End Of The Road

There are some relationships that you hope will last forever – like the one with your best mate at school or your loving wife.  There are some that last longer than you expected or even dared to hope, like the rebound from a nasty break up that you end up marrying. Then there are the relationships that you know from the start have a definite expiry date – when a greasy boy on a moped knocks on the door to take your daughter out.

Screenshot_20180917_150821

This week saw the end of one of those relationships, and even though I know it’s coming to an end and things are beginning to get painful, I will always have the memories.  This loving partnership began as davthe long runs were beginning to build before the Boston Marathon.  The relationship began in haste as I realised my old loves were beginning to fail on me, and we needed to bond before the big day in Lincolnshire.  It didn’t take long to feel the connection, I had been running with your sister for a long time before you, but now we’ve run our course.

After 564.6 km we’re run to the end of the road.  Over time you have begun to let yourself go at the seams, you’ve become less forgiving, and above all else you’ve begun to give me blisters.  This can’t go on.  I don’t want this to sound like a bitter breakup because it isn’t; we have just gone as far as we can.  We’ve had some rough runs; we’ve had some good runs.  There has also had a few PBs along the way.

There is an upside to this tale of woe.  The new love, the next journey, the next run.

dav

 

Advertisements

4 adults, 3 kids, 2 dogs and a trailer

Sometimes when you head out the door for a run or a ride, you just know it’s going to offer something to write about – whether that’s due to distance, conditions or breaking new ground personally. This was not one of those rides; this was just a gentle ride with the kids and some friends. It seemed like a good idea at the time – it was a good idea – but maybe not as thought out as it should have been.

We had gone camping with our friends Hannah, Tom and their two and a half year son, for the weekend just outside Exmouth. Where we were staying had all the credentials received_686074208437045needed for a good campsite – namely it was close to a traffic free cycle route. The plan was to go for a bit of a ride as Hannah is riding from London to Cambridge in September to raise money for Bloodwise. So that’s 4 adults, 3 kids (2 on bikes one in a bike seat or on his balance bike), 2 dogs, and a bike trailer off for a relaxing ride along the Exe in the sun. Terrific.

I’d like to say it all started so well, and it did for about 20 minutes. One of the reasons for the ride was for Hannah to get used to riding a road bike and using clipless shoes. Yep, that’s right first time on a drop bar road bike and first time clipped in. If I was to tell you that Hannah’s first ‘clipped in’ moment happened fairly early on, you’d probably assume it was one of the dogs or a child cut across her or hitting her front wheel. You’d be wrong, it wasn’t. It was her husband. All was going just fine, a bit stop start as we battled to control a pair of excitable dogs.

As we got to a point where a spur comes off the route to go to a National Trust property Tom decided fairly late on to pull over to the side to see where it goes. Rather than pulling in on the left, he swings across Hannah’s line to read a sign on the right hand side. Being unable to get unclipped quick enough Hannah is a jumbled mess of human and road bike in the middle of the path (probably at the busiest part of the route) to a chorus of ‘ohhh’s. Luckily she was unhurt – and so is Tom, I wouldn’t have wanted to be responsible for my wife’s first clipped in fall (but I kind of am, gravel riding not long after the wife got ‘clippy shoes’ was not my finest idea). To add insult to tarmac impact the route Tom stopped to look at didn’t really go anywhere.

Once separated from her bike and to her feet we carried on in the direction we were headed – I can confirm from a clipped in incident a few weeks ago (which did include a child) getting unclipped while your arse is on terra firma isn’t all that easy and certainly not with an audience. It isn’t all that long before I need to stop again.

This time not for a clipped in calamity but for a dog based one of our own making. With our surrogate dog beginning to advance in years, we are conscious that she can’t run at cycling pace – even kiddy cycling pace – for too far. She can out run me – easily – for about 7 km or so but much more than 10k she starts to wane, this becomes obvious when she is happy for me to be at the front. With this in mind, plus the stress that she could cause a pile up worthy of a road closure at any moment, we decide to put her in the bike trailer.

At this point I become that person, the person who you see on pretty much any traffic poppy square.jpgfree cycle route – usually middle aged, usually a poodle – towing a bloody dog in a kid’s trailer. After a bit of faffing shortening the lead and doing up the harnesses – in an effort to prevent her from stepping out – we are on the move again. It’s been a far few years since I towed this trailer – not enough for my daughter to stop reminding me how I all but rolled it with both kids in it going down some (3)stairs – and I had forgotten how jerky it was. There is a very definite lag as the bike rolls over the top of a hill before the trailer tops out and you begin to speed up. We start of not much quicker than walking pace to make sure she is happy to stay put – which she is for a while.

