Saturday, December 17, 2011

North Face 50k Marin County California

If you ever find yourself at a loose end in San Francisco the first weekend of December, Martin and I can thoroughly recommend filling your time with this ultra marathon in the beautiful Marin Headlands.

I cannot however recommend the 5am start to catch the bus and freezing your a**** off waiting for the start (as illustrated!). It was pitch black when we arrived and seemed to stay pitch black until about 5 minutes before the race started - when the sun suddenly decided to make an appearance and it got light.

I started this epic journey with low expectations of a decent performance. Since the Mablethorpe marathon our training had gone sadly to pot and our only preparation was a couple of 20 mile hilly long runs done at a woefully slow pace. However it became apparent that we had not lost as much fitness as we thought.

We started at a conservative pace and enjoyed the easy mile or so before the first of the climbs began as we headed up to Wolf Ridge from the Golden Gate Recreation Park where the race began. Apart from the gradient the running was easy on wide tracks and the first aid station was soon reached where I found it necessary to skip the refreshments and make use of a conveniently situated porta loo, much to Martin's disgust. When I came out he delighted in telling me that at least four women had got ahead of me. In a bid to shut him up I upped the pace and gave chase. It turned out that he was exaggerating slightly and we soon caught and passed the one female who had actually overtaken us but also the two other women who had been ahead of us anyway.

As we settled back into a more sensible pace the path followed the coast as it headed down to Muir Beach and then began another serious climb up through Mount Tamalpais State Park. Up and up and then up some more until we finally reached the summit and the point where the 50 mile race, which had started 2 hours earlier than us, split from the 50k route to do an 18 mile loop. Up until this point we had been steadily passing other runners but as we began the tortuous descent down into Muir Woods we suddenly had about 6 - 8 people charging past us and it took a while to realise that we had been "lapped" by the leaders of the 50 mile race. These were serious competitors vying for the $10,000 first prize and they left us for dead.

Shortly after this Martin took a nasty tumble, stubbing his toe very badly, and both this and the climb back up out of Muir Woods combined to slow us down. No sooner had we reached the top than we started heading back down and Martin managed to bash his toe on another root and fall over again. In a bid to win the Bringing the Club into Disrepute prize he let loose with a string of words mostly beginning with F and at full volume, only to go round the corner and find himself face to face with a pair of elderly and very po-faced hikers who obviously had not appreciated his outburst. We slunk shamefully past and tackled the next hill hoping they had not had time to see Maiden Newton Runners on our shirts!

The race consists of three connected loops and we had now completed the largest loop and were heading back towards Muir Beach - Martin seemed to get a second wind at this point and set a furious pace, passing a few other runners and causing me to wonder how long I could stay with him. Fortunately the climb back up from Muir Beach is a killer and slowed him down somewhat.

A short downhill section brought us to the last aid station but one - just before another major climb and as we left this I was about 20 yards ahead of Martin causing him to call out that he would see me at the finish. I assured him that he would catch me on the downhill and concentrated on scaling the mountain ahead of me. The legs were beginning to suffer now and the gradient was sufficient to slow me mostly to a walk but it did at least give me the chance to shoot the odd appreciative glance at the fantastic view although mostly, I am ashamed to admit, my gaze was firmly fixed on my feet as I laboured upwards. I comforted myself with the thought that there were only 7 miles to go.........

I had two goals left - one was to finish without being overtaken by the first woman in the 50m race and the other was to finish under 5 hours. Unfortunately the first of these failed as I reached the last aid station. I had but a moment to bask in the calls of "first lady" before a much larger burst of applause and cheering and the first 50 mile female caught me up. In a bid to keep up with her I ran all of the following hill, but she was in a different league than me (her average pace for the 50 miles was 8.32!) and she soon disappeared from view.

The last few miles were hard, I kept checking the GPS and was still on for sub 5 hours and as the race finished with a downhill and then flat section I tried to up the pace but my legs were unco-operative and it soon became clear that the distance was actually in excess of 50k and that the 5 hour target was not going to be reached. It was with great relief that I finally reached the finish - 51.5k and almost 2000m of climbing in 5.03.36, 12th overall and first lady. It has never felt so good to stop running!! Martin kept me hanging around for a while before crossing the line in 16th place and 5.11.19.

We spent a couple of hours at the race HQ enjoying the lovely sun and free food whilst we waited for the presentation.

Martin made the most of the free beer - it was supposed to be one free beer per runner and pay for any extra but they weren't keeping a very close eye on it and he managed to have at least three!

I nearly got my prize from the internationally famous ultra runner Dean Karnazes who had run the marathon......but unfortunately his son chose the exact moment that the 50k prize giving began to finish the marathon and Dean rushed off to see him cross the line.

All that remained was to catch the bus back to San Francisco......and party!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Elan Valley 10 mile race

by Lesley

Last weekend found the Westgates back in Wales. We stayed in the same excellent B&B and were made most welcome after my glowing review on tripadvisor. But first we had to get there which we did via a day in Gloucester. Unfortunately my road map was 15 years old and the roads seemed to have changed considerably since then. But we still found the cheapest car park in town where Richard tried to nobble me by shutting the car boot lid on my head. In spite of being somewhat dazed we still spent the day looking at the sights including the waterways museum in which I was particularly impressed with the narrowboat/barge where the living accommodation was smaller than a camper van and whole families used to live on board. So we were quite late arriving, having eaten along the way.

Saturday was dry and mild, perfect for running, and after a leisurely breakfast we drove to the start and then around the race route. The hills weren’t as bad as I’d expected and are probably no more than undulations in Wales. The first mile was downhill all the way and I clocked mine at 7:11, Richard being a bit faster at: 6:08. After the initial sorting out of places I found myself behind a lady with long blond hair who stayed about 50 yards ahead for at least 7 miles. The roads were very quiet and only 2 cars and 2 tractors went past me. The second one was cutting the hedge and took up nearly all the width of the road, causing the blond lady to slow to a walk. Being used to that sort of thing round here I scooted past a bit quicker, and nearly caught up. A little while later she looked round and I realised that she was a bit older than I first thought, about my age in fact. So not knowing how many others were in front, I decided I had enough energy left to get past. There was only about half a mile left to go, so I hung on, counting paces until the finish line came in sight with me still ahead. She finished only 9 seconds behind, and sure enough, when I checked the results she was the same age. Even better – there were no other old crones ahead and I was 1st FV55 in a time of 1:25:23. (Just to put it in perspective, the same time last year, wouldn’t have even got me 3rd place in my age group.) So we stayed on for tea and cakes and prize-giving and I’m now the proud owner of a piece of Welsh Slate!!!

The day concluded with a walk round Rhayader and an evening meal in the Brasserie on the Pier at Aberystwyth, where I had the saltiest pizza I’ve ever eaten. OK, smoked salmon and anchovies do have a head start but I didn’t expect there to be so many of them.

A few words from Richard: I must admit that Lesley did manage to bash her head as I was shutting the boot lid. Soothing comments along the lines of “If you’d remembered to wear your hat it wouldn’t have hurt so much” weren’t received very well as she was still crumpled on her knees in the car park. However I think I managed to retrieve the situation as I offered to stem the flow of blood with an oily rag. Very pleased to say she was fully recovered next day for the race and won her age group. I think this was the fifth running of this race and they say some years it’s been under water so we were very happy with the mild, dry weather. Quite rural and scenic but less demanding than the Wellington Ten or the Humdinger. Reasonably happy with my time of 73:40.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Yarcombe Yomp

Another great low key Axe Valley Runners event - and in case you think you're seeing things, Martin and I did sport our new yellow vests and run as second claim Axe Valley Runners!

This is a (approximately) 10 mile race comprising of two 5 mile loops. We were expecting it to be "gloopy" as Dave Carnell would say, after the rain of late and we weren't disappointed. A cavalry charge from the start across the first field found us in a gateway blocked by a large puddle which was nearly deep enough for a swim and the following fields were soft going to say the least.

