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 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, 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 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 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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
Every delightful story – and this may or may not be one – begins with some sort of peril. This tall tale is no different.
In the build up to Tour de Moor, both my daughter – my riding partner for the event – and I have been feeling a bit under the weather. The cold that had felt like it was just around the corner for a few weeks finally turned up on the Thursday before the ride. My daughter had also been feeling off for most of the week. However, a few early nights (for us both) and a ‘kill or cure’ run for me on Saturday afternoon meant we were feeling fresh and ready to go on Sunday morning.
I love cycling with the family, it also helps that both the kids love a day out on the bike. Those long summer days going exploring new horizons, with a rucksack full of food and hearts full of adventure. I had been waiting what feels like an age for them to become old enough to do this kind of thing, and this year is the year.
Sunday morning arrived, and big bowls of porridge were eagerly eaten. We arrive a little later than had been planned, but fortunately it wasn’t a problem.
Finally, we are off. The first stretch was quite stressful. The combination of and excited 9-year-old and a load of keen cyclists most trying to squeeze passed through any hint of a gap. Eventually I manage to manoeuvre her to the left-hand side of the road, which alleviates the stress a fair bit. This first 4 and a half kilometres are a blur of lanes and mostly rolling downhill. This didn’t go entirely without a hitch. While trying to use her hydration bladder, her foot slipped off the pedal causing her to slip onto the top tube of her bike. Amazingly she somehow manages not to go straight over the handlebars, and rolled into the grass verge. After a bit of a moment, we decide that maybe we should stop to drink rather than try to drink on the move, just to be on the safe side.
Shortly after we get moving again we leave the road and enter the estate of Buckland Abbey. After several hundred pairs of wheels have already been through the surface was quite tricky. The imperfect combination of hard packed tracks covered in a layer of primeval ooze – the kind of surface that makes it feel like you have about as in control of your rear wheel as you do a 2-year-old with a sugar habit.
Thankfully this stops before we begin to descend, by now the surface has changed to drier, stonier dual track. As we drop down through the woods, we take a tight lefthander. Just as we exit the corner Rhiannon’s bike disappears from underneath her, dumping her to the ground right in front of me with an almighty thud. I grab handfuls of brakes and stop just before adding the insult of being run over by her dad to the injury of a quick reintroduction to the floor. After a cuddle and a quick check to make sure she is ok, we decide that the inside line of a blind corner is not the best place to be, so gingerly we continue down the hill and stop again a little further on for more cuddles and a bit of time to compose ourselves.
For a while the surface consists of churned grassy paths – which neither of us have the traction for. This section makes for a frustrating cycle of ride, lose traction, and walk for a bit, then repeat. Thankfully for Rhiannon’s morale we are by no means the only ones. My stand out memory from this section however, is when Rhiannon almost lost her shit with a guy in front of her. As she was making a great go at climbing a slimy grassy hill – and almost at the top – the guy just ahead of her simply gives up and stops right in the middle of the track, leaving her no option but to stop too. I honestly think that if she had the expletives in her vocabulary she would have unleashed them in a verbal wave of frustration.
Thankfully the slippery grass soon subsides, giving way to gravel and then tarmac as we continue to climb out of the National Trust grounds. Once back on the road we continue to climb back towards the start. The climb lasts for around 4 km – at its steepest to begin with before easing off to a false flat and by the top it’s time for a quick stop for a drink and something to eat.
Once were going again its across the common, before we join the Plym Valley cycle route – a cycle path we know well. As we ride along, chatting away happily knowing we don’t need to worry about approaching cars, it really is a lovely way to spend with your child. This bubble is burst a few minutes later. As we come towards a gate with a gap to one side – big enough to cycle through single file – I let Rhiannon go ahead. A middle-aged bloke (note I refuse to refer to him as a cyclist) gets to the gate just before Rhiannon, steams though then barks “Keep left!” – despite giving him enough space. “Don’t be a dick!” is my instant retort. It’s a statement that I stand by. Its that kind of thing that could have really rocked her confidence, but luckily it was over quickly and she didn’t really take on board what had happened. Dick!
We are back off the cycle route, and going back up hill, before very much longer. And what a hill it is, rearing up at over 10% from the off. I give Rhiannon a helping hand for as long as I can, but the combination of my front wheel becoming weightless and the nasty noises the back end of my bike begins to make means I have to stop. To her credit she keeps grinding her way up for a further 100 metres or more before her cadence slows and she has to put her foot down. We walk to a left hander where the gradient eases a bit, and stop so I can assess the noise. Oh a broken spoke. Great! With not much else to do about it, I wrap the broken spoke around its neighbour and say a little prayer to the velo gods.
