Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Dalwood Three Hills

Sunday 22nd February saw the Westgates and the Lascelles at the Dalwood 3 Hills. Any race organised by Axe Valley with hills in the title should ring alarm bells for any wimps looking for a fast flat race. Considering the hundreds of races Lin and Martin have entered it was a surprise to learn they were Dalwood virgins, but by the end of the day they had left their mark.

Axe Valley like to make you work for your money. A stamped addressed envelope rewards you with race number only – no directions or parking info etc. Dalwood is a very small community nestling in at the bottom of a valley and some navigational skill is needed if you want to get to the start in good time. I’m not sure who, but someone decided the competitors’ car park wasn’t good enough and decided to park a small red car on a narrow corner about quarter of a mile along the course. The Yeovil Town Road Runner sticker in the rear window offers some clue to the culprit.

It really was a perfect February morning; above average temperatures, little breeze and enough sun to warrant donning the shades. The start seemed friendly, informal and relaxed, however near the front line were five SWRRs who were obviously looking to do well. Lin and Martin were just ahead on my left and Lesley was lurking somewhere behind. (Making my way towards the back, chatting and completely oblivious to the starting gun). There might well be Three Hills, of note, but there seemed very little flat. From the start we climbed, passing the aforementioned small red car and then followed a friendly marshal’s directions onto a track. This race was well marshalled and I loved some of the characters. Some of them were traditional race-supporters with helpful children at water stations. Others seemed to be local farmers or landowners who just stood like scarecrows making no movement or eye contact with passing runners. They were obviously happy to be there to help, but probably thought all runners were mad and had their minds on crop production or the price of lamb.

Within five minutes Martin went past; he seemed very focused and didn’t say anything; I didn’t look behind but expected Mrs Lascelles to be in close proximity. The first four miles are a loop that brings the runners back past the start and the village hall, but not the small red car. I remember running across grassy fields, then hills, then stony tracks. Lesley remembers trampling frogspawn in flooded tracks. Others remarked that she has an evil grin as she walks over lower life forms. Talking of which I remember going through five miles at 40:45 and thinking that wasn’t too bad. I then clocked an 11 minute-mile and came back to earth. I had a target and was losing it. My target had involved me doing a series of 10-mile very hilly training runs. It had also involved me abstaining from alcohol for FIVE whole days. Given my high-pressure executive lifestyle, this took some commitment.

At about 6 miles I heard male and female voices behind me. How can anyone run and maintain a conversion on such a hilly course? Soon they glided past, but on a steep and stony downhill I blundered past them and stayed ahead for another mile. I didn’t have the strength to push on and once again they passed me, finishing 30 seconds ahead; the female being the 1st Lady. The last hill brings the runners to an exposed grassy hump overlooking the village down in the valley. From now on it is steeply downhill, only to be slowed by a field with a very boggy/watery corner. The final sprint to the finish along the Corry Brook gives spectators a good photo opportunity. Not quite the same as wildebeast floundering through crocodile infested waters, but there was a small bank to climb and there could have been giant rats. A very enjoyable run.

Congrats to Mrs Lascelles who got 2nd Ladyand to Martin who finished "fresh as a daisy" some 7 minutes ahead of me. I came home with a PW and Lesley with shoes full of mushy frogspawn. Note from Lesley: I achieved my own personal target which was to beat Bev and Jo. Last year Bev left me standing on the final downhill, and Jo crashed past me on the final sprint across the river. This year the cunning plan was to get a bit ahead earlier on and maintain the gap. However it was all guess work as I never saw them after the first quarter mile.

Friday, February 20, 2009

“Off Road Shoes Required” – The Inca Trail 15th February 2009

Race Report by Jackie Webb

Well it said it all really, but quite frankly wellies or even diving gear would have been more appropriate. I tried not to look at the photos of the flooded course displayed in the club house and concentrated on getting the timing of my place in the loo queue right.

We were slightly dismayed when, during our pre-race pep talk we were told that due to flooding the course had been changed and was now about 8 miles (rather than the advertised 7) and if this runner was anything like the one I live with, I suspected that the “about” meant more like 9. “Don’t worry Jack” Amanda whispered “One potato two potato” (Amanda’s new secret weapon when it comes to pacing herself during races). We were also warned that there were still some fairly deep flooded stretches that were deeper than they looked (they looked pretty deep) and lots of mud.

