Friday, 13 November 2015

Race report: XNRG Druids Challenge (84 miles in 3 days) - Day 2

Day 2 - the day of Weather

Having spent 15 minutes in a cold shower, picking the mud off my legs at the end of day 1, followed by not the kind of dinner I was looking for and a fairly mentally difficult day, I'm not entirely sure how I ended up carrying on on day 2.  It got a bit worse before I started too...

I prefer to avoid large amounts of carbohydrates in my diet.  This means my breakfasts (when I have them) are usually based on eggs, avocado and cheese in some form.  Breakfast on day two was a choice of; boxed cereals, croissants, pains au chocolat, bananas, orange juice, and porridge.  So, porridge it was.  I'd normally start a run without breakfast if it starts in the morning and then eat when I'm done - this is what I did most days on my Thames Path trip last year, where I was averaging 31 miles a day and it works well for me.  However, on this day I really felt like having some breakfast, so I listened to that and had a pretty big portion of porridge.

Having felt quite demoralised on day 1, I knew that day 2 was going to be tougher physically despite being shorter.  Muscles would be feeling pretty used & abused from a pretty long run the day before, including having enjoyed some downhills a bit too much and challenged my quads somewhat.

So it did take a little while to get going and it was already raining by that point - the forecast was for rain until around 1pm and 20mph average winds.  And by golly the weather delivered.  I'd been warned it'd be quite exposed out on the ridge on this day and adding the extra miserable weather forecast, I decided to keep a long-sleeved top in my pack as well as my waterproof/windproof jacket.

Having been shivering with the cold before the start on day 1, a good few checkpoints yesterday and again today were asking me if I was cold when I would show up in just a skort & t-shirt and motor on through.  I only really got cold after the last checkpoint on this day, despite the torrential rain that fell from pretty much the start of the day until midday.  There were 20mph (average) head winds that swirled & gusted and didn't die down at any point during the day.  The rain stopped at midday, which was really nice.  But then it started up again about 45 mins later, getting harder and sharper and evolving into hail with the wind turning from a head wind to a side wind.  The rain > hail was so sharp it was hard to keep my eyes open.

You can see here from the look on Tim's face that it was pretty painful! 

Terrain-wise; there was a fabulous section through the woods, skipping over hidden logs and tree roots under the pretty Autumn leaves on the ground.  But as a counter point, there was more wet, slippery chalk to skate over too.  Much less of that than on day one, so much less crossness resulted. 

Having stopped to fill water bottles at all of the checkpoints on day 1, and take a snack or two at the later ones I reduced it to only filling water bottles on this day and a couple of bites of Marmite sandwich at the final checkpoint.  And I ended up drinking too much water.  I stopped for a wee 6 times!  Part of that was down to being wet to the skin all day and chilling my mid-section as a result, but I definitely felt water-logged as my hands swelled quite spectacularly, having been fine the day before, and I was feeling a bit queasy by the end of the run.

By the end of being soaked to the skin, chilled by the fierce winds and pummelled by sharp hail, I was so happy to see tea & coffee coming out of one of the vans at the finish line.  There was a short wait while one of the shuttle buses came to take a batch of us to the leisure centre for the evening.

Where, by the time I got there, there was no water.  Not even just no hot water in the showers, but no water at all and the pipes drained down pretty quickly with all that loo-flushing and hand-washing going on.  No fun at all.  So, I ended up using my damp sports bra to scrape the mud off my legs before putting on clean trousers for the evening.  The meal was much better though - a lovely fresh salad, sausages and pasta for those who like that.

Another trip to the Tina the foot-care lady was needed as the tape that was on my little toe since the previous evening had partly come off, bunched up and taken a lot more of the skin from my toe off with it.  This time it needed a bit more attention; dressing for the night to keep the iodine doing its job and then it'd get some hospital-grade burn dressing in the morning to protect it during tomorrow's run.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Race report: XNRG Druids Challenge (84 miles in 3 days) - Day 1

The Druid Challenge is a 3 day stage race (on foot).  84 miles from Ivinghoe Beacon to Swindon along the Ridgeway National Trail.  It's run by XNRG who organise quite a few multi-day ultras through the year; ensuring they're at least 26.2 miles on any given day with individual day entry so each day counts as a single marathon for those aiming to enter the 100 Marathon Club.

I decided I "needed" to enter a real multi-stage race, having had a go at a self-supported 6 day run along the length of the Thames Path last October.  I really enjoyed that and it would be a nice easing back into the land of ultra marathons with a 3 day stage race of less average distance per day than I covered on my Thames Path run.