While we are stopped I text my wife to let her know we are about 5Km from the finish, in the meantime Rhiannon is back on her bike and off up the hill – I really need to buy that girl a polka dot jersey, she is just relentless. Shortly after I catch her we break out from the tree cover and the gradient drops off to a false flat, at which point we stop for a drink and a couple of Haribo.
We cruise along the rolling roads until we reach the point at which the two routes split. We take the left-hand turn, and back towards the race village. As we descend for the final time, I am impressed by her road craft. We are behind another group of cyclists and after I let her know there is a car behind us, she lets the gap in front get a bit bigger allowing the car to leap frog us rather than try to pass the whole group in one go.
That leaves the final climb to be negotiated, which she does with aplomb. We cross the main road and turn to the event village. As we get closer to the end, the smile begins to spread across her face. The sense of achievement beings to surface, enhanced by the encouragement and praise she continues to get as we approach the end.
I really want to express my thanks to the other riders who took part in the Tour de Moor. The encouragement my daughter got throughout the day really made the difference to her, and to me. When the going, mostly the climbing, got tough there was always a chirpy well done to lift her spirits. For that thank you.
My season – if you can call it that – has taken a bit of a twist towards the end of the summer. For a variety of reasons (the main one being my 8 year old daughter wants to do an off-road sportive with me and I couldn’t afford to enter both) the end of year triathlon I have been eying up has been shelved.
As a – and I don’t want to use the word, but – consolation I entered a trail race just outside Plymouth. I found the Armada Autumn Trail race as I was looking for some races to do over the winter to compliment the cyclocross races I’ve got my eye on. I noticed this race – which happened to be on the same weekend of the aborted triathlon – and entered it at a fairly late stage.
The race is set in Newnham Park, which is a fantastic setting for this kind of race. The race starts in a meadow, looking out on hills clad in woods – it’s hard to believe that the city of Plymouth is just behind you. As the race begins we run along the meadow past the parked cars and towards a gate on the far side. I start the race a bit further forward than I usually do, but I still spent this meadow section trying to pass people, while being mindful not to go too hard too soon. Out the meadow we take a left and make our first river crossing. The weather in the build up has been typically wet and as a result the river is going as a fair rate – and also about knee deep. I opt for a brisk walk, rather than run, through the water and get going again on the other side. We then go back along the other side of the river on a gravel fire trail, before crossing it again – returning to the meadow – this time the river is getting up towards my mid-thigh (I reckon if I had fell I would have ended up in the sea before I knew it).
We repeat the meadow stretch; however we turn right (and head up) as we head through the gate. The first proper climb of the race isn’t too technical as it rises through the woods, but it is steep enough (up to 25% if you believe Strava) to get the legs working. This climb only really digs for a few hundred metres at most before slackening off again, as we leave the trees we contour across a field above the meadow and the start finish line, gradually dropping down as we cross it reaching the bottom as we get to the far side. At this point we cross the second river crossing in the other direction and after just enough time to squelch the water out of my shoes the climbing starts again in earnest. As we join an estate road the route rears up right in front of us. Ahead there is a line of people; some who have gone too hard too soon have to resort to walking from the bottom. I move over to the far side of the road and just plod away, concentrating on my breathing – and trying not to look up and see how far from the top I am. This section of tarmac is only about 500 metres long, but that is certainly enough to hurt. As we turn off the road the gradient eases a little. The climbing continues for another kilometre before a slight drop and then further climbing. The surface along here is a combination of hard packed dual track with muddy puddles and muddy dual track with muddy lagoons. As we get toward the top of this section I move away from a fellow runner I have been alongside for the majority of this climb, and enter another section of woods – and mountain bike single track – on my own.
The climbing continues as the single track begins, and I target a group of three runners about 150m ahead of me. As I slowly reel them in one of them goes off the front of the group, just as I get on the back. I run with these two runners as we negotiate the single track, and I try to use the berms to keep as much momentum as I can on the tighter turns. As we join a forest track, the route ramps up steeply for a while and we catch and pass the runner who was with the group previously. As we top out we pass the second water station – I grab a cup take a quick swig and chuck the rest on my head. At this point our trio becomes a pair, before we begin to descend slightly along the forest trail. Once we leave the woods the path becomes a narrow, rutted in places single track. This is where I begin to struggle. I don’t do a huge amount of trail running, and what I do I tend to concentrate on going uphill, so once the runner in front begins to distance my I can feel myself beginning to get a little tense as I over think what I am doing. Once the gradient lessens I begin to feel a little more comfortable and once back on the gravely fire trails I begin to try to push on again. We stay on this fire trail for about 1½ km as we drop down towards the meadow for the final time. I try to catch my companion from the woods for the length of this track; I manage to reduce the gap, but never actually manage to get back to him.