Well, Michael Rosen’s ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’ soon came to mind, with thick oozy mud and of course we couldn’t go over it or under it, we had to go through it. We set off slipping and sliding like Torville and Dean on acid. After a very long stretch of mud, we had about a mile of flat straight track; nice easy running we thought. We then came to a big puddle which we easily skirted around but soon wondered why we had bothered keeping our feet dry. We had to run through water that easily came over my knees, so once we were running in it, we got absolutely soaked. This stretch went on for about 80 yards. I then encountered a new problem. My trousers started falling down with the weight of the water. It’s not very dignified hitching yourself up every few feet.

After the water, came more mud and then a nice bit of clean road. At this stage we started to see the leaders heading back and were both impressed at how friendly and encouraging both the runners and marshals were. Climbing the promised ‘Machu Pichu’ was pretty tough but I managed to run some of it especially when I heard the shake of a sweet tin at the top. Running down was great. I careered down at quite a speed and could see a marshall in the distance but couldn’t make out what she was saying until the words “slow down it’s very slippery” seemed a bit redundant. I managed to keep my balance and then embarked on the return leg; more mud, that water again and finally “one potato two potato” to the finish.

We finished 56th and 57th out of 70, which we were pleased with as they all seemed lithe and lovely club runners. We did it in 1 hour 27minutes and I’m still not sure now how far it was. I heard it was 8.13 miles from one runner. I would definitely recommend this run. Amanda and I both enjoyed it and feel more confident about the Wessex Ridgeway. At least we managed to keep our running shoes. Dave told me one early finisher crossed the line in his socks. Perhaps he didn’t feel he could keep the flippers on for the final stretch.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Four Trigs

Martin and I headed down to Sidmouth last Sunday in the lovely spring-like sunshine for our third running of the Four Trigs. Following the frantic recce-ing expeditions of 2007 and 2008 we were extremely complaisant this year and had not been near the route. This is a self navigating run of the four trig points surrounding Sidmouth – and to make it more interesting it is run in opposite directions each year. This year the route was anti-clockwise, my personal favourite, as it gets the killer hills between Sidmouth and Branscombe out of the way early on whilst there is still some life left in the legs.

The run starts at the Yacht Club in Sidmouth and follows the coast path past Salcombe and Westonmouth to reach the first trig point on Branscome cliff. This is the easy bit (from a navigational point of view!). The route then heads inland through Weston and past the donkey sanctuary at Salcombe. At this point it became apparent that two runners who clearly had no idea of the route were using us as guides. This didn’t bother me too much, but when Martin started pretending that he couldn’t remember the way, I realised that it was upsetting him and thought it was probably time to stop chatting to one of them and try to lose them!

We crossed the main coast road and headed into the woods to emerge near Harcombe with our irritating posse still on our heels. The second trig is definitely the hardest to find – it nestles in a knoll of scrubby woodland with no discernible path, so we plunged into the woods, clawing our way up the steep hillside and managed to briefly shake off our pursuers. Emerging a few minutes later, arms and legs badly scratched, we legged it out of the woods trying to reach a cunning short cut before our companions came back into view.

A steep descent through the woods, out into the fields and we headed down to the road crossing at Sidbury. At this point Martin noticed that a girl who had been ahead of us was now several hundred yards behind – together with several other runners who had obviously also had problems locating the second trig – and unfortunately the duo who had been following us.

After the road crossing there is a long, muddy bridle path leading uphill which is quite easy to follow, although it resembles running along a riverbed for most of its route. My female rival had caught us up by this point and was clearly quite happy to discard her map and join our guided tour group. We tried to lag behind but the slower we went the slower they went too. Our cunning plan was that there was plenty of scope for getting lost in the woods leading to the third trig.
Unfortunately we had not counted on another local runner, who clearly knew the route as well as we did, catching us up and, obviously a far more sporting type than us, being quite happy to point everyone in the right direction. Three of our “group” including female runner began to forge ahead with him but we didn’t give up hope of shaking off some of the slower members of our entourage later on.

Once past the third trig there is a long, steep descent before another road crossing and a very tricky section where you have to leave the safety of the East Devon Way behind and indulge in some serious mountain climbing through thick woods whilst hoping that you are heading in the right direction. It was on this descent that Martin decided we would shake off our pursuers, so as not to give them any hint of our cunning short cut through said woods.

The first part of the plan went well and we bombed down the field at breakneck speed. Unfortunately the second part of the plan didn’t work quite so well – we definitely took the most direct route through the woods, but the cliff face we had to scale slowed us down a fair bit!

We crossed the road (again!) and knew that we were finally on the homeward stretch - another long, steady climb up and then a mile or so of nice easy running on flat paths through the woods – and we were on our own now, no sign of anyone either in front or behind.

