Category : Race Reports

Greater Manchester Marathon 2018

Race time: 2 hours 39 mins 54 secs

Race position: 37th

Male V45 position: 3rd

Firstly, I’m sorry this is a long report!  I guess that’s because it tells a story of how several years of blood, sweat and tears all finally concluded with a happy outcome in Manchester on Sunday.

It’s odd that we runners become so obsessed with arbitrary time targets.  I’d previously run 2:40.15 for a marathon, so should it really matter whether or not I can manage to run 16 seconds faster, in order to run under 2 hours 40 minutes??  Well, the answer is YES!!! It probably doesn’t matter for anyone else, but for some odd reason it matters A LOT to me to have completed a marathon in a time of two hours and thirty something minutes….. I am very competitive, with myself as much as with other people, and I think I have seen it as a minimum standard that I should be capable of achieving.  Once I began to get close to this target, an obsession grew!!!

In the last few years I’ve experienced some great highs, as I love progressing through marathon training blocks, and the feeling of euphoria when I have nailed a key session and felt myself getting stronger and faster.  I’ve also experienced some big lows, through a combination of near misses, injuries and failures when I know I have been ready to run faster.  This was to be my 3rdserious attempt at a sub-2 hour 40 minute marathon.  I’d come close at London in 2016, missing out by 15 seconds.  Then last year at Frankfurt I felt I was in the best shape I’d ever been in, but it all went wrong when I found myself stuck behind 1500 runners at the start.

But this time, everything did finally come together for me, and the benefits of those many hard, long and lonely training sessions allowed me to dig deeper than I thought was possible in order to achieve my goal.

Training

Training for Manchester 2018 had been solid.  I don’t think my confidence was as high as it was for Frankfurt, when I’d been knocking out sub-6 minute miles with ease on long training runs.  But my training had been very consistent.  Due to my weekly commuting to Brighton I had not managed any 70+ mile weeks, but I had consistently produced 60+ miles per week for much of the 13 week training block.  I’d had some very good long runs with marathon pace in them, and the usual regular 80-90 minute threshold runs.  I firmly believe that consistent training and in particular regularly delivering on the key sessions is the most important goal when marathon training.

The other factor which is crucial is confidence, and I had a dip in my confidence when Retford half marathon went badly (over 1 minute slower than my PB from 2016).  That was followed by some disruption due to the snow and the cancellation of the East Hull 20 mile race.  By that stage I was badly in need of a confidence boost, and so my coach (Dave Tune) and I scheduled 2 key sessions in the final 3 weeks before the marathon.  I managed a tough 22 miler with accelerating 5 mile blocks, and then 13 days before the race I did an excellent 90 minute threshold run which was spot on marathon pace throughout.  I really needed those runs to go well, and they left me feeling a lot happier about the training block as a whole and more confident about the marathon.

Maranoia (irrational worry about the impending marathon race!)

This was to be my 16thmarathon start, as well as doing 9 ultras so far.  But that previous experience has not reduced my levels of Maranoia.  In fact I think this is my worst case of Maranoia so far!!

After Retford, I had a really tight right hamstring.  A couple of visits to the physio (Sally Fawcett and then Kim Baxter) sorted that out and they both assured me I was fine.  Despite that, I continued to feel pains in my hamstring right up to race day. I had another appointment with Kim, where she confirmed again that there was nothing wrong….but the phantom pains persisted – clearly psychological.  I then made matters worse in the week before the race, by deciding that I had tight glutes, and through doing self treatment and rolling on a tennis ball I developed nerve pains in my right side – which gave me something else to worry about!

I tried to deal with all this through various calming techniques, including a form of meditation known as Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) which involves tapping on meridian points around the body whilst repeating reassuring messages about the problem you’re trying to resolve.  This was actually incredibly helpful and calming.

I also don’t sleep well in the run up to a marathon (in fact during marathon training full stop!). The worst thing ever for me was when I learnt just how important sleep is for recovery.  That has just made me more anxious about getting enough sleep – and of course that anxiety then stops me sleeping.  I was doing OK in the week before the marathon, but then sure enough on Friday night I lay awake almost all night, feeling like match sticks were propping my eyes open, and managed at most 1 hour’s sleep.

That, of course, was not good for my stress levels and the Maranoia ramped up another level!!  I tried to help myself on the Saturday before the race with a couple of sessions of Yoga Nidra, which is a therapeutic and restorative relaxation practice – that did help a lot, and somehow got me through the day.

Having spent most of Saturday kicking my heels, waiting around the house (and probably driving my wife, Kate, mad with my fidgeting) the time finally came for me to travel over to Manchester.  I was staying with Noel Irwin (friend of the Striders and all round great bloke!) who has now moved to Manchester.  Noel was in Sheffield on Saturday, so I drove over to Manchester with him on Saturday evening and we had a good chat, which nicely distracted me from the race.   I got to bed nice and early – and the one advantage of virtually no sleep on the Friday night was that I managed a good deep sleep on the next night!

Race morning

One of the reasons I chose Manchester is that it is a very fast and flat race, if the weather is OK – which of course is far from guaranteed in Manchester.  On Sunday we were very lucky and the weather was perfect – cool, dry and virtually no wind at all.  I could not have asked for better. 

I had a very easy journey to the start of the race, only 4 stops on the Metro.  So I was at the race start nice and early.  I met up with Tom and Charly, from the Striders, for a quick pre-race chat.  Then I took myself off to go through my pre-race preparation.   I spent a good amount of time doing my usual stretches and then some yoga.  I really value my yoga practice (my wife is a yoga teacher) and find it very calming, grounding, and good for getting the energy flowing.  I felt pretty good after that, and managed to sustain my calmness and positive mindset despite the huge queues for toilets and the bag drop.

I headed off towards the start just after 8.30am, feeling calm and focused.  Another reason why I chose Manchester ahead of London is that I don’t seem to respond well to busy crowds and pre-event hype.  This was perfect, as I had a nice jog to the start line and then there was loads of space in front of the start for a good warm up. I was then able to find my place in the start line, 2 rows from the front of the race.  No danger of a repeat of my Frankfurt fiasco here!!

The Race

The race got underway, and I soon found myself trying to slow down.  As usual everyone went off way too fast and the pace felt too easy. Despite my efforts to hold back, my first mile was done in 5 minutes 55 seconds, which was not the plan.  After that though I managed to put the breaks on and settled into a good rhythm, knocking out the miles bang on my target pace of around 6 minutes 3 seconds per mile.

To try and manage my ongoing Maranoia induced injury fears, I used a series of mantras which I repeated to myself.  These aimed to keep me relaxed and stop me from looking out for niggles or tensing up. I told myself I was “in my flow”, that I had to “stride out uninhibited” and “Run with a smile”.  I particularly focused on the last one, and really tried to enjoy those early miles.

Around mile 6 I went through Sale, where I saw Noel who was marshalling there – the first of several friendly faces who gave me encouragement and support on the day.

I completed the first 10k in 37 minutes 33 seconds, which was bang on target.  However I did have some concerns.  My plan was to run the first 8 miles at the low end of my Threshold HR (140-145 bpm) but I was averaging between 148-150 bpm.  I was also feeling some minor aches in my legs – nothing much, but more than I should have been at this early stage in the race.

I tried to just relax and not worry about this.  That was helped when I joined up with another similar paced runner for a few miles, and we worked really well together.  I was feeling pretty positive as I approached mile 10 where I saw my coach, Dave, and Jenny Blizard, and then Tom Halloway – it was nice to see them and that gave me a good boost.

Not long after that, as we went through Brooklands (where there was great support) and on into Timperley (mile 12), we joined on to a few other runners and formed a pack of around 5 or 6 runners.  Running with a pack is helpful, having a similar effect to a cycling peleton, helping with pacing and mental focus, and generally making the long run feel that bit easier.  At times I had a slight concern that we maybe going a bit too fast (running between 5.59 and 6.03 m/m), but I decided that continuing with a strong group was beneficial rather than holding back and ending up on my own.

Soon we were going through Altrincham, where we reached the half way mark.  This section has the only climb of any note on the whole course – it’s not that bad either.  I got a bit over excited here, with the crowds and the impending half marathon mark, and I pushed to the front of the group, overtaking some other runners along the way – I would soon be regretting this.

I passed through half way in 1 hour 19 mins 22 seconds.  This was exactly as planned, averaging my target 6.03 min/mile pace.  It left a small amount of room to slow in the second half, but not much – I could afford the “luxury” of being able to run the second half at 6.05 m/m pace and still achieve my goal…..

Miles 13-18 Getting dropped, bouncing back

I’d been looking forward to the next stretch, coming back out of Altrincham.  It was slightly downhill and I expected the positive feeling of being past half way.  Also for a couple of miles you have loads of runners on the other side of the road heading into Altrincham, so there’s plenty of mutual support (and it was great to see several Striders and shout out to each other).  However I pretty soon realised that I wasn’t feeling good. The group I was running with had picked up the pace, and I was struggling.  I had pushed a bit too hard in the previous couple of miles.  My legs ached that bit more, my stomach felt unsettled and I generally felt weaker than I should have been feeling with over 12 miles to go.

Over the next 2-3 miles may pace slowed further with mile 16 being a 6.07 minute mile.  In that time I dropped off the back of the pack I’d been running with.  As I slipped further behind them I looked back to see if there were any runners coming through who I could run with – but there was a massive gap and no one to be seen. I was on my own.

This was potentially disastrous.  I was about 30 metres behind the pack that I’d been running with.  With such a long distance to go, I knew that I could not run all the way on my own and hope to sustain the required pace.  I knew that if I did not catch that pack back up again, then my race was over.  The problem was that I didn’t think I had it in me to claw back the gap.

At mile 16 I was still feeling sorry for myself, when I saw Dave Tune again.  I hadn’t expected to see him until mile 18 so this was a nice surprise.  He had weighed up the situation and told me that I had to try and catch up the group in front of me.   Although I already knew that, it was only when Dave gave me this encouragement and instruction that I finally started to wake up to the situation.  I realised that I could not give up on my dream without giving it a bloody good go.  I also realised that although a gap had been created, the group had not been getting further ahead of me during the last mile or so.  It was time to go for it!

I was quite sensible about how I approached this.  The temptation was to put on a sprint and get back into the group quickly.  But instead I just gradually picked up the pace and slowly but surely the gap diminished and I knew I was going to catch them.  I knocked out miles 17 and 18 in 6.01 and 6.03 minutes per mile.  By the end of mile 18 I was back in the pack.  Get in!!

I saw Dave and Jenny again at mile 18.  Dave clearly knew how big a deal it was for me to have caught back up with the pack. “Great running Mark!  Brilliant!” he shouted.  I gritted my teeth and gave a fist pump.  This was a big moment, the race was back on.  Come on!!

Focused on closing that gap

Miles 19-26.2 Digging deeper and deeper

I now had the momentum with me.  Having caught up the pack, I pushed on and passed most of the runners in that group. I continued to catch and pass more runners over the next couple of miles.  I was feeling strong and confident.

I soon went past 30k. I had completed 3 consecutive 10ks in the same time of 37 mins 33 seconds.  That was bang on target at 6.03 min/mile pace.  Those times are also only 82 seconds slower than my 10k PB – which shows how weak that PB is….

Soon after I passed through 20 miles in 2 hours 1 minute and 13 seconds.  I was pleased with that.  At that point, I had exactly 10k to go, and could afford to run it in 38 mins and 45 seconds – that was do-able but far from easy at this late stage in the race. There was still a lot of work to do.

The problem with my surge past the other runners was that I soon found myself running on my own again (in front of them this time).  This was the part of the course where I really didn’t want to be on my own.  The course heads out into the countryside at around mile 20, for a few miles, and there are virtually no supporters until the final mile of the race.  It was going to be a long and lonely slog which would require a lot of concentration and mental strength.  This was where those long threshold runs on the windy Brighton seafront would count!

My pace was slowing a little.  Mile 21 was done in 6.11 minutes.  However I was then able to knock out a faster mile 22, at 6.05 minutes.  That was a big boost.  But it also took it out of me.  I was left with 25 minutes to run the final 4 miles – that’s 6.15 min/mile. If someone had offered me that position before the race I would have bitten their hand off.  It felt achievable.  But, as I continued to run alone with no one either running on the course or even spectating, I was finding it harder and harder to sustain my pace.

During mile 23 I looked at my watch a few times and saw my pace at 6.20 or 6.25.  My pace for the mile as a whole was 6.17.  This was worrying.  I needed to stop the decline and try and go a bit faster.  But I felt so weak and every muscle was screaming at me – the likelihood was that I could only get slower from thereon in

At this point I had a word with myself!  I recalled my last long training run down in Brighton.  I had set out to run 22 miles, at 6am, including 4 blocks of 5 miles each – starting with 5 miles at 6.45 pace and gradually progressing with the final 5 miles at 6.00 pace.  The run had gone well but I had only managed 3 miles at the target 6.00 pace and then I’d had to slow down.   Afterwards Dave observed that my heart rate had still been OK and that physically he thought I had been capable of continuing at 6.00 per mile, but that my slowing down had been a psychological decision – my brain telling me to back off!  I took this on board, and at mile 23 of the marathon I realised that I was in a similar position.  I may have felt exhausted, but my heart rate remained stable, within the threshold zone, and I was capable of continuing to push. It felt like an ALMOST impossible task – but I did have a choice.  I told myself was still physically able to continue, and I told my brain that I just had to endure this pain for about 20 more minutes.  If I backed off now, it would have been a mental decision not a physical necessity, and I would have been really disappointed in myself.

Of course that is all very easy to say, and very hard to do.  One of the mantras I was using came to the fore at this point.  In my pre-race preparation I had been telling myself that when I needed to dig deep I would find new levels of strength and would feel amazing.  I now started to repeating to myself “Dig Deep, Feel Awesome”.   I can’t exactly say that I did feel “awesome” but the mantra did spur me on.  I managed to pick up the pace a little and mile 24 was slightly quicker at 6.15 minutes.

I was hurting very badly by now.   I felt weak. I had been taking gels every 4 ½ miles, but after having taken one at mile 18 I decided not to take any more, for fear of upsetting my stomach in the later stages of the race.  I was now questioning that decision.  But it was too late now, and I just had to grit my teeth and press on.  Not long to go now – remember it is all psychological, I am capable of pressing on at this speed.  “Dig deep, feel awesome”.

Mile 25 was awful but I knew that if I got through that and into the final mile, then I could pick up the pace for one final push.  I just about held it together as I completed yet another lonely mile in 6.20 minutes.  It was a good feeling to pass the 25 mile marker and to know the end was in sight.

As I dragged myself forward there were gradually more spectators appearing on the course.  My pace was picking up and was showing on my watch at 5.55 minutes per mile.  I actually eased off slightly, fearing I could not sustain this for a full mile. Soon I could see the blue inflatable shape of the finish line in the distance – still some way off, but at least I could see it.  Eventually the 26 mile marker was passed, with that mile done in 6.05 minutes. However much I was hurting, I knew then that I was going to do it.

I pushed myself on through the final few hundred metres.  It did feel like the finish line was still a long way away and was not particularly getting any closer.  I saw the clock tick over 2.39.00, but I was almost there.  Even at that stage, I felt that my body could break down at any point. I thought of pictures of marathon runners whose legs had given way in the final metres of the race and who had crawled or had to be helped over the line (doing a “Full Foster” in Marathon Talk speak!).  If I’d let myself relax at all then that could have happened to me.  I gritted my teeth, took deep breaths and drove forward – just about keeping it together.  The clock passed 2.39.30 – I was nearly there but needed to keep some pace up – it was tighter than I would have liked.

At last I crossed the line in 2:39:54!  I’d done it with 6 seconds to spare.  I managed to raise my arms briefly, stopped my watch and then hit the floor!!

On the floor (on the left) - happy but unable to walk!

A couple of medics came over looking concerned.  I was fine, grinning from ear to ear, but I knew it would take a few minutes before I could face moving my legs again.  They helped me into a wheel chair where I sat and recovered for a little while.  I must have looked quite a sight, sat in a wheel chair with a huge smile on my face, punching the air repeatedly!

After a few minutes I thanked the medics and started the walk back to the baggage area.  I was still smiling and walking with my arms aloft.

I do often have a few tears after a marathon, and right on cue they soon arrived.  It’s such a huge physical and emotional effort, not just the race but the 12-16 weeks of training and the build up.  At Frankfurt there were a few tears of frustration and disappointment at the end.  When the tears inevitably came this time they were undoubtedly happy tears!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

few stats

I finished in 2 hours 39 minutes and 54 seconds – it feels good typing the 39!!  My first half marathon was 1.19.22 and the second half was 1.20.32 – one of these days I might manage a negative split!

I finished 37thout of a field of almost 10,000 runners, and I was 3rdin the Male Vet 45 age category.  I am delighted with that position.  Although those last 6 miles were very tough, I am pleased that I progressed through the field strongly. After 10k I was in 64thposition, and I had moved up to 58that the half way point, and then 50thby 30km, and so I gained a further 13 places in that final stages.   All very pleasing from a racing perspective.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Still smiling

A few days after the race I’ve still got a big smile on my face!  It’s odd that achieving this arbitrary time goal, and improving my PB by the tiny amount of 21 seconds means so much to me – but it does!   I’ve received so many kind messages and texts and comments, from friends and fellow runners and club members who seem to understand my obsession with this goal and how much it means to me – and I have been so grateful for those messages.

I have questioned why this matters so much.  I think a lot of it is about the incredible challenge that the marathon distance brings.  I’ve raced distances from 1 mile on the track through to over 100 miles.  Each of those distances bring their own challenges and I don’t think any 1 distance is harder than the rest – running 1 mile race was one of the most painful experiences of my life, while ultras require a different kind of strength.  But for me the Marathon is really special.  It is the ultimate distance.  I think that is because it brings together the combination of running a long distance and trying to maintain a quite fast and intense pace throughout – and requiring us to keep up that intensity for just a bit longer and further than our bodies think they are capable of.  Marathon training requires us to walk a tightrope where we continually try to balance pushing ourselves harder whilst avoiding breaking down, for 3 or 4 months….  Then when it comes to the race we try and find this threshold point which we can run at for 26.2 miles (and several hours), but where the urge is often to run faster, and where pushing that bit too hard at the wrong time can bring everything crashing down.  There is so much that can go wrong and often it does – the marathon is often the Perfect Storm.  But on a few, rare occasions it can come together and it can all go right – and that brings complete euphoria!

In recent years I think I have got into shape where I could have run a faster time than I did on Sunday. But on each of those occasions the marathon chucked out different hurdles and challenges, as it so often does, and stopped me in my tracks.  It was as if I was being reminded not to be too cocky and not to think it was too easy to achieve my goals.  Even on Sunday, when it did all come together, there were a number of challenges along the way, and I had to endure some very tough times.  And that is the reason why I feel so happy.  I hope that in future I will run a faster marathon than this.  But if I do, I doubt that it will bring as much satisfaction as this one.  That’s because on Sunday when the marathon threw new challenges at me and put barriers in the way, I was able to look inside myself and find greater strength than I ever thought I had.  In those last few miles I was so close to imploding.  But I just couldn’t or wouldn’t let go of the dream of becoming a 2.30 something marathoner.

London Marathon 2016 Race Report

Race time: 2 hours 40 mins 15 secs

Race position: 314th

Male V40-45 position: 45th

 

Build up

I arrived in London with my family on the Friday afternoon, full of anticipation and a few nerves.  My training had gone really well for the past 16 weeks.  I had followed a new approach, with more high intensity work – most of my running being done in the Threshold heart rate zone, which improves efficiency and sustainability of running at around marathon pace.  I had slightly reduced my weekly mileage, but still ran over 1000 miles in training at an average of 65 miles per week.  But my pace was a lot faster, with 11 out of the 16 training weeks averaging below 7 mins per mile across the week.  The signs were good, with new PBs achieved at 5k and half marathon in recent weeks, and some strong long training runs in the bank.  I had even managed a successful taper (for the first time ever) and arrived in London feeling strong and fresh.