All of a sudden, the route takes a hard left for the final river crossing – this on is deep enough for the supporting mountain rescue team to put a rope ‘hand rail’ across it. Back up a steep bank and a right hand turn and I am back on the meadow. Time to open up the tap and see if there is anything left. There isn’t much, but it’s only 400m to the finish line and I manage to hold on – just.
When I entered this race I wanted to use it as an indicator of my fitness, or lack thereof. After a summer of holidays and long days at work covering other people’s holidays my training had taken a bit of a hit and I wasn’t expecting too much. So much so that I forewent my usual prerace meal of pasta for pizza and a movie with the family – I did however stop short of having a beer.
The only problem with this plan was that I’m not too disappointed with my time. I’m capable of going quicker, but with how disjointed my training has been – that and the associated holiday/long work day dietary decisions. All in all I really am not too disappointed with 58:43 (good enough for 36/272).
Credit where it’s due: Photographs 1 & 3 Plymouth Sports Gazette (plymouthsportsgazette.com), photographs 2, 4 & 5 Louise Shipton (via Armada Athletic Network’s Facbook page)
It’s not often I return to an event or race. London Triathlon and L’Eroica Britannia are great examples of races/events I have done – and loved – but have little intention of going back to do again. Some races I do intend to do again, Battle on the Beach for example is high on my to-do-list for next season – but that is mostly down to a mechanical related DNF.
Darkmoor is different. It keeps me coming back. I have now returned and ridden three of the four years it has been on, having missed the first one. This year was a little different. A new route meant that it is now the full 100 miles, so no more extra loops to top it up (If you’ve been up all night riding 90 odd miles you may as well keep going for another 30 minutes). Also the company I was keeping had been added to. I still had my go-to wingman with me (my dad) but also had an old friend, Kash, joining me.
For the first time, we actually arrived with a bit of time to spare – which is an unusual occurrence in itself. We set off at just after 9, and as the swing bridge that represents our easiest way away from the bars and pubs in the area is closed for repairs we have to pick our way between the drinkers and the quayside. Once we break free and are on the open road we make our way to, and then through, Saltram House grounds on our way to the Plym Valley cycle path – which forms part of the national Cycle Network. This part of the ride is wonderfully easy as I ride next to either my dad or Kash chatting away in the middle of the peloton barely having to do a pedal stroke. This continues for most of the first stretch of traffic free path.
At the end of the first stretch of traffic free path we find two more Darkmoorites (I have just made that up, and I’m running with it) outside the Skylark pub just outside Yelverton. As everyone dismounts and heads inside for a cheeky pint, the ‘older limbs’ express concerns about having just got warmed up, so we make our apologies and head off into the night alone, forming the nights breakaway. We make our way across Yelverton and onto the second stretch of traffic free route to Tavistock.
I ride this section of the route a lot less than I ride the earlier section, for no other reason than logistics – I tend to ride these routes with my children and if I’m going to load the car and drive to ride our bikes we may as well go somewhere more exotic than Yelverton. It feels like it’s mostly downhill from Yelverton to Tavistock (where this section ends) with a beautiful viaduct and a Victorian railway tunnel along the way.
The first real climb of the night comes as we leave Tavistock. The steepest section comes early on – as we go under a railway line – it’s never a brute but enough to get you out the saddle. Its second ramp goes over 15% in places but soon drops off to little more than a false flat. One of the advantages of going at an easier pace is that you notice more. A startling example of this was that I noticed the chapel on the top of Brent Tor. Just to emphasise, that’s a chapel on the top of a rocky outcrop, on its own and it took me three years to notice it.
After around 6km of climbing and false flats, the road drops away – bar a short raspy 10% bank – towards Lydford, and then we start climb again. Its kicks off with a short sharp ramp – touching 20% – before easing to a drag before turning off for the last traffic free section up to Okehampton. I have ridden this section in the daylight a few times and section of it really are pretty – the viaduct at Meldon, with views of the Dam to your right, being a case in point. Being an old railway means that the miles tick away with minimal fuss. Its all good quality surfaces, with the exception of about 200 metres off permissive path – which is basically a track cutting through some trees. Having decided to ride my cyclocross bike this section is great fun carving through the trees, with the dark giving a false sense of speed.