The fourth trig – High Peak – is out and back and it is so hard turning away from the finish after 14 miles or so and running west towards Budleigh instead of east back to the delights of the Yacht Club. There are two routes up to the trig point and Martin decided to take the second one whilst I opted for the first. When I reached the trig there was no sign of him, so I went back down the other way assuming that he had been and gone and was proving the point that his way was quicker by not waiting for me.

As I headed back towards Sidmouth and climbed the final hill there was no sign of him, either in front or behind. I did have a small twinge of guilt that he was lying in the woods with a badly twisted ankle or had approached the trig a tad too enthusiastically and plunged straight over the cliff, but I managed to quash it and continued to push on to the finish. Halfway down Peak Hill, with the blissful sight of Sidmouth ahead of me, he suddenly appeared from a side gate and ruefully admitted to having made “a bit of a navigational error “ resulting in more bramble clearance and some impressive scratches. I managed not to look too smug as we enjoyed the final run along the promenade, trying not to scare the old age pensioners and Sunday strollers with our battered, bloody rush through their midst.

We finished in 2.55.10 – some seven minutes slower than our 2007 circuit, but as this was by far the hardest run we’ve done since last July we were both pleased to have broken the 3 hour mark. We celebrated with our annual dip in the sea , which was a bit on the chilly side and then retired to the Yacht Club for well earned pasties, cakes and coffees, all included in the modest £5 entry fee.

This is one of our favourite runs – low key, friendly, stunning countryside and great fun – and it’s fast becoming an annual “must do” event. Apart from anything else a great warm up for the Grizzly which is now looming dangerously close!

Running through Salcombe Regis

Friday, February 13, 2009

Slaying The Dragon

Race Report by Dave Carnell

Sunday the 8th February saw the first running of the ‘Slay the Dragon’ race at Hinton St George in Somerset. Given the prevailing weather conditions this could have been called ‘Prancing on Ice’, but sensibly the organisers reduced the roundly 10K race to a more modest circa 5 miler, in order to avoid actually running on the worst bits.

After a jolly 1 mile walk (mostly downhill – real shame we couldn’t run this bit!) to the revised start point, the mixed field of over 70 runner types and foolish villagers lured into participating in the collective madness, all set off across a meadow covered in virgin snow.

The route then took us down muddy footpaths, alongside small streams, along quiet country lanes, across more snowy farm land and then temptingly close to the Dinnington Docks PH (rumoured to be well worth a visit). Temptation resisted, the final test and distinct sting in the tail was the steep ascent up the scarp face of the hill behind Hinton, the top of which led us to the improvised finish at the western end of the village.

All that remained was to then jog back the ½ mile or so to the village hall (a gentle down hill that would otherwise have provided good sport for the sprinter types), where the start and finish had originally been planned to be and where now a generous supply of cakes and warm refreshments awaited the returning competitors.

Despite the appalling weather beforehand and the treacherously icy conditions on the lanes leading to the village, this was a well attended event taking a scenic and varied route – one to recommend for the future.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Saturday Stratton Snow Session

The turnout for our latest social run was a bit down on the last. The weather and treacherous conditions underfoot must have had something to do with it. However the four who made it to the Saxon Arms on Saturday...
(plus the one taking the picture) were rewarded with an interesting and scenic 10 miles, courtesy of Mother Nature. The trails were mostly softening snow interspersed with skating rink, frozen ice-cubes and mud. High point was a romp downhill across a snowy field where we raced a couple of deer who got confused and almost let us catch them.

I'll let the pictures speak for themselves, mostly, and save me a bit of typing.
View from the top of the first hill at New Barn Centre.

Half-way point at Maiden Castle,
Where a friendly passer-by took one of all four of us.

Follow me!
Nearly there, It's all downhill from here, promise.

With a brief stop for a bit of steeplechase

and a look at the scenery.
There's Stratton below us.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Fulfords Five

Sunday 1st February saw the Westgates at our first Fulfords Five mile road race at Exmouth. The course does 2 loops through the town with legs along the seafront. Weather was bitingly cold with a nasty east wind, but general opinion was that last year’s conditions were worse with stronger winds sand-blasting the competitors! So with comparatively good conditions I elected to wear shorts, but thank God I wasn’t running further than five miles!

Not much to say about this race really; facilities and organisation ticked all the right boxes and there was plenty of plod about to control the traffic. Not being too fit I aimed for 35 minutes or under so my 34:26was OK. Very pleased and relieved that my age-graded percentage time was just a point or two above Lesley’s! Looking at the provisional results it seems that SWRR did a clean sweep of the major prizes. First man finished at 5:05min/mile pace, which at about 84% is quite high class. Us lesser mortals plodded round, but it was enjoyable, and it’s always good to try a different event.

