Monday, December 20, 2010

Midwinter Dream

Never let it be said that we are fair weather runners, and to prove that point, Martin and I headed off down to Seaton last Saturday evening to join Axe Valley Runners on their annual Midwinter Dream.  We met up with the other hard core runners at the Hook and Parrot at 6pm when the temperature was a balmy minus 4 or so and set off along the coast path towards Beer, seven (fool) hardy souls.

We followed the route of the Grizzly across to Branscombe Mouth, even venturing down onto the beach for a short stretch and finding the shingle much easier than usual to run on as it was frozen solid!  A sharp climb up the other side and then through the trees finally dropping down to our first welcome break at the Fountainhead pub - where we promptly divested ourselves of several layers of outer clothing and hung it round the glowing log fire.  Fortunately, probably something to do with the inclement weather, there were very few other customers to object as we huddled round the fire for a few blissful minutes and enjoyed (I think) a lovely glass of cold beer.

It was oh so hard to leave the warmth and head back outside, turning inland now for another climb and knowing that we had five miles of running through the snow before the next break. The route was not so familiar now, lots of wood, lots of snow, a brief moment of bashing around in the undergrowth when even Garry managed to lose the path, finally emerging onto the road and arriving at the soup stop, a strategically parked car with flasks of steaming hot and very welcome leek and potato soup.  Not quite so festive but infinitely more warming than beer!

The temperature seemed to be dropping and as we headed down to the river crossing near Colyton it was not a hard decision to detour to the bridge crossing rather than wading through the ford as we normally do.  A nice flat section of easy running across snowy fields by the river and we were soon heading through the deserted streets of Colyton, the Kingfisher pub our destination and another brief break from the cold as we refuelled and defrosted.

It was getting late and even colder and we were all beginning to flag a bit so when a short cut was mentioned it wasn't long before Garry had a mutiny on his hands and all but he and one other runner abandoned ship and scurried towards Seaton in rat-like fashion. The last few miles were definitely a test of endurance as we slithered along slippery roads, our only thoughts now on warmth, food and rest.  We finally arrived back around 10.30pm and taking leave of our companions headed for the camper van where we had foolishly decided to spend the night.

Firstly I couldn't get my shoes off because the laces were frozen solid and so were my fingers! After some very welcome Indian food, which barely touched the side, we settled in for the night but we couldn't get warm no matter how many layers we put on. Finally, after a few sleepless hours, we got up, scraped the ice off the inside of the windscreen and slithered back over the icy roads to the warmth and comfort of Sydling, arriving at about 3am when the whole dream felt like it had turned into a bit of a nightmare!

Apart from the cold it was a brilliant evening, a great route, great company and the snow certainly turned it into a special experience........but I'm really hoping for a better temperature next year!

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Reindeer Run

Following on from a week when we thought we may need some reindeer to provide transportation to the start of this race, we were very relieved that some kind of thaw occurred overnight and we could slither over to Otterton for the Reindeer Run without too much difficulty.  And although it was still very cold it was positively balmy compared with the misery that was last week's Bicton Blister.

This is a fun off road 10k organised by Sidmouth Running Club and Martin and I had a serious title to defend - first married couple! - which prize saw us enjoying a free lunch at Otterton Mill last year so naturally we were keen to repeat the experience.

A 10am start is the single downside to this race but once the crack of dawn start is behind you the rest of the race is enjoyable (apart from the uphill start) and even more so this year with some minor route changes which were all improvements.  Once the fun run split from the main race after the first km and I no longer had to worry about the two small boys zigzagging wildly about in front of me I could concentrate on trying to keep Martin in sight.

After turning off the road the route climbs up across some fields, drops back down near to the River Otter before heading back up hill across some more fields, a diversion from the usual route which took out all the serious opposition - all the leaders ran around the edge of the field instead of following the markers straight ahead and back down to the river.  Fortunately the guy in front of me realised and went the right way - I would have followed him ether way - and as we dropped down a steep hill it was with some relief that I saw Martin still up ahead having chosen the correct route.  For the rest of the race the front runners gradually caught us up and overtook us having completed an extra quarter mile or so.

Out onto the road and across the River Otter, a section of flat easy running on the road before turning back towards Otterton and another route change here as we were directed up a slight hill and across more fields, a pleasant diversion from the extremely muddy and difficult track normally taken.  My favourite part of the race along the flat riverside path follows, marred only slightly by the knowledge that the river crossing lies ahead as you are directed under the road and through waist deep water.  I hadn't realised how much I was dreading it until I arrived and found much to my delight, no water!  Just some rather pleasant concrete, result!  I had a sneaking suspicion that there might be a nasty surprise later on to compensate but fortunately the organisers weren't that devious!

On the home stretch now - a few more fields, another river crossing - by bridge! - then the last few fields and a steep downhill section to the finish.  Martin finished in 11th place in 43.06 and I was first lady home in 18th place overall and 44.16 - much more respectable than last week's resounding defeat at Bicton.  And much more importantly we regained our title and picked up another free lunch, although we hadn't realised that there was some serious competition this year in the shape of Lucy and Martin Owen - fortunately Martin was one of the front runners who took the scenic route, but I think we might just have beaten them anyway.  However the challenge has been thrown down for next year when we might have to work a bit harder for it!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Exmoor Stagger Revisited

Last Sunday was a perfect morning for a jaunt across Exmoor and the conditions for our fourth running of the Exmoor Stagger, and my first visit since 2006, could not have been better. We gathered on the start line with the usual suspects from Maiden Newton (aka Richard and Lesley) amongst the 230 strong field of runners in the sort of good spirits that only a tough, hilly 16 mile race in bright autumn sunshine can inspire.

An entertaining briefing from an exuberant race director was followed by a short walk to the start line and at 11am sharp we were off at the start of the lung bursting ascent to the far distant Dunkery Beacon.

The route starts to climb almost immediately, then climbs some more, continues to climb for a bit get the idea, it’s basically uphill! After the first couple of miles the race splits, the hardy Staggerers turn right for more torture and the lucky Stumblers turn left to cover the short distance back down to Minehead. This year Richard was amongst the Stumblers as he had decided that his stomach could not endure the real deal.

At this point I realised that I had been running past glorious views without actually noticing them, so I tried to appreciate the stunning vista of moors, forest and the distant sea. That lasted for about 2 seconds and then my focus returned to the task ahead. I was having a bit of a tussle with a female Bitton Road Runner but fortunately she was not as strong as me on the hills and soon fell back. This left me to concentrate on Richard Boulter from Yeovil who I decided must be beaten at all costs!!

A welcome stretch of downhill to the picturesque village of Wootton Courtenay followed and at this point a marshal called out to me “Well done, first lady” which I thought was a load of rubbish as I knew there was at least one speedy woman up ahead. After another three marshals had called out the same thing it occurred to me that they couldn’t all be wrong and that my speedy rival must be doing the Stumble. This gave my legs a burst of strength and there was another incentive – an occasional flash of a silver Maiden Newton vest up ahead. I knew Martin was worried that his recovery from the marathon had not been as swift as mine and that the Stagger is the sort of race where my chances of beating him are strongest and so it proved as I gradually reeled him in.

As we toiled up the final slopes of Dunkery Beacon Richard Boulter began to pull away from me, I caught and overtook Martin and was myself caught and overtaken by an unknown female. I concentrated on trying to put as much distance between myself and Martin as I could because I was sure that he would come crashing back past me on the long steep downhill stretch off the Beacon. I finally reached the summit and began the treacherous slippery descent and although I took it quite carefully I gained the lost ground back on Richard and stayed ahead of Martin.

On reaching the bottom there is a nice section of fairly level path round the side of a steep valley and on this part of the course, knowing that the bulk of the hard work was behind me, I finally passed Richard and managed to open up a lead on him. Unfortunately this meant that I had no-one to follow and I spent an anxious half mile or so hurtling down a muddy track with a distinct feeling that I had missed a turning and was heading in the wrong direction. It was with great relief that I came out onto a short stretch of road, saw both a marshal and the runner ahead of me as I came back into Wootton Courtenay.

As I turned off the road and began the infamous climb back up to the ridge above Minehead I saw my female rival walking up ahead and thought, perhaps I can catch her up if I just run up this hill. Nice idea but I only managed to run the first ten paces or so and then subsided into a plod like everyone else. I had completely forgotten how hard this part of the course is. I managed to overhaul one runner ahead of me but the girl had disappeared into the woods and I didn’t see her again until after the finish.

After finally reaching the top, a section of easy running on wide forest tracks follows before the descent back into Minehead. As I turned the final corner and saw the clock ahead I knew I was going to be slightly outside my previous best time here (2.17.04) but I was more than happy with my second place in the ladies race, a rare victory over Martin and my final time of 2.17.54. What a perfect day!

Martin came trotting down the road shortly afterwards looking like he’d been out for Sunday stroll and we beat a hasty retreat to the Race HQ in order to avoid the queues for the excellent and very reasonably priced refreshments. A bit of a wait for the presentation but another clean sweep by Maiden Newton Runners: Martin was 2nd V55 in the main race and Richard was 2nd V55 in the Stumble, Lesley picked up yet another V55 prize, beaten into second place only by the speedy Jenny Mills, and I was 2nd overall and 1st V45.

