Category Archives: Races

Resetting race goals

It’s 6:30 on a Saturday morning and I’m making porridge.

Daddy, how do you make Porridge?

I explain the simple recipe.

Yuk… sounds horrible!

There’s little point in arguing with an eight year old boy.

Daddy…. Mummy says you’re stupid.

She says you’ve not done enough training and shouldn’t do this race.

I can’t argue with this viewpoint either. This year has started with injuries. Achilles tendonitis and bursitis in my left ankle have limited my training. I was due to run the Endurance Life CTS Sussex ultra, but all I have managed in training since mid January is a few 6-8 mile runs and a single 13 miler. However the CTS series have shorter races so I decided to be sensible and swap to a shorter race. I swapped to the marathon. So, not very sensible.

I ran this race two years ago, and enjoyed it, but the organisation could have been better. An easy drive to Birling Gap and well managed parking was a good start to the day. However things soon deteriorated.

Registration_queue.jpg

Registration hell!

There was a 50 minute queue to register, and subsequently the race start had to be delayed by 20 minutes. Quite why we had to queue in single file I have no idea. There were race officials standing idle waiting while runners were snaking round the tent in a roped off funnel.

After a thorough and lengthy race briefing we walked the couple of hundred meters to the start and were sent on our way. It was chilly, dry and breezy at the start, but as I ran up to the first summit of the Seven Sisters I caught the full force of the wind coming off the sea. It was blowing a gale. Seven hard climbs to hike up, seven blasts from the wind as I tried to find shelter behind taller runners, and seven steep descents to batter my toes. It was a relief to reach the Cuckmere Haven and turn inland to escape the wind.

The first five miles took 51 minutes – slower than I’d hoped for, but aware of my limited fitness, I was trying to keep to an easy effort and still have some strength in my legs for the final third.  The route heads up the river valley through the first checkpoint at Litlington to Alfriston and then uphill, following the South Downs Way for a short stretch, before turning left, to run around the hillside and under the Long Man of Wilmington. After a short steep climb back up to the hill top, the path heads south and back towards Westdean and CP2. I paused briefly to get some water. The checkpoints are very basic: water, bananas and biscuits, but I knew what to expect, so had my own snacks and gels.

From Westdean it’s back through Friston forest towards East Dean before turning south and back to Birling Gap. The wind was still blowing strongly, but at least it was at my back as I started the long climb up past Belle Tout and then up to Beachy Head itself.Long_climb_up_Beachy_Head.jpg

In the Beachy Head Marathon the path takes the inland route before dropping down to the finish, but the CTS race turns right and drops down a ridiculously steep path before taking the coastal path to Dukes Drive. CP3 is here by the kiosk, and another biscuit and more water and I was on my way for the last five miles. From here the route heads back to the west, and after the slow climb up the hill, at the road crossing I was fully exposed to the winds again. A long straight, and rather uninspiring mile and a half battling the wind, but at least I was still running, and not being overtaken.

At this point you come depressingly close to the finish, and can clearly see the Endurance Life feather flags, but my garmin told me I’d only run 23.8 miles, and sure enough the route turned away from the finish and back up another long slow climb. After crossing the Beachy Head Rd a final time I was at last on the home straight. However I was now running into the wind again, and almost forced to stop by its ferocity.

I finished in 4:32:00, setting a new marathon PW (personal worst) in the progress.

Despite the whinging tone of this blog, I enjoyed much of the running. It was great to be out in the countryside on a long run again. I walked the steep climbs, and even a couple of the steep descents, but after 26 miles I was running comfortably, with no pain. More to the point, two days after the event there is no Achilles pain. There is more muscle soreness than usual, but after so little training, that’s to be expected. I’m now looking forward to the South Downs Way 50 and Grand Union Canal race with more optimism than I could manage a couple of weeks ago.

The SDW50 is only three weeks away, so my fitness will not have improved massively, and I’ll have to start with a similar race plan – slow and steady- and try and enjoy it, but it should be great fun to run a Centurion race again, and good training for GUCR.

 

 

Country to Capital

I’d heard a lot about this race, but never run it before. However after an early off season break (Oct & Nov), I wanted a January race to start the year, and a chance to recce the last 20 miles of the GUCR tipped the balance in favour of this event. In hindsight this was a great choice as I had been thinking of CTS Dover as it’s closer to home, but it was cancelled at the last minute.

