Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Race report: Bedford Twilight 10k

Time for another 10k, and this one is the Bedford Twilight 10k which is paired up with the Bedford Half Marathon - enter both to run the 10k on Saturday evening and then the half marathon the next morning (assuming you're not so much in need of a lie in that you misread the clock and sleep through the start - not that anyone would be that careless).

Taking in the two flat laps of Great Denham parkrun in the morning (resplendent in the sunshine), we headed up to Bedford. We stayed at the Barns Hotel conveniently just the other side of the River Great Ouse from the race HQ in Priory Country Park - yet somehow still a 25 minute walk away to find a bridge.



Great Denham run briefing in action

The run route was quite narrow at the start - runners were asked to self-seed into 5 pens based on predicted time, but as usual some people didn't listen (or care) so even the front wave had some walkers in it. I've nothing against walking if it's permitted, but please start at the back!



Priory park was pretty gorgeous at sunset

I set off with Mrs in wave 2, predicted time 55-59 minutes. The route was flat and led around the park, up into the edge of the town area along a river, and then back into the park. It was a fairly average run, and it was nice to be running out in the early evening rather than the searing heat of the last few months here and on holiday.



Post-race glow, with surprisingly heavy medal

I came in at 55:42 and picked up a weighty piece of bling and my free t-shirt. We got back to the hotel for a disappointing dinner and went to bed, all tucked up and ready to sleep through tomorrow's race.





Sunday, 26 August 2018

Race Report: South Lakes 10k and 5 other races (all at the same time)

Contining the tradition of races whilst away on holiday/business, I entered the South Lakes 10k on a whim last night. Race HQ is South Lakes School in Reston, Fairfax County, Virginia. It's a beautiful area, full of large houses buried in the forest. As with most organised races in the US (in my experience at least) it was pretty expensive - $59.50 including fees and a voluntary $10 donation to the Track & Field team.


Event Logo

In its 7th year

When I was looking for races I found a load of "virtual" races that seem to be vehicles for squeezing a few quid out of people plus some charitable donations. But you get a medal. I'm a sucker for the bling. Before entering the 10k I was going to run 10k anyway, having already entered the  2018 World Chocolate Day 5k & 10k virtual event (run whenever you like in August, submit your time, and they'll mail you a medal). So I was up for a two-medal run! I wonder how many others I could get?



Milling about, ready to go - flags on the right with mile pacing to encourage self-seeding

So toeing the start line this morning I was ready to run the 2018 South Lakes 10k real life event, the 2018 World Chocolate Day 5k & 10k virtual event, the 2018 Dash for the Donuts 5k & 10k virtual event, the Potato Day 5k & 10k virtual event, the Smile run virtual event (with 2017 medal because they had some supplies left and are clearly sweating their assets), and the 2018 WHO Wants to Race for Autism 5k & 10k virtual event (featuring a really cool K9-shaped medal).

There were three other virtual events I found, but their medals were rubbish and 1+8 events all at once would just have been silly (1+5 is perfectly sensible).



All lined up, can we go now?

The school is beautiful, clearly in an affluent leafy area. I arrived by taxi at 6:45 to pick up my number (the DC Metro doesn't start running until 8am on Sunday). I was oddly nervous, it's a while since I've run a 10k at effort. I picked up number 247 and ran. up and down in the car park to warm up a bit.



Selfies are not my forté

We started bang on time at 7:30am, a nice short downhill out of the school and left out onto the perfectly finished wide local roads. The whole route was on tarmac, very little of it was flat. There were no big climbs or flat out descents, but the continual undulations were quite draining.



Lumpy - no massive climbs or descents, but nothing on the level

I felt a bit weak at around 7.5km to go, but picked it up from 8.5km onwards. The final 300m was on the running track - I rarely run on tracks, they're so springy! Must do a track session one day...



The only photo I stopped to take - I couldn't help it, so beautiful here!

The field sorted itself out quickly, pacing overall seemed to be remarkable good - after the first couple of km of sorting ourselves out I only gained and lost a handful of places for the rest of the event. All the intersections were staffed by police controlling the traffic, with cars parked up with their blues on. I don't know if the school get charged for the police engagement, but with closed roads all the way round I wouldn't be surprised.