Before too long I begin to hear a bit of noise from the trailer, which could either be “I would like to run for a bit now” or “I really need to poo, let me out NOW”. Not wanting to received_288708548607142risk option 2, I stop and let her out for a bit of a run. At this point we decide to try and put Tom and Hannah’s dog Baxter in for a rest. She jumps in after a little persuasion and is secured in the same manner as Poppy (no that isn’t a typo she is a girl dog called Baxter; I assumed I had misheard her name for quite a while before asking – rescue dog that had already been named). However as soon as we are moving she tries to jump out the back of the trailer, so we stop calm her down again and once she is lying down I go again. Again she tries to escape out the back. At this point I abandon the attempt at ferrying Baxter and we are back to having two free range dogs, and all the chaos that brings.

Thankfully the trail is a bit quieter now and we don’t cause a multi bike pile-up. It’s no less stressful however when bikes do come the other way, especially when the kids – with good intentions – call the dogs too. This just seems to confuse them as to who to listen to, and they just stop dead right in the middle of the path. When I say them I mostly mean Poppy.

Before too long we reach a section of road, so Poppy goes back in the trailer (she is blowing again by this point and appears to be happy for a lie down). We negotiate the section of road, which includes a little drag up and down into Lympstone, before climbing back up onto the traffic free section. The use of ‘drag’ feels poignant as I dragged the dog laden trailer up and over the rises. The trouble is I couldn’t just keep it in the big ring and just get out the saddle as that would probably been a bit too jerky for the passenger, so I just found a gear and span my way up – I’ll be honest though, as we came down the other side I really wasn’t looking forward to coming back up it again.

Just as we get to Exton, Tom decides that he and Baxter had better start heading back. It’s starting to get fairly warm and with Baxter‘s reluctance to stay in the trailer means she has had to run a fair way and will have to run back again too. So that leaves three adults, two kids and a dog (still in the trailer) heading on.

We carry on without incident to Topsham, and after a quick strategy meeting we decide that rather than carrying on up the Exeter and back down the other side of the estuary to a foot ferry (that we didn’t know took bikes or dogs) back to Exmouth we could retrace our tracks back to Exmouth.

A few kilometres back and I need to stop, again. Poppy is becoming a little restless in the received_880543588808696trailer, but as we are at the start of the longer sections of road I can let her out. I tell everyone to carry on as I stop and spend a bit of time giving Poppy a bit of attention. She soon settles down and so begins the most ridiculous attempt at catching other cyclist I have ever been a part of. Normally it a case of going hard on the flats and hills and squeezing out as much speed as possible on the descents. Not in this case; gently pootling along on the flat, going as quick as I can on the climbs without fully attacking them – I’m still a bit cautious about the dog in the trailer – and braking (heavily) on the descents so I don’t freak the dog out and make her want to exit a la Baxter (i.e. try to jump out a moving trailer). Think OJ Simpson on the 405 and you won’t be far off, but with less waving (but plenty of “oh look how cute” which I assume was aimed to the dog not me) from passers-by and no police presence.

I finally catch up with everyone just before the scene of Hannah’s introduction to riding with idiots while clipped to a bike and we roll back to where the cars are parked together. Amazingly I can report that no dogs, children or adults were harming in this pursuit of cycling pleasure, and we have agreed to do it again – but we may (or will) leave the dogs at home next time.

For more on why Hannah is riding from London to Cambridge, or to donate click on the link below:

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/James-Deacon11

 

Hope for the best

As a follow up to a flat road marathon, Hope24 is a pretty special way to go about keeping the legs ticking over.  Hope24 is a 24 hour, multiple 5 mile lapped race in the Newnham Park, just outside Plymouth.  The aim is to do as many laps as you can (or want) within the 24 hours.

IMG_1876Not being brave enough to tackle something so far out of my comfort zone, which this most definitely is, on my own I formulated a cunning plan.  I got Tom (who has quickly become my running wife, i.e. when I see a race I think I fancy I run it passed him for authorisation that either he is coming too, or I’m allowed to run it without him) drunk.  Once he is a few drinks in, I planted the seed of doing it as a relay team of two.  I promise you it wasn’t as manipulative as I have made that sound.  After coming to terms with the idea of relaying it, it occurred to me (via my actual wife) that if we soloed it, we could run together, so I broached the subject with Tom – without getting him drunk first.  So, it was decided, we are doing a 24 hour race as soloists.  Shit got real.

The build up to Hope24 had been fairly ordinary.  I had planned to train for this like it was another marathon, but my mileage has been hovering around the 18 miles a week mark.  With no actual target to focus on I was just going out for a run when I fancied it, rather than working towards a goal.  Apparently it’s just a bit of fun.

Over the weeks leading up to race day, I began to allow myself to daydream about what I might set as a target. 30 miles? More? Or just the ability to walk on Monday morning?  Race weekend comes along way before I think I am ready, but there isn’t much I can do now; just suck it up get on with it. 

We (as in the wife and I) arrive at Newnham Park a little later than we had planned, and found TomIMG_1869 already set up.  We quickly put up our tent, but then have a three man battle with the gazeebo before collecting our race numbers and change into our running kit, and make our way to the start/finish arch.  At this point I’m not sure how I feel, the usual pre-race nerves aren’t really there its just the journey into the unknown.  I’m not sure what started the race. Could have been a klaxon, a gun or just a mild mannered “Go!”; but the runners in front started running so I went too. 