We leave the traffic free route for the last time, and drop down into Okehampton. We ride through the town as the night’s merrymakers begin to make their way home – I assume they are heading home. One thing that seems to catch me out every year is how long the climb back out of Okehampton is. It isn’t steep, nor that long, but every time you think the top is approaching it just banks up again. The climb finally finishes as we cross the A30, and we reach our ‘breakaway’ goal of getting to our coffee stop before being re-joined. We stop for about 30 minutes with a coffee and a few bits of flapjack – what more does a man need when out on a bike at half one in the morning 60 odd miles from home.
Once we are sufficiently re-caffeinated we shock the legs back into action and head for Moretonhampstead. The road to continues to climb for a while before dropping back down again. Moretonhampstead is the last town before we head on up onto Dartmoor proper. The climbing starts just before reaching Moretonhampstead and we chat away as we spin up the easier lower sections where the gradient is only up to about 4% at its steepest. When we reach Moretonhampstead the climbing begins to get a bit more taxing. As soon as you reach the other side of town the climb ramps up. The climb is essentially three banks at over 10% stitched together by false flats and dips. On the steeper sections, we can’t really ride together, we just have to tap it out at our own pace and regroup at the top.
As I look back on one of the ramps I notice lights in the background, it would seem our day in the breakaway has come to an end. As we regroup atop the second bank the lights in the background become two fellow Darkmoorites, they stop for a quick chat before they push on. Once regrouped we carry on at our group pace, continuing to climb out our own pace and regrouping when the gradient eases. This formula continues all the way to Princetown, except when the excitement gets too much and a little bit of racing ensues, the last one of these is ended abruptly by a few sheep stepping out in front of my dad and I – luckily for me as I was starting to run out of gears and watts as we raced up a false flat.
We reach the town square in Princetown to find two Darkmoorites already there. One is a member of the duo that passed us on the climb onto Dartmoor (his riding companion had gone home), the other is a rider who passed us riding long the top, not too far from Princetown. After a short while the solo rider headed off – planning to cut back to Plymouth along the cycle route. The other guy was waiting for the main peloton to see if anyone was planning to ride the full route, and at his point we weren’t sure what the plan was, so we continued confident the others couldn’t be far behind.
Just after we leave Princetown I have to stop to put on my waterproof – there are a few quick descents off this side of the moor and you can feel a chill on the warmest of summer afternoons never mind stupid o’clock in the morning. I catch up with Kash in time to see my dad racing off into the gloom. After being given my leave by Kash, I drop the hammer and try to wheel in the old man. I reel him in over the series of rises and drops, and annoyingly he sits up just before the last little bank before the biggest part of the descent into Dousland. We regroup – again – at the top of this bank.
I genuinely love the descent down to Dousland, its steep enough to get up a decent lick without being so steep that you must constantly be on the anchors. It also has a few well engineered sweeping bends to throw your bike around (Mum, if you’re reading this I don’t go any faster than 10 mph, honest). Dousland represents the split point – turn left for the full hundred miles, straight on for 85miles. We barely make eye contact to confirm, we are taking the left-hand turn.
The route now takes us away from Plymouth again, as we head for Burrator. I do love a lap of Burrator, even if you’re being generous its only rolling but you are on the pedals the whole way around with three laps pretty much making 10 miles – which is great to test yourself. The route takes us three quarters of the way round before we turn off and ride into Sheepstor. Once through the hamlet, we approach the climb up towards Cadover Bridge. I will admit I had a little trepidation about this climb. I had never climbed it, but I have climbed the road it joins further up, and it’s a brute, and I assumed this would be the same. It’s not, it’s a beautiful climb. It’s at its steepest at the bottom, but after crossing the cattle grid and taking a right the gradient drops as the road contours around the hill. It is at this point the sun breaks free of the horizon and we are bathed in glorious sunlight. With views to my right of Burrator reservoir and Sheepstor, it was a wonderful place to see the sun rise.
Once we get to Cadover Bridge I’m back on familiar roads, and we roll past Lee Moor as we make our way to Lee Mill to cross the A38 and into the South Hams. The South Hams makes for beautiful cycling, with rolling climbs and patchwork fields – it’s the rural England of your mind’s eye.
Daylight is a funny old thing. The limbs that were struggling to get up the climb out of Moretonhampstead are now power climbing 10% banks in the big ring. The bloody big ring. Where were those climbing legs in the early hours of the morning?