Unfortunately my December training did not go to plan. A cold, leading to a chest infection and bad asthma, led to a two week break, so I came into this race off very limited training. A single 20 mile run being the longest I’d managed since the 1st Nov. Despite this I figured I should be able to manage 6  1/2 hour finish (9 mins per mile average). At the start I met up with several friends, runners from the British Spartathlon Team, who all seemed to be targeting good times.

Coffee in The Shoulder of Mutton before the start

The race starts with the “Race to the gate”, a half mile dash downhill along Wendover High Street before a right turn through a gate and onto the trail. This section is traditionally run like a one mile time trial – flat out. I wasn’t quite sprinting, but I didn’t want to get held up in traffic, so went out fast, but was probably in 20th place at the gate. After that I settled down for the first few miles at a steady 8:30 min/mi pace. I soon found myself running with the Centurion Running Team: James, Drew and Tim. James told me he was planning on running round in about 6 hrs, so I decided to stick with them until the canal, as the first section is a little tricky to navigate. The route is not intuitive as it follows a number of different paths, rather than a single long distance trail. Their pace was a little quicker than I had planned, but felt comfortable enough, and meant I could relax and not worry about getting lost.

It had been very cold at the start, and I’d put my jacket on, but soon warmed up and after a couple of miles I took it off, and shove it in my race vest. The ground itself was quite icy in places, with some slippery road sections. The trails though were in good shape, and far less muddy than I’d expect for January running. There are a couple of hills early on, but on the whole it was a much flatter route than I had anticipated, which was a relief, but also meant there were no opportunities to take walking breaks and was I running steadily for the first 20 miles or so.

Eventually we ran through a park and arrived at the canal. It was looking impressively bleak; the tow path strewn with litter and graffiti on various walls . Hopefully this will inspire me to get a move on in May, just so I can escape.

The weather forecast was for a dry and sunny day, but it started raining not long after we hit the canal, and I was glad I had my jacket to hand. There is no mandatory kit for this race (apart from a phone and the route map they provide at registration), but I was carry waterproofs and a first aid kit anyway. It was pretty cold for a while, and I was struggling to keep up with James and Drew, but navigation on the canal is easy enough, so I didn’t need to stick with a group.

The only ‘navigation’ is the left turn at Bull’s Bridge. It’s signposted “13 miles to Paddington” at this point and I was glad to see the sign. After 30 miles of running I was really feeling it, and started taking short walk breaks to try and recover.

The race is described as 45 miles, but a number of people had told me it was a bit shorter and more like 42. After 40 miles I was pretty tired, and not knowing if I had just two miles to go, or five was a little frustrating. Always expecting the finish line around the next corner, and just wanting to stop and rest. So it was a relief to see the finish line with just 42.5mi showing on my Garmin.

I crossed the line in 6:20:33. Slightly better than I had expected and fun to be back at a race. It was a struggle to keep going at the end, so I need to get a good few months of solid training in if I’m to have a good race at GUCR in May, but I already knew that.

A pint at The Bridge House to help recover

 

ctocmedal

Gallery

Photos from Spartathlon

This gallery contains 48 photos.

A selection of pictures taken by Sparta Photography Club, Sarah Dryden and my crew Sarah Barker & Mark Craig.  

Sparta – a race report

I’ve just hobbled up some steps onto a temporary wooden platform to take this photo. My feet hurt. They hurt a lot. Sarah, Mark and Dan are below taking their own pictures. I need a minute to myself. I’ve started crying.

img_2113

King Leonidas – Sparta

My race finished 21 hours ago, when I ran up to this statue, grasping the left foot in a sweaty embrace. However it is only now, when we have stopped off in Sparta before driving back to Athens, that the magnitude of the achievement and the effort it required is sinking in. I’m completely drained, not just physically but mentally and emotionally.