The only downside was the hideous bright orange T shirt on offer. What I always want to know is who decides what colour the race t-shirts will be, and who in their right mind would think that anyone would actually want a bright orange one? Fortunately I had my hands full with bottles of wine so I had to leave mine behind!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Cheeky Half - Cardiff

06.00 - It started with a shiver, as these things usually do.  Although dark, there was movement in the house.  The alarm on my digital watch finished sounding, and it was time to rise.  I was kindly put-up by Ed, an old school friend in Bristol, who was running the Cardiff Half Marathon too, along with his sister, and her two friends.  Wrestling like a feather weight in a sleeping bag, I managed to get myself off the camp bed to the light switch without tipping the whole thing over into a redundant cot.  Quite an achievement and I took that as an omen for the day ahead.

After a continental breakfast, and plenty of bananas, 5 of us, plus the camp bed bundled into a Polo as the dawn broke.  Warming up, the chat turned from jolly banter, revelations and excuses for slow race times to the car-parking strategy.

I kept quiet, because I had failed to squeeze out a No.2 during the reveille.  Now this worried me because throughout my training, there came a point during longer runs where I had to guess whether I would make it home or not.  On each occasion, the situation got the better of me, resulting in a dash for cover.  This happened so often that it had become part of the training!  Effectively, the body had been successfully conditioned to eject on the hour mark.  And this worried me greatly.

After parking the car, grabbing bags, water bottles, and the blimnin’ camp bed, we joined the other runners and who were funnelling to the Start.  35 minutes to go and I concentrated hard.

The Start was well organised, with a festival-facility setup in the County Hall car park.  Runners poured in behind us as Army cadets took our bags, admired the ‘retro’ camp bed, and pointed to the small city of thunder-boxes, which was the next destination.

Panic set in; it was cold, the queues were long and limbering, and the expectation to perform mounted, as I stood in one of the tens of queues.  The clock was running down fast, the mind manifesting for the nth time, until I just could not take it anymore....  I bolted.  There was no-way it was going to happen.  The others would just have to make their own way to the Start.  Yes, the warmth of County Hall was my destination!  Now, there are some who are a little cynical about overheated, empty County Halls across the nation, but I was truly thankful.

Sprinting back across the car park, passing the odd superhero, I bumped into Ed by chance.  A few minutes to go...  We followed the rest, and even spotted 3 guys dressed as babies, braving it in just bonnets and nappies.  This amused Ed.  I said nothing, realising their genius!

We vaulted the barrier, congratulated ourselves on making it, and being so close to the Start as well.  We then noticed the lack of fancy dress, and signs behind us saying ‘sub 1.30’.  At least we could say we knew what I felt like to be a sub-1.30 runner, albeit briefly!  The Start was suitably smooth, with a judder before the line as the mass fingered their stop-watches, and we were off.  Jostling for a pace we were comfortable with, we said our farewells, and the lonely journey amongst 12000 others began.

Now, a few notes about this race if you are considering it.  The route passes through the city centre into green parks in an anti-clockwise direction, then encircling the estuary of the river Taff at the barrage.  It passes through residential areas, the attractive marina and sea-front thus avoiding tedious industrial areas.  The sun was shining and crowds were out of their houses en mass to support, which included an astonishing number of handsomely tanned women (a truly sun kissed city!)  This was going to be an enjoyable run.

Pace setting was tricky initially, because it was easy to miss the mile markers, on the left, at knee level.  It was in the Park, where the path narrowed, when I spotted Mile 4 and was able to judge my pace.  However, there were ‘pace-setter’ runners amongst us, identified by flags marking 1.30, 1.45, 2.00 etc. positions.  These narrow sections were tight but okay in 1000 or so front runners, but got chaotic further back at water-points.  The debris of 1000’s of half full water bottles caused runners to slide and trip.

That said, it was fantastically well organised, water-points at 3 mile intervals and crowds cheered us on through-out.  It is also flat as a pancake, making it fast and one for PBs.  However, I did see one runner ahead come a cropper on an unassuming ‘speed hump’ at Mile 11, where he slowly unravelled into a tired tumble.  The Start/Finish approached remarkably quickly.  Better ‘wind up the pace now and give it my’ all I thought, and then the muddled mind calculations began.

Premature congratulations on a remarkable time were quick dispelled as we ran passed the Start/Finish!  Muggins hadn’t read the instructions properly, and my anger turned into envy as I looked on jealously at the collective relief displayed by the runners on our right, passing over the line.  The feelings turned to hurt as we proceeded to run away, towards a distant switch-back beyond sight, every stride to then be repeated into blinding sun...  the games the mind plays!  But the after the switch-back, the Finish loomed large and quickly.  Over the line, I stopped my watch and doubled over to see the time in some shade, clenching my fists.  This caused an official to rush over to see if I was okay, and resulting in a near-miss as I punched my fists in celebration – a PB!

P.S. How short lived this was... the half marathon was 193m short!!!  Can you believe it?!

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Loch Ness Mark 2

We flew to Inverness on Thursday 30th and returned on Tuesday 3rd October. The trip is etched in the happy section of my memory – even the marathon bit. Everything went well, B&B, eating out, sightseeing, bus trips, a boat trip and miles of walking. Then the main reason for the trip was the 26.2. A record entry of about 2,500 was handled very well by the race director. It was quite a spectacle as a convoy of over 40 buses took us out to the middle of nowhere for the start. A bit like the Seaview but on a grander scale as motorcycle outriders blocked off side roads and held traffic back at roundabouts.

Lesley and I were upstairs on a traditional double-decker and it had to be the one without a toilet resulting in us making a pit stop in open countryside for a female runner who was over hydrated. She handled the huge round of applause with some dignity. As we approached the drop-off point it grew bleaker, windy and rather wet. There was a bit of a rush to sort out running gear (helly and gloves!), get the bags on the baggage bus and the find Lin and Martin in the crowd. Imagine 2,500 runners crammed onto a single track country road, with slightly boggy ground either side, trying to warm up or keep warm.

We knew Lin and Martin were going for fast times – maybe even prizes, so we pushed to the front and found them by the start line eyeing up the Ethiopians – a bit optimistic we thought, but it turned out to be a very good position. For some reason there was space at the front. Maybe because there were chip times the bulk of the runners hadn’t pushed too far forward. So there was room to stretch, run through the start and even jog next to the Ethiopians as they limbered up. However prizes were awarded on gun times so the front line was a good place to be.
Lesley and I were going to move back but a wall of runners behind us meant we were caught and had to start embarrassingly close to the leaders, quite an experience. It was a fast start – lots of downhill,( although other runners insisted it was more undulating than I remembered). Best case scenario – on a fast course with a tail wind I had hopes of 3:30 at 8 mins per mile. I knew that if I dropped to 9 min/mile or 3:56 Lesley would surely beat me (for the second time) a fact I couldn’t cope with.

I clocked the first 7 miles at about 52 mins, which if maintained would put me on about 3:15, obviously with a lack of training and a history of stomach problems that would be a miracle. Fortunately slightly more demanding undulations slowed the pace and I still felt very comfortable up to 11 miles. After a couple of poor miles I felt OK again and sped up until 16 miles. At this stage I was still about 4 mins under 3:30. Other runners were very friendly – seeing my SWRR-Exeter vest one local runner called out “welcome to the Highlands, nice to see you,” as he eased past. Someone from Coventry tried to engage in conversation as he used to live in Exeter, but at this stage being sociable was lower on the menu than normal!
At 18 miles one of the undulations turned into a small hill, but it hurt like a big hill. My pace was slowing and although the sky was brightening and the sun was out my spirits were getting a bit low. Negative thoughts began to nag, “why bother, just stop now, no more pain”. Funny how there’s always another voice that says “just keep going, you can finish”, and it’s always a real high crossing that finish line. The main fear of course was that Lesley would come steaming past leaving me in her wake. (She admitted later that if she had seen me injured, sick or dying ahead she would run alongside a big bloke so I wouldn’t see her). I did plod on – no walking- but by mile 24 my left knee was hurting and the last 1.2 miles took over 12 mins. I really needed the spectators help to keep running to the finish and was very pleased with 3:42:27. Lesley finished not far behind in 3:49:07 knocking a massive 9min 10 secs off her previous PB, although in the crowds I didn’t find her for another 90 mins.

I did spot Lin and martin already changed and heading for the prize giving! Both looked refreshed although Martin looked a bit different when he smiled – something to with a sticky energy bar and a dodgy tooth. Was he smiling on any of his race photos? Talking of which, look at the brilliant photos of Lin and a rival female sprinting to the finish after 26.2 miles! Well done to the Lascelles excellent planning – they even forsook their excellent campsite and parked overnight next to the registration in order to avoid any stress. Starting at the front was crucial as on chip time Lin was 4th, but on gun time she was 3rd making a huge difference to the prize awarded. I was obviously the most photogenic with 11 photos on the race website.