Lap 1

We trundle off, conscious that it’s a long way to go, along the grass starting straight and round onto a gravel road which runs back the other way past the start/finish line.  The first kilometre and a half is a flat affair as we turn and double back on ourselves as we go around the camping area, cross a stream and to the bottom of the first climb of the route.  At this point we join the only bit of tarmac as the route rears up for the first time.  The tarmac only lasts for 400 metres or so, but that consists of a ramp to start, before the gradient slackens and goes up again.  We turn off the road and the gradient eases dramatically, it’s still a climb but it’s not much more than a false flat with a few banks along the way.  As it is the first lap, and we are both novice idiots, we decide to go against the grain and run the whole climb (and subsequently the whole lap). 

Once we reach the top we turn off the 4×4 dual track and on to a short stretch single track which weaves its way between the trees.   Before the single track has really started we are taking a hard left and running up a gravelly little ramp to join another 4×4 track as we pass through the woods.  We spend the next 500m or so running along wide tracks in the woods before coming out into a glade of massive ferns – it could have been a set from Jurassic Park, and I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a runner in front taken out by a velociraptor.  Once through the Jurassic period we are back into the woods, but this time the trail is much tighter as we weave through older woodland, rather than the managed woods previously.  This is a lovely quick section as we continue to drop down the other side of the first climb.

Once out of the woods again, we are back onto the forest tracks as we continue to descend further until we hit the final bit of woods on this descent.  The best section was definitely saved until last as we hurdle rocks and tree roots, navigate tight turns plus a few short sharp climbs and steep dips to keep the legs awake.

Once out the woods we, once again, join a gravel road which we follow for a while, gradually climbing until we hit the second proper climb.  It starts off with a short dig, before slacking off to a longer drag of a climb.  Once we top out it’s an even descent to a tight right-hand hairpin and across the stream on a little bridge.

IMG_1873Once off the bridge, it’s up a little scramble up a rooty bank and along a track towards the finish line.  Just as you can see the field that the finish line and camping area all that hope is torn away as the route takes a left hander up another short, but sharp, ramp.  The hill then flattens and rises for half a kilometre.  At the top we come out into a field above the finishing field.  We contour across the field, gradually descending until we turn and drop down to cross the first gravel road and through the main camping area.

As our race progressed the back straight through the camping area as we approached the finish line was christened ‘The Prick’s Parade’ by Tom.  This, he tells me, came from the way I, subconsciously, would speed up as we passed the camping area towards the end of the lap.  I guess that makes me the prick of the parade.

At some point around the first lap I ask Tom if he has goal for the race and – serendipity would have it that – we both had the same internal secret target; 50 miles.  50 miles, when neither of us have really trained properly – we really are perfect for each other, we are both bloody idiots.

Lap 2

After a quick burrito and coffee stop we head out for our second lap. It starts pretty much the same way as the first as we run comfortably within ourselves, but as we get to the bottom of the big climb we have a decision to make.  Walking in a race is an uncomfortable topic, and I have never chosen to walk in a race before.  I have walked in a race before – after I had detonated at my first marathon and getting caught at the back of a group on a narrow, steep climb at a trail race – but it’s never been a conscious, tactical decision.

As we hit the bottom of the climb we slow and look at each other, slightly uncomfortably as I don’t think either of us want to be the one that walks first.  It was me; I shut it down and walked first.  Once we areIMG_1871 off the tarmac we begin to run again and we run the remainder of the climb.  We continue to run until we hit the second climb of the lap.  At this point we shut it down again – with more awkward sideways glances.   As we reach the top we both – seamlessly – start to run again.  This, again, continued until we reached the last climb at which point we walked the steepest part and then ran again once the gradient had eased.  We dropped down to the finishing field and I seemingly continued my proud ‘prick of prick parade’ tradition.

We continue the strategy of grabbing a bite to eat (and a cuppa) between laps and head back out, although these breaks began to lengthen as our discipline began to wane.  As we go further into Saturday the laps seem to merge into snapshots of other runner’s backs and the odd incident.  At some point during these transient hours, as we are making our way through a section of winding single track through the woods I hear the god awful combination of stumbling, swearing and other runners gasping.  I spin around, half expecting to turn just in time for Tom to land on my face.  Luckily for me, as I turn he appears to be half way through an advanced yoga position (while in mid-air) as he heads for the nearest tree.  Somehow, and I still don’t know how, he manages to sort his feet out, not implant his face into said tree and carry on running – it seems barely braking stride. 

We planned to get six laps in, then stop for some proper food and then reassess.  We finished our 6th lap at about 9 o’clock and returned to find my – long suffering – wife, who was crewing for us, sat in the gazeebo chatting to another runner.  We sit down, grab a drink and join in the conversation.  The other runner did give us her name, but I’m rubbish with names at the best of time.  She was using Hope24 as a training race for a 100 mile race later in the year.  Even with my merging memories of the later part of Saturday’s events I remember being impressed by how fresh she still looked and how far she had already gone (I’m still massively impressed by her efforts).  We finally got round to having food at all but 10 o’clock, once we had eaten our gnocchi it was getting pretty close to 11, so we decided the best course of action was a beer and bed (with a 5 am alarm call) rather than knocking out another lap.  The one advantage, I think, to spending that time sat around chatting before eating was it gave us a chance to rehydrate which we might not have otherwise had.

