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!.