Post script from Lesley. I had a pretty good race and finished in a time I was very happy with. More stats: I was 48 mins at the 10K point – faster than I have finished some 10K races, and 1:50 at the half-marathon point which would have been a PB. One of us at least had time to look at the scenery, and although for the most mart it had to be glimpsed through the trees, now and then there were good views of the Loch and Urquhart Castle which we had visited two days earlier. Another good place was the village of Dores, where the inhabitants were out in good numbers to cheer us on. Up the hill at 18 miles and still going strong (apart from the right calf which I’d had to put tubigrip on at about 8 miles. Was glad to see the 20 mile marker, always feels like you can start to count down the miles from there. At 23 miles we were on the outskirts of Inverness and by my calculations I knew I should finish under 4 hours and possibly in 3:50 if I kept up the pace. The spectator support was growing from 24 miles, and it wasn’t long before the river and then the bridge were in sight. This was so welcome as it was only just over half a mile from the end of the bridge to the finish. Richard mentioned the photos – he looks so happy to be crossing the line. Although I was really glad I’d made it under 3:50, and I felt happy enough, the photos show a different expression.

Four days later and Richard is bounding around and has been out running. I’m still hobbling around like an extra from a zombie film – the calf muscles have just totally seized up and won’t work.

(I may not have beaten Richard but age-graded I was 71% and he was 65% !!!)

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Loch Ness Marathon

Martin said: I'm typing this in a bar in Ibiza doing some post-marathon recovery training, please forgive the spelling. I'm not sure why we chose the Loch Ness Marathon for our main Autumn race this year, but I'm really glad we did. Its a race whose organisation and "ambience" feels like a much bigger event, but it is small enough not to be overwhelming. I was really impressed by the race organisation, in fact I was impressed by the city of Inverness, and the highlands of Scotland. I think we'll have to return, maybe not to do this race again, but there must be loads of other things to do beside run a marathon. I've heard that they get snow there.I'll leave out the details of our trip up, and the rest of our stay in Scotland, and hit the high points of the race.
Here's Lin's bit which she will type in while I go to the bar for some mas cerveza.

Lin says: OK it took Martin 20 minutes to type that - whilst he's at the bar I'll bash out a few hundred words. What a great weekend! We had no idea when we entered that Richard and Lesley were also planning to do this event, and also Fred and Sue Fox from Yeovil. Having driven about 700 miles (via Durham) to get to Inverness we found ourselves camping next door to the Foxes - who invited us to "dinner" on Friday evening - no mean feat in a camper van!!. (Thanks to Fred and Sue for a great evening).
Our training may not have been perfect but our pre marathon preparation was spot on - we stayed off our feet, relaxed, carbo loaded and parked the van about 5 minutes from the bus pick up for the trip to the start.
Sunday morning was mild but a little damp around the edges. Martin has just arrived back with more beer, I feel my interest in typing a blog waning, so I may hand back to him for the next bit.

Martin said: We were driven to the start in style, a coach with a portaloo on board! pity it didn't flush, but you can't have everything - at least we were two of the first to discover it. On arrival at a remote location somewhere on the highlands we were deposited on a road with several thousand similarly deranged people from all over Scotland, the UK, and many exotic locales, such as Ethiopia and Somerset.
We managed to negotiate the path to the start and waited almost on the front line for the race to begin which it did, surprisingly given the apparent disorder, and a troop of highland pipers, spot on time. A very fast start made it impossible to keep to a target race pace, but after the initial drop, we settled into around 7 minute mile pace. Lin and I were running together, which was not planned, but she was feeling strong. I was worried that she might suffer for it later, but I didn't want to suggest that she slow down, and despite the numerous undulations, we were still pretty much on my scheduled pace for a sub-3-hours at about 8 miles when we hit the first of the big hills. The hill was not extreme by Dorset standards, but it was enough to slow the pace to a still respectable 7 minutes miles, but I was starting to realise that sub 3 was not going to be.
The rain by now was getting annoying, and I was starting to feel a bit tired, but otherwise it was going pretty well, and I was enjoying it, despite having only seen a very occasional glimpse of the much vaunted scenery of the famous loch between the trees. I think I'll have another beer now.................

Lin said: OK feel the need to condense this down a bit. Ran the first 12 miles with Martin, an unexpected bonus as his target time was 10 seconds per mile faster than mine. Feeling pretty good till 8 miles when the digestion started giving cause for concern. At 12 miles had to dive into the woods for a "Paula" with Martin yelling "don't go too far" to draw maximum attention to my dilemma. Horror!! Not the situation but TWO women got past me whilst I was indisposed not to mention my speedy husband disappearing into the distance. Soon overtook both the women which put me back into 5th place, however one of them subsequently overtook me and stayed 20m or so ahead of me until she was similarly afflicted and made her own foray into the woods!!
I had been worried that we had not done enough long runs but I felt really strong in the last 6 mies and overtook loads of people including two women who had evidently gone off too fast. At 23 miles I could see Martin ahead which really spurred me on and I was frantically trying to work out from the average pace on my GPS (7.04) what my likely finishing time would be. As we reached Inverness and Martin turned onto the bridge over the River Ness he looked back and we waved - I don't think he reaalised until that point that I was so close behind him. Need more beer - back to Himself for the finale.......

Martin concluded:- Yes, it was a shock, but a very pleasurable one to turn on the bridge and see Lin only a couple of hundred yards back, and with no other women between us, by my calculations she was in 3rd place, what a great performance. It helped the last mile to go less painfully, and I finished, amidst great support from the crowds lining the river bank path in 3:05:31 - a very respectable time, given the hills, although not enough to gain an over 50's prize.
At the finish, I stopped (obviously!), and turned to see Lin closing, with - oh no! - another women behind her, sprinting for the line. I gestured urgently for her to get a move on, and fortunately she had plenty left to respond with her own sprint and remain in 3rd position in the ladies race. Wow! I was so proud of her. I was also more than content with my race, which is easily my second fastest marathon time.
I think I could manage another Birra....

Lin said: OK I know "conclude" implies an end to the saga but I'm a woman and I have to have the last word. I had no idea the other woman was behind me but there was NO WAY anyone was overtaking me at that stage. I had plenty left to outsprint her to the finish but I was grateful to Martin for the warning that she was there. The stats: Finished in 3.05.53 - my second fastest marathon ever and 7 minutes faster than anything I have done since I broke my hip - starting to think maybe a sub 3 hour marathon is not such a wild fantasy after all. Third place also meant a cheque for £500 - result! Holiday paid for!!
And this is really the last word (from us) - as we left the finish line - Martin said (loudly) - "if you hadn't had to stop for a poo you would have been second" and the guy walking behind us said "Nice feedback!!" Well that was an expensive (£250!!!) pit stop!!!
Richard and Lesley will be adding their own race reports - watch this space.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Eastleigh Park Run

Last Friday night Martin and I travelled to Sussex for the Brighton & Hove Park run, where we both ran disappointing times (which we blamed on the two hard races we had done the previous weekends and too much marathon training in between).  We still had a great weekend and enjoyed a fabulous long run on the South Downs on Sunday.  If I didn't live in Dorset, Sussex would be high on my list of alternative places to live.

This Saturday we decided to try the newest and nearest Park run event at Eastleigh, as a final sharpener before the marathon next weekend.  Our race was nearly over before it began as the alarm clock failed to go off at 6.40am - fortunately (or not) I woke up at 4 minutes to 7 and a mad scramble to leave the house by 7am as planned ensued.  This saw me trying to put on compression socks (never an easy task) as Martin hurtled his car down the valley at top speed.  Nothing like a good dose of early morning stress to improve your race prospects.

Despite the chaotic start we arrived in plenty of time at the Lakeside Country Park and began to warm up and attempt to work out where the course went.  Any hopes we had of recording decent times were dashed as we realised that this 5k, unlike B&H, is run on a mixture of cinder tracks and grass with some tight turns, dips and rough ground - all of which has to be negotiated twice in this two lap race.  There is also a steam railway running round the park and this has to be crossed three times - on each lap!

This was only the 21st running of the Eastleigh Park run and numbers were about half of the previous week's total.  Even so we started right at the front in order to avoid bottlenecks on the first narrow section of the route.  As we hurtled past bemused fishermen on the bank of the lake I was only a few places behind Martin but he soon pulled away from me, as we turned sharp right across the first stretch of grass and then another track through trees to the first railway crossing - which involved a nasty tight left then right turn.  The next section was straight and fairly flat but on grass, followed by a short climb onto a grassy bank and the roughest part of the course with an awkward dip and fairly sharp right turn before arriving back at the start and embarking on lap two.
Normally during a 5k I know exactly how well (or not) I'm doing by constant monitoring of the time, but even though there were km markers I didn't check my watch once during the race as I concentrated on where I was putting my feet and not tripping over any of the many hazards.  It felt like I was running quite fast but I can never judge my pace so it was just head down and slog it out to the finish.  I was very pleased therefore to find that on a much slower course I had actually beaten last week's time by 2 seconds and finished in 19.53.  Martin had similarly improved last week's time by 9 seconds and finished in an impressive 6th place overall.  I was 12th overall and first lady.

