Monday 18 July 2016

Race report: XNRG Chiltern Challenge Ultra 50km

The fun started early today. Up at 5am to get fed and up and about for today's run. First up, the 5:58 tube to Edgware Road. Train info was broken at Wimbledon, two trains were in and ready to go. Sign said "Take the first train and change at Earl's Court". One train was unlabelled, one said Edgware Road. I sat on the Edgware Road train, hopefully. The other one pulled out.

Already 15 minutes behind schedule, I got to Edgware Road at 6:50 - ten minutes to panic jog to Marylebone for the 7:00 to Princes Risborough - start and finish of the race. I collapsed onto the train - 06:58, made it!

At 07:35 when the two following trains to Princes Risborough had left, they finally announced to my train (which had gone nowhere) that there had been a problem with one of the carriages - which was fixed! and then  problem with the radio - which was fixed! and then a problem I could hear over the sound of polite(ish) complaining from the passengers. Train was cancelled.

There were around a dozen runners on my train, so we filed over to the 07:48. Very late now. Thankfully we were met at the station by a nice person from XNRG who gave us a lift to the school - venue for race control.

Race briefing for the 9am starters

Just got there in time to dump my kit bag for later, and get outside for the race briefing. Before I knew it  - we were off.

This is a 50km race around the Chilterns - and whilst there are none of the Lake District style peaks and valleys, there's no shortage of ups and downs. We set off in a big group along a fairly narrow track, spirits were high and just like the start of every ultra, most people were going to fast. Unfortunately I probably was too - being swept along in the rush.

Thankfully we hit a climb soon and everyone slowed to a walk - and from then on there was enough room to run/jog/walk as each of us saw fit.

Aid stations were at roughly 10km intervals. The first came round in just over an hour, and I was feeling good. The second arrived another hour and a bit later, and I was still feeling good - even better after a square of marmite sandwich. More aid stations should have savoury foods! (what I really fancied was a square of cheese - having breakfasted on the train of a bag pork scratchings  but no chance of cheese!).

The third 10km section was a bit longer, with more walking. The nice thing about ultras is you can go at your own pace, it's all about getting to the end - the time is secondary (unless you're in it for the win). For this one, there was a walking option, with walkers starting at 8am, then the masses at 9am, and elites at 10am. During the third 10km section I was overtaken by the lead elite - he'd made an hour on me in just two and a half hours - wow!

The third aid station was particularly welcome as they had mini cocktail sausages - hurrah! Annoyingly, by now my feet were getting a bit sore and I decided to do some more walking. This section, from aid station three to four, was the longest in time, distance, and effort.

I'd been out to the area a couple of times to look at the route, but there were some big changes from the previous years, in particular here - so most of it was unfamiliar. Thankfully aid station four finally arrived, at 41.5km a little later than expected.

I stopped here for a few minutes, and had a little sit down too. My feet were quite painful on the heel - the lack of sleep over the previous week (very busy work week) had left me tired and not keeping good form - I'd fallen into a more heel-first step than I'm used to, and it was getting painful.

The final stretch followed, just 8.5km to go. I walked most of it, with some jogging when I felt like it. After averaging around 8km/hour for the first four hours I'd slowed down and knew I was going to miss my notional 6 hour target, but I knew I'd get to the end.

Nice touch - a print out of the race telemetry

I finally passed under the finishing gantry back at the school in 6:54 - slower than intended, but without any injuries. This is the furthest I've run without my old knee/ITB issue kicking in. For me, that's a winning day.

I was planning on a quick shower, but the nice people at XNRG were giving lifts back to the station, so I didn't - my apologies to anyone who was within 10 feet of me during my journey home.

Couldn't smile much more than this by the end!

Total time 06:54:25

107th out of 217 finishers, 81st male finisher
Time Start to CP1 (approx 10km) 01:08:21
Time CP1 to CP2 (approx 10km) 01:08:22
Time CP2 to CP3 (approx 10km) 01:12:58
Time CP3 to CP4 (approx 12km) 01:56:26
Time CP4 to Finish (approx 8km) 01:28:18

Full results are here

Thanks to Mrs for buying me a hoodie when she signed me up - super comfy, fits perfectly

Friday 1 July 2016

Juneathon 2016 - week 5

Links: Week 1 (01-05) / Week 2 (06-12) / Week 3 (13-19) / Week 4 (20-26) / Week 5 (27-30)

Last year I completed Juneathon - a fun challenge for no reason whatsoever where participants run (or some other kind of exercise) and blog every day in June. I decided to do it again this year, but rather than blog every day for a month (which gets a bit tiresome, as you may remember from last year) I'll just do a weekly summary. Like last year I'm going to try and run every day, with a 5km minimum for it to "count".

Monday 27th June

Today I decided that as Mrs had a rest day and we didn't run our fast half marathon yesterday, I'd get a few minutes of faster running in the bank. A small local loop of roughly 2km with the plan of four laps - warm up, faster, faster still, then cool down.

4x 2km laps for 7.9km in 44 minutes

Worked out well; ran 12:43 to warm up and then 11:05 and 08:56, with a gentle 11:54 cool down. Job done for the day and never more than a mile from the front door.

Tuesday 28th June

Today was going to be a harder day - another one of those "up, up, up, and down again" days, but this time even steeper, and with the weather due to close in early on.

