Beacons Ultra 2016

MedalWelcome to my race report/review of the Brecon Beacons Ultra 2016. It is a challenging event in a beautiful location and features a 23 mile loop which you do twice. There are only two hills on it, nothing to worry about. It’s also held in the remote welsh countryside in November and the weather is absolutely guaranteed to be sunny and pleasantly warm….. I shall give a short brief on the race itself and then follow it up with my experience from the day itself.

Elevation profile Beacons Ultra 2016

See, only two hills.

Beacons Ultra 2016

The Beacons Ultra race entry for 2016 was capped at 300, and it was a sellout. There were a few no-shows on the day as the weather forecast was a touch unpredictable, but still a pretty big field. The positive atmosphere surrounding the event starts long before you turn up, thanks to the sterling effort that Likeys have put into it over the years. This year it was run by Force 12 Events, but Likeys were still heavily involved. The info provided on the race website is brief, but clear and doesn’t leave anything out. The community support around the Beacons Ultra is great, and it has a well supported Facebook page here. Alternatively swing by Likeys in Brecon and have a chat with Martin or Kevin, they also have a lot of good stock and interesting things to buy 😀

You can register the day before the race at Likeys in Brecon, or first thing on race day morning. The race starts nice and early at 0730. This means you are off and running almost as soon as it is light, and you can make the most of the daylight hours. There were two aid stations, approximately 8 miles apart plus the control at the start/finish. There were also marshals at other points on the course and reflective signage too, as well as an unofficial checkpoint or two. The route can be described simply as a long flat bit in between two hills that you go around twice, but that is entirely misleading and belies the true and technical nature of a large portion of the course. I shall sum it up by saying that you shouldn’t expect to make up much time on the descents. Personally I really enjoyed the course. It was spectacular, challenging and varied. As it was my first time the starting lap was very much a sighting lap for me. I then broke the second lap down into sections in my head. This meant that I was never worrying about the whole lap, just the bit I was on and it never became overwhelming. Just in case you wondered the sections were:

  • Canal
  • Sod of a hill
  • Down to the checkpoint
  • The long grind
  • Ascend the gap
  • Technical descent
  • Fields and road
  • Canal

When you pass the start/finish at the end of lap one hot drinks are on offer as well as a few snacks. There also seemed to be hot drinks at the other marshals points by then too. A nice move, but not something I took advantage of on this occasion as I was focusing on getting a bit of a wriggle on 🙂

When you finally cross the finish line you get your medal, a handshake and enter the village hall. It was lovely and warm, with a variety of snacks and drinks for finishers, including hot soup and bread.

Overall I heartily recommend the Brecon Beacons Ultra. My experience at the Beacons Ultra 2016 was entirely positive. It was well organised, well supported and the course was entirely beautiful. I also got to sample all the weather that you can possibly get in one day in the UK!

My race – Beacons Ultra 2016

Fuelled on this occasion by Bounce Energy Balls (review coming soon which will be available here), Torq Energy and High 5 Zero tabs 🙂

I’ve spent a few years now turning up to ultras and simply striving to finish. Each finish bought with it a sense of accomplishment, but there have been a few tough failures too. I certainly believe that failing an ultra can be tougher than finishing one for a variety of reasons. A change in mindset has meant that I’ve achieved all of my ultra goals this year, including finishing two tough events that have beaten me in the past. The Thames Trot and The Oner. This all came together even more when I race in Iceland as part of Fire and Ice in August 2016. In Iceland I found my confidence and started to believe that maybe I could do a little more than just strive to finish. Maybe I should expect more from myself and become a little more aggressive in my goal setting. The Beacons Ultra 2016 was my first ultra with this new approach, a new (more mental) me, and some tough pacing goals. I tentatively started talking in such a way on Facebook, keen to put a little bit of pressure on myself to prevent any last minute weakness.

As part of this change I’ve taken on a new coach, Charles Miron of Solo Sport Systems. I know Charles well after spending 6 nights in a tent with him and 6 others in Iceland. When I found out he was a professional coach it was a no brainer to seek his support. Part of my brief with Charles just before the race went something like this:

  • Charles: “So, do you have a target for Saturday?”
  • Me: “Well, it starts at 0730 and I would like to finish before dark, so maybe 9 to 10 hours??”
  • Charles: “…….You aren’t going to do it in 9 hours.”

I felt crestfallen, I really thought that was a reasonable goal. But it sounded like I should be expecting to run in the dark. Charles continued

  • Charles: “I think you can do it in 8.”