After several snoozed alarms, I manage to get out of my sleeping bag before the (small) sensible part of my brain continues the snooze cycle.  Bleary eyed I clamber out of the tent, expecting every fibre of my body to be screaming at me.  I straighten up, have a stretch and put the kettle on.  Regardless of how I feel, coffee will make it better – a lot better.  Tom’s up, and thankfully looks as sleep deprived as I feel (and probably look).  Somehow I don’t feel like a rusty robot; I daren’t try to touch my toes, but I feel amazingly good considering.   Breakfast of burritos and coffee is chowed down and we are good to go.  On a side note, I will try to remember that dinner type foods go out much better than breakfast type when you have to drag yourself out your pit at a disgusting time in the morning.

Gingerly we walk across the camping field towards the start/finish straight.  I really am expecting it to take a lap, maybe even more, for the legs to free up and move in a way that even resembles running.  After a couple of paces it felt good, not fresh as a daisy good but good enough to instil a bit of confidence that I would be able to keep going.

By now there is no more little looks of ‘Are we going to walk this hill?’  We continue to run the majorityIMG_1872 of the lap but the three big climbs are walked, along with the gravelly ‘hidden hill’ just after the first bit of single track. 

I think it was at some point during the 8th lap where I mention that if we manage to ‘sneak in an extra lap’ we would have done a double marathon.   This goes down surprisingly well – I think Tom had also had the same thought – and the goal post seems to have moved.

The rest of the 8th lap and the majority of the 9th go by without incident, until we reach the second stream crossing.  As I try to bound up – in my mind it would be an elegant bound – the rooty bank back up to the gravel track.  As I lift my right foot at clear the first set of roots I just catch my toes, and whether it’s because of the lack of sleep or the miles in the legs I can’t react in time.  Before I really manage to process what is going on I’m on my hand and knees scrambling to get up the bank and back to my feet.

We finish lap 9 and head back to camp for a bit of food and recruit an extra member.  Sian, my wife, had entered the Hope5 (which is a single lap of Hope24) and I had been looking forward to this lap all morning.  We head back out and run the loop around the camping ground to the first hill.  We stop to walk it.  It’s at this point I realise how slowly we are now walking up the hills, as Sian walks up chatting away,  I realise how hard it is to keep up with her.  We get to the top of the tarmac and begin to run again as we turn onto the rocky track.  We get about half way up and Sian rolls her foot off a rock, jarring her foot.  After a bit of run/walk she tells Tom and I to, well, she told us to go our own way so she could pace it how she wanted to, rather than feeling like she had to force herself to push harder than she wanted for our sake.  After a couple of prompts I give her a fist full of sweets and we push on, trying to get back in time to start the 11th lap before midday.  I won’t lie, I felt like a bit of an arsehole for the remainder of the lap, but with a deadline looming we seem to get around the lap at a fairly respectable pace.

We cross the line with 13 minutes or so to spare.  I dash back to the tent and make a couple of burritos and fill up my water bottles.  We trot across the field and re-join the race in time to do the extra lap.  As we do I see Sian coming across the grass bank above the camping field.  I give her a shout and a wave, and to my relief she waves back.  We continue to walk as we eat our burritos as Sian makes her way along prick’s parade and around the last bend.  I cut across to reach her on the home straight and she looks like she has really enjoyed it.  I watch her run off down the finishing straight, both proud as punch but also thoroughly relieved that she isn’t pissed off with me.

We’ve finished eating, but still walking.  Without the time constraint still on us it suddenly becomesIMG_1870 really hard to make ourselves run.  We pick a point a few metres ahead as the point we start running.  We hold a run all the way to the bottom of the tarmac hill and instantly drop back to a walk.  Once off the black top we run/walk the rest of the way to the top.  We try to run the flat and down hills, especially the bits through the woods.  Once we drop out the woods we walk the flat to the second climb and begin running again on the other side.  We then manage to hold a run all the way to the final climb, but this time we decide to walk all the way to the top, not just the steepest section – I say decide, we didn’t decide we just did.

We did, however, have the where with all to start running again before we came out onto the field IMG_1874above the camping field, just in case anyone was still there to see.  We get across the field, and make our way along the prick’s parade for the last time.  I tell Tom that when we get round the corner I am going to ‘go for home’ and dip him at the line.  As we round the corner I feign to go and get no reaction from him, I guess he really did mean it when he said he couldn’t care less.  We cross the line together, not quite skipping and holding hands but after pushing each other all the way it would have felt wrong to race one another at the end.  I’ll have him next time though, I can only give him one bye.  It’s a testament to Tom, that despite running together for the best part of 10 hours at no point did I have to resort to listening to my iPod – in fact I didn’t even carry it with me at any point.   He is a seriously upbeat kind of guy – and I’m aIMG_1867 grumpy old bastard that has a habit of getting pissed off by people I spend a lot of time with – and seems to have a vast array anecdotes for any situation.