Some words from Lesley: I was going to moan about how cold it was, but given what we’ve had today, we were really lucky again. I still wore my woolly hat, along with the usual coat, gloves and wrist-warmers. The only concession to it being a race was to wear knee-length shorts instead of leggings.And I was still cold at the finish, in 40:33, which was age-graded at 69%.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Brass Monkeys at the Blackmore Vale Half Marathon

Lin and I arrived well in time for this one, having heard of the limited changing facilities which is code for "not enough toilets". We needed to pick our numbers up and joined a queue outside what we took to be headquarters, but which turned out to be the men's limited changing facility, or bog. The gathered throng took great delight in setting us straight about this fact, and pointed across the street to the village hall into which, red-faced (from the cold of course), we took several minutes to squeeze, and ignoring the queues for the not-so limited women's facilities we navigated to where we claimed our numbers.

We then quickly returned to the car and quickly shut the doors against the elements ( mostly Nitrogen and Oxygen) to gird our loins (and most other parts) for our ordeal race. It was a bit nippy (ok, bloody freezing) with a brisk easterly wind, perfect weather for a day indoors race but along with nearly 600 hundred shivering (fool)hardy masochists athletes we lined up at the start of the Blackmore Vale Half Marathon at 11:00 am on Sunday. The start was in the football field with about 60 yards before a narrow gate which forced me to start off faster than I would like, but going down the steep hill I was still well behind the Maiden Newton duo of Phil England and Dave Webb.

The course, which is all on road,led its winding and undulating route through Holway, and then turned right towards Glanvilles Wooton. The forecast had been of south-easterly winds, but it seemed to be coming from in front, mainly, regardless of the direction I was running at the time. I was following my cunning plan of running only in the lee of another runner (preferably several) to avoid the worst of the biting wind.

This worked quite well, especially when I caught up with the tall figure of Dave Webb who I shadowed for a while until he noticed I was there. We chatted for a while, and reeled in Phil and then Nigel Johns.

Dave and I pressed on towards the 6 mile point which was at the top of a long hill where the route joins a larger road and turns into what was definitely the teeth of the wind. I took advantage of the opportunity to tag onto a runner who overtook us quickly at this point, and running as closely as I dared behind him, I was able to catch up with a fellow Yeovil runner, Steve Sparks, who, being a useful sized chap, I trailed for a couple of miles before he spotted me and I was forced to press on and pass him.

By now I was feeling the strain, but the expectation of being caught by Dave W, combined with the desire to get in out of the cold wind kept me pushing as fast as I could through the village of Pulham, then FINALLY turning west with the wind now helping slightly, I passed the 10, 11 and 12 mile markers and made a sharp right turn up towards Bishop's caundle and the last mile.

This was not fun as it was back into the wind and up a short, sharp hill where I gritted my teeth (for more traction in the icy conditions) and narrowly resisted the temptation to walk. It was probably the sight and support of Steve and Donna and Harvey ( thanks guys!) which kept me going to the top and gave me some impetus as the hill turned from up to slightly down. This was lucky, because at the bottom I looked back and I saw Dave looming against the skyline, obviously gaining on me. I put on as much of a spurt as I could, and ground out a painful ascent of the next and final hill before turning into the field at the top and a 60-yard dash to the finish in 1:31:05. It was just above my optimistic target time of "anything under 1:30", but I was still pleased with it, given the conditions, it was still under 7 minute mile pace. I was also pleased with the boring white T-shirt which would not normally excite me, but it now represented Warmth!

Dave finished almost immediately after, and then Nigel, as I jogged back down the hill hoping to meet Lin as soon as possible. Not just because I missed her, and wanted her to be doing well, but also because I didn't want to have to go far down, and then have to run back up, the brutal finishing hill. Phil passed, and a couple of Yeovil runners then, I was relieved and proud to see Lin, round the next to last bend and forging up and around to the finish in 1:37:50-ish. This was a very good result given the lack of training recently and although it was no-where near her PB, it bodes well for the future.

After a brief chat with Phil and Dave C, Lin and I agreed that we were both too cold and tired to want to do anything other than beetle off back home to the warmth enjoyed by more unadventurous sensible folks.

Many thanks to the Blackmore Vale Lions for organising the race. They did it well, and special thanks to the marshalls- out in force, in the cold, with water stations almost every mile, although I was too cold to drink a thing.

The results should be available here http://www.bvlions.co.uk/pdf%20files/Half%20Marathon%20Result%202009.pdf