Happy McHappyFace

I drove up to Tilberthwaite car park for the start. All good trail runs have stairs and I'm not afraid of using the same ones multiple times.

Looks more like a jungle trek!

Today's route was a circuit, up from the Tilberthwaite car park, and round a loop that included the tightest contour lines of any of our runs yet.

Hello clouds!

The clouds rolled in, but it was manageable. Some light gloves (thanks Mrs) and my trusty Sailfish hat (thanks Mrs) and all was good.

This wasn't the steep bit

Now it's getting steep...

Head in the clouds (and rain) 

Achievement unlocked

On the way down the rain came in much harder, so I kept my phone safely inside a little plastic bag. Safe to say - it rained. A lot. We exchanged some mutual back-slappery for remembering to bring a complete change of clothes in the back of the car, and then drove home in order to go to the pub and drink beer and eat cheese.

Contour-tactic - when it takes 2:50 to cover just 9km

Holidays are fun! Two Juneathon days left; two much longer days, but not quite so hilly I hope.

Wednesday 29th June

I've been looking forward to running round Lake Windermere and felt it was a good way to finish off the month of running of Juneathon. However, the shortest circuit is 32 miles, and so it felt like a two-day job. Today was day one.

West side today, East side tomorrow

I ran from Ambleside down the West shore of the lake. There's a lot of private lake-front estates (and some tremendous houses) so it's not possible to run right by the lake all the way, however you can get a lot closer on this side than you can the other. Today's run was 25km and took 3:23, and all of it was in torrential rain. This wasn't a problem while I was running, but became a problem when I stopped and started getting cold. My waterproof shell layer isn't up to that level of defence, so I ended up soaked to the skin.

The "station" at Newby Bridge Halt

The route was fairly flat, and - apart from some overgrown pathways - it was good to do some longer periods of running again. I really enjoy the hiking and climbing and careful descending, but it's nice to run a bit.

Newby Bridge

I arrived with 45 minutes to wait for the next train so ambled across to the pub for a well-earned pint, where I sat damply in a chair.

The train that spends its life going from Haverthwaite to Lakeside via Newby Bridge, and back

The highlight, of course, was the Lakeside & Haverthwaite Railway followed by the Windermere Lake Cruises ferry back to Ambleside. The train only has three stops, and spends its life chugging to and fro. I picked it up at the middle of its three stops, Newby Bridge Halt, right at the Southern tip of the lake. One stop up to Lakeland and you can take the ferry to Ambleside, via Bowness-in-Windermere.


The train was a delight, chugging along slowly and tooting regularly. The interior was like trains I remember from my childhood - complete with leaning out of the window to open the doors.

Arrival at Lakeside

The rail and ferry timetables are well synchronised - just a 10 minute wait from train to Ferry.

Two boats run this route, Swan and Teal

Tomorrow will be a harder day - longer and hillier. Hopefully the weather will behave and it'll be drier, too.

Thursday 30th June

The last day of Juneathon 2016, and the longest yet. Today's run was down the West side of Windermere. It's much harder to stay by the shore line on this side. There are some beautiful lakeside properties with "grounds" and I assume they don't like sweaty visitors trampling all over them.

Today's route

The weather was far kinder today, and rain held off. There were some great views of Windermere as I climbed up through Skelghyll Wood.

Windermere in the sun, as seen from Skelghyll Wood

There were a few paths that had visible damage from recent flooding. One river had a bridge on its side and a fast moving stream to navigate. I wouldn't recommend the route unless you're confident on your feet.

Bridge collapsed on this side, and no bridge at all on the other side 

"Honey, yeah, there's another confused idiot in the driveway, we should really put a sign up" 

These cows were intimidatingly large - thankfully they stayed sat down 

Stop, Look, and Listen - Beware of trains!

I can't remember the last time I crossed a railway line on foot like this - and despite looking very carefully left and right, and then again, and walking across carefully - there was a little part of me that expected a mainline train to suddenly arrive at 150mph.

Beautiful garden - this picture does not do it justice

For those that make it safely across the railway line, there's a treat in store. This house on the other side has one of the most beautiful gardens I've ever seen. A stream runs through the middle, and the lawn and flower beds are immaculate. He was mowing his lawn as I passed by, we exchanged a cheery wave.

The pool boy hadn't been round in a while 

Soon I was off the beaten track again, and climbing up into the hills. Some of the paths were somewhat lesser-trodden - nowhere was this more true than in Blake Holme Plantation - a thick and lush forested area. My main path was almost invisible, and at one point I reached a fork where, despite the insistence of my map, there seemed to be absolutely no path at all.

I waded through this for a few minutes before realising it was a terrible idea, and turning back

I decided to cut my losses and take a route down the side of the hill back to the road. There was no way I was going to make it through the forest on paths like this. Even getting back to the road was a challenge - the path here was a stream, slippery, muddy, and cold!

Hello again! Toot toot!

With only a few kilometres left, I chose to run round to Newby Bridge not he road - there was no point in diving back into he forest. With serendipitous timing, I arrived at Newby Brdge Halt precisely as the train tooted its arrival. One minute later and I'd have had over an hour's wait.

No one expected the ferry ticket inspector to be Noddy Holder

Back on the Ferry, and back to Ambleside. Final run of Juneathon complete. 28km and a little over four and a half hours.

Tomorrow: Rest day!