Monday, May 21, 2007

Wessex Ridgeway Relay - Race Report

The day started early for Dave – who by swanning off to Italy on holiday at the crucial planning stage – found himself running Legs 1 and 2 – the longest leg and the early start! Martin and I thought we were getting up at the crack of dawn, but we did spare a thought for Dave whilst we having breakfast – he had already left Tollard Royal and was heading for Shroton, the handover point for the lucky runners who didn’t have to carry on and complete another leg.

We arrived at Okeford Beacon in plenty of time, and sad though it sounds, it was actually very exciting waiting for the first runners to appear. At last the first competitor was spotted and as he drew closer it became clear that the Dorset Doddlers had opened up an early lead. We then had a nervous wait for Dave – had he overslept?, had he got lost?, was he doing OK? We need not have worried – at exactly the time we were expecting him he came charging up the track and the first handover of the baton was safely completed. It was all a bit of a blur to begin with as I struggled to pin on my number (collected by Dave at the start!), cope with the baton and run as fast as I could – hardly surprising that I had completed half a mile or so before I remembered to start the GPS! Well it was still early………….

Leg 3 was the one I was most worried about navigating safely so I was quite glad to have some runners ahead of me. However, I soon overtook the Gillingham 3 and then shortly afterwards the Yeovil Town runner ahead of me – so from then on there was no-one in sight. I need not have worried – the tricky hill fort section passed without problem and then a welcome downhill stretch, along a stream bed (nice wet feet just before having a ploughed field to cross) and in no time at all I was approaching the next hand over at the start of Leg 4. The cry of “runner coming” went up and it was quite funny watching the assembled runners looking round trying to work out which one of them was about to start – and then sweeping past them to start Leg 4!

A long steady climb ahead of me and no more worries about getting lost – I could just concentrate on covering the ground as quickly as possible. Once through Dorset Gap (I didn’t stop to sign the visitor book!!) more climbing and then a long downhill lane to the road crossing before once again starting to climb. As I reached the top I became aware of not one but two runners behind me, so I sped up as best I could to try and hold them off. As they drew level with me I saw that one of them was Garry Perratt of Axe Valley Runner fame (aka the Lean Mean Runner Bean) so I knew I could forget about trying to keep ahead of him! Fortunately there was only about half a mile to go and it was all downhill so I really bust a gut to try and stay with them. They were both clutching their course descriptions so I had a sneaking suspicion that they might miss the tricky right turn off the well defined track we were following……..and sure enough, they raced straight ahead. Being a sporting type, I did shout at them, but as I was a bit out of breath from trying to keep up it didn’t come out very loudly…… Consequently I swept down the hill and handed over to Phil, who took off like an Olympic sprinter out of the blocks, and then had a few moments to compose myself before they both approached from the opposite direction looking a bit confused as to how I had managed to get there first! Well all’s fair in love, war and relay races …………………….

Martin and I managed to intercept Phil at a few road crossings and he was going really well. Once he had gone through the hand over at Batcombe and started on his second leg, Martin and I headed over to the A37 crossing to await his arrival. At this point we had caught up with the race again, and so the first runner we saw through was the Dorset Doddler – and it was 20 minutes before the second placed Poole Runner appeared. Next came the red shirt of Wimborne, and then the yellow of Marlborough, and then the welcome sight of the silver vest and Phil powering up the hill, having closed the gap somewhat on the team ahead.

We had hoped to be in the top 10, but to be in 5th place at half way with no other team anywhere in sight behind us was fantastic. It was Martin’s turn now to carry the baton and he hared off down the lane with an impressive display of speed. Phil and I headed over to the A356 road crossing to intercept him at about the half way point. Dorset had long since passed by but we saw the 2nd, 3rd and 4th runner go through – the Marlborough runner appeared to be struggling and Martin seemed to have made up ground. A quick swoop down into Maiden Newton to pick up Dave and then one more stop off to see Martin and refuel him with energy drink before heading over to the start of Leg 9.

An interesting development – the Marlborough runner had overtaken both Wimborne and Poole and taken his team into second place, but even better, Martin had closed the gap by another minute or two. No pressure for Dave of course……..

Next stop, Beaminster, and Dave sailed through looking comfortable, and then straight over to Sheepwash Lane to await his arrival. Once again we had caught up the race and saw Dorset Doddler go through, their impressive lead intact. I was changed and ready to go, but still with time to wait for Dave’s arrival. The Poole runner was next to appear, having pulled his team back into 2nd place, and then it was just SO exciting to see Dave sprinting down the road, having overtaken both Marlborough and Wimborne and bringing us up into 3rd place – an absolutely fantastic achievement and who was the pressure on now?!!!

It was so cool to hear the other teams saying “Well who is he? What team?” And we could proudly reply “Maiden Newton Runners !!”

The Wimborne runner was close on Dave’s heels, so I took off as fast as I could and just hoped that he wasn’t too fast. It was really hard getting going again after a break and I struggled to begin with. The Wimborne runner overtook me within the first mile, but he didn’t pull too far ahead. Much to my surprise I caught and overtook him going up Pilsdon Pen, but within half a mile he returned the complement. I managed to stay with him and as we approached the short road section at Blackdown I got past him again – just in time to impress Martin and Phil! It was short lived though – on the final stretch he proved too strong for me. I really gave it everything I had but he finished about 50 yards ahead of me and we were back in 4th place as I once again handed over to Phil.