According to my Garmin we covered the 86.58 kilometres in 9 hours 43 minutes and change (moving time rather than total time – total time was 22:36:47).  To be honest if I had been offered that on Saturday morning I would have bitten your hand off at the shoulder, so I really should be happy with how it all went.  I am hugely proud with how Sian got on with her first race.  Especially as she was worried that she would finish last.  She didn’t but more importantly she loved it – and doesn’t hate me for leaving her.  We have also talked about racing together again, which is a right result.

https://www.strava.com/activities/1644597737/embed/a80dbe681c17ca4b902a070016fde896a8802e23

All photographer (other than the last two) taken by AG Images

Cashing The Cheque

The problem with setting targets – especially when you then begin to broadcast them – is that there comes a point when your body has to cash the cheques your ego has been writing.  For me that day came at the Boston (UK) Marathon. 

The race starts in Boston’s market square before passing the finish line and out of the town and into the countryside.  The first few kilometres were just about trying to find whatever rhythm I could while the IMG_1428field thinned out.  By around the 5 km mark the race had thinned into clumps of runners and I found myself with another runner from ‘somewhere or other’ Spartans running club (I didn’t even catch her name, but I think her running vest had Ruth on the front).  At this point we were running at around 4 minute 45 second kilometres, which is a bit quicker than target pace, but it felt very comfortable and having never run very far on the flat I didn’t really know what pace was sustainable so I decide to just go with it. The race route is unbelievably flat – as advertised – and I can honestly say that the only gradients that I noticed were a pair of bridges over Hobhole Drain.  Out of Boston the route take us through field after field of arable farm land – some fields big enough to be considered counties in their own right.  Despite most of the route being rural, the support from the side of the road was brilliant.  Even as the race began to stretch out there was always a chirpy spectator, marshal or water station to shout (encouragement) at you. IMG_1462

I run through 10 km, and then 15 km still holding the same pace and still feeling comfortable, it’s somewhere around this point that I separate from my run buddy as she appears to need to drop her pace a little (I accept it is unlikely she will read this, but I hope you got your GFA time).  I try to carry on at the same pace without trying too hard.   

As the morning mist finally began to lift the never ending horizon of this part of the world began to show itself.  I have lived in Devon for over 15 years now, but spent 6 years before that in Suffolk and I thought that was flat before I arrived in Lincolnshire.  I’m still not entirely sure if the Lincolnshire horizon is where the sky meets the ground or just where my eyesight is beginning to fail. 

Ross 2 (1 of 1) (1)

As I pass the 20 km mark I begin to start doing some time extrapolations along the lines of “if I carry on at this pace I’ll finish in…” and so on.  Now this is all well and good while the going is good – and it was good up to and just passed the 30 km mark but it can come back to haunt you if you find yourself locked away in the hurt box. 

All the way to 30 kilometres all had felt reasonably comfortable, but soon after it became decidedly uncomfortable.   I began to feel my pace dropping, not too much at first but it definitely began to feel Ross 3 (1 of 1)more of an effort as I passed from the distances I had run in training and the fatigue began to bite.  By the time I got to 35 km my quads were screaming and my pace had disintegrated.  Every time my feet hit the ground 10,000 volts of electricity was sent straight to my quads.  Anything more than a survivor’s shuffle felt impossible. The only thing that kept me running was the guy about 20 to 30 metres in front of me.   Although I felt like I was hardly moving, he wasn’t pulling away from me, so I just concentrated on keeping him in sight, and slowly (emphasis on slowly) I began to try and reel him in.  Now, I’m aware that this makes me seem like a bit of a wanker but it wasn’t about beating the guy in front it was just about getting everything I could out of myself.  I just had to keep telling myself that I only had to run another 3 miles, then another 4 km and so on.  Mentally I think this 5 km was the hardest thing I think I have done, stopping myself from chucking in the towel and walking.  I’m not sure I was exactly running in the truest sense, but I didn’t give in and walk. 

As the route takes me back into Boston I began to feel better.  Not so much physically, but mentally I feel a boost.  The finish was almost in sight.  As the finish draws closer I have never been happier to see a row of road cones as they funnel runners to the right hand side of the road.  I begin to pick up the pace again, trying to hide the last four miles of dark suffering from the runners who have already finished and the spectators giving up their Sunday morning to cheer us on.  I round the final corner andIMG_1511 across the finish line.  No celebrations and certainly no dabs.  Barely even a smile through gritted teeth. 