I started off at what I felt was a conservative pace but still found myself near the front of what was quite a small field (60 finishers) and with Martin behind me spent the whole race expecting him to overtake me at any minute. After a mile and a half or so the first climb began and I could hear a female runner behind me. I was struggling with tired legs and expected her to pass me and leave me for dead but as we steadily climbed the hill she began to fall back again and I pushed as hard as I could up seemingly endless fields. A brief reprieve from the climb as we came out onto a road and a glorious flat few hundred yards before turning into a narrow, steep and stony track which reduced the runner in front of me to a walk and soon had the same effect on me.

At last we reached the top of the first lap but even then there was no respite for tired legs as we followed a deeply rutted, muddy track strewn with fallen branches, brambles and large stones presenting no easy way through. Another road crossing, some more muddy track and finally a sharp left turn and the beginning of the glorious descent back down to the start.....I didn't look back to see if I had shaken my female rival off and was still expecting Martin and my other rival, Richard Boulter from YTRRC, to swoop past me on the downhill, but I reached the finish/start line without that happening and started on my second lap trying not to think about the mud, hills and obstacles still ahead.

As I reached the welcome flat road on my second lap I risked a glance back and sure enough, Martin was only 50 yards or so behind me with just one Honiton runner between us. I knew I could hold him off on the uphill but that he could easily out sprint me on the steep descent so I gave the final climb everything I'd got and then legged it through the woods hoping I could do enough to stay ahead of him.

At the turning point where the downhill began the Honiton runner was hot on my heels but Martin had not closed the gap. Running downhill on a steep stony track as fast as I dared I just hoped that I didn't catch a toe and do one of my famous crashing falls. Fortunately after a road crossing the rest of the run was across fields and even though they were steeply downhill at least I was assured of a soft landing if I nose dived. As I entered the last field the Honiton runner caught me and we sprinted neck and neck for the line where he just managed to pip me to the post although the time keeper kindly gave us the same time. As he suffered the comments of the on-lookers about lack of gallantry I looked back to see Martin approaching looking for all the world like he'd been out for a little Sunday stroll - whilst I heaved and gasped desperately trying to refill my lungs - but a victory is a victory regardless of your state at the finish line!

We finished in 5th and 6th places respectively and once again the benefits of ripe old age told as were 1st and 2nd age graded overall.

Off to the village hall where the modest entry fee included a bowl of delicious home made soup, a roll, a dazzling array of cake and tea or coffee. Axe Valley really do know how to put on a great event.

This was the last race in the East Devon Community race series which started back in February with the Dalwood Three Hills race, and I am delighted to report that Martin was the overall runaway winner in this event having had some fantastic results at Charmouth and the Dalwood 10k where he scored so many points that no-one had any hope of catching him.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Mablethorpe Marathon

Back in the spring, we looked for a fast, flat autumn marathon where Lin could achieve her ambition of running a sub-3 hour marathon. After failing to get into Abingdon (who knew that it would sell out in about half an hour?) we settled on Mablethorpe.

We started on our training plan which we stuck to pretty well for a change, apart from about 30 races over the summer (what summer?) which we managed to shoehorn into the schedule. No injuries and things were looking pretty good until the weathermen started bleating about the return of summer and record-breaking temperatures.

Thought it would never get here, but finally the big marathon weekend arrived, for some reason I had always thought Mablethorpe was not far past Abingdon. They are both up north somewhere. Turns out it’s twice as far away, about 6 hours driving! Anyway, we drove up to stay with some old friends for a couple of nights beforehand and they spoiled us with carbo-loading meals, and a day relaxing in their garden. Everything was done to maximise our chances, and so when we arrived on Sunday in Mablethorpe I still thought we had a hope as long as we could get the pacing right, and if maybe it was not quite as hot and breezy as forecast, at least not for the 3 hours from 10am till 1pm.

It even felt too cold as we waited in the shade before the start, but as soon as we moved out into the sun to line up on the front line, the reality became clear. It was hot! The Town Crier gave an entertaining and rousing pre-race speech, and then we were off, winding through the streets of M'thorpe. We were immediately overtaken by about 30 people - going off too fast - and we overtook most of them as the race progressed. I concentrated on maintaining an even 6:48/mile pace. To Lin it felt like we were just jogging, but she restrained herself as we reeled off mile after mile at or around target pace. After 4 miles we started to overtake half-marathoners who had started 20 minutes earlier. This was mostly not a problem as there were not enough of them to completely block the road so apart from a little congestion at one or two water stops it was fine. The most annoying part was that nearing the finish of the first lap, several well-meaning people including marshals who should have known better shouted out to us “well done, only a mile to go!” I wasted a bit of energy shouting back - "14 miles!!!!!"

By that time, any lingering morning coolness had burned off and it was really getting hot. I was now struggling to maintain the 6:48 pace, and my heart-rate was over 160 which is where it should have been after 23 miles, not 13. So just after 14 miles I made a tactical decision to let Lin run on without me, and away she went, soon she was well ahead, trailed by her female competition, a tough-looking woman from the Hampshire Police as we later found out. I plodded on, getting hotter and slower, until at 20 miles I handed in my number and waited at the out-and back section for Lin to return. I had cut out about a mile of the course, giving me just enough time to catch her up and recover enough energy to run with her for the last 4 miles. By my calculations she had to run the last 4 miles in just under 7 minutes per mile, and for most of the time I really thought she would do it, but the last section up to the beach path, and 2 miles along it in the mid-day sun proved just too much and the pace must have dropped off, or else the distance was more than my GPS measured, because when she rounded the last corner with 60 metres to go, the clock was just turning to 3 hours.

Despite the disappointment, she still did really well, beat all the women and all but 7 men, in a new personal best time of 3 hours and 19 seconds.

Only 20 seconds less and she would have accomplished her goal of sub 3 hours. As a consolation, she moved up a place in the UK age-group ranking to 3rd W45-49..

Oh well it gives us something to aim for at London next April. I'm hoping there is not another heat wave - maybe it will snow?

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Bideford Triathlon 2011

The entry form for the Bideford Triathlon apologised in advance for the late date of the event, due the necessity of having a high tide, and offset the possibility of cold weather with the promise that the water temperature would be higher. So no one expected a heat wave on the day. For those attempting a marathon PB, this was bad news indeed. However for those attempting their first open water swim it was positively good news.

Preparations for the event included the purchase of a wetsuit. For anyone who doesn’t know about these things, they take your measurements and weight and select one that should fit. Apparently I was a 1.5. The size 2 I saw in the shop looked far too small, so I didn’t think I had any chance of fitting into mine. However after several attempts (and phone calls to the shop) I had the thing zipped up and tried it out in a small pool. Yes, I could even do crawl in it.

Next followed the ideal preparation (a day before the race) for my previous triathlon at Langport: a trip to the beach at Sandy Bay near Exmouth. We’d been to Killerton Park Run earlier (Richard running, me on finish desk), and it had been a lovely sunny morning. So we parked, got wetsuit on and into the sea. Weather promptly changed to torrential rain, wind and huge waves. Richard was on the beach with mobile phone ready to summon the coastguard, but he could barely see me in the water. He said he wasn’t sure if my arm movements were swimming or waving for help!!! However I made it back to the shore with a strong dislike for salt water. (Langport went OK, an outdoor pool in more torrential rain was quite idyllic after the sea).

So, onto Bideford, a fairly relaxed registration, and only a slight potential problem of how to find my bike without glasses – solved by being able to leave my bike right near the swim exit. When we’d crossed the bridge we’d seen the exit ramp, high and dry above an expanse of mud, but by the time we started the tide was in and the end was submerged. Queuing up to start the 600m swim is one of the most scary things I’ve ever done, but being in the waves of slow swimmers I didn’t have to hang about too long, we were in the water and off. I did try crawl, but had to give up after getting salt water in my mouth. We went under the bridge – loads of spectators – out to a couple of buoys and turned for the return, back under the bridge, hearing Richard call out. I was swimming wide hoping to avoid the faster sharks, but a couple brushed past really close, another unpleasant experience. In fact I swam so wide I almost went past the exit ramp. Helpful hands then hauled the exhausted swimmers out of the water and into transition. I wasn’t worried about how long it took to get the wetsuit off, just glad I hadn’t drowned. So was quite pleased it was only 2:33 minutes altogether. Wearing the new trisuit also helped, (No vest and shorts to put on) although if it had been typical October weather I’d have been frozen.