The week before the race, I had mostly pretty awful runs and wasn't really feeling it, so I decided to stay in a hotel near the start so I could have more sleep rather than taking the train up to Tring on the morning of the race.  I stayed at Pendley Manor (which is over-priced and shit, by the way) and got a cab to the station where there were shuttle buses to the farm where registration was happening.

Day 1 - the day my engine & legs didn't want to play.

Day 1 is the longest day and the latest start time of the 3 days.  I'm guessing that the 10am start time for those who would be walking is to allow for folks to get a train to Tring from a reasonable distance away, get registered and sorted out and up to the start, rather than being forced to stay overnight nearby.  But at almost 30 miles, starting at 10am if you're walking, or 11am if you're an average runner means you're definitely finishing in the dark and it's pitch black on the trail at this time of year at that time of day.

Anyhoo, I got the shuttle bus to the farm having met a lovely lady called Viv who had recently covered the Camino di Santiago, and registered in a grain shed.  A couple of cups of tea later and some chatting with a couple of Spanish hikers who were looking forward to their first official ultra race (which they were entirely likely to be covering with quite some efficiency as seasoned hikers), and it was time to head up to the start.

We were briefed on safety and the race philosophy - it's a challenge, fun/enjoyable, and be safe - and then walked up Ivinghoe beacon to the start in quite a chilly wind and up a very slippery chalk path which we were going to turn around and run back down again along the start of the Ridgeway path.

Neil, the race director started us off with a countdown from 5 to 1 and off we went.  And immediately my legs pretty much said simply "piss off".  And my breathing was laboured right from the off, despite not that much speed being involved.

The profile of the route today looked like it was one of the tougher ones as well as being a bit long, so that made me feel even worse, mentally, given the state of my legs and engine.  It felt like I was pushing way too hard, or wasn't warmed up, but the pace was pretty sedate.  It took around 25 miles to warm up in the end and I only felt reasonable with 4 and a bit miles to go on the final stretch.  There was a lot of sliding sideways on slippery mud on this day, and I wasn't the only one who was pretty frustrated by that and a bit cross on a good few occasions.

There were some pretty cool sections, running downhill through leaves in the woods, skipping past folks who were a lot more tentative over that terrain.  It felt amazing.  At one point in the woods, I was almost by myself but a blonde lady was just in sight ahead of me.  She was going to take a straight on into a farm, where I though there was a gap in a fence where the trail went, so I called to her that the route went through the fence (which it actually did).  I recognised her voice straight away as the melodious tones of Niandi Carmont (ultra runner and podcast guest/partner of Ian Corless on the Talk Ultra podcast).  She was so encouraging and supportive throughout the 3 days of the race, and we had a good few chats in the evenings.  It was great to meet so many lovely people over the days (and some familiar faces too), but it felt like we got on really well and it's a shame I'm not likely to see Niandi again (mainly because I'm rubbish at that sort of thing).

By the time I got to the final check-point I thought I might just make it to the finish before sunset, but in the end I was about half an hour short of that and ended up using my amazing head torch (which was a Christmas present a couple of years ago).  The final stretch was a good few miles along a dark trail and then along a couple of roads.  My legs and body had decided to behave themselves by then and I felt a lot better, like I was really motoring (which I wasn't, but at least it felt like I was) into the finish line.  Day 1's running over with I went into a very dark place and wasn't sure that come the morning I'd start the next day with the other runners.

A hot shower and a nice dinner might have made me feel better at this point, but the showers in the school we were staying in were cold, and dinner was pretty uninspiring dry chicken breast in a runny sauce with some boiled veg.  OK, my dietary preferences aren't exactly mainstream, but still...

HOWEVER, the race organisation was good! The checkpoints are well-stocked and I did have 1/4 of a Marmite sandwich and a few mini-cubes of Rocky Road during the day which was what I wanted at the time (especially the Marmite sandwiches :o) ).  The medical care, especially the lady who took care of everyone's feet who had any problems at all, was fantastic.  I had ignored a bunched-up sock on my little toe all day and created a spectacular blister that she drained & taped up for me so it was protected the next day.

29ish miles done... time for sleep and see what the next day brings.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Race Report: Lee Valley Marathon (Race for Life)

Lee Valley Park - view of the canal
I got very over-excited after the Lancaster Half Marathon a couple of weeks ago.  Having PBd and felt like it wasn't horrible to run at that pace, apart from the last little bit with the hill, I thought that a sub 4 hour marathon might be possible already.