My target was to achieve a sub-2.40 marathon, and I believed I was well placed to run around 2.37 or even faster.  With the confidence I had gained in training, I would go as far as to say 2.37 was my primary goal, which would mean running the marathon at just below 6 mins/mile.

However good the previous 16 weeks had been, there is still time for things to go wrong even in the final days and hours before the race.  I have experienced that before.  Sadly, things didn’t go exactly to plan this time either.  Having had a nice Tapas meal in Camden, where we were staying, I went to bed early on the Friday night.  I was asleep by 9.30am, but 3 hours later I was wide awake, and with the marathon demons messing with my head I didn’t get back to sleep at all.

Every piece of advice about the week before the marathon talks about the importance of getting plenty of good quality sleep.  I had not slept well all week, and I think I start to get myself stressed about needing to get to sleep, whenever I went to bed.  I was now really concerned about my lack of sleep, having been awake since 12.30am on the day before the race.

I had a short run on the Saturday morning, which felt good.  My son, Jonny, and I then set off for the Excel arena, accompanied by fellow runner Jase Brannan.  We got through registration quickly, and after a brief trip round the Expo we headed back to town to meet the family for lunch.  This was followed by the Lion King – a good chance to sit down (and have a short snooze!).  Then back for tea and sorting out my kit etc for the next morning.

Me & Jonny at the Expo

Fun at the Expo

I was in bed by 9.30pm, but despite being awake for 21 hours I struggled to get to sleep – getting increasingly anxious about not sleeping.  I did eventually fall asleep and actually managed a half decent night, which is rare for me before the marathon.

Race day 

After my usual pre-race breakfast of porridge, I met Jase in Camden and we set off for the race start at Blackheath.  My stress levels were quite high, and I soon started to panic when there were no taxis to be seen anywhere.  We reverted to plan B and had a pretty smooth journey over by train.  I arrived at the Championship start area about 8.55am – which gave me 65 minutes before the race start.  That sounds plenty, but ideally I like a good 75-80 minutes to really prepare, do some sitting and meditating and yoga to calm myself and then to warm up.  Unfortunately that didn’t really happen and my final prep for the race was a bit rushed.

Arriving at the start area - cold and nervous!

When I entered the Championship start area I had to have my race vest checked to make sure it complied with UKA rules for the race (because it was the UK and English Championship).  I was told that I had to cover up my name, which was on the front and back of my vest, because there are restrictions on the size and amount of “advertising” allowed on vests.  I was annoyed, as I had got my name put on deliberately for this race, as you get so much encouragement during the race; and I lost more precious preparation time taking my vest off and moving my numbers.

I had been told that the Championship area was quiet and calm, which should really help my preparation.  But as I entered the changing tent this was clearly not the case.  Maybe it was the cold weather, but it was packed.  I had just wanted to go and sit and be calm for a while, but that was not going to happen.

I carried on with the rest of my preparation and soon it was 9.40am and time for a warm up.  Again I was disappointed by the facilities.  I had been told we could warm up with the elite runners and expected a nice stretch of road to do this.  But the arrangements had changed this year, and we were packed in like sardines to a very short stretch about 200m long – far from ideal.  I looked around and did find a separate road which I don’t think we were supposed to run on.  I got a bit of a better warm up there, but I was away from all the other runners and didn’t want to miss the walk to the start.  So my warm up was curtailed.

Soon after 9.50am I was waiting on the start line.  I wriggled my way through the pack and got a place about 50m back from the front.  Not a bad place to start.  I could see the elite runners being introduced just ahead.  The build up had been far from ideal and I was disappointed with this.  But I could now take a few minutes to just stand, take it all in and try and keep myself level and calm for the race ahead.  I still felt pretty good and was ready to go.

The race start – miles 1-8

The first couple of miles were quite busy.  There was enough room to run at a decent pace, but it did require concentration to continually find gaps to run freely in.  I felt as though I was staying relaxed.  However my hear rate was far too high.   My race strategy was all based on pacing by heart rate – I planned to run the first 8 miles between 138-144 bpm (the bottom end of my threshold zone) and then gradually allow my HR to rise to the top of threshold (155 bpm) by 21 miles, before giving it whatever I had left in the last 5 miles.  But in the first mile, my HR was already at 155.  I felt fine, but I’m sure the lack of time to relax and to ground and calm myself before the race was impacting me, along with the lack of sleep and associated stresses.

With a few downhill miles, I tried to relax further into the run and get my HR down.  It did come down, but for the majority of the first 8 miles it hovered around 146-148 bpm, which was too high.  My early pace was around 6 minutes per mile for the first few downhill miles and as the route flattened out it settled around 6.05 per mile.  This was slower than I anticipated, but I did not want to push any harder and see my heart rise further, this early in the race.  I just hoped that I was keeping something back for a stronger, faster second half of the race.

Despite these concerns, I was enjoying myself.  The atmosphere was just brilliant.  I loved the crowds, the music and the dancing as we passed through the different areas of South London.  I was running with a smile on my face and I was feeling good,.

Miles 9-14 – starting to pick it up a little

My strategy for miles 9-14 was to allow my HR to rise slowly but keeping it within 145-150 bpm.  I was already running at 146-148 bpm when I started this section and so I focused on maintaining this, which I did quite successfully in the few miles up to half way.  My pace remained fairly consistent at around 6.03-6.04 per mile – just slightly faster than in the first section.  I was feeling strong, although as we approached half way I did notice a slight tightening in my legs.

The support was still amazing as the route wound its way through Deptford, Rotherhithe and Bermondsey and started the climb up to Tower Bridge.  It’s fantastic to have so many people screaming at you!  I loved crossing Tower Bridge, amused by the bloke in the Tutu who was revving up the crowd!

I did let my discipline slip a little in miles 13 and 14 as I climbed up to and crossed Tower bridge, and in the mile after that as I looked out for my family.  My heart rate crept up to about 152, so above my target range.  My pace picked up with this and I was enjoying myself – mile 13 was 6.04 mins, including the main climb on the course up to the bridge, and mile 14 was 5.58. I would potentially pay for pushing too quickly, later in the race.

After Tower Bridge, I turned along the Highway towards the Isle of Dogs.  My family were watching near Shadwell, meaning they would see my just before miles 14 and 22.  It was great to see them and give them a wave, and I knew this would give me a much needed boost later in the race too. 

The Highway - mile 14

Spotted the family - time for a wave

I passed half way in 1 hour 19 mins 49 seconds.  This seemed a bit slow, bearing in mind my 2.37 target.  I had had to hold back to keep my heart rate in check, but I was motoring now and I hoped that I had kept plenty in reserve to deliver a stronger, faster second half.

Miles 14-21 – stepping up the pace

As I moved into mile 14, I picked up the pace.  I was spurred on by huge crowds on the Highway, including my own family.  I felt strong and enjoyed driving on and passing a lot of runners.  I had held back during the first half and now it was time to push on.  I still needed some discipline and needed to keep my heart rate between 150-155 bpm.  I settled into a nice rhythm, with 6 consecutive miles at 5.58-5.59 mins and a 152 average heart rate.

As we moved into the Isle of Dogs, it started to feel tougher.   I knew it would.  There are a few little hills and more twists and turns, and it just feels less vibrant there.  As each mile wore on, my legs continued to feel tighter.  By mile 17-18 although I was still running at sub-6 minute pace, it was feeling like harder work.

My 5k splits up to this point were encouraging – after a fast downhill first 5k (18.41) I ran the next 3x 5k splits at around 19 minutes each, and then the next two 5k’s were faster at 18.42 and 18.51.  But, could I sustain this for another 8-9 miles?

Mile 19 was again sub-6 minutes, but I was really feeling it as we left the Isle of Dogs and headed back towards the City.  The wind was blowing more strongly into my face, my legs were tired and I felt quite weary.  This was the time to dig in, but I was struggling a little.  I managed to keep mile 20 at 6.00 minutes, but my heart rate was up at 156 showing the extra effort needed.  Mile 21 was then worryingly slower at 6.15 mins.  I was in danger of letting this slip away. 

Miles 22-26 – the final push

As I continued back towards the City, I tried to dig in.  Despite it feeling very tough, I was still passing other runners and hardly anyone passed me.  I knew I would see my family again just before the 22 mile mark, and that spurred me on.  It was great to see them.  I managed to wave and almost smile – but with less enthusiasm than earlier.  I was very focused and needed to keep my concentration.

Despite my effort, mile 22 was still off the pace at 6.10 mins.  I was losing time and for the first time I started to realise that I might not beat 2 hours 40 mins.  That thought had never crossed my mind in the previous 16 weeks.  I had always been focused on how close to 2.37 or faster I could get.  Now I knew I was going to have to speed up to get under 2.40.  It was 50:50 at best.

With only 4 miles to go I pushed on hard.  Everything hurt, but I was counting down the miles.  I had to stay focused and pushed on.  I picked up the pace in mile 23, running it in 6.05 mins – a better time, but not fast enough.  With 5k to go I realised I was outside that goal and would have to run the last 5k in around 19 mins or faster.  My 5k splits had dropped off, after the two strong 5k’s between 20-30km.  The 30-35km split was 26 seconds slower than the previous split, at 19.17 mins and the next 5k turned out to be even slower at 19.22 mins.

Mile 24 was a good one, getting under 6 mins, with a 5.58 min/mile.  If I could sustain that then I had a chance.  I went through the tunnel before the Embankment.  This had really inspired me last time I ran London, with the music blasting and uplifting mantras decorating the tunnel.  This time, sadly, there were no mantras, but I enjoyed the music and it drove me on.

Coming up from the tunnel onto The Embankment is one of my favourite parts of the race, as you hear the massive roar of the crowd, and you see The Thames and the London Eye in the distance.  I pushed on towards The Eye and the Houses of Parliament.  Sadly I couldn’t quite sustain my pace and mile 25 slowed a little to 6.05 mins.

Mile 25 - trying to keep it going (Photo: Richard Sands)

 I turned the corner past The Houses of Parliament, and into the final mile.  I didn’t know exact timings, but I knew the final mile would have to be well under 6 minutes if I was to get under 2.40.  I had forgotten quite how hard the final miles of a marathon are, having not run one since Manchester, over a year earlier.  Somehow I was managing to keep going at a decent pace.  I was passing so many runners at this stage, which encouraged me.  But it felt like an eternity before the “1k to go” sign came – looking at my watch, it needed to be a sub 3.30 min final km – which felt unlikely.  The next 200m to the “half mile to go” marker took so long – and the same story as I approached 600m and then 400m to go……  I turned past the Palace and onto the Mall for the final stretch.  Looking up I could already see the clock approaching 2 hours 40 mins.  I knew I wouldn’t do it.  I sucked it all in and gave it one last push.  I didn’t even notice the crowds as I tried desperately to hold it all together and get over the line as quickly as I could.  I passed a few more runners on the Mall before crossing the line in 2 hours 40 minutes and 15 seconds.

There was no celebration as I crossed the line.  My immediate emotion was disappointment.  Getting a time over 2.40 was never an option.  Not even a consideration.

I continued walking down the Mall and towards Horse Guards parade.  I reluctantly had my photo taken with my medal, but not with any enthusiasm.  But within a few minutes my mood was lifting.  I had run a good PB, and finished strongly.  I had also loved every minute of the race with its fantastic support and atmosphere.  I smiled all the way round (or when I wasn’t grimacing!!). There was a lot to be happy about, and as time has passed since the race, this has outweighed the disappointments.

Reflections

First the positives……

My previous PB at Manchester was 2.41.26 but days before London I heard that the Manchester course was short by 380m (there’s another story and another rant!!).  So if I add on the time for an extra 380m then my previous PB would have been over 2 hours 43 mins.  So my London time was a good 3 minute improvement on my PB

In many ways this was the best executed race I have done.  I started steadily, and picked up and grew stronger as the race progressed.  My 5k splits are a good indicator of my race story – after a steady first 20k, I ran very strongly from 20-30k which was exactly my strategy.  Sadly I just could not maintain the intensity and pace needed, and I dropped off a little between 30-40k.  But despite that I ran as close as I ever have to an even split: 1.19.49 and then 1.20.26.  I also passed so many runners in the second half of the race – I would guess 100-150 – and was passed by less than a handful.

So there is a lot that I got right and I am very satisfied with that.  But looking critically, I simply wasn’t fast enough throughout the race, and I didn’t have enough in the tank to maintain the pace in the last 6 miles.  I’ve reflected a lot on this and think I understand why.

My high heart rate at the start of the race was a tell tale sign, and the fact that I could not get this down to targeted levels in the early miles was ultimately the problem.  My HR was 5-10 bpm higher than it should have been throughout the first half of the race.  This meant I didn’t have enough left in the tank later on.  Why was this?  I’m pretty clear on the reasons:

  • Lack of sleep – my disastrous night’s sleep on Friday left me tired, but also increased my stress levels
  • Arrived at the start area too late to allow me to properly relax and calm myself
  • The busy Championship start tent, being asked to move my number etc all stopped me preparing properly.  I just didn’t feel calm and grounded when I started the race
  • Lack of a proper warm up area – some people don’t think a good warm up for a marathon is needed.  However I like to get my heart rate up to the levels at which I’ll start the race, and run for 3 minutes at that level during the warm up.  I didn’t get the chance to do this properly, only managing couple of minutes warm up.

All these factors meant that I simply wasn’t as fully prepared, rested or grounded as I needed to be when the race began.  When trying to get to the faster times that I am aiming for, the margins are very thin and small things can make a big difference.  On the plus side I am encouraged and confident that I can get these things right next time and still make further improvements on my time.

So, time for me to stop rambling on.  Overall it was a great experience.  Not just the race, but the journey over the last 16 weeks.  I have improved my running significantly, and I hope and believe there is more progress to be made.  Without doubt, London is the best race I’ve ever done.  I won’t be back next year as I want to keep it special.  But I will be back in due course, and can’t wait for that!!

Post race curry

Celebrating with Francesca

Race splits

5k times:

1-5k                18.41              3.45 min/km

6-10k              19.00              3.49 min/km

11-15k           19.05              3.50 min/km

16-20k           18.57              3.48 min/km

21-25k           18.42              3.45 min/km

26-30k           18.51              3.47 min/km

31-35k           19.17              3.52 min/km

36-40k           19.22              3.53 min/km

41-42k             8.20              3.48 min/km

 

Strava mile date:

1          6.01 min/mile           HR 147 bpm

2          6.05 min/mile           HR 150 bpm

3          5.55 min/mile           HR 146 bpm

4          5.57 min/mile           HR 147 bpm

5          6.08 min/mile           HR 147 bpm

6          6.09 min/mile           HR 148 bpm

7          6.08 min/mile           HR 148 bpm

8          6.03 min/mile           HR 147 bpm

9          6.09 min/mile           HR 149 bpm

10       6.04 min/mile           HR 149 bpm

11       6.03 min/mile           HR 149 bpm

12       6.02 min/mile           HR 149 bpm

13       6.04 min/mile           HR 152 bpm

14       5.58 min/mile           HR 153 bpm

15       5.59 min/mile           HR 152 bpm

16       5.59 min/mile           HR 152 bpm

17       5.59 min/mile           HR 153 bpm

18       5.59 min/mile           HR 155 bpm

19       5.59 min/mile           HR 156 bpm

20       6.00 min/mile           HR 156 bpm

21       6.15 min/mile           HR 156 bpm

22       6.10 min/mile           HR 156 bpm

23       6.05 min/mile           HR 157 bpm

24       5.58 min/mile           HR 157 bpm

25       6.05 min/mile           HR 158 bpm

26       6.08 min/mile           HR 160 bpm

0.4       5.55 min/mile           HR 164 bpm

2015 Round Rotherham 50

Time: 7 hours 23 mins

Position: 5th

Pre-Race

This was my second Round Rotherham 50, having done the race in 2012.  I finished 5th that year in 7 hours 19 minutes, despite being slowed by a gashed hand after 13 miles, which required 10 stitches after the race.  My training had gone really well, and I had built strongly from my Lakeland 50 training.  I was confident and believed I had a realistic chance of a top 3 place and completing in under 7 hours.  However I knew the competition would be tough – I didn’t know all the top runners but I did know that Kev Hoult and Kev Doyle, the winners in the last 2 years (both years in 6 hours 52 mins) were both running.

In the build up to the race my tapering seem to have gone well – always the hardest part of training.  But other aspects of my preparation in the week of the race hadn’t been great.  I slept really badly all week, and had a really busy week at work and at home.

Race morning began with a 4am alarm call.  After some porridge I set off and arrived at Dearne Valley College just before 6am.  That left plenty of time to register and sort myself out ahead of the 7am race start.

My race plan was to run the first half (which is faster and more runnable) in just under 3 hours 20 mins, allowing for an expected slow down in the second half.  That meant running the first half at around 8 mins per mile pace, although I would allow myself 7.30-7.45 min/miles for the first 5 miles which are flat and fast.

Leg 1: Start to Grange Park

10.9 miles

Time: 1 hour 27 mins

Mile splits:

1          7.00 mins

2          7.05 mins

3          7.04 mins

4          7.20 mins

5          7.37 mins

6          7.40 mins

7          8.29 mins

8          7.36 mins

9          8.10 mins

10       8.05 mins

11       8.22 mins

 

We gathered at the start and the organiser gave some final instructions.  For some reason I didn’t feel settled – my head was spinning a bit.  I don’t know why, but my head just wasn’t in the right place.  It was probably nerves but I hadn’t felt like this at the start of a race before.  I just needed to get going.

Soon we were off.  We ran along the road for the first mile.  I was in 3rd place, with the first 2 runners going off at a crazy speed and already out of sight.  At the start you go past 4 roundabouts and then go off left to cross a bridge and head on to the track to Elsecar.  I just needed to count the roundabouts, but I wasn’t concentrating properly and I didn’t count them.  Having crossed another roundabout I turned and, to my horror, realised that no one was behind me.  I’d run straight past the bridge and carried on for over 500m.  I ran back quickly.  I got back to the bridge having run over 1km extra.  For the next couple of miles I worked my way back up through the field.  I tried to keep calm and not to push too hard.  But I knew my heart rate was too high and I was working too hard.   I ran the first 3 miles at around 7 mins/mile – way too fast.  I then started to slow myself a bit more, but I feared the damage was done – not really by the extra 1km, but more by the effort put in to catch up.  Of course that was stupid – I had 50 miles to work my way through the field, but I’d got myself back into the top 8 after 3 miles….

Before Elsecar I caught up with Kev Hoult, the 2013 winner.  Kev was running at a nice steady pace and we started running together.  This got me back on track.  We ran and chatted, settling into a nice pace around 8 minutes per mile.

We arrived at the first checkpoint, almost 11 miles in, in 7th and 8th place.  I felt OK, my pace was now fine – but would my fraught start  come back to haunt me??

Leg 2: Grange to Treeton

6.3 miles

Time 50 mins

Cumulative: 2 hours 18 mins

Mile splits:

12       8.08 mile

13       8.02 mile

14       8.01 mile

15       7.50 mile

16       7.41 mile

17       7.47 mile

 

I continued to run with Kev throughout this section.  We maintained a nice steady pace, picking it up a little as the section went on.  There were no navigational issues – my reccies had paid off(after mile 1 at least!).  We came into the next CP with an average pace of 8 mins/mile, now in 6th and 7th place.  I felt OK, but my legs were aching a bit – not badly but more than I would want with 33 miles to go.  I sensed that I would have to dig deep later on.