The bike ride was pleasant by comparison, even though the first half was quite hilly, with the first one being close to the start when we’d barely got going. I’d decided on toe straps again, rather than risk the clip-in pedals/shoes and falling off as at Sherborne. I did get some encouragement from fellow cyclists as they zoomed past, especially as I struggled on the hills. Much easier when you know the course as I did at Wellington. After we reached halfway at the outskirts of Barnstaple we turned onto a much flatter B road. There were more cars but I began to make faster progress and even overtook a few other cyclists and before long the new bridge at Bideford was in sight and we came back to the transition area.

Grabbed hat, bottle and hankie and off on the run, trying not to bring the club into disrepute after a family of 4 couldn’t get out of my way before I barged into the back of them. (I did call out twice..........). On the bike it had felt pleasantly warm, but soon after starting running I began to feel the heat. However it didn’t bother me, and I soon started passing other runners who were flagging. There are two quite steep hills and a short off-road section with shallow steps down and round a corner. We’d been warned not to take them too fast or we might end up in the river. The run was about 5K, so it wasn’t long before we reached the finish in the park. Richard was there waiting for me having taken several photos, some more unflattering than others. And they may even appear here in due course.

We stayed for the presentations this time although as I expected there was nothing headed my way, not even a spot prize. For the record I was 6th out of 14 in my age group, and the splits were: swim – 18:47, bike – 56:28, run – 26:14, total – 1:44.48 and for those who like all the boring details I was in position 255-swim, 215-bike and 136-run out of a total of 260 finishers.

Just to finish the day we had a little stroll to Heddon’s Mouth on the North Devon Coast, a very picturesque spot. The fast flowing River Heddon reaches the sea here, and I discovered that wading across the pebbles, rocks and water was an excellent way to clean a pair of trainers.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Quarterly Update

If like the Sydling contingent of Maiden Newton Runners you find yourself living in a cultural black spot, or in other words you don't have access to the Herald or the Chimes, here are the last three entertaining View From The Back of the Pack articles penned by Dave Webb.


The main event in August was the 6th running of the Maiden NewTen Madness, a 10K race which we organise each year. Phil England, the race director, does all the hard work, leaving the rest of us to hand out some flyers and then turn up on the night to marshal. I was stationed under the old railway bridge this year, trying to slow the runners down before they did themselves a mischief on the uneven ground. Some of the 111 runners sped past undeterred, but others were glad of a chance to ease up for a few yards. The winner, Paul Rose from Yeovil, finished in an impressive 39.17. Overall it was another successful race, which should enable us to donate money to a local cause.

Occasionally we hold our monthly meeting away from the Chalk and Cheese. We have also been to Cattistock, and in July we were at the Royal Oak in Cerne. Wherever we go, we always seem to encounter Di Tucker from Sydling, and sure enough there she was at the Royal Oak, reminding us once again of the Sydling Fun Run on 18 September. At the meeting we heard that Lin’s run of victories was interrupted at the Maiden Castle Loop by a youngster (everyone under 40 is a youngster for Maiden Newton Runners) who had not previously been seen at local races. Victory returned to the Lascelles household a few weeks later, when Martin won the Durberville Dash, taking advantage of the 2 race leaders getting lost. This race could be re-named as the Maiden Newton Sandwich, because, for possibly the first time, we provided both the 1st and last placed finisher, with Mike Ashworth having to walk much of the course after getting injured.

Giving this column a more international flavour, I can report on a trip to Normandy. I set off for a Sunday morning run, sticking to local roads since the French seem less keen on footpaths. I soon found myself engulfed in an endless stream of lycra-clad cyclists, which went on for more than a mile, and about 100 cyclists. I soon tired of shouting ‘bonjour’ and settled for a feeble wave instead. I’m pleased to report that we will be sending our own club member to take on the French on their bicycles, with Charlie Bladon attempting the 1000K Paris-Brest race, which must be completed within 90 hours and involves falling asleep at the roadside, and hallucinating through sleeplessness as you make your way through cheering crowds.

My French trip also supplied me with this month’s running question, when a ferocious farm-dog rushed at me. What is the best way to deal with aggressive dogs? I think the answer is to slow down, and maybe even stop, though this is difficult when the temptation is to run. Dog-owners often insist that their dog is friendly, which is reassuring up to a point, but you never know how an animal will react; what is most reassuring is to see that the dog is on a lead and under control. My co-panellist, Mr Les Knott-Bother, has a more simple solution, involving the use of a big stick.

Last month I reported that Martin had removed his socks for a 5K race and equalled his personal best. This month he set a new personal best, of an amazing 17.37 minutes for the 3.1 miles, though he has not disclosed what clothing he sacrificed in the name of speed.

Back in France, we were out for a walk one day to admire the waterfalls of Mortain. Making our way through the woods, a familiar figure came towards us, and there was Di Tucker, with a reminder of the Sydling Fun Run.


Last month’s running question was about what clothes should be worn when running. Little did I know that a fellow Maiden Newton Runner, Martin, was grappling with the same issue. He weighed his socks, and decided that their 61 grams was too much extra weight. So he did the Yeovilton 5K with no socks on and equalled his personal best of 17.42. Next month he plans to see how fast he can go with no pants.

This month’s question is about the right footwear for running. There are in fact 3 main types of running shoe (‘stability’, ‘motion control’ and ‘cushioning’) to match the 3 main types of footfall, ie landing flat on your foot, rolling inwards, or rolling outwards. You can tell the best type of shoe for you by stepping from the bath onto a piece of cardboard, and then examining your footprint. My co-panellist, Mr Les Knott-Bother, has no truck with such sophistication. He says that all you need is a pair of carpet slippers from Shoe Zone for indoors, and a pair of wellies for outdoors.

At this point I’ll just slip in a quick reminder of the club’s 10K race at 7pm on Saturday 13 August, the Maiden NewTen Madness. You can enter in advance, or on the night, or you could choose to spectate, and see some Maiden Newton Runners in their usual slow motion splendour.

Recent races have included Dorset’s only registered fell race, the Charmouth Challenge. The route includes the ascent of both Stonebarrow and Golden Cap, as well as a number of other ups and downs, before runners hurtle, or stagger, down the coastal path back to Charmouth. For the 2nd consecutive year Lin Lascelles was the first female finisher. In fact Lin has won her last 4 races, which is not at all the way that Maiden Newton Runners normally behave. Her next race will be the Maiden Castle Loop, which she also won last year. This race has become a firm fixture in the local racing calendar. The perimeter of the castle makes a good running track, though I don’t think this was its original purpose...unless the hillfort is in fact an ancient Olympic stadium. It certainly would have been handy for the sailing at Weymouth and Portland, and I imagine they would have come up with a better ticketing system than the online fiasco perpetrated by London 2012.

Sticking with the ancient history theme, I’ll end with a thought about evolution. Before the London Marathon there was some media discussion about the human marathon runner’s powers of endurance. Many creatures can outsprint a human but no other land mammal, it is argued, has the combination of stamina and speed of the long-distance runner. As such, the human runner stands at the very pinnacle of evolution. How Maiden Newton Runners fit into this picture is uncertain, but you can test the truth of this proposition by joining us at our Tuesday evening pub runs (details on the website or from any club member) or at our meeting on the 2nd Thursday of every month.


Not many people loiter outside The Chalk and Cheese at 6.15 on a Sunday morning, but this is where Richard Rider and I were to be found the other week. We were waiting for Phil to take us to the start of the Wessex Ridgeway Relay. Before we even got in the car, Richard had announced that he had hardly slept all night, and would not be doing this again. An hour later, we arrived at Tollard Royal, along with 22 other runners and several minibus loads of their team-mates, and at 7.30 we were underway. Richard and I settled into a comfortable pace, catching up with one group when they got lost, and overtaking another runner who had felt the need to squat in the undergrowth.

The race route is broken into 12 legs, totalling 66 miles of beautiful but hilly countryside, finishing at Up Lyme. As well as having to run a long way, competitors also need to navigate the route, and to organise their transport. The practical arrangements can be more taxing than the actual running. This year we probably spent longer in planning the teams and the transport than the 11 hours it took us to complete the course. Teams can have up to 6 members. We managed to assemble 2 teams this year, Maiden Newton Chalk and Maiden Newton Cheese, pairing runners of similar speed, so that our 2 teams ran together. Richard and I handed the batons over to Martin and Lin at Okeford Beacon, then Jackie and Andy took over at Alton Pancras, running about 11 miles to Breakheart Hill, where the route crosses the A37.

