Friday, 6 December 2013

Bath Time! - PoS Blog Part3

Last time out I'd just got lost for the first time but managed to navigate myself back to civilisation and even catch up with some of my fellow "stringers".

We all met up on the disused railway line heading towards Bath and we began to head along the line which still followed the river. Within a couple of minutes we were then amazingly joined by top runners Sam Robson and Dan Hall and lord only knows were they'd been as I assumed we were the back of the field!

We all carried on until we noticed that we were actually meant to be on the canal at this point and not on the railway line. Our group were split between heading onwards as we'd meet up with the proper course in a while or turning back in case we'd miss a CP? We of course "did the right thing" and retraced our tracks and were soon back long the river.

Things were going great for a couple of minutes until the route seemed to take us along a section of the river that looked to have no actual path? We all ground to a halt yet again while we debated if we should gate crash the local sailing club in search of the river path again or stay on the main road, again leading eventually to where we needed to be. This time we did both! We decided to follow the road for a while until we could actually see the river again and I decided we should turn left and head back on course. Well when I said "I decided", I might have been slightly influenced by the fact Sam and Dan were disappearing into the distance off to the left and they seemed to have a good idea of what was going on.

It was about this time (and for the record I didn't have a clue of distance or time) that I started to notice I wasn't feeling on best form. I'd pulled slightly ahead of the rest of the group but was having to work harder than normal to keep that pace as we entered Bath town.

I was trying to make sure I was still on track with the main danger at this point being caught on the wrong side of the water! We were told that the CP would be in town so I knew it couldn't be far but you never know? Eventually after a couple of bridges, I crossed the water and headed through a park and at last saw the welcoming sight of the Centurion flag.

I could see what looked like Nici and Justin at the CP and as I climbed up the slight slope to them I couldn't have been more pleased to see a friendly face. I got a lovely cuddle from Nici and Justin filled my water bottle. I was asked if I was ok and was then told I "looked a mess" nice! but this did follow my comment that I was well below par.

The guys did their job well and a Mars bar was thrust into my hand even though I hadn't even asked for it. By now Chris Edmonds and Kate Hayden had caught me up and we all had a breif chat. I decided that I'd taken enough of Nici and Justin's time so I said bye to everyone acknowledging that I'd see my fellow runners in a moment (as you do). It was as I walked out of the CP with the Mars bar that I took my first look at my watch.

We'd only covered 14 miles but it already felt like twice that to me. It was also at this point that I noted that this was the first thing I'd eaten in the race..... HUGE MISTAKE and something I'd never normally do. My problem was I was I had no appetite and eating hadn't even crossed my mind. I also noted now just how much I'd sweated. It wasn't that warm a day but I was drenched and the sweat was actually running out of me. I didn't say anything but I knew at the back of my mind it was going to be a matter of "when" not "if".

Within a short space of time Chris and Kate caught me up as I came to a halt in a park where every turning seemed to lead to a dead end? Eventually after grabbing a member of the public and forcing them to lead us the right way, we were ok. "Bath time" was over and we set into a rhythm as we ran through the countryside.

Our short delay looking for the path to the canal in Bath meant fellow runner Dave Baker had joined us. I love meeting people on these events so it was nice to actually get a change to finally have a decent chat. It transpired that Chris was an established ultra runner with at least one 100 miler under his belt, Kate had completed GUCR and the 250 mile Thames Ring races this year and Dave was telling us about some mad Nordic Iron man event where I think you had to swim in ice for miles, run an ultra up a mountain then fight a bear!.... I might have got that slightly wrong but what I did know was I was seriously out of my depth with my "I've done a couple of 50's"... CV.

Anyway everyone was really nice and even chose to keep talking to me when they sussed I was an ultra "imposter". Seriously though, these guys were the reason I chose to Ultra marathons as my "distance of choice". I have nothing but respect for all runners from 5k newbies to world class athletes but I'm guessing its harder to have a decent long chin wag as you race 10k in 20 minutes or a marathon in sub 2:30? But here I was rubbing shoulders with the stars!

Back to "the race". Dave was on a completely different race strategy to us and was run/walking so we pulled away from him after a while. Soon though the wheels were starting to come off for me and I slowly started to fall behind Chris who was motoring and Kate. After a while I saw that they had stopped by one of the many locks and they were debating where we should head next as the water seem to split into about three directions? We looked at the map but it wasn't obvious so we all decided to go straight onto a main road which followed the main route we needed.

After a few minutes it was getting obvious for the three of us that we were not where we should be as the wet stuff was nowhere to be seen. We wondered around and finally decided to head towards some signs for an aquiduct? Finally we found the canal but bizarrely it seemed to to just finish? We were stood outside a cafe so decided to "kill two birds" and asked for directions in the cafe whilst stopping for a swift latte (owe you one Chris).

We were told that we needed to head back along the canal until we hit a path to the right and that would lead to where we should be. We eventually found the aquiduct back on route and OMG! We were about 30m from where we went off course originally, shite! We were now pretty close to the 5pm cut-off so we started to up the pace.

It was also now getting dark and I started getting myself ready in my headfor the next part of the event which would be conducted in darkness, something I'd not done a great amount of to date. We eventually saw lights in the distance that looked like it could be a pub where the next CP was located and as approached them I could here RD James shouting "encouragement" in the darkness.

This was the first chance we also had to gain access to our drop bags. I'd put everything I thought I'd need into it and even placed a complete night time kit change within but as we all stood by the van in the dark all I did was change my drenched jacket and I did switch into some comfy footwear as I'd suffered from "gravel shoe" long enough. I said that I might drop here but Driver Dave told me I hadn't even run a marathon yet (only 22 miles) so dropping wasn't an option.

We walked from the van to the the CP and I was given an awesome cup of coffee by one of the crew who I later found out was one of the UK's best ultra runners. Imagine running a local half road marathon and stopping at a CP to find Mo Farah handing you your plastic cup of water!

We left the CP just as I heard the shouts of "runner" and thought Dave must be in. We were told to follow the canal still to Devizes for approximately 13/14 miles with a 9pm cut-off. That gave us 3.5 hrs to cover this and even in my worsening state I knew I should be ok. It was headtorch on now as we trotted along the path by the water and the temperature was also starting to fall fast. I was struggling again as I tried to keep up with Chris who again was storming ahead but this time Kate was dropping off to the point where I couldn't see the light of her torch at times.

