trainers later, while a few others splashed on straight through. On the other side, there was an equally steep, yet short rocky uphill section which I ran half way up before walking the last few metres. That achieved, the trail opened up and took us across the moor.

Just after 3km an extremely enthusiastic marshall was making the noise of at least 5 cheerleaders, doing an awesome job of cheering everyone through another gate and we continued across the moor which narrowed onto another trail. As I slowed to the pace of the runners in front of me, I took the opportunity to have a look around and caught glimpse of a body of water somewhere to the right, complementing the stunning views across the moors.

After completing 4km the trail took us back out onto the road where we turned onto a glorious downhill section as the sunshine poked it’s head from behind the parting clouds. I relaxed into it, overtaking lots of runners as I sped down the hill.

The 5km marker appeared, seemingly at the blink of an eye. It was indeed my fastest km, taking just 04:38.

By the time we reached 6km, the runners I’d passed on the way down had mostly overtaken me again on the next uphill section. There was a water station just before the 6km marker, which I considered passing without taking a drink, but on seeing the road start to rise up ahead of me again, I grabbed a cup and walked through the water station, coughing as I gulped down the cold liquid, and hearing others do the same all around me.

In the 7th km a passing runner asked if I’d done the race before. It was her first time too and she was wondering where the ‘Hill of Pain’ would rear it’s head. I couldn’t say for sure, but I drove up a hill on the way in that looked like it could be it, so I recommended that she expect it in the last km. By now the sun had hidden itself away again and was replaced by a very welcome cool and gusty breeze.

At 8km I glanced down at my watch to work out how fast I’d need to be to keep it under an hour. It read 42 minutes something, which told me that I was very comfortably under an hour. A nearby man asked if my watch was reading a bit short (it was) and warned that it could mean that there was a ‘long’ km coming up if the distance measurement discrepancy was due to the km marker placement rather than any of that satellite tracking malarkey.

By the time I passed the 9th km marker the Hill of Pain still hadn’t appeared, which pleased me no end. At least now I knew that it wouldn’t be a whole km long! Of course, the big sign advertising it didn’t take long to rear it’s head and we set off on our slog uphill. It was steep, and wound itself around a few corners, making it difficult to know when it was going to end. As I tackled the first part, GoodGym Paul, who runs these things in around 38 minutes came running and cheering down the hill as he looked out for Pauline. He obviously enjoyed the hill so much, he was willing to tackle it a second time when he ran with her to the finish! I briefly considered walking, but noticed that noone else was yet, which was all the motivation I needed to keep on going. When they did start walking, I managed to carry on. Around a corner and, though we were still travelling uphill, the gradient softened, allowing me to get my breath back. One more curve in the road and I spied one final steeper bit, but I could also hear cheers from the village, accompanied by the sound of the brass band – I was nearly at the top of the hill. As I ran over the crest and past the 400m to go sign, I could hear spectators calling out that it was all downhill from here. And it was. Around a corner and into the school grounds I went with spectator noise increasing all the time. The final stretch was a full lap of the admittedly small school field, making it seem like I was running in a big circle, and the finish posts appeared out of nowhere at the last minute. The official timer was still on 54 minutes something as I went through, meaning that I definitely had a respectable time! My official finishing time was 00:54:12.

In the finishing funnel, there was music playing, school children available to cut the timing chips from our trainers and the race director congratulating and shaking the hands of everyone who went through. It led us round to a gazebo where volunteers were handing out goody bags which contained a plethora of goodies including a 3D printed medal, and of course, the all important pork pie.

IMG_20180429_153422.jpg

Goody Bag haul

All in all, a fantastic race and one I’ll certainly return to.

IMG_20180429_154320_424.jpg

Race Report: Vale of York 10

The Training

I didn’t really have chance to do specific training for this one. As soon as I entered the Isle of Wight Challenge – a two day ultra which takes place at the beginning of May, long slow runs became my priority.  I’ve been getting out to the countryside and the coast to do some 20+ mile runs at the weekend and just ticking over with some comfortable paced recovery during the week. The only faster paced runs I’ve managed are parkruns – and even then not every week. Needless to say that this approach didn’t leave me feeling very confident that I’d be able to keep up a faster pace to meet my 10 mile goal.

