Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Johnny Kipps Run 2009

Here are some words about the JK from the victorious Dave C.

After the miserable conditions for last weekend’s Wessex Relay, the bright morning supplied by the weather gods for the running of the Johnny Kipps was glorious. This, together with the dry and distinctly non-slippy state of the black stuff to which this route sticks, was just about perfect.

I had arrived early, an hour before the start with the idea of having a bit of a walk and jog to try and loosen up as I’d been feeling the effects from the previous weekend’s torture right up to the intervening Wednesday. Till then I’d been shambling about doing impressions of a rusty seized up robot, so my plan now was simply to have a fun run.

With about 20 minutes to go, I wandered back to the start to find it was still a lonely place with nobody else around. I was just thinking that either I’d got the wrong day, or I was going to have an incredibly easy race, when hordes of other runners started to arrive. So many, in fact, that it could have been a record turn out and included a number of very welcome participants from other clubs (Crewkerne, Yeovil, Southwest RR and The Kennel Club) foolishly lured to the venue by cunning tales of glory and biscuits.

At the start, this field of a dozen valiant souls set off at a modest pace with Chairman Phil and Martin Le Quick leading out. Listening in to their banter, I perceived I was causing some confusion by not adhering to tradition and haring off at a wholly unsustainable pace – darn it, now I had to make some kind of show.

After I pulled past the leading pair I could hear them behind counting out the gap and goading me to make more of an effort. Trying not to be distracted I didn’t look back but was sure I could hear them pounding along behind all the way to the top of the climb to the first turn where Jackie E was kindly staffing a water station.

I was very surprised not to have been caught by this time and once over the brow of the hill I decided to try a final burst of speed on the start of the downhill leg to give my pursuers what I imagined would be one last test before they inevitably overtook me.

This is when it got a little surreal. While down hill is my favourite and suits me better than some, on this occasion the gravitational assisted boost went well to begin with and then it just kept going and going and going, pretty much all the way to the finish – absolute magic!

Whatever I’d eaten or whatever I’d done to charge the batteries, I wish I knew as this felt like my best ever run. I was over the moon last year but this definitely took the biscuit.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Wessex Ridgeway Relay

What is it about Maiden Newton runners and early starts, I don't recall anything in the Chairman's job description that said you shall always do the first leg of any relay event. I am not a stranger to getting up early but 5.45am on a Sunday is a bit of a shock to the system, but then trying to convince Jackie that she had volunteered to take Dave & myself to the start so she needed to get up was the first of many challenges during the day.
6.15 am (spot on time) we arrived in Maiden Newton to find my Dave wandering the streets looking like he had been out all night. On getting in the car he started to list all his current ailments (which sounded like a list of reasons why he was going to slow me down). Again spot on time we arrived at the start (over the Wiltshire border without our passports). Up until this point it had been dry but as the race brief started so did the rain. After a count down from five all 20 runners went off at a stupidly fast pace as if they were doing a 5K, except the one that managed to drop his baton within the first 5mtrs (Yes me). After a short road section we turned on to a track taking us uphill on to open high ground, just right to feel the full force of what was now driving rain. The hill had slowed quite a few of our fellow runners down letting us gain a few places. Having not run this leg before I was completely dependent on Dave knowing the way, which he did. Not one hesitation over the whole first leg and no sign of the ailments he had been suffering from. As with the rest of the ridgeway it takes you though some wonderful countryside (would have been much better with out the rain).
Leg two which we had both run before has two of the toughest hills on the route. We had both tried to put them to the back of our minds during the first leg, but to our surprise we caught and overtook several other runners early in the leg. All was going well, then Dave started showing signs of an illness he had not mentioned - he started strange mumblings of "is this the way to Okeford Beacon, is this the way to Okeford Beacon" as I was putting all my effort in to keeping up with him I did not manage to question his actions which passed by the time we had reached the top of the first climb. After a fast descent towards Shilingstone followed by a few less than well maintained gates, we were faced with the steep climb to Okeford Beacon. As much as we tried not to our paces dropped to a walk, as I was trying to justify this by saying no one would run all the way up we were passed by a Wimbourne runner who wasn't even breaking into a sweat.
At the top knowing we were close to the change over the pace quickened (again I was being dragged along by this poor unfit runner). Once again spot on time for the change over, knowing our only escape from Okeford Beacon was Charlie's car (and he was not holding any keys). I was reluctant to release the baton before shouting "where are the keys?" as he started to disappear along the track I heard "in the ignition" - panic over.
Knowing there are plenty of other runners ready to recall their experience of the rest of the event I will leave it here, except tosay well done to all the rest of the MN runners who made this a great day out. I do have a little information on leg 12 but I am sure it will come out in the report of 11 & 12.