By this point I have had to turn off the navigation on my Garmin Edge 800 to try to preserve the battery. The downside to this is that although I know where I am and how to get back to Plymouth, I don’t know the official route. As a result, we take the main road back into Plymouth and head towards Cap’n Jaspers (where it all began all those hours ago), but there is not a soul there – in lycra anyway. We decide against a cuppa tea – based on the both our attire and our odour. Due to missing a dog leg on the road back into Plymouth, so we do a couple of laps of the Hoe and the Barbican to get the mileage up to the full 100 miles.
Writing this has taken a bit longer than I thought it would, but it feels appropriate that it did. When cycling overnight time seems to change. Minutes become longer, hills become steeper, but the satisfaction becomes greater. I’ve said this before, but try it at least once. Try an overnight ride with hundreds of people, tens of people or on your own, but try it.
The alarm buzzes annoyingly. Its 6am, it’s a Sunday, and its race day. Like any other race day, I get up feeling a bit nervy; wake up the rest of the family. Then flap about, eat porridge, drink coffee and leave the house about 20 minutes later than I had hoped to. Except this isn’t like any other race day, I’m not racing, my 8-year-old daughter is. It’s her first race without me, and the nerves are just as strong if not worse than if it was me racing. But as I tell her ‘if you’re nervous it means you care about it’. And, I certainly care about it.
We arrive at The Hoe with a few minutes to spare, and find her classmates. I think this is the point it sinks in that she is running without me and begins to get some doubts. Luckily this doesn’t last long, and the excitement takes over. Photos are taken and she is taken with her group into a massive holding pen. Part of me remains relieved that I wasn’t asked to help with the schools’ challenge; the noise coming out of the pen – containing something like 300 excitable 6-10 year olds – was unbelievable. Must have been like trying to herd cats on amphetamine at a rock concert – but less fun.
Once they are in the pen we scamper over to past the start finish line for a good view as she comes past. All the runners have been given the same red top, so picking out individual children is nigh on impossible – in fact I know people who didn’t see their kids at all. I resort to trying to spot her teachers, then who is running with them. It works; I see her teacher from last year and there she was running next to her chatting away. We cheer, take lots of photos and then try to get across to the other side of the route for a second shot. This time we are less successful as we can’t get very close and don’t want to miss her crossing the finish line. Missing the second photo opportunity we dash back across the finishing straight. As she comes into view she is still with the same teacher – beaming from ear to ear even if she is chatting a little less.
She crosses the line and disappears into the hoards past the finish line. After a few minutes, we find her school’s spot in the pen, sat with her mates – medals around their necks rummaging through the goody bags. I can confirm that goody bags at kids’ races are also full of crap that no one wants. After what feels like an age, the schools begin to file out. We head around to the drop off point to scoop up my running champion. Once the crowds disperse we find a patch of grass with a few of the other parents. The kids run around for a while enjoying the late morning sun.
As our parking runs low, we head off and go for a celebratory brunch. It feels right to make a big deal of her accomplishment and she is overjoyed when the waitress takes an interest in her medal and how she got it.
My grasp of the English language fails me when I try to describe how proud of her I am. It’s not that she ran the mile. Its far more than that. Running isn’t something she finds easy or that comes natural, but she persists at it and works hard. She has a stubborn streak in her – not always in a good way – and a stoic determination that even if she has to walk she will get to the top of the hill.
My 8 year old daughter has recently signed up to run a half marathon – of sorts. She will be running the schools’ half marathon challenge in Plymouth and will be running a mile a week with the final mile taking place on the half marathon weekend on the Hoe (where the main event starts and finished). This has really caught her imagination, and has reignited her desire to come running with me – which I am obviously overjoyed about.
Despite the looming threat of ‘Storm Doris’, an after school family run was all but demanded. So after school, we pop home to get our running kit on and head over to Saltram House (a local National Trust property), however not all of us are quite so keen to go for a run in the Plymouth mizzle. So the two of us head to Saltram for a run around the grounds and down to the river. Despite the threat from meteorologists it’s a lovely night for a run, a bit cool but not too cold or windy and the trees protect us from the worst of the rain.
She is noticably excited as we set off – she skips, bounces and grins like a cheshire cat. I try to calm her down a bit – without wanting to piss on her parade – and we jog around the grounds while we chat and generally just be silly. Running as it should be, fun.
We make it as far as the river, before having to turn back for failing light. It’s been a while since we last ran together, and I honestly can’t believe how much more resiliant she has become, she is able to run much further and was able to push herself much harder, wanting to get to pointmarkers despite obviously working hard.