Spartathlon is a BIG race. It’s not just the distance, but it has a special place in the hearts of many runners and I had invested a lot of time and energy in the event. So had my crew. I had first met Mark when he was volunteering at a Centurion race. Sarah, Mark and I were at the Jevington aid station all night and had a great time. Since then Sarah and Mark have volunteered together several times, and make a great team. When Mark offered to take time off work and help crew I was delighted, and promised his family we wouldn’t be going home without a finish.

When I set out, I only really had one goal and that was to get to Sparta in less than the 36 hour time limit. However my crew needed something a little more useful than that, so I gave them a table with my projected earliest and latest arrival times for the 16 crew points. However for myself I wanted to keep my race plan simple, and devised a 10 point checklist.

  1. Smile and relax
  2. 9 and 1
  3. Drink
  4. Phone Mum
  5. Keep a cool head
  6. Don’t panic
  7. Eat something
  8. Own the night
  9. Be unstoppable
  10. Drink some more
  11. Do not quit, do not quit, do not f*in quit

 

Smile and relax

I run because I enjoy it. However I was expecting that after 120 miles or so I might need a reminder, so this was first on my checklist. The excitement at the start as nearly 400 runners gathered beneath the Acropolis was infectious. I knew that in previous years many had tried and failed, and about half of those assembled might not kiss the foot in Sparta, but despite this the mood was buoyant as we set off. Running down the cobbled slope I had a massive grin on my face and was practically giggling with delight at the atmosphere. The sense of history, and the evident pride that the Greeks have for this race made it a really special start. With Police officers stopping traffic and waving runners through road crossings I quickly discovered how important this race is to the communities we would run through. I wanted to keep this sense of happiness close and draw upon it later in the race, knowing I probably wouldn’t be quite this joyful again until the finish.

Running with a smile on my face keeps me positive and helps block out the negative voices that try and creep in when I get tired, so I was determined to smile for every checkpoint, wave back at the cars that hooted as they passed, and have as much fun as possible. The children I saw along the route made this very possible. As I ran through some villages there would be whole classes lining the street, hands outstreched for a high five. Under one road bridge there must have been 50 or more children waiting patiently for a hand slap from a passing runner.

9 and 1

This is my reminder to slow down, take walk breaks and save my strength for later. Last year I used a ‘run 9 minutes, walk one minute’ strategy and ran my best ever 100 mile races. It forces me to slow down when I’m fresh, but also pushes me to run when I’m tired. After the start I soon found myself with James and Barry, so fell into step with them for a while. However I was determined to be disciplined and after thirty minutes, I waved them off and slowed to a walk.

Keeping to this regular run walk routine, as I ran through Athens and down to the coast my walk breaks meant I was slowing down compared to the first 30 minutes, so a number of runners passed me, but it felt like a really comfortable pace for the first few hours. I had a good chat with a couple of runners from the American team, as well as with Paul and Carl.

Drink

My drop bag strategy was very simple. The day before the race I bought two dozen 500ml water bottles in the local supermarket. 12 of these I mixed with Tailwind. I then taped some food to each one and put them in every fourth checkpoint bag at race registration, so I would have something from Cp4 through to CP48. The rest I would leave with my crew, so I could adapt depending on how I felt in the second half.

This worked well, and during the hot parts of the day I was drinking my Tailwind then topping up the bottle with water at every CP.

Phone Mum

I think it’s best to keep mothers on a ‘need to know’ basis when running stupid distances, so this particular instruction was making a one-off appearance on my checklist. Race day – 30th September –  is also my mother’s birthday. She is at home looking after the children while I’m running and Sarah, my wife, is crewing. At about 11:30 during a walk break I phoned to wish her a happy birthday. This was late enough that she would be back from the school run, but early enough that I was still feeling great, and wouldn’t have to lie.

Keep a cool head

I started the race in my team shirt and trusty Gore running cap, but at the first crew checkpoint in Megara, I swapped into an Ashmei vest and my wide brimmed hat.img_4261 They have ice at the aid station, so I plunge the hat in a bucket of water, throw some ice cubes in the hat and I’m back on the road. In minutes I have complete brain freeze, and water dripping down my sunglasses.

At the next checkpoint (CP12) I was given my drop bag bottle, on which I had taped a ziplock bag with some cheese biscuits. I ate the biscuits and put half a dozen ice cubes in the bag then put this in my hat. This worked much better, and by repeating this I could remain relatively cool.