I nearly fell off my chair.

We discussed the terrain, and what I thought it would be like (I was wrong and underestimated it significantly!), and then we continued discussing pacing, food and hydration strategies until I had scribbled all over a side of A4 paper. Come Saturday morning I had everything worked out, I was well prepared and despite the pressure I felt remarkably relaxed.

For the first lap I kept mostly to myself, moving along the canal with the bulk of the other people and into the first and most challenging hill. It has false summit after false summit and was a steep slog. I fell further and further behind on my pacing goal. This was ok because I knew it would happen and I planned to make it up along the descents and flatter sections. Looking around every now and then was well rewarded. The morning was stunning and the colours in the landscaped just popped. As we crested Tor Y Foel we could see snow topped hills with a small amount of cloud on the top in front of us.

Snow capped hills

The descent was very steep, but not too slippery. I descended down to a rolling track with the grace of an 80kg one winged bumble bee. I didn’t make up much time here, and the rolling descent to the valley floor was very technical and loose in places before joining a wide forest track. As I climbed this track I noticed that I was creeping my way through the field. I would run alongside people for a bit, and as they waned I would carry on at a steady pace, moving up to the next group. My legs were burning as the deceptive trail crept upwards and I shifted my gait to move the stress around the various muscle groups. I felt ok, so I carried on pushing. In hindsight it was too fast and I certainly paid for it later.

We came off the track and had a short but icy tarmac descent before turning onto another trail. At the end of this we started the climb proper up to “The Gap.” This was a very loose few km, climbing at an awkward angle. For me it was too shallow to walk, but too steep to run. I carried on with my poor decision making and chose to run when I should have done a bit of both. I made up another few places though. As we passed the top the terrain underfoot got even worse and it was a really tricky descent down to checkpoint 2. My stomach was starting to feel a bit bloated, but I ignored it and carried on. As the course rolled its way through a few fields, along a few roads and back to the canal I found myself in the company of the then 2nd placed lady and we chatted all the way back to the end of the first lap. Somewhere along the way a spectator shouted that we were in about 40th spot overall. This was much higher up the field than I would normally expect to be. I was struggling to keep up by the time we got to the checkpoint. I was very aware though that keeping up with her meant that I was rapidly getting back on track with my pacing strategy, so I hung on for a 4:04 first lap.

I stopped just long enough to top up my bottles and started lap two. It was now an effort to maintain my target heart rate and my stomach felt awful. I was failing to put food or drink into it, and I was beginning to get worried. I slogged/shuffled the three miles along the canal and started up Tor Y Foel for the second time. The endless false summits didn’t seem so bad now that I knew what to expect. I was also chatting to another chap and it made the climb much easier. It distracted me from having a stress about my pacing! After the summit I had a quick pee, and wasn’t too happy with the bright yellow colour of it. I resolved then and there to sort myself out, or this would be a punishing last 20 miles. With this in mind I drained a bottle by the time I got to CP1, and topped it up, adding an electrolyte tab. I then caught up with another chap and we made conversation all the way up the gap. We were both suffering and were both glad to have someone to talk to as we ran/walked our way upto the top. By now it was snowing and the landscape was even more beautiful with large white flakes falling all around us.

We ran together for another couple of miles, but I was starting to pick up. Consciously rehydrating and running at a slower pace had bought my stomach back around, and I could get some energy through it. The snow turned to rain as we descended and I could hear voices behind us, catching us up. I ran on, my heart span up to a decent level and I was off. It felt good to be running strongly again. As I passed the marshal to rejoin the canal I asked if there was anyone in front of me. I was hoping to have someone to hunt down in the last few miles. My hopes were dashed though as the marshal told me that the previous person went through quite some time ago! Never mind. I stomped onwards ignoring the pain in my legs. The canal slowly wound its way through the countryside and even at a good pace it took a while for the final bridge to come into view.

The finish was back at the village hall, and it felt amazing to power to the line and then finally to stop and take my medal. I had clocked a total time of 8 hours and 46 minutes, and was done half an hour before it got dark. Charles had sent me a message of congratulations within minutes of my watch syncing to Training Peaks 🙂

As for my overall placing it turned out that I wasn’t 40th at all. I was 22nd with my best ultra placing ever. What a feeling. 🙂 To give you an idea how different this is for me, my previous expectation would have been about 2 hours longer and 80 places lower in the field!!!