We stopped for a nav check and Kate caught up. She had been suffering for a while from an issue with her quad and was slowing her down but stop wasn't in her vocabulary! Eventually Chris pulled away yet again and this time I saw his torch light ahead moving towards another light! This was a massive boast as it looked like we had caught someone up? The lights stoped moving and I again caught Chris up. It was only Dave!

I was really confused. I was convinced Dave was behind us and we hadn't gone wrong so how did he overtake us? Then the penny dropped. While we were lost at the aquiduct Dave had chosen the correct route and overtaken us and we'd caught him up. The team were back together! After finally working out where we were again, we set off.

Chris and myself started to pull away and without realising it we were soon by ourselves. Chris now decided to slow a little so I could stay with him and again he was good company as we had a decent chat. After a while we started to approach Devizes and got to the series of locks that forced the water up hill. We finally saw the familiar lights that could only be the CP and we had made it with 1.5 hrs to spare.

I decided enough was enough for me. I'd not been able to eat and had also started being sick so pulled the plug! Gutted but what an honour to be part of this purest form of racing experiences! Thanks James Adams, Nici Griffin and everyone who helped. I aim to be back next year in any capacity they'll have me!

Heading out of Bath

Sunday, 1 December 2013

On the Bus... Off the Bus... PoS Blog Part2

Last time out all the PoS runners had just all boarded the "fun bus", destination.... God knows! but in James we trust?

It felt a tad surreal sitting in a minibus with some of best the ultra runners (and me) around all of us "race ready"

When I say "race ready" I mean it as in minutes my bladder was reminding me of just how well I'd hydrated pre-race! I'm sure this was all part of the plan though but with all of us in the same boat, things could get messy!

We were now all joking about possible destinations and morale was still high but as we left the countryside and approached the M4 the jokes slowed for a moment as we joined the motorway and we read the sign "South Wales"... This sh!t just got real!

Well we were over an hour into the race and we had even broken a sweat yet. As we got further from the start I commented that it was guaranteed to be a long race, I think it was PoS vet Sam Robson who said it would be James Adams's style to drive us 200 miles away then stop the race after just a mile! Was this RD really that warped?

After what seemed like an age we turned off the M4 and we were approaching the Cotswold Way (gulp). We passed that though and we drove past Bath Horse Racing track with James Elson laughing "had anyone done a multi-lap event?"

But soon we pulled up and this was it (again). We were told to get out and after yet another race briefing (which I missed most of as I was just about to wet myself), we were handed yet another set of maps covering the Bath and Bristol Railway (disused).

We were then off but the only thing I was interested in was diving into the bushes to answer the call. As I started to settle into a steady pace is was quite funny and kind of fitting to the spirit of the event watching everyone one-by-one dive into the hedge too!

I briefly looked again at the map to make sure that the route was indeed sticking to the wide old railway line for the next few miles so I could concentrate on the run itself rather than the navigation "this was going to be easy" and if anything maybe a little boring as the long gone train tracks were replaced with tarmac and we might as well been running a road race.

I was probably mid pack when I saw the runner in front come to a halt in the distance? Confused I approached a couple of people and one was James Elson. "well done mate" he said as I ground to a halt. He took the map off me and told me that was it!

I couldn't believe it! Sam was only right and I didn't know whether to laugh or cry as we'd only covered a couple of miles!

But James laughed as he produced yet another map and pointed out another route following a river and canel eventually into the town of Bath. The route took us off road and back in the direction we'd just minutes come from.

As I ran I looked again at the map which wasn't the usual OS variety but what I'd describe as a tourist map. I quickly noted that we simply had to follow the water the whole way into town and I could even see another runner in front so once again I put the map away and relaxed (big mistake).

Well as the river twisted and turned the runner in front would disappear every now and reappear then and as I ran under the railway line that we were on earlier and into a field I noticed he'd gone again but thought he must be around the corner as I followed the river still so I must be ok?

I reached a small village and the river seemed to disappear now along with everyone else. Alarm bells should have been sounding by now and I eventually decided to look at the map! IDIOT Ian, you guessed it, the reason the guy in front had vanished was because he'd crossed the river at the railway line.

Well I had a decision to make. Go way back to the point I'd gone wrong or maybe there was another option? I looked at the map and the first thing I noted was I wasn't lost. Actually I could see the other side of the water were I was supposed to be so took the decision to head onwards until I could find a place to cross and I could see I hadn't missed a CP.

I'd lost quite a bit time by now and I honestly wondered if I'd even ever see my fellow Stringers again but as quick as I'd said that to myself I saw my team mates on the other side. It was again slightly strange running along the water waving to each other but it wasn't long before we were reunited even though I'd lost time and positions.

A large portion of the posse were together again and we we're about to embark on an adventure that would leave its mark on us forever!

Next time... BATH TIME!

Lies, lies and more lies! The 2nd set of false PoS maps...

Saturday, 30 November 2013

We're on a "road" to nowhere.... PoS Blog Part1

I'm writing this the morning after the night before when I DNF'd from the 2013 Centurion Running - Piece Of String Ultra Marathon Fun Run.

First off, what is PoS? The idea for the event comes care of Race Director James Adams. The main concept is you start to run just like any other race but you have no idea of when the finish will happen.

As mad as it sounds, this unusual scenario is for many is the ultimate in difficult adventure running. 17 people are hand picked to take part via yet again an unconventional process of submitting your most depressing photo of yourself, see below.

This was the second year I'd sent a photo and for the second year running I had been placed on the reserve list (an achievement in itself). I'd finished my last race of the year at Beachy Head about a month ago and had not done any serious distance since.

I was enjoying the break when I received a message that a place had become available in PoS if I wanted it? Was I ready? Not really... What was I going to say? "Hell yes!" I replied as I wanted to be one of their "chosen idiots".

Well that was a couple of weeks ago and really too late to do any significant training so I just kept on ticking over and this wasn't improved by the fact a week before the start of the race I seemed to pick up a stomach bug that left me with no energy, not ideal!

I'd decided that I'd see how I felt closer to the event but even then I knew I'd probably be at the start line no mater what! It was Thursday, the day before the off and after a week of sickness was finally starting to feeling better so game on.

I put the finishing touches to my kit and visited the local supermarket stocking up on the usual supply of scotch eggs, peanuts, chocolate and drinks. I also made a pit stop this time at the post office. I'd already paid this year's £20 entry fee but in true PoS tradition all entrants also had to supply a Postal Order for £1:37 made payable to the RSPCA!