Don’t Panic!

I must credit this instruction to James Adams, as I borrowed it from his blog. The race distance, cut offs, number of checkpoints and possible drop bags can seem daunting. To avoid the feeling of panic I decided to just ignore the cut offs completely. I would adhere to the old cliché and ‘run my own race’, irrespective of the pace of runners at the front, around me, or the cut offs chasing me. I would simply ignore it all and run in my own bubble. I’m a reasonably fast runner, so if everything was going well and I was following my eat, drink and stay cool instructions, cut offs shouldn’t become an issue.

This worked really well. Ignoring cut offs meant I was never stressed by trying to calculate the pace I needed to maintain. I could just run or walk as it felt comfortable. I knew if I was dangerously close to cut offs my crew would tell me, but they had been briefed to not mention them otherwise. They could do the calculations, get stressed if I slowed down and leave me to relax and run.

Running over the Corinth canal is a great experience and a landmark on the route. I pulled into CP22 knowing I’d covered 50 miles and still felt fine. This is the second CP where crew are allowed, but I couldn’t see Sarah or Mark. I grabbed a drink. Russ, crewing for one of the other British runners, helped find some ice for me while I phoned Sarah. I was concerned she had got lost, but in fact she and Mark had mis-understood the road book and assumed they weren’t allowed at this CP. A curt instruction to “Read the rules”, and I was on my way again. No panic.

Eat something

The route from Corinth improves significantly, running along small country roads passing through olive groves and vineyards. I had been snacking on food at the checkpoints as well as eating the Nakd bars, nuts and biscuits that had been taped to my Tailwind bottles. However I was feeling hungry, so glad when I arrived at Ancient Coriimg_4252nth to find Sarah and Mark had grabbed a table in the shade at the local café. Because they had skipped the Hellas Can CP, they had been here for hours, and enjoyed a three course meal already. On first name terms with the waitress (Magda), they ordered a coffee frappé as soon as they saw me arrive. They also had a rice pudding for me as well as an ice lolly. Great work by the crew and instant forgiveness for not showing up earlier. The frappé was delicious!

I walked out of Ancient Corinth, pausing to admire the ruined buildings, and then got back into my run / walk routine. It was still very hot and my feet were aching. I think the heat was making them swell, so my shoes were getting uncomfortable.

Own the night

I have always enjoyed running into the night, and the promise of cooler conditions meant I was eager for sunset. Before the race I’d decided that if I was struggling I would just try to hang on until sunset and then pick up the pace. As it was I was in pretty good shape as I ran towards Zevgolatio. The local children were out in force and flagged me down, so I stopped and signed a few autographs for them. I don’t expect I’ll be asked to do that again anytime soon. At the CP I picked up my head torch, and clipped a flashing red LED to the back on my waist belt.

There was a short section on an unpaved road which made a pleasant change, but then it was back onto the roads. I’d changed out of my vest into a fresh top, although at this stage it was still a warm night. My crew were doing a great job of keeping ahead of me and anticipating what I would need: cheese sandwich, hot coffee etc. all ready for my arrival at the checkpoints. If only they could have moved the trip hazards- video here

As well as my mum’s birthday, race day coincided with a new moon, so the sky was especially dark and the stars put on a great show. The long trek up the switch backs to the Mountain Base checkpoint were made bearable by just looking up from time to time to admire the spectacle of the Milky Way.

img_4285

At Mountain Base

I arrived at the CP and was given a hot drink by the volunteers. I couldn’t see Sarah or Mark, but a quick text message had them running over from the car park. It was about 3:40 am, and I was getting cold as I sat down to change my shoes. My road shoes are hopeless on trail, so I wanted to change to something with more grip. I also put on a long sleeved base layer, hat, gloves and jacket. I wasn’t expecting to run to the summit, or indeed down the other side, so wanted to stay warm. A change of head torch (I didn’t want the batteries running out), and I was on the move again in just a few minutes.

The climb was horrible. After a hundred miles of running my ankles, which have limited mobility at the best of times, were really stiff. A couple of times on the climb, I paused and wobbled, just trying to stay balanced. However I only fell once, and did no damage. The descent was as bad: loose rocks waiting for me to turn an ankle on; small rocks hiding in the shadows, waiting for me to stub my toe on. I stuck to the plan and walked down. I knew I’d lose time here, but better that than risk a bad fall that could end my race.