The Goal

As a member of GoodGym, I’m encouraged to set goals for myself which I make public. My first goal for this year was to run 10 miles in under 85 minutes.  I was hoping to achieve this in my first 10 mile race but I set the target date for the day of the Vale of York 10, just to give me a second chance should anything go wrong. As it happened, the flu knocked me off course at the beginning of the year, so I didn’t quite get there at that first race – although at 1:25:28, I wasn’t too far off.

Preparation

Ignoring the fact that I didn’t do any specific speed training for this race, I took preparation relatively seriously by  not going out to dance tango  in the evening before the race to make sure my legs were fresh in the morning. You could argue that a 25.5 mile run on the Tuesday before the race might have made my legs tired enough, but I couldn’t feel any noticeable effect by race day…

Getting to the start

I woke up on Sunday morning feeling pretty horrible. The cough that never really went away after having the flu in January was rearing its ugly head. I was worried I might be getting ill – though it could also have been the remnants of Friday night’s hangover! Managing 8:30 miles for the duration of the race seemed a tough challenge to take on, but I was determined that I would try as hard as I could.

We  arrived at Rufforth airfield early, having been warned about heavy traffic. We were so early that the start/finish post hadn’t yet been inflated and it wasn’t clear where we would be starting from. The air was cold, and not at all spring-like so after picking up our race numbers, we went back to the car to shelter from the cold breeze.

The race started 10 minutes late, ostensibly because there was still quite a long queue for the toilets at 9:30, when we were meant to begin. I weaved my way into the starting crowd in an effort to keep warm and jiggled around on the spot until it was time to go.

The race

Mile 1: 8:21

The first mile was a short out and back up the airfield before leaving the site and running out onto hedge lined country roads. I was aiming for 8:30 miles, but the crowds at the start encouraged me to go a bit faster than I would have liked – not because I wanted to keep up with them, but more that I don’t like people being too close in front of me when I’m running, so I weaved ahead of them to find myself a space with a bit of ‘stopping distance.’

Mile 2: 8:22

By now we were well out onto the country roads and I was trying to slow myself down, but 8:30 miles just weren’t quite coming naturally to me. I decided to keep up with the 8:20 miles for as long as I could to give myself a bit of buffer time at the end. The chill of the morning had long since left my skin and the sun was trying its luck against the clouds, making it feel hot and humid.

Mile 3: 8:18

I tested out a number of different chants and mantras in my head – ‘I.will.not.fail’ ‘keep going.keep going.keep. going.keep going.’ Though the lanes were mostly flat, there was a bit of an incline in this mile. I grabbed some much needed water from the water station and carried the bottle with me for the rest of the race, sipping as I needed it.

Mile 4: 8:13

Admittedly a tad too fast but there was a bit of downhill which  I felt the need to capitalise on. I started to wonder where the looped bit of the course would start, or whether it had already started, and wish that I’d studied the course a bit better before today. If I could just keep up this pace for another mile, then I’d be able to drop to 8:40 miles in the second half…

Mile 5: 8:24

There was some more upward incline in this mile and I was feeling it. I comforted myself with the fact that I was still on target.

Mile 6: 8:19

Weeeeee! The road seemed to be going slightly downhill again. The endless twisting roads, lined with hedges started to seem endless.

Mile 7: 8:29

By now I was starting to run out of steam. The effort to keep the pace below 8:30 was increasing and I comforted myself by working out that I’d be able to drop the pace to 8:50s if I needed to, and still sneak in under 85 minutes with a good sprint finish. It occurred to me that this was the hardest I’d ever run.

Mile 8: 8:32

By now I was becoming one of those runners who sound like they’re about to drop any second – gasping for breath and moaning as I tried to suck more oxygen out of the air. Given that, I was quite impressed that I wasn’t that far over 8:30 for that mile. I checked my time against the mile marker and recalculated the final two miles. My tired brain must have miscalculated somewhere – where before I thought I’d have a few minutes to borrow from, my new sums said that I needed to continue to get 8:30 miles. I couldn’t work out why. Maybe my maths was wrong? I didn’t want to risk making that assumption at this point.

Mile 9: 8:24

I struggled on, telling myself I’d be annoyed with myself if I missed my time by a few seconds. There wasn’t much farther to go. I passed Nick at some point during this mile and tried to look a bit less like I was about to die. The moany, gaspy breathing was only getting worse and the road seemed to go on forever. All I wanted to see was that final turning back into the airfield. I was amazed to get in under 8:30 for this mile. I thought that maybe now I’d be able to do 9:00 minute mile, but my watch was slightly out of sync with the mile markers, so I wasn’t sure. It ocurred to me briefly that I was still overtaking people – even if they did all look and sound in better shape than me!