Although this is not a race you would do for a time it was very enjoyable and in a great setting, aided by the fact that it was a beautiful, bright, autumn morning.  There is always a great atmosphere at Park runs, they're free, they're all over the country and they take place every Saturday morning.  What more could you ask for?
On checking out the results later in the day we discovered that for the second week in a row we were 1st and 2nd overall on age graded results.  I'm not sure that this is necessarily a good thing, it just makes me feel rather old!!!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Tales From The Back Of The Grid - The Great North Run by Eric

First a little background: after a long spell not running due to lower back muscular issues this is my first competitive run since the infamous Parrett Trail last October. Getting back up to speed over the summer was partially successful and I had reached a comfortable distance of 8 miles. The rest was in the lap of the Gods!

The morning of the race was calm, slightly misty and full of nervous tension. Through the night the north east was drenched in rain so I wasn’t quite hopeful of a dry race. I was running alongside my brother-in-law – a much more experienced long distance runner and after a hefty bowl of Scots Oats we made our way to our gate – which was second last nearly a kilometer from the start line!!

Why is it, that while getting ready at the start, all the other runners look so much better prepared than you? I certainly thought this until we walked the kilometer to our gate where there was a better balance of age differences, beer bellies and other ungainly physiques. I felt quite good and quite at home!

Now as usual, I had musical accompaniment for the race. This time I had The Who to get me round. The aim was simple – get to the end of Tommy by 10k, then finish the race before the end of the 1st disc of Quadrophenia.

To get the crowd warmed up there was a fitness bloke on a cherry picker with a microphone giving us an aerobics workout. It was an amazing sight to see 54,000 people all doing the same thing – although the sound didn’t match up with the big screens closest to us as we were so far back!!!!

The wheel Chairs and the blind runners set off first followed by the women’s athletes. Then the men’s athletes were announced – it was good to see Gabrsellassie, it gave the whole race a little kudos and I know in my heart of hearts that I gave him a good run for his money! He only pipped me to the post, I mean, come on, 1hr and 44 mins difference – it ain’t that much!

After the starting pistol it took ages for us to get moving. I thought that I was never going to catch up old Haile and my heart sank even further when the times came up for the women’s race as they approached mile 9!!!!

However, with the promise of being able to high-five Ant or Dec at the start line getting ever closer we gradually made our way forward. The Red Arrows put on brief display – followed by a notice on the big screens that there will be a full Red Arrow display at the finish at 1.15. It should have had disclaimer after that in brackets that said “Except for you fat boys at the back! You’ll never make it!”
(However, I did see some of the display – oops, spoilers!)

After 32 mins since the pistol, we reached the start line and I pressed play on my iPod, completely ignoring and missing Ant & Dec!! Shame! The vibe was fantastic and it was odd how with so many people that we were actually running. The dual carriageway snaked its way through the campus of the University of Northumbria, over flyovers and through underpasses. With the initial flood of blood and sweat dealt with, we rounded the bend towards the Tyne Bridge – a really magical moment. The weather was dry and cool with strains of The Who’s Amazing Journey competing with the crowd noise as I spotted my family on the left just before the bridge. A quick high-five with my son – infinitely better than high-fiving one of those ‘celeb’ types – and we were on our way over the bridge. At this point Phil’s advice about road cambers popped into my head as I took to the central white lines over the bridge – a sport more commonly reserved for the local youth on a Friday or Saturday night after a few alcopops!

The mile markers were coming quite quickly and I had found a good rhythm and shortly after having listened to The Acid Queen, Mile 3 appeared. All was on target, I was half way through Tommy and I recall thinking during “Do You Think It's Alright?” that everything was better than alright!

The next stretch up to 10k went extremely well. What was unusual was that the runners hadn’t thinned out. We were still all bunched up running at the same pace – I guess the whole “gate” system and running with similar runners really works – although it was difficult to get a breeze as the day started to heat up.

A low point of this section was being overtaken by SpongeBob Square Pants – he must have been hot!!!! As we made our way through one of the many council estates, Pinball Wizard came and went. The local kids were busy playing with their new toys – discarded half empty plastic bottles of water, which they were squirting at us passing runners, with a few of the local yoof deciding to abandon squirting water in favour of actually throwing the bottles at the runners!!!! That certainly kept you running for a while!!!

The mile markers kept coming and going with a good regularity and as I reached the end of “We’re Not Gonna Take It” I crossed the 6mile point followed very closely by the 10k marker. I was bang on target and the song was apt:
“Listening to you,
I get the music.
Gazing at you,
I get the heat.
Following you,
I climb the mountains.
I get excitement at your feet.”

The next 5K went without controversy, but dodging over-excited children was still an ongoing torment! When I reached 8 miles I was feeling great and I knew that I was about to move out of my comfort zone. By then I had entered the Quadrophenia phase of the race and was still hopeful of finishing by the end of the 1st disc. Mile 9 came along and then mile 10 took a bit longer to appear. At this point, my knees were a bit red and feeling tired and at each drink station I was left squirting water on my knees to cool them down by myself as the local yoof had disappeared and had probably gone back to the safety of more homely pursuits like joy-riding or ram-raiding.

The pace was beginning to slow and my desire for the next drink station became slightly obsessive. There were 3 isotonic drink stations but there was no sugar and no calories in these drinks. Now forgive me for not being an experienced runner but surely the intake of glucose with all the calories it contains is a good thing? I was relying on a good old bottle of sugary sports drink – Kevlar juice or an equivalent. But no. It was a bottle of foul tasting mineral suspension which although topped up my levels, it didn’t provide me with that boost that was so desperately needed. But wait – what is that I see on the horizon? A jelly baby station? Am I delirious? Have I hit the wall so hard that I am imagining things? No, it’s a jelly baby station!! SUGAR! SUGAR! SUGAR!!! Gimme MORE!!!!  After a small sugar rush I felt slightly better, though the knees were knackered!

Shortly after the 10 mile mark I walked for the first time. Only 10 paces or so, then back to my running pace. But it signaled the beginning of the end. Walking was quite uncomfortable after running for so long but it became necessary. The halfway point of Quadrophenia came and went, so I adjusted my target to get to the finish line before the end of the cd – surely that was achievable? Miles 11 & 12 came and went quite slowly during which one kind resident was stood holding a tin of biscuits – SUGAR! SUGAR! SUGAR!!!! It was pain & pleasure – the biscuit (a custard cream) was nectar, however my mouth was so dry that it wasn’t until the next water station before I could accompany the dry biscuit with some liquid!

Then we headed down hill towards the sea at South Shields and then hell happened. The downhill stretch looked welcoming but just after turning onto the flat straight to the finish line - a kilometer away, my right knee stiffened and became intensely painful – on the outside edge. I knew it wasn’t muscular but that didn’t help me much. 800m to go and I was hobbling along the sea front as the rain started to pelt down in a heavy shower. Then there was a roar as the Red Arrows flew right over my head towards the finish line trailing red, white & blue. An uplifting sight to behold! I hadn’t missed the display after all! With buoyed spirits I tried running again – useless. I hobbled on eyeing the kerb suspiciously as if it were about to claim its next victim. I reach the 200m board. I try running again – success! I feel the pain begin to shift a little – enough for me to maintain a gentle jog to the finish line. Sadly Haile had gone. I thought he might have hung around for a while!!!! With the rain hammering down and foil cape donned like a bedraggled cat I eventually found my family and then set to task on the next race – how to get out of South Shields with 54000 others and get back to Dorset before work in the morning – but that’s another story!!!! 13.1 miles – I did it!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Highways & Skyways

Following on from the newly introduced Night Runner earlier this year, Axe Valley Runners have come up with yet another winning formula for an event, namely Highways and Skyways.

This is a self navigating “race” starting and finishing in Charmouth and taking in eight “tops” as it crosses stunning countryside and climbs a total of 760 metres with the bonus at the end of a choice whether to run a couple of miles along the beach or climb another 600 feet to follow the coast path.

About 50 runners assembled at the start on Sunday morning in brilliant September sunshine, and following a briefing from race director Garry Perratt, we set off up the cliff path (officially closed but still passable with a slight detour) on the start of our adventure. Martin and I had decided to run together to maximise our chances of staying on the right route and we did have the advantage of having completed a training run around the route with Garry earlier in the summer.

After climbing to Stonebarrow, crossing the outward route of the Charmouth Challenge and swooping down the other side we came to the first road crossing at Morecombelake, and then began the arduous climb up the other side. At this point we had a few other runners in our sights and one of them had also done the recce run with us so we didn’t have to worry too much about navigation initially.

However after a few miles we came to a section where we thought we had turned off the obvious path and climbed a steep field and at this point our little group split. One local runner was adamant that he knew the way and that we should continue straight on, a few of us followed him and it wasn’t until five minutes or so later that I realised that Martin had gone with the other group and disappeared from view. I was now faced with a dilemma as Martin had both the map and the route description and I wasn’t sure that I could maintain the pace that the rest of the group were running at. We climbed up the seemingly endless Coppet Hill, the fifth “top” and still there was no sign of Martin. Had he taken a short cut and got ahead of me or had he got lost and fallen behind? Much to my relief, a few moments later he appeared on the summit of the hill, and we regrouped and carried on.