More observant readers may have noticed that the Wessex Ridgeway route passes through Maiden Newton, so that runners on leg 7 came through the village, accompanied by their entourage of team-mates and followers. It’s not exactly like having the Tour de France come through the village, though I’m sure we could cope if the French should call on us. At about 6.45pm our last pair of runners, Dave Butt and Richard Westgate, arrived at Up Lyme and were able to enjoy the free bangers and mash for all competitors.

This month’s running question is ‘What should I wear?’ Although running is basically a very simple activity, the choice of kit can get complicated, with a growing market for ‘technical t-shirts’, ‘base layers’, running socks and so on. Running gear is often made of a fabric that is specially designed ‘to wick away moisture’; in English, this translates as meaning it does not get sodden with your sweat after about 10 minutes. Personally I like to keep it simple, and wear a t-shirt and shorts in almost all weathers, though I might add an extra layer and a pair of gloves if the temperature falls below zero. My co-panellist, Mr Les Knott-Bother, is less active, and has asked me to sing the praises of the all-in-one Snuggie Blanket, which includes sleeves, comes in a choice of colours and can be matched with a dog Snuggie for your pet. He claims that the Snuggie helps avoid the sensitive issue of chafing. I’m not convinced that it will catch on as the latest craze in running gear but it might help for the post-run warm-down.

I must end with some 10K news. Amanda, Charlie and Andy all posted good times at the Egdon Easy 10K in Weymouth, covering the 6.2 miles in about 50 minutes. 10K is a good distance for setting a challenge that is both demanding and achievable. If any reader is tempted to try, then the best option is the Maiden NewTen Madness on Sat 13 August. The route goes out through Chilfrome and Cattistock then returns along Wraxall Lane and the river bank, so is a good mixture of road and tracks, in a very friendly and supportive atmosphere. Contact me (Dave Webb) or any of the club members for an entry form, or let us know if you might be able to help on the day.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Oxley Triathlon

Lesley sent me the following e-mail report of the above event:

After Charlie’s blog I’m not sure anyone will want to read my humble witterings. But I thought I'd let you know how it went on Sunday. We were up at 5.30am to get there in time, which we just did, other people were arriving at the same time for the 9am start (mine was 8am). In a typical Lesley moment I realised I didn't have my timing chip on at 7.58am and was in a mad panic to get back to locker having retrieved the key from RW to get it. So the start of the swim went really badly and I couldn't breathe for the first 6 or 8 lengths. I did lose count so was pleasantly surprised at what I thought was 12 lengths to be told there were only 2 to go. Next a run across grass and tarmac being heckled by Phil to the transition area. Being so slow my bike was at the far end, and I had to get into the cycle shoes as well. The bike ride went fairly well, the new one is much quicker than the old one even though it's the same old legs pushing it!!! So two loops round the roads and lanes near Sherborne, managed to avoid any red traffic lights and found the right directions at the route split (which some failed to do apparently). Then continued through the town back to the transition area. Which is where things went a bit wrong. The sight of RW taking photos should have warned me that I was nearly there and it was time to detach my shoes from the pedals, but I got confused. Easily done as you get older !!! So as I approached the dismount line I was trying to undo the fastenings on the shoes. Marshalls are calling out to me to brake, which I eventually did, came to a stop with feet still firmly clipped in with the inevitable result - a sideways fall to the ground, the impact did finally detach my feet from the pedals. As usual after a fall my reaction is to get up as quickly as possible hoping not too many had seen, unfortunately Phil was there wishing he'd got his camera!!

So a change of shoes, onto the run and here I did OK. Started on grass, down a lane onto the road, round to the road by the castle entrance, watching all the really fast althletes on their bikes. It's a fairly flat route and I overtook a couple of runners on the way, then back into the fields and and a marshall said I was 2nd lady and 15th person past him. (Being a handicap type of race this doesn't really mean much). I followed the lines of tape up towards the finish and here I saw RW again letting me know the other lady was not far ahead and was going slowly. Managed to get past her with about 200m to go, so was 1st lady across the line. A small triumph which didn't count for anything. My watch which I remembered to start and stop said 1:58:35 so i went round happily telling everyone I'd gone under 2 hours. I later found out the chip time said 2:00:51. Not sure why the discrepancy.

One good thing about triathlons is that my legs feel OK after. A 2 hour running race and muscles would be aching badly next day. But I was able to go and dig the allotment for two hours, followed by an hour in the garden (working - that is!!). However the other Westgate was tired out by all the supporting and took to his bed for the afternoon!!!

Monday, August 29, 2011


by Charlie Bladon

The Paris-Brest-Paris was conceived in 1891 as a cycle race of 1200km between the French capital and the western tip of Brittany and back. It predated the Tour de France by two years but differed because, whereas the Tour was a stage race with overnight stops, the PBP was non-stop. Initially it was run only every 10 years as professional riders could forget about the rest of their season if they participated, so hard it was. In the 1960’s it became an amateur event for the same reason.

Today, it is run every four years and participants must qualify by completing a series of 200, 300, 400 and 600km rides within designated timescales. The PBP is 1230km and 90 hours are allowed, which include any stops for any reason. Entrants have a book which they get stamped at roughly 90km intervals as proof of passage, and food and beds are available at these ‘controls’. Bearing in mind that at each control (18 in total) you will be queuing for an hour to get your card stamped, get food and get water, and the time allowance is suddenly being eaten away significantly.

I opted for the 6pm start on Sunday 21 August. This actually meant a 7.40pm start as they set you off in waves. This was just as well, however, as I had 2 punctures whilst waiting for the off – my first in over 6 months! It was incredibly hot and there was no shade, so all 5,000 participants were glad to get going and get a bit of a breeze in their face. Riding out of Paris the police closed off side roads, spectators lined the streets and the bridges overhead were crowded with well-wishers; quite an experience in a country where cycling is revered.

The first overnight stage was incredible; all you can see is a line of red rear lights snaking its way across northern France in front of you; behind, a similar line of headlights. The initial speeds are high as everyone rides in groups, and the first 220km were covered in a record time for me. After this, things start to settle down as people find their own pace. The emphasis is very much on making steady progress, and it is not a race. Having so many riders around always makes it easy to get into a group going at you own pace which makes life easier.

Whilst support cars are allowed, most riders see self sufficiency as part of the challenge and carry everything they need in a saddlebag. When the weather turned thundery on the first afternoon after about 400km, I was glad of my heavy waterproofs. Coming back the other way were the handful of semi professionals who do treat it as a race – no such luxury for them, so they got completely soaked. It was amazing to think they had already covered 800km and would finish in a time of about 48 hours. They have full support teams at the controls, who feed, massage and apply soothing creams all at the same time to minimise time spent stationary.

As with all endurance events there are good times and bad. Sometimes I could hardly turn the pedals, yet five minutes later would be feeling stronger than ever. There didn’t seem to be any logic to this, and unfortunately an enforced stop in the form of a control would often come as I was going well. However it is vital to refuel and the controls all had canteens where the normal diet was soup, rice or pasta with chicken and rice pudding. After eating you push your tray away and get your head down on the table for as long as possible – which means 15 or 20 minutes. These power naps stave off complete exhaustion and freshen you up enough just enough for the next stage. At one control I was lucky to get an hour’s sleep, but that was the most and the total was about 7 ½ hours over the four nights. Sometimes you just have to stop by the side of the road for ten minutes, and throughout the day and night you see riders fast asleep wherever you look.

The arrival in Brest was an important psychological point for me as it marked an equalling of my previous longest ride (600km) and also the turning point. From now on it was a straight road back to Paris. I got there at lunchtime on Tuesday, had a quick sleep and turned around.

