Monday, February 22, 2010


Sunday 21st March saw the Westgates at the third Hestercombe Humdinger, a hilly 9.5-mile road race near Taunton. It was our first attempt at this race and we had heard some scary reports as to just how hilly it was. However looking at past finish times it still seemed quite fast. I set myself a target of 68 mins – mainly because my club colleague Karen Cook did it in 68:15 in 2008 and we have finished close on other races.

It’s strange as I pass through middle age into something approaching old age that an extra competitive edge has crept in. I actually caught myself looking around at the start for Les Lock or Martin Lascelles, two fellow 55 age groupers. I was pleased by their apparent absence but of course realised that among the large entry there could be many other rivals for the only 55 vet category prize.

At home our front drive was a sheet of ice after overnight rain and freezing temperatures so we were relieved to find the race ice-free and with some sun. My target time would mean an average pace about 7 mins 9 secs per mile but with the hills there would be great variation. Even so I think the first mile was short as I clocked an improbable 5 mins 20 secs. The first three miles are a loop back to Hestercombe which I reached in 19 mins 30 secs, feeling very good as I caught and passed Karen Cook. By mile 5 I had dropped off 7 min mile pace and was working hard. A little voice said you can just stop now and the pain will stop; a louder voice said yeah, but you’ll look pretty stupid walking on uninjured to the finish. Volis Hill is a long steep climb with tantalising false summits but finally after cresting there’s a terrific downhill charge to Gadds Bottom which then levels out in Kingston St Mary. I was getting a bit tired and as a further test we had to climb another side of Volis Hill. This section crested at Volis Cross which we had passed on the way out, and of course meant we could enjoy about another mile of fast downhill and then the 400m sprint up the drive to Hestercombe House. I finished reasonably comfortable in 69:52 a bit off my target but happy. By some miracle I got first MV55, on last year’s entry I would have been 4th. This meant Lesley had to make room on the trophy shelf. Herself finished in a very creditable 1:21:26.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sussex Beacons Half Marathon, Brighton

A leisurely drive up on Saturday took us to our favourite unofficial Brighton campsite which was almost unrecognisable because, since our last trip, they cut down the handy hedge screening us from view. We set 3 alarms to make really certain we didn't oversleep, woke up an hour early because my phone was still on French time. Then drove to the seafront in Brighton for the closest parking spot we could find which was still over a mile from the start.

So we were in position for a breakfast of instant porridge before stretching out for the next 2 hours to await the time to leave the comfort of the van for our warm-up jog to the start.

Watched increasing numbers of runners streaming past as the weather deteriorated until at 9 it was time to feed the meter with a handful of coins and jog to the start.

We thought we had plenty of time, but 15 of the 30 minutes before the start was consumed waiting in a 100yd long line to check baggage in. We barely had time to insinuate ourselves to somewhere near the correct starting position before the race started, bang on time, just as well, we were freezing in the blustery wind and steady rain.

A fast first mile up the London road, dodging puddles, past the famous Pavillion, next mile doubling back wending our way through the North and Old Lanes, then back on the sea-front, past the pier again, up a rise to Marine drive for a mile, still on schedule. A couple of hairpin bends and were back on the sea-front, heading east, then a sharp turn back to the West. Met Lin coming the other way, a minute or so behind.

Along the "Ovett Mile", past the finish line and a further 3 miles were into the wind along the seafront to Hove. It was really hard to maintain anything like target pace, but I just about did, and after the leader passed us going the opposite direction at 7.5 miles, already over a mile ahead, I was very glad to finally, turn away from the wind and head back towards Brighton.

I knew I had to make up the time lost into the wind, although feeling increasingly tired, I was able to resist any temptations to slack off because this is probably my best chance to do a good half-marathon time this year. The final 3 miles were the same as miles 3 to 5, but I was really struggling to maintain speed, and was passed by several runners. The finish was a really welcome sight, as was the finishing time of 1:25:56 - well under my target time, and my second fastest ever, in quite difficult running conditions.

Lin finished exactly 8 minutes back in a respectable time, only just outside her previous post-broken-hip best of last year, although nearly 11 minutes outside her lifetime PB.

We didn't hang around, although if we had we'd have spotted Richard Rider finishing a few minutes later, chip time 1:45ish. But the warmth of the van beckoned, and we hastened back towards Hove, and were on our way to the Hove-Park Cafe, for a Greek Breakfast of toast & marmalade, topped with rocket, halloumi and olives - sounds like a strange combo, but its almost worth driving to Sussex for by itself.

All in all a good race, worth doing at least once. On a nice sunny day, it would be quite special.

That's it for now, next weekend Dalwood 3 hills!

Lin's bit: Only for running would I get out of bed at 6.30am on a Sunday morning for the second week in a row!!! 

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Night Runner

I feel slightly guilty that I was having so much fun at the Night Runner, whilst Martin was coping with a 2 hour flight delay and the nightmare of trying to find his way out of Geneva in a hire car.  However, he will be enjoying himself ski-ing with Jane and Alex tomorrow whilst I have to drag myself to work, so I'm sure I'll soon get over it.

There is only one word to sum up Axe Valley Runner's latest race - fantastic!!  Starting at Beer Head at 7pm on Saturday evening, the race used part of the Grizzly course, totalling just under the advertised 8 miles and incorporating all the features of the Grizzly..........except, sadly, the bog.  AVR expected about 30 entries but were rewarded with about a hundred hardy souls suitably attired for a run in the dark.