Leg 3: Treeton to Harthill

7.5 miles

Time: 57 mins

Cumulative: 3 hours 16 mins

Mile splits:

18       7.56 mile

19       7.42 mile

20       7.18 mile

21       7.22 mile

22       7.11 mile

23       7.38 mile

24       8.00 mile

25       7.46 mile

After the Treeton CP, Kev and I caught up with Adam Worrallo from Bingley.  We ran and chatted with him for a few miles before pressing ahead in Rother Valley Park – now in 5th and 6th place.  It wasn’t a conscious move but I picked up the pace quite a bit in this section, running a few sub 7.30 miles.  The pace felt OK, but I was aware that my legs were a little tired.  I probably should have eased off, with hindsight, but I had good momentum and was enjoying running with Kev.

Soon after RotherValley we passed another 2 runners taking us into 3rd and 4th place.  Then having gone under the M1 and heading up through the fields we saw a yellow Kimberworth vest – it was Kev Doyle.  He had gone off like a train at the start, along with another guy, and we thought he was way ahead. – but he looked to be struggling.  We made good ground on him as we got closer to the checkpoint and I thought we would pass him.  However he must have been digging deep and managed to keep just ahead of us.  We did catch him just as we reached Harthill and the 25 mile checkpoint, the 3 of us running in together in joint 2nd place.

I got to the halfway mark in 3 hours 16 mins.  My target had been just under 3.20, and I had run an additional 1km due to me missing that early turning.  Had I gone too fast?  I was a bit concerned.  However I was in racing mode.  I was with the 2 previous winners, and with Kev Doyle seemingly struggling, I sensed a great opportunity to achieve my top 3 goal.

Leg 4: Treeton to Woodsetts

5.8 miles

Time: 49 mins

Cumulative: 4 hours 5 mins

Mile  splits

26       8.59 mile

27       7.52 mile

28       7.48 mile

29       7.55 mile

30       8.18 mile

I made 2 big tactical errors in the section between miles 20-30.

My eating had been good in the first 20 miles, having 4 pieces of home made energy flapjack.  After mile 20 with my legs a little tired I decided that instead of more flapjack, I would have an energy drink which I would fill up at the 25 mile checkpoint.  With hindsight this was a mistake.  The drink did little to boost me, and at that stage in the race I still needed  proper food – which had been successfully fuelling me till then.  I started to flag in the next few miles due to lack of food.

The other big mistake was that I needed to fill up my energy drink in the checkpoint.  This took a couple of minutes.  By the time I got going again the 2 Kevs were about ¼ mile ahead.  I continued on, keeping them in sight.  But I’d missed my opportunity.  Having come into the checkpoint with them, I should have pressed on.  Running with them would have helped me, energy wise…..and it would have given me racing momentum and the chance to push on and try and secure a top 3 place.  Instead I was running alone, feeling tired, and I ran alone for the next 25 miles.  I’m so annoyed at myself about this from both the fuelling and racing perspective.

I continued at a decent sub 8 minute pace, but feeling progressively more tired.  Despite that, as I headed up the road to the Woodsetts checkpoint I gained on Kev Doyle (with Kev Hoult presumably running ahead on his own in 2nd place).  I was less than 50m behind him as I reached the checkpoint.

Leg 5: Woodsetts to Firbeck

5.6 miles

Time:  54 mins

Cumulative: 4 hours 59 mins

Mile splits

31       8.27 mile

32       7.54 mile

33       8.11 mile

34       8.29 mile

35       8.34 mile

36       9.53 mile

37       9.09 mile

I picked up my drop bag at this Woodsetts CP, and packed some more food into my flipbelt.  I then headed off alone.  Kev Doyle was in and out of the CP quickly and so established a bigger lead on me again.  But having gained on him on the last leg, I hoped to catch him if I could continue at a reasonable pace.

I ran OK for the next couple of miles.  I was feeling increasingly tired, but the miles were gradually being ticked off.  Then at around 32 miles I took another wrong turn.  It was such a stupid mistake but I ended up running a couple of hundred yards down a private road.  I was gutted as I turned round.  More time lost, more extra distance, but most importantly I lost all momentum.  Despite my tiredness I had been trying to push on and keep racing – but as I retraced my steps I felt all remaining energy leaving my body.  I knew now that Kev would be very hard to catch, and I had to just try and grind out the miles and protect 4th place.

I somehow managed to push out a reasonable paced next mile (8.11 mins) but it was a real effort.  After that my speed deteriorated and by the time I dragged myself into Firbeck after 37 miles I was really struggling.  On the way through the woods before Firbeck, a relay runner passed me and told me that the 5th placed runner was a long way back.  That gave me something to cling on to – could I manage to move forward for another 13-14 miles and hang on to 4th place?  It felt unlikely.

Leg 6: Firbeck to Maltby

4 miles

Time:  41 mins

Cumulative: 5 hours 40 mins

Mile Splits

38       9.58 mile

39       9.34 mile

40       11.06 mile

41       11.30 mile

I like this section of the route, but this time it was incredibly hard.  I just about managed to stay under 10 min/mile speed as I worked my way through the zig zag section of fields after Firbeck, and down the hill towards Roach Abbey.  But the section past the Abbey and into Maltby was a real struggle and felt never ending.  Soon after Roach Abbey I heard another runner approaching – the 5th place guy was overtaking me.  He was a nice guy and tried to get me to run with him for a bit, to keep me going.  But I couldn’t pick up my pace at all.  Being passed further knocked the stuffing out of me.  As the mile splits show, I was getting slower and slower as I dragged myself towards Maltby.

At this stage I was giving serious thought to dropping out.  The thought of another 10 miles feeling like this, and getting slower and slower, was not at all appealing.  I had finished 5th back in 2012, finishing strongly.  Maybe I was better just retaining that memory and drawing a line under today….

Leg 7: Maltby to Old Denaby

7 miles

Time: 1 hour 14 mins

Cumulative: 6 hours 55 mins

Mile Splits

42       10.44 mile

43       10.11 mile

44       9.30 mile

45       10.02 mile

46       10.49 mile

47       9.59 mile

48       10.49 mile

By the time I reached the checkpoint my mood had lifted just a little.  I talked to the checkpoint staff about dropping out, but in the end I decided to press on and try and grind it out.

I walked up the hill through Maltby, sorted out my ipod and put on some music to try and lift me.  It worked to some extent.  I generally managed to keep running at around 10 min/mile pace.  It was hard but it wasn’t getting any worse.  I allowed myself to walk the occasional inclines but otherwise kept running.  This is quite a long leg, but after a seemingly long slog uphill over a ploughed farm field before Hooton Roberts, I started to smell the finish!  No one else had passed me so far, and I was only a mile or so from the next CP at Old Denaby.  That last mile to the CP was hard, with some more uphills that I hadn’t even noticed in the reccy – but eventually I was running down the hill and passing through the final Checkpoint.

Leg 8: Old Denaby to Finish

3.2 miles

Time: 28 mins

Finish time: 7 hours 23 mins

Mile splits

49       8.49 mile

50       8.39 mile

51       8.29 mile

In those couple of miles before the last checkpoint I had been unaware that the 6th place runner was only a few hundred yards (less than 1 minute) behind me, and 7th place wasn’t much further behind.  If I’d carried on at the same speed then I would have lost a further 2 places.  However I found some new reserves from somewhere and I managed to pick up the pace for the final 3 miles.  It almost felt that I was running normally again.  It still hurt a lot, but I was under 9 mins/mile and getting a bit faster mile by mile.  Only the race winner ran a faster final leg than me, and I put about 5 minutes gap on the 2 runners behind me, to finish a “comfortable” 5th.

The final mile felt like it went on forever.  I was on my last legs and didn’t think I could keep going much further.  Eventually the college sports centre came into sight.  I turned into the sportshall and checked in my dibber for a final time.  Upon stopping I almost collapsed to the floor and the other finishers came and dragged me to a seat!

Reflections

I’ve got mixed emotions about this race.

I am really pleased that I stuck at it, came through those really hard miles and finished quite strongly, and that I held on to 5th place despite feeling so weak.  I will be stronger for that going forward.

I’m also pleased I finished because I love this race.  I will be back for more.

I gave it a real go, raced it and was up there with the leaders at half way.  It didn’t quite work out, but I’m glad I went for it.  Sometimes that’s the way it goes when you go for the win, and so much can go wrong over this type of distance.

That said, I am incredibly frustrated about a missed opportunity.  I was in great shape for this race and really believe I could have run well under 7 hours.  The race was there for the taking – at half way I was joint second and with one of the other guys struggling.  I don’t think I would have won, but I reckon I could have got second place.  But I paid for 2 big mistakes:

i) Missing the first turning on the course was stupid.  But the real mistake was pushing too hard to get back up through the field.  I had 49 miles to recover but I tried to regain my position over about 2 miles.  My stress levels and heart rate were way too high.  I knew what was happening and tried to slow myself, but I think I did a lot of damage in that first 5 miles.

The first half overall was too fast in 3 hours 16 mins.  I would have liked to have run 3.19, and without the extra 1km from my wrong turning.  From mile 5 to mile 25 I was very happy with my pace, and really benefited from running with Kev for 20 miles.  But I ran that first 5 miles about 3 minutes too fast.  I definitely paid for that.

ii) My decision not to eat real food between miles 20-30 was also disastrous.  But probably even worse was the loss of momentum and falling behind the 2 Kevs, when I stopped to prepare my energy drink.  I feel as though that was the biggest mistake of the lot.  I was in a great race position and needed to exploit that, and benefit from running with Kev Hoult for  bit longer.

So, a lot of lessons learnt.  A lot of disappointment.  But some pride in getting through a really tough few hours to still finish.  I hope I’ll be back next year!

 

 

Greater Manchester Marathon 2015

Time: 2 hours 41 mins 26 seconds

Position: 46th out of 7,849 finishers

Vet 40 position: 8th

 

Split times:

10km                    37 mins 54 second      60th place

10 miles              60 mins 38 seconds     65th place

Half marathon  79 mins 45 seconds     67th place

20 miles              2 hrs 2 mins 9 secs       61st place

Finish                  2 hrs 41 mins 26 secs   46th place

 

Preparation

The morning of Sunday 19th April finally arrived – the conclusion to 18 weeks of hard training which started in December.

My preparation had gone very well.  I upped my weekly training mileage, generally completing between 60-70 miles per week compared to previous marathons where I averaged 50 miles per week.  The results have been striking.  I have improved significantly in these last 18 weeks, running on average about 10 seconds per mile faster in marathon pace and tempo sessions, and generally feeling stronger.  I didn’t do more speed work this time round, but the increased volume clearly improved my running economy.  I was therefore going into the race full of confidence.

Even my tapering had been OK.  No major problems.  I did maintain quite a bit of speed work during the taper period, but reduced the total mileage to 40 miles in the first week of taper, increasing to 50 in the second week and then dropping right down to about 20 miles in the final week.  I had some niggling pain in my right foot, but had this checked over and it was just a bit of tightness from my ankle which shouldn’t be a problem.  More of a concern was a very stiff back which I had every morning for about 2 weeks before the race.  Two trips to the physio plus a lot of stretching and yoga was helping, but it wasn’t ideal.

I travelled to Altrincham on Saturday tea time.  As usual I didn’t sleep too well on the night before the race, but I got a few hours.  I no longer stress about this, having had terrible nights before Seville 2014 and London 2013 and still racing well.  After some early morning dynamic stretching and yoga ease my aching back, I left the house about 6.30am, and was at the tram stop in good time to catch the first tram at 6.56am.  By 7.30am I was at Old Trafford – the Theatre of Dreams for some, but certainly not me in a footballing sense!  Hopefully it would be for that my marathon…..

I had plenty of time for my usual routine of several toilet trips, and some more yoga and stretching.  I’m sure I get plenty of odd looks when I do the yoga in the middle of a car park, but I don’t care because it works!  By the time I was jogging to the race start, about 8.30am, my back was feeling OK and I hoped it wouldn’t trouble me any further (which didn’t quite turn out to be the case).

I did some final warming up on the road in front of the start line, before taking my place in the starting pen.  I was just a couple of yards from the front, and so was happy I’d get a good start and keep free of crowds.  I felt calm, quite relaxed and confident.

My goal when I started training for this was to secure a London 2016 Championship starting place – ie sub 2 hours 45 mins.  However with the improvements I had seen during training, I now hoped to beat that by a good few minutes.  I actually thought 2.40 was achievable, but was a little nervous of pushing too hard for that and ruining my chances of even getting below 2.45.  I decided to start with a relatively steady first mile, around 6 mins 10 secs, and then see how I felt.  If I was Ok then I would push on a bit faster, so that I didn’t leave too much time to make up in the second half if 2 hours 40 mins was on the cards.  Best laid plans…..

The race

As expected I had a clear run from the start and found a good rhythm.  As usual I was running way too fast at the start, feeling very comfortable and being pulled along by other runners.  I soon slowed myself from my early 5.30 min/mile pace (?!) but still ended up running far too fast for the first 2 miles – 5.54 and then 5.58 minutes.  So much for a steady start!  That pace felt fine, but I knew I would pay later.  I managed to slow to a 6.05 pace for mile 3, and I settled into a better routine of between 6.04 and 6.06 mins/mile for the next few miles.

I enjoyed the early miles.  There were 2 switchback sections and that was a great chance to see and greet other Steel City Strider runners.  That added to my excitement and motivated me.  Joining the Striders has been the best thing I did for my running.  I’ve been inspired by everyone’s enthusiasm and support.  Collectively I feel that we have all pushed each other to train harder and achieve more in the last few months of marathon training.

I was still feeling good as I approached the 10km point.  I went past that point in around 37 mins 40 secs (although the official time says 37.54) – which is an average of around 6 mins per mile…. a bit too fast!

After 10km I deliberately slowed things a little, averaging just below 6.10 per mile for the next 5 miles.  I let a good number of runners push on ahead of me.  There were still enough people around to be able to run in packs, and I had to be disciplined and not get pulled along too fast by other runners.  If the race went OK then I expected to see many of these runners again in the second half (and I did!)……

As we approached 10 miles I was conscious that I was having to work a bit harder to maintain the pace.  It still felt reasonably OK, but I was a bit concerned – I hoped to be very comfortable throughout the first half, and this could be a sign that things would get much tougher, maybe sooner than I would like.

In terms of my injury worries, things generally seemed OK.  I did have a small amount of pain in my foot throughout the race.  At first I think I over monitored this and worried a bit too much early on, but the pain didn’t get any worse and didn’t really hamper me, and I barely noticed it by the second half of the race.  I had some twinges and discomfort in my left calf and then hamstring – again I wasn’t too concerned, although it wasn’t ideal and I wondered if it was linked to my back issues.

I pressed on towards Altrincham and the half way point.  There was a lot of good crowd support during the first half, as we went through the different areas of Greater Manchester, including Altrincham – although the support and atmosphere didn’t quite live up to expectations given all the pre-race hype about bands and this being the best UK marathon etc….  Anyway, I did still appreciate the encouragement from those who lined the streets.  There were a couple of particularly noisy parts, and it’s great hearing your name shouted out (names are shown under the race numbers).  It was also great to hear a few shout outs for Steel City Striders.

Approaching Altrincham, there is the only “hill” of any note on the course.  It’s not steep at all, but does go on for some distance and it slowed me to around 6.14 min/mile in miles 12 and 13.  Despite that I passed the half way point in 1 hour 19 mins and 45 secs (chip time) which was only 9 seconds slower than my half marathon PB.  Knocking a few minutes off that PB needs to be a target for later this year!!

Passing the half way point

That half marathon time was exactly what I hoped for before the race, with a view to breaking 2 hours 40 mins.  But even at this point I knew that goal was unlikely.  The first half was done at an average speed of around 6.06 mins/mile – however, my speed had slowed steadily throughout the first 13 miles.  In part that slowing was deliberate pacing, but I was feeling it a bit too much in my legs and I doubted that I could maintain the required pace of around 6.06 min/mile for the next 13 miles.

The last 13 miles

Despite increasing aches in my legs I really enjoyed the next few miles.  The route goes back on itself after Altrincham and so this was another chance to run past the thousands of runners heading in the other direction.  I saw Sam Needham just going into Altrincham and looking strong.  I continued to see the other Striders in the race and it was great to give each other encouragement.  Watching the other runners was a good distraction for a couple of miles.

I felt OK during the next 6 miles or so, but my legs were getting heavier.  I still felt that I was running strongly, but my pace was clearly slower – I ran very consistently at around 6.14 per mile for the 10km stretch after half way.  On the plus side I was passing other runners, and I was maintaining a steady pace.  On the downside I really wanted to be running a good 5-10 second per mile faster than that, but just couldn’t manage it.  I knew I was still on for a time well under 2.45 and desperately tried to avoid the mental maths of what speed I needed to achieve.  Instead I just focused on trying to maintain pace and form.

After passing the other runners, the crowds thinned out and the stretch from miles 15-23 was mentally tough.  There wasn’t much to look at sights wise (actually there wasn’t on the whole course), there were not many supporters, and from around mile 20 we headed out of town into the countryside.  At that point the wind was picking up, with no buildings to shelter me.  I was also running on my own and really needed a pack to run with at this point, but the runners were thinly spread.  My back was also starting to ache and was very stiff – almost certainly this was slowing my pace.

Despite all the above challenges, I was pressing on quite well.  The miles passed by surprisingly quickly, I had no stomach issues and was getting my gels down regularly, and there was no sign of me really hitting any sort of “wall”.  I was passing runners quite frequently now.  At around mile 20 I was in 61st pace; I wanted a top 50 placing and I set my sights on achieving that over the final 6 miles.  Although I couldn’t get into a pack of runners, I was able to target and pass people ahead of me, picking them off 1 or 2 at a time. My pace was slowing further, initially to around 6.19 min/mile and then to around 6.24 in the last few miles.  I was frustrated by this and by the tightness in my legs and back.  But I knew my running was still relatively strongly and that a good time and a good placing was in my sights.

Making good progress through the field

Digging in!!

Pushing hard - the final straight

It was good to count down the remaining distance – 5 miles to go, then 5km.  Unless I blew up big style then I knew a time of around 2.42 was achievable.  I pushed on hard.  Everything was aching and hurting, but I was maintaining a decent rhythm and just kept moving forward at that speed.  Around mile 24, the crowds slowly started to pick up again, which helped.  Soon I could see Old Trafford and I was on my way.  My pace picked up by a few seconds.  I continued to pass other runners and knew I was into the top 50.  I had a brief moment of panic after 25.4 miles when I passed the 25 mile marker sign?!  With hindsight it was clearly in the wrong place, but at the time my heart sank – I was pushing hard for home and couldn’t stand the thought of having more than a mile to go.  I briefly slumped, I felt the wind hit me in the face and there was at risk of me really dropping away speed wise.  I managed to push on and eek out the yards towards the stadium.  Soon the crowds built up a lot more, I could see the 26 mile sign in the right place and I knew I was OK. The noise rose and I turned the corner into the final 200m straight.  I could see the race clock showing 2 hour 41 mins, and I relaxed, able to enjoy the final few metres.

Moment of glory!

I crossed the line in 2 hours 41 mins and 30 seconds.  My chip time turned out to be 4 seconds faster than that.  I crossed the line arms aloft.  I experienced a feeling of complete euphoria.  I’d spent the last 18 weeks working hard towards this moment, close to an obsession.  I could feel the tears starting and took myself off to the side and let the emotions flow.

Once I’d got all that out of my system, I phoned home and spoke to Kate and the children, and then I enjoyed seeing the other Striders come through the finish area.  Sam was first through with an amazing 34 minute PB.  That set the tone with a load of great performances and huge PBs.  One or two Striders didn’t have the day they hoped for, but they will come back stronger for it.  Overall it was a great day for the club.

Post race reflections

I finished with a new PB by 3 mins and 35 seconds.  I’d achieved my goal of securing a London 2016 Championship starting place.  I was also pleased with my finish position – 46th place and 8th Male Vet.  Although I slowed in the second half of the race, I did keep running strongly – that shows in the fact that I gained 15 places in final 6 miles.