We stayed together for the loop around Quarry Hill but then decided that we didn’t feel like killing ourselves in an attempt to keep up with the others and they gradually pulled away from us as we headed up Colmer’s Hill and then dropped down to re-cross the main road at Miles Cross. As we climbed up through the woods we caught the last glimpse of the others up ahead and then they disappeared, which was a shame as we then had a few navigational issues before re-emerging onto the coast path with the welcome sight of Thorncombe Beacon ahead.

There were no more route choices to make now and we could relax and enjoy the rest of the run, simply keeping the sea on our left - especially the long downhill stretch to Seatown – trying hard not to look ahead and watch the ants climbing Golden Cap ahead of us! All too soon we were those ants as we laboured up the fields and finally the steps to the highest coastal point in Dorset – stunning views all round but no time to stop and admire them as we plunged down the other side.

No choice necessary as we reached the bottom – we headed for the beach and the hazardous steps down to St Gabriel’s Mouth, although once we hit the shingle and tried to coax our legs back into a run we felt we may have made the wrong decision. We could see Charmouth ahead but it didn’t seem to be getting any closer and it was such a relief when we finally hit some hard sand, although that coincided with the appearance of the late holiday makers and fossil hunters meandering across our path. At last we reached the end of the beach and crossed the bridge where we overtook an Axe Valley Runner and headed for the finish side by side.

Now I haven’t mentioned this beforehand, but I did have to wait for Martin on several of the climbs (his excuse was that he hadn’t fully recovered from Corfe) so I felt entirely justified in waiting until we approached the finish and then throwing in a sneaky sprint finish to get over the line ahead of him.

All that remained was a delightful dip in the sea, positively balmy compared with our last plunge in Cornwall and the post race refreshments. We waited for the presentation as I had finished first lady but it turned out that there was only one prize for the overall winner. However Garry had decided to award the prize to the first age graded finisher and due to my advanced age that was me!

Garry is already planning next year’s event (and we can thoroughly recommend it) although he is keen that this doesn’t turn into another Grizzly. However it was mentioned that the first Grizzly, some 24 years ago, sported a field of just 30 runners, so who knows where Highways may lead?

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Corfe Beast

On Sunday morning we headed down to Corfe Castle for one of our favourite races of the year – the Corfe Beast, run over a tough 12 mile plus multi terrain course with outstanding scenery and views, should you risk breaking your neck by taking time to glance at them.

Last year this race fell a fortnight before the Berlin marathon and this year it was a month before Loch Ness so it was always going to be a judge of how our training is going. Added to which last year, much to my surprise, I was the first lady home, so I had a title to defend – no pressure then!

In addition to Martin and myself, Dave Webb, and Richard and Lesley were also on the start line so Maiden Newton Runners were well represented. As usual our warm-up consisted of the half mile or so up onto the common to where the race starts and as usual we spent most of that half mile complaining about how tired we felt and how heavy our legs were and how we were just going to take it easy................
At 10.30am therefore we were at the front of the 500 or so assembled runners, eyeing up potential rivals and raring to go! I found myself hurtling down the hill at a ridiculous pace, but even so two female runners overtook me and I had to restrain myself from chasing after them at such an early stage in the race. After about half a mile Martin passed me which indicates just how unrealistic my starting pace was!

The first hill up to the top of the common brought everyone to their senses and slowed the pace to something appropriate for what lay ahead of us. After about a mile and a half I found myself overtaking the two ladies who had started off at such a scarily speedy pace, I could still see Martin just ahead of me and I felt fairly comfortable.

The route heads east to begin with and then turns towards the coast at the bottom of the first serious hill - a narrow and rough track up through the woods where progress is made by single file. Emerging from the trees into bright sunlight there are still a few uphill fields before the first road crossing is reached. At this point I clocked Martin exactly 20 seconds ahead of me. Did he know I was so close behind? What sort of run was he having? Could I possibly catch him? Resisting the urge to look back and check if there were any female runners behind me I concentrated on the gap between us and maintaining as fast a pace as I could.

On reaching the coast the path turns sharply right and seeing Martin glance back I waved at him - now at least he knew I was on his heels!  Shortly afterwards we reached the first steep descent where a choice presents itself – hurtle down the slippery grass risking life and limb or join the queue skipping down the steps. And of course, what goes down must go back up so all too soon we were labouring up the seemingly endless line of steps up the other side.

Our exertions were rewarded with a flat and downhill section as the route turned inland for a while and passed another drink station before heading back to the coast and the second set of steps. I always mean to count the steps on both ascents and I always forget or lose count half way up. I really struggled up the second set and on finally reaching the top I was grateful for the strong tail wind which pushed me back into a shambling run. Only three miles or so to go now and as I turned inland back towards Corfe I could still see Martin up ahead but he had gained a lot of ground and any foolish hopes I had of catching him rapidly subsided.

At this point all the hard work is behind you and you have the long descent across the fields with many annoying little stiles and gates to negotiate and the tantalising view of the castle up ahead like a mirage – never seeming to get any closer no matter how hard you run towards it! One last sharp climb up onto the common, a real test of how much strength is left in your legs (not much!) and then along the road passing the starting line and the welcome sounds of other runners finishing. The final sprint for the line and at last the blessed relief of being able to stop running. I hadn’t looked at my watch all the way round but a quick glance now and I could not believe my eyes – 1.37.43 – over 5 minutes faster than last year and a Corfe PB beating even my pre broken hip best time of 2003!!

Martin has also run a PB finishing in 1.35.42 and Dave finished soon after me in 1.39.48. Richard crossed the line in 1.46.51 and joined us for a team (minus Lesley) photograph. Unfortunately the lunch demands of the official photographer’s offspring (Jackie Webb) meant that Lesley was missing from the photo as she finished just after the Webbs sensibly headed off to refuel. The rest of us waited in the rain which had held off for the race but not for the presentation and Maiden Newton Runners were twice in the prizes as Lesley picked up the first V55 bottle of bubbly. I was just grateful that Martin had decided to polish the cup before we returned it so we took a nice shiny trophy home with us!.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Maiden "Newten" Madness

(Link to full results: )

Photo Album on Facebook:

The weather on Saturday morning was sadly reminiscent of 2008 when the race took place in a continual downpour but happily by mid morning the rain had ceased, the sky cleared and the sun even broke through once or twice. Although there was the constant threat of more rain it did hold off for the duration of the race.

Numbers were disappointingly lower than last year but those runners who did make the journey to Maiden Newton all seemed to enjoy the race and hopefully will return next year bringing their club mates with them. First runner home and first V40 was Tony Chutter of Bournemouth AC in a time of 40.40 with unattached runner Martin Hewlett hot on his heels in 40.57 to take second. In third place was Mark Pittaway of Royal Manor of Portland, a staunch supporter of the Madness over the last few years and always in the prizes. Mark took the second V40 prize home tonight.

In fourth place overall and collecting the first V50 prize, was Crewkerne Runner Clive Harwood, an excellent achievement considering that he is only a month short of his 60th birthday - a date eagerly awaited by all other local male vet 50's who may actually then get a chance to win a category prize! Maiden Newten Runner, Martin Lascelles, finished in 5th place and took the 2nd V50 prize. Another Crewkerne Runner, Simon Land was second senior home in 43.11 and 6th place overall.
Although there wasn't a V60 category, Yeovil's Pete Jakeman was the first 60 year old over the line, astonishingly managing to clock exactly the same time as last year - 45.26. Bet he can't do that a third year in a row but if he does I think a special award should be ready for him!

In the ladies race, Maiden Newton Runner's Lin Lascelles finished in first place in a time of 45.33 taking the first V40 prize with Dorset Doddler's Lynda Faulkner finishing a close second in 46.13 and taking second V40. The first senior lady home was Nicky Whitley of Egdon Health Harriers in 52.07 with Jacqui Pittaway of Royal Manor of Portland taking second in 56.09.

Both first and second V50 prizes went home with Egdon Heath Harriers - Gail Coverley (52.30) and Frances Anderson (54.18) respectively and indeed as far as the ladies race went it was a night when experience certainly counted with nine out of the first ten ladies all being vet runners.

Maiden Newton Runners is a small club and once again relied heavily on non running volunteers to help marshal and organise the event to it's usual high standard, largely thanks to Club Chairman Phil England who might have enjoyed a rest in the last week having competed successfully in an Ironman distance triathlon the preceeding weekend. Thanks also to Phil's long suffering wife, Jackie and the rest of his family who all get roped in to help out on the evening.

Andy Staples - Maiden Newton Runner

Dan Cantrell - Maiden Newton Runner

Egdon Heath Harriers were great supporters of the race as usual

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Haytor Heller

Sat 17th July saw the Westgates at the 25th Haytor Heller. Unusually this year it was held on a Sat evening and what a lovely evening it was. The race starts halfway up the steep slope of Haytor and you really want to pace it gently at the start. I thought I had started conservatively but as I got to the top my sphincter was certainly giving me some cause for concern; a mishap at this early stage would surely have been most unpleasant. Anyway things soon passed, I mean got better and I was pleased to glide past Lin. Soon we were into some very enjoyable fast downhill where I just wanted to fly.