Legs 3 & 4 by Charlie

I didn’t need the snooze button on my alarm clock as the rain lashing against the window kept me from going back to sleep. Miraculously however it cleared up as Mike and I drove to the start of Leg 3 and eyed up the competition. Mike got chatting with a local (always a bad idea) out walking his dog who unlike us finely-honed athletes had obviously been on the cooking sherry as he questioned our (sorry Mike, that should be ‘my’) ability to run 10 miles.

Minutes later the silver singlets of Messrs. England & Webb came into view and we carried out what I thought was a pretty slick handover although Phil kept a firm grip of the baton until I had revealed the whereabouts of the car keys. Fortunately we had reccied the route so knew what to expect and where to go and Mike set off with me in pursuit. He kindly invited me to say if he was going too fast but didn’t realise that for the first ten minutes of any physical effort I am unable to communicate in anything other than sign language, and, not having eyes in the back of his head, took my silence to mean all was well.

As my heart rate settled down (which coincided with a gentle downhill bit) we got into our stride and admired the beautiful views over the vale to our right. Our pace was spot on at all the mile markers and the first section went well as we both recalled our first forays into running when going a mile was challenging enough. The going was not too bad until we got to about half way on Leg 3 when a river bed was un-leapable and wet shoes and socks ensued.

A few other teams overtook us but as I pointed out to Mike they were only doing one leg each, so it didn’t really count. At the handover we charged on through and on to Dorset Gap where it was a bit slippery and the paths difficult to get traction on. The ploughed fields were luckily not too sticky and before we knew it we were on the last long uphill just past the Plush road, and onto the springy turf of the ridge. Some of those who had overtaken me on the last hill had judged their effort well and were disappearing into the distance; another, however, was catchable and we set about reeling him in. Dodging teenagers with rucksacks on their Duke of Edinburgh scheme and pelting down the final treacherously slippery slope we caught him to cross the line on equal terms. Thanks to Mike for waiting and for holding open all the gates! It just shows what effect race conditions have as we did it ten minutes quicker than the recce run.

Legs 5 and 6 by Jackie (with Dave’s contributions in blue)

I woke up to the sound of rain lashing against the window and could see how windy it was. I immediately thought of poor Dave and Phil who would already be out there. (She’s right, we were already out there in the driving rain, but luckily we were cheered along by my strategy of singing, to the tune of ‘Amarillo’, ‘through the wind and rain, is this the way to Okeford Beacon’.) My altruistic thoughts quickly turned closer to home; in a couple of hours Amanda and I would be out there too!

By 11am though, the weather had calmed down somewhat to our great (but short lived) relief. After lightening the load behind the barn a couple of times, we took receipt of our batons from Mike and Charlie (not the Spencers) and set off up one of the many killer hills on these legs. The first leg went pretty well, in fact we were so fast that our ‘support crew’ were caught on the hop at Batcombe and didn’t manage to get our drinks out. As well as them arriving sooner than I expected, I was also thrown by the fact that some of the other runners never arrived, thanks to their dubious tactic of not running the extra half mile or so to the changeover. We got onto the flat straight stretch on top of the Ridgeway and it started to drizzle. Amanda said the fateful words “well, at least it’s not as bad as Dave and Phil had earlier”, when the heavens opened and the gales started. You wouldn’t have sent a dog out in it. There was no respite from the weather because we were on top of the hill, so it was heads down and get on with it. Amanda still claims the rain bruised her forehead.

At the end of the track Dave was waiting, but we were unable to move our hands to receive drinks. Matty and I thought we would run a little way to meet them, but we got soaked in no time; it must have been the one day of the year when there was a southerly wind, so it blew in their faces all the way. By this time my fingers looked like frozen chipolatas curled round that baton.

The rain and wind abated and the last bit, down the hill to Sydling was quite pleasant, if a little slippery. We managed to run all the way, until the final very steep hill out of Sydling to the A37; the handover point. Our Chairman came down the hill to encourage us on, so we managed to put on a last jog to the finish. We were elated. We’re told we did our leg (10.6 miles) in 1 hour 53 minutes.