So, plenty to be very pleased about…. and I am!  But, after the initial euphoria at the finish, strangely I started to feel a slight sense of disappointment that I hadn’t achieved a sub-2.40 time.  That has gone now and I am totally delighted with my result.  But I have reflected and taken some learnings.  I have come away with a determination to make further improvements and a confidence that I can do this.  In particular:

  1. I didn’t go into the race with a real conviction that I could achieve sub-2.40.  I knew I was capable, but I was also conscious of the risk that I could push too hard and endanger the 2.45 target
  2. Because of that, I didn’t have a clear race plan. 
  3. With a proper plan based around more consistent splits, I believe I could have achieved sub-2.40.
  4. I started too fast and paid for this – with a proper plan I wouldn’t have.
  5. I also think my back problems hampered me and added to my time.  Probably not a lot I could do about this – it was bad luck.  But the need for real care during the taper period is worth noting.
  6. I need to try and find a pack to run with in the second half of races when the going gets tougher.  That wasn’t possible on Sunday – the other runners were thinly spread.  It should be easier to achieve in London next year.
  7. I’ve got to 2.41 with an average of 60 miles training per week.  I believe a further step up in volume is possible (with some careful planning) and will deliver further improved results.  I obviously need to balance this with the higher risk of injury.

It’s good to have achieved a strong new PB but still to think there is more to come.  It leaves me excited and determined to achieve more in my next big marathon, which will be London next year.

In the meantime, I’ll enjoy a good result on race day and a successful and very positive 18 week journey to get me onto the start line.

Shakespeare Autumn Marathon 2014

Date: 15th November 2015

Race position: 1st

Race time: 2 hours 49 mins 31 secs (course record)

 Photo: Sally Evans photography

Less than 4 weeks on from Abingdon and I was on the start line of another marathon.  Abingdon was my big Autumn race which I had trained for 16 weeks for.  After an excellent build up, it all went wrong in the final few days.  I was unable to run anywhere close to my best, and limped home more than 20 minutes slower than I was hoping for.   I was hugely disappointed.

I spent the next week searching for another race which might allow me to get back on track and put Abingdon behind me.  Eventually I stumbled across the Shakespeare Autumn Marathon, near Stratford upon Avon.  It was 8 x 5km laps of an old airfield, now used for drag car racing.  Maybe not the most scenic marathon in the UK, but it was a chance to right the wrongs of my previous marathon outing.

The course was flat, and having run lapped marathons before, I did wonder if a PB was a possibility.  I soon forgot about that when I saw a map of the course.

 

 As you’ll see (above) each lap had 4 u turns on it meaning well over 30 u turns during the race – more than 1 per mile.  It would be impossible to maintain a fast consistent rhythm.  Never mind – all I really wanted was to have a good race, run well and end the year on a more positive note.

Preparation

Training for this didn’t go particularly well.  I rested for a week after Abingdon, and then tried to get in 2 good weeks running before easing off in the week before the race.  However I soon started to pick up little niggles, which was inevitable when trying to run hard sessions so soon after my previous marathon.  I eased off, only running a few times each week.  I had to trust that I would not have lost the fitness and speed from my Abingdon training.  Maybe this approach would even mean I would go into the race more rested than usual (I hate tapering….).

I avoided the mistakes before Abingdon where I strained my side through introducing new strength exercises, and then over ate the day before.  I managed to go to my wife’s yoga class the day before the Shakespeare race – this did me the world of good and put me in a great place, physically and mentally, before the race.

Saturday was an early start – up at 4.30am to get my porridge ready and into a flask.  Then I set off with Matt, about 5.45am, stopping half way through the 2 hour drive, to have my pre-race breakfast.  We got to the airfield about 8am, with 2 hours to the race start.  Plenty of time to prepare and to get the drive out of my system.

It was very bleak!  I walked part of the course, establishing that the u turns were really as sharp as I feared…. There were a lot of people there.  There were also 5km, 10km and half marathon races, so there were over 1000 runners in total.  I was pleased about that – plenty of people to run with, although I’d have to be sure not to set off too fast by following the 5 and 10km leaders….

The race

Even before we started I knew I was in a much better place than at Abingdon.  I felt fresh, calm and focused.  The race began and I couldn’t help but get swept along by the runners in the shorter races.  I was running at sub-6 minute mile pace, but eventually managed to correct myself, clocking a 6.11 first mile in the end.  After that I settled into a nice rhythm, averaging around 6.18 per mile.  I finished the first 5km loop in 19 mins 51 secs – right on plan and feeling good.

Pushing ahead of the 10km runners (Photo: Sally Evans photography)

It was quite hard to work out where I was in the race with over 1000 runners on the same 5km loop, and with the 4 races all starting at the same time.  But eventually I worked out that I was in second place, about 200m behind a Serpentine runner.  He was looking very strong and relaxed.  I decided I would track him, aiming not to let him get any further ahead.  The u turns provided a perfect chance to make sure he knew I was there, close behind him, and I always made sure I was running strongly at these points where our paths crossed.

I continued to run strongly throughout the first half of the race.  The 5km splits at the end of this report show that was running very consistently, managing between 19.48 and 19.56 for all of the first 5 x 5km laps.  I finished the first half marathon in just under 1 hour 23 mins.

I was already aware that there was no chance of beating my PB of 2 hours 45 mins.  The u turns were causing me to slow down each time, and in order to maintain any pace round these bends I was having to take a wide line, which was adding to the overall race distance.  I worked out I was running an extra 80 metres on every 5km lap.  But that was fine.  I was feeling good and really enjoying the run.  Strangely, I was also enjoying doing a race round a circuit.  It was satisfying to tick off each lap, knowing each one was another 5km completed.

Photo: Sally Evans photography

Soon after the halfway point, I noticed that the gap to the Serpentine leader was closing.  I had kept the same 200m margin throughout the first half.  As I passed the 14 mile mark I realised I was definitely getting closer.  I was still feeling strong and I knew I had to seize the moment.  I pushed harder, and the gap got smaller.

Before the 15 mile mark I had just about caught him.  He went round yet another u turn and looked up to see me only 10 yards behind.  I have heard so many race stories about runners overtaking and then putting the hammer down, to ensure their rival cannot come back.  Now it was my turn to do that.  I went past him at pace, no eye contact, just looking straight ahead, staying focused and immediately putting a gap between me and him.  Having slowed to 6.21 in miles 13 and 14, I threw down a 6.17 for mile 15 and then 6.13 for mile 16.  That was enough to finish the Serpentine guy, and soon he was out of sight.

So, there I was, in uncharted territory.  Leading a marathon with just over 10 miles to go.  Still plenty of time for things to go wrong.  I had to stay focused, working hard and maintaining the pace.  I knew another guy in blue was not that far behind me – probably 300-400m and he was looking strong.  I had to make sure that gap didn’t get any smaller.  I was starting to feel it a bit in my legs now.  Miles 17-19 were a bit slower, averaging 6.24 per mile.  But I was maintaining the same lead over the guy in blue, and the end was gradually getting nearer.

I deliberately put in a slower mile, for mile 20.  I picked up my energy drink from the drinks table and consumed that, giving my legs a slight breather, getting ready for the last 6 mile push.  Mile 20 was done in 6 mins 43 secs, but despite that slow down the gap to second place did not get any smaller.  I was encouraged by that and knew it was now time to finish the job.

Despite by tired legs, I picked up the pace to 6.30 for mile 21 and then 6.22 for mile 22.  That was enough to do the trick.  As I went round each U turn I was able to see the lead growing bigger and bigger and by mile 23 the guy in blue was out of sight.  I couldn’t see any other marathon runners behind.  So, with 4 miles to go I knew I just had to hold it together and maintain a reasonable pace.

I realised that I could probably slow a little – a good job as my legs were really hurting now.  It was starting to feel a bit lonely.  With the other races finished there were very few people around other than those racing.  The going was getting tough and my pace was dropping – miles 23 and 24 were done at 6.35 and 6.42 respectively.  But the end was in sight.

With 5km to go, I had the honour of being led through the rest of the race by the Lead Runner’s bike!  My moment in the spotlight!!  Or it would have been had there been anyone left to watch this!  It was just what I needed.  I had been flagging, but the bike gave me something to focus on, and allowed me to pick up my pace a little.

It wasn’t long and I was completing the final 5km loop, and starting the last mini loop of 2km.  I was hurting a lot, but with no sign of anyone behind me, I was determined to enjoy the moment.  I went round the final u turn at the same time as the guy in blue, meaning I was now 2km ahead of him (I didn’t realise he’d now dropped to 4th place).

                

Approaching the line (Photos: Sally Evans photography)

Another 100m further on and I turned right, onto the long home straight.  One final glance behind me, just to be sure, and then I was able to enjoy the last few hundred metres, and soon I was crossing the line with my arms aloft!

I’d won my first race, in 2 hours 49 mins and 31 seconds.  This was never going to be a PB, but with my watch showing a distance of 26.6 miles, I was happy with the time.  I won the race by over 2 minutes and also broke the relatively young course record by 2 minutes.

It’s now one week on, and I’ve still got a big grin on my face!  It’s not often that we club runners get the chance to run in marathons where we have a genuine chance of winning, and I really enjoyed the opportunity to race properly.  Luckily things went well for me on the day.  I felt good from the start, my eating and hydration went well, and I was able to make the right decisions and put down the faster miles at the right times of the race, to see off my rivals.  I suspect days like this are few and far between, which makes this very much a day to be treasured, and one which will live long in my memory!

 5km splits

Mile splits

 

Split

Time

Distance

Avg Pace

1

6:11.1

1.00

6:11

2

6:22.9

1.00

6:23

3

6:18.7

1.00

6:19

4

6:23.2

1.00

6:23

5

6:17.4

1.00

6:17

6

6:12.3

1.00

6:12

7

6:16.8

1.00

6:17

8

6:16.8

1.00

6:17

9

6:18.1

1.00

6:18

10

6:20.3

1.00

6:20

11

6:15.3

1.00

6:15

12

6:15.8

1.00

6:16

13

6:21.0

1.00

6:21

14

6:21.6

1.00

6:22

15

6:17.4

1.00

6:17

16

6:12.6

1.00

6:13

17

6:27.9

1.00

6:28

18

6:24.5

1.00

6:24

19

6:21.5

1.00

6:22

20

6:43.2

1.00

6:43

21

6:29.7

1.00

6:30

22

6:21.9

1.00

6:22

23

6:35.5

1.00

6:35

24

6:42.1

1.00

6:42

25

6:30.1

1.00

6:30

26

6:37.0

1.00

6:37

27

3:36.5

0.58

6:11

Summary

2:49:31.2

26.58

6:23

Seville Marathon 2014 Race Report

 Time:              2 hours 45 mins 1 sec             

Position:        156th out of c8000                  

Mens V40:    26th                                                            

1st Half:         1 hr 22 min 18 secs.        

2nd Half:        1 hr 22 min 43 secs

Av Speed:      6.15 mins/mile

Av 10km split: 39.00 mins

Pre-race

We travelled out to Seville on the Friday.  I was full of excitement and anticipation after 12 weeks of near perfect training.  Even the weather had been kind to me – training for a February marathon had meant doing all of my preparation during the winter months.  But an absence of snow meant that I managed a lot of my key sessions in reasonable weather – although I was forced into 3 long goal pace runs on the dreaded treadmill (for over 2 hours….) ……good for building mental strength I guess.

Having achieved a 7 minute PB at London last year, in 2 hrs 48 mins, I was now aiming to go sub 2:45 – hoping to secure a London Championship place for 2015.

The family came over with me to support and to enjoy a few days in Seville.  We arrived there late on Friday night.  After a good night’s sleep, I took myself off for a gentle 3 miler to loosen the legs after the flight.  The weather was great – clear skies and building up to around 20C.  After that, my son and I went off to the Expo, and having successfully negotiated the registration without too many language problems, we were free to enjoy the rest of the day.

I went through my usual pre-race night routine: getting my kit sorted, a good yoga session (there are benefits to being married to a yoga teacher!) and a review of my previous 12 weeks of training records – which is a really good confidence booster.  I went to bed about 10.30pm, hoping for a decent 6 hours sleep before the alarm would wake me at 5am on race day.  But at 1.30am I was still awake.  I just felt as though my eyes would never close.  In the end I think I managed 2-3 hours of kip.  Not great, but I wasn’t panicking – I’d had a similar experience last year in London and had still run well.

A good bowl of porridge and then off I went in search of a taxi to the Olympic Stadium (it’s called that as they once bid for the Olympics unsuccessfully – but it has hosted the 1999 World Championships).  I arrived at the stadium about 7.20am.  When I got out the taxi it was freezing.  I had 1 hour 40 mins until the race started.  I went through my usual routine of several toilet trips, then some stretches and a bit more yoga – with a couple of trips into a café I’d found, just to warm through for a few minutes.  Then about 8.30am I followed the masses on the 1km walk to the start line.

I used the journey to the start area to begin some running warm ups.  I soon arrived at my starting pen, where there was a great atmosphere.  Lots of cheesy guitar rock, which the locals were quite happy to shout and sing along to, punching the air!  I was feeling very pumped up and it took all my restraint not to break into some air guitar as Dire Straits Money for Nothing blasted out its riff (OK maybe I didn’t manage to stop myself….).

As there was plenty of space in the pen, I decided to leave it for a while and went and did some running at the side of the starting area.  I was in a good place, feeling focused, relaxed and determined.  Suddenly without warning, about 15 mins before the race start, everyone moved forward and my start pen was filled with runners from the slower starting areas behind – and I was still at the side.  My lack of Spanish had become a problem for the first time.  I panicked, charging into the pen and squeezing through the crowds, until I finally got myself to what I think we the right place.  10 minutes left for me to try and compose myself again – or maybe singalong to AC DC Highway to Hell, with the other runners.

I was soon feeling good again.  Feeling confident that I could race well and achieve my 2.45 goal!

The Race

Miles 1-13: Steady and strong

Off we went.  I was only about 15 yards behind the start line, and so very quickly I crossed the line.  I was treading carefully, trying to find a channel to run in until the race spaced out.  It was pretty busy at first.  Not long at all after the start line we lurched to the right, avoiding one of the elite women runners who was on the floor.  I feel bad that I didn’t stop to help her, but it all happened really quickly and by the time I had registered what had happened I was 10 yards past her and in a crowd of runners.  Luckily someone did help her.  It turned out that she was a Scottish runner and that she sustained broken ribs and a broken nose.  Amazingly she still finished in 2 hours 41 mins, finishing 4th woman.  An incredible achievement, but I’m sure it was a really scary experience.

After the early drama I found myself some good space to run in, and soon the field began to spread out as we ran along a long straight dual carriageway towards the city.  I concentrated hard on holding my speed back.  My first mile was a bit faster than my target of 6 mins 17 second miles, but not significantly.  I settled into a good rhythm and was averaging a nice 6.14-6.15 pace in the early miles.  My plan was to start a little slower than that but I felt very good and decided to go with that pace.

It was a beautiful day.  Clear blue skies, but still cool – about 7C.  But I knew it would warm up considerably in the next 2-3 hours.

After 5km we crossed the river and turned left to run alongside the river with the old Santa Cruz area on our right.  Soon, at La Torre del Oro, I saw Kate and the children, and our friends Darren, Juli and Lucas.  It was great to see them before they headed off to the stadium in time for the finish.

Waving to my supporters

In the early miles I was sticking close to a Spanish club runner in a blue vest.  He seemed to be going about my pace and so I tracked him for about 4 or 5 miles, before letting him go at about mile 7 when he seemed to speed up.  I wasn’t going to be tempted to race anyone at this early stage.   Before then, I’d clocked up the first 10km in around 38 mins 50 seconds.

The race was going well in the early stages.  I kept repeating to myself that I felt good, that I was relaxed and that I was strong.  I was sticking to my plan of eating (the usual Cliff Shot Bloks) and drinking water every 4 miles or so,.  I was also sticking to the shade wherever possible, conscious that the day was slowly warming up.

As we headed right, away from the river, the crowd thickened.  They were standing very close on both sides, in a way that reminded me of the Tour de France Mountain sections (but without the same amount of beer, wine and fancy dress).  It was a great atmosphere, but didn’t leave much margin for error.

About 8 miles in, I joined a small pack of 4-5 runners who I ran with for some time.  In particular I ran with guy in a white vest (picture below) within that pack, and stayed with him for about 4 miles.  This was a great tactic and pulled me along nicely.  It is something I often try to do in marathons, and definitely makes the early miles pass more quickly, and eases both the physical and mental effort.  Eventually I let him go at about 12 miles, when he picked up the speed too much for my liking.

Tracking the guy in the white vest

Although I felt fine, my pace dropped a bit in miles 12-13, with those miles being a little slower than target speed.  I hoped this wasn’t a sign of the race starting to feel harder – it was far to early for that.  Not long after that I finished the first half marathon, in 1 hour 22 mins and 18 seconds.  As long as I could maintain this steady pace, then that was perfect.  But with a tendency to slow a little in the second half of marathons I was worried that it might be a bit tight to get under the magical 2 hours 45 mins.

Miles 13-22: Carving through the field

After half way is where we get towards the business end of the race!  The next few miles were where I was able to make it count and set myself up for a good time.

After being worried about slower miles 12-13, my pace picked up after half way, clocking 6.05 and 6.11 for miles 14 and 15.  I think I’d been running into a headwind before the half way mark.  I felt strong, and from halfway onwards I was steadily passing people.

This was potentially a tough part of the race, going through some out of town areas with fewer sights to see and not so much support.  But I maintained my focus, telling myself that I was strong and running well.  I also remained disciplined in eating and drinking regularly and it seemed to be working.

There were a few bands on the course, and during this stage I passed the best one, which was a group blasting out Mama Mia in a Spanish accent.  Another highlight of this section, as we got towards mile 20, was passing the guy in the white vest who I had run with but who had then powered off ahead.  He was gracious in passing on congratulations and encouragement.  This was a good confidence boost, and vindication for my steady paced strategy.

As the course wound it’s way around the outskirts of the city, I continued to press on strongly.  I was still passing runners regularly, and hadn’t been overtaken myself since the first half of the race.  I was maintaining an average speed of around 6 mins 14 seconds per mile.  This was ahead of my 6.17 target pace.  I kept recalculating after each mile.  By 20 miles I realized I could drop the pace to around 6 mins 25 seconds for the rest of the race and still hit my target.  This was a good feeling, as I was still maintaining a good pace.

The weather was also getting warmer and there was a lot less shade to hide in.  I was feeling a bit of an ache in my legs, but the feeling of overtaking others was helping me put that to one side.

At 20 miles we reached the river again, and arrived at the start of a nice section through Santa Cruz – the area where we were staying, and where the main sites are.  We turned right and went through a nice wooded park which took us to the spectacular Plaza de Espana.  It definitely helped to be able to enjoy some of the City’s highlights and to see more supporters.  Although running the tight loop  around the inside of the Plaza de Espana was a bit annoying and unnecessary.

Leaving the Plaza de Espana

I continued through Santa Cruz centre, passing the very grand Cathedral and Alcazar.  I continued to ease past other runners.  My pace had dropped slightly to around 6 mins 20 per mile and the increasing heat was starting to take its toll.  But the miles were ticking on.  As I approached the end of Santa Cruz I only had 4 miles to go, and could still afford to drop the pace a bit further if necessary.

 

Miles 23-26 Hanging on

It was now about mental strength.  Maintaining focus and trying to put the increasing tiredness to one side.  But it was starting to get tough.  As I approached the end of mile 23 it looked as though it was starting to go wrong.  This was a quiet, less scenic section for couple of miles until we reached the Stadium Park.  It was getting hot with no shade.  My legs felt heavy, and I felt as though the previous night’s lack of sleep was catching up with me.  Mile 23 took 6 min 24 secs – not bad, but my slowest mile of the race – a worrying sign.

