Monday, April 27, 2009

Arlington Court Canter

Whilst Charlie faced the ordeal of pounding the streets of London with the masses, Martin and I headed south west to canter round the leafy lanes of North Devon. The Arlington Court Canter (which I last did in 2003) is usually a 10k but in this, its 13th anniversary year, an extra loop had been included to bring the distance up to.........13k.

The gardens and grounds of the National Trust property, Arlington Court, make a stunning backdrop to this, almost entirely off road run. The race is started by the estate coachman, authentically attired, blowing his impressive coaching horn (or whatever they call them).

The start was a bit of a cavalry charge down the narrow manicured paths of the garden, but soon turned off into the parkland where there was plenty of room for the field to spread out. A loop round the bottom of the field where we had parked followed and then we headed out of the grounds and down a wide path into the woods. At the bottom we ran alongside a small lake and were then directed onto the “new” part of the course, which the organiser had kindly warned us was “vertical”!! Actually it wasn’t too bad as the path did zig-zag but it was still quite an impressive climb until we finally emerged from the trees to cross a couple of fields and then drop back down, almost precisely to the point by the lake where we had been diverted.

The remainder of the race followed the usual course, parts of which I remembered from previous visits, although there seemed to be a lot more uphill than I recalled. Most of the tracks were through woodland, although we did pass through a few fields en route too. We were expecting the race to be about 8 miles or slightly more, but as I neared what I thought from memory was the final stage of the race I still only had just over 6 miles on the Garmin. I was finding the whole race a bit of a struggle, we don’t do many short races these days and I had got a bit carried away at the start galloping madly in pursuit of Martin (who managed to disappear from my view before we even left the grounds!).

I finally made it to the top of the last hill and back into the grounds of Arlington Court for the finish along pleasant paths through the garden, swerving madly to miss meandering tourists who were clearly a bit bewildered to be confronted with rather a lot of sweaty runners. I managed a bit of a sprint for the line to finish in 59.51, total distance according to the Garmin 7.4 miles. I was quite pleased with that until I discovered that Martin had managed to beat me by just over 5 minutes! Despite this he had only managed 3rd Vet 50 in what was a very competitive field – the first V55 was actually fifth overall.

As for me, I literally aged 10 years overnight. On Saturday I was a happy Vet 35 but Sunday saw me on day 1 of being a V45. I can’t believe I’m that old!! No comments from the gallery please! I celebrated my birthday by picking up the first V45 prize, but actually having finished 4th lady overall I also beat the first V35 and first V40 which made me feel a lot better (but still very old!).

And Martin said: Not much more I can add really. There were easter eggs handed out at the finish which was nice, if a little incongruous. Alex chose to pass up the fun run in favour of doing his homework in the car, and didn't emerge till after the race was over to help me dispose of my easter egg.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Axe to Exe and back the hard way

The Exe to Axe is as scenic and challenging an event as you might expect. The first challenge being to get to the finish at 8:30AM to catch the bus to the start. Usually I rely on the organisational skills of my better half, but she was stricken with a mystery virus, and I was on my own, mate. Fortunately I made it with a few minutes to spare, and was able to save at least a fiver by parking on the seafront and not in the council carpark. The double decker bus provided a scenic drive to Exmouth's Foxhole cafe from whose carpark the race was to start at 10:00am. This gave ample time for the usual formalities as well as exchanging excuses in advance with the Westgates whose even lengthier report follows mine.

The first few miles were fast and undulating rather than hilly, and I was well-placed in contention with some local age-group rivals, as shown in this photo taken at Budleigh Salterton.


But when the first real hill coming out of Ladram Bay was enough to force me to a walk I knew that I would really struggle with the much tougher hills to come in the second half of the course. Passing through Sidmouth on a welcome flat section I had lost ground, and lost even more on each of the series of brutal hills that followed. It was fun in a way though. One strange event happened on the way down into Branscombe I passed a rather portly couple whose female component, perhaps annoyed at having to keep to the side of the track for fear of being bowled over, yelled out to me as I passed, "you've gone the wrong way you prat!" Charming! I made a swift and dignified escape, wondering for a moment if I had somehow missed a subtlety of the route, but knowing that area well from numerous Grizzly races, I knew that I was on a route to the checkpoint. This I think is the point at which both Richard W, and Martin Chaffey dropped out, and I don't blame them for not wanting to continue up the steepest part of the course to the clifftop between Branscombe and Beer. The hill at Beer was nothing by comparison, and I soon negotiated it and descended to the sea-front at Seaton and the finish amid throngs enjoying the sun. Unfortunately it wasn't quite hot enough for any thongs...