Trying a bit hard for the finish

It was an enjoyable run and I enjoyed running 10km hard (well, as hard as I can at the moment!). I came in 14th of 30 in my age group, and 120th of 364 overall. Clock time was 55:39 which translates to 5:34/km (8:58/mile) - or it would if it was precisely 10km, I measured it a little long at 10.2km and going through 10km in 54:49 (which I'm happy with as I thought I'd come in at around 55 minutes, give or take a few seconds).



A big loop around the neighbourhood 



Here's the one you get on the day, photos of all the others to follow

I enjoyed the run, but it's a little bit tough to swallow given I ran my 10k personal best just 18 months ago, and I was over 10 minutes faster! Still, I'm getting better at working exercise into my work routine now, so we'll see what happens in the future.



Making a brief appearance on the parkrun.us most events table

Bonus news: I ran Kensington parkrun in Washington DC yesterday, which means I'm now 5/5 on DC parkruns, but more importantly I've made it onto the US most events table! I'm informed it won't last long, parkrun is gaining in popularity here and with a few more events the entry criteria will raise to 15 events.

Challenge accepted.

Update from September 5th: The virtual race medals turned up!












Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Race report: Xterra 5km trail race (and loads of holiday photos)

I like to look for local races to do on holiday - so was happy to find the 2018 20K/10K/5K Phillip S Miller Park XTERRA Trail Race, an Xterra branded event in Castle Rock, Colorado just an hour's drive from where we're staying in Boulder. The race was to mark the opening of several miles of newly created trail in the grounds of the park. Mrs and I signed up for the 20k event - but I dropped down to the 5km on the day. Why? Let me offer some background...

Mrs came to Boulder for work a couple of months ago and loved the mountains, we agreed to come back for a holiday. A quick check of the map showed two beautiful parkruns within easy driving distance (a rarity in the US) and so I was all-in! Let's go!

We arrived on Tuesday, and by Thursday afternoon we'd hiked to the top of Green Mountain at 6,854ft (2,089m) and I'd thrown myself head first down the other side and spent the afternoon in Boulder Medical Centre getting bits of mountain pulled out of a massive cut in my knee (laceration with complications, according to the paperwork), and then getting it put back together with ten stitches (my first ever stitches, very exciting!).



Almost at the top



The top of the trig point shows the other peaks you can see from Green Mountain



Last known photo of me before the tripping incident



I fell running down a path like this - long runable/fallable downhill trail



Fetching new pink bandage hiding a bit of a horror show underneath!


The following day I drove to Aspen so we could run Aspen parkrun on Saturday. It was my first run after my accident so I was prepared to walk the whole route. Turns out I was able to jog along a little, and walk the hills, so I finished third from last (still in 6th place!) in a parkrun career personal slowest time of 0:44:24 - but I don't care, because the course was staggeringly beautiful, the team were really friendly, and at 8,000 feet (2,438m) above sea level it's the highest parkrun in the world.



I love finding the parkrun flag on a Saturday morning, it's a high point of the week



The course starts on an astroturf sports field, they were warming up to play baseball after we'd run 



There were more than twice as many doughnuts as there were runners!



Just look at the mountains! I've honestly never seen a parkrun so beautiful



Jeff gives the run briefing - taking part are two Brits, two Germans, two Australians, and two locals



A bridge on the outbound leg of the out-and-back course



The whole course is on what they call "trail", well paved and maintained pathways



A bridge on the return leg with an old church to one side



A large painted Aspen logo on one of the walls of Aspen High School


We drove back via Mt. Evans, the highest paved roadway in North America, and one of the famous fourteeners in the Rockies (a peak of 14,000 feet or higher). We drove up a winding road with 180-degree hairpins and no guard rails to the car park near the very top. Up at 14,000 feet the effective oxygen level is just 12.3% (compared with 20.9% at sea level) and I really noticed it! There's a short hike to the peak, and I had to stop every minute or two to catch my breath, I felt like I was on the verge of passing out all the time! The view from the top was hazy but incredible.



The top of the world (almost) - Mount Everest is twice as high above sea level as this



My doing a good impression of someone not about to pass out



Mrs seemed far less bothered by the altitude, and even jogged down the path back to the car



Mrs, looking like she's in a fitness magazine photo shoot



The highest ground either of us have ever stood on


So, that's enough background and holiday snaps. Back to the race. I was signed up for the 20km but there was no way I was getting round that so I dropped on the day to the 5km. Registration was 6am to 6:30am with race start at 7am. They like it early round here, to get out and done before it gets hot. We got up at 4:15am and were out on the road by 4:45am (it's not a holiday without a stupid early start to get to a race).