Mark and Sarah were waiting at Nestani, and I changed back into my road shoes. Statistically most runners who make it to Nestani ahead of the cutoffs make it to Sparta, but it’s still 75km to go, so far too early to feel safe.

Be Unstoppable

Sunrise normally brings a sense of relief – the start of a new day. However for me it brought a horrible realisation that, along with the mist that had rolled down off the mountain, literally chilled me to the core. I’d been running for 24 hours now, and realistically had at least 10 hours still to go until I finished. I’ve run five 100 miles races, but nothing longer, and although I should have been prepared for this it came as something of a shock. I had to shake this thought off and focus on the present. Just keep plodding to the next CP, then the next. Don’t think of the finish.

Drink some more

It’s Saturday morning and I realise that I may have gone a little overboard on my hydration strategy. In a race earlier this year I had a bladder problem which meant I had to stop and pee every 5 minutes even though nothing came out. One suggestion was that dehydration had contributed to the problem. Today though, when I do stop its like turning on a tap. I must be irrigating every olive grove in the Peloponnese. Despite the 30 degree heat I am clearly well hydrated, so can look forward to a beer at the finish line rather than a saline and glucose IV drip.

My frequent stops take my mind off the steady climb up to Ardamis. There’s a runner a few hundred meters ahead. Every time he starts to run I break into a jog too. My feet hurt, and as the day heats up they swell some more. All I can do is loosen my shoes and keep going.

Do not quit, do not quit, do not f*in’ quit

The eleventh point in my ten point plan, and another stolen instruction. One of the runners at the Centurion SDW100 had this written on a card, and when I read her blog I decided to copy the idea. It’s so easy to forget why you entered when you get tired and before you know it you’re on a bus. You’re then wondering why you quit, and regretting the decision for a year until you can come back for redemption!

I couldn’t quit. My crew would kill me. My children would kill me. Mark’s wife would kill me. I quit.

‘Get to CP 69 and it’s all downhill’ I’d been told, so I hung on, but the downhill was worse. My feet were swollen and in agony and the increased impact from running downhill was unbearable so I quit. Well not quite. I didn’t hand in my race number. I knew I still had plenty of time. But this wasn’t going to be the strong finish or sub 34 hour race I’d been hoping for. I was walking to Sparta now.

It was a long walk, but I now had the luxury of time, so I was under no pressure. It would have been great to run in and finish sooner, but my goal was to get to Sparta and I would achieve it. I started imagining that first cold beer, and broke into a jog. It hurt – a lot. Back to a walk.

The finish itself must make this a contender for ‘Best Race in the World’. Kids on bikes escort you the final 2 km through the town of Sparta to the finish. Local residents cheer and wave from every taverna and café. As I strolled towards the line someone shouted at me to run for a sub 35 finish, so I broke into jog. (video of finish here)

At the end there is no line to run over though, instead the race ends when you touch (or kiss) the feet of the statue of King Leonidas. You are rewarded with an olive wreath placed on your head, and drink of water from the local spring. The medical staff then wash and tend to your feet. I’ll write that twice as I still don’t believe it – they wash your feet – before fetching you a beer and releasing you from their care.

img_4362

We hung around, chatting with the rest of the British team, and cheering other runners home for a while, until I started shivering and Mark and Sarah dragged me off.

There is a lot about this race that I didn’t like. However it’s given me some fantastic memories, introduced me to some great new people, and for the quality of the Start and Finish alone, it’s worth the 246 km in between.

If I think of a good enough reason I’ll come back. However the best reason – to finish the race, has been used so I need another.

Samphire Challenge

The Samphire Challenge is a set of timed races (6, 12 or 24) that run alongside the Samphire 100, and is organised by Saxons, Vikings and Normans. The route is a lapped course around the Samphire Hoe nature reserve: an area created from the rock dug out during construction of the channel tunnel. A large out and back section is along the concrete path by the sea wall, with a shorter trail loop via race control at the visitor centre.

