Thursday, March 29, 2012

Night Runner

Night runner tactics: by Dan

1. Wearing a hi-vis vest (and pink socks!) to blind following runners can seem like a good tactic, but can backfire. I was blinded by the reflective tape of the runner in front. I would normally be happy to tap along behind, but it was so annoying that I felt obliged to 'blast' past and get sufficiently far ahead that I would not get overtaken again for a while, before settling back into normal pace.

2. A good head torch is essential, but it doesn't matter if it's not your own. I was stuck behind some annoyingly slow/cautious runners on the narrow downhill rocky/rooty/steppy section. No overtaking places, so I had to shine my torch for them so that they could speed up!

3. 'Stealth mode' - when sufficiently ahead of the runners behind, sneakily turn down the power on your torch. Hopefully they can't follow and will waste just as much time as you manically zig-zagging across the fields searching for the way-markers.

This was a great event - roots, rocks, mud, beach, and a massive climb up steps just before the last charge across fields to the finish.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Breakfast in Rhayader

Last weekend saw the Westgates in Wales for the Rhayader Round the Lakes 20 mile race. This was the third time we have based ourselves at our favoured B&B at Ysbyty Ystwyth for the races in the area. 1pm on Saturday is a very sociable time to start a race; gives you the option of a late night before, a reasonable breakfast and the chance for the weather to warm up.

However on Saturday morning I still felt tired, ate too much for breakfast and the weather could have been better. We have driven over most of the course on previous visits and knew what to expect: a daunting 3 mile climb on a mountain road soon after the start was preying on my mind. The car park at the leisure centre was full but there were plenty of free places in the town. We registered and tried to relax in the car. The sky was blue on one side but a bit grey on the other. Still felt a bit uneasy. Fat local man came out of his back gate with wife. “Too tight to pay for the car park, look you” he called out for all to hear. “F*** off, the car park was full up, you div” I replied out of the open window. It’s probably best Fat man didn’t, or chose not to hear. Ignorant fat man with his fat greasy breakfast every day.

With that off my chest I felt a little better, but still slightly annoyed. Then the skies opened and heavy, driving rain splashed onto the seats as I tried to hurry the windows shut. It was no consolation Fat Man was getting wet. We were going to run 20 miles up a mountain road in March in Wales. It could easily drop below 5 degrees with hailstones, was really tempted not to run. Dressed for the run with helly, club vest, rain jacket, gloves, water bottle, energy bars and car key – not exactly running light, but the race notes advised to come prepared.

To the start, the rain has stopped and there is a minute’s silence for a race organiser who died a couple of weeks ago. We’re off - feeling better now – a quick circuit round the town, then out and up. My target time 2hrs 50mins at 8.5 min/mile pace or at worst 3 hrs at 9min/mile. These are carefully considered targets, on Monday I did a hilly 16 miler at 8.66min/mile and struggled. On race day you expect to do better and multiples of 8.5 or 9 are quite easy to work out over 20 miles even when the brain starts to fade.

Go steady, long way to go. Who’s that old boy ahead – Cheddar running Club, he’s about my age, catch him up and break my vow of running in silence, well we’re both from Somerset in a foreign land. The injection of pace to catch him has woken my legs and I move on past. Through the town and onto the mountain road; feeling good but always do near the start. Uphill now, three miles, take it slow and make up time later on the downhill. Go past some runners, others go past me as they get into rhythm. Teignbridge Trotter goes past, I think she’s a sub-3.5 hour marathoner; stay slow, take it easy draught behind anyone, cut the corners. Long, long slow plod up the hill; I don’t believe it someone has just gone past and cut straight in on me, I have to change stride and still narrowly avoid clipping their heels- would have served them right- they had the whole road to run on! Thought about saying something but notice they’re wired for sound; what’s the point- can’t you enjoy running without being wired for sound? If I were race director I would ban running wired for sound- especially on roads with traffic.

Press on; getting warm now, soon at top and 2nd drinks station and my pace is still about 8.5 mins/mile-very happy. Stretch out on downhill and run with and then draught behind a long haired bloke. Turn off mountain road, downhill, over bailey bridge and start our long journey round the lakes [these are really a series of reservoirs in the Elan Valley created to supply water to Birmingham]. We have driven this route several times but running really picks out the undulations. Mile markers come and go, not feeling too bad, scenery couldn’t be better, weather good for March but still got all my gear on. By about 12 miles try and convince myself I’m not tired, got to keep going, got to beat Lesley! Down the hill, round the corner, stretch the pace, keep going. Think of big breakfast on Sunday, sausages, bacon, egg, beans, mushrooms and tomatoes. Down the hill, round the corner, keep on going. Pace is still good- sub 8.5 mins/mile. Reservoirs are familiar, dams sturdy and huge as if built by giants. Roads winding, undulating, some good downhills, keep going.