The course was very up-and-down, and all single track trail (proper trail this time) so overtaking was hard. I was fine with that as there were no heroics required - I cringed inside whenever I imagined tripping and falling onto my leg again!

I trundled round the 5km and was really pleased that once warmed up I was running fairly well. I completed the course nearly ten minutes faster than yesterday's parkrun! Mrs was sticking to the 20km and ran a really impressive negative split with the second 10km lap 90 seconds quicker than the first.



Post-race, with free t-shirt...



...and a decent slab of bling


No more races, we've got the rest of this week out here, and then we fly back on Saturday after South Boulder Creek parkrun.

A quick recap

It's been a while so let me catch you up:

I finished the Chiltern Wonderland 50 in 2017 comfortably. I jogged round without paying much attention to my watch - and finished with 20 minutes to spare, but still jogging along happily. There isn't a race report for this race.

I did not finish Wendover Woods 50 - I managed 45 of the 50 miles (4.5 out of 5 laps) and couldn't go any further. I learned the hard way - even if you've finished the race before, you gotta give it respect and go in trained. New job and travel was not kind to training, so I couldn't quite make it. Second ever DNF, and no grand slam for me. Not doing any 50s in 2018, but I'll give the 50 slam another go in 2019. There's a race report that's been in draft for months, I've included it below so you can live through the disappointment with me (aren't I kind :).

parkrun has been ever-present, and I've only missed a couple of Saturdays - despite a really heavy cold that lasted for three weeks in November and December. I'm pleased that I've maintained my parkrun obsession (even if it is bordering on addiction) - it's good for my head, and if I'm parkrunning then I feel like I am in some control of my rollercoaster schedule. This has continued into 2018. I still #loveparkrun

A navigational slip-up a couple of weeks ago led to repeating a parkrun course for the first time in years - Reading parkrun, it was lovely to see you again.

Mrs made it to John O'Groats, with a short break 2/3 of the way through to recover from a foot injury. I'm immensely proud of her, and you can read all about it on her blog.


Wendover Woods 50, 2017

The last 50 of the grand slam, and far and away the hardest. Wendover Woods last year was my second 50-miler. I know the course inside out thanks to many training laps last year, and a couple when I could squeeze them in this year, so knew exactly what was in store. Hills mainly. Many many hills. Well over 3km of climbing over 5x 10 mile laps. There’s a well stocked aid station (now fully enclosed) at the start/finish, and a half-way aid station for a mid-lap top-up. Like every Centurion race the route marking is excepotional, the aid stations are well stocked even if you’re right at the back (and I’d know), and the support from the volunteers is relentless.

I stayed over the night before at Tring Premiere Inn, picking up Mrs on the way straight from an overseas business trip. All kit laid out ready for the morning, a quick beer and pub-grub from the Beefeater next door, drop-bag packed - ready for the morning. The hotel is only a mile or so from the race start, so no crack of dawn required. We were up and out by about 6:30am, and by 7am I was checked in, kit checked and race number collected, and back in the car with the heating on waiting for the race briefing - and damn was it cold. Nice addition over last year was a little coffee stall where we topped up the caffeine levels with a couple of large cappuccinos. Mrs left at just gone 7 to head off to the mid-point aid station where she was volunteering from race start through to 4pm.

We filed out over the stile to the race start area - race briefing is outside on this race and it was barely above freezing, so James kept it short and sweet. In no time we were off, and all that stood between me and my grand slam medal/dinner plate (it’s enormous) was a cold day in the forest running in circles up and down hills.

The first lap was good - the sun was coming up and the crunchy frost on the bright fallen leaves and grass was beautiful. I covered the lap in 2:14. No need to stop for long at aid stations, let’s just keep on trucking.

Lap two was mentally tough. I wasn’t sure how I was going to make it - it was still cold, and I didn’t feel too confident, but I pushed on confidently - my brain wasn’t happy, but I wasn’t letting it slow me down. No stopping on the hills! Short aid-station stops only - in and out! Keep the cadence up throughout. 5 hours down for laps one and two, I’m happy with that.