Further into the race and on the climbs I expected Lin to come back past but I didnt see her again untill the finish. During the very narrow downhill bendy bit through the tall gorse the runner in front went down like a sack of spuds but within a second like a wounded wildebeest he was up and running again before I could go past him; very impressive.

Everything seemed to go fast and before I knew it I had finished posting my 2nd best time. About 1 min later Lin came flying through the finish and didn't stop. The lady on the T shirt desk looked at me quizically and I shrugged my shoulders as Lin dissapeared into the distance. Maybe the race was too short for her and she fancied a couple of extra miles.(in fact as we subsequently learned she was having a Paula experience! (Ive heard it said a laxative the night before and immodium in the morning helps).

Back in the clubhouse I asked Martin if he had won anything; "Well yes actually 1st MV55." Martin asked Lin if she had won anything. "Well I think 1st FV45." Lin asked if I had won anything. "Well 2nd MV55 perchance." Turning to Lesley I enquired politely if she had won anything. Glowering under a mane of unruly hair "a PB but bugger all" she spat.

Haselbury Trail

Wed. 4th Aug saw the Westgates at the Haselbury Trail Race. Once again blessed with fine weather although at times the wind was strong enough for me to draught behind a large bloke.It's reassuring to know that some things in life remain the same; there's the same field where a herd of cows threaten to charge the unwary runner as he threads his way down to the gate. Another hazard was the bright sun low in the sky blinding even through sunglasses as we picked our way up the stony track. (Lesley came well prepared with a peaked cap which solved the problem, however she thinks she left the favourite cap in the clubhouse)
After the initial downhill charge I settled into a reasonable pace without pushing too hard. My target and rival Paul Chadwick went on ahead. It took some time to catch him and on a grassy downhill I changed gear, went past and gradually built a 53 second lead by the finish. My next target became Pete Jakeman who for a couple of miles was only 3 places ahead. Off road suits me and I thought I would have enough advantage to catch him but he kept up a very strong pace. Towards the finish two youngsters (probably under 16) went past putting 5 runners between us. Pete might be fairly ancient but he can certainly show a clean pair of heels!

Thanks to Ironman Phil for cheering us on at various places; it does make a difference even on a short race like this. My 47:18 was my 2nd best in several attempts. Lesley's 55:15 was her best. Also present were Martin and Lin both recording good times 43:14 and 45:29 respectively earning 1st M vet 50 and 2nd F prizes. Martin's time a bit slower than in 2004 when he posted 42:37 finishing 12th although he was 9th this year. Overal another good race and I think everyone mentioned enjoyed it and were pleased with the results.

Sidmouth Festival Run

After a late sat. dinner, some beer and wine sund. 8th aug. saw the westgates up at the crack of dawn catching up on the washing up, watering, weeding and blogging before setting off for sidmouth. fortunately the race started at 11am and the journey was covered in under 50 mins.

Another beautiful clear morning with fine views along the coast and out to sea. the gardens looked immaculate as ever and as the tide was out families were already on the sand. some might say the only eyesore were the swarm of yellow and black swrr vests as the club was out in force - eventually winning both mens and womens team prizes!
As usual most of us started up the hill at a steady pace while a few hardy souls hared off in an effort to be 1st man or lady to the top for a prize. i clocked the first K at over 7 mins and went through 2K at 12 mins+. ahead of me were two club colleagues lewis jones 60+ and karen cook both of whom who i rarely beat. keeping them in sight as targets i worked fairly hard and the average pace per K came down below 5.5 mins. it was pretty warm and at the water stations i poured two cups over my head while grabbing a 3rd to drink. with the end in sight i was suddenly behind karen as she slowed on the steps through woods. however as we went back onto the road and then the grassy hill to the finish no matter how hard i tried she stayed 1 sec ahead.

Afterwards we were going to paddle and picnic but unfortunately we had to wait for the prizes and the parking ticket was running out. you guessed it, lesley of maiden newton harriers as john perrott put it got 1st F 55.

Shave Cross

Sat 7th Aug saw the Westgates at the 62nd Shave Cross. Another glorious sunny evening ideal for running and great for the bbq, lamb roast,skittles,tombola etc. A 10 foot strip around the field had been harrowed which proved a bit awkward for the unwary runner. After a few laps warming up I knew exactly which line to take and from the start I kept Dave Carnell in my sights. Out onto the road I was behind Dave but going up the first hill he passed two runners and then opened up as he stretched out downhill. I kept plugging away and after the water station was about 20 secs and 1 place behind.
At the end of the road section I was alonside Dave but knowing his potentially blistering finish I knew I had to push on. Dave said he had a bit of a stitch or was it wind or just a ploy? I said i wasn't pushing it as Lesley and I were racing at Sidmouth in the morning. Bluff and double bluff. Back onto grass I eased ahead and stayed in front even on the steep downhill field. Into the final field I had a reasonable gap and turning the corner towards the finish I was certain Dave's challenge was over and I relaxed. 5 seconds later I realised with horror that the gap was closing and my arms and legs went into emergancey sprint mode. The finish was getting closer and closer and so was Dave and with shouts and cheers ringing out we collapsed over the line. A photo finish at 33:55 but I might have got it by a short whisker.
Lesley and I had planned to go to the pub on the way home but got delayed by the prize giving. Although she was 2nd lady there was no prize for this category but she did get an embarrassingly large cup and trophy for 1st lady vet. (40:21 a PB)

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Sturminster Half Marathon

Apologies to Lesley and Richard for bumping their post off the top so abruptly, but I had to get this one in today or I know I'll let it slide. Also somebody might be doing a post on the Haselbury Trail race coming up this Wednesday (hint hint).

Just to set the scene, and get my excuses in up front, when Lin and I entered this race we were both going for a really good time and so planned to be taking it easy for the week leading up to it (after the Blackdown Beauty which was 8 days before, and not run at any pace - apart from the section to the first pub!). Then we heard about Axe Valley's Highways and Skyways Recce run the Sunday before which we couldn't miss - 14 miles and several thousand feet of climbing...

So my legs were definitely still a bit fried when we lined up at the start. I assume that Lin's were too, but we were still hoping for the best. My plan was to run two 40 minute 10ks, then a 4:24 for the last 1.1k which would have given me a PB. Lin was aiming for a 6:50 pace which would be just under 1:30, and a post broken-hip best by about 4 minutes.
We met up with Jackie, and soon after Dave appeared, but no time to chat, because we still needed a bit more warming up. Jogging down the hill from the start we were helpfully informed that the start was back that way by a couple of people. Perhaps they thought we were sneaking a head start which, as it turned out, was the only way I would be getting a PB this day.

Back to the start line, and a quick chat with Nick Brooke and Richard Boulter from Yeovil Town, both V50 rivals who would be tough competition. Nick had stuffed me out of sight (literally) over a similar distance at the start of the Wessex Ridgeway relay a couple of months back, and Richard had finished 6th at the Seaview 17 (actually more like 20) last Sunday - which easily cancels out my excuse BTW.

10:30 arrived and so we were off! A nice easy downhill start which soon turns into a slight uphill, and the first complaints from my legs muscles - I must have gone off too fast? But no, exactly on target pace, and Lin was still ahead of me! This was not a good sign. But I pressed on, overtaking first Lin, then Nick and maintaining speed through the slightly undulating first 3 or 4 miles,. I was imagining that I had left Nick well behind, but then he appeared, smoothly passing me on an uphill section, and I had to work hard to stay with him for another mile or two before realising it was futile. As he steadily pulled away I heard a little voice in my head telling me to drop back and run with Lin, but I ignored it and carried on pushing as hard as possible, gradually losing ground and hope of a decent time. Had I realised how close behind Lin was it might have spurred me on, although I didn't have much left at this point.

Another couple of miles dragged by, then a group of runners reeled me in, which included a fresh-looking Richard who cheerfully informed me that Lin was just behind. This was a very welcome bit of news which made me feel better because at least I could vicariously enjoy Lin's success, even if I was finding it increasingly hard to enjoy the race itself.
Richard and his group moved off into the distance, and then I heard the pitter-pat of little feet. No it was not Lin, but a tiny female runner with a Dorset vest - false alarm. A bit further, then into the last mile, and finally, the better half (she hates that expression - because it implies she and I are of equal size?) herself pulled alongside, and we ran together, both pushing hard, and too knackered to waste energy with even an attempt at conversation.

Our friend Jill greeted us as we turned on to the road for (at last!) - a brief downhill to the entrance to the field and the finish. Lin by now had opened up a slight lead, but I put her in her place with a tottering sprint to the line. Might as well enjoy beating her, even if by only a second, at the rate she is improving, she'll be beating me easily from now on.

Dave finished soon after, but unfortunately I missed him because I was back at the car chugging my protein recovery drink which I had reconstituted from a freebee sachet from the Big Sur Marathon Expo a couple of years ago, wish I hadn't bothered, it tasted foul. It took a while to get back to the finish area (half of the time taken up removing our pressure socks) to pick up an absolutely delicious Honeybuns cake and a t-shirt in a nice pale grey.