As we crossed the river, I felt as though I had lost all my energy and would have to drop the pace quite a bit.  Two runners overtook me – I hadn’t been passed for over 10 miles.  I worried that this would be the start of a load of people passing me, which would have hit me hard mentally.  I was starting to realise that I wasn’t going to do this in my 2:45 target time.  Then I got lucky!

I heard footsteps behind me, and waited for the next group of runners to pass me.  As they did, I realized it was the 2:45 Pacer, with a group of 4 runners.  I decided I would try and hang on to them for the last 3 miles.  If I could do that then I could still manage to achieve my goal.  It was tough hanging on for the first mile, but the pacer was great and gave me a lot of support and encouragement.  After mile 24 I could see the stadium in view, and I knew that I could do it.  I was picking up speed and strength.  Mile 24 was done in 6 mins 19 seconds, faster than the previous mile.  We dropped a couple of runners from the pack, leaving me and another guy running with the pacer.

The stadium park is really annoying.  We got to within a few hundred metres of the stadium, but there was still about a mile to go, as the route winds around the park, eeking out the distance to 26.2 miles.  I was back into the pattern of passing other runners.  This included overtaking the club runner in the blue vest, who I had tracked in the early miles before he pressed ahead – very satisfying!

I stuck with the pacer, thinking I would push on in the final half mile if I felt OK.  Miles 25 and 26 were both done at around 6.15 min/mile pace.  I’d got over my tough patch.  I was going to achieve my goal.

As we approached the 26 mile point, the stadium loomed large.  I decided to push on, leaving the pacer behind and thanking him as I went by.  I hit 26 miles in 2 hours 42 mins and 48 second – leaving me over 2 minutes spare to run the final 0.2 miles.

I reached the stadium entrance with about 26.1 miles on my watch.  I assumed I’d go through the tunnel and then run down the final straight to the finish.  The stadium entrance involved quite a steep ramp down to the track.  I emerged from this into the stadium, hearing the crowd cheering.  I looked up, and realized that I wasn’t on the home straight of the track.  The finish line was on the other side of the stadium and there was still 300 metres to go.  My watch had passed 2 hours 44 mins by now.  I mentally slumped.  This was meant to be my moment of glory.  But I wasn’t going to get there within 2:45.00 after all.

I still pushed on strongly, overtaking another couple of runners on the track.  But as I hit the home straight, the race clock over the finish line was approaching 2:45.00.  I hadn’t started on the start line, so knew my chip time would be about 10 seconds less than the official race clock.  But I wasn’t going to get there in time.

I crossed the line with the stadium clock showing 2:45.12.  I stopped my watch on 2:45.03.  Agony – I was 4 seconds out!  It later got worse when my official chip time came through as 2:45.01.  My watch showed a total distance of 26.4 miles.

Gutted.....

As I crossed the line I put my head in my hands.  I should have been enjoying the moment.  I had beaten my personal best by over 3 minutes.  But having thought that I’d done it as I reached the stadium, I’d missed my sub 2:45 target by just 2 seconds.  I was gutted.

I started the long walk around the back of my stadium, thinking it all through, wishing I could rewind and enter the stadium again.  When I saw I had 300 metres to go, I had let my self mentally give up, thinking that I couldn’t get to the finish in time.  Had I realized that it would boil down to just 2 seconds then I know I could have pushed that bit harder.  I was also kicking myself for basing my goal pace of 6.17 mins per mile on a 26.2 mile distance.  The official 26.2 miles involves running a perfect line.  My last 3 marathons have all measured 26.4 miles on my Garmin.  I should have realized this and targeted a slightly faster pace.  I actually ran at 6 mins 15 secs per mile (2 seconds per mile faster than my target) and still just missed out.

I reached the bag collection area and saw Kate, Jonny and Francesca waiting for me, along with Darren, Juli and Lucas.  It was great to see them.  I had heard Kate screaming my name from the stands as I ran down the home straight – apparently standing on her seat!!  Now seeing my family and friends, I started to enjoy the occasion.   I had beaten my PB by 3 mins and 19 seconds.  In the last year I had taken over 10 minutes of my pre-2013 PB.  I was very happy with that.  The race had gone almost perfectly.  I had maintained a consistent, fast pace throughout.  I’d gained 60-70 places in the second half of the race, running strongly throughout.  I’d got over a mini slump at 23-24 miles, with some luck in meeting the pacer – and I’d finished by running the last 0.4 miles at 5 min 38 seconds per mile pace.  I had some small learning points, but really I had to be happy with how it had gone.    I also had a cracking new race medal – probably the best one yet!

It was time to go and enjoy Seville and celebrate a great day and a great race!

The best marathon medal ever!

 

Mile splits:

Split

Time

Distance

Avg Pace

1

6:13.7

1.00

6:14

2

6:10.8

1.00

6:11

3

6:14.8

1.00

6:15

4

6:13.8

1.00

6:14

5

6:20.4

1.00

6:20

6

6:15.4

1.00

6:15

7

6:13.1

1.00

6:13

8

6:11.1

1.00

6:11

9

6:07.4

1.00

6:07

10

6:19.0

1.00

6:19

11

6:16.1

1.00

6:16

12

6:19.5

1.00

6:19

13

6:20.0

1.00

6:20

14

6:05.1

1.00

6:05

15

6:11.4

1.00

6:11

16

6:14.3

1.00

6:14

17

6:16.0

1.00

6:16

18

6:10.2

1.00

6:10

19

6:18.5

1.00

6:18

20

6:18.2

1.00

6:18

21

6:22.8

1.00

6:23

22

6:21.6

1.00

6:22

23

6:24.1

1.00

6:24

24

6:19.0

1.00

6:19

25

6:16.1

1.00

6:16

26

6:15.2

1.00

6:15

27

2:15.6

0.40

5:38

Summary

2:45:03.1

26.40

6:15

The Lakeland 100


Date: Friday/Saturday 26/27 July 2013

Distance: 105 miles (measured 106.9 miles on my Garmin)

Elevation gain: 20,428 feet

Time to complete: 28 hours 15 mins

Finishing position: 25th out of 274 starters (124 finishers)

  T        

Pre-Race

The day had finally arrived after weeks and weeks of waiting and counting down slowly.  The Lakeland 100 Facebook page had reached increasing states of frenzy, with excitement and impatience growing in equal measure amongst fellow competitors being driven mad by tapering…..

My tapering had brought its own problems.  I’d been suffering from sharp pains, and aches around my knees which then spread into my quads, IT bands and hamstrings in the 10 days leading up to the event.  I’d had a good regime of stretching, and 2 visits to the physio confirmed no injury and not even any tightness in my muscles.  It seemed that my growing nerves about my first 100 mile race were causing this tension in my legs, and “phantom” pains which were leaving me increasingly paranoid.

In the final week I busied myself with preparing the multitude of kit required for the race, making final decisions on backpacks, shoes, race nutrition etc.  I also studied John Knyaston’s videos of the 4 legs on the course that I hadn’t reccied.  I managed to reccy about 75 miles of the 105 mile course, including a night reccy on the section I would run in the dark, and was pleased with that preparation.  As it turned out, the videos which John filmed from his own reccies of the full route in 2012 would be hugely helpful in keeping me on track.

I was raising money for Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, and the donations received were reaching levels which I could not believe.  I eventually raised £2,905.  I found this really inspirational and it certainly kept me going during some tough times out on the course.  But pre-race I also let it add pressure on me to complete the race.

The Lakeland 100 is an extremely tough race to choose for my first 100 miler.  As well as the 105 mile distance, it involves climbing 2/3 of the height of Everest, and running most of the route on rocky paths and scree which the Lake District is renowned for.  By all accounts this would be an amazing event, both for the stunning route, the organisation, fantastic checkpoints and the enthusiasm and camaraderie of the competitors – 300 or so doing the 100 mile course and another 700 running the 50 mile race.

The 100 mile race starts and finishes in Coniston, stopping at 14 other checkpoints along the route.  It starts at 6pm on Friday night, with the leaders finishing less than 24 hours later, but with others running through 2 nights and finishing as late as 10am on Sunday.  The toughness of the course is spelt out by the fact that less than half the competitors usually finish.  The 50 mile route starts at Dalemain at 11.30am on Saturday.

I was hugely naive and over ambitious in my assessment of what time I would aim for.  I’d had a great running year, finishing London marathon in a 7 minute PB, and recording my best ever results in local fell races.  But I hadn’t completed a 50 mile race since October 2012 and had never attempted a course like this.  The toughness of the terrain appealed to me with my fell running background, but I was seriously underprepared for the overall distance and ascent, with my longest training runs being only 33 miles.   Secretly I was thinking I could aim for 25 hours.  Bearing in mind all of the above, that was madness in my first 100 mile race….

I drove over to the Lakes from Sheffield with my wife Kate on Friday morning.  After a few fights with the Sat Nav we arrived in Ambleside and grabbed some lunch at Zefferellis – one of our favourite places to eat, but on this occasion it was all a bit rushed as I was eager to get over to Coniston.  We arrived at John Ruskin School at around 3pm, and I went straight in to be weighed, have my kit checked, register and pick up my race number.  That still left me well over 2 hours to relax and prepare myself.

It was a lovely sunny day.  Maybe a bit too hot to run 105 miles….but after a build up week filled with heavy rain, some thunderstorms and early forecasts of more storms, I was quite happy with that.  I put my headphones on and tried a short meditation to calm me down.  Not sure how effective it was with loads of people chattering in the background and walking past my head as I lay on the ground (must pick somewhere quieter next time….), but it did help relax me nicely.  A few stretches and it was soon time for the pre-race briefing.  In the hall I met my mate Matt from Newcastle, who I had done much of my race prep and reccying with.  Race organisers Marc Laithwaite and Terry Gilpin gave a great briefing with loads of important facts – half of which passed me by, as my mind began to race around and anxiety about the impending challenge started to grow again.

The briefing ended at 5pm, leaving an hour before the race.  I sprinted for the portaloos, before the queues built up, and got my race kit on.  I then met Kate again, just in time for her to lead me through some pre-race yoga (watched by a bemused Matt!).  I always try and do a bit of yoga before races, and this was really good to calm me, stretch my muscles and focus my energy.  I was feeling good and the anxiety was being replaced by excitement and determination.  I kissed Kate goodbye and headed towards the start.

Before getting to the start line we had to check in our electronic dibbers to register that we were at the start of the race.  After a bit of a wait and a brief chat to a few marshals, I was the first to dib myself in and found myself first onto the start line!  Whilst not wanting to start too fast, I also wanted a clear run and to stay out of the crowds, so was quite happy to be standing on the front row.  I had no intention of staying there when the race began.  The crowds were building outside the school.  The sense of anticipation went up another notch as the Nessum Dorma was blasted out.  Almost time to go……

Leg 1: Start (Coniston) to Seathwaite –  Here we go!

7 miles, 2,162 feet

14th position, 1 hour 12 mins 59 secs

                     

Photo by Michael Atkinson

As the music ended, Marc Laithwaite started the crowd counting down from 10, the hooter sounded and we were off, up the hill and round into Coniston.  Three guys went off at a blistering pace up front, while I was at the front of the next pack of runners.  It was great running through the sunny village past cheering crowds.  I blew a kiss to Kate, and was then focused on the massive task ahead.  It was hard to comprehend that I’d just started a run which would last for over 24 hours!?!

As we climbed out of Coniston on the road up to the Miner’s Bridge, I kept having to check my pace and slowed myself down a few times.  This theme continued on the steeper climbs up eventually to Walna Scar at around 2000 feet – I was surprised how many people were running up the hills.  I knew how easy it would be to go too fast early on and suffer later, and my plan was very much to walk up the hills, run the flat and downhill sections.  That said, it was very hard to hold myself back and let the other runners go – but I knew I had to run my own race.

The views around the Old Man of Coniston and surrounding hills were stunning on a beautiful summers evening.  This was going to be an amazing race.

              

All 3 photos by Adam Rose

Starting the long descent to Seathwaite. Photo by Adam Rose

We eventually summited Walna Scar and started the descent towards Seathwaite.  I let myself enjoy the downhills and overtook a number of runners on the way down.  I figured it was OK to go fairly fast downhill as long as I kept a relaxed form, with my priority being to avoid putting pressure on my quads by breaking too much.  Soon I was entering the village hall in Seathwaite and dibbing in at the first checkpoint.  A good feeling and it felt like the journey had really begun.

Leg 2: Seathwaite to Boot in Eskdale

7 miles, 1,263 feet; 14 miles overall

15th position, 2 hour 31 mins 56 secs

I took a while at the checkpoint to top up my waters , get my map for the next leg out and make my food accessible to eat on the move.  Others were coming and going far more quickly and I probably lost about 5 or 6 places at the checkpoint.  This bothered me a bit, but as the race went on I learnt that it was far more important to take time to re-group at checkpoints than to rush through them.

I enjoyed this leg, over fairly gentle hills and woodland.  I gradually regained some of those lost places and joined a group of 4 or 5 runners for the final descent towards Boot.

Descent into Eskdale. Photo by Adam Rose

As we approached Boot I pushed on strongly.  This checkpoint was the first one where race positions would be recorded on the race website, and I liked the idea of being in a good race position when family and friends checked my progress for the first time.  All quite pointless in the bigger scheme of things, but I enjoyed passing more runners and reaching Boot in 15th position.

Heading into Eskdale

Leg 3: Boot to Wasdale Head

5.4 miles,974 feet; 19.4 miles overall

18th position, 3 hour 32 mins 27 secs

Again I lost about 5 places during the checkpoint turnaround.  When I set off I was about 400 yards behind the group of runners who I’d run into Boot with.  I struggled to make ground on them.  In the main this is quite a runnable leg, climbing gently to pass Burnmoor Tarn and the group ahead were running quite strongly, including some of the uphills.  I started to feel frustrated and a bit fed up – it wasn’t that I was worried about race position, but I wanted to run in a group and felt that the company would help the miles pass more quickly and enjoyably.

After Burnmoor Tarn, I started the descent towards Wasdale Head.  Again I picked up speed on the downhill and gained ground, eventually catching the group before Wasdale campsite.   It was around 9.30pm, and Wast Water looked stunning in the fading dusk light.  We headed on for another mile to the checkpoint – I was struggling to keep up with the group and feeling that I might have pushed a bit too hard on this section and the one before.  A bit worrying with only 19 miles done and 86 to go…..

Leg 4: Wasdale Head to Buttermere – Fading fast

6.9 miles,2,188 feet; 26.3 miles overall

21st position, 5 hours 37 mins 11 secs

Arriving at the Wasdale Head checkpoint we were greeted by a man in a white suit with shades and an Afro wig, a woman in sparkling blue with white boots and blonde frizzy wig, flashing disco lights and 70s music…and several other members of the Sunderland Strollers running club (who were looking after this checkpoint) dressed in similar 70s disco gear.  It was the Stroller Disco checkpoint!  As well as giving us a great laugh, they were also incredibly helpful.  I took my time here, enjoying the fun, and a cup of butternut squash soup – just what I needed.  I also put on my headtorch with darkness approaching.  Again I lost places to people who were in and out more quickly than me, but I did need to sort myself out and get some hot food down me.

Sunder;and Strollers - the best checkpoint crew! Photo by Dan Anderson

Buoyed by the food and disco I left the checkpoint in better spirits.  I headed out of Wasdale and onto the fells feeling stronger for a while.  But as we started to climb more steeply up towards Blacksail Pass, I started to tire and felt weary.  When I crossed Gatherstone beck, I briefly lost the path and took a much steeper route for a short while before regaining the path towards Blacksail.  That steeper line away from the path sapped my energy further.  The remaining climb up to the Pass was very slow plodding.

From both a daytime and night time reccy this leg was my favourite part of the course, climbing the valley out of Wasdale, down into Ennerdale and then up, over and down to Buttermere.  But tonight I was not enjoying it.  I eventually topped out at Blacksail Pass and started the steep and very rocky descent into the next valley.  This is a tricky, technical descent in day time.  It was now getting dark (around 10.15pm) making the descent particularly difficult.  I picked my way down carefully, and was unhappy to be passed by another runner descending confidently.  I’m normally quite strong on the downhills and like the more technical stuff, but tonight’s struggle was typical of the way I was feeling.

In the end I reached the grassier banks and continued onwards, over the bridge at the bottom and past Black Sail Youth Hostel.  I started to feel a bit better as I climbed on up to Scarth Gap.  At one point I turned and looked back on the descent from Blacksail Pass – in the pitch blackness it was amazing to see a steady stream of small lights scattered along the hill, as other runners descended with their head torches on.

Having climbed Scarth Gap I began the long descent to Buttermere.  The first part of this descent is again very rocky and soon this was taking away all my energy again.  It seemed to take an age to negotiate the rocky path before I got down to the better paths near the lake.  I then started the 2km run round the lake to the checkpoint.  I was managing to run, but really having  to grind it out.  A few more runners passed me, including a couple of guys who I think were Greek who flew past at some speed (and must’ve kept it going judging by their ultimate 10th & 11th places).

I was feeling really low by now.  I couldn’t see any way of me completing another 80 miles.  But I couldn’t throw in the towel after just 26 miles.  So many people had sponsored me for this and I was in danger of bailing out after a quarter of the race.  The best I could think was to try and grind it out and see if I could get towards Dalemain – this would be 59 miles, my longest ever run.  That seemed a long way off…..

Leg 5: Buttermere to Braithwaite – Turning the corner?

6.5 miles,1,880 feet; 32.8 miles overall

28th position, 7 hours 33 mins 15 secs

Buttermere village hall was a welcome sight, but not as welcome as the cup of soup which was swiftly handed to me, with 2 helpings of salt to restore lost electrolytes.  I must have looked in a bad way, as the checkpoint staff offered me a seat indoors.  I realised I needed a while to get myself together and so took my time drinking 2 cups of soup and sorting out my bag.  I hadn’t lost as many places as I expected on the previous leg, mainly because 3-4 runners took a wrong turning and did an extra mile before Scarth Gap….  but I must have lost a number of places in the Buttermere checkpoint.  That didn’t matter – most importantly I left the checkpoint feeling a lot better.

I started off through the woods and onto the open fell before turning left for the short climb up onto the path contouring Whiteless Breast.  It was nice to pass a couple perched on the path offering support – presumably campers since it was around midnight.  The next mile or so involved contouring round 3 sections of hill, with short sharp drops to cross 3 becks and then short climbs to regain the paths on the hills.  I was running steadily and took time to take in the beautiful evening – an almost full moon and hundreds of bright stars decorating the sky.

A handful of runners passed me.  It didn’t bother me – although I was feeling a bit better my thoughts were still more about getting to Dalemain checkpoint at 59 miles, not finishing the whole race.  Interestingly, I learnt later that a number of these runners who passed me didn’t even reach Dalemain before dropping out…..

Soon after the 3rd stream the very steep ascent up to Sail Pass begins.  This a real test, close to 30 miles in.  I ground through this slowly but quite strongly.  I then began the initially steep and rocky drop down the other side before the path plateaus a little.  I was concentrating hard to make sure I picked up the correct path forking off to Barrow Door, having taken the wrong path in my previous reccy.  I was pleased to get on the right path which climbed gently up to Barrow Door before starting the long descent into Braithwaite.  I was feeling happy to have kept on track and was actually feeling quite strong again.  I took off past a guy who had edged in front of me and picked up the pace down the wide grassy path towards the village.  After a really enjoyable fast run down from Barrow Door, I was soon in Braithwaite and approaching the church hall and the next checkpoint, 33 miles in.

Leg 6: Braithwaite to Blencathra Centre – Back on track!

8.5 miles,1,568 feet; 41.3 miles overall

29th position, 9 hours 39 mins 19 secs

The Braithwaite leg was a turning point for me.  I’d felt much stronger and happier as that leg progressed.  At the checkpoint I wolfed down 2 bowls of pasta and tomato sauce, with the obligatory sachets of salt.  This left me feeling stronger still.