Posted by Lesley

The day started with the usual pre-race nerves for me – “would we be there on time”, “would we have time to get the cars to the pre-arranged drop-off points”. And of course we had plenty of time to spare as the wind howled and the rain lashed down on the appropriately named Heartbreak Hill. However we must have done something right as it stopped raining soon after we started, although the next 11 plus miles seemed head on into the wind. A nice gentle downhill start to make up for the lack of warming up and the first of many appearances of our support crew as Lin, Martin, Phil, Dave and Richard were there to cheer us on through Maiden Newton. I hadn’t recce’d this bit so I was more than happy to follow Charlie as she set a fair pace through familiar territory. Then a long slog up a lane to somewhere. When Richard was recceing his bit the week before I was most envious of his tales of beautiful bluebell woods, so I was pleased that our leg also had some.

Some more fields – many more appearances from the supporters to open gates, point the way and offer encouragement (at the end of a sharp stick if Phil could find one). We now found ourselves on Leg 8, which I had managed to recce on my own, without getting lost, the week before. Confidence levels were rising as I recognised familiar gates, fields etc. There were certainly plenty of these in this section and although Richard and Dave had sensibly headed for the start of their leg, the other trio were still there. I’m sure Charlie won’t mind me saying the going was now getting tough as we’d been running for over one and a half hours by now.

As we approached the last field Lin cheered us on with the news that the runner in front was only a minute ahead (from three minutes a while back). However with only half a mile of road to the finish, and even a 100-yard sprint from Charlie we were unable to catch her, although she did look half dead when we saw her at the finish. We saw Richard and Dave running up and down and waiting for the batons as if it was an Olympic final, but we still didn’t manage a smooth handover. I sank gratefully into the car, and after some refreshment began the difficult bit. How to drive and navigate in unfamiliar lanes with a map in a polypocket on my lap, or mostly on the floor.

Richard’s bit

Dave and I had recce’d 95% of our two legs the previous weekend in excellent weather enjoying the views. On the day it was heads down and watch your footing. Sod’s law that within sight of the changeover I managed to go slightly wrong on the bit we hadn’t recce’d, (much to the amusement of club members). But fortunately we soon corrected ourselves as a runner close behind took the correct path.

Dave, my colleague and mighty holder of the Johnny Kipps Trophy 2008, had a cunning plan to get me going. It might seem like a small thing, but one of my pet hates is the alleged word “slippy”. Knowing this, every time there was the smallest worm-cast or rain droplets on blades of grass he called out in a health and safety style voice – “watch out Richard bit of a slippy hazard here”. Bugger the other teams, I was determined at some point to get ahead of Dave!

However all went well and we waited at gates for each other in true team spirit. In fact the whole event seemed to be run in a good spirit as a rival team member stopped and held a gate for us! In spite of Dave’s concerns about the SLIPPERY conditions, only two injuries were sustained; the first a stinging nettle got me during my second bush stop (pre-race) and the second when Lin walloped me round the head when I told her where I had been keeping our baton.

A brief view from a knackered runner (aka Dave Carnell)

Eye wateringly beautiful when checked out the previous weekend, but on race day in dull, dank and gusty conditions it was just hilly, slippy, more hilly, more slippy, yet more hilly and even more slippy with one tiny glorious stretch of the black stuff just before the start of leg 10.

Slightly less slippy than the previous leg but the climb up to Pilsden was steeper than anything else and to add insult to injury the route goes down and then back up again – what kind of sadist thought that one up!
A little off route detour at the end was made in a deliberate effort to help a struggling competitor to feel rewarded by regaining the position he had lost to the speedy MNR duo.

.............And you all know I don't do brief! Legs 11 and 12 by Lin

A boozy and extremely late night is definitely not the best preparation for a race, but at least we had all day to recover - or so we thought. Actually leaping in and out of the car, opening all those gates, heckling and encouraging was absolutely exhausting. And finally we got to run.
A lovely fast downhill start swooping past the team who had cheekily taken a shortcut in full view of all spectators, to get ahead of Dave and Richard right at the finish of their two legs, and then the first of the gruelling climbs began. I was not filled with confidence when Martin started making remarks like "it's through that gate.....I think" right from the start! At least climbing the hills gave us a chance to anxiously check behind us - no sign of the two Wimborne teams who were hot on our heels.
As we began the climb up to the road crossing at Lambert's castle, the welcome and unexpected sight of another runner ahead lent speed to our weary legs. He didn't even put up a fight, just muttered "well done" as he plodded up the hill. The first leg flew past and in no time at all we were heading for the changeover point, which we reached in exactly 47 minutes - clearly a bit faster than Phil was expecting as we caught him in the car park with his shorts around his ankles and his shoes in knots! Having decided to run the last leg with us he wasn't exactly well prepared!!
The last leg started with a stretch of downhill road running and as Phil caught us up we turned into the fields for some more welcome downhill. The next clear memory is of seeing two more runners ahead of us and gradually reeling them in. We finally caught them at the A35 road crossing, after which Martin went down the other side like a seasoned fell runner with Phil and I floundering in his wake. We hurtled along muddy, slippery woodland paths trying to shake our pursuers off - they were clearly map reading as they went - and I knew Martin wanted to get out of their sight so that they had to revert to their maps instead of following us. Finally we drew clear of them, by which time I was in need of an oxygen tent, and Up Lyme was drawing ever nearer. One exciting gallop through a field of frisky cows who wanted to challenge our speed and we were so close to the finish that we relaxed our guard, took a wrong turning and made a scenic loop around the wrong side of the village, including climbing a lovely steep hill completely unnecessarily. A small domestic ensued - well he said he knew the way and he could have told me I was going the wrong way instead of just following me!
It was fantastic to see almost the whole of Team Maiden Newton x 2 at the end cheering us in, what a great team effort and a fantastic day out - despite the weather (which was positively balmy compared with 2006!).
Who would have thought a couple of years ago that we would have two teams competing in a 100km race?