I’d entered the 6hr race and chosen to start at midnight, finishing at 6am on Sunday. My plan was to have a long night run as training, but I was also intrigued to see how I would find running multiple laps. I’d set a target of 40 miles (11 laps), which would require an average pace of 9 mins per mile.

In the two weeks before the race I’d been trying the Maffetone 2 week test, as well as run the North Downs marathon, and logged another 50 or so miles in training. If I completed the 40miles, I’d have done 120 in total for the two weeks, while eating a diet of mostly protein and fat, so I knew this would be tough.

The weather on Saturday was scorching, and I was concerned about how the 100 mile runners were coping (their race started at 8am). The forecast for the night was warm and humid, with an overnight low of 19C at 2am!

A warm night

A warm night

Vest and shorts weather was not what I’d been expecting.

After dinner at home, and sorting my kit I drove down to Dover. Vehicle access to Samphire Hoe is not permitted after 8pm, so I parked on a nearby road and walked down through the tunnel to the visitor centre. After registering, getting my number and sorting my drop bag for later, I was off. The Challenge runners can start when they choose, so there was no fanfare or pre-race chat, just sign in and go. I immediately met up with Jon Fielden who was on lap 20 of 27 (the Samphire 100). He looked fine, but tired, so I explained I was just starting, and then ran on. It was a strange felling, running on fresh legs at midnight, on a trail surrounded by runners who were 16 hours into a 100 mile race. Unsurprisingly I was the fastest person out there at that time, and I probably confused a few tired runners by looking so fresh and relaxed.

The first lap was really about getting to know the route. The first section was on an undulating trail, and then when down a steep section to the sea wall. There is then a long out an back on the flat concrete path by the sea wall, before back up the steep trail, and then back to the visitor centre.  I decided I’d walk up the steep section from the sea wall, and use my run 9min, walk 1 on the rest of the circuit. In races I always try to eat something after 30 mins and snack regularly. However after my first snack I felt rubbish. I’d had a decent meal only a few hours ago, unlike races which start at 6am, so I guess I just didn’t need more food.

I settled into a comfortable pace and started counting down the laps. The first 5 laps were done in 2:50, so I was slightly down on my target, but feeling good. During the next lap or two we were treated to a glorious sight of the moon setting. It was not quite a full moon, but as it sunk towards the sea it turned an amazing orange colour, which made the few clouds glow spectacularly. I wished I’d brought a camera, but as the checkpoint was every 3.7 mile I was only carrying a small flask of water and a bag of nuts and chocolate covered coffee beans – great nighttime energy.

By 4am it was getting light and I could see the faces of the 100 mile runners, rather than just the glare of head torches. I know that weary but determined look. I chatted to a few whenever I paused for a walk break. The looped nature and the out and back section meant you see people regularly, which is a great help. On point to point races you can go for hours without seeing another runner.

By lap 8 I realised I was too physically tired to push hard and make up time, and wouldn’t manage an 11th lap in the time available. However I was enjoying the sunrise, having no problems, eating and drinking enough, and happy to keep going. I’d noticed that the race organisers were giving the 100 mile runners a flag to carry on their final lap, so everyone who saw them could give them a little extra encouragement and support. I was on my 10th lap when I saw Jon, running towards me and looking like Eddie Izzard with his flag! A high 5 as we passed each other on the sea wall, and then I ran on to make my final turn before the run back.

I completed lap 10 in 5:58:48, so I could have set off for an 11th, but I was ready to stop, and happy with how it went. There were a few other finishers sitting at the visitor centre, so hung around for an hour while eating and getting myself ready to drive home.

What did I learn :

  • Lapped courses are fine. I might get bored with the scenery after a while, but having other people around makes up for it
  • Having a CP every 3.7 miles can waste a lot of time if you always stop
  • Running 37 miles is a lot easier than running 100!
  • SVN hand out some serious race bling for finishers
The route

The route

Huge medal

Huge medal

North Downs Marathon

I’m one week in to the Maffetone two week test – eating no sugar or refined carbs. My goal for this race was simply to survive and finish, using just energy reserves stored in my body. I had water, and an emergency gel, but was not planning on eating. Unusually for a race, I wore a heart rate monitor, to try and help ensure I kept my HR low and in the fat burning zone. The plan was to keep HR at 135 – 140.