By now the horror of the ordeal had faded, and I enjoyed a pleasant relaxing cup of coffee and chat with Jill, Gareth, Pete and Ian before the prize-giving where Lin picked up her prize for finishing 4th female - in a very strong field - a great result.
A bit more chatting with a pair of fellow running couples Dawn and Jon, then Flora and Nick, then we were off home to Sydling. A celebratory drink at the pub is in order this evening I think!

Saturday, July 31, 2010


Sunday 25th July saw the Westgates at the sixth running of the Seaview 17, and also my sixth time at this event. Weather forecast was promising – some clouds and not too hot. By the time we reached the comfort stop at County Gate we had made contact with the clouds and the start at Countisbury was shrouded in a ghostly mist.

Richard had prepared well with his camelback and energy drink. I decided to abandon the camera, as there wasn’t much of a view of the sea or anything else.

First half of the race went well and I ran for some with Ross Hale from Bitton Road Runners whose partner Linette Porter was up near the front. She was going for a good time, we were just chatting. Passed the usual jelly baby stops and managed not to get lost before Hurlestone Combe. Slogged up the steep bit and jogged along the top until the weary feet found an invisible rock and I went flying. Bent glasses, various bruises including a black eye and completely removed the scar and surrounding skin from where I had fallen on my hand three weeks before at Forde Abbey. Pretty painful!!! Was also winded for a few minutes, but thank you to all the runners who stopped to make sure I was OK. I blame the shock for what happened next. Having run this race five times before I should know the way by now but for some reason I found myself on a nice grassy downhill path which definitely wasn’t part of the route. Unfortunately for them some runners followed me along this path. The sight of others on the path above proved where we should have been. Half a mile later we were back on course and just about to start the long descent into Minehead.

As it was a cloudy day the seafront was slightly less crowded and as I crossed the road I spotted a figure ahead in a yellow vest and with a camelback – could it be Richard. It was. He was walking at quite a good pace as I gently trotted past. After a minute he managed to join me and we finished the last leg past Tescos and up to the Leisure Centre together. He managed to get ahead on the last 100 yards and I didn’t feel like a sprint finish, but he later confessed that he couldn’t have gone any faster if I had wanted to race it.

There was the usual excellent selection of sandwiches, cakes, teas etc. which one of us enjoyed straight away. And we watched and cheered as the rest of the runners came in. For the record we finished in 3:48:36. (A PB for me).

Richard says: I never intended to actually race this one, but even at a sedate pace my stomach kicked me in the stomach shortly past the top of Hurlestone Combe. I was forced to a demoralising walk and soon enough Eleanor Wood and Freddie Fox went past me. It was just too painful to run so I broke into a fast walk and luckily settled into a happy rhythm. Surprisingly not that many went past and I was completely on my own through Minehead until the Seaward roundabout when I felt a tap on my shoulder. Without turning round I called out well done and then as a white cap went past I realised it was Lesley. I had been hoping to walk the final mile but the wife had come past earlier than expected, and stubborn pride kicked in and I just had to run to the finish beating her by a second.

PS I was going to add some pictures but can't get it to work. See Minehead Running Club Website - Seaview - Photos

Monday, July 12, 2010

Maiden Castle Loop

For the third race in a row the Maiden Newton contingent numbered five runners, although not the same five as the previous two.  Unlike last year when it was so wet that Richard Orme was marshalling in a wet suit the weather was fine if a little hot as we gathered for the 7pm start.

Those in the know started at the front and went off like rockets to avoid the bottleneck in the narrow path shortly after the start.  Having spotted a couple of potential rivals I had another reason to start at an idiotic pace with the idea that I'd get a bit of a head start.  However as we reached the road and turned right towards the Castle I became aware of a female Poole runner breathing down my neck and consequently went up the first hill rather faster than I otherwise would have done.  I managed to shake her off by galloping madly down the uneven field on the other side with scant regard for ankles.  I was also spurred on by Dave Carnell, needed to put enough distance between us so that I couldn't hear him whining............

A sharp left turn at the bottom and onto the road for a nice easy spell, and as I neared the turn back up to the Castle I could see Martin ahead labouring up the hill.  He didn't seem very far ahead and for one foolish moment I actually thought I might be able to catch him, although by the time I'd laboured up same hill I didn't see him again until the finish!!  My female rival was back on my heels but from the sound of her breathing she was working even harder than me so once I reached the ramparts of the castle I stepped up the pace and managed to pass a couple of male runners and open up a bit of a gap on her.  I heard Charlie shouting encouragement as we passed on the ramparts and managed a brief wave, no breath for calling back as I concentrated on keeping the pace and resisted the temptation to look back.

The final descent off the castle was a welcome sight and I practiced my new downhill running technique as advised by my personal coach, turned right at the bottom onto the track and risked a quick glance back.  I was going pretty much flat out along this easy stretch so unless my rival was doing 100m pace there was no way she was going to make up the ground she had lost. (My Garmin later confirmed that I ran mile 6 at 6.20 pace which is better than my usual 5k pace!!).

All that remained was to retrace my steps along the road and back up the path to the school and over my dead body was any other woman passing me at that late stage in the race!  Martin was somewhat taken aback to see me arriving at the finish quite so soon after him (he had finished an excellent 9th overall and first MV50).  Hopefully he'll be the one glancing nervously over his shoulder in future races!!

We saw Dave over the line and then jogged back down to give Charlie some heavy encouragement as she closed the gap on Andy in a very strong finish...but couldn't quite beat him to the line as he finished 7 seconds ahead of her.  Another enjoyable race with good results all round, next up the 25th anniversary Haytor Heller next Saturday evening.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Midsummer Dream RIP

In the good old days Martin and I, together with a lot of other runners, always went to Seaton on the Saturday closest to the longest day to take part in the Axe Valley Runner organised Midsummer Dream – a glorious summer pub crawl complete with cream tea, fancy dress, beer festival, live music and wonderful atmosphere. And then the big, bad Health & Safety killjoys stepped in and decreed that it was too risky to insure and so it sadly died ....................

Well last weekend I had the strangest dream. I dreamt that we were in Seaton at 12,17pm on Saturday (the traditional start time) and that about 70 other runners were there too, dressed as French maids, Spiderman, cops and robbers, and some totally outrageous people dressed as runners! It was lovely and sunny and the tourists watched with amazement as this motley bunch lined up facing each other before setting off – half to run the route clockwise, the other half anti-clockwise.

In my dream, Martin and I ran with the clockwise group, heading along the coast to Beer where we had what else? beer at the Anchor before climbing the hill out of the village and following the coast path across to Branscombe – more bemused holiday makers – and then on to the Fountainhead where the annual beer festival was taking place. A dream come true for Martin – 33 real ales to chose from, live music and great company. It just couldn’t happen like that in real life.

All too soon we found ourselves leaving the pub and heading inland where a cream tea awaited hungry runners, just reward for the stiff climb to reach it. As in all dreams the sun continued to shine and the countryside we ran through was beautiful. Quite a long stretch gave the scones time to go down before we arrived in Colyton and here the dream almost turned into a nightmare. The pub was closed! How could this be? However, nothing goes wrong in dreams and our local companions guided us to another pub, doors open, three delicious beers to choose from and a delightful garden to relax in.

The dream became a bit vague from this point on as we remembered that we had to get home and would therefore have to rush past the last two pubs, forego the traditional dip in the sea and miss out on the fish and chips awaiting other luckier runners.

And just as the dream became less enjoyable I woke up and realised that I couldn't possibly have spent the day doing the Midsummer Dream because it is no more........................

Monday, May 31, 2010

Crewkerne Nine

Crewkerne Nine

Sunday 30th May saw the Westgates at the 30th running of the Crewkerne Nine. A truly splendid, demanding, undulating nine-miler, that unfortunately must lose runners who prefer to do the fastish Wells fun-run 10K, held on the same day. Obviously no contest in our preference.

Preparations for the race went well, huge self-restraint was needed to restrict myself to one glass of yellow raspberry wine on Saturday night followed by nine hours deep sleep. Omens Sunday morning were encouraging as I managed to find one of the rare parking spaces in the high street near the town hall. Weather was improving and becoming almost warm and for some reason, as I helped the blind Chard runner to the urinal, I felt I was going to have a good run.

Sky TV was out looking for a story, this is David Laws territory!! And yet they seemed to find the start of the race sufficiently newsworthy/more interesting. My target was to beat Dave C, who I managed to catch at about 7 miles in 2007. In theory anything over 7 miles should be long enough to catch Dave, but if he gets off to a good start and I get the pace wrong, he wins. My first mile was 6:45 with Dave ahead out of sight. Rod Appleby, another rival who I rarely beat, went bounding past me on a steep downhill. I went through 2 miles at 14:03 having slowed a bit. However I was settling into a steady pace and soon went back past Rod. Drinks stations were frequent and at each I took 2 cups, one to drink and one to tip over myself. Unfortunately during the last mile, the cumulative effect of the weight of water and dodgy elastic meant I had to keep pulling my shorts up.