Famous Danish beers don’t make running buddies, but if they did she would be it.
This spring has been quite busy for me. For someone who usually enters 2-3 races a year having two in spring felt rather congested. The two races, The Forest of Dean Spring Half Marathon and Plymouth’s Half, had very different objectives.
First up was the Forest of Dean. This is a mostly trail half making use of the old mining train lines making most, not all, the gradients steady with the added bonus of a beautiful forest backdrop. The objective for this race had been to run with my youngest sister and my dad, but unfortunately my sister was unable to get the time off work so it became just me and my dad. This seemed to concern him. I say seemed, he was quite vocal about it. Having not run consistently for about 5 years, he was planning on running until my sister had to walk, and then walk with her. That plan was now redundant. The new plan: run, and when you can’t run then walk.
From a personal point of view my training for this race has gone ok. I am using this as a dial up for the Plymouth half a few weeks later so I haven’t got all the speed endurance in my legs but I am building towards it, including a new course PB at my local parkrun a few weeks before.
In typical fashion, we turn up with a bit of time to spare, but leave it too late before joining the pre-race toilet queue. As a result we manage to miss the start of the race by a few minutes. We are not the only ones; we were by no means at the back of the line.
Don’t panic, DON’T PANIC. No mad dash, just go at our pace and we begin to pick up the back of the pack. We do just that, and then try to pass people as and when we can, but as we hit the trails for the first time about 1 km in this becomes a little trickier. The first 5 km or so are all either flat or down hill, giving us a chance to warm up before the proper work starts – did I mention we missed the start, thus no warm up? After being gently eased into proceedings, the climbing begins. We gradually climb for about 7 km, topping out at the highest point of the race. We then drop down before climbing again for another kilometre or so. It is at this point that stage two of Dad’s strategy comes into place, the walk. So I do what any good son would do, I continue to run and leave him to walk alone. If I am honest, I can’t believe he lasted 13 km running once, maybe twice, every 5 years. Obviously good genes, or poor decision making.
Once on my own I try to push the pace a little, and try to run the remaining 8km at around threshold. It has to be said, there is something uplifting about waiting until half way through a race before really opening the taps and being able to give it a big push as others begin to feel it bite. By the time I finish I am the beetroot red, sweaty mess that I usually finish a race in. Garmin paused, and medal collected I go find the family for the obligatory ‘just finished a race’ pictures, and then go for a little cool down run to get the distance up.
By the time I’ve done that and gone to collect my bag I find that my dad has made it back, and not moving too freely. Feeling guilty, I give him a hug and make sure he is ok. Thankfully he’s ok, just a bit disappointed that he couldn’t finish the race.
After a couple of days off I get back to focusing on the Plymouth half. The aim is to be as consistent as possible; double run day early in the week (2 x 10km), speed work on a Thursday, longer run on the weekend. This continues with the exception of a couple of away day Parkruns (both at Swansea Bay, both PBs). Two weeks before the half I set a new half marathon personal best. It was only 1 minute faster, but all is looking good. A week later I set the second new 5km personal best of 19.09 at Swansea Bay Parkrun, which is another 27 seconds quicker than the time I set there a few weeks earlier. All is pointing towards a new personal best at Plymouth half, I just had to try to manage my expectations.
In the final week before the half, all the preparation appears to be going well with the exception of a slight niggle in my left heel. It doesn’t appear to be anything that will prevent me racing, just something I need to be mindful of.
Race morning comes around, and the niggle in my heel is still there but it shouldn’t give me too much trouble. I walk down to the ‘race village’ with Steve, a mate who is also running the half. He has only been running for 6 months to a year and is annoyingly quicker than me, so I feel the 15 minute walk may be the only time I see him. We get to the start with a decent amount of time to get ourselves sorted and find where we need to be in the starting pen, no running late this time.
Once the ridiculous warm up is done – how can you do jumping jacks in a crowded starting pen? – We are off. Over a minute passes before we cross line. The first km or so is very crowded as 6000 people make their way through the closed roads of the Plymouth waterfront. Steve and I go our separate ways shortly after, I see him about 10 people ahead, but make the conscious decision to let him go. My plan is to try to keep it as steady as possible to start with, and open the taps towards the end. As the roads widen there is more room the run at my own pace. The early kilometres tick over nicely as I consciously try to run at an ok pace without over cooking it.
