Saturday, March 26, 2011

Banbury - 15 miles and 5000years

Last weekend the Westgates thought they’d been working too hard and decided to have a few days away. At least that’s how Richard saw it. In truth I had been planning accommodation, route and things to see and do for months. And one of those was the Banbury 15 mile road race. Before we got to that however there were a few thousand years of history to investigate starting with the 5000 year old white horse at Uffington. ( By strange coincidence the scene of a current murder enquiry). Thanks to the rain it was quite deserted when we were there. Then we moved on to a 3000 year old hill fort (similar to Maiden Castle). After that we found ourselves in Witney (David Cameron country) and also famous for manufacture of blankets in the past few centuries. Luckily for DC they have now all closed, or burned down providing a neat solution to infill housing problems.
Next day after an excellent breakfast in an equally good guest house we decided to stretch our legs in the direction of Blenheim Palace (18th century) following the Wychwood trail. This should only have taken a morning, but some people walk slower than others and with frequent stops we weren’t back until mid afternoon, so a bit too much time on feet. The rest of the afternoon was spent looking for a suitable and affordable place to eat; picturesque country pubs being hugely expensive. This took us past yet more ruins – 15th century this time.
The next day – Sunday was cloudy and cool, but warmed up later – excellent running weather. Richard had already decided he was going to continue with this year’s plan and run with me. That is, a few yards ahead so conveniently out of reach for conversation. The start and finish was in the park opposite Banbury leisure centre, and the route went in a northerly direction out of town, so after a couple of miles it was on pleasant country lanes, crossing over the Oxford canal at times. A few hills, including one that really sapped the energy from the legs at 11 miles. Then a return to town via the outward route and finally the welcome sight of the finish line. Here we were passed by a couple of runners wearing flip-flops. Apparently they always run in them although on this occasion one was suffering from a bleeding foot as well as damage to the footwear. After showers we checked the results and were relieved to find I was only 3rd in my age group (by quite a margin) and so didn’t have to wait for presentations. Of course we had to continue the historical quest and find Banbury Cross and a statue of a lady on a horse. Banbury doesn’t have a lot else going for it, couldn’t even find a shop open on Sunday selling Banbury cakes. May be the race organisers should give them out instead of fudge bars.
Another reason for choosing this race/location was that my ancestors were from this area, so on Monday we went searching for hovel type dwellings likely to have been inhabited by agricultural labourers, and to get to the villages went on the old Roman Road of Akeman Street. (I did say there was a lot of history). In Leafield a small village of 600+, we came across a church designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott who in his spare time also designed the Grand Hotel at St Pancras and the Albert Memorial. Richard likes looking round old churches and I was pleased to find the names of some relatives on the gravestones and one on the WW1 memorial. After all that you’ll be pleased/relieved to find we drove straight home for a rest.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Grizzly 2011 - Valley of the Bogs

The weather was absolutely perfect on Sunday for the 24th running of Axe Valley’s biggest and best event of the year, the infamous Grizzly.  It only seems like a moment ago that I ran my first Grizzly, thinking that I had to do it at least once to see what all the fuss was about.  This year was my 8th Grizzly and sadly may be the last, at least in its current format, as Race Director, Garry Perratt, has said that unless someone else takes on the organisation in future, he will be scaling it down. 

A total of 1687 runners crossed the line in times varying from a little over two and a half hours to in excess of six but I think everyone would agree that they got their money’s worth.  As usual the organisation was superb, a great and varied course with several new sections, cheery and helpful marshals leaving no doubt as to the direction to take, fantastic support and entertainment along the way and a selection of goodies to reward you when finally crossing the line.  Not to mention the distinctive t-shirt, proudly worn by all Grizzly survivors.

As usual the race began with a loop along the beach, a strength sapping mile on the shingle which leaves you wondering how on earth your legs will cope with another 19 miles or so of fun – but it’s always a boost to run back over the start line before heading out onto the course “proper” with the shouts of the enthusiastic spectators to spur you on your way.

Martin and I started running together but as usual I got a bit carried away and found myself a little ahead of him as we headed across to Beer and up the hill to the coast path.  A lovely flat section across the cliffs towards Branscombe and then a steep descent to Branscombe Mouth and the traditional river crossing, disappointingly only knee deep this year, but still breathtakingly cold.

After passing through the village of Branscombe we moved into uncharted territory for me as the route headed much further north than usual, and although parts seemed vaguely familiar, I had no idea where we were.  I managed to pull away from a girl who had overtaken me at alarming speed on the downhill stretch to Branscombe and was delighted to find myself in second place in the ladies race, as confirmed by numerous friendly marshals along the way.  I was confidently expecting Martin to charge pass me at any time but I resisted the temptation to look back in case it was interpreted as weakness on my part.