I hate my brain when it does this.  It puts lots of unfounded pressure on me.  But I really thought this might actually happen.  Then I took a look at a race predictor and it pretty much laughed in my face.  Having given it that half marathon time, the quickest marathon predicted time from all of the various formulae comes out at 4 hours and 2 minutes and a bit.  Not sub four at all.  So I lost heart.

And my brain didn't give up.  It kept telling me that this is possible, but I don't understand well enough or have enough experience to have the faintest idea.  My coach confirmed that he thought it was possible, and that even if I blew up horribly I'd still PB for sure and I agreed.

Well, to cut a long story short, it wasn't my day.

The race organisation had decided that as they'd put enough loos around the route of the race, they didn't need that many at the start/finish/expo.  There were 15 loos for 3,500 women, plus supporters!  Bad move.  Very many of us just went into the long, dewy grass or found bushes and dealt with needing to wee that way.  The worrying down side of it was getting pretty wet feet.  Wet feet is a great way to get blisters.  So I was already cranky before I started.  However, it *was* nice to meet up with Kat (who had a fantastic race and smashed out a marathon PB) & Jools briefly beforehand, chat a bit and get some help with making sure I didn't lose my house keys (thank you!).

The race start was sort of seeded - with timing chips we'd be getting chip times so the clock didn't start until you crossed the line.  There was a call for all runners who might run under 4.5 hours to line up first, then the 4.5 to 6 hour finishers, then 6+.  Then the half marathon runners after that (um, OK. That's a dumb idea as they'll have to run through *all* of the marathon runners.).  I joined the sub 4.5 hour group as my worst case was under that time anyway.

From the start of the race I didn't feel anything like I did at Lancaster, but I thought it'd be fine once I warmed up.  The first mile was a pretty spicy pace - I was supposed to be aiming to hold 08:57/mile (10s/mile faster than goal pace) so I couldn't afford the first mile to be more a warm-up like it was at Lancaster (where I hit 09:22 for the first mile and then an average of 08:53 overall).

It was OK, but in the back of my head I was already worried that things didn't feel all that great and doubts crept in really early.  By mile 4, my brain had checked out - my Garmin wasn't giving me great info on the mile splits and wasn't matching up with the race mile markers either.

So I had a bit of a mull, and as I did, the second two toes on my right foot started to get really sore - my shoe was too small for the conditions and I really didn't want that to turn into a proper problem.  And then there was an actual hill.  The up of which really demoralised me - s-bends up - and the down hurt my toes - s-bends again so you can't really let go so easily.

By mile 7 it was most definitely worrying, my pace was way off and I felt sick.  From that point all I could think about was another 6 miles until I could stop.  There were moments of "it *might* be OK, I could maybe get around in about 4 hours 10 or so... but I felt vile in my stomach and I was worried about my toes.  So I gave up.

I walked a little bit, had a chat with the race marshall at the split between the finish funnel and the second lap and took the finish funnel.

The medal was OK.

The goody bag was *enormous*.  The sponsors were keen and realise that a lot of their target market was right there.

I was desperate for *something* - the water was great, but I chugged the "Upbeat" as well, which helped a bit.  I followed it with the yogurty raisins and the chocolates but that's not real food and I needed tea so I went in search of tea.  Unfortunately the tea place had a menu that said "bacon baguette" which I really wanted and convinced myself of that so much that when it turned out there was only hog roast (roast pork, crackling & stuffing in a soft roll) I had so much momentum I got one of those when it probably wasn't the best idea.

The pork and crackling were pretty good, to be honest and I ate about half of it and ditched a lot of the roll.  Drank my tea and then tried to get up from the grass.  Instantly, I felt really sick; sicker than when I was running.  So I just wanted to be home, somewhere cool, dark and quiet with some fizzy water with lemon.  I crashed out on the journey home, but the naps made me feel a bit better, as did the pint of cold, fizzy water with lots of lemon slices in it when I got home.

Overall - today just didn't work.  My brain and body were not as up for it as I needed for a sub-4, and then I made it worse with the shoes being wet and not fitting for some reason, and then something weird with my stomach and then eating stupid things afterwards.  BUT!  There will be other days!   Lancaster was not a fluke, and I know I can have a much better day at some point in the future.  This was my second fastest half marathon to date - 02:02:31.  When you set out to do a marathon, you run slower than you would for a half, so this makes me quite happy in a convoluted way.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Race Report: Lancaster Castle Half

What just happened?

Race number two of the holiday and it was another "enter on the day" jobbie.  This time a half marathon that is 99.75% flat with a 30m uphill in the final 400m; a little sting in the tail for those on for a PB or a particular time.