Even the small fact that the race started 10am on a Friday meaning I had to take a day off work made it seem special. Almost professional-like hey Darren Coates!

Morning of the run and I loaded my drop bag and kit into the car and started the 100 mile journey to Streatley Berkshire thinking I might as well run back as that could be the kind of distances covered! As I turned off the M4 near Reading I felt like fate was looking out for me as I passed a small village called Basildon! 

I got to the start with plenty of time to spare and it wad great to see the familiar faces of Nici Griffin and Centurion head honcho James Elson. After exchanging greetings I was asked if I was nervous? Actually I realised I wasn't... Strange!

With a few last minutes checks all the participants gathered and it was as usual great to put some faces to names in including some of the cream of UK Ultra Running. It was also nice to see local girl Jackie Stretton and her other half Justin again.

We were minutes from the start and we still had no idea where we were heading? Race RD James was carrying an old battered suitcase from which he produced a small round container which actually looked like a bejazzlled pot noodle! James then announced that as I was the only person that hadn't paid to run then I would have to chose the distance.

I'd sent my cheque ages ago but went along slightly confused. He removed the lid to reveal a series of tags numbered 1 to 5 which I guessed represented distances. I pulled tag 3 because as De La Soul said "3 was the magic number" and the tag was attached to... Yes you guessed it, a piece of string! 

With that I'd chosen our fate. James Elson handed us Thames Path maps telling us to head North and then we were being counted down and we were racing! I stuck with the main pack as we left the start and headed down the narrow lane which led to the River Thames.

This was now the time for the fun run to make its first move. We'd only run 100m and were greeted by a minibus! We were told to climb on board and soon we were all being driven around the back lanes of Berkshire all slightly confused.

Next up... ROAD TRIP!

entry photo - Infected blisters :(

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Hills. Hills and farewell to fells!

British Fell Relays and Beachy Head Marathon

Fell Relays in Llanberis

Well I was fully rested from recent exploits over long distance and the splutter of DNF's were history now. It was time to finally get my annual fell running fix after the last attempts to get to the hills had failed this year.

Rocking it at the British Fell Relay Champs!

But now we were on our way to North Wales and Snowdon! I say "we" as I was joined by my biggest supporter and the boss of Team Barefoot, Mrs Kelly Brazier. Kelly doesn't get to as many races as I'd and probably she'd like but managing the rest of the team (two kids a dog and a cat), means while I'm out to play, she's running everything else!

This brings me neatly to a very important topic that every person with a semi serious interest comes up against... TIME MANAGEMENT. Spare me a few minutes off topic if I may as I feel this is a subject we all should consider.

As runners we focus so much on times. How long it will take us?, how fast we be? What pace am I doing? When actually the question should be for me is can I justify the time away from those that matter?

I'm not that competitive really (believe or not Andy Hind!) but one thing I do seem to do is get completely immersed into what I'm doing. Because of this I sometimes get blinkered and without even thinking I've booked a series of races, spent several hours shopping for kit or just spent free time discussing running on social networks (how ironic I'm writing this now).

All this is fine until it catches up with you. I'd been pushing it pretty hard in the last few months and according to my close family enough was enough! I of course denied it but the more I thought about it,  the further the penny dropped.

I knew it was bad when my running friends were saying I was pushing it too much! I couldn't see it and I still wonder how proper ultra marathon runners do all the training and then race for days? Are they all 18? Are they all single? Do they have no children? We did what all successful organisations do and that was compromise. 

Anyway back to Wales... As I was saying Kelly had joined me and we drove up early to enjoy a rare night without the family. Staying in Llanberis is always good. I've been lucky enough to have visited many times but this was special. Not only was it nice because I was taking part in the country's premier Fell competition but I was sharing the experience for once.

We browsed the many shops in the tiny high street and ended up in what looked like the worst pub ever but it actually turned out to be great as we got drunk with the locals and we ended the night in a curry house almost next to our alpine chalet, perfect.

After an ok night's sleep, we drove the short distance to the start of the event. I was part of my running club team and we had 4 teams in total, not bad for a non fell based club from Essex. I was part of the men's B team and had been picked to run the third leg in the relay which is pair's navigation. I'd taken part in this event last year when it was held in Shropshire and did the same stage so knew what to expect.

The competition is made up of 4 stages, individual, pairs, nav and another solo leg to end. I was always picked for nav as I'm not the fastest but years of military training meant I could find my way around a map.

Well we found our teams admin tent and the first leg runners were already on the course. I was introduced to my partner Rob Roddie and it was pretty obvious both of us were well out of our comfort zones as I only did fell running a couple of times a year as an excuse to see the hills and Rob was telling me he'd not been on the fells for a while (but he did have that "mountain goat" look about him so guessed he'd be "handy").

What also made me laugh was the comments from our team leader John Williams when he announced to me minutes before we were off that I'd be doing all the nav as Rob couldn't tell one end of a compass to the other (not my words Rob). Great here I was just about to set off over a series of mountains in weather which was now gale force, no pressure.

Rob also confirmed the nav status but actually I wasn't too concerned as I knew we'd have some serious points of reference out there, mountains, ridges and a huge lake in theniddle of the course. I secretly also hoped we'd set off with a group of other teams and even though "following" isn't the done thing you should use every resource you have available but remembering the team in front could lead you off the side off a mountain so proceed with caution.

As we waited in the crowed start pen, the weather opened again and we were getting battered. Nav teams were coming back thick and fast and I was starting to think I would get my wish for a mass start when all of a sudden our pair sprinted in.

We confirmed our plan and and then we were off. The first few metres were up a steep slate hill. I ran to it then walked as we didn't even have a map yet! To keep up the element of surprise on route everything was kept secret, we grabbed a map and I stooped to get orientated but before I could do this marshals were shouting "this way!" ok then?

We were running down a small lane and as we ran I also tried to study the map which was proving difficult. We met another group of marshals who directed us again and I was starting to like this nav course. I then noticed the course was actually marked as well. As we followed this I took another look at the map and sure enough the first Km was marked to get us out on the hills.

Loving Llanberis!

I knew I'd be slow even before we started as I'd not really done any kind of hill work of any form for a long time and so far my guess was correct as I struggled up the steep inclines of the foot hills of the route! My guess of Rob being "goat like" were correct and he led the way on the bearing I'd give him.

The only thing at this stage keeping me going was the fact that most fell races I've taken part in start steep but then flatten out slightly as you get higher. Well "most" apart from this one! I'd been to Snowdon loads of times but always stuck to the paths and this off-piste action was proving slow going.