At about 9 and a half miles on a very rough, narrow downhill path disaster struck as I caught my right foot in a root and went over on my ankle.  This was the same ankle which I sprained badly last year and it brought me back to a painful hobble.  I semi-seriously contemplated stopping but I managed to convince myself that it was only pain and kept going – gradually the pain subsided but for the next couple of miles I slowed down a little and had to place my foot very carefully.
This gave Martin the opportunity to catch me, much to my disappointment as I thought I had dropped him, but although I was aware of him behind me at about 13 miles he didn’t pass me and I didn’t see him again. 

The route seemed to loop round and round, the bogs came and went - not up to the usual standard of gloop, it has obviously been too dry recently – and I kept looking at the Garmin, seeing the miles racking up and wondering why we hadn’t got back to the Fountain Head pub yet, the point at which you know you are headed for home.   I just couldn’t get my bearings and it was with immense relief that I finally reached the familiar track down to the pub – where the support is tremendous and the crowd and music give tired legs a huge boost.  I think everyone, no matter the level of suffering, ran through there with a huge grin on their faces.

A steep and muddy climb followed up to the coast path and then a turn in the right direction, east back towards Seaton and the long downhill swoop into Branscombe, all morale boosting if you only didn’t know what still lay ahead.  The half mile or so along the beach didn’t seem too bad this year and I passed several runners and caught a large bunch running together ahead of me before reaching the end and turning onto the Stairway to Heaven. 

About halfway up I was overtaken by Claire, the Wells City Harrier who also beat me into third place at the Loch Ness marathon.  She passed me very strongly and my legs just didn’t have anything left to make a contest of it.  By the time I emerged onto the cliff top she was already a couple hundred yards ahead and as if that wasn’t bad enough the route then turned away from Seaton to do a loop inland before passing through the camp site and back down into Beer. 

The remainder of the route is so familiar I think I could run it blindfold which was just as well as I had reached the stage where it was mind over matter to keep the legs turning over, the last stretch along the beach was a killer, I really just wanted to stop and lie down.  Fortunately I managed not to give into that impulse and even wound up to a bit of a sprint finish, crossing the line in just under 3 hours and 3 minutes.

Martin had to put up with some heckling from Jon Perratt on the PA who greeted him into the finishing funnel by saying “I’m sorry to tell you that the wife has beaten you today” but he took it in good spirit as usual.  The traditional dip in the sea followed to remove at least some of the mud and then we enjoyed strolling around in the sunshine and cheering many of our friends across the line. 

The results appeared on the website this morning and I was delighted to find that I finished in the top 50 (49th) and much to my amazement I was first overall age graded!  Martin finished in 68th place and 16th age graded, just under 4 minutes behind me.  Not bad for a pair of oldies.  My ankle is nicely swollen but I think will recover in time for the next race......................................

Monday, March 07, 2011

Bideford Half Marathon

Sunday 6th March saw the Westgates at Bideford for the half marathon. I (LW) had been looking forward to this as perusal of previous results showed a strange anomaly that I had run more marathons than halfs, so to put this right we confidently entered a few at the beginning of the year. Sadly in what is almost becoming a tradition Richard fell victim to ill-health in the weeks before the race and was recently only able to run round Hestercombe with me (rather than race it). This time he wasn’t even able to run at all, but enjoyed having the time to read his book for an hour before leaving the car to watch the winners cross the line.

My training hadn’t gone particularly well with only a few longer training runs so it was with some trepidation I found myself on the start line. Or, I should say several yards back from the start line as it took nearly a minute to get to it. The first half of the race is on a main road and follows the river inland for 7 miles and was undulating. A bit surprising as I thought rivers flowed downhill. After the 7 mile marker we crossed the river and turned on to the Tarka Trail. This tarmac path follows the line of a disused railway and is totally flat. Ideal for cyclists and runners who like fast times, but the terrain did look the same for the next 5 miles, broken only by a few bridges giving a change from one river bank to the other. After a long tunnel, another mile or so brought us within sight of the town of Bideford and not long then to the 12 mile marker. For most of the race I had been keeping in front or a Torbay runner who I thought might be in my age group. Having narrowly beaten the 2nd FV55 by TWO seconds at Hestercombe, I didn’t want the tables turned this time. Finally we reached the point where we left the Tarka trail and went back on the road, with countdown markers every 100m for the last 800m. A good way to get to the end of a race. It also took us across the old stone bridge and along the river front with lots of crowd support including RW with camera.

For those who like the stats, having finished in a chip time of 1:48:33 this was a PB for me, my last PB being 1:54 approx at Taunton in 2007. Sadly I needn’t have worried about beating fellow runners as I was 6th FV55 with prizes for the first 3 in each category.