The Lancaster Castle Half Marathon (and 10K) is based in Lancaster Castle (prison) in the centre of Lancaster.  This means very few loos for 500 registered runners on the day (we found a pair and timed it perfectly as a huge queue formed behind us almost the moment we'd found them).  As people were heading up the hill into the castle grounds, almost everyone was saying "do we have to run up this?" as they skidded up the cobbles into the castle grounds.  Yes, not only a nasty little hill, but paved with great, shiny cobbles; perfect for skidding about when walking never mind running up it!

We found a coffee shop back in town, just a couple of hundred meters away, once we'd registered and there was an hour before the, quite civilised, start time of 11am.  Lucky we did too, though the coffee was truly awful, there was a loo to be taken advantage of.  And we did.  A couple of times each at least - having scoffed curry and a few ales the night before, there was a bit to let go of before running for a couple of hours.

The race seems pretty popular with local running clubs as there were a couple of coach-loads turned up from two clubs; one in red and one in blue, Blackburn Road Runners and Red Rose Road Runners.  We chatted to one of the race officials (the bloke doing the timing) as everyone was walking to the race start area, and he'd said there were 500 runners registered between the half and the 10K but there was unprecedented no-shows with no particular reason why.

The race start was down in a field near the castle.  We all ambled down the path to the field to then completely not hear the run briefing at all, and then we were led to the actual start line.  I was about  3/4 down the bunch of runners as we walked to the start line and then people ahead were suddenly, without any warning, just running.  Nobody knew where the start line was or when we should have considered the race to have started, but we all just pootled off over a narrow bridge and down the road into a new housing estate by the estuary.

I wasn't sure how I'd be only a week after what I'd thought was a pretty peppy 10 miler.  I kinda wanted to aim for a sub 2 hour half marathon but given how I'd not wanted to get out of bed and didn't much feel like running hard and sucking up any hurt, I decided to take the first mile as a warm-up and assessment and see what that pace looked like before deciding what to do with the other 12.1 miles.  When the beep for the first mile came, 09:22 was a bit disappointing and I thought "oh well, no PB for me today."

My half marathon PB at 02:03:05 at another spontaneous holiday race two years ago, when I was about 4kg lighter and had quite a bit of Ironman fitness still going on, seemed a bit ambitious to break if the first mile was 09:22 and I did some sums (always a bad idea when putting out effort - you should see some of the spectacular basic maths errors I make in that condition) which told me that even if I held that pace, I'd be on for just about squeaking in at 2 hours 2 minutes and change, but with the 30m hill in the last 400m of distance it'd be touch & go.  So I mentally gave up and decided to just take a look every mile and see what happened.

The route was pretty darned boring really.  Along a tow path in a housing estate, with the estuary on one side, then down a tree/bush lined gravel trail to a turn-around point and onto a road, over the canal, down a long road through fields into a headwind to a dead turn point and back through the fields, over the canal and along a main road back to the gravel trail and into town again.  Not much to look at, but it meant for concentrating on the runners around you.

Each time my watch beeped, it was showing 08:xx per mile from 39 to 53 as a variation. I overtook *tons* of people.  Apart from one little woman all in black.  She overtook me at around 3 miles in and I couldn't let her go after that.  My legs felt fine and I felt fine, overtaking ones and twos and the odd cluster of runners, but always that woman all in black just ahead of me who I couldn't pull back in.  She kept me honest for about 7 miles until, by surprise, I finally overtook her on the main road back towards the trail, at around the 9 mile point.  I wasn't sure if it'd stick, but it seemed to and she looked to have slowed down and run out of oomph.  When I next looked down at my watch at a one mile beep, it turned out I'd speeded up and had just hit a 08:39 mile.  I did more sums.  A sub 2 hour time was well on the cards and if I felt like it, I could slow right down to 10 minute miles for the rest of it and still just beat 2 hours.  But I didn't want to do that.

I carried on reeling in the odd runner here and there and was a bit smug feeling that I'd get through this race with not one person overtaking me.  Hah.  A bloke in a green top and a black Camelbak sneaked up, not long after I'd overtaken the woman in black and he pulled away a little.  Nooooo! And a mile later I had him back again and he said "final push now!" as I pushed very slowly past him, breathing quite loudly.  I couldn't speak really, but as my watch beeped and I saw it saying 08:37 I blurted out "oh shit!".  I couldn't believe I was not only still holding sub 9 minute miles but that I was appreciably quicker than that.