The whole field of competitors seemed to be on the hills now as the weather took a serious turn for the worst. The rain and the strong winds were replaced with hail and full on gales as we struggled now to even keep upright while walking and the hail meant you could even open your eyes! Not the best combination. I'd now briefly overtaken Rob as I tried to check our next move but there seemed to be people heading off in all directions so you could follow teams even if you wanted to as you could end up anywhere (confirmed when we were regularly asked for directions to check points miles away).

We got to CP 2 hidden at the bottom of a fast flowing stream and Rob "dibbed" us in while I walked off trying to work out the best route to our next destination. Once again the nav wasn't difficult but the point to point routes we picked were proving a pain literally as we seemed to never end up on any defined routes not even a faint sheep run. Because of this I found the pain in my feet and ankles at times almost unbearable as we desperately clung onto the side of hills while handrailing. What made this even more painful was the fact that as we moved at a snail pace we'd get regularly overtaken by other teams no more than a few metres away who had somehow managed to find those hidden tracks but we couldn't move down to them as that would be suicidal.

Anyway, we eventually made it around the CP's one by one with no nav mistakes but it wasn't until the last couple of CP's that we started to find the best terrain and we even overtook a couple of teams but we were now towards the back of the leg 3 pack though and we had this confirmed when we passed our leg 4 runner who had started with his mass start group as we'd taken so long! Soon the finish was in sight as we tumbled down the last hill in some of the worst mud I'd ever encountered which was more Cross Country then Fell Race, crossing the line in just over 3 hours. EMOTIONAL!

Emotional due to the logistical task of just getting to the start line and this was combined with by far the hardest fell event I've taken part in. I absolutely love the hills but this weekend has led me to the decision that unless something special come up then I won't be placing fell events on my race plan for 2014. If they were just around the corner then of course I'd be first to sign up, but 10 hour "there and back" drives don't make sense in any way to me either time wise of even economically. Never say never though!

One last word on the event though.... Major thanks go to main organisers John Williams and Janet Hill. Putting together 4 teams from a non-fell running club based in Essex is a massive accomplishment and our men's A tearm even managed 14th place overall which was brilliant. The "dream team" of Rob and me won the only prize of the day for our club though.... Slowest men's open team, "no comment!"

Beachy Head Marathon

Formally the Seven Sisters Marathon held near Eastbourne on the Sussex coast, this would be my second year in a row running this event but in this short time Beachy was already one of my favourite events. I will never get bored of the South Downs!

Last year the event blew me away (literally at times) and I entered again this year as soon as I could. Another incentive was my part-time training partner Andy Hind was injured there last time out and had to withdraw so had a score to settle.

It was my turn to book the accommodation so I booked us in on the Friday night as the race is held on a Saturday, this allows us a lay-in on race day morning but also a chance to partake in our tradition of pre-race fuelling sponsored by Guinness.

Eastbourne Seafront

The prep for the race had been pretty uneventful for me with no special training but I'd ran some pretty big races recently so I was convinced I was in better form than last year. Andy's prep wasn't so great.... We'd had a couple of pretty good training runs covering some serious miles but a few weeks prior to the event unfortunately he'd been hit by a car whilst on his motorbike and he'd picked up some pretty extensive leg/knee damage. It was nothing mega serious in his opinion but wasn't ideal and he was told not to run for weeks right up until race day. The above had meant that Andy hadn't done any training for this off-road hilly marathon but he decided he'd walk the event and lot's of people do this and the original event was started by walkers. 

As I said, everything was fine in the build up to the event on my side but on Friday afternoon something strange happened. I went for a walk with Annie the Labradoodle for a few miles and noticed I was feeling really warm. It didn't seem that warm outside but I was drenched in sweat and was feeling a little lightheaded. I got home but didn't seem too bad so I just carried out as usual even though I was still feeling tired but not bad enough to do anything drastic like pulling out of the race.

Andy picked me up and we drove down to Eastbourne that night. After a good night's "prep" we woke up ready for the off. I wasn't feeling too bad now so I hoped yesterday was just a blip and I looked forward to a decent race. We packed our kit and went downstairs for breakfast at 7:30 and this is where things took a turn for the worst. NOTHING! I'd joked with Andy in the week not to except much from the B&B as I'd booked to via the internet with the search criteria as "find cheapest" and the hotel name was "La Mar" which I joked was French for "The Mare" (as in nightmare) and with us two standing in there with everything closed and no pre-race breakfast, it was living up to it's name.

Mr Hind having "La Mare"
We weren't impressed but I was sure we'd find something to eat somewhere so we'd be ok. Well we got to the registration tent but still nothing decent to eat with the only thing on offer being toasted sarnies so we had one of those and I accepted that it would have to do. Andy would be ok on the food front as he was carrying a pack with enough food for all race entrants! I had a few dried dates and that was it for me.

We quickly registered and picked up our numbers and timing chips (thumbs up to the process change from last year) and it was good to see a couple more Striders, Bob Gear, Maxine Savage and Paul Bridges. Before I knew it, it was time to get to the start and there I also bumped into other fellow Striders Lucy and Jamie (with girlfriend Nikki somewhere towards the front of the pack). It was also great to see Peronel (the "little rock"), a fellow ultra runner I'd last seen at SDW50 earlier in the year. With a few greetings swapped we were off up the steep hill, I walked of course!

Mr Paul Bridges and myself at Registration (the smile wasn't going to last)

Before the event I'd agreed to run around with Paul Bridges as we would hope for similar times. Well Paul's quicker than me normally but I'd committed to try to go as flat out as possible in the event to my new coach so trying to stay with Paul seemed like a good idea at the time. Well straight off Paul was ahead of me. Not far but I could see he was in decent form and wanted to push. I was having trouble staying with everyone on the steep incline out of town.

As we passed the bag piper at the top on the first climb I was loosing sight of the guys but to be honest I was going as fast as I wanted so was happy to run my own race if I had too. I was feeling ok and I noted better than last year so things were still pointing to a decent performance. It was round this time I passed another person I recognised. Ellen Cottom the American 100 Marathon club member I'd ran with during my TG100 attempt (no surprise, she would pass me later).