I left the checkpoint at the same time as another couple of guys (Duncan and another guy whose name I can’t remember) from the group I’d run with in Legs 2 and 3.  They were strong runners, much more experienced in 100 milers – however they are from Devon and so had been unable to reccy the course.  So we teamed up, me helping them with the navigation, with their stronger running pulling me along at a decent pace.

The 2km stretch on the A66 passed quickly with some company.  As we headed on the track towards Keswick I took us on a wrong turn around the graveyard – a bit spooky at 4am!  I’d also done this on my night time reccy and used my knowledge from that to get us back on track with only a couple of minutes lost.

We headed up through Latrigg woods and onto the long stretch contouring the valley along and back to the Blencathra Centre.  This was a fairly long leg, at just over 8 miles.  On the whole I’d dealt with it well, with combination of steady running and fast walking.  I reached the checkpoint about the same time as 5 or 6 other runners, in 29th position.  41 miles done and feeling OK.  During this leg, I’d gradually come to the conclusion that 105 miles might be achievable, and started to discard my plan to drop out at Dalemain – during the next 2 legs, that plan was ditched completely and I was back on track!

Views from Blencathra leg later that morning - still dark when I was there. Photo by Adam Rose

Leg 7: Blencathra Centre to Dockray – Pairing up

7.7 miles,1,368 feet; 49 miles overall

30th position, 11 hours 29 mins 57 secs

I left the Blencathra Centre at the same time as another runner, Mark from Cornwall.  We started running together and paired up to work out the route – the next 2 legs were ones which I hadn’t reccied.  I ended up running with Mark for the next 7 hours, and this played a massive part in getting me through the race.

As we left the checkpoint daylight was starting to emerge.  This was a nice leg through some fields and wooded tracks, before a 6km stretch on a good, undulating track through to the next checkpoint at Dockray.

Mark started the leg running a bit stronger than me, but I managed to stay with him and this really helped my progress.  During the final few miles we worked out that we stood a good chance of getting to Dalemain, at mile 59, within 14 hours.  We talked about targeting 26 hours for the full race if we could get to Dalemain in that time.  That would give us 12 hours to do the final 46 miles – which felt possible if a little ambitious.  In the end it was too ambitious for me, although Mark finished in about 26 hours 24 mins.

We were surprised not to see any other runners during this leg.  Mark was a far more experienced 100 mile racer and was confident that we would gain places if we could keep going at this nice steady pace – a lot of runners had gone off fast and would probably suffer in the heat.  He was right, and ultimately gained a lot of ground to finish 14th – too strong for me in the end.

As we got closer to Dockray, the sun was rising above the hills – an impressive sight and the end to a beautiful starlit night.  We also saw a young deer bouncing up the hill – there was an impressive variety of animal sightings across this race.

We came into Dockray checkpoint in 29th and 30th places.  I was feeling good and enjoying it now.  I was up for the chase, I was racing and keen to press on to Dalemain in good time.

Leg 8: Dockray to Dalemain – Stunning views and a load of bull!!

10.1 miles,1,214 feet; 59.1 miles overall

25th position, 13 hours 45 mins 53 secs

More soup at the Dockray checkpoint, with a bread roll soaked in it – lovely.  We didn’t hang about too long and were soon off down the road towards the village of Dockray.  This was the longest leg of the race, at just over 10 miles, but there wasn’t too much climbing and if we could do it in a couple of hours then we’d reach Dalemain inside 14 hours, which was the target.

After a nice run through some shaded woods, we soon climbed up and started contouring Gowbarrow fell.  This was one of the highlights of the race for me.  The early morning views of Ullswater (at about 6.30am) were just stunning.  We were running parallel to the lake, looking down on it as the rising sun shone down on the water.  The photos below show the views a little later in the day (taken by another runner) – they are good but can’t fully capture the beauty of this sight.
         T   

 Photos both by Adam Rose                           

We dropped down off Gowbarrow and through more woodland, enjoying the shade.  The early morning sun was already strong and it was an ominous sign of how hot the day would be.  Soon we reached a series of 3 or 4 fields which we had to cross.  At the first one, a group of cows were blocking our way.  I’m scared of cows, having been chased and had a narrow escape during a run last year.  Closer inspection revealed that one of the cows was actually a bull.  I tried to contain my panic.  There were 4 of us at this stage, wondering what the best strategy was.  In the end Mark clapped his hands and shouted at the animals.  The bull took a step back, shook itself and seemed to square up to us….but then ran off with the other cows, leaving the way clear.  Hugely relieved I continued cautiously, with the other guys, across the fields.

The leg finishes with a few miles of road and then a good track after the farm, into the grounds of Dalemain House.  Mark and I had left the other runners behind and pushed on strongly.  We arrived at Dalemain in 13 hours and 45 minutes, inside our 14 hour target, in 25th and 26th position.  Dalemain is a significant landmark in the race – the only drop bag point and the start for the 50 mile.  It was a really good feeling to arrive here in pretty good shape, feeling positive.

Leg 9: Dalemain to Howtown  – Heating up

7.1 miles,965 feet; 66.2 miles overall

25th position, 15 hours 43 mins 15 secs

I had a good sort out at the checkpoint.  It was great to change my full kit.  I decided to get rid of my Skins compression shorts, and it felt great just to have normal shorts on, whilst a new pair of socks and shoes was also a huge comfort.  I had some tasty blisters developing on the undersoles of my feet and got these cleaned up and dried out with some powder.  A couple of bowls of soup and bread and I was ready to go.  Mark and I were on our way again by 8.10am, a 25 minute turnaround which was pretty good at this big checkpoint and with the 26 hour target in mind.

t                        

Soon after leaving Dalemain we had another bull problem.  We could see a group of cows and one bull blocking a gate at the end of the field we’d just entered.  A different route and a clamber over a barbed wire fence saw us past them with less incident than last time.  We ran through Pooley Bridge and started climbing the good path out of the village and back up onto the hills.  During this leg we passed the 100km mark.  All of this was uncharted territory for me, much longer than my previous longest ever run of 51 miles.

The day continued to warm up and I noticed that I was finding the going a little tougher.  Mark seemed to be running more strongly than me as we dropped down towards the side of Ullswater.  I dug in and just about managed to keep up with him.

Descent towards Ullswater. Photo by Amanda Seims

As we approached Howtown there were a number of placards with mantras written on them.  Here’s one very apt one:

Photo by Graeme Sinclair

The next mantra was more significant and stuck in my mind for the rest of the race.

Photo by Graeme Sinclair

Before Howtown we saw a red squirrel close by in the trees.  I’d never seen one before – the theme of fantastic scenery and nature on this amazing route continued.  Soon after, we were arriving at the Howtown checkpoint, still doing nicely in 24th and 25th places.  But it was getting very hot and I was feeling weary as I slumped into a chair in the checkpoint.

Leg 10: Howtown to Mardale Head –  Mad dogs and Englishmen….

9.4 miles,2,510 feet; 75.6 miles overall

24th position, 18 hours 36 mins 27 secs

This next leg well and truly did me in!  I sat in the checkpoint enjoying the shade and some lovely fresh cool pineapple.  I was struggling to drag myself out of the chair, knowing that the next leg is probably the toughest on the course.  It starts with a long arduous 2,000 foot climb over, through Fusedale and up to High Kop, the highest point on the course, and ends with a 5km undulating route around Haweswater on rocky paths – and I’d be doing this in the heat of the midday sun.

Mark must have got sick of waiting for me to move and set off on his own.  This stirred me to move and I dragged myself off up the path and soon caught him as we moved into Fusedale.

The climb up through Fusedale was as tough as I expected.  The heat was really hurting me.  I drained my 2 bottles very quickly and was relieved to find a stream to top up and also to soak my cap in and pour over me a couple of times – bliss!  I continued to grind my way up the grassy track.  I told Mark to push on, which he did, although I managed to keep him in sight which helped drag me along.

Climb up through Fusedale (no clouds when I was there...). Photo by Amanda Seims

Eventually I reached the top of the climb and felt better for doing so.  The middle section of this leg has some great running on a wide grassy track before the scenic descent to Haweswater.  I ran strongly in this section, feeling quite good and enjoying the running.  But as the descent started I lost the path, and had to cut down through some thick bracken which unnecessarily sapped more energy


The drop down to Haweswater.  Both photos by Amanda Seims

I wasn’t far behind Mark as I started the run around the edges of Haweswater to the next checkpoint at Mardale Head.  But this section was really tough and started to knock the stuffing out of me.  I managed to keep moving – but the path is rough and rarely allows steady running.  It is beautiful and I loved the views of Haweswater when I reccied this – but I was less appreciative today.  I thought I was progressing OK towards the end of the lake, but it is deceptive – what looks like the turning point at the top corner of the lake is actually just hiding the continuing path along the lake edge.  Eventually I saw Mark well ahead of me turning the corner of the lake and I watched him progress along the North shore, behind the woods and emerge on the other side near the checkpoint – he looked a tiny figure in the distance and it felt like miles to the checkpoint.  The heat was unrelenting and my morale was dropping.

I plodded on, and started to feel a little happier as I crossed the top end of the Lake and considered the prospect of a seat and some hot food.  Eventually I was dropping down the short hill, hearing the cow bells ringing to greet my arrival, and I was able to slump into a seat in the tent at Mardale Head.  Bizarrely I’d actually gained a place during this leg, climbing to 24th – no one passed me during this journey of close to 3 hours and presumably someone higher up the field had dropped out.  All quite irrelevant – I was just bothered about whether I could actually finish….and I was not sure about that.

75 miles done – and the toughest leg of the course complete.  A great achievement – but how much had it taken out of me, particularly with what lay ahead of me straight after this checkpoint……

Leg 11: Mardale Head to Kentmere – Almost broken

6.5 miles,1,677 feet; 82.1 miles overall

25th position, 20 hours 46 mins 56 secs

The start of the next leg is one of the toughest parts of the route.  75 miles in and we have to endure the steep climb of close to 1000 feet in under a mile, up from the checkpoint to Gatesgarth pass.  I saw Mark again when I arrived at the checkpoint – he stayed for a couple of minutes before heading off, wanting to get this killer climb out of the way.  I stayed a while longer, getting some soup down me and sorting out my bag, making food accessible etc.

After about 10 minutes I plucked up the courage to leave and face into the big climb.  It was still very hot, and I was moving very slowly up the rocky path, round one switchback after another.  But I eventually got to the top of the pass, feeling a good sense of achievement.  This soon disappeared as I started the long descent.  Most of the descent, for the next few miles, is on an awful track – a never ending mix of loose scree and small jagged rocks which batters the feet throughout.  This not only hurt my feet but it took all the energy out of my legs.  I started feeling pretty miserable, only lifted temporarily by the shouts of encouragement of walkers & cyclists going the other way – it’s a lovely feeling to keep being told “you’re amazing!”.  This type of support meant so much and was a great help, even if I didn’t believe what they were saying, and certainly didn’t feel amazing!

It was then time for another climb, up past Sadgill woods.  I underestimated how long this climb was and the realisation that it was as least twice as high as I’d thought was a sickener.  One big hill after another and it was sucking the life out of me.  This is the only leg of the course which I don’t like.  The scenery isn’t the prettiest, the middle stretch after Gatesgarth has the awful rocky path, and then the final hill is dull but energy sapping, 80 miles in.

I picked my way down the other side eventually arriving at the checkpoint in Kentmere.  At this point I couldn’t see myself finishing the race.

Leg 12: Kentmere  to Ambleside – Dropping out?

7.3 miles,1,611 feet; 89.4 miles overall

28th position, 23 hours 14 mins 05 secs

I sat in the hall feeling quite dejected.  I was spent.  I decided I would get to Ambleside (the next checkpoint) whatever happens, and would call my wife, Kate, to arrange to meet her there, with the expectation that I would pull out of the race at that point.  As a last throw of the dice I ate 2 bowls of pasta in the hope that this would give me the extra energy I so desperately needed.  Then I dragged myself up and headed on up the road.

Soon I was climbing Garburn pass.  Again it was a really rocky ascent, seemingly going on for ever.  I wasn’t feeling any stronger and couldn’t see any way I could continue.  Eventually I reached the top, and started the long descent to the A591.  I was telling myself that Ambleside would be 90 miles, and getting that far and giving up wasn’t so bad.  But another small voice in my head kept playing back the sign I’d seen before Howtown – “Pain is temporary, Pride is forever”.  Maybe I should keep going….but 15 miles after Ambleside would take 5 hours, possibly more – that seemed too long to suffer like this, especially as it probably meant going into a second night section.  No, I had to stop at Ambleside.

On the way down I called Kate and arranged to meet her at Ambleside.  She sounded a little surprised.  I was looking forward to seeing her.  But the phone call made it real.  I was going to pull out in a few miles.  This huge adventure which I had been preparing for, for months, would soon be over and would end in failure.  I would be letting down all the people who had sponsored me and who were supporting me.  As I headed down towards the A591, the tears started.

I plodded on slowly, crossing the main road and heading up through Troutbeck and then continuing the climb up Robin Lane out of the village.  At this point a look to the left gives stunning views across Windermere – not that I was in any mood to appreciate them.  A left turn at the top of the hill took me past the farm and through Skeghyll Woods, and onwards into Ambleside.  I’m not sure at what point this happened, but I was starting to move a little better.

I ran through the town, enjoying the cheers and shouts from the drinkers sat outside the White Lion.  A couple of minutes later I was headed down Vicarage Road towards the checkpoint.  The cheering crowds were a real inspiration here.  I saw Kate, and waved before heading into the checkpoint.  I reached Ambleside after 90 miles, at about 5.15pm, having been on the go for 23 hours and 14 minutes.

       t      
   Arriving at Ambleside Checkpoint.  Both photos by Paul Dobson.

After dibbing in and grabbing a couple of cups of soup I came out to talk to Kate.  I found myself saying that I was going to try and continue, that I’d try walking rather than running the next leg and one way or another I’d get to the finish.  When did I change my mind?  Hadn’t I decided to drop out here?  I don’t know what happened to change my plans…. The “Pain is temporary, Pride is forever” mantra had won the day.  Maybe it was the realisation that I was feeling a bit better on the final part of the section…. Maybe it was the cheering crowds in Ambleside… Probably it was all this.  I just couldn’t give up.  I could not run 90 out of 105 miles, only to leave this amazing adventure unfinished – I could not walk away from this fantastic event!

Still going! Getting ready to leave Ambleside.

Leg 13: Ambleside to Langdale  - Walking towards recovery

5.6 miles,768 feet; 95 miles overall

27th position, 25 hours 04 mins 45 secs

I chatted to Kate while I drank my soup, then headed back inside to collect my backpack etc.  Kate walked with me as I left the checkpoint and headed across Rothay Park.  I said goodbye at the start of the next climb up onto Loughrigg Fell.

I managed this climb pretty well.  After dropping down into Skelwith Bridge, I then joined the path alongside Elterwater for a couple of miles.  I stuck to my plan of walking this section, but managed to walk at a brisk pace, swinging my arms as I went.  This turned out to be a really good approach.  I slowly started to feel stronger, and probably moved almost as fast by walking as I would have with my tired running shuffle.  Looking back, I think walking and swinging my arms freely was releasing energy around my body, slowly giving me the boost I needed.

After the Wainwright Inn, I headed through the campsite at Langdale, which was buzzing with campers playing, drinking beer, preparing food and shouting encouragement – or in some cases just staring at these weird people, probably unaware that we’d been running for 95 miles and over 24 hours….

A tent in a field at Langdale represented the next checkpoint.  A welcome site.  Only 2 legs and 10 miles to go….

Leg 14: Chapel Stile to Tibberthwaite – Back in the game!

6.5 miles,1,270 feet; 101.5 miles overall

27th position, 27 hours 13 mins 17 secs

In the depths of despair and suffering before Ambleside, I lost 3 places which was when 3 runners passed me about 10 yards before the Ambleside checkpoint.  During my walking leg from Ambleside to Langdale, I actually gained a place taking me back to 27th overall.  I felt as though I had gone so slow over the last 30 miles and was amazed only to have lost a couple of places – a sign of how tough everyone else was finding it.

I’m not sure if this is my hazy memory, too long without sleep, but I seem to remember sitting on a nice comfy sofa inside the checkpoint tent at Langdale.  I enjoyed the music whilst tucking into some hot food.  I could have happily sat there a while longer but I had a job to do.  Off I plodded, onwards and upwards.

I carried on with the fast walking in the early part of this leg, through farmland in the Langdale valley.  I expected this leg to take a couple of hours, and needed to pace myself carefully.  I was definitely feeling stronger, and dealt with the climb up Side Pike well.  I was running again, at a reasonable speed, as I went around Blea Tarn, trying to gain ground on a couple of 50 mile runners ahead of me.  It was a good feeling to be running again, and I couldn’t quite believe that my strength had returned after feeling so weak for so long, a few hours earlier.

From Kentmere onwards I had been passed by a number of people running the 50 mile race.  The winner of the 50 miler, Ben Abdelnoor passed me at an incredible speed on the way down from Garburn Pass before Ambleside, giving me shouts of encouragement .  That was a continuing theme.  All of the L50 runners were amazing, giving so much encouragement as they passed me.  I was really moved and inspired by their support.  My only regret is that I don’t think I adequately returned that support – they too were completing an incredibly tough race too, and I wish I had been “with it” enough to pass on my encouragement to them.

After Blea Tarn I continued through rocky fells, dibbed in at the compulsory checkpoint, down the road and then up the path which would take me up and over to the Tibberthwaite checkpoint.  I was back to a strategy of running the flat and downhill sections and walking the ups.  At some point during the latter stages of this leg I passed the 100 mile mark in my run – WOW!

Approaching Blea Tarn in the fading light. Photo by Adam Rose

The light was fading, and clouds were increasing.  I had even heard distant thunder earlier in this leg.  I was feeling pretty good, although the path to Tibberthwaite felt as though it would go on forever, and at times I did start to worry whether I was on the right path.  Eventually I saw High Tibberthwaite Farm, which confirmed I was on track.  That gave me confidence to pick up speed for the half mile or so down the hill to the penultimate checkpoint.

Leg 15: Tibberthwaite to Coniston – Final charge!

3.5 miles,928 feet; 105 miles overall

25th position, 28 hours 15 mins 26 secs

I didn’t hang about at this checkpoint. Frustratingly I realised that I would need my head torch again during this final leg – the thought of using it again had never crossed my mind when I switched it off after Blencathra around 16 hours earlier….. but on it went before I left the checkpoint.  Once again the checkpoint staff were amazing – picking bottles off the floor to save me bending down, giving out fantastic encouragement and sending me on my way feeling great and raring to get this done with.

The final few miles of the race went amazingly well.  I pushed on strongly up the steep ascent from the checkpoint, feeling good and moving upwards at a reasonable pace.  Eventually the path started to level out and meandered alongside Crook Beck and then over open fell.  I ran the flatter parts, trying to keep some L50 runners in front of me in my sights, and setting myself a challenge of keeping ahead of the 50 mile runners behind me.

For a while I lost sight of the runners ahead.  I knew the route, but was too tired to really concentrate on navigation, and became nervous of going wrong so close to the finish.  After a few nervous minutes I was relieved to regain sight of head torches ahead of me – soon I was crossing the beck next to the  familiar lone tree, before the final gentle climb to the summit.

A couple of Sunderland Strollers, who were running the 50 race, caught me at the summit – passing on the usual fantastic encouragement.  I tried to race with them on the rocky descent.  I loved it!  I treated this like a fell race, often throwing caution to the wind as I leapt down from rocks and generally disengaged my brain in true fell running style!  One of the Strollers was well ahead by the time we reached the track to the bottom.  I raced along the track with the other Stroller, who I think finished as second lady in the L50 ace,, for the final mile or so into Coniston.  I really was racing, somehow managing to sprint flat out right through to the finish, overtaking a few 50 and 100 runners along the way.