Lap three was a lap of two halves. I started the way I’d finished lap two, feeling like there was still a very long way to go (which, of course, there was). But as I got nearer the midpoint, and the regular sunshine boost I get from seeing Mrs running the tea urn, I cleared the mental fog. My second wind was kicking in and I pushed on.

The unusual thing about this race is you’re continually being lapped (at my pace anyway) which, earlier on, is kind of fun - the front runners are so damn fast, they come flying past, and once again I was getting lapped by the mid-point of my second lap (where I had covered 15 miles, and they were already 10 miles ahead of me!). Arriving at the start/finish aid station at the end of lap three, the front runners were finishing their race.

In the later laps it gets depressing. Everyone says “hi” and swaps a few words, which I love, but the constant reminders that “everyone” is going faster than you can get draining - all part of the race. There seemed to be a never-ending train of people lapping (or catching and overtaking) me on lap four. Knowing they were all on lap five or were faster was getting to me. The sun was starting to set, the temperature dropped quickly. A few km into the lap I stopped to put my head torch on. I was still pushing on, and although I wasn’t happy I was a long way from any dark thoughts of “why am I doing this?”, or even worse “I can’t do this” - I knew I could do it, I did it last year.

Lap four took a long time. I was slower than last year, and spent some time doing a little mid-race maths. I thought if I had set off on lap five by 11:00 elapsed time then I would have all the time in the world to get round - that’s even half and hour more than last year’s final lap which I walked. I saw Mrs in the start/finish aid station, she’d made her way up from the mid-point now, and after a quick hug (no unnecessary stopping at aid stations!) I was off again.

Lap five got hard almost immediately. Last year I was suffering but was still able to march on forward - this year I felt like I had less energy with every step. At around 6km in is a long drag from virtually the lowest point on the course, near the mid-point aid station, to the highest, the Go Ape centre by the car park on the top of the hill and at the centre of the woods. I was struggling hard by this point, making very slow progress, getting slower and slower - finding even my marching was dropping into scuffing along if I wasn’t 100% focussed on it. I found it damn near impossible to get up the hill. I stopped again and again, unable to make any real progress. A trickle of people also on their last lap were rushing past me - how were they still going so fast? I stopped for a moment around two thirds of the way up, I was out of breath, my pulse was through the roof - I could feel my heart happening in my chest - but I was getting colder, and barely moving.

I got to the top after what seemed like a lifetime, and collapsed onto a bollard. I stopped my watch. My race was over. My year-long quest to complete the grand slam of 50 mile races was done, having fallen short just six or so miles from the end. No one gets a big medal and a special green t-shirt for running 194 out of 200 miles though. I called Mrs and asked her to tell James I was done.

I scuffed my way, full of emotion, back to the start/finish. Mrs met me at the stile with a cup of tea and helped me to the tent. Having been hardly moving for the last 90 minutes I was now really cold - I should have put on my emergency dry layer (mandatory kit) but I’d forgotten it was there. I sat on a chair in the tent - she immediately wrapped me in a foil sheet, and before I knew what was going on she’d got the medics and I found myself in an ambulance being poked and prodded.

The medical opinion was that I’d stopped at the right time. I sat in there for what seemed like hours but was probably no more than half an hour. They burried me in blankets, and clipped an oxygen saturation sensor to my finger (which didn’t work at all as my finger was too cold). After some further monitoring they released me into the care of Mrs, and she looked after me from there.

We got back to the hotel and I got into bed with all my clothes still on to warm up slowly (medical instructions - don’t jump into the bath or a hot shower - warm up gradually). I was bitterly disappointed I’d got so close, but ended up with only my second ever DNF. And what a race to DNF. Not how I wanted to finish the season.

I’ll have another go at the grand slam, but not next year. Maybe 2019, where I will give this race the respect it deserves, and make sure I get to the starting line fitter and faster.