By the time we got to CP1 at Jevington  I was still feeling ok if a little hot. I'd chosen to wear two shirts and arm warmers and the sun was actually quite strong so I rolled the warmers around the wrists to vent myself a little more. We ran through the town and it was nice to see a decent amount of supporters cheering us on in the sunny conditions, this was also the first time we saw the official Paul Bridges supporters club :)

I was still behind Paul at this point and had no idea how far ahead he was as we climbed the narrow chalk path out of town. I'd always walked this section but this year I had made a promise to myself to try and run more so I dug in at the bottom and jogged it out. If this was a longer race I'd walk everything uphill but as this was a shorter race I wanted to push that little bit more. Suddenly I looked up and I saw a flash of white and yellow Strider vest ahead and it was Paul. He was probably wisely walking up the hill and I pushed a little more to catch him up.

It was good to see him again and I even saw Jamie too so I said to myself I could be doing that bad as these guys were faster than me. As the trail rose and fell I kept with them and noticed on the downhill's I would pull away a little at times (Kevin Wright would be pleased) but they would always be there within touching distance. As this game of cat and mouse went on we came to a long climb and again I decided to try and run it so pushed harder. I didn't want to chase these guys all day and also wanted to try and do my bit so I took to the front for a while. As we were about halfway up, Jamie passed me and took the lead. He pushed even harder and try as hard as I could I couldn't keep with him and he pulled away.

As I said earlier, the other guys are a different league to myself and I knew they were taking this race easy by their standards and they could have pulled away at anytime Jamie even slowed at the top to let me catch up. We all kept close for a while and soon we were fighting the gale force wind as we ran down the steep slopes into Alfriston and CP2.

As we once again climbed out of civilisation once more, Paul, Jamie and myself this time decided that running was a little pointless. We took the opportunity to relax for a while and I took in the views which were spectacular, I love the South Downs and this is proving to be a great day to be here. But only too soon we reached the top and begin our charge once more. We passed the gate which caused so much confusion earlier in the year during SDW50 when it was padlocked leaving a large number of runners scratching their heads and I laughed out loud to myself remembering that but soon though we were approaching CP3 and the left turn where we head back towards the coast. This is a major milestone as it's approx. halfway and also marks a long flat section heading back into a village and CP4.

As I was feeling ok and  had already decided not to stop for long and after a quick splash and glug I was off with Jamie close behind. It was only after a few moments that I turned to check on Paul and he was nowhere to be seen, Jamie commented on this but I said he'd soon catch up with us. I was still feeling decent so I kept pushing for now. Me and Jamie were now motoring (by my standards) and we even saw Lucy and her sister ahead and after saying the usual "see you soon" we continued past them.

Eventually we ran into CP4 and I was reluctant again to stop for long but had to smile when I saw the local band playing as usual and the soup and hot cross buns on offer. I grabbed a bun and walked out of the CP trying to eat as I went but what came next was something I'd never experienced in a race. As I walked up the hill with Jamie a little way off ahead as I fed the food into my mouth I suddenly realised I wasn't swallowing and was just filling my mouth with bread, this ended badly with me being sick.

I was actually a little shocked as this was something I'd heard happen to other people but never to me? I instantly remembered the advice on how to deal with this "not to panic", this kind of thing happens and just refuel as quickly as possible. I carried on jogging as this was happening and I tried to eat again but had the same results and as soon as I tried to eat I just gagged. I gave up on this and just drunk as much as I could. A slowly caught up with Jamie as we entered the first set of steep steps and I was concious that he was now having to slow almost to walking pace to allow me to get to him.

By the time we reached the second steps I knew I was in trouble and had little energy left. The only thing keeping me going at this point was the fact that we were soon approaching the cliffs and the Seven Sisters so I guessed everyone would be slowing up and I'd have the chance to walk and hopefully recover. We crossed the main road into the country park and were greeted once again by the Team Bridges and I was sure Paul would by now be just behind me and I shouted this to them.

As we climbed the long winding path upwards, some people were still managing to pass us running but there was no way I could match them as I was having issues even walking fast. As we took on the Sisters, Jamie once again started to pull away and I told him to let me go as I knew I was holding him up. He refused several times stating he just wanted to get around and to be honest I was actually glad of the company as I might have stopped without his support. I was managing to run on the flats again but painfully slow and it was just as we approached Birling Gap that I had issues with "the other end", I had no choice but to let Jamie go after all as I diverted off course to convenient cover.

I sorted myself out (I won't go into details) and actually felt a little better as I ran downhill into CP5. To my surprise Jamie was still there (top man as he must of waited). He laughed when I told him what had happened and again we were soon off but now the legs were heavy and the head had gone (it's as I type this now I also realise that this was around the time I aways feel poor so should have recognised it!).

We got to a another section were I had to walk a little and it was here we were caught up by Lucy and her sister and they looked in decent shape but could probably see how bad I was as they told me me to push on. Meeting up with them seemed to take my mind off the situation and I slowly started to get things straight in my head again.

Morale lifted as we made the last climb up Beachy Head itself and Jamie and me even stopped for some photos! (later found out these were taken by fellow Strider Karen Chapman's parents). As we started to head downhill for the last mile back into Eastbourne, I was following my fellow Striders when for some reason I remembered the fact I'd told my coach that I'd give the race everything I had. I had stopped looking at the watch a long time ago as I saw my pace slow to the point where I just wanted to finish but as I felt better now I had the urge to just sprint to the finish. I slowly pulled away from my team mates and let the legs go taking the brakes off and enjoyed the feeling of "falling" full speed downhill towards the finish.

I approached the finish line at the bottom of the hill and it was then that I noticed the race time of just over 5hrs and a couple of minutes? I was slightly surprised and stopped my watch and looked at my actual time which read 5hrs and 10 seconds, this was a course PB by approx. 4 minutes. Yes it was a shame I didnt have the race I expected but anything faster than last year was a result especially considering the events during the race.

The rest of the guys had now finished and I have to admit I felt a bit bad for racing off when I went over to congratulate them. It was a hard race and a great run from everyone with fellow club members Karen, Bob and Paul finishing minutes after us. Andy had managed to walk the whole course and finish pain free, probably the best result of the day!

Wednesday, 16 October 2013


An Essex boy's review of back to back ultra marathons....
This was a brand new event organised by a small team from Maldon District Council. For those who don’t know Maldon in a small town on the Essex coast where the rivers Blackwater and Chelmer meet. Historically it’s reasonably interesting and it’s here where the event gains its name.

Most of the Maldon District’s coastline is surrounded by saltmarshes and the town is still home to one of the only remaining salt manufacture's in this country, the world famous Maldon Sea Salt.