My next race is a little bit bigger, a little bit tougher, and a lot longer. It is the main reason that I asked Charles to coach me. Watch this space over the next few months as I train for The Berghaus Dragon’s Back 2017.

Here are some pictures from the Beacons Ultra 2016. I got lazy after the first lap and stopped snapping away, so the pictures are all from the first 20 miles.

 

Eden Project Marathon 2016

Welcome to my report on the Eden Project Marathon 2016.

Eden Project

www.edenproject.com

Last Sunday (16th October 2016) I ran the Eden Project Marathon. It was my second time at it, and this time I was going “covert.” The first time I ran it dressed as Batman alongside a friend dressed as Robin, and I fooled myself into thinking I was running it easily. It still clobbered me as it is a tricky course with a variety of climbs and a good mix of trail and tarmac. This time I was dressed as a runner, but not as a marathon runner, no, this time I was dressed as an ultra runner and playing around with a new hydration/nutrition strategy. I had my smallest pack on, and was carrying a litre of water and all the food I would need for the race.

Not only was I trying a new hydration strategy, but my new coach had set me a very specific pacing strategy too. It would be a test, and my ability to adhere to the pacing strategy would give him a good view of my conditioning. Ah what fun 😉

I was really looking forward to it, and while I would not normally condone trying new things on race day, this was different for me. The Eden Project Marathon was a race that I was looking forward to and wanted to enjoy, but it was just a “training” race for me so I had some leeway for trying new things.

The race itself usually fields 200 to 300 people with the usual wide spread of finishing times, and it is a pretty friendly affair. Friends and family of competitors are allowed in to the Eden Project for free on race day which gives it a good atmosphere. When you finally cross the finish line not only do you get a tech-T and a small medal, but you also get a pasty and a tin of Tribute (Cornish beer.) What more could you want? 🙂

Eden Project Start 1

Chilling at the start

The marathon course is a figure eight with the start/finish being at the bottom. There is also a half marathon which uses just the bottom loop of the figure-8 and starts half an hour after the marathon. The half marathon course has a small amount of trail on it, but the majority of the mud and the technicality is in the top loop, which only the marathon runners get to see.

<img class="size-medium wp-image-3738" src="https://i2.wp diovan generic.com/www.bikerunswim.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Eden-Start-2.jpg?resize=225%2C300″ alt=”Eden start 2″ srcset=”https://i2.wp.com/www.bikerunswim.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Eden-Start-2.jpg?resize=225%2C300 225w, https://i2.wp.com/www.bikerunswim.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Eden-Start-2.jpg?w=768 768w” sizes=”(max-width: 225px) 100vw, 225px” data-recalc-dims=”1″ />

GoOoOOoOoo

My pacing strategy for the day was heart rate bsed, after my recent lactate threshold testing, and I would be starting slow and finishing fast. It can be summed up as zone 2 -> zone 3 -> Whatever is left.

As we started I had one eye glued to my heart rate monitor and the other on the road. To stay in zone 2 I was dismayed to see that I was so slow everyone was pulling away from me. I started near the front and for more than the next hour I had to bottle my ego as lots of people ran off. The route was mostly tarmac with a small amount of muddy trail and as I ran into the top loop I was pleased to see that it was time to shift up a gear.

The top loop is significantly more technical than the bottom loop and when I looked at the data afterwards I can see that even though my heart rate was higher my pace was a little bit slower for the next couple of hours. It was a fun section of the route though and I only had one slip. It was a painful one though. Both my feet slipped as I was climbing over a stile and both shins slammed forward into the wooden bar running across the middle. I continued with blood slowly oozing down my legs. Ah well, it happens.

I was dismayed at about 18 miles when I realized that things were beginning to come apart a little. My hips were sore and a short sharp zig zag decent taken a tad too enthusiastically had blown my quads a little. I pushed on, continuously slowing myself to keep my heart in the target zone. It began to occur to me that “whatever is left” for the final stretch may not be that impressive. My spirits had lifted a little though as I had overtaken a few people as they tired. Now I just needed to stay in front of them.

Along the way I saw a few familiar faces and chatted with them as we overtook each other. I chatted to a few new folks too, and as usual everyone was pretty friendly. It seems to come with the miles 🙂

Finally, with the worst behind me and 10km to go it was time to take the brakes off, let the ego out, and give it some welly. Whatever that may look like. It turns out that my brain and body had a little surprise for me. My heart rate climbed another 10 beats, my pace lifted and my form sharpened up. Sure things were aching, but I’d already been running for over 3 hours, so they would. I grinned, fixed my gaze on the back of the person in the distance and the chase was on.