Reflecting on the training, I felt that it had gone reasonable well.  I followed the same training plan I had for my only other marathon, at the Eden Project.  This time however, I tried to include more hilly runs, and more off-road running to help mix up the training and to vary the load on the body.  The biggest advantage I had this time was an actual proper running watch.  While training for the Eden Marathon I had to track my runs using my Garmin Edge bike computer in my pocket.  This was fine in the most part where I just wanted to run for a certain time at an easy pace or a tempo block. The issues came when I needed to do specific efforts and distances. This time I just needed to program it into the watch and it would beep, bing or vibrate whenever I needed to change it up.   

The one thing I don’t think I trained well for at all, nor am I sure how to train for, is pacing.  I get the feeling that you can only learn to pace a marathon properly is by running more marathons, but after feeling like I was comfortable for over 30 kilometres I was in the suffer box with my guts beginning to protest and my quads shot.  I haven’t got the pacing aspect dialled in yet, but if I am going to be able to push on and find how fast I can go I need to find out how to manage the race better – but then maybe nobody can pace a marathon and you just learn to suffer better.  That’s not to say I am disappointed with my time, but I would like to be able to finish a marathon feeling that everything went as well as I could have hoped.  I think that’s the marathon dream. 

So that brings me back to time.  I set out targeting a sub 3 hour 30 minute finish time, and if I was offered this before I started I would have bitten your hand off at the shoulder. I got in under that, at 3 hours 28 minutes and 56 seconds (knocking over 30 minutes off my PB), and while I am pleased with the time, it also leaves me with a tinge of disappointment.  This is mostly due to the way that the wheels came off towards the end.  I don’t know if it was just I went off too strong, or the unfamiliar terrain – running on the flat is harder than I thought it would be – but I didn’t anticipate my legs objecting in the way they did.  Fatigue yes, but an actual revolt was not a part of the mental preparation, but this hasn’t put me off marathons so I guess I will have more chances to perfect the art. 

IMG_1513

On a personal note, I would very much like to thank my wife for spending the better part of 2 days to travel half the length of the country to watch me run away and then run back a long time later, and also to my parents for performing grandchild sitting duties and the biggest (and best) roast dinner upon our return. 

Picture Credit: Pictures 3 and 4 taken by Market House Photography Group (http://mhpgls.wixsite.com/mhpg

Project THREE:30?

IMG_20150926_102349

It’s that time of year again when we start making an exhaustive list of races that we want to do, or at least that is true for me. My list is usually starts about 10 races long, and most are unrealistic in at least one aspect (hundreds of miles away, child’s birthday, an ultra; you get the idea). So this year I have decided to set a couple of targets. While out training I was listening to a Marathon Talk podcast and the topic of setting targets was discussed – and also how to commit to them. The easiest way to get yourself to commit to something is to tell people about it, but I don’t want to be banging on about how I am going to be doing this, that and the other to anyone that will listen, I don’t want to be that guy (because nobody likes that guy!). In an effort to prevent me being the person everyone avoids in the pub, I have decided to keep my list of sporting confidants to just a few people (the lucky bastards) – and also the faceless masses of the internet.

The first target is a yearlong one, mileage. Last year was my biggest running year,

IMG_20151122_183914

totalling 829km – up on the 655km I ran in 2016. So this year I am going to aim high (for me) and hit out for 1600km. I know that’s quite a jump from last year, but why set a target you can reach by October? In my head the maths works, I am looking to enter a couple of marathons this year, along with some half marathons and one or two in-between – see first paragraph for race list caveat. So with the increased training that marathons require a thousand miles could be possible. Maybe.

The second target is more difficult to commit to. Predominantly this is due to not being entirely sure if I can achieve it. I have entered Boston Marathon (Lincolnshire, not Massachusetts), which was my race of choice for a couple of reasons. One being I can tell people I have done the Boston Marathon; and the second, its flat and living in Devon I don’t race – or even train – flat. The South West is a lot of things, including beautiful, but flat it most certainly is not. With the topography of the Boston marathon being what it is – flatter than a witch’s tit – the question of time comes up; are you going after a quick time?

So, what is a quick time? To qualify for a good for age place at the London Marathon I

IMG_0849

would need to run a sub 3 hour 05 minute marathon and that is not going to happen, even if the race was entirely downhill. With ‘good for age’ out the window, what would make a good time for me? What time would I be happy with? Obviously, as with any race, my first concern is getting around in one piece. Putting this to one side for a moment, what time would I be proud of? My current marathon personal best (and only marathon) is 4 hours and 16 seconds, set at the not so flat Eden Project Marathon, in Cornwall.

I am going to lay my cards on the table. I would love to run a 3 hour 30 marathon, but

IMG_0946

only time will tell if this is possible. I don’t know if I can knock 30 minutes off my marathon time. To put it into perspective my half marathon best is 1 hour 36 minutes, which only leaves me 18 minutes of ‘fade time’. I feel like I’m talking myself out of it as I write, but I’ll be dammed if I’m writing this again.

I entered my half marathon best time into the Runner’s World Race Time Predictor, and low and behold it predicted a 03:21:26. I aslo took a look through my Eden Marathon training log; I did a Yasso800 session, which uses a series of 800 times to estimate a potential marathon time. That time was 3 hours 25 minutes. So project THREE:30 it is.