Martin and I set off to try and give Phil some support – Dave was now travelling with Jackie and his sons (thanks for the vocal support at the end of the leg boys!). At the first road crossing, Phil had closed on the Wimborne runner and looked strong, at the second road crossing he was ahead and pulling away! At the end he had opened up a 2 minute lead and so Martin took the baton in third place and under huge pressure not to get lost! The Wimborne runner waiting to start the last leg looked about 25 years younger than Martin and worryingly fast.

Phil and I drove up to the A35 road crossing and then began a long and anxious wait. If Martin was going to get lost it would be on this first, tricky section. The Poole runner came through looking very impressive and the minutes began ticking past – they had been about 6 minutes ahead at the handover – by the time 7 minutes had ticked slowly by my nerves were in shreds – and then, what a relief, Martin appeared round the corner, looking strong, just a slight pause for traffic and then he was across and heading off down the hill, the end drawing near. Phil and I waited a couple of minutes but the next runner still hadn’t shown and so we rushed down to Up Lyme just in time to see Poole finish in 2nd place.

It was just fantastic to see Martin appear and know that we were home and safe – everyone having given it their absolute best effort, no one having got lost and we were THIRD!!! Out of 20 teams! And we were only a team of four! Next year no-one will be saying “but who are Maiden Newton Runners?”

I apologise for the number of times I’ve used the word fantastic in this report, but that’s just the sort of day it was.

Monday, May 14, 2007

The Annual Johnny Kipps Race

Only the brave and the foolish gathered at Wynford Eagle for the annual Johnny Kipps race on Sunday 13th May. The weather was a little wet to say the least - real Wessex Ridgeway Relay weather. The threatened influx of Yeovil runners didn't materialise so Phil's concern that the coveted biscuit tin might be lost to Maiden Newton for ever was unfounded.

Lord Wynford also braved the weather to start the race - a slightly unconventional start this year as people rotated on the start line unwilling to divulge which direction they were intending to run. A prompt start and Dave Webb, Phil, Martin, Richard, Lesley, Andy Staples and myself headed off on the boringly conventional clockwise circuit. Dave Carnell, Daniel and Ian set off anti clockwise.

Dave, Phil, Martin and I formed the leading group, but after the first half mile or so my marathon legs couldn't hold the pace. First Dave opened a small lead, Martin then took up the challenge and closed on Dave ,dropping Phil and myself and it wasn't long before Phil started pulling away from me too.

The rest of the race was fairly lonely for me - apart from meeting the people coming the opposite way. Firstly Di, Keith and Pauline who had set off at a sensible walking pace earlier that morning. At the top of the hill Jackie and little helpers were bravely dispensing water (well the little helpers were being very brave, Jackie, sensibly I thought, was nice and cosy in the car). Having only run 2 miles in cold, wet weather I wasn't exactly gasping for a drink, but being a polite soul I took one and discarded it once safely round the corner - well it seemed ungrateful not to!

At 2.8 miles I met Dave Carnell coming in the opposite direction and not knowing the distance assumed that we had met at about the half way point, only to discover at the end that he was already ahead of me. Ian was the next person to loom out of the rain, closely followed by Dan and then, apart from the occasional glimpse of Phil up ahead, it was a lone run for me. The loud clap of thunder in the last mile or so hastened me on my way and soon I was sprinting for the line, via the huge puddle at the bridge. I was none too pleased to see that Dave Carnell had got there before me, but my time was a few minutes up on last year so all in all a fair effort.

My first thought was to see if the biscuit tin would be returning with us for another year, but Phil immediately said that the finish had caused controversy and the winner had not yet been declared! Martin having opened a small lead with his fell running tactics down the final hill had reached the bridge and stopped, Dave already closing the gap on Martin then sprinted easily past him to the actual finishing line, leaving Martin wondering why he hadn't stopped! They were both being frightfully polite and decent, and declaring the other the winner, but the final decision rested with Phil, who had some time to think about it whilst we cheered home the other runners - first Richard, taking it easy after doing Ivybridge 10k the previous evening, then Ian, Dan and finally Lesley and Andy splashing through the flooded finish together.

We then all repaired to the convenience of the roadside barn to dry off as best we could and await Phil's decision. In the end he took the easy option and declared a draw. Martin insisted that Dave take the biscuit tin - he was really only concerned with the contents - which we all partook of before sqelching off home. Despite the awful weather it was a great turn out and thanks to everyone who came, especially the non runners who were particularly brave turning out on such an awful morning to support us.

I've just made up a new rule for next year - the winner has to do the race report for the blog - so that lets me off!

Sunday, May 06, 2007

More Races: Arlington and Glastonbury

Sunday 29th April and the Westgates were at Arlington for the 10K off road race. After surviving London last week I had no intention of running it, and had only taken my trainers etc in case I felt like a short jog round the grounds………..
However it was such a nice day and after a detour to Sainsburys on the way, and being delayed by road works, we were running late, the adrenaline levels were rising, and a late decision saw me as the last entrant on the day. It was a lovely course through fields and bluebell woods, past a lake and river, with only a short stretch of lane. A few hills, which another time I would have tried to run, but this time was content to walk. Finished in just over an hour, a good 2 minutes slower than last year. However Richard’s time of 44:06 was a good improvement.
The lovely sunny day was not to be wasted. A short drive found is on the North Devon coast with excellent views as we ate our sandwiches. Another short drive took us to Woody Bay, where, after a steep downhill walk to the beach, we enjoyed the rest of the afternoon sunshine as the tide slowly crept in around the rocks we were sitting on. A timely departure, and an even steeper uphill walk to the car finished off a very enjoyable day.