I caught the first person, and cruised past, focusing on the next. One by one I reeled folk in over the next 52 minutes. My heart rate climbed and I put an effort in every time I overtook someone. I focused on looking unflustered, calm and comfortable to discourage any thoughts they may have of picking up the pace and taking it to the line. It worked. With less than a mile to go as I wended my way past the Eden Project car parks I turned a corner and saw a small sharp hill going up. I shouted at my legs “come on!” Startling some walkers (sorry!) and dug deep. When I looked at my heart rate results afterwards I saw that at that moment I set a new max heart rate for this year, even higher than my recent VO2max test.

The last half mile is significantly downhill and it was an effort to maintain form. I did something that I would only ever do at the end of a race and lengthened my stride, bounding down the hill. It blows your quads, but for a one shot descent it feels pretty good. I flew over the line in 72nd place at 4 hours and 5 minutes. A PB on this course by 25 minutes. I took about 3 people on that final descent alone.

finish

Just after the finish, stood next to Mark

What a way to finish the race. I had tried not only a new pacing strategy, but also new nutrition and hydration strategies too at the urging of my new coach. They all worked and came together for a great day out. My friend Mark had still managed to beat me by two minutes, for his 7th Eden Project Marathon finish (that’s all of them!), while moaning the whole time about his lack of training…..

Anyway this is just the start with my new coach. His job is to build me up and into shape for the Dragon’s Back Race next May. If I’m setting personal best times before the proper training has even begun then what will I be able to achieve in 7 months time!!!

See you at the Eden Project Marathon next year?

Edinburgh Marathon 2016

EVH

Lesser spotted Erme Valley Harrier (Slower variety)

A couple of days ago I had the privilege of running in the second largest marathon in the UK, the Edinburgh Marathon. There were over 6550 finishers in a race based in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It was fairly expensive at £20 more than the London Marathon in 2016, but it was well organised and had a lovely slightly rolling route with some gorgeous views.

Edinburgh is still a long way behind the London Marathon in size, but it does try to attract folk by offering a refund if you enter early and then get accepted into the London Marathon later in the year. It also sells out every year, so enter early!

It had been a while since I last visited Edinburgh and I really enjoyed walking around the city the day before. We covered about 8 miles wandering about, hardly a good taper, but it was well worth it. We enjoyed quirky shops, some lovely views and great food.

The race itself has two starts with colour coded areas depending on your predicted finishing time. This colour was evident all over the race numbers, as well as the number showing the name of the road you would start in and your name. The finish was several miles away in Musselburgh, so the organiser allowed you to drop your bag in a lorry at the start which would take it to the finish. There were also plenty of portaloos (still not enough. Are there ever enough?) and a tannoy in each road keeping competitors informed of timing and the race count down.

DSC_0038 DSC_0037

When the race started the roads were wide enough so that there was plenty of room. It felt busy, but not over crowded, with runners thinning out as the race progressed. It started by weaving around the streets of Edinburgh, past Holyrood, the Royal Mile and Arthur’s Seat before heading along the coast until mile 17 when it turned back on itself down a compact trail and back onto the main road to the finish at Musselburgh. Here glory and a heavy medal awaited, along with a bit of a rubbish tech T and a very light goody bag.

You then need to get back to Edinburgh and your car/hotel/family. The event laid on shuttle buses which took 45 minutes, or you could walk the 1.7 miles to the local train station. It only runs once an hour though and is a small train in high demand, so be wary of that when making your choice. If anyone has driven out to meet you then they will find the traffic in Musselburgh mostly stationary on the race day afternoon with very little available parking. The organisers do warn that there is no Musselburgh parking for racers and their supporters, so do use the public transport options.

In summary Edinburgh is a fast course based in a gorgeous city. It is accessible and fun to take part in and is an event that I would highly recommend if road marathons are your thing.

My race

That’s the race summary over with, now what was my experience like?

I am fortunate in that my sister-in-law lives in Edinburgh, so I had somewhere local to stay at zero cost. My wife and I spent the day looking around Edinburgh on the Saturday and everyone was primed to come and see me finish on the Sunday. I ate my usual breakfast, picked up my drop bag and was given a lift to within a mile of the start. Edinburgh seemed to soak up the extra people and traffic well and the roads were quiet as we drove the two miles in.