Promoted as a fitness challenge more than a race (their statement), this event is aimed at walkers and runners and covers a 75 miles distance over 2 days. I signed up for this mainly because local events like this don’t happen very often and as an old Maldon boy I wanted to be a part of this!

Some people may have known I was supposed to have competed in the RAB Mountain Marathon the week before this event but a number of issues came up meaning I just couldn’t justify the time away. I’d been planning for RAB for a while and also spent an amount of time pulling kit together but was 100% the right call and it actually meant I came into this in decent shape. Because of the above though I decided that I’d take up the camping overnight option as at least I’d get the use out of the kit I’d brought for RAB and would give me the “complete experience” of the event.

I’d not planned any specific training for this and was really counting on my past ultra training especially my smaller back-to-back training runs which really helped to get the brain willing to work on tired legs and mind. The day before the event I started like always and compiled a list of what kit I’ll need. I split the list into sections covering “worn on body”, “pack” and “camping / overnight kit”. This is normally quite straight forward as I tend to carry the same equipment most of the time with the only difference maybe what load carrying set-up to use? This time though as the event was split over a whole weekend I would need to cover camping gear, overnight clothing and race kit for a second day.

Race fuel - Homemade cakes, flapjacks and my secret weapon.... Dates stuffed with Mazipan!

I chose to use my brand new Ultimate Direction Signature Series PB Adventure Vest that I’d brought from Keith at Ultra Marathon Running store I went for the PB vest mainly as I wanted a load carrying solution for longer distances that would be more comfortable than my traditional rucksack design of the Inov-8 pack I normally use. The PB vest is the largest of the UD signature packs and says it can carry up to 12 litres. It came with two front mounted bottles (I love the front mount bottle design) and the bottle are of good but I switched these to the flat Inov-8 bottles as the mass is closer to the body and also offers more clearance to arms etc. I also think these bottles offer a little more space in the bottle side pockets but I’ll pull together a better review later of what I think is a quality product.

I used a spare British Army issue black deployment bag to pack all the camping gear and stuff for the next day and this worked really well consuming my tent, sleeping bag, sleep mat and the huge amount of food and drink. The tent is a Gelert Solo 1 man and is probably the cheapest small pack size, low carry weight tent available and I used a 3 season Vango sleeping bag.

Anyway, to the event….

Fellow Springfield Strider and fellow competitor (ex-pro runner lol) Darren Coates picked me up from Chelmsford and we made our way to the start at Marsh Farm in South Woodham Ferrers. I’d been to this venue quite a few times but where before I’d been with the family checking out the local wildlife, today the only wildlife in attendance were clad in “short” shorts and tight lycra.

120 people had signed up to take part in the first running of this event where the aim was simply to cover 75 miles along the Maldon District coastline in a weekend, stopping overnight at the halfway point. The challenge was split into a number of categories. The main groups were walkers and runners but then you also had relay teams and also people just covering single days (this couldn’t be an easy task for the admin team).

By the time we registered, the walkers had already set off. We were the last people to turn up so I said my hello’s quickly before the briefing from Roy the head honcho. This contained the usual health and safety type stuff and I then quickly found the place to stash overnight gear and my personalised food / drinks for the first day which you could place at certain check points (nice touch!).

The atmosphere was pretty relaxed and I was actually quite chilled looking forward to a weekend of relaxed running around the flat course, what could be easier? We were then steered onto a couple of mini buses and drove to the start line of a few metres away (again, nice touch!).
Everyone on the start line were chatting and it was nice to put names to faces such as local lady Jackie Stretton from Twitter and her boyfriend Justin (a proper barefoot runner!) as well as catching up with fellow club runners such as Bob Gear (joined by son Iain) and Maxine Stevens with her support crew of boyfriend Adam. Most of my time though was spent answering the usual questions on why I was weary flip flops.

After a couple of short announcements we set off running along the seawall. Everyone was reluctant to lead from the front so we all jogged slowly until finally me and Darren took the initiative and also the lead of the race! This was the first time I’d ever lead a race and this is where I’m really tempted to finish this review. The only plan I had was to stick with Darren until the first check point in North Fambridge where we hit the seawall again after heading inland for a short section and I would let him go off into the sunset.

I wasn’t too fussed about pace but checked the watch a couple of times and we were going at a frightening pace (for me anyway). Around 8 min miles but as I said this was always planned and I knew I’d be in “chillout” pace soon. Probably the biggest surprise so far was the weather! I’d dressed for a chilly autumn day but the sun was out and there wasn’t a breeze to be seen. By the time we got to the first CP I told Darren I need to stop to adjust my clothing and waved goodbye. By now we’d been over taken by a few relay runners and also a couple of fast ultra runners.

I knew we’d be on the coast path for some time now and settled into trying to maintain a reasonable pace for as long as I could (not planned). I was managing to hold my position until we reached Burnham on Sea. I’d got so excited at the start that I’d managed to run through the first CP without taking any drink or fuel but as I was carrying two bottles I was ok for drinks but I really should have started fuelling earlier. I'd been passed by a couple more people now and I was starting to feel the effects of the faster pace. I was joined for a short time by a guy (sorry I’m rubbish with names) who recognised me from SVP100. He’d finished that event (I’d missed the cut-off duets being an idiot) and he looked like he was in good shape as he powered on past me.

One by one people eventually caught me up as my pace slowed and slowed I think my average pace was something like 10:30 min miles now and actually I wasn't that bad. We were now on the biggest leg of the whole event from Burnham to Bradwell near St Peter’s on the wall. This was around 13 miles but was luckily split in half by an unofficial water stop manned by the Dengie 100 running club. Maximum respect to this club as this really helped on a day that was now actually quite warm.

I’d managed to settle into a slow but steady pace and I was caught up by a couple more runners that I’d recognised from LDWA events known only to me as Graham and Dave. These guys were seasoned runners and looked like they could eat ultras for breakfast and come back for seconds. They had settled into a run / walk strategy and this actually was proving successful. If you think about it, a "regular" ultra would have its fair share of hills and this is the time when you can walk also helps switching the load on the body. Well 20-30 miles of flat was actually proving hard work as the legs were only operating in one way and walking so far had been thinkable.