The weather had now improved slightly but fatigue was well and truly setting in. However there was a very slight tailwind which was nice, but getting to the end of each stage was progressively harder. What really made the difference was the support the locals give; the route itself is very pleasant but nothing special, but at every junction people are there cheering you on, offering coffee, water and cakes and wanting to a part of the big event. Children make massive posters which adorn their villages, and communities come together for a day and night of celebration. Every single rider gets a massive cheer, regardless of whether you’re bowling along feeling great or really struggling; for the French, the fact that you even contemplate taking on the challenge is enough for them to encourage you loudly and enthusiastically.

The physical fatigue becomes matched by the mental; the mind starts playing tricks and night time shadows turn into interesting shapes. Hallucinations are commonplace as the brain tries to make sense of what is around it, when rational thought says you cannot possibly have been pedalling continuously for three days and more. For my part, the highlight of my hallucinations was seeing Scooby Doo at the side of the road.

The last night was arduous, seemingly uphill for about 8 hours. I am sure it wasn’t really. Riding through the night is a special experience, quiet with only the noise of your tyres on the tarmac. When dawn came across the wheat fields west of Paris and the penultimate control was reached a party atmosphere ensued; relief that all the training was going to pay off and that Paris would be reached in time. The last 65km into Paris were a joy; the arrival incredible and emotional. I arrived at 12.28pm, meaning I had covered the 1230km in 88 hours 48 minutes.

It’s difficult to remember every detail of the ride, but the over-riding memory is of the fantastic support which creates a very special atmosphere and means people come back time and time again despite the deprivations involved. My hands and feet are still numb, legs swollen and Achilles hurting, and cushions are appreciated when sitting down, but I’ll be back in four years.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

More Madness

Saturday evening saw the successful running of the seventh Maiden Newten Madness, a popular multi terrain 10k race organised by Maiden Newton Runners. On a cool and slightly damp summer evening 111 runners completed the testing course.

First home was Yeovil Town's Paul Rose, absent from last year's race through injury but returning this year in a blaze of glory, recording an excellent time of 39.17. Just half a minute behind him was James Prentice from South West Road Runner's and in third place unattached runner Carl Fountain, who finished in 41.51.

The veteran men finished in reverse order, the first V60 was 5th overall, the ever sprightly Clive Harwood from Crewkerne Running Club; the first V50, having only just celebrated his 50th birthday, was Yeovil's Mike Harvey, in 6th place overall and the first V40, also from Yeovil was Phil Waites in 7th position.

Hot on their heels was the first lady, Sian Thomas, in 9th place overall and a winning time of 44.18, with Jessica Riley from Sale Harriers in 2nd place and Kelly Matthews 3rd in 49.09. Yeovil Town Road Running Club picked up another trophy as Paula Goddard was the first V35 home, with unattached runners Gwen Burns and Liz Baker being first V45 and first V55 respectively.

Although there was no official trophy for the V70 category Rob Panter from Egdon Heath Harriers was awarded a bottle of wine for being the first 70 year old over the line in an excellent time of 53.38.

During the presentation by Club Chairman Phil England, special mention was made of three runners who have completed all seven races so far, James Dovey, George Lawson and Nigel Arthur, who hopefully will continue to support the event as a vague promise was made that a special memento may be awarded if any of them reach ten consecutive events.

Thanks as always go to all the volunteers and helpers who ensure that the race is so well organised, especially to those Maiden Newton Runners who multi task by helping and running and the first of these home, having successfully arranged the car park, was Dave Carnell, who ran the race in celebration of his 34th wedding anniversary!

The course records of 37.49 set by Bertie Powell in 2009 and 43.31 by Stephanie Slade in 2008 remain unbroken....but the challenge remains for the 2012 event.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Shave Cross

For those who have never come across this race (easily done – you need good navigational skills just to find the start), this is a low key mainly on road race. The start and finish are in a field. I was there to return the cup which I’d won last year, due more to lack of competition than any speed on my part. Having done the Seaview last week, and spending the week collecting and playing with my new bike, I was fairly relaxed about taking part. Richard had accompanied me – well, someone has to drive if I’m map reading – but he wasn’t running. Dave C was also there and finished in an impressive 14th position. I started somewhere near the back, chatting as usual, and forgot to start my watch, also forgetting that they don’t record the finish times, but I think it was about 41 minutes. After the initial lap and a half of the field we set off up the road, Richard had passed on an enigmatic “she’s only 25 seconds ahead”. However “she” wasn’t the only one and I managed to get past her and a Bridport lady, and was feeling good until a lady in a pink vest cruised past. The first half of the course is generally uphill, but on a short downhill I got ahead of her again, only for her to go past on the next hill. However I knew that after the water station there is a good downhill so put in a good effort to keep her in sight. Luckily she stopped at the water station, my turn to cruise past, and I really legged it down the hill, head down arms working. And she didn’t come past. After a mile and a half we turned onto an unmade track and up to a field gate, this slowed me a bit, but then there was a nice grassy slope to run down. Still no pink vest although I thought I could hear footsteps behind, but I wouldn’t turn and look. Through the last gap in the hedge and into the finish field and there was Richard who ran alongside for a while before imparting the news that there was a lady just behind me. I gave it my best, but I’ve never been much good at sprint finishes and sure enough as we turned for the last 100 yards up hill to the finish she went past (quite easily!!) and got to the line a few seconds ahead.

When I got my breath back and looked at the finishing positions board I was surprised to find that there was only the lady in the pink vest ahead of me so she was first overall and I was first female vet again. (Not counting a female junior who was way ahead of both of us). I’m still getting over the shock, for 1.5 miles I had actually been first lady in the race. This position is usually reserved for much speedier “fast skinny birds”!! So no quick getaway for us this evening. Harry Moore was competing – there is a prize for oldest competitor, so we waited for him to cross the finish line before prize-giving could start. The cup will be off to the engraving shop again.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Ash Town Tree Trail Race

by Dave Carnell

This event had its first running on Thursday 30th June, starting out from Ash Primary School (near Martock) at a billed time of 7.00pm.  The route was described as being about 7 miles, covering country lanes and a few fields on its way out to (and back from) the beautiful, hidden "Town Tree Nature Garden."

It was a lovely summer evening, so the gathered throng of nearly 60 eager runners weren’t too perturbed by a bit of delay in getting the start organised.  The race finally got going at about 7:15, with the start being at the top of Whitcombe Lane and looking north to the Levels.  At the top being particularly key as we immediately set off on a gloriously long downhill stretch of about 1km (part of the Ash Excellent Eight route).

Unfortunately I’d been egged on by friendly banter from some Crewkerne runners and my addiction to gravitational assistance was just too much of a temptation.  It’s a very rare thing to lead a race but for a short and heady moment that’s what happened as I tore up the tarmac in a spectacular fit of downhill madness – and then it flattened out!  Having shot my bolt, the rest of the race (ie most of it) was then very hard work despite being mostly flat, but I didn’t mind as the hidden "Town Tree Nature Garden" was an absolute delight.

This unique garden is the creation of just one man, Chris Burnett.  Over many years he has built a non-formal landscaped water garden that now takes up 22 out of 100 acres of the owner’s farm.  The race route weaved it’s way for about a mile and a half through the gardens on the same path that visitors would take – brilliant!  These gardens are open to the public for a modest £2-50 entrance fee and are a must for anyone that wants to see something a little different (for info visit

One slightly unusual feature of the race was where, for a short distance the outbound route met the homebound route and runners were going in both directions.  For a moment I thought I was going the wrong way, but happily all was well and I got back OK to finish 17th overall.