The North Downs Way between Reigate Hill and Denbies Estate is amazing. The trail alternates between sheltered woods and wide open meadows with superb views to the south over the Surrey Hills. It’s one of my favourite places to run. Unfortunately on Sunday the  it was overcast and alternating between 100% humidity, drizzle and light rain. I had my sun cream and sun glasses, but during a few of the wooded sections I really wished I’d brought a head torch as it was so dark.

Sarah and the children had decided to come with me, although their plan was simply to play around Box Hill rather than try and follow the race. Race Registration and the start and finish was at the Reigate Hill Golf club, so after getting my race bib, I had a coffee and a chat with Bryan and Conrad. At 9, Dave Ross sent us on our way. The first mile was fairly flat, so I managed to run reasonably near the front, but then in the second mile the route climbed 300ft, and I had to slow to keep my heart rate from soaring. From Reigate Hill and along the ridge to Colley Hill is flat, and then there is a steep drop down a technical track to another flat section at the base of the downs.

After six miles the trail starts to climb again, heading slowly up to Box Hill. I walked the steps up, mindful that my heart rate had been pushing up to 150, and would be burning carbs for fuel, and I had no plans to eat any in the race. The steps down the other side felt fine, but in places the chalk path was slippery I saw a couple of runners slide and fall. The race route goes over the stepping stones rather than the bridge, which is fun and makes for a good photo. My family were here to watch, and the children had been running back and forth over the stones when there was a gap between runners. Fortunately no one slipped and fell in.

NDM-SteppingStones

The Stepping Stones – Photo by Jon Lavis

The route briefly follows the A24, to go through the underpass, and then back up to the Denbies Wine Estate. It climbs 400 ft over the next two miles, but for the most part the gradient was not too bad, so I ran up slowly but steadily.  Finally I reached Ranmore Road, and then ran on a little way further to the turn around point, and began the run back.

The long downhill section through Denbies was fast and fun, but the section at the A24 was very crowded. In addition to our race there was the Badger half marathon and a cycling race, all sharing the same section of path and adjacent cycle track. Fortunately after the underpass, we had the route to ourselves again. I was starting to feel a little low at this point. My energy levels were down, and it felt like I had run much further than the 16.5 miles my garmin was showing. Normally I’d take a gel and push on, but instead I slowed down and tried to recover.

After the crossing the stepping stones again, it was now back up the steps to the top of Box Hill. Even though I walked the steep section, my heart rate still hit 152 here.

NDM-BoxHillSteps

The long climb up Box Hill – photo by Jon Lavis

The run along the top of Box Hill was fun, as was the descent, but after crossing Buckland Lane at 21 miles I had to slow down again a few people ran passed me. The last big climb up to Colley Hill was slow and painful, and my right hip and glute were causing some pain, but with only 3 miles left now I was nearly done, so pushed on to Reigate Hill and then the drop back down to the golf club and the finish line. At the finish

My time (4:21:51) was largely irrelevant. I’ve been starving myself of carbs all week, and my body has not yet adjusted to this new regime, so I was just glad to finish. I did feel a little wobbly after the race, but fortunately they were serving food at the golf club, and after an omelette and salad I was feeling much better.

img_1916

Huge Medal!

https://www.strava.com/activities/636571319/embed/1bc40a3b6839f049d73c36b986592f9dd53c926f

Bewl Water again

I’ve run the Bewl Water marathon twice, but never the ultra. However this year it was a perfect fit for my race schedule so I signed up early and targeted it as a hard race and good test of my endurance before my 100 mile race in June. I believed I could run the three lap (37.5 mile) route in 5:20 and after seeing that last year’s winning time was 5:47:15 I thought I might be in with a chance of a race win.

The weather was on my side as after a warm and dry couple of days the forecasters were predicting 11C and dry on race day. Perfect conditions to run and although the trail had a few muddy sections it was generally in great condition.

The race start was 8:30, but as Bewl is only 10 miles from my front door it was a relatively civilised start time, and after registering I lined up on the start line in the cool breeze, desperate to be off. At 8:30 Dave Ross (RD) sent us off, and almost immediately two guys broke away and disappeared. I figured their pace was far too fast for me and would end in either spectacular glory or more likely a spectacular blow up. I let them go and settled in to a chase group of five runners.