We had a quick chat I decided to join the walk / walk strategy for a while and this got me eventually to the next CP which looked like it was never coming. The aid station was packed with support crew, staff and runners (I’d passed all the walkers). There seemed to be runners everywhere, slumped on chairs or just wondering around the place. This had been a hard leg and people were starting to feel it! As I switched instructions and refilled my bottles I saw one of these guys was my SVP100 friend. He had his head in hands sitting at the back of a tent slumped in a seat (it didn’t look good!). I went over and he said his legs had just gone and he was thinking that he still hadn’t got over SVP and wanted to quit. I said he should maybe try to fuel up and just walk and see how it went? We were about 10 miles from the finish of day 1 and there were even 2 CP’s on the way! I said goodbye as I couldn’t hang round too long and I walked away from the CO drinking my usual 20 mile Iso drink.
I was finishing off my drink when I noticed I was now in the company of a lady runner. I’d been overtaken some time ago by the first lady so this person was probably in 2nd place? We swapped greetings as she started running before me and she looked in to good state as she dropped a gear and pulled away. I had a serious morale boast in reaching the last CP and now was running consistently again. I was now at approx. 11:30 min miles which for this distance was the fastest I’d ever ran. I passed Graham and Dave who were still run / walking and was just getting into it when "woosh" someone shot past me! It took me a second to realise who it was and I have to admit I was surprised but pleased to see it was the SVP100 man! He’d obviously had a word with himself, the mind is a funny thing.

By now I was approaching the Bradwell Marina CP and I was especially looking forward to this point as I knew my Springfield Strider friend Sarah Colbert would be part of the team there. Just as we were getting close to the marina I approached a woman and a young girl on the sea wall. The little girl held out her hand as I passed and offered me a small sweet, this small gesture meant the world to me right now. Just as I turned into the CP I caught up with a runner that had passed me earlier. This guy was running steady and as it turned was using this event as training for the Marathon de Sable in the Sahara. I'm kind or SAD and guessed this as he was using twin Raidlight bottles in a front pack. This set-up is a firm favourite for hot climate adventurers so I knew he was “keen”. He was fellow Chelmsfordion Colin Harper (check out Colin’s blog here: I ran into the CP feeling great and said hi to Sarah. I asked how Darren was and she said he was at the front but had pushed hard and was feeling it. I still had water so I said didn't want to hand around so said bye and ran off quickly trying to chase down the next person in the distance.

We were now weaving in and out of marshland and I took the chance for once to actually admire the view. So far the only thing I’d been looking at was the 2 foot of ground in front of me but now as I passed the disused Bradwell Power Station and various yacht clubs I noticed what a breath taking  place this area actually is. There was wildlife everywhere and on the water you could see old Thames Barge's sailing as if we’d stepped back in time and they were carrying urgent freight to the many towns in Essex.

I looked at the current pace and I was now hitting 10 min miles and was gaining on the person in front. As I eventually caught up a couple more people including the 2nd placed lady who passed me earlier, she wasn't slowing but she looked to be spending more time in CP’s? A couple of us left the last CP at the same time and I was being careful to stay with them as we eventually left the easy navigation of the sea wall and headed inland to the finish. We were only a mile away and we were joined by 2nd place lady who again was turning on the pace. After a short chat she dropped a gear and I decided as we were so close to the finish I’d try and stay with her. Well that’s what I thought as she sprinted over a newly ploughed field and the flip flops (which had held up awesome so far) were making it a little slow going. We crossed the field and entered a small copse. I was starting to wonder how far the end would be when I heard the familiar voice of Darren Coates! I looked up and we ran along a small fence by a village hall to the finish 39.6 miles in 7 hrs 46 mins, happy with that!

I was greeted by Darren who had hung around to see me in (cheers mate) and he told me he’d managed to finish first but just 6 mins in front of the next guy. I had a feeling he’d do well and so far so good! As it was Darren’s birthday he had an event to get to in the evening so was staying away overnight. I reminded him that the “real runners” would be camping ready for the next day!

Well the first day went well. I’d started too quick, slowed but then hung in to finished in a decent time for me. Before this race I’d been talking local running coach Paul Anderson about a few things in the light of my recent DNF’s and one of the topics was getting generally faster. I’d noticed all my race plans were based on the slowest pace I could get away with and this in my opinion was the main reason I failed at SVP100. I’d started to do some speed work in the build up to this event and I also specifically wanted to see what I could do if I pushed?

I sat in the hall at the finish and really took in the days work. It was great to finally relax and also nice to share a cup of tea or 10 with some of the people I’d ran with today. I had a light rub down from the masseuses which helped flush the legs out and I sorted my kit out ready to move to the pub and the overnight campsite. I hung around the hall to see fellow Striders Maxine Stevens and then eventually Bob Gear and son Iain come home and couldn’t believe how well Maxine and Iain had done considering this was their first serious ultra. RESPECT!

Well eventually I was in danger of OD’ing on tea so we walked to the pub just around the corner. MdS Colin, Jackie and Justin were all camping so we stumbled into the pub car park to be greeted by a small tented village. The organisers had only put up everyone’s tents! (well nearly everyones), my tiny tent was still in my overnight bag so I set about putting it up. Well this tent was promoted as small and lightweight, well the first part was correct! Once up you had barely enough room to crawl into it and my kit bag barely made it inside and it was so low that I couldn’t even sit up! I’d had a pulled muscle in my back the previous week and I thought that this would be “kill or cure”.

MdS Colin was on the other side of the grass and he too didn’t get his tent put up but he’d brought a small 2 second “pop up” tent which looked like a marquee compared to my "coffin". If I ever do the event again, I will be bringing my larger tent and taking up the “pitching option” (this isn’t an option BTW for Darren Coates as he needs the “full experience”). Well I slipped out of my tent trying not to get soaked on the wet grass and stumbled into the pub for some food. I’d paid a whopping extra £20 on top of the £30 race entry fee (tiny!) and for that I got to sleep outside in the car park, eat a pasta dinner and breakfast the next day. As I tucked into my food and a well-deserved pint, I was joined by Colin who was bravely continuing his MdS training by only eating his race food which as far as I could tell consisted of only Pepperami’s (I bet the “atmosphere” in his tent was nice!)

Later I slid back into the tent, I could barely move my arms once inside but somehow managed to have a full body wash with wet wipes and get changed into my race gear for the morning. I stuck my watch and phone on charge from my USB battery pack (great bit of kit) and zipped myself up in my sleeping bag. Changing the subject slightly but while I remember, I was also using for only the second time a phone app and website called View Range / Beacon Buddy. This site is quite clever as it uses GPS and phone signal to calculate your live position and broadcasts it live on the web. It’s obviously as secure as you want it to be but mine’s open so feel free to follow me on race days.