BBQ, cakes and refreshments were helpfully on hand to complete a very pleasant evening, with proceeds from the event going towards the upkeep of the Town Tree Trail and Ash Primary SchoolA relaxed low key event made all the more memorable by its little foibles and is a ‘must do’ for next year.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Charmouth Challenge

Last Saturday afternoon saw Team Maiden Newton - Charlie, Andy, Martin and myself - at Charmouth on a delightfully sunny afternoon for the Challenge, a race which lives up to its name with (according to the Garmin) 440 metres of climbing, including Golden Cap. This is one of our favourite races as can be told by the fact that this was our seventh visit.
We were extremely well prepared by the time the race started, mainly due to the fact that I had misread the race information and thought that it started at 2.30pm (fun run) when in fact it was, as usual, a 3pm start. You'd think I'd know that after all these years........
The race had a very prompt start, a sort of, hello, thanks for coming, go! type of thing and off we went scattering unsuspecting tourists in our wake. As usual I had been eyeing up the possible competition and had not spotted any known rivals but one girl went off very fast ahead of me. Martin's repeated warnings about starting too fast seem to finally be sinking in and I let her go and started at a pace which felt extremely comfortable. I had a feeling that she wouldn't be getting too far ahead of me.
As we started climbing Stonebarrow Lane I became aware of Yeovil's Richard Boulter and as he passed me on the hill decided to use him as my pace maker. The further up the hill we went the smaller the gap between me and my female rival became and as we left the stony car park and turned onto the coast path at about 2 miles I went past her and didn't see her again.
The route dropped sharply onto Muddyford Lane and then heads across a series of fields - some tactical sprinting got me ahead of the queues at the stiles here, one of the advantages of knowing the course so well, and then a short section along a muddy path through trees before the climb to Golden Cap began.
I had passed Richard some miles back and as I finally reached the top of Golden Cap I thought I had dropped him, but two things I've come to know about him, one is that he reads the Maiden Newton blog and the other is that he is annoyingly persistent!......and sure enough I became aware that he was still breathing down my neck. From that point on I was confidently expecting him to bomb past me on one of the downhill sections.
Coming down off Golden Cap is always a challenge, first a series of steps cunningly designed to trip a weary runner and then a very steep field which I tacked down in an attempt to stay upright. At this point in the race I was scanning ahead hoping to catch sight of Martin but there was no sign of him so I knew he must be having a good run and hoped that he would achieve his goal of being under an hour.
Running back along the coast to Charmouth is like being on a roller coaster, you're either hurtling downhill or panting up and over the years we've done it in rain, gale force wind and sunshine, happily today was the latter, one of the most pleasant outings we've had at Charmouth.
Finally reaching the top of the last hill I was looking forward to the downhill finish only to get an annoying stitch which hampered my breathing and slowed me down, but fortunately not quite enough for Richard to get past me and I managed to hold him off in the sprint to the line, finishing in 64.05, my fastest time here to date and retaining the ladies title.
Pleased as I was with this performance it was as nothing compared to Martin's race. He had finished in an amazing 57.51, nearly 4 minutes faster than last year and in 4th place overall, a fantastic achievement at a race of this standard. He modestly protested that the standard was lower this year but research later showed that in 2010 when the first 20 finishers were undoubtedly of a higher standard, he still would have been 6th with this time and as I always say, you have to be in it to win it, so well done to him. What a star!
We headed down to the sea for some cold water therapy to the legs and I still can't believe that I said this about the English sea - but it was actually too warm! It may not have been as beneficial as intended but it was certainly very pleasant and we just got back to the car in time to cheer a strongly finishing Charlie in - she had knocked an incredible 9 minutes off last year's time and then Andy finished struggling in with a nasty cough and a sore Achilles, either of which would have been a good excuse to drop out.
After an exceedingly good cream tea and collecting of awards - Martin was first vet 50 - we headed back to Sydling well pleased with our afternoons endeavours.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Burnham 25th Anniversary Triathlon

I’d been anxiously watching the forecast all week and had been bitterly disappointed to find rain was due all day on Sunday. I’d had visions of running along golden sands on a beautiful sunny day. However at least I was forewarned and borrowed a good sized plastic box from work in which I carefully packed all my kit. A woman just along from me had brought an open topped fabric shopping bag. Anyway, enough of the technical stuff, the other thing which had horrified me at first was the ungodly hour of my start time – 6.40am!!! This meant getting up at 4.30am – a time familiar to Richard but not to myself. However all went well and we arrived at the leisure centre and registered, collected chip and goody bag, dumped box next to bike and waited for the swim to start. The organiser asked us to give a rousing cheer to one of the swimmers just finishing his last length. He was a bit slow but when told he was 90 years old we were suitably impressed.

My swim went poorly – not sure why I can do Ok while training but it all goes to pieces on the day. Then out of the pool and into the outside world, which felt quite cold, but only light rain. I wasn’t taking any chances however and dressed in long-sleeved top plus coat and hood and gloves, long shorts and warm socks. All this took valuable transition time so it was a bonus to find that the T1 times hadn’t been recorded on the final results.

Off on the bike and a few cyclists soon went past. The course was quite flat, the only hills being a couple of railway crossings. Being used to the hills round here this was good, and perhaps I could have tried a bit harder. I did feel good though when I actually managed to overtake two other cyclist – and they both had racing bikes. The only people I have ever overtaken previously were either on the phone or smoking a fag!!! Before long the finish line approached and I was into T2 and off on the run. It was still damp rather than raining, but the wind was getting stronger. We got on to the beach and ran towards the lighthouse – a familiar sight to anyone who has done the Burnham beach race, and then followed a path up some slopes of soft sand and through the dunes before emerging back on to the beach. Now the hard work really started as I was running straight in to the wind back along the sand to the finish. It was head down with an occasional glance up to follow the road cones. It’s a strange thing with flat beach runs that you never seem to get closer to the destination. So I counted myself along the cones instead and finally the finish line was there. A few spectators were huddled under the sea wall including Richard, and the finish marshals were well wrapped up. My watch showed an approximate time of 1:45. I’d finished the whole event and it still wasn’t even 9am.

Back to the leisure centre for a good hot shower and it was absolute chaos in the changing room. It was one communal room with cubicles for changing and showers and there were kitbags everywhere, other competitors were arriving, departing, getting changed, queuing for toilets or showers or to be called poolside. We didn’t bother to wait for the prize-giving as it was still a few hours away. I later found out I was second in my age group (out of two)!!! But only by 3 minutes. Perhaps I ought to buy that racing bike after all.....................

Having arrived home in time for a late breakfast, Richard decided to catch up on his sleep. Being a hardier soul I spent the day thawing last year’s fruit from the freezer and making jam. And being glad that I couldn’t swim any faster (which would have given me a later start time and a much wetter day).

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The London Marathon 2011:

by Olivia

After a forest of bananas, a novel worth of advice and enough water to flood the Thames I can finally say I have completed the London Marathon.

The 17th of April came round in such a flash that the feeling of nerves only really set in on the Saturday on the way up to the Big Smoke. After dozens of good luck messages began to show up on my phone reality had set in that I was about to take on the biggest challenge of my life to date.

During the day on Saturday I continuously and very kindly reminded my darling mother that this year was in fact about me as at every marathon reminder (which is London is every second ) came her words “ ooo I so wish I was doing it this year”!!

After the biggest pasta dish of my life I then got my head down to conserve as much energy as I possibly could for the day to follow.

At about 4.00pm on Sunday the 17th of April, medal in hand I had completed the London marathon. My only criticism of the day was the cruel process of walking what feels like another marathon to receive my kit bag and to find my family members in a sea of faces who after 26.2 miles all look the same !!

It struck me after I had finished that I had been in such a daze on the way round that I believe I missed many of London’s landmarks , but the images that will stick with me forever will be the fabulous attempts of runners who believed the challenge of just simply running wasn’t enough !

I want to first of all say a big thank you to all at Maiden Newton runners for all their help and support, and also my family who’s cheering kept me going when I truly believed my feet were to fall off . But my main thank you goes to my biggest inspiration – My mum, who through seeing her complete her first marathon last year inspired me to follow in her footsteps (literally). But will be letting her take the credit for next years marathon as never say never but just not for now.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Winchester to Brighton on the South Downs Way, incorporating Poole Park Run...... oh and the New Forest!

One might be forgiven for thinking that the first full weekend home after a hectic three week “holiday” in the US, including running a marathon and an additional 60 plus recreational miles, hiking approximately 50 miles, cycling at altitude and swimming, would be a good time to kick back and take it easy. Well maybe for sensible people that would be the case but not in our mad world.

We were in Poole at 9am on Saturday morning to race the Park Run (Martin was 5th overall in 18.14 and I was exactly a minute behind him in 13th place overall and first lady) before setting off on a weekend jaunt across the South Downs. First there was the small matter of driving the car to Hinton where Martin’s brother lives, leaving it there and then running 11 miles across the New Forest to Brockenhurst where we took the easy option of a train to Winchester.