I started in a group of 5 fellow Yeovil Town Runners at the back of the pack expecting to jog round with them, but I couldn't help myself.....after about half a mile of shuffling along at barely more than walking pace, the path opened up and I couldn't resist turning it into a race.  It was great fun hurtling along the cliff passing half the field and being able to see a trail of bobbing lights ahead of me.  A steep descent into Branscombe Mouth found me, briefly, with no-one to follow, but there were marshals out on the course (who all deserve huge thanks, it must have been freezing standing around) and it was incredibly well marked with white tape and little lights on poles.

Turning inland the route headed for Branscombe before a sharp left turn took us through a ford (nothing like icy cold ankle deep water to make you run a bit faster) and back up a steep climb to the coast path.  I was still passing people and worrying less about getting lost as it became apparent that there was always another light in front to follow.  A very slippery downhill stretch brought us out at the Fountainhead pub and on the climb up the other side I caught up two more runners, the last that I would overtake.  I now had the reassurance of someone to run with at my pace.

So far I had been on familiar Grizzly/Midsummer Dream territory, albeit harder to recognise in the dark, but now found myself slightly unsure of where I was heading.  However, this section was again marked with the little red lights so that every time you turned a corner you immediately knew which way to head.  Soon we came to the only road section on the course which led steeply downhill back into Branscombe heading down to the beach.  One of the two guys that I was running with, clearly having never run the Grizzly, remarked that we must be "nearly back".  I didn't like to tell him that he had a mile or so of shingle beach and the infamous Stairway to Heaven still to negotiate!

On reaching the beach I was slightly relieved to find that the river crossing was ankle and not waist deep as it sometimes is on the Grizzly, and then it was head down and concentrate on picking the best path for the hard slog along the pebbles.  Even knowing what was ahead it was a relief to finally get off the beach and begin the climb up the cliff.  This was the loneliest part of the race for me, I had dropped the other two along the beach and could no longer see any lights ahead, but I was back on familiar ground now and the end was drawing near.

Finally cresting the cliff, an easy run to the finish followed with just one more slight climb to struggle up.  However this part of the course was completely open and into the wind, and it was cold!  All the more incentive to force the tired legs to go just a bit faster and the surreal experience of running into a finishing funnel of lights.  I crossed the line in 1.16.38 (unofficial time) and on a real high.  This is definitely going to be another must-do event and if they have it at the same time next year I know one person who will not be arranging a ski-trip to coincide!

When the alarm clock went off at 6.30am on Sunday morning (having got to bed around midnight) the temptation to turn it off and stay in bed was very strong, but I hauled myself out and over to Ilchester to run round the Inca Trail with a couple other Yeovil runners to check the course.  This was all intact and although "sticky" in places was not under water and no diversions were necessary, unlike last year when most of the route was flooded.  And where were all the Maiden Newton Runners, might I ask?!!!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Fulfords Five

In every sport there comes a time when a person decides to hang up their boots, gloves, bat or racquet. This could be for a variety of reasons, ill-health, poor performance, family commitments etc. after some 25 years of running I was beginning to question my future; my Mother has always been doom and gloom: “it’s no good for you, you’ll get bad knees and end up in a wheelchair”! Much to my chagrin the old soothsayer could be right as both my knees have been giving me a bit of gyp. The left one in particular seems to have turned into an instrument of torture causing me to waken from my bed in discomfort. The comforting touch of a friendly GP failed to pin the problem down, but she thought that finding nothing could be a good sign. Not one to go on, but my left hip and lower back have been twingeing, training has been sporadic and my recent 3K race indifferent.

So it was with some trepidation that I turned up at Exmouth for the Fulfords Five. On a good note the weather was perfect – about 6 degrees and barely a breath of wind. Warming up went well and with a good cross section of runners from SWRR I was bound to find someone to run with. I think the Gods were smiling’cos I clocked up mile one in 6:22 and still felt comfortable. Karen Cook who finished about 45 secs ahead on the recent 3K race was only just ahead. The Fulford Five does a small loop then a longer loop along the esplanade, back roads and centre of Exmouth, with the start and finish overlooking the Exmouth local nature reserve. A scattering of bystanders gave us some encouragement on this cold February morning. Mile two passed at sub 13 mins, mile three at 19:30 and I still felt good. Karen was still just ahead and she was tracking down another SWRR lady. From now on I was working but still felt good and went past Karen just after mile four, then caught the other SWRR lady. We ran together until about 250m from the finish. God was still smiling and I eased past her, but with about 150m to go Karen sprinted past. I let her go then about 70m out I thought what the hell, and went for it. Big mistake, as my stomach started griping but fortunately I managed to retain all its contents. Just as well as there were quite a few supporters here. By some miracle I finished just 4 secs behind Karen in 33:17 a 5 mile PB.

By another miracle, and just 9 days before my 55th birthday I got First MV50. My first ever first prize!!! And as a bit of icing on the cake: Dave, Jim and myself were First Men’s Vet team. On the way home I finally bought that long sought after hammock.

So the big question is, do I make this my swansong, or go for it as I enter a new age category?

PS Even a few inconsiderate pedestrians couldn’t keep Lesley from winning another prize – this time 2nd FV55 in 38:03, knocking an amazing 2:30 off her time here last year.