With adrenalin pumping, I reached the T junction by the Black Bull and turned right into Coniston.  There were quite a few people out supporting, despite the late hour.  As I turned left onto the final road down to the finish the crowds increased.  It was the most fantastic feeling, to be finishing strongly at the end of my first 100 mile race.  I waved my arms about like an idiot, unable to contain by delight, before turning the corner into John Ruskin School, crossing the finish line and checking in my dibber for the final time.

Sprinting into the finish - bit of a blur!

My speed on this section was hard to comprehend, given the desperate state I was in earlier on.  I don’t know what happened but it was like an out of body experience.  Mile 105 was by far my fastest of the whole race!  Two of the runners who I passed near the end were L100 competitors who had passed me at Ambleside.  I ran the final section in just over an hour and gained around 15 minutes on those two runners during this 3 ½ mile leg.

Not long after 10.15pm I was led into the school hall, and announced – it was an amazing feeling to receive my finishers medal and T shirt and to enjoy the cheers of the runners and supporters in the hall.  The support of other runners, marshalls and support staff, and spectators throughout this amazing race was incredible – completely inspiring.

It was also so important to have Kate with me in the Lakes that weekend.  Having her close by really kept me going, and I think I may well have packed in at Ambleside had she not been there.  I soon found Kate outside the school – it was so good to see her again.  We were both so pleased that we were now celebrating in Coniston, 5 hours on from what seemed a probable early finish in Ambleside.

The final leaderboard in Coniston - 25th place

I checked the leaderboard in the hall and saw that I had finished in 25th place in 28 hours and 15 minutes.  This might have been well off my original target time for the race, but I didn’t care one bit.  I’d been completely naïve with my pre-race targets and really had underestimated the exhausting effect of running this distance, on rough terrain, and the constant climbs and descents which added up to over 20,000 feet of total ascending – especially in hot conditions.  I’ve learned a huge amount from this.  After coming so close to dropping out after 90 miles, I was completely over the moon.

Happy Boy!

What a fantastic day (and a bit)!  What an incredible race this is!


Round Rotherham 50 – Race Report

ROUND ROTHERHAM 50

20 OCTOBER 2012

RACE REPORT

Photo by Armada Photography

Position: 5th out of c300 starters

Time: 7 hours 19 mins 47 secs

Distance: 50.5 miles, 2,630 feet of ascent

Photo by Hannisze

Preparation

This was my longest ultra race so far, and my preparation had gone pretty well.  The race came 5 weeks on from my surprising run at the High Peak 40 mile race in mid-September.  I’d completed that race only 2 weeks after starting to run again after a 2 month knee injury – I’d intended to run only half the course but ended up completing all 40 miles.

My knee suffered a reaction to the High Peak 40, not surprisingly, and I was forced into a couple of weeks of inactivity while it recovered.  But I then managed a couple of good training weeks, running 50-60 miles per week, including some good reccying of the course with Frazer (Hirst).

I then had 5 days of complete rest before the big race, so was feeling good.  I was pretty nervous though.  Ultra running (especially distances over 50km) is still fairly new territory for me, and in my previous race of this type of distance (48 miles along the Thames) I’d gone off fast and blown up quite spectacularly.  So I had to try and get a balance between targeting a fast time and not overdoing it too early on.

A rubbish night’s sleep on the Friday night was not the best of starts.  I guess it’s never going to be great when the alarm is set for 3.30am!  I’m a bit nerdy about my pre-race eating (and then my pre-race toilet trips!), so I like to get a bowl of porridge down me about 3 hours before the race…..hence the very early start.

Anyway I was off just before 5am, picking up Frazer and another guy, Trevor.  A cup of tea on the way was slowly helping me to wake up, and I was feeling OK by the time we arrived at Dearne Valley Sports Centre about 5.50am.  That left plenty of time for registration, and for my usual warm up, stretches and several toilet trips.

As we waited outside, it looked like being a cracking day.  From the early morning darkness, a spectacular sunrise was emerging in the distance.  That was enough to persuade me to wear just my Dark Peak vest on top, with no other layers.  I’d stuck another layer in my drop bag, which went off to the mile 30 checkpoint – so if I got it wrong then I’d only have to freeze for 30 miles.

7am, a countdown from the race organisers and we were off!

Photo by Hannisze

The first 10 miles – Dearne Valley to Grange Park

I was targeting an ambitious time of below 7 hours 30 mins.  The terrain is faster on the first half so I was aiming for 3 hours 30 mins for the first 25 miles, leaving some room to slow down over the heavy fields in the second half. That meant 8 ½ minute miles for the first half…… so a 7 minute first mile was not in the plan!  I kept telling myself to slow down, but wasn’t doing a great job of it.  I did stop myself running with the 2 leading packs, as they sped off into the distance, and I promised myself that I’d slow a little when I got off the boring road section after about 1 ½ miles.

Soon we crossed a bridge to leave the road….CRASH – I was flat on my face!  At the pre-race briefing we’d been warned about the slippy bridge…and I’d clearly paid no attention whatsoever!  I picked myself up, and gingerly started running again.  Worryingly my previously injured knee felt a bit sore from the fall.  But as I chalked up a couple more miles, my body seemed to get over this shock and I felt OK again.

I was enjoying chatting to a number of runners in this early section, most with very impressive ultra CVs – particularly the guy who had recently returned from the Spartathlon and who had done 9 Comrades Ultra marathons in 9 years!  Much respect!  We usually had quite brief chats and then I slowed down and left them to speed off into the distance!

After 5 miles we left the tarmac footpath and entered the muddy woods!  Time for some slippy, sloppy fun!  I’d been running at close to 7 ½ minute mile speed – this was worrying me after my Thames Trot experience earlier in the year.  At least the mud slowed me down for a while.

I ran the next 5 miles through to Grange with Frazer and Jai, enjoying some good chat.  I was also enjoying the lovely early morning sun, which was burning off the low mist which had been hovering over the fields and rivers.  I never expected the Round Rotherham to be this picturesque.

We reached the Grange Park checkpoint, at just over 10 miles, having clocked around 8 minutes per mile.  Still too fast, still worried…. I do need to chill out a bit!  But aside from that, and my early bridge crash out, it had been a really enjoyable first stretch.

Grange Park to Treeton – miles 10-17

The next 3 ½ miles were the only part of the course which I didn’t manage to reccy…..and I was to pay for this….

The pleasant greenery continued for another mile or two out of Grange Park.  I continued running with Frazer and Jai, although a couple of other runners were close behind us.  I think we were around 12th to 15th position at that point.

After 12 miles near disaster struck.  By this time we’d left the countryside behind and were running through an industrial area.  As we joined a path alongside the railway line, I found myself crashing to the floor and down into a big gap full of nettles and thorns between the path and a security fence.  Another runner kindly pulled me bag to my feet, but my legs and hands were covered in blood.  Closer examination revealed that I had a large gash in my middle finger on my left hand, with blood pouring out.  It later emerged that the council had built a new security fence with spikes sticking out – my finger and hand had gone into the spikes when I slipped on some leaves.  I think the new fence had also made the path narrower.  A number of other runners fell there on the day, and I wasn’t the only one who ended up with stitches being required…..

Maybe I should have paid attention to this sign!! Photo by Hannisze

I was worried as to whether I could continue.  I wasn’t in too much pain, but I was losing a lot of blood.  I wrapped my finger tightly around my running vest to try and stem the flow of blood, and I tried to press on to the next checkpoint where I hoped to get some first aid assistance.

Of course, this meant I was running effectively only one arm, and that meant I had no balance when going down hills.  I fell at least another 3 times during the 5 mile stretch to the next check point, including once down the stone steps going under the Sheffield Parkway.  Feeling pretty fed up, I pressed on and just about stayed close to Frazer and another runner show we chatted with.  Jai had pushed on strongly ahead.

Eventually we reached the Treeton checkpoint at 17 miles.  The marshalls there were extremely helpful.  We tried and failed to stop the bleeding with elastoplasts and some tape.  Eventually we used a whole roll of bandage, tightly wrapped round my finger and that seemed to stop the heavy flow of blood.  The marshalls seemed surprised that I planned to continue.  I wasn’t convinced myself but wanted to press on to the next check point and see how I was there.

The picture of my running shorts below gives an idea of the damage caused!!

Treeton to Harthill – miles 17-25

I left the Treeton checkpoint feeling pretty downbeat, although I was relieved that we had stopped (or at least slowed) the bleeding, and that I had a chance to continue.

I had lost a lot of time – certainly over 5 minutes, probably nearer to 10 with my various extra falls….  It had been really frustrating to watch countless runners arrive at the checkpoint and pass me while I received first aid treatment.  I tried to press on quite hard to regain some places in the field, but taking care not to overdo it.

I climbed the hilly path out of Treeton, knowing that I needed to turn right at some stones at the top of the hill.  At that point I saw a large group of runners – in my still quite flustered state, I decided that these were local runners out for a Saturday run and not part of this race?!  I therefore ignored the route they were taking and turned sharp right, clambering over the large stones, and headed down a ploughed farmers field towards the water.  About half way down I questioned myself.  I was not on a path, and was sure from my reccy that I should have been following a clear path.  I could see the other runners descending towards the water but on a much better line, and realised that they were racers.  I back tracked and cut across the field to join the correct path, feeling fed up – more time lost!

I pressed on through the woods, passing this large group of runners.  As I carried on I passed 2 fellow Dark Peak runners, Jim Fulton and Richard Hakes, who stopped to take my photo (shown below).  Seeing the familiar brown vest gave me a good boost.

 Photo by Jim Fulton/Richard Hakes

 As I pressed on over the A57, I sensed another runner close behind me.  It was Mark Liptrot, who I recognised from previous races this season.  Mark’s presence was forcing me to keep up a fairly fast speed.  I probably should have let him past, as I still wasn’t in a great frame of mind and was not feeling too good after my numerous falls.  I needed a bit more time to have some relaxed running and pull myself together.  But I pressed on, largely keeping just ahead of Mark and clocking up the miles at around 8 minutes per mile.  Looking back, this was just what I needed and helped me gain some valuable time on runners further ahead.

We entered Rother Valley Country Park and we bumped into the guy who Frazer and I had been chatting to before Treeton checkpoint.  This gave me a boost, as it meant I had got a good amount of lost time back.  We had a good chat about fell running, Bob Graham Rounds etc.  This was very helpful to distract me through this long seemingly endless stretch, which could otherwise have ground me down.

As we passed under the M1 again and turned right towards Woodall, I had another boost as I saw Frazer’s bright yellow top ahead.  I thought I wouldn’t see Frazer again before the finish.  I must have made some really good time on this stretch.  I pushed on up the hill in pursuit of Frazer, and was able to keep around 50-100 yards behind him across the final fields before the Harthill checkpoint.

Harthill is the half way point (25 miles) and I arrived there in exactly 3 hours 30 minutes, which is a speed of around 8 mins 30 secs per mile.  This was exactly what I had planned before the race, to allow for a slower second half.  Of course it might have been quicker but for my big crash and gash at mile 12…..

All in all this had been a very good stretch.  I had no idea what my placing was in the field, but I had got back a lot of time which I’d lost through my injury.  I felt like I was back in the race.

Harthill to Woodsetts – miles 25-31

I didn’t hang about at this checkpoint, grabbed a quick drink of water and was off – moving ahead of Frazer in the process.  Soon I was back crossing more fields.

Not long after the checkpoint I started to catch a runner in front of me.  He looked to be struggling, and I then passed a man angrily waving at stick at his dogs.  As I overtook the runner I checked if he was OK and he explained that the dog had just bitten him….. not what you need half way through a 50 mile race.  I saw the same runner at the end of the race, so he did finish.

This whole section is almost all fields and pretty countryside.  I really enjoyed this.  My aim for the second half of the race was to do it in 4 hours, which is about 9 ½ minute miles.  Expecting to tire in the later stages, I decided to push on at a good speed for as long as I could early in the second half, to get some miles in the bank.  I kept going at a good 8-8.30 minute per mile speed, feeling pretty strong.  Again Mark Liptrot was close behind me for much of the section, which ensured I kept up the pace.

I think part of the reason for me feeling so good was that I was eating well.  Having started with a few Cliff shot bloks, then some dried pineapple and some dates, I was now mainly eating my wife Kate’s home made flapjack – packed with seeds, nuts and general good nutrition, these were going down great and really keeping me going.

The time and the miles seemed to pass quickly and I was soon crossing the golf course and heading down the lane to the Woodsetts checkpoint, at about 31 miles.

Woodsetts to Firbeck – miles 31-37

I had a drop bag at the Woodsetts check point, and so I collected a bit more food (mainly a few more flapjacks), a new bottle filled with my energy drink, and my ipod and headphones.  It took a few minutes to re-stock my waist bag, but I was on the way again pretty quickly and had only lost 1 place in the process.  I soon regained that place within the first few hundred yards after the check point.  That was to be the last time I saw another runner for about 9-10 miles – so a long stretch of running on my own lay ahead.  I knew that this next 10 miles would be make or break for my race.  If I could get to mile 40 in reasonable shape and still in good time, then I felt I could grind out the final 10 miles whatever state I’d be in by then…..

Getting my ipod gave me a boost.  I don’t normally listen to music when I’m running off road, but I do find it helps and provides a lift in the tough later stages of an ultra.  Buoyed by this, I was able to push on strongly for the next few miles as I crossed more and more fields.

My legs were starting to ache, but I was able to keep up a good momentum throughout the 5 mile stretch to the next checkpoint, still keeping to around 8 ½ minutes per mile.  One of the hard things about the Round Rotherham is that there is little incline, and even the hills that we do climb are quite runnable – so it means running continuously for 50 miles, with little excuse to walk and take a breather.  But I was managing to keep up a steady rhythm and work through the miles.  I particularly enjoyed running through the woods after Langold lake, and the descent on the track into Firbeck where the next checkpoint was.

From the 30 mile point it was good to be counting down the miles.  I was trying not to look too far ahead, but to countdown below 20 miles was good and the remaining distance didn’t sound too bad….. especially by the time I reached Firbeck and there was only 13 miles to go – only 1 Half Marathon left.

Firbeck to Maltby – miles 37-41

From Firbeck, it’s only a couple of miles to Roche Abbey and some pleasant running to Maltby…and then there’s less than 10 miles to go!  So psychologically I was edging closer and closer to the finish.  My overall average time was around 8.40 per mile, which was pretty good.  If I could avoid a major blow up then I was looking good for my sub-7 hours 30 target.

The first section after the checkpoint is a long section of zig-zagging paths over a big open expanse of farmland.  This was quite hard work.  I tried to get some flapjack down me, but my throat was not happy about swallowing anything….. I spent most of this stretch forcing down small pieces of food, washed down with some of my High 5 Zero drink…. I slowed a bit while doing this but it was good to get more food inside me and I figured (or at least hoped) that this would be almost enough fuel to see me home.   As I neared the end of the zig zags I saw the small distant figure of a runner in a white shirt ahead of me!  The first person I had seen since mile 31!

                                                     

Passing Roche Abbey.  Photos by Armada Photography

 After the zig zags, I started the pleasant 2 mile stretch past Roche Abbey (smiling for the cameras on the way!) and then through woodland all the way to Maltby.  Again I was able to keep up a good 8 ½ minute per mile pace, making some good time.  By the time I emerged from the woodland and into the fields just before Maltby, the runner which I’d previously seen was only 100 yards ahead.  Could I muster the strength for the chase??

Up through the churchyard and into the checkpoint.  41 miles down, less than 10 to go!

Photo by Hannisze

Maltby to Old Denaby – miles 41-47.5

I’d kept up a sufficiently good pace that I could now afford to run 10 minute miles for the last stretch and still come inside my 7 hour 30 target.  I was feeling tired now, but didn’t feel close to blowing up, so the signs were quite good.

The first mile after Maltby is all road and is a bit of a slog.  It was made easier by the fact that I continued to gain ground on the runner ahead, Chris Davies, who had beaten me convincingly in my last 2 races.  I was very pleased to be matching the likes of Chris.  We spent the next couple of miles trading places, not at a particularly fast speed, during the long haul up through the fields towards Micklebring.

As we continued through Micklebring and under the M18, I was able to move ahead of Chris.  We then crossed a series of large fields, which was a stretch I really enjoyed.  I was able to extend my lead and by the final field I could see another 3 runners in the distance.  This was great news.  I wasn’t really thinking about catching them, but having more runners in sight would help pull me along through the final few miles.

I passed Firsby Hall Farm at 45 miles, meaning there was just over 5 miles to go.  This really was getting into the final stretches of this very long race!  I started the diagonal, seemingly never ending, steadily uphill crossing of another ploughed field – it was hard going, but as I reached the other side of the field and finished the climb, my legs seemed to gain new strength.  This was probably because I’d got very close to 2 of the runners ahead.  As we started the descent through the woods, I picked up the pace and eased past them.  By the bottom of that descent I’d also caught the 3rd runner – Jai, who I had run with earlier in the race and who had then pushed ahead strongly around the time of my fall at mile 12.  I thought I’d seen the last of him there!

We pushed on together through Hooton Roberts and as we ground our way through the fields towards the Old Denaby checkpoint I opened up a lead of about 10 yards or so.  I maintained that advantage as we charged (OK that’s a bit of an exaggeration…..more like stumbled….) down the hill to the last checkpoint.

Arriving at the Old Denaby checkpoint Photo by Hannisze

Old Denaby to the finish – miles 47.5 to 50.5

Only 3 miles to go!  Come one!!

At this point I thought I had beaten Jai!  But as he came into the checkpoint he went into overdrive.  He grabbed some food and before I knew it he had charged off ahead of me!  This threw me completely.  I tried to catch back up but he had the momentum and he was able to extend into a 15-20 yard lead as we went through the final fields, and along the canal to Mexborough station.

I now thought I was beaten, but I resolved to hang in there and just try and keep Jai in my sights.  Perhaps I could then muster up one final push near the end.  Jai stayed about 20 yards ahead of me as we reached Swinton.  But then he turned away from the river slightly too early.  I followed, and we both realised our mistake.  We soon got back on track, but he had lost his momentum.  I was able to take advantage and move back ahead.   1 mile to go.  Could I hold on?

I tried to build up some extra speed to maintain my lead.  Not easy after 49+ miles, but I managed a good 8 minute mile pace.  We went through the park with me about 10 yards ahead.  Then I was stopped at the road, as a car went by, cutting my lead to a few yards.  I pushed on hard after the road and re-established a good lead.  Very soon I could see a large building which was Dearne Valley College Sports Centre – the finish!  I was about 15 yards ahead, with about ¼ mile to go.  Somehow I managed to accelerate further, and with a few checks over my shoulder I knew I was safe.

I crossed the line, punching the air with delight.  I’d finished the 50.5 mile course in 7 hours 19 minutes and 47 seconds.  Well inside my target time.  Get in!!

I checked the results list.  Unbelievable!! I’d finished 5th!  I had no idea I was so far up the field.  My best ever race placing.  It still wasn’t really sinking in as I watched a few really good runners (who normally beat me) finish during the next 10 minutes or so.

After a quick chat to a few other runners, I took myself off to get my hand sorted out.  The first aiders did a great job of patching me up, but I ended up with a trip to hospital later that night and 10 stitches as a souvenir for my efforts!

A bowl of soup and a bit more of a chat and then it was time to get home, collect the children from a party and get back to reality!

All over!! Photo by Hannisze

Looking back

What a fantastic day I’d had.  This is a really enjoyable course, through some pretty countryside, made all the better by blue sky and sun all day!  I’d had some good chats with numerous friendly runners early in the race, which really helped the miles go by.  The race itself had been near perfect for me.  I felt good throughout and gained places from around 20th after 17 miles through to my final 5th place.  If only all races could go so well.  Losing a lot of time and even more blood with my hand injury was the only downside…..but it gave me a story to tell, and thankfully didn’t bring an early end to my race.