To quote the great Bill Nicholson “It’s better to fail aiming high, than to succeed aiming low”, he does go on to say “And we at Spurs have set our sights very high, so high in fact that even failure will have in it an echo of glory” and as much as I love that quote (being a Tottenham Hotspur fan), it feels a bit rich for a blog about trying to run a three and a half hour marathon.

IMG_20160115_175824

Entering The Twilight Zone

So this weekend saw the curtain come down on another year of racing. A season ranging from cyclo-cross and beach racing earlier in the year, to triathlon in the summer; then to the muddy mayhem of off road running to round out the year. All with an off road sportive with my daughter as the cherry on the cake.

The season ended in Mothecombe, just outside Plymouth, at Pure Trail’s ‘Race the light’, an eight and a half mile twilight odyssey – encompassing estuary crossings, hills and mud. Lots of mud, but more of that later. The race started at 3.30 meant that you were all but guaranteed to be running in the dark, meaning a head torch was mandatory for the race.

After the usual pre-race double queuing to register and then for the toilet, we make our way down to the estuary for the race start. I say we as I entered with a friend of mine, Tom, whom I have been running with for a few months. We seem to run at the same sort of pace in training, so it was going to be interesting to see the effects of racing completeness on our compatibility.

20171209_152916

At about 3.35 (we started a few minutes late to allow the back of the toilet queue to get down, and as someone who has missed the start of a race because of the loo queue I thought that was a nice touch) the klaxon goes and off we go across the estuary. Once again I start too far back, but Im not likely to ever win a race and if I am honest I rather like passing hordes of people over the first few kilometres.

We cross the sand and head for the first water crossing. Maybe it was because I hadn’t warmed up yet, or more likely because its December but crossing the river Erme is bracing – to say the least – and going by the collective groans I am not the only one feeling the water’s cold bite.

Once the icy waters of the Erme are negotiated we run up the slipway and continue up a track for about 500 hundred metres before taking a tight left, through a gap in the hedge and across a field and into the Flete Estate. Once out of the field, the fun (read mud) really begins.

20171209_153517

The route is flattish to undulating for a while as we follow dual track out through woodland. Despite the lack of real hill thus far the conditions under foot mean its anything but quick, as we constantly need to move across the track to find areas with the best traction.

I won’t lie, I was pleased when I got to the point where the route splits for the lollipop loop and I hadn’t seen the head of the race coming back the other way. From this point the route continues to climb gradually to the checkpoint.

As I head towards the checkpoint I cross what can only really be described as a mud lagoon. The first two or three strides the mud pit is only just over ankle deep. The next step sees me stopping dead in my tracks with the mud well past my knee. This wouldn’t be too much of an issue except Tom is just behind me and nearly runs straight over me. I can only imagine he saw an opportunity to use me as some kind of walkway to avoid the worst of the mud.

Once our timing chips have been dipped in the transponders, and with legs heavy from Lake Fuckloadsofmud, we are faced with a monster of a climb. It is a real grind which is only made worse by the lack of traction. As a result, the group I am in becomes a single file line, which internally I dubbed ‘The Pain Train’. As we climb, I really hope the right-hand turn is the top, it isn’t. I honestly think I would have just unhitched from The Pain Train had Tom not been there, but my ego couldn’t allow it. Not in a race. Not with witnesses.

We top out and slalom through the woods as we start to descend, before the trail opens up again and I try to hold on to the coat tails of the faster descenders in our little group. I don’t really manage this, but as the route continues to drop down Tom and I have a little chat while we can.

The route retraces the way out for a while, and as I’m feeling good (relatively) I try to set the pace for a while. I continue to do this for a couple of kilometres. We reach the foot of the second big climb, where I conspire to trip over a branch that I had seen and made a mental note to avoid, but still managed to run into.

Muddied, but unhurt, I am puled to my feet by Tom and once our rhythm has settled down I find myself at the front of the second pain train. This time it all seems less grim as I set the pace and concentrate on trying to reel in a few runners a hundred metres or so ahead. I don’t quite manage it, but it certainly helped having something to focus on other than the burn of lactic acid.

Once at the top its downhill nearly all the way back down to the estuary. As we pass through the woodland paths we must hurdle fallen trees and roots and duck lower level branches. One of those environments that test your concentration and reactions as branches suddenly appear in your sphere of visibility. This is reinforced when a guy about 10 metres ahead fails to see a tree root and just crumples to the ground before he has a chance to brace himself. Luckily, he is straight back up again and appeared unhurt.