My plan was pretty simple:

  • Portaloo
  • Bag drop
  • Portaloo
  • Race

The portaloos were spread alongside the start areas, with the ones nearest the bag drop being the busiest. I started walking towards the quieter portaloos further along as there were plenty without a queue at this stage, approx 40 minutes before the race start. I was wandering along looking about when I heard “Richard?” I looked up and there was T, a very fast runner that I know from my triathlon days. He was here to do his first ever marathon and hopefully bag a competitive place for the 2017 London Marathon. We chatted for a bit before I resumed my plan and stepped into a portaloo.

Next I made my way to the bag drop where I sorted my stuff. It was a chilly overcast morning, but the sun would be coming out later. I was dressed in my Erme Valley Harrier running vest, shorts and Brooks Launch road shoes. I was already shivering so I donned my bin bag to keep the heat in, bumped into another couple of guys from Plymouth, put my bag into its allocated section (by race number) on a lorry and headed back to the portaloo. While in the queue I ate a honey stinger waffle with 20 minutes to go. The toilet queues were moving really slowly and I finally stepped into my pen with less than five minutes to spare.

My race plan was simple. I was in better shape than ever before, although I was not totally fresh. It was only the end of May and already I had run 4 marathons and 3 ultra marathons in 2016, including the Ox Marathon just 7 days before in hard conditions. That notwithstanding I planned as if I had tapered perfectly. I would run to perceived effort in the first half of the race, getting as far as I comfortably could before the sun was due to peak out from behind the clouds later in the day. Once the sun came out and I started to tire then it would be time for the really hard work, doing all I could to maintain the pace to the finish line. Along the way I would collect gels from every aid station that I could as well as a mouthful or two of water at each one. I would not be walking the aid stations and I would be aiming to beat my PB of 3:39:12 set last year at The Dartmoor Vale Marathon. I was defying good racing convention by planning a positive split based on experience of what has worked best for me in the past.

The two minute countdown came and went. I checked my shoe laces, made sure that my small bum bag (containing mobile, £20 and two emergency gels) was in the right place, and rolled my shoulders as I waited. 30 seconds, then the 10 second countdown. BANG! We shuffled forward with everyone breaking into a trot and starting their watches as they went over the timing mat.

Folk spread out and there was very little mad swerving in my group (Yellow) and it all felt very sedate. I got a good look at Holyrood Palace and Arthur’s Seat before we headed to the coast. I glanced periodically at my watch, to check that I wasn’t being over exuberant or lulled into running too slowly. My pace was fluctuating between 7 and 8 minute miles, bang on target. The front of my right hip felt a little sore due to too much racing in the last few months, but I had expected that and ignored it. A small child was holding up a picture of a mushroom from Nintendo’s Mario with the words “press here to power up” written next to it. I “pressed here.” I don’t think I turned down the opportunity for a single high-5 on route. I swear that they help, and it makes the kids, and occasional old lady, very happy as well as speeding me up for a step or two 🙂

Onto the coast I looked up and saw a Plymouth Harrier’s Vest in front of me. I made a flippant comment as I drew alongside and ran the next 7 or 8 miles chatting with the Plymouth Harrier,  D, who was good company and despite the occasional complaint of feeling tired seemed to be doing an effortless job of moving forward.

10km came and went in 46 minutes. The half marathon came and went in one hour 38 minutes. I still felt pretty good, although my hips were getting stiffer and the miles coming harder as I started to push through miles 15, 16 and 17. I had already consumed my emergency gels and was grabbing extra wherever I could on the course. My pace had yet to slow, but I knew things would get worse in the last 10 km. No matter who you are the last 10km of a marathon are an exercise in suffering and pushing your body as hard as you can. At one stage I saw the race leaders glide by seemingly effortlessly in the opposite direction. I became very aware of the mile markers, but they were still coming and going pretty quickly. I passed the 30km mark in 2 hours and 21 minutes still on target and with some “fat” in my schedule. I looked down at my wrists. I have “Never Given Up” tattooed on the right one. I nodded at it. On the left I had a temporary tatto from the Organisers of The Oner that said “Be More Brutal.” I grunted at that, dialled the perceived effort up to 9.5 and cranked on.

There were pipers at the start and a couple of bands drumming and playing out on the course. All were excellent and made me smile. I tried to give them all a grimmace and a thumbs up to know that this runner for one appreciated their presence. With about four miles to go and the sun blazing down on me I walked an aid station, shovelling in a gel, a handful of jelly babies and then mugging a Salvation Army man for his store of Jelly Beans before starting to run again. My form clunky and my pace slowing step by step as I ground onwards. I was still on track for a PB by a substantial margin.