I had a brief traditional dip in the sea, but it was too cold to stay in for long, and I waited around only long enough to see fellow Yeovil member Pete Jakeman finish before returning to Dorset.

And now Lesley takes up the story.

Richard's pre-race preparations consisted of spending most of the day rendering the sides of the pond with cement. However this was preceded with other totally unnecessary jobs like cleaning out the fireplace so he didn't even start until midday. He then worked all day without a break, until I finally convinced him at 6pm that with only 5 or 6 sides done, he wasn't going to be finished before dark, not to mention washing up and eating after. I was torn between thinking if he doesn't do it then I get longer in bed as he can drive me straight to Exmouth, and not wanting to waste the race entry. So it was the early start and the last minute dash to find a parking spot on the seafront to avoid the car park fee.
Race went well for me at the start, plenty of company and remembered to conserve some energy. Spotted the approach to the 1st/4th trig, and eventually a mad dash down the grassy slope into Sidmouth. Although this meant I had overtaken all the people I had been following and I hoped I'd be able to find my way out of Sidmouth and back onto the coastal path. In the end it was actually well sign-posted.

Hard work on the next section up and down all those steps, and more memories of the 4 trigs race as I passed the next trig. Runners were getting very sparse by now, but made it to Branscombe without getting too badly lost (broken signpost + walker with map). There I was met by the unfortunate sight of Richard laid out on the ground next to the drinks station. He was done in. Had a brief discussion about how to retrieve him, he didn't think he could walk to the finish but thought he could make it to Beer Car Park.

So I decided to push on to the finish and go back and pick him up. That's when my problems started. "follow the coastal path signs" they said. So with no directions and no runners ahead I set off, and followed the CP sign all the way along the cliff path until it met the path that comes up from the shingle beach with the top of the cliff towering above. Getting seriously tired by now, but kept trudging upwards until nearly at the top when i met some walkers who said "all the other runners came over the top, you've done it the hard way". You can imagine how I felt. I must have lost a lot of time as even at my exhausted crawl I was still passing slower runners. it was only the fact that the finish was literally in sight that kept me going.

Even at the last half mile there was an arrow that was halfway between straight on and right and I was standing and staring at it in my confused state until a walker pointed me in the direction of the road. I was so glad to see the finish line, and yes, it was rather sudden. Next I went to the lorry to collect the bags and only Richard's was there. Panic until someone told me they'd taken the rest to the finish line. I felt like I did after the London Marathon, when I had to make it from the finish line to the meeting place weighed down with bags etc. Car seemed to be miles along the seafront. The spare key set off the alarm - twice, so I didn't dare go to the boot to get the food out. What I didn't realise in my confused state that the proper car key was in the kitbag. Then I couldn't get the key to start the car and was contemplating calling out the AA. But I didn't have a mobile phone, so with both hands, gritted teeth and desperation I finally got it to turn. Made it to Beer Car Park and found Richard still laid out on the ground. He was too sick to drive, or give directions so spent some time driving around in circles before getting on the road home. I was eventually overcome by hunger so we stopped for food and Richard had recovered sufficiently by then to insist on driving the rest of the way.

It was the same as the marathon sickness but it's the first time it has struck after so few miles. I didn't have a watch so asked the time from the next finisher, who replied 2:12. Realised that she meant the time of day, so she'll be disappointed to be 2 minutes slower. I was happy with anything under 4:20 after talking to people on the coach. Not sure how much time I lost, but I was ahead of a Westbury Harrier after leaving Sidmouth. And there was a Sidmouth runner not far ahead.

Not sure I'd want to do it again, Felt as tired yesterday evening as I did after Dartmoor.