After around 6km the first of two climbs starts. It’s a long gradual drag, rather than a steep hill. I consciously aimed to just try to hold my pace, and not let my average pace drop by more than a few seconds per km. I try to relax and make the most of the free speed on the other side of the hill, and then repeat the process on the second climb which comes straight after the first. The decent from the second climb is a long and gradual affair through the beautiful grounds of Saltram House. Once out of the grounds the race recounts its steps, with one exception. Just before the route heads back to the waterfront it takes in an out-and-back. This takes us along the river for a kilometre each way, which, in direct contradiction to all topography rules, felt uphill both ways. On the way out I see Steve coming back to other way – quickly I try to look comfortable. I make a mental note of where I am and by the time I reach the turnaround point I guestimate he is about 1 km, maybe a bit more, ahead of me. I conclude that I won’t be catching him and concentrate on my own race. As much as I would like to beat him, I don’t want to ruin my race chasing after him.
There are now 5 km to go, 4 of which are predominantly flat with a climb for the final kilometre. My plan was to push on at this point, but when that message was sent down stairs to the engine room there wasn’t much of a response. I try to keep my pace up as much as possible, saving something for that final climb.
The lower cobbled section of the climb is tough going, but as I hit the tarmac and I round onto the sea views I begin to feel a little better. As the climb continues the crowds get bigger, and louder. I push again, giving it as much as I can. The final two corners approach and the crowd is 10 deep, or my vision is beginning to blur. It feels like nothing I have raced before, I genuinely don’t think I have seen so many people at a mass participation event. I dig in for the final ramp and push for the line.
I had hoped for a new PB, and had told people I wanted to get as close to 1 hour 40 as possible. Internally I was hoping for something close to 1 hour 35. I glance down at my Garmin and I have managed to get a personal best, finishing in 1:37:38 (course) and a half marathon PB of 1:36:45, an improvement of 6m 34s. Just outside my internal target, but if I’m honest I don’t think I had much more to give. There isn’t anywhere that I can look back and think if I had done X or Y here or there I could have saved a little time. What I am pleased with is my pacing. I had planned to pace it as uniformly as possible, before pushing on. I didn’t quite manage the push but the pacing was pretty much uniform for the whole race, something I have never managed before.
In the week since the Plymouth half I have been unable to run, as the sore heel has felt pretty tender. Usually post-race this isn’t too much of a concern, but I have entered another race.
After running part of Man Verse Horse as a relay a couple of years ago, I have had an itch to run the full race. This year I have entered it, using the training I have been doing for the halves as the base miles to build up to 23 fell miles. It was always going to be tight getting my endurance up. However the longer I have to rest my foot the more anxious I get about it.
Forgive me reader(s) for I have procrastinated. It has been a very long time since I had anything even remotely interesting enough to warrant writing a post – and arguably I still don’t.
I think the biggest development has been an increase in little runners in the family (note: same number of children, just both come running). My 5 year old son had become more and more vocal in his annoyance that going for a run was either a solo or a dad/daughter affair. I had come to the point that I had run out of reasons, proper reasons, why he shouldn’t. My main reason was that this is the only bit of one-on-one I manage to consistently get with my daughter. He is fascinated with bikes and riding them and has happily helped me build him a bike. We started off buying a cheap kids bike on eBay – which was a bit too big for him. We stripped, re-painted, upgraded and renamed it – giving it that personal touch. Then once he was just about big enough he was riding it. My daughter on the other hand isn’t so keen on the bicycle. She is learning – and is doing well – but she just isn’t that into it, nor is she so keen on falling off. With this in mind, I had pigeon-holed running as ‘daddy/daughter’ and cycling as ‘daddy/son’ one-on-one time. So, once it was clear that a) he wasn’t going to let this go, and b) she was happy to include him it was a done deal.
Off we went around the block – the same route as the first daddy/daughter run. It was incredible how well they cooperated, listen to instructions and most importantly both enjoyed the running – and my daughter genuinely seemed to enjoy having her brother join in too.
Since that wonderful, sunny winters morning we haven’t all been out for a run together. This is due to a couple of reasons. One of those reasons is I am trying to get them cycling as often as possible, but also I am waiting for them to ask me again. I am conscious that I want it to be something that they want to do, so I don’t ask them if they want to go for a run , it has to come from them – I don’t want them to feel at all pressured to do it. The weather may have played a part. It has been a little wet recently, and I think this has put a little dampener on their running ambition. But the interest is still there it seems.
Since the Santa Run in December I have been looking for another race which is suitable for the kids to run too, and then it came to me. I had been half looking at a 9km night run organised by the National Trust. Now a 9km run is definitely out of their range, but there is also a 2.6km option. Perfect. A little bit of digging and kids are welcome. Family entry booked, a proper race experience for the whole family.