What with one thing and another it was 2.30pm by the time we arrived at the station in Winchester and we were then slightly delayed by the distraction of stocking up on food and trying to find the start of the South Downs Way. It was, therefore, already gone 3pm by the time we “started”. After the bustle of shoppers and traffic in Winchester and crossing the busy M3 by means of a footbridge, it was a relief to get out into the countryside and experience some peace and quiet.

Unfortunately the forecast for the weekend had not been particularly favourable and it proved itself to be entirely accurate as we ran beneath overcast skies with a strong south westerly wind making it feel much colder than it actually was. After a couple of hours of steady running we arrived in the village of Exton where it was just late enough to justify a stop at the pub for some liquid refreshment and short break. Tempting though it would have been to remain in the pub with its friendly atmosphere, real ales and excellent menu, we knew we had to get several more miles under our belts if we were to reach our final destination by Monday.

Our next target was the village of Clanfield, just off the South Downs Way, but a necessary diversion in order to obtain food. Even we are only willing to take roughing it so far and there is a limit to how much food I can carry – which falls way short of how much food I can eat! The Rising Sun in Clanfield proved to have a decent menu, huge portions and very reasonable prices, all of which was very welcome as it took us much longer to get there than we had estimated and by the time we left again it was already almost dark.

The next challenge was to find a suitable place to camp and this also proved more difficult than we had hoped. A couple of miles after leaving the pub we crossed the busy A3 and rejoined the South Downs Way as it passed through the Queen Elizabeth Country Park. We knew that we would have to pass through this before we could stop but we had to go a lot further than expected and when we finally found a suitable spot to stop for the night it was about 11.30pm and we had completed 44 miles since setting out.

Shortly after getting the tent up we were dismayed to hear voices approaching and cowered inside not knowing what to expect – only to have a group of night walkers pass us by. Amazing that in the middle of nowhere, somewhere on the South Downs at nearly midnight, the only two groups of mad people with nothing better to do on a Saturday night should cross paths!

For once we had managed to find a relatively comfortable camping site and we managed to get a few hours of sleep. When we emerged on Sunday morning the sky was still overcast and it was a relief to get the tent stowed, repack our bags and get underway. It took a while to warm up and to loosen our stiff legs so we walked the first mile or so before breaking into a reluctant trot. The miles passed by swiftly and our early start was rewarded by sighting of deer and an adder and our peace was only disturbed by the occasional enthusiastic mountain biker whizzing past. Part of the route was familiar to us from various long runs we have previously done on the Downs, and this helped as we counted down the miles until we could replenish our food stocks meanwhile munching our way through various protein bars and bags of dried fruit and nuts. Anyone who knows me also knows that I need a constant supply of coffee, especially in the morning, and Martin got off surprisingly lightly considering that we covered 20 miles to Amberley before there was any chance of me obtaining a caffeine fix!

Typically, after twenty miles of deprivation there were two pubs, a bistro and a cafe in Amberley, all standing shoulder to shoulder! At this point also the sun came out and we enjoyed our lunch in the pub garden, which was probably a blessing for the other more elegantly attired and hygienic customers trying to enjoy their Sunday lunch without having two smelly runners sitting next to them and taking their shoes off to give their odorous feet a break!

A long uphill climb followed and as we reached the high point of the Downs all trace of sun disappeared and the wind became bitterly cold. We were headed for Devil’s Dyke now, the point at which we would leave the South Downs Way and head south for Brighton and the end of our travels. It was becoming increasingly hard to break back into a shuffling run each time we walked up a hill and our walking breaks became longer and longer as we headed further east.

Finally we arrived at Chanctonbury Rings and from there we had already covered the rest of the route to Devil’s Dyke during the Three Forts Marathon in 2009, albeit in reverse of the direction we were now taking. We passed through the village of Botolphs, crossed the busy A283 and started the final lengthy ascent which seemed endless. At this point Martin scented the beer and began the final push for the pub with me floundering along behind. My thoughts were not on beer but on sitting down and not moving for several hours!

On arrival at the pub we found comfortable chairs, took advantage of their facilities to make ourselves vaguely presentable and ordered something to eat....and it was at that point that the idea came to us that we could get the train home tonight instead of roughing it for another night. And once that thought had lodged in our minds we headed for Brighton, caught a train to New Milton and somehow managed to summon up the energy to walk the final 3 miles back to our car, arriving home in Sydling at 1.25am having covered just short of 90 miles.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Taunton Deane Triathlon - an idiot's guide

Having raced at such far-flung places as Banbury, London and Ponterwd (see previous blog), the Westgates decided to stay closer to home this weekend. Only one of us was racing but this time from choice. I (Lesley) had decided to have a go at the Taunton Deane Triathlon.

I had long been amazed by athletes who could do this event, and even more awe-struck by Phil’s achievements at the Ironman in Sherborne. But I never thought I’d actually become one of the competitors. However after a couple of sessions in the pool I timed 16 lengths and found it was a reasonable time, so a visit to the bike shop followed and the purchase of a bike. Now I didn’t mention my ambitions to the salesman so brought home a nice ladies hybrid with straight handlebars and a shopping rack. Then followed a traumatic few weeks while I tried to master the gears. Having not cycled for 40years, and then on a bike without gears this was a challenge, not made any easier by the gear-changer not working properly. After that was replaced I timed a couple of rides, and with some trepidation sent off my application. The event opens (and sells out) on the 2nd January so I had a few months to do some training. However I soon found out that without unlimited time, marathon and triathlon training are not really compatible, so had to take a chance on London with just one long run.

After another distraction in the Welsh hills the big day finally arrived. To say I was nervous would be the understatement of the year. Following a sleepless night I was up early and packed, with every combination of race clothes I could think of. We loaded the bike into the car and arrived in plenty of time to register and get my arm marked with my number. Now I really felt like one of the triathletes I’d seen so many times on TV. After a few more tips on how to fix the numbers to the race belt (stapler and pins) I was allowed into the transition area and carefully laid out everything on my towel in order. Anyone who knows me knows this includes the obligatory hat, hankie and drinks bottle. During more nervous wandering round I met Jonathon Gilling, known from past years doing the Somerset Series. I also carefully studied the route from pool to bike – apparently it’s easy to forget where it is among 100s of others – but a towel draped over the handlebars helps.

And then it was time to line up outside the pool and wait for my number to be called. I’d asked for a lane with steps, which I got, chose a hat and got in the water. Before I knew it, it was 3,2,1, GO. I took it fairly steadily as it’s easy to try too hard and swallow/inhale lots of water, but even so on the 3rd length I was really happy to overtake another competitor. (OK I forgot the foot-touching business) but with only 3 to a lane there was plenty of room. At 14 lengths a “2 lengths to go” paddle appeared and after that I hauled myself out, retrieved glasses and tried to look like I was running as I came out onto the tarmac of the car park. None of those nice blue mats here.

I hadn’t practised transitions, but had watched them so many times on TV I was hopeful I’d be OK. Another helpful tip: fold the towel so you can tweak it out and sit on it while putting on socks, shorts, shoes and drying self at the same time. Next the vest and helmet and race belt which in my haste I put on upside down and there it stayed for the rest of the race. I later found all this had taken less than 2 minutes!!!

So on to the bike, over the mats and leg 2 started. (Another thing that had induced me to enter this event was that the route passed through my village and started/finished in Wellington where I work, so all my training was on the same hills.) There were enough other competitors around to make it feel like a race although it was arranged like a handicap with the slower ones starting first. So I didn’t mind too much when several cyclists whizzed past. The route turns at Wivey roundabout and heads back to Wellington, a good moment as not only was there a long downhill ahead but I was now past halfway. Back through Milverton and as I struggled up a small hill standing on the pedals a bystander said I looked impressive. Everyone else seemed to manage it sitting down!!! Then up the steepest hill on the course counting revs instead of paces. Another few miles and the end of this leg was within sight. More cyclists shot past as I turned into the finish. Dismount in the box, sort of run to my place and rack the bike, grab running things and set off on leg 3.

This is a two lap course on roads, paths and an unmade track. My legs are really wobbly after the bike, but I tell myself it’s only 5K, grit my teeth and keep going. Some runners are finding it really hard and I’m able to pass at least five of them. Richard is at the start of the second lap with encouraging words. Legs are just about working by now and I pass another runner on the hill. Down the track again, turn right, over the bridge and there’s the finish. I’ve done it!!!