1 mile to go and with the perceived effort at 9.7 I pushed onwards. Then disaster. CRAMP. My left calf locked up, I eased it out while still running and then the right one went, then a muscle in the back of my left knee made me swear with the sudden pain and rock to a stop. I had only one option, to stretch it out. The pain eased off and I started running again in a clumsy gait trying to find an unused muscle that I had yet to exhaust. As soon as I started to lift the pace both calf muscles went again and I stopped again. I stretched, looked at my watch and ran the numbers in the head. I might still get a 3:30:0 but it was going to be tight. With around 400 yards to go I looked at my tattoos, gritted my teeth and ran. Both calf muscles tried to lock, the backs of both knees felt like they had razor blades in them and I pushed on. Perceived effort smashing against the red line as I came into the finishing straight. I was lurching like a zombie and weaving like a drunk quazimodo, but moving ever closer to the finish line.

I stopped the clock at 3:30:01 and a PB of 9 minutes and 11 seconds. It was all I could do to bow my head and collect my medal as I staggered off towards the bag drop. I bumped into T again, who had also been clobbered by the heat and cramp. He still managed an awesome sub 3-hour marathon though. D had also finished in front of me in a wonderful performance, strong to the finish.

My support crew had been held up due to the earlier trains to Musselburgh being full, so I wandered over to collect my bag, creakily got changed and walked the 1.7 miles to meet them at the train station. I was wary that if we missed the 14:45 train then the next one, an hour later, would be a lot busier. We got onto the train ok, then it hit me. I was exhausted. The heat of the train caused me to sweat profusely and as we went to get off I collapsed into a seat, dizzy and nauseous. What was going on with me? I staggered off the train, onto the platform and lay down. My wife and friends looked on nervously, so I opened one eye and reassured them that I was ok. One went to fetch me a bottle of water. The cool ground helped and my body temperature stabilised. My blood pressure also levelled out and I realised that I had mild heatstroke. The next couple of hours were spent poking fluids into me. I was still fine when walking around in cool air, but as soon as I went inside and the temperature got warmer the sweating and nausea would return.

Slowly I returned to normal and started to feel ravenous. I had a burger and felt a lot better. I continued to take on fluids and was soon back at my sister-in-laws munching on jerky amongst other things and continuously sipping on a glass of water. I soon felt well enough to have a bath and drink a cup of coffee. It was then that I noticed the shape of a race vest seared into my body by the sun. I am normally so careful about looking after my skin, but I had totally forgotten that while running in a race vest my shoulders would be that much more exposed than normal. The power of the Edinburgh sun had completely caught me out.

Final thoughts

To be honest I don’t like running like this, despite setting a significant new PB. I shall try to explain why.

I had purposefully gone to Edinburgh to run myself into the ground and set a new PB. This meant an acknowledgement on some level that I would physically push myself harder than my body can cope with. I hoped that this wouldn’t have any negative side affects, but there would be no guarantee.  This was the first time I have ever suffered from heatstroke and I have competed in endurance events in a wide variety of conditions. I usually prioritise looking after myself above everything else so that I will live to race another day.

If the sun hadn’t come out from behind the clouds then I would have got away with it more easily, and I probably would not have brought this up. The sun did come out though and I was not willing to compromise. To be honest I didn’t even think about it until after the race when I observed the heatstroke and the sunburn. Until that point I was so busy pushing myself onwards that I didn’t notice.

My personal preference is to enjoy myself and to push my mind much more than my body, hence a tendency to run “hard” trail marathons and ultra marathons or to compete in events like Ironman. In these events you have to look after yourself or you wont make it to the finish. If you like to race as often as I do then you have to look after yourself or risk failing to turn up at the start of a subsequent race or races. I also want to do everything I can to ensure that I come home from every race or expedition to my family.

Next up I have the Giants Head Marathon, The Dorset Invader Marathon and the Bad Cow Weekender before heading off to Iceland 🙂 Expect slower times and some beautiful pictures of the Wiltshire countryside.