Carrying on sucking up the feeling like I was putting in reasonable effort, I made that overtake stick and kept motoring until the final stretch of road by the estuary where I suddenly lost heart and slowed.  I had two more people to overtake; an old fella in a running club shirt and a woman in black & white vertical stripes.  I just managed to overtake the man, but I couldn't muster up anything to push enough to overtake the woman.  Rounding the corner to run along the field we started in, I really ran out of steam, slowed to 09:20/mile pace and then walked a couple of steps up the bridge over the railway lines before the final slog up to the prison.

She was back!  The woman in black!  Argh!  She powered past me up the cobbled road to the prison gates and there was nothing I could do.  Then as I went through the gates I heard yelling that someone was right behind me and I could hear him.  It was the bloke in green I'd overtaken a little while back.  No way was he going to be allowed overtake me in the final few meters, so I broke into a sprint and just pulled away from him to cross the line.

Smashed my half marathon PB, despite that evil hill at the end (though I clearly lost heart a bit before that).  Official time 01:57:16 - a PB by 05:56.  And I negative split by 38s.

I had a good chat with the woman in black and the man in green and thanked them for keeping me honest - it sounded like they'd had fun too.  And then it was awards time for the winners.  In keeping with the spirit of local races with prizes donated by local businesses, the overall winner got a microwave.

It was definitely time for breakfast by then, having had only a cup of tea at about 07:30 and a mouthful of crap coffee from the coffee shop before the race.  So we adjourned to a nearby pub for Sunday lunch - 2 pints of ale for me, and pea and mint soup with bread and butter, then roast lamb with a ton of veg and a Yorkshire pudding.

I'm pretty pleased with that race.  Being about 4-5kg heavier than I want to be at the moment (mainly due to wine), having had ales and curry the night before, having only started back running again 5.5 months ago, after 4 months off and learning to walk again in March this year and I was in the top half of finishers, top 25 of 86 women and 6th V40 woman out of 28, and PBing by pretty much 6 minutes (so just under 30s/mile faster every single mile for 13 miles).  Yeah, pretty bloody pleased with that indeed.

Knee over ankle in the loading phase :o)

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Race report: Cumberland Ale 10

We're on holiday, so of course we're going to be running a 10 mile race on the 2nd day of it!

That's one of the lovely things about low-key local running races is that you can turn up and enter on the day and it'll be lovely and everyone will be lovely.  And we did, and it was, and they were.

The Cumberland Ale 10 is a 10 mile foot race that starts at the Jennings Brewery in Cockermouth, Cumbria.  It's not flat, but it's a cracking course.  The route is a lollipop with a water station at the top of the stick (in both directions) and there's about 250m of elevation gain over the route with a couple of appreciable hills - one after you go through the water station for the second time where I finally gave in and walked, and just where the official photographer is lying in wait. Yay!

I put in some effort for this race.  Starting off at a reasonable pace for the first mile (which was all uphill with a gentle climb out of the town), I turned it up a bit after that.  This race was all about having some fun with no targets, no pressure, no goals other than to enjoy it.  And enjoy it I did.

The other thing about local races is that the field is very different from larger, mass participation events.  You find that most of the runners are part of local running clubs and the finishing time distribution is very compressed compared with those mass participation events.  Having started out right at the back, and put in quite some effort all the way through (max HR 201! Downhill!), I only managed to overtake 8 people over the course.  Coming in 19th lady out of 25 (and 55th of 64 runners overall) is a bit demoralising given the effort, but... (context is everything).
I spent 6 miles of the race trying to reel in a local runner.  She'd pull away a bit on the uphills and a tiny bit on the "flat" bits and I'd pull her in on the downhills that were steeper than totally trivial.  Overall I just couldn't quite manage it in the end, but she kept me honest and kept me from chickening out and taking it easy (apart from that one uphill...).

I can certainly say I put in a pretty even effort throughout, and high even for me.  It's encouraging in that respect that I'm remembering how to hurt again, in terms of putting in the effort rather than actually being quick at all.  I've never been a quick runner really and with vanishingly small exposure to hills beyond pimple-like undulations, it's only to be expected that on this course I wouldn't do anywhere near as well as the locals.  I am pretty pleased that I ran all the hills bar one and that my effort and pace was pretty even.  OK, so it was only 10 miles, but it was an honest, fun 10 miles.


The spread of food afterwards was amazing!  And a bottle of beer as a finishing token - never mind your t-shirts and medals; beer is where it's at!

I can heartily recommend looking up local races when you're on holiday.  Especially when they're hosted by a brewery!