Ahead a couple have slowed and I will catch them- they are refuelling. I don’t believe it- she has taken her energy gel wrapper and walked to the side of the road and bent down and placed it on the ground! I don’t understand- is this some local ritual- to anyone it must just look as if someone has selfishly discarded rubbish in an area of outstanding natural beauty! As I approach my mouth won’t stay shut, “thought you could have taken that with you”, I snap. “Yes” she replies. YES!! – What sort of reply is that? Maybe she is from somewhere very foreign. I cruise on past leaving them to their sticky thoughts. Keep on going, down the hill, round the corner, think of big breakfast.

Set my sights on an old shaven-headed boy (probably my age), and gradually close the gap. What’s all this – he keeps looking at his left hand – he seems to have some sort of clock in his palm! Well why not?! Go past him and begin to regret having said anything to litter-lout. If she comes back past me she might make some sarcastic comment like “feeling a bit tired, are we?” This is not going to happen, keep on going, down the hill, round the corner, think of big breakfast, be positive. Begin to think perhaps it might be OK to be wired for sound; I might like to listen to Leonard Cohen, soothing and steady for a long run!

In this area a church, a school, a chapel, a mill, some shops and twenty farms and cottages were submerged by the filling of the reservoirs. The poet Shelley stayed here in 1811 and 1812 before the flooding, writing about the “most divine” and “highly romantic” scenery. It really does beat running in Street!

At about 16 miles the route coincides with part of the Elan Valley ten mile race we did last year. Lovely rocky sides to the left and water to the right. I’m feeling good, the sun comes out, and my jacket comes off, keep on going. Can’t be bothered to tie jacket around waist, but holding it in fist it keeps unravelling. Catching lady runner ahead, feeling good, then not feeling good, need toilet. Have to stop to wee on the rocky wall, Shaven head with clock in left hand goes past checking his timepiece. Pack my parts away, no time to worry about dribbles, got to catch timepiece man. Familiar road, Elan Valley visitor centre on right, downhill, straight on, think of big breakfast. Sharp right, round marshal and bollard. So tired and resent running round bollard instead of cutting corner. On, on, catch lady runner again. She stops dead, encourage her – “keep going, you’ll get under 3 hours”. As I go past I think perhaps that may not be encouraging, especially if she was hoping for 2:30.

Across another bailey bridge and gently downhill through the Elan Village built in 1909 to replace the wooden village which housed a thousand workmen and their families during the dam building. This is good, I am now catching time-piece man, don’t pause, go past, keep going, stay ahead. This is bad, very bad, a nasty, evil stomach wrenching, leg torturing hill at 17 miles. Work hard, not too hard, think of breakfast. Top of hill, a strange finger post which shows the village of Llanwrthl at 4¼ miles in both directions! Who cares, we only have three miles back to Rhayader. This is good, very good apart from the damn jacket which keeps unravelling, refusing to stay constrained in either fist. More downhill, round the corner, keep going, think of breakfast. Lady oriental runner with long ponytail goes past; she looks like she is out for a Sunday stroll, don’t try and keep up with her.

Two miles to go and I give myself a pat on the back – the time 2:29:40. I can afford to fade badly and clock two 15 minute miles and still beat my lower target finish time of 3 hours. But I don’t want that, I want a sub 2:50 finish, downhill, round the corner, smell the big breakfast. Now catching a Mr oriental runner, he looks a bit more than tired, cruise on past. Turn right onto main road, oh no, another hill, “don’t worry only one mile to go from the top”, the marshal says. It’s not fair – a hill at 18.5 miles – not fair but keep going. Well I never, I spot long-haired bloke that I draughted behind on the mountain road some fifteen miles ago. What’s this, a supporter has got out of his car and is pacing Mr Long-hair, surely this can’t be allowed. This spurs me on, and I assume the draught position again as we climb the hill, wait my turn, and cruise past him down hill. Less than a mile now to Rhayader, not far, round the corners, taste the big breakfast. No, no, no another hill. I forgot the final hill through the town to the finish. Never mind, go past a very young runner – could be my grandson. He’s not stupid, he can recognise an old git when he sees one. I might be smiling, running tall and looking good but he knows I’m done! He changes gear and I say “well done” as he flies past. Not far now, keep smiling, pretend it’s all OK, you are SWRR, the supporters are clapping, keep going up the hill, round the corner, then the very last corner, smell the finish. 2:47:14. Very nice. Lesley not far behind 3:08:03. Excellent. I’m sure she has it age-graded.

Don't wait for shower at B&B and go to leisure centre. This was not without some hilarity- lads in changing room discussing the race. “Bit like the Vyrnwy”, said one. “But Vyrnwy is flat and only 13 miles” said another. “So it’s like Vyrnwy without the F****** hills and F****** miles” said another. “Well it’s got the water the Vyrnwy” replied the first. Game set and match. Much banter ensued as someone dropped something in the shower and it probably wasn’t safe to bend down at that moment.