160514223225_H

Leading the chase group after 1.5 miles. I guess the photographer didn’t like my race face!

We ran the first 5 miles together in just under 40 minutes, swapping positions a few times, but sticking together. This felt comfortable and the first five miles is one of the easier sections of the route, but even so, i felt this was still too fast for my target of 5:20.  When our group started to break up on the first significant climb, I let two of them push ahead and settled into 5th position. The next few miles I ran alone, but then after the third checkpoint, I caught and passed one of the guys who had been in our chase group, and pressed on in 4th position. I was walking the steep sections and using the walk breaks as an opportunity to take a gel and drink. After a steep climb up to the car park at the Bewl visitor centre it’s 0.75 mile to the start / finish line and the end of lap one. I paused to refill my bottle and check the time. 1:41:30 for the first lap was ahead of schedule but not so fast that I was concerned. I could just see the 3rd place runner a couple of hundred metres ahead of me as I started lap two and hoped if I kept up the pace I would soon catch him.

Lap 2 was very different from the first lap. The Half Marathon race had started at 10am, so about 12 minutes before I set out on my lap, and it wasn’t long before I started passing runners from that race. The whole event has a friendly atmosphere and when they heard me coming, all the half marathon runners waved me through. However I run with a light step and unless it’s a 10k my breathing is nearly silent. A few people didn’t hear me coming and I startled one poor woman as I suddenly appeared at her shoulder. Sorry!

Sarah was running the half with a few of her friends, and their cheerful encouragement as I passed them gave me a lift. The lap seemed to go really quickly and before I knew it I was at the third CP on the lap and well over halfway through the race. Physically I felt fine, but mentally I was feeling tired. I found it hard to judge my pace on this section, and when I saw a group of runners in front I wasn’t sure how aggressively I should chase them down and pass them. It’s always tricky when there are multiple races on the same route, and I had to check my garmin every minute or so to ensure my pace was on target. Lap 2 ended in 3:25, so a 1:43:30 lap. Slightly slower than the first lap, but still ahead of my target.

Lap 3 was always going to be where the race really happens, and the trail was now empty again for the next few miles. I tried to get back into a steady rhythm and run decent 8:20 minute miles and hopefully reel in the leaders. I was still in fourth, but surely the early lead pair would blow up soon.

160514222655_H

Running alone

I was passing a few marathon runners now, but as I ran up the road section to the 2nd checkpoint of the lap, I thought I recognised one of the runners from the original lead pair. At the CP he stopped, and when he turned I saw his green race number just as he saw mine. At Bewl green numbers are for the 37.5 mile race, and when he saw mine, he grumbled about being caught, but set off with me for the last 7 miles.

After the CP is a fast downhill on the road, and then a steep climb, and I’d walked it on the previous laps so walked again, while Mike ( I learned his name later) ran passed me. At the top of the hill he was only about 100m ahead, and I was sure I would catch him over the next 5 miles. However despite running hard he never seemed to get any closer. At one point I was running 7:30 pace (practically sprinting in an ultra) and still not gaining on him.

With a mile to go I got to the bottom of the final hill. I could see Mike just turning right at the top, and knew there was no time left to catch him. He was running too well for me to catch him over the last downhill section. Despite that I pushed hard and must have passed a dozen or more of the marathon runners. I knew I was well inside my target time of 5:20, but would finish in 4th place. Fourth really is the worst finishing place- I’ve been there a few time as my daughter likes to remind me.

As I ran down the hill to the the finish, both my children ran out to join me. At the local Parkrun they always manage to outsprint me to line (that’s what dads do right?), so they seemed a little surprised that they couldn’t keep up.

I crossed the line in 5:11:22, so a good time and well inside my target. I saw Mike, congratulated him on his run and thanked him for making me push so hard over the last few miles. I was then surprised and delighted when handed a 3rd place trophy. Either I had mis-counted, or one of the early leaders had dropped out.

A lovely 3rd place trophy

Very smart finishers medal

The race was won by Kristian Morgan in 4:53:21 with Mike Wilson in second place in 5:10:13. Full results Race results