IMG_0939

Once back down to the estuary we cross the river again, this time it is almost like therapy for stressed muscles, but the rippled wet sand is anything but therapy for the ankles. The race started down at the bottom of the slip way, but Race the Light had one last trick up its sleeve. The race finished up at The Schoolhouse, and while finishing at a pub is always welcome the hill might have been less so. Thankfully my legs still have enough to get me to the top without having to resort to walking and I do my best to chase people down all the way up. Finally, I turn off the road into the field and over the finish line at The Schoolhouse. I finished in 1:18:43, which was good enough for 46th out of 273 finishers. I’m fairly happy with that, especially as I spend most my time feeling like I am running through treacle.

https://www.strava.com/activities/1308351529/embed/040a110c07ba41a46bf70561ba2375d0727ef191

After running with Tom for the whole race we went our separate ways as he has to resort to a power walk up the final climb (sorry for ratting you out). Now, I never used to consider myself as very competitive, and certainly not with other people – claiming that I race to get the best out of myself, which is true – but I’m pleased to have beat Tom. I really enjoyed racing with him, and I didn’t have any ambitions to try and drop him at any point, but I didn’t want him finishing before me.

This does leave me in a bit of a dilemma, he doesn’t know that I write a blog, and if I tell him he’ll know how I feel about beating him. I’m pretty sure he would have wanted to beat me too, and if he had I would have been happy for him. That doesn’t mean that I want him to know I really wanted to beat him.

I had a really good time racing into the twilight through the beautiful Flete Estate. The route is a challenge without being too much, even with the seasonal mud. It was a great way to end my season, and I will be back again. I think I may have found my annual season finale.

Picture credit: 3rd picture taken from the Pure Trail Facebook page.

Family On The Run

I have been consciously trying to get my children – and my daughter in particular – into sport at an early age.  Not to be competitive – instilling that it should be fun first- but to create a lifestyle with sport as a part of it. The stats for school leavers stopping all sports – somewhere in the region of 70% – are staggering.  For girls however the stats are even IMG-20171208-WA0006starker, and even from a younger age – only 37% of 7 year old girls get the recommended amount of exercise (compared to 63% of boys).  Anecdotally, this is compounded when girls move on to secondary school.  I am a fair bit older than both my sisters (10 and 12 years older respectively) and both were actively into team sports, both stereotypically “girls’ sports” like hockey and non-stereotypically like football.  Both enjoyed playing and were good at their chosen sports.  Their participation however curtailed when they began secondary school.  A recent government paper (I say recent, it was published in 2014) seemed to identify 2 main areas that cause the decline in girls taking up sports in school.  The first focuses on the school environment – the lack of choices and over competitive nature of the school programme.  The second area has far more nuance, and can’t be changed with a restructure of the sports education system.  Over a third of the girls stated that a lack of confidence is a major factor, and a whopping 75% said that body image was a sport inhibitor, which can’t be helped by being forced to do sports they don’t like in front of a group of sniggering boys.  Now, I was a boy once and I can state with some confidence that boys can be arseholes.  The government report also stated that 51% of girls were put off physical activity in general due to their experiences of PE in school.  I find this stat heart-breaking as someone who looks back at PE, and team sports, with fond memories – I always tried to have PE at the end of my parents evening, so it could end on a high.

Women and girls who take part in sports are far more likely to partake in individual sports, such as running, and although they may enter mass participation events they are more likely to train alone (or with friends) than to join a club or formal group.  I don’t want this for my daughter; I don’t want it for anyone’s daughter.  Sport should be something enjoyed, not endured.  As a result, I have tried to give them a range of memories that include physical activity.  These have ranged from spending long summer’s days out exploring on our bikes and micro-adventures with wild camping to mass participation running and cycling events.   Initially it was just a way to spend time outside with my family, but increasingly it is also about trying to create a positive reinforcement that sport is a good thing, whether it’s something done with friends and family or competitively in a mass participation event or in a team environment.

IMG-20171208-WA0005

It’s been two years since my daughter and I did the Santa run in Plymouth city centre, and after messing up the entry last year I was determined not to make such a mistake again.  The main difference to two years ago is that after years of “why can’t I come too?” my son was now old enough (he would have been last year) to enter, so it was now a family excursion.  We decided to try somewhere new and entered the Santa run at the Eden Project, rather than returning to laps of Plymouth city centre.

The route starts up by the entrance to the Eden Project, and slowly drops down to the biomes.  There are a couple of hundred Santas at the start and we end up splitting into pairs to make it a bit easier to keep track of each other.  As the route slowly makes its way down I chat with my son, trying to stop him from going full gas from the get go.

Once the route reaches the bottom we head through the main entrance to the biomes and IMG-20171208-WA0001make our way, or fight our way, past bemused bystanders and visitors and into the Mediterranean biome.  We complete our lap through the biome and exit through a side entrance rather than through the main entrance – which was far easier than the route in, before we begin our zig-zag ascent back to the finish line for a medal and a chocolate bar.

Having taken my daughter out for a few training runs before our first Santa Run, I was much more relaxed about their ability to run the 2km route, and decided that there would be no need to train for it.  They proved this was the right decision, getting most the way round before the need to stop to have a drink – and tend to a stitch.

I, and hopefully the rest of my family, really had a great time.  Really can’t go wrong with a run with a family and then going to see (the real) Santa.

IMG-20171208-WA0003.jpg

If interested, the government report can be found here:

https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmselect/cmcumeds/513/513.pdf