B&B Sunday, breakfast booked for 8:30. Lesley suddenly shaking me awake, quick it’s 8:15, get up, get up. Can’t be, still tired, what’s up? Oh sorry, wrong time it’s only 7:10. Ah bliss, an extra hour in bed- better than a small premium bond win. Now for breakfast. Gently first, healthy orange juice, steady now grapefruit with yogurt. I can hear sizzling, smell frying and now Angela and Peter appear- large platter for me and large platter for Lesley. Big breakfast 2 leek and pork sausages, 2 rashers of prime bacon, fried egg, baked beans, tomatoes and mushrooms. Savour and enjoy slowly, wash down with pot of coffee and finish with toast and jam. Might be a long way to go for breakfast, but it was worth it.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Street 5k - A Farewell Race

Not only was this the 138th race in the 23 year history of the Street 5k winter series, it was also the last race which we had the pleasure of running with Mike and Di..........for a while at least.

Firstly knowing my passion for meaningless statistics as you do, I must tell you that this was the 37th Street 5k that Martin and I have run since our first outing there in January 2005, or in other words we have run the 1k loop of the town centre 185 times - each. This was also the first race I did after I broke my hip - recording a tear inducing 28.05 in November 2005 when I finished about three from last. If I only hadn't stopped on the fourth lap and burst into tears I could have gone sub 28! It's also the only race where I have managed to fall over and sprain my ankle....before the start!

The point I'm trying to make (slowly) is that Street is a race that is dear to our hearts and it was entirely fitting that we had a chance to share it with Mike and Di before they temporarily escape the clutches of Maiden Newton Runners. It was a night when I was proud to be part of the Maiden Newton team - not only Martin and I, Mike and Di, but also Charlie, Richard and Lesley, Dave Carnell and Dave Butt with Jane giving welcome vocal support.

To the race, finally. Having got out of my sick bed the previous evening to droop around at Mike and Di's leaving party, I was in slightly better form 24 hours later. As usual Martin headed off into the distance but the surprise element was Dave Butt charging off after him and opening up a useful lead on me. Dave Carnell was obviously having some difficulty adjusting back to the tarmac from the slippy stuff after his outing at Butleigh on Sunday and I passed him on the first lap but the other Dave stayed stubbornly ahead and it took me until lap four to finally haul him in and pass him. My next target was the leading lady and although I managed to catch her I left it a bit too late and could only sprint across the line on her shoulder recording a time of 19.17, one second slower than her.

The rest of the team finished one by one and the times will all be posted on the results page of the web site but I have to make a special mention of Charlie - last time I lapped her and then ran her last lap with her after I had finished. This time I barely had time to get back down the High Street to run in with her and she finished very strongly knocking 44 seconds off her previous time, absolutely fantastic and boding very well for a good run in London next month.

Off to the presentations where Maiden Newton runners managed to pick up a thing or two and then to the pub for post race festivities. Luckily I have five witnesses to Charlie's rash statement that she intends to run the Grizzly next year...and she hadn't even had a drink!

It was a fantastic evening and the only sad part was having to say fare well to Mike and Di at the end of it. It's been a pleasure and a privilege to have them as club mates and friends and I know that I speak for us all when I say that they will be very much missed. We all wish them the very best of luck and happiness in their new life.

And don't think moving to Wiltshire is going to stop us from tracking you down one of these fine summer evenings....we know where you're going!!

Monday, March 05, 2012

Blog with no race

Sunday 4th March saw the Westgates at home in bed. Raising myself on my left elbow I could see from the window the eight sided pond. The rain was still hammering down – the first substantial rainfall for 33 days, so quite a fortuitous decision not to race today. The pond was getting a bit too full as there is no overflow pipe. During construction I decided not to install one for several reasons:
a) There might be a small chance that a baby fish might get swept down a tube in heavy rain
b) The tube outflow might stain the paving
c) The tube might be a weakness in the rendering and concrete walls.
For those who are interested I empty the pond by manually placing the outlet pipe from the filter into a length of downpipe which can be conveniently run onto the lawn or into the greenhouse as required. For those of you who are completely uninterested you could suggest a new prize category for the AGM – most boring blog of the year.

Anyway with no racing on Sunday, in fact no training at all for a week, there was plenty of gardening to do. It’s surprising how much time training and racing takes up, and I can see how appealing it might be to downsize and concentrate on running. On a slightly worrying note, in less than two weeks time I have the 20 mile “Round the Lakes” race in Wales and the longest run these tired little legs have managed this year is 13.1. This could be another one where Lesley leaves me behind