For the record this is my result:

Overall Position 248
Swim 00:11:10
Transition 1 00:01:59
Bike 00:59:54
Transition 2 00:00:49
Run 00:25:43
Total Time 01:39:33

There were 267 finishers – First in 1:01:49 Last in 1:55:39

Friday, May 06, 2011

Red Kite Challenge

Some people would do anything to get away from the Royal Wedding, even going as far as America. However the Westgates only went as far as Wales to take on the Red Kite Challenge. This is a 2 day event comprising an eleven mile race on Saturday and 18 miles on Sunday, both off-road. So we decided to have a short break and took the scenic route to an excellent B&B nearby:

On Saturday , after a full welsh breakfast and a visit to a hydro-electric power station, we made our way to the race HQ at the Red Kite Visitor Centre for the start of the race at 1pm. Descriptions of the course ranged from flat-ish to “a bit of a hill”, both totally inaccurate. There were quite a few hills and every time we emerged from the woods to cross yet another ridge the wind nearly swept us off our feet. If you can find the photos from the link on the off the shoulder vest shows the effect of the wind. Richard had decided not to run with me, as I am very slow on the downhills whereas he likes to fly down them. Also, knowing I had the race on Sunday, I was taking it fairly easy and walking up the steepest hills. Even so I was pleased when a marshal said there was about 2 miles to go. I had estimated it would take about 2 hours and my finish time was 2:06:09. Richard had finished comfortably ahead in 1:44:57. We had plenty of time afterwards for a late lunch and lots of stretching before assembling for the presentations. These were not only late starting but painfully slow. They were also quite generous with the prizes having three in each 5 year age category. Even so I was pleasantly surprised to find I was 3rd FV55 although some way behind the first and second. Richard was only 4th in his age group but was in luck as his name was called for a spot prize – a bottle of red wine. After that the only thing to do was get some food and sleep ready for the next day.

Sunday also dawned sunny, cool and windy. This time the start was at 11am and at a different venue – a caravan park at Devil’s Bridge. Any survivors from yesterday were proudly wearing their T shirts to distinguish themselves from those just doing Sunday’s race!! However the whole field still only numbered about 50 and I realised that it was soon going to get quite spread out. Richard was running his own race again, and I found myself running with four ladies from a club in Shropshire. I was feeling quite fit and well after yesterday’s efforts, but decided I’d rather have the company than push on by myself, for what could be a pretty lonely race. The course was flatter than yesterday’s, though still with some hills, and was mostly stony trails reminiscent of the Neolithic marathon. There was the minor excitement of a huge tree completely blocking the path, which we negotiated twice. Another loop took us past a wind farm, passing right underneath the massive whooshing machines. After more than enough stony trails we were on a narrow path more reminiscent of the “Seaview”, and then round a corner and into a field, and suddenly it was the finish. Richard was there having finished some 30 minutes before me. (2:55:13) The buttered fruit cake went down a treat, and after a last photo and goodbyes we went to wait for the presentations. As these were not only for this race but also combined times for both races we waited with some trepidation wondering whether it would finish before nightfall. I think most of the category winners eventually got the prize due to them, but there were still several items left on the table, so the invite went out: “Everyone who hasn’t had a prize, please come and take something” so we did!!!

Richard maintained the disrepute tradition by being rather obnoxious, even more than usual. After the second race one of my new friends from Newton Running club brought us over some excellent homemade cake. A bit later as Richard got out of our car she asked him if he was a bit stiff. He of course replied along the lines “would you like to re-phrase that”. Anyway he reckons he recovered the situation without offence and proceeded with a normal conversation – well normal for him.

Richard did these races having done no training for 3 weeks and hardly much all this year. He reckons the highlights were seeing red kites and wind turbines and hearing a cuckoo.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Avenue of the Giants Marathon

May Day 2011. Our long-awaited scenic spring marathon finally arrived, without volcanos or BA strikes to stymie us this time. Having picked up numbers etc the day before, we made it to the race venue in the heart of the beautiful Humboldt Redwoods State Park over 90 minutes before the 8:00 start time.
Some nervous waiting, and a couple of trips to the Port-a-Potties later, and we were standing at the front of the crowd of maybe 600 listening to a spirited rendition of the Star Spangled Banner, then a short briefing, and countdown and we were off!
Down the road beside Bull Creek and within a minute we were running through stands of majestic Coast Redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens), most over 300 feet tall and 1000 years old. The day before we had admired them up close, but now we were concentrating on running and the trees were somehow less substantial, although still a unique and powerful presence. Our goal was to run each mile of the race in 6:50. On many training runs this winter and spring, that would have seemed like a tough pace, but on this day it felt absolutely effortless, at least for the first few miles of the race.
Lin's was happy to let me set the pace, despite two younger women starting off ahead of us, and opening up a lead of over a hundred yards. They were either really fast, or had gone off too fast, and it would do no good to race them at this stage.

The course consists of two out and back sections in the woods of a half-marathon each. Soon we had reached the first turn-around point and met the leader on his way back, followed by a few other men, then the first lady, possibly ahead of us by a minute at this stage. We had already passed the other woman and Lin was second place in the ladies race, and we were about 20th overall. We were exactly 5 seconds behind our target pace, which was very good, since we were now at the highest point on the course.

The return half of the first leg was slightly downhill, so we regained that 5 seconds, and without meaning or trying to, about another 45 seconds more so we were 40 seconds up on our schedule by the half-way mark which we reached in 1:28:50. Support from the other runners was great, many calling out "Go Maiden Newton" as we passed them. Then we were on the second half, and the second out-and-back, with runners coming in the opposite direction doing the Half-marathon and some finishing the 10k race. They also gave us great support, with calls of "well done, second lady" to Lin. We had caught up and were running with a guy from local Six Rivers Running Club who was a great help because his pace was really even, and he also called out ahead to the many walkers strewn across the course to make way for the marathon runners. A feature of American races seems to be that many walkers take part along with the runners, which is great, but it can make it a little tricky when you are overtaking walkers doing less than half your pace, and also walking 2, 3 , 4 or even 5 abreast!

But we carried on, still on schedule, though I sensed that Lin was getting tired now. The sight of the first lady up ahead spurred her on though, and we were definitely gaining on her. About the 18 mile mark we caught her up, and lurked behind her for a minute or so until a shout of "go-ladies" tipped her off, and we overtook - Lin trying to appear fresh and strong to provide maximum demoralisation effect on the opposition. We needn't have worried, though, because after a brief attempt to stay in touch the early leader soon fell back, and by the 19.5 mile turn-around point was over a 100 yards back and clearly struggling. Unfortunately, by now Lin was also finding it really hard, and we gradually fell off pace until with 5k to go needed to run a sub-20 minute 5k to finish under 3 hours. That was not going to happen, but we managed to hang on to a respectable 7:30 pace and reached the finish line to cheers from our friends Sherry and Rich in a new PB for Lin of 3:03:17.

The race had been designated the Road Runners Club of America Championship race for California so Lin was now the 2011 RRCA California State Champion! I got a nice medal engraved beer glass and bottle of Lost Coast Brewery beer for first in 55-59 age-group. A very satisfying result, but even without the awards, it would have been well worth doing. An outstandingly scenic race, with superb organisation, and a friendly atmosphere - what more could you ask?

Well maybe to finish in under 3 hours. We'll have to do that next time...

Lin said: What an awesome experience (I've only been in the US for 4 days and I'm already speaking American, awesome indeed!) the Avenue of Giants marathon was. Naturally I'm very disappointed not to have broken the 3 hour mark but a new marathon PB (my first post broken hip "proper" PB) and being Californian State Champion was a pretty good consolation prize. Mainly I'm just so grateful that Martin stayed with me from the 20 mile mark, when I really began to struggle, and patiently coaxed me every step of the way. He was still feeling strong and would undoubtedly have got under 3 hours if he had gone on without me so a big thank you to him.
So now we have to keep our fingers crossed that we get into Abingdon and do all that training again, but harder...........................................but first there's the small matter of a holiday to enjoy.