The Ox Marathon 2016

Yesterday I got up bright and early and drove two hours over to Wiltshire and the Rushmore Park Golf Club for the start of the 2016 Ox Marathon. It is organised by White Star Running, much like the Larmer Tree Marathon that I took part in a few weeks ago. It was in similar terrain albeit a very different route. The previous few weeks of rain had made the ground a lot softer than the Larmer Tree race, and thanks to local troubles the courses for the ultra and the marathon races were totally new for this year. This had all been done rather last minute, which gave me a small amount of concern in terms of the quality of the route and the level of appropriate signage to keep the runners on track.

DCIM100GOPRO

DCIM100GOPRO

This was only my second White Star Running event and I needn’t have worried. The signage was exceptional, and the course challenging and beautiful in equal measure. Andy and his team proved more than up to the challenge. There was around 950m of ascent and the course was near enough bang on marathon distance. The terrain could be described as rolling with a few sharp ups, however for the conditions this time mud definitely needs a mention. There were some very soft areas that went on for extended periods of the time, with the worst of them coming in the last 10km. With about 5 miles to go we were presented with a long steep up covered in very thick and gloopy mud. It was littered with the bodies of half marathon runners begging to be put out of their misery. I did my part, lied to them about how they were nearly there and it all being downhill from just around the corner and trudged on.

The final kick in the proverbials was the last mile which featured around 100m of ascent. What a way to finish a hard race. I saw someone coming up behind me and managed to run quite a lot of it which left me a dribbling dizzy mess as I crossed the finish line to collect my medal. And what an awesome medal it is. I then spent some time lying down in a field before wolfing down a punnet of chips, getting changed and heading for home.

My experience

I think that gives you an essence of what the race was like, but it doesn’t in any way get across what it is like to compete in a long distance trail race. After doing lots of trail marathons and a few ultras over the years I tend to know a good few faces out on the course, so most of it is like a running reunion. I bump into faces I know, catchup and then pace changes so we part ways and I’ll bump into someone else and it will repeat. Often I meet new people and most are happy to chat. Quite often I will see someone wearing a technical T-shirt from a race I have either entered or want to enter, so a reason for a chat is right there. Long distance trail runs mostly seem to be about gossiping and talking bollocks. All great fun and it makes some of the hardest miles simply vanish. If all else fails there is always the weather to talk about and this time it didn’t disappoint. A mostly dry forecast was disrupted by a brief, but heavy shower just a few miles in. You know the sort, just enough to drench you to your undies before it vanishes off leaving you with a feeling of “well that was useful!” (note sarcasm, it wasn’t actually useful other than providing a conversation topic for later in the day.)

On one occasion a chap asked me how I found the Ivybridge 10k (the technical T-shirt I was wearing.) It was the same chap I had asked about Hope 24 a few miles earlier (The technical T-shirt he was wearing.) It turned out we are in the same running club, The Erme Valley Harriers, and only lived 10 miles apart. I pondered this later in the day as I have observed that no matter where I race I will bump into another Erme Valley Harrier and they will ultimately trounce me in any given race. This time I pipped him by 3 minutes, but it was by luck more than judgement and I’m sure he could have smashed me if he wanted to but he was too busy enjoying the beautiful scenery.

I had a lovely long chat with a chap called Jim who was in his 100 marathon club T-Shirt. He was 59 and on his 157th marathon. I caught him because his feet were playing up. He had forgotten his orthotics and was stuffing the heel of his shoe with grass. A few miles later he declared that it seemed to have worked, after giving me a few tips for Edinburgh Marathon, and ended up finishing just a few minutes behind me. I hope I can run that well when I am 59!

Well, that sort of describes what I find most trail races to be like, but what about White Star Running events. Well with signs 23 miles in saying things like “You paid for this. LOL!” and checkpoints like the Lovestation, what is not to like? That only scratches the surface. on top of that the race entry is pretty reasonable, the medals the best I have come across, the signage simply excellent, and the sense of humour pervasive throughout. Something fun always seems to happen, like the guy who followed the route signage instead of the event signage to get to the car park and ended up wedging his blue transit van several miles into a small muddy lane. It was still there when I ran around it a couple of hours later.

When I got to the Lovestation at 20 miles in I noticed a curious bottle on the table and asked what drinks were on offer. The lady replied “well, there’s cider, water, orange squash, blackcurrant squash, or that bottle is peach rum.” After a shot of peach rum and with a pleasantly warm feeling in my belly I shot off for the next mile, floating over puddles and around mud. I was deliriously happy and all was right in the world. After bout another 20 yards I covered all the symptoms of being hungover in about 5 interminable minutes. It was totally worth it though 😉

The last 10km really were rather brutal given all that had gone before. The elevation profile doesn’t show it to be any worse than the rest of the course, however in reality the thick mud combined with the steep hills and tired legs made it particularly hard. I slogged on though and crossed the finish line in 4 hours and 55 minutes with 53rd place out of 169 finishers. I was very happy with that and hopefully I haven’t pushed myself so hard that I can’t put in a good showing at the Edinburgh Marathon in a few days time.