Mile 10: 8:14

Finally that turning into the airfield appeared as did the spectators gathered along the final section of the race. The finish line was out of sight at this point and I just hoped that it wasn’t too far around the corner. I told myself that the faster I ran, the sooner I’d be able to stop. I didn’t feel like I could manage a sprint finish, but when I turned the corner, I probably did speed up a bit. As I ran up the finishing mat I could see the official timer ticking onto 01:24:38 which told me that I’d definitely made my goal, since I had taken a minute or so to cross the start line- Phew!

The man who came in just behind me congratulated me – “You sounded quite out of breath for that last bit.” He said. Personally I felt that was an understatement!

My official finishing time was 01:23:57. Hooray!

I collected my goody bag and joined the spectators around the finishing straight to wait for Paul, who wasn’t too far behind me.

IMG_20180415_111629.jpg

Paul, getting his PB

About an hour after the race, I started to feel a bit light headed. I guess that completely drained feeling is what comes from running so hard. Where my previous PBs have all seemed almost too easy on the day, this time I really felt that I’d earned it!

Race Report: Helmsley 10k 2018

Helmsley 10k is a multi-terrain race that took place on Easter Sunday. It was a bit of a last minute entry for me, lured in by the promise of an Easter egg if I was one of the first 300 finishers, and the rave reviews of one of my running friends.

There wasn’t really any specific race preparation to speak of. In fact, the day before the race I went for a little run to see if I could discover a new path (I could) and ended up running 10 miles.

My only goal was to come in at under an hour which, judging by previous race results meant that I would be in the first 300 finishers and qualify for an egg. Helmsley is on the edge of the North Yorkshire Moors (i.e. hilly) so I genuinely didn’t know how easy it would be to achieve this.

I woke up on the day to dark clouds and rain. As I drove to Helmsley the rain started to get heavier and I started to wish I hadn’t bothered signing up! I parked up in the town centre and then walked the short distance to the sports club that was hosting the race. There I found some of my GoodGym friends. As more and more runners gathered inside the venue, I started to notice that I was getting wet when people who’d just been outside brushed past me. It was looking like it might be a very damp experience. Fortunately the rain did stop as we shuffled towards the start line. It’s a gun timed race, so Lucy and I moved forward, as close to the start line as possible to give ourselves the best opportunity to get that Easter Egg.

After a brief downhill section to start with, the first 4km took us solidly uphill on a winding country road. It was steep enough that some people were beginning to walk bits of it. I was tempted to join them, but pushed on upwards, knowing that I could afford to spend some energy here as the second half of the race was all downhill. It was a relief to turn off the endless uphill road onto a packed stone track. There was a water station just after the turning, giving out open cups of water. Though I was thirsty, I ran on past without taking one as I wasn’t ready to slow down yet. The track continued uphill for a short time before the promised downhill section finally emerged. Though we splashed through plenty of muddy puddles, the ground was solid enough not to slow me down too much. The path wound downhill through some stunning scenery (so I’m told) which I didn’t really have time to admire as I was so busy watching the path ahead, making sure I didn’t face plant in the mud.

About 2 km from the end, the path emerged onto a field where we were expected to run down hill through some thoroughly churned up mud. While some people literally skated down, I chose to slow down a bit in an attempt to stay upright, making the 9th km my slowest in the whole race. When I made it to the gate, I cheered to the marshall ‘Yay, I’m still upright!’. She congratulated me. The mud persisted throughout that km which made it hard going. I knew I was close to the end now though, and pretty certain that I’d easily meet my sub 1 hour goal. The muddy section had tired me out and I wanted to slow down, but as we came back out onto the road, people in the crowds were starting to cheer Lucy. This told me that she was close behind. I didn’t look, I just kept up the pace, expecting her to come past me all the time. The final section of the course was up the same hill that we’s started down and then onto the sports club field for the finishing straight. As the finish line came into view, I couldn’t quite muster my standard sprint finish until I saw the GoodGym crew cheering for us about half way down. I crossed the line in 57:44, Lucy just one place behind and we both claimed our easter eggs and finishers mug.

IMG_20180401_110620.jpg

Finishers

Back at the car, I’d sensibly packed a pair of dry socks and trainers to change into for the journey home. I not-so-sensibly proceeded to drop one of my dry socks into a puddle. At least I got to drive home with one dry foot…

IMG_20180401_112310.jpg