Thursday, May 07, 2009

London Marathon 2009

Race Report by Charlie Bladon

Graciously favoured with Maiden Newton Running Club’s guaranteed place in the 2009 Flora London Marathon, my preparations started in mid-November with an increase in mileage to build up to a carefully crafted 16 week training plan beginning in early January. Clearly the people who write these schedules know what they are doing as it started with a rest day to get over the endless Christmas parties. Pretty soon though it got into the swing of things with ‘hill sessions’ (as if it wasn’t hilly enough around here), ‘threshold work’ (everything seemed to be at above my pain threshold), ‘long runs’ (did what they say on the tin) and ‘fartlek’ (a Swedish invention, involving pain again). Many cold mornings later the long-awaited taper period finally arrived, involving two weeks of drastically reduced mileage from a peak of about 45 a week, and much increased fuel – i.e. food – intake. Just as I was getting into the swing of it race day arrived.

Clearly word had got out about my superb preparation as defending champion and three time winner Martin Lel from Kenya withdrew the night before, obviously quaking in his shoes. I too was nervous as I made my way to the start, which resembled a massive music festival with runners converging on Blackheath from all directions. It took five minutes to cross the start line and already the sun had burnt off the early morning mist and it was obviously going to be very hot. Described once by my tactful tailor as someone who might prefer ‘a more generous fit’ I soon realised I was going to find it hard work, but the people of London were out in force all the way around, ten deep in places, to lend their very vocal support. In addition there was superb marshalling and water points every mile or so, and energy drinks every four miles. They put on extra drinks as it was so hot.

Much of the race (I use that word loosely) passed in a blur. The area around Cutty Sark (7 miles) was a disappointment – very narrow and everyone slowing to a walk, but Tower Bridge (12.5 miles) lived up to expectations and as it was practically the half way point was symbolic in several ways. Canary Wharf (17-18 miles) was impressive too and was the first time I had seen the area at close hand. I knew from the route map that after 20 miles it was a fairly straight run all the way to the finish along the river and by the time I passed that mile marker I was beginning to tire. However I was buoyed up as I overheard two of my fellow athletes, thin as beanpoles, and clearly experienced runners, telling each other how they hated the final six miles of marathons as they represented such pain. Just what I wanted to hear!

After about 22 miles Big Ben appeared in the distance, and stayed there for what seemed like an unsportingly long time – if anything it seemed to get further away, not nearer. Finally, the Palace of Westminster was reached, then Parliament Square and Birdcage Walk, by which point any pretence of reaching my target time had long since evaporated in the heat and I just wanted to finish. It was an almost surreal experience rounding the corner by Buckingham Palace and seeing the finish line, as I had on the television many times, and seeing myself on the big television screen. Sadly by that point the BBC had long since stopped transmitting and the following two hour Eastenders omnibus was almost finished, so no chance of being spotted live on air. Fortunately the official photographs were there to capture a redness of face hitherto believed impossible by medical experts.

The finish was a relief but the helpers magnificent. Pre race literature had advised keeping walking for a little and as the nearest open tube station was two miles away, that is what I did. By the time I arrived back at my lodgings in Kew an hour later I had to be helped up from my seat on the tube by an old lady as my legs had seized up, which remained the case for three days, during which time I entered next year’s race, so I suppose I must have enjoyed it!

Thank you to everyone at MNRC for their invaluable support and for subtly increasing the distances run every weekend – yes I did notice. Thank you also to everyone who sponsored me helping to raise over £2,000 for the Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance – it’s not too late!