Thanks to everyone who put so much effort into organising this brilliant event!  I’m now officially hooked on this ultra running business!  Roll on next season!

Haworth Hobble (Wuthering Hike) Race Report

Race Date: 10 March 2012

Position: 6th out of 364 finishers (230 solo, 67 pairs)

Time: 4 hours 44 mins 13 secs

Distance: 31.5 miles, 4,519 feet of ascent

The Haworth Hobble was the first race of this year’s RunFurther UK Ultra Championships.  Competitors have to do at least 4 races out of 12, including 1 short (26-35 miles), 1 medium (36-45 miles) and 1 long (>45 miles) race.  This was to be my first “short”(?!) race in the series.

Training had gone well, and I was hoping for a good result.  I’d learnt a lot from my 48 mile Thames Trot experience and hoped to pace myself better for this one.  My target was to beat 5 hours for this 32mile course, which I thought would be challenging.  That time should get me inside the top 30, and if possible I hoped to squeeze inside the top 20.

It was an early morning to get over to Haworth well ahead of the 8am start.  I was rather bleary eyed as I pulled up in the car park at Haworth Primary school, and thought I might still be dreaming when we were guided into our car parking space by a man wearing a pink cardigan, a dress and running shoes!?!  After that bizarre start to the day we checked in and had plenty of time to prepare for the race.  The weather was damp, windy and cold, and I was regretting my decision to run in a T shirt and running vest.  I considered putting my waterproof on, but decided to brave the elements in the expectation that I would soon warm up.

The runners all walked up to the cobbled street where the race was due to start.  It was a big field, with a combination of solo entrants and people running in pairs – there were 364 finishers so I’d guess the starting number would be close to 400.  We were happily chatting away, waiting for runners to assemble when I looked up and saw people running off into the distance…..the race had already started.  There were still people walking down to the start as I charged up the hill, trying to catch the leaders who had actually been aware of the start!  Apparently the race organiser just said “right it’s 8 o’clock, get yourselves out of here”….leaving chaos to ensue.

For the first half mile I felt awful.  I like to be well prepared at the start, and I just wasn’t ready when we had to start running.  I did get myself up the field pretty quickly, and was soon just behind the leading few runners as we climbed steadily out of Haworth on Cemetery Road.

Soon we were off road and heading down to Bronte Bridge.    Across the bridge and we were onto the Pennine Way.  It was wet and windy as we started our ascent after Bronte Falls – the rain was more of a fine, spray which was actually quite refreshing.  Unfortunately the mist meant that there was poor visibility.  I had been looking forward to seeing the hills round here, having not been to the area before – but it was not to be today.  I was enjoying the running though.  This was an undulating stretch across an uneven, often muddy track – I loved bouncing along this at a good pace.

Approaching Bronte Bridge

As we reached Walshaw Dean reservoir, I was joined by another couple of runners, and enjoyed chatting to them for a while, which helped the miles to go by quickly.  I was a little concerned that I was going too fast.  The other 2 runners had previously run the race in 4:36 and 4:48, well ahead of my target time.  I’d let the small leading pack go off early on, but I reckoned that we were still well within the top 10.  However, I felt good and didn’t feel as though I was pushing too hard, so I resolved to carry on at this pace but carefully watch how I was feeling.

After the Walshaw Dean we climbed up to Widdop reservoir – the first checkpoint after about 7 miles.  The undulating route then took us along the Burnley Way to Hurstwood reservoir (just after checkpoint 2) and then Cants Clough reservoir, before following a track all the way to the Long Causeway (checkpoint 3).  This first stretch had gone really well.  We had been running into the wind for most of this first 13 mile stretch, and the general opinion was that this had added 5-10 minutes to our time.  As we started to change direction along the Long Causeway, I hoped that the wind would ease, which should help as legs started to tire further into the race.

I was now running with a group of around 6 or 7 other runners – and ended up staying with this group for much of the remainder of the race.  This was enjoyable, and helped me to keep up a good pace.  We soon turned off the road at Stiperden House Farm, following the race instructions to take the walkers “path” rather than the better farm track.  It was certainly stretching it to call this a path!  More like a series of boggy fields which, coupled with numerous fences and styles, slowed the pace somewhat.  I was further hampered by a barbed wire fence early in this section which I just couldn’t manouevre myself over – I felt like I was stuck, hovering precariously for ages with one leg either side of the fence, before I eventually managed to launch myself forward and over.  I pushed on quite hard and had soon caught the rest of the group, but expended unnecessary energy along the way.

After the bog fields we past checkpoint 4 and joined the Calderdale Way which would take us through to Todmorden.  This was a great runnable track and I was just getting into a good rhythm when I had another mishap.  We had to squeeze through a narrow gap in a wall, and I had to use both hands to lift my legs up and through the gap.  As I did this I got stuck, and the ripping noise signalled that my shorts were caught on a nail.  I had both hands on the wall, keeping me off the ground, and couldn’t work out how to free myself from the nail.  I lost valuable time here before ripping my shorts further and eventually breaking free.

I didn’t want to lose the group I had been with.  Although I had studied the route closely on the OS map, I had not reccied the course and the upcoming stretch through Todmorden looked a little tricky to navigate.  I therefore pushed on hard to try and catch the runners ahead, who were now out of sight.  This was a great stretch of running, with a fast descent towards Todmorden.  I was flying, and after a while I picked up some runners ahead.  By the time I reached Todmorden I was back in the group, which pleased me although I did worry that I might suffer later for that high speed dash.  However, as we crossed the main road and headed out of Todmorden I was still feeling strong, and was encouraged that we were well over half way with about 17 miles done.

After Todmorden there is a steep, but short climb up.  Climbing has become one of my stronger points thanks to my fell running in the Peak District, and I pushed ahead of a couple of the runners in the group during this climb.  Soon we were going through checkpoint 5 at Mankinholes YHA.  Bizarrely we were offered some malt whiskey at this checkpoint!  I politely declined and instead topped up my water bottle, adding a couple of electrolyte tablets to my drink.

The climb out of Todmorden. Copyright IW Charters

My eating during this run seemed to be going well.  I’d had a nice mix of stuff – dried pineapple, cliff shot blocks and some blocks of fudge.  The remaining miles were definitely going to be the toughest, with a series of steep climbs and descents.  I reminded myself to make sure I kept eating regularly.  I also moved onto my energy drink to try and ensure I didn’t crash as we hit the final stages.

Soon we were into the steepest climb of the race, up to Stoodley Pike and checkpoint 6.  Our group split into 2, and the group I was with definitely took the poorer line.  Our route went too far along the bottom before climbing directly and steeply up to the monument at the top.  As we neared the top, we saw the other group taking a steadier diagonal ascent and looking a lot stronger than us!

The right route up to Stoodley Pike monument (I went a steeper way!). Copyright IW Charters

I was glad to get the big Stoodley climb over with, and my legs recovered fairly quickly and I was able to enjoy the next couple of miles into Hebden Bridge.  I was buoyed by the thought that we were over 20 miles down, and a couple of the toughest climbs were complete.  We headed along some good tracks, dropped through Horsehold woods and then hit the steep road descent into Hebden Bridge.  It was fun to let myself go down this hill, knowing that holding myself back would only hurt my legs more.

Having descended steeply, we then climbed more steeply out of Hebden Bridge and up a long winding road to the village of Heptonstall.  It was during this stretch that our group started to get stretched out.  Lots of runners on the forums before the race had described this as a killer hill, 23 miles into the race.  But I managed to keep running (slowly) whilst some others walked much of this hill, and I established myself in a smaller group of 4 runners pushing on ahead.

We passed checkpoint 7 at the pub in Heptonstall, and then cut down through the woods to checkpoint 8 at Horsebridge, 24 miles into the race.  I knew the next stretch was going to be a mental test.  A 4 mile stretch of road and track lay ahead, with the first couple of miles climbing incessantly uphill.  After running this distance it felt like the climb was going on forever.  I mixed up the walking and running on these hills, gaining some important recovery time during short sections of walking.  Two of the runners in the group started to forge on ahead.  I kept them in view, but was not going to catch them.  Another runner came through and past strongly, leaving me trading places with a Bingley runner.  I kept getting the blocks of fudge down and drinking plenty of electrolyte drink.  My legs were tightening up now, and I just focused on counting the miles down one by one.

Eventually after about 3 miles we reached the brow of the hill….27 miles down, and perhaps an end to the painful climbs which had dominated the final third of the race?  Not so…..

We did get a mile of respite, descending down to checkpoint 9.  During this stretch I started to build up a lead on the Bingley runner.  I wasn’t entirely sure of my position but figured that it was probably about 10th or 11th.  Pretty good going.  I felt reasonably OK, and with only 4 miles left I felt I had a good chance of at least staying within the top 15 and possibly better.  I was also well placed to finish within my 5 hour target.  My average speed had slipped over 9 minutes per mile, having been around 8 ½ for the first 20 miles – those hills had taken their toll!

As we passed checkpoint 9 I looked up and saw the sting in the tail!  A steep climb up to Top of Stairs!  After about 28 miles this hill looked daunting, but I got stuck into it and felt fairly strong as I pushed up it.  I gained some further ground on the Bingley runner behind me, and it felt good to hit the top and realised that it was largely downhill from here.

The next stretch was nice, descending for a couple of miles.  I picked up a good pace and the wind (which had been in our faces on the way out from Haworth) started to get behind me and help me along.  I passed Leeshaw reservoir and reached Moorside Lane.  A left turn saw me having to climb again for about 500m.  I new that there was little more than a mile to go and that kept me going.  During the descent to Leeshaw I could see a few runners in the distance (the ones who had broken clear after Horse Bridge).  Now, as I ran up Moorside Lane, I started to gain ground on one of them.  By the time I turned right to Penistone Hill I was passing him.  I was pretty sure that would get me a top 10 place.  This spurred me on, for a lovely fast stretch across Penistone Hill where I kept pushing hard, checking over my shoulder to make sure no one was catching me.

Descending after Top of Stairs - not far to go!

I then started the final drop through Haworth and back to primary school.  My only problem was that I didn’t know the route here.  At each junction I had to ask for directions, and was helped by spectators who kept me right, while giving me great encouragement.  I made one more turn and was surprised to see I was at the primary school.  I dropped down the steps into the school grounds and was delighted to see my friends Darren and Juli there, cheering me on.

After another 15 yards I was crossing the finishing line.  I’d done it, and was delighted to have finished in 4 hours 44 minutes.  I’d felt great in those last couple of miles and had really picked up the pace in that stretch.  My time averaged just over 9 minutes per mile, which was better than I could have hoped for on this long hilly course.

I checked my finishing position and was amazed to find that I had finished in 6th place!  I didn’t have a clue that I was so far up the field during the race.  I’d thought I was 10th at best.  I was over the moon.  I’d only been within a couple of minutes of 3rd place as well – something to aim for next time!

This had been a great race.  A very runnable course but with some tough hills, which I enjoyed getting stuck into, and lovely varied scenery throughout.  Time for a quick change and then off for a nice pub lunch to celebrate with Darren & Juli, feeling very satisfied!

 

Marsden to Edale Trigger: Race Report

Date: 15 January 2012

Position: 20th out of 169

Time: 3 hours 57 mins 28 secs

Distance: 23.8 miles, 3719 feet of ascent

The Trigger was a new race in the fell running calendar.  As the name suggests it runs from Marsden, near Holmfirth/Huddersfield, to Edale, covering the route of the Pennine Way, and passing 3 Trig points on the way (Black Hill, Higher Shelf Stones and Kinder West).

The race is advertised as 20 miles and 4500 feet of climbing.  I reccied the course a couple of weeks earlier and discovered that the 20 mile figure is as the crow flies.  When we did our reccy we ran for around 27 miles, excluding wrong turns!  I wondered if some better racing lines on the big day would cut that down a little.  But even so it was going to be a long, challenging route.

Having filled up with porridge, we set off at 6.30am, planning to leave lots of preparation time before the 9am start.  We arrived in good time and I registered and had my kit checked, before then having to spend the next half hour queuing for the only men’s toilet in Marsden Sports Hall.  I still had time for a decent warm up.  In fact it was so cold that I was glad not to have been waiting outside for any longer.

We started outside Marsden Sports centre, climbing the road up and out of Marsden.  I felt good and was amongst the leading pack in the early stages.  I didn’t feel as though I was going too fast, but I also committed not to overstretch myself by sticking with the leaders for too long.  But this did get me a good start.

We were soon running past Wessenden reservoir, and the hills surrounding it looked stunning, covered in frost with a bright winter sun shining down.  It was really inspiring and I was enjoying myself as we joined the Pennine Way and continued South, gradually climbing out of the valley.  I had settled into a good rhythm and was happy in around 15th place as we left the first valley and headed on towards Black Hill.

After a road crossing we dropped down to a stream and then started a fairly steep climb up to Black Hill.  There were numerous sheet ice patches on the Pennine Way slabs, and I had 2 or 3 falls during this stretch.  I survived unscathed if a little bruised.  The views were still brilliant as we continued up, veering away from the Holme Moss TV tower and on to the Black Hill Trig which was checkpoint 1.  The race was raising funds for Woodhead Mountain Rescue, and there were a number of enthusiastic members of the Mountain Rescue team, in their red coats, giving us great encouragement at each checkpoint.

About 100 yards after Black Hill trig we left the Pennine Way, heading due South.  This was about the last I would see of the Pennine Way for about 15 miles!  On our reccy we had stayed on the PW for pretty much the whole route, but the racing lines today were very different!

This was a lovely stretch of running.  Along firm grassy ground, gradually descending (and at times less gradual!) through the valley towards Crowden, with the hills covered in frost and glorious sunlight.  I kept a good pace up in this section, and maintained a position of around 15th.

Checkpoint 2 was in Crowden, next to the Woodhead Pass road.  At this point we went in a completely different direction to my previous reccy.  On the reccy we turned right along the road and then crossed the reservoir at the damn wall, before heading up into the hills.  But when we got to the checkpoint everyone turned left, confusing me greatly.

I followed a couple of Dark Peakers, and we soon crossed a bridge and soon started a long and very steep (almost vertical!) climb up Lawrence Edge.  I enjoyed this climb, which was quite a scramble which required use of the arms and hands as well as legs.  Looking at the map subsequently, it was certainly a good direct line which probably saved a couple of miles compared to my reccy route.  As we climbed I heard the regular sound of gunfire which was a bit unnerving – it was from a clay pigeon shooting area nearby.  I was also entertained watching a helicopter buzzing back and forth, carrying equipment for repair work around the peaks.

It was a good feeling to get to the top of Lawrence Edge.  The 2 Dark Peakers forged ahead, but I kept them sufficiently in sight to follow their line and keep on track towards Bleaklow.  This was a pretty poor trod, and was quite difficult to run on and tough on the legs.  At Bleaklow, I then started a long plod over to Checkpoint 3 at Higher Shelf Stones.  This was a hard stretch, weaving in between frozen peat mounds.  The height of the peat mounds made it hard to see any landmarks or runners ahead.  I stuck to what I thought/hoped was the correct bearing, but was relieved to occasionally catch a glimpse of runners in the distance which reassured me that I was on track.

It was a great relief to eventually see a flag and some red mountain rescue coats ahead at checkpoint 3.  We hadn’t managed to find this point in our reccy, and there are a huge number of route choices to get to Higher Shelf Stones, with none of them clearly defined.  The marshals were very encouraging, and I stopped there for a moment’s rest, feeling satisfied to have got to this point.

I then took a bearing and headed downhill and across to rejoin the Pennine Way.  This was still a tough running line and the frozen tufty ground was hard on my legs.  But eventually I hit the slabs of the Pennine Way, which took me in to Checkpoint 4 at the Snake Road crossing.

It was a fairly still day, but it seems that whenever you hit Snake Pass then the wind appears from nowhere.  The wind was nothing like as bad as the freezing gales which we experienced on our reccy a couple of weeks before, but it was still strong enough to be energy sapping after 19 miles of hard fell running.

I had a choice of route at this point.  Most runners (in fact possibly everyone but me!) opted to take a direct line from Snake Road to Kinder.  This meant going across Featherbed Top, which meant very tough ground which is hard to run on at all, and with some dangerous groughs to avoid falling into.  I decided that taking the Pennine Way via Mill Hill was better for me.  It meant an extra mile of running, but on the slabs of the Pennine Way I could keep up a reasonable pace.  It was a bit of a lonely slog for just over 2 miles, but ultimately I think I gained some places through this route choice.  I was very pleased to reach Mill Hill and take a left turn across to Kinder.  The climb up to Kinder was steep but I managed it pretty well, and I then felt I was on the final straight.

Cue my big mistake of the race.  I was pretty confident of the route from here, planning to follow the Pennine Way to Kinder Downfall.  But as I approached the Downfall I realised that I hadn’t been to the final checkpoint at Kinder West Trig.  I had assumed that the Trig was next to the Pennine Way.  I asked a few walkers and eventually established that it wasn’t.  I had to turn round and run back about quarter of a mile, before turning off the path and a few hundred metres up to the Trig.  It was very frustrating to watch a number of runners, who I had been ahead of, running past me going the right way, as I ran in the opposite direction to the checkpoint!

I resolved to push on hard and try and make up for my mistake.  I managed to pass 4 or 5 runners quite quickly, but after Kinder Downfall the tough terrain started to sap all my remaining energy and I realised I was in for a tough final slog.  Thoughts of gaining further places were replaced by just focusing on keeping going towards the finish.

After Kinder Downfall, we followed the Kinder River, which is a winding wide stream across the top of Kinder.  It was completely iced up and unfortunately the route forced us to cross the frozen stream several times….which left me slipping and falling flat on my backside a couple of times, and with a few other near misses!  This all made for tiring running, and that was followed by a long stretch of clambering up and over a never ending series of frozen peat mounds.  The only consolation was that I knew that the peat and bog meant that I was getting closer to the other side of Kinder and the familiar route of the Edale Skyline back towards Edale and the finish.

I was delighted to eventually see the familiar odd shaped rocks of Crowden Tower, on the other side of Kinder, and I managed to come out a bit further east of there, joining the Skyline route.  I followed that line for around half a mile before veering off towards Grindslow Knoll and the big descent into Edale.

Since Kinder Downfall I had kept on the tails of a fellow Dark Peak runner.  I hoped to pass him in the final stretch but he had that bit too much in his legs and started pulling clear as we approached Grindslow.  But I did start to close on another runner and decided to keep him in my sights and try and gain a place before the finish line.  We skirted the right hand shoulder of Grindslow and then we were descending steeply and rapidly.  For a stretch the best way down was to sit on my backside and slide down the hill.  This was great fun.

Soon we were crossing a field and taking the final footpath into Edale.  We joined the road and I saw the familiar sight of the Nags Head pub, signaling just a few hundred yards to the finish line.  I knew I had enough in my lengths for a strong finish, and I took my chance to go past the runner who I had been tailing.  I pushed on hard and soon I was turning off the road and to the finish line at Edale Campsite.

This had been a great race.  Beautiful (cold) weather, which made the best of some fantastic and varied Peak District scenery.  A tough route, but with lots of good runnable sections mixed with challenging ascents and some leg sapping stretches across bogs, frozen streams etc.

I finished 20th out of 169 runners, in 3 hours 57 minutes.  I was very pleased with my position and especially pleased to finish in under 4 hours.  I think my mistake in missing the Kinder West Trig checkpoint cost me about 5 minutes, and 3 places.  But still it was a good result.

After the race I dragged myself up the hill and back to the Nags Head for a well earned pint…..only to discover it was shut for renovation work.  Gutted!!  Wearily I had to trudge all the way back again to find another pub where I could enjoy that well earned drink.  My legs were completely shot by this stage – the rough frozen ground had particularly battered my shins.  But that drink was good, and the hot bath when I got home was even better!

This race has all the potential to become an established classic in the fell racing calendar and its certainly one which I will be keen to do each year.