Mile 4 to 5 went well – 6:30min and I felt good. On the straights I could see Dave ahead, and on the hills I could sense him slowing until there were only 4 runners between us. After mile 7 (49mins) I didn’t look at the watch again, just at Dave ahead and concentrating on getting up the hills faster than him, intending to create an unassailable gap so that he would be unable to catch me with his devastating sprint on the final downhill.

I caught him at about mile 8 and went past; pushing on ahead with everything I had left. It worked and I posted my best Crewkerne time in 5 attempts, knocking a few seconds off my 2003 time. Lesley, as ever had another excellent run knocking over 4 mins off her previous best, and getting Maiden Newton in the prizes with 1stFV55.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Wessex Ridgeway 2010

Legs 1 & 2
by Martin

Got to the start with only 15 minutes to spare, but still an ungodly hour, to join the eager throng of runners from clubs all over at least 4 counties.

After an initial brief hill the first leg was fairly flat and I set off too fast, gradually losing places to a series of faster runners, including Nick Brooke from Yeovil. I was able to follow others most of the way, which was good since I had not recced the route. Near the end of the first leg I took a hard fall on a steep, grassy slope still damp from the early morning dew, and picked up an impressive set of bruises on my arm, but no real damage. All part of the fun! The second leg, though much shorter, was very hilly, and the heat was building, so I was forced to slow down considerably, and let another couple of runners past, including Garry from Axe Valley who was doing alternate legs so I had hoped to stay ahead of him. At the end, spurred on by pride, and the thought that it would soon be over, I managed a brief sprint and got back past the last couple of overtakers.

Legs 3 and 4
by Mike

Leg 3 and 4 got off to a good start. I managed to get to the change over without getting lost! Quite relieved to find Lin parked in a lay-by 100 yards from the start of Leg 3.

As the leading runners appeared the runners gathered at the cross road ready to take the baton. I decided if I was to keep up with these lean-mean-racing snakes surrounding me I will have to abandon the belt carrying gallons of water, lucazade, jelly babies, mobile phone, kitchen sink and run light clutching a bottle of water and the map!

I took the baton from Martin and set off for the first time wearing trifocals firmly attached to my head with an elastic band. Soon to be overtaken by a fellow in a red t-shirt which was good for a few miles to lead the way. It soon became apparent that a kind soul had taken the time to mark the trail with red ribbon – happily I put my mind in neutral and could run without being preoccupied with navigation. The rest of Leg 3 was pretty uneventful. I was overtaken by two runners and over took one so a net loss of one position. Martin and Lin kept checking up on me. I have my suspicions they were worried I would need finding!!
Leg 4 still highlighted by red ribbons started with a long drink. I was quickly passed by a runner. He was the only runner I saw on Leg 4. I remember thinking if I had my walkman with me I should have chosen Desert Island Discs. By this stage I had had enough my legs were hurting never mind run through the pain – well that didn’t work anyway. While my legs were not enjoying the moment my eyes were – I did not need the glasses for map reading it sure helped to enjoy the fabulous view not forgetting to pick up the little red markers. Was I glad to see Martin and Lin now only a few meters from the end of Leg 4. Happily passed the baton to Charlie.

Legs 5 & 6
by Charlie

It was hot just waiting for Mike to arrive. Phil kindly reminded me that Dan and I had the legs in the heat of the midday sun: ‘mad dogs and Englishmen’ sprung to mind. Mike, our resident veteran of the Comrades Marathon and used to African heat, arrived looking like he’d just got out of the shower (no offence!), which boosted morale, not. The first hill was not too bad and half way up I wondered if I’d gone off too fast, in a relative sort of way, but miraculously I kept it up all the way and gained on the distant yellow shirt ahead of one of the Marlborough runners. Down into Minterne Parva and then Up Cerne lots of ramblers looked on as if I was slightly insane, but at this stage all was going well. The second hill up towards the changeover was OK and I was now only a couple of hundred yards behind the runner in front. Looking back there was no-one in sight. The narrow path to the changeover produced a horse coming the other way who looked similarly surprised to see a runner. Unfortunately the rider refused all offers of money so I ran on to see the other teams grouped around the end of the track. When I panted that I was doing two legs they got out the way and the short flat section of road was very welcome.

After that it got a bit harder, as there was no wind or shade, and the track was uneven, meaning much weaving about and concentrating on the track rather than looking at he view to take the mind off it. I think this bit was gently uphill – it certainly felt like it. The runner in front had disappeared - either deciding not to do the loop by the handover, or having conserved her energy better than me, so sadly there was no ‘hare’ to chase. Going down into Sydling I dreamt of jumping in the river to cool down, but decided to put the team first and save precious seconds (it had nothing to do with Martin and Lin waiting there to tell me to hurry up). By now it was hard work and the little track by the church, although in blissful shade, was a walking job (once round the corner, out of sight of Martin). At the top of that little rise the end was in sight and I knew it was only three or four fields up to the A37. Ridiculous thoughts of managing two legs without being overtaken started to enter my head, and right on cue, a Dorset Doddler came up from behind silently. She was obviously only doing one leg because she overtook me with ease. Looking back again, there were a couple of others making gains, but with only one and a half fields to go I got my head down and managed to stay ahead, just, and stumbled across the road and straight into the car where the air con was put on max, and much water drunk.

Legs 7 and 8
by Dan
There was a good atmosphere at the start of the race – other runners were waiting to go too, so our predicted times can’t have been too bad. Charlie’s exhausted head popped up behind the A37 and I was off. It was very hot, but Rachel and the boys were brilliant supporters – I did not need to hide water in the bushes as I had intended, as they kept appearing along the way with bottles of the stuff - a very welcome sight.

Martin appeared at the start of the section through Kingcombe, which I had never recce’d. He tapped along in his twinkle toe shoes chatting as we went (despite already having run his stages) and we overtook a Dorset Doddler, which was satisfying.
A couple of miles after the start of leg 8, another Doddler with fresh legs overtook me. I briefly overtook her a few minutes later, but could not keep the lead for long. Towards the end of the leg, Martin re-appeared, running towards me and reassured me that Lin would overtake the Doddlers on the next stage. I thought that I should give her as good a chance as possible, & ran the last bit so fast that I couldn’t even talk…not something I normally do. Lin took the baton and was off like a rocket.

It was quite a relief to get home and collapse into the paddling pool.

Legs 9 & 10
by Lin

Another great day out at the Wessex Ridgeway relay. I love the team spirit of this event. I'm not so keen on getting up at 5.50am on a Sunday morning to drive Martin to the start. Mike was right - we were a bit worried about his navigational skills. I must confess I even doubted his ability to drive to the start and had my running kit with me in case I had to run legs 3 and 4. Sorry Mike! It was nice having an early morning cup of coffee and chat with you before you started!! Once Charlie was underway we abandoned him to his own devices - knew we could rely on him not to get lost and hurried home for a quick re-group before spending a pleasant ten minutes or so sitting in the Sydling bus stop waiting to cheer him through the village. Dan had his own support crew but relied on Martin to lead him through the unknown bit of Leg 7 and to give him some running support at the end of Leg 8.

And then it was my turn. It felt oh so easy hurtling down the hill into Beaminster overtaking the Dorset Doddlers ladies team en route. Why then was it so hard to run up the hills? First Gerrards Hill, stunning views but absolutely endless, then Lewesdon where the bluebells took my mind off the heat and finally Pilsdon Pen which I made no pretence at running up. Martin, who was definitely the busiest member of the team, kept me supplied with water and opened all the gates for me - great support. I love the sun but I must admit it was a relief to hand over responsibility for the baton to Phil and put my feet up for a while.

The twilight shift - Legs 11 and 12
by Phil

As Lin has already said this is a great team event, which I was really keen to play my part in. That was until I started running and realised just how hot it still was.

Leg 11 starts with a down hill road section before taking to the fields and some climbing. With the redirected Axe Valley Runners having at least a five minute start on me I did not expect to catch anyone and just hoped no one would catch me, if all went well I might finish before 6.00pm?

Having recced both these legs last week I had no issue until catching up unexpectedly with Axe Valley running a road section, who dare I say had got a bit lost. I did the sporting thing and shouted which way to go before starting the long climb up towards Coney’s Castle, closely followed by the yellow vest of Axe Valley. Being reduced to a walk/stagger up through the woods before reaching the open common and the heat, I thought the heat was playing tricks with my eyes when I spotted a second runner in yellow (how had Axe Valley got in front again?) as I caught up I realised it was a Marlborough runner. Two places gain and still on leg11!!! Leg 12 started well again with a down hill section and Martin keeping company, until he decided a lift with Lin was a much better idea. Not sure if it was the ice cream I had an hour before running or the heat, but the engine was starting to give cause for concern and thought we were heading for a Paula Radcliff moment. But I pushed on determined not to lose either of the places I had gained. The running dropped to a walk at the only point on the climb to the A35 where I was apparently in clear view of the support crew. Once safely across the A35 it was mostly downhill to the finish and a much needed comfort stop.

The next hour or two was spent relaxing outside the pub helping Jackie celebrate her birthday while the remainder of the teams made their way to the finish.

Please let it rain next year.