Thanks to Centurion for putting on the best races on the circuit; to Mrs for the mid-lap boosts and for looking after me while I got myself together at the end; and particularly to the medical team for checking me out and making sure I was OK.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

A tough first week on LEJoG

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The adventure starts here

I wrote last week about my wife's amazing challenge, and this weekend I went to fulfil my first round of cheerleading responsibilities by driving out to Taunton to meet her on Friday night. I'd got a room at a nearby B&B for us to stay in, then I was going to drop her off Saturday morning to carry on, take a quick tourist trip to Taunton parkrun, and then catch up with her again later in the day. She had been clear with her rules regarding no outside assistance - I wasn't bringing any supplies, fresh clothes, or even food - but we'd agreed that being ferried to and from overnight accommodation when I visit was acceptable, otherwise we'd never see each other for the six weeks.



The South West Coast Path

I've been in sporadic contact with her during the week - she's been out of coverage a lot, and using her phone on airplane mode for most of the days to save battery. The fun started on her very first day - trails that hadn't been cleared for years and were waist deep in brambles and undergrowth, challenging surfaces with sharp loose stones, and rising temperatures and an unforgiving sun.



Overly familiar cows

It seems that land owners in the South West don't seem to take too kindly to paths across their land - she's battled with razor wire, deliberate sealing shut of gates, and even electric fences. A route such as this one is far too long (and time consuming) to view properly before hand, so she was seeing the paths for the first time - whatever condition they were in. Not to mention the local livestock are considerably bolder than we're used to. A cheery "Hello, cows!" and a bit of arm waving is normally enough to have them wandering off elsewhere - but the Cornish cows are much more determined to get a sniff of the stranger in their midst.



Thou shalt not pass

There have been high points too, of course. Mile after mile of incredible chocolate-box countryside, wildlife, and beautiful spring flowers. Perfect villages with local shops and pubs, and the kindness of strangers. Some of the pictures she's been posting are just incredible (all the pictures apart from the first and last accompanying this post have been posted during the week).



Nature, doing her thing and doing it well

When I met her on Friday in the middle of nowhere down a track so narrow I have no idea what would happen if I met an oncoming vehicle, she was not happy. It had been a very long, hard, and slow day. She'd picked up a little foot problem on the first day that hadn't given her any respite all week, and had escalated painfully. She said she wanted to stop, she'd had enough, it was too hard, her foot problem hurt too much and both her feet were sore - it was over.



You are now entering cream tea country

The frustration was that apart from her sore feet, she felt fine! She had energy and wasn't suffering from any muscular or mechanical pain. As she put it: her engine was fine. I hugged her tightly, and bundled her up in the car so she could go somewhere clean and soft for a shower.



This, apparently, is a path

Over dinner at a local pub I said that now wasn't the time to make any decisions. As she was clearly in pain and upset, I suggested a rest day on Saturday. Feet up, relaxed, following a good night of sleep - and then we can think about what to do next. I was so happy when she agreed to sleep on it, and take a rest day.




After I'd enjoyed the delights of Longrun Meadow parkrun, we drove into the town centre and found a nice little bar attached to a hotel where we had breakfast, and then spent most of the day sat on their sofas with a couple of pints, taking turns to pop out on errands - me to check in to our hotel for Saturday night, her to stock up on foot care products from Boots. She was able to go up and down the stairs perfectly well, and was walking normally, save for the hurt feet - incredible given she's covered 170 miles in the previous six days!



Simply stunning

We talked about the next week's plan, her route and where she was going to stay. She booked a couple of places for the next few evenings - we didn't need to talk about if she was going to continue, she'd already decided to push on. Her mental strength is enviable. In the end we spent so long in the bar that we also had dinner there.



Breaking in new shoes, ultra-style

Up at 6am this morning, I made some coffee while Mrs re-packed her bag and prepared for the day ahead. I dropped her off at the exact spot I'd found her on Friday, and made a quick getaway - keen to take away any chance of a last minute change of mind! A little over three hours' drive later, I was back home. She was still out there, jogging and hiking her way to the end of day seven of the toughest task she's ever taken on.



The sign of a good tea room

Battling nature, man, and the elements this week, I think she found out just how hard this challenge is. It's definitely not a given that she will make it to the end, and that makes it a genuine challenge - adding a sense of adventure and excitement, just as much for me and her followers as for her!



Land's End, the day afternoon before day one

There will be more tears before the end, but she reads all her tweets and texts each evening, and with our messages of love and support she can make it: one incredible woman covering the length of Great Britain on foot - 1,035 miles, over 100,000 feet of ascent, all in under six weeks.

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