The day of the race arrives, and there are equal measures of excitement and trepidation. The latest storm has hit, and – luckily for the Lake District – Plymouth appears to be at its epicentre this time. In the morning I am emailed with the warning that a decision on the race will be made by 2 pm. Finally the email arrives, and the final decision has been made – the race is off. To be fair to the organisers it is probably the right decision, with trees being blown over and heavy rain over the moor.
We inform the kids that the race has been postponed – and subsequently cancelled. Their disappointment is obvious, and I make an effort to lessen the blow by promising to look for more races we can do together.
The following morning the weather has calmed down significantly, the wind has dropped and there is even a hint of sun. First out the door is me and the boy, who declares he wants to go for a long run. A longer run it is then, a hilly two km later as we turn for home he still isn’t satisfied and wants to keep going, I – joking – suggest we throw in some hill reps on the way back “YEAH!… what are hill reps?” you’ll see my boy, you’ll see. The prospect of running up two steep, but fairly short hills didn’t deter him, and the grin was smeared across his face as he plummeted back down them again. He’ll be a fell runner by his 6th birthday.
Upon our return, I swap son for daughter and head out on the same route – minus the hill reps. The improvement in her running is amazing, and it isn’t that she is getting quicker. It’s the increase in confidence. Knowing she can get to the top of the hill before having a little walk or running up to the road because she knows we’ll have to stop there anyway and have a breather. The most pleasing improvement however, is that she is now confident enough to tell me to slow down. Confidence has always been an issue for her, never really willing to back herself, so I love that she now has the confidence to tell me we are going too quick. I couldn’t be prouder.
On a personal level, the running has begun again in earnest. I have entered two ‘spring’ half marathons four weeks apart, the Forest of Dean spring half in mid-March and Plymouth’s half in mid-April. I am really looking forward to both for very different reasons. The Forest of Dean will be my youngest sister’s first race and being able to run it with her is going to be a real joy. Plymouth on the other hand is all about the time. I set my personal best there a couple of years ago and running it again should be a good indication of where I am at. Up to this point I have been concentrating on base training and some hill work, but it’s getting close to the point where some speed work will be required. This is not my favourite aspect of training; I generally like to just lace up and run but needs must and if I want to get a time that I am happy with now is the time to put in the hard work.
There are many childhood milestones that all parents should get to share with their children; first steps, first words, first day at school. This weekend I got to add another to my list – first daddy and daughter race.
After our first run – maybe our second – my daughter began to express an interest in doing a race together. At first I thought this may be something we would have to wait until spring to do. Then I thought of maybe a junior parkrun. Then I had a brain wave. Every year the local Rotary Club runs a Santa Run in the city centre. All the basics of a race are covered – lots of people, race numbers and race finisher’s bling. Also being a fun run the pace of the other ‘competitors’ shouldn’t be too high and there are other kids running it too. After speaking to Rhiannon about it I excitedly entered us both, and then went about telling anyone who would listen what we had planned.
The morning of the big race arrived and we got our selves sorted and made our way to the city centre, Rhiannon getting noticeably more excited with every passing Santa. Once parked, we don our suits and make our way down to the shopping centre. We pose for a few customary pictures and then make our way out of the shopping centre toward the start line.
The only possible downside, which I didn’t anticipate until lining up to start, was with everyone dressed as Santa keeping tabs on a 7 year old Santa in a sea of Santas may prove tricky. We started in a little pocket with a number of other people with kids, hoping that we would be behind any over excited starters. Once the race starts I try to manoeuvre us to the right hand side to keep us out of the way a little. I won’t lie I was a bit anxious for the first few 100m that she might get knocked over or put off by being crowded out. To her credit she just took it in her stride, happily going round people who were slowing in front of her. As the horde of Santas thins out (I’m not entirely sure what the collective noun for a group of Santas would be) I begin to relax and we run side by side chatting away. One thing I couldn’t help but notice was the pace she went off at, much quicker than the pace she runs when it is just the two of us. She also manages to keep this going for the best part of a kilometre before having to ease up for a breather. We ease up a bit as we climb back up to the start, walk through the shopping centre and then run back down the hill to the finish.
We cross the line and the look on her face makes my heart melt, she has the biggest grin I have ever seen on such a little face. The sense of pride I felt watching her cross the line was indescribable, much bigger than any personal accomplishment.
I won’t lie, I loved this race. I just need to find another fun run so we can do it again soon.