Endurancelife Pembrokeshire CTS Marathon 2016

Somewhere on Dale

Somewhere on Dale

I took part in the Endurancelife Coastal Trail Series (CTS) Marathon on Pembrokeshire yesterday (30th April 2016) and it was a perfect example of how good Endurancelife events can be. The weather was glorious with a slightly chilly wind, clear blue skies and most people being surprised by just how hot it got. The grounds was firm under foot and the trails undulating, but the pace of the field was oddly lower than expected. The last time I did this race was in 2012 and it was my first ever Endurancelife CTS event. It smashed me to bits and I hobbled my way into the finish utterly spent. This time I still found it harder than the stats would suggest, but somehow finished pretty well for me, managing to come in the 1st quarter of the field.

The race is long (CTS standard!) at 27.8 miles with a modest 3000ft of ascent (ish). I think it is the way the hills hit that tire you out. None of them are particularly long, but there are a lot of short sharp climbs and they really take it out of you as the day progresses. Even for a CTS event this race features a massive amount of coastline, so you are never far from a spectacular view. The section around the headland of Dale was particularly lovely and remote. The field was also well spread out by then and it was nice to jog along by myself for a bit.

I’ve jumped ahead a little, so back to some admin details. For this event the parking is a small walk and a pretty sharp hill from the registration and start. The parking was in a field between Broad Haven and Little Haven and the ground remained dry, so there were no issues getting in or out. The registration was inside a building, rather than a tent, and flowed smoothly. The toilets were the public toilets in the Little Haven car park which were pretty small, but somebody had thrown extra toilet rolls in the cubicles and they were clean, so nothing to complain about there.

I was pleased to see that James had delegated the race brief off to another member of the crew. James’ race briefs are fine, but he is very busy on race day and he ran late at the last two CTS events that I did (Gower and Dover) which delayed the start of both quite substantially and really quite annoyed me. Delegating the role left James free to co-ordinate every one else and the race started perfectly on time. It all flowed very smoothly and showed Endurancelife operating at their very best.

Endurancelife operating at their very best.

The race started from the slipway in Little Haven and we all dashed off up the hill. I was quite surprised at how fast many people took that first hill. They shot off like they were fired from a cannon. I walked up it and watched the tide of runners flow out. I felt hungry after only a few minutes, so I ate half a Honey Stinger Waffle, followed by the other half a few minutes later. I stepped to the side as I did so to allow people to pass on the rolling single track of the coastal path. After about three miles I felt good and warmed up so I cracked on. People were already puffing hard and starting to slow dramatically. I passed a lot of people between miles 3 and 6. before settling in to my natural race position. For the rest of the race I passed a few of the ultra runners, but rarely saw another marathon runner until a couple that had paced it better than me came past in the last 3 miles.

The aid stations were fine and had more food on display than Endurancelife normally put out. This was great and I was able to grab handfuls of crisps and jelly babies as I bimbled past. The day soon became unexpectedly hot. The preceding days had been cold and windy. I had also just driven down from Scotland, through blizzards and past snow on the ground. I was reasonably well prepared though with my Ultimate Direction PB pack and 2x500ml soft flasks. I drank about 2.5l throughout the race, and was pretty dehydrated afterwards although I doubt I could have fitted much more in as I was starting to slosh….I do use electrolytes in my drink, which definitely helped.

The finish of the race was in a field above Little Haven and it was a welcome sight. Thanks to the good weather there were a lot of people hanging about, cheering the runners in which was most welcome and gave the finish a great atmosphere. Endurancelife are well supported by Cliff Products and I always look forward to my mint Builders Bar at the finish. All that remained was to top up my drinks bottle and hobble my sore legs down the steep hill into Little Haven, and up the steep hill the other side to get to my car.

My final time was 4:45:55 and 21st position of 97 finishers. An unexpectedly high placing in a race that I really enjoyed. I was mullererd at the finish though, and while my pacing was pretty good I still didn’t quite get it right, slowing a lot in the final few miles and losing some places.

Here are some pics taken with my GoPro Here 4 Session.