Beacon buddy details


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The view from my bedroom!

After what I can only describe as one of the worst night’s sleep ever, I decided to get up at 6 am as I needed to answer the call of nature and it was close enough to 7am, the time when food was served in the pub and more importantly this meant one thing… HEAT! Sitting inside I felt like I’d been to some kind of all-night music festival. I forced myself to eat as much as I could but really it was the fear of having to return to the tent that was keeping me there. I was joined in the morning by another chap that I’d briefly spoken to last night. He’d been showing me show of his blisters on his feet and I was telling him he should wear flip flops as I was fine. He took a look at my mug which had my name on it and he asked where I worked? A strange question in this situation but it turns out he worked for the same company as me and we even shared some common friends! Small world indeed (sorry I’m rubbish with names but I think he was called “Andy”?)

Well I sorted out my admin and bumped into MdS Colin who wasn’t at breakfast as he was probably tucking into his 20th Pepperami by then? (sorry mate). The morning was nice and clear and the people who had decided to sleep at home in their own comfy beds (yes you Mr Coates) were starting to arrive. After a couple of announcements which included the confirmation of Darren in first place, we were all lined up runners and walkers at the same time today ready for the off.

Today we were running back to the seawall and winding our way into Maldon then through Heybridge, along the coast to the finish. The route was “only” 36.5 miles and I was mentally looking forward to this easy stage as yesterdays “flat out” was replaced by “chill out” today. I planned to start slow and get slower but maintain around a 13 min mile pace, easy I thought. Well soon we were off. First thing I noticed was where had everyone gone? There weren’t the hundreds of people that started yesterday and I was beginning to hear stories of people that had dropped out mid-event yesterday and a large number that had decided day two wasn’t a great idea. The next thing I noticed was just how bad I was feeling and the missing people probably made a good call? The pace of everyone was noticeably slow and I was nearly at the back of the pack and I didn’t think I could go faster if I wanted too?

I’d not felt anything before now but I had what I can only best describe as a trapped nerve in my left hip which made moving really painful. I just told myself that it was bound to hurt and that as the miles went on and it warmed up during the day, I’d settle into things. Well we got to the first CP in short time as it was only 3 miles from the start and I thought this was going to be a long day! As I left I noticed that Ford Andy as with me which surprised me as he’d finished ahead of me yesterday but it turned out he was in exactly the same boat as me but his knee was playing up (I wish we did have a boat BTW as I would have sailed to the finish which was about 2 miles away on the other side of the water!)

I was actually right for once though and as the miles slowly ticked down I started to feel better. I eventually started to catch people up and was feeling better when something strange happened… As the route wound its way around the marshes, you could see people well ahead and people behind, sometimes within arm’s reach but in reality they were a away off as the path twisted. I was looking at a small group who where a way behind when something caught my eye. I could see someone waving? Well that was a little strange but I thought I'd be polite so I waved back? I thought nothing of this until a few minutes later. I have a habit in races of not looking behind me (don’t ask why!) Well I could hear someone behind me now so I slowed a little so they could pass. Well blow me down! The mystery waver was only Darren. WTF.... I told him! Well he’d only managed to take a wrong turn and covered some extra bonus miles, this man's map reading is legendary. I swore at him a few times but told him to stay calm and not panic as he shouldn’t risk the whole event trying to catch the guy who was probably now leading? I knew he’d be kicking himself as he sped off like a greyhound chasing a hare.

I was gutted for him to be honest as I knew he’d struggle to catch the guy. The second placed man at the start of the day was only a few minutes behind Darren and he looked like a Scott Jurek lookie-likie, someone that could sprint all day and not even sweat. Eventually as we neared Maldon I caught up MdS Colin and LDWA Dave who had split from Graham. As we came into the promenade, I was greeted by a fellow Strider Jamie  cheering us along and I thought I’d even saw Strider Liz Irvine's mum but I might have imagined that? (it was later confirmed that it was her!)
As I ran through the day trippers on the sea front to the CP I was starting to feel a lot better. I topped up fluids again and quickly sped off looking forward to the next few miles as the route took me through me old hometown. It was then I realised I’d made a huge mistake and not swapped my route description with the next section. I was too far to turn back and thinking about it, I wasn't too concerned as I was in familiar surroundings but I didn’t want to risk taking a wrong turn on the course and be accused of taking a short cut. I was just in front of LDWA Dave so I shouted to him what had happened and he said I should take a photo of his route just in case… I was just reaching for the phone when I decided I should be slightly more social on my “easy day” so I eased a little and told Dave I’d run with him to the next CP if it was ok? We ran along the streets in Maldon until we crossed the river at Fullbridge and made our way along the Causeway to pick up the river on the opposite bank.

As we chatted on what can only be described as an awesome day weather-wise, we were joined by another runner (in a very nice UD Signature Series running vest!). The 3 of us took it in turns to lead and for a while the pace actually increased considerably as morale rose. I pointed out the next CP not too far away and I had a last push and ran into the CP to be greeted once again by enthusiastic volunteers. Shortly after we arrived, we were joined by Ford Andy whose knee was obviously a little better as he was maintaining pace and had caught us up. We all stopped for a minute, grabbed some food, then we slowly left the CP walking away as the race was beginning to show its true effects once again. After a short chat we started to run again and once more rotated the lead runner but this time we agreed without even saying a word that we’d run as hard as we could for a while then walk a short time, and so on.... This continued for a few miles until Dave and “UD pack man” dropped off the pace a little leaving just me and Ford Andy. We carried on together until I started to feel tired and had to slow a little as Andy led us into the Goldhanger CP on the river bank.

Even though the body was on one of its low points, I was feeling mentally strong as I knew we only had one CP left until the finish. It was the longest leg of the day but the end was in sight (literally at times!) I was busy drinking my “20 mile Iso drink” and looking forward to coasting to the finish when one of the CP staff dropped a bomb on us…. “Well done guys! You’re halfway now” he said. “WHAT” was my instant reply! He explained that we’d ran 18 miles and had another 18 to go. This news broke my heart. I knew he was right but as I said, in my head we were nearly finished, funny how the brain works. I downed my drink at the CP not wanting to carry the extra bottle the 9 miles to the next stop then walked off sulking.

I left on my own leaving Andy as I just wanted to get this over now plus I could see the bright yellow of LWDA Graham’s shirt just in front and as this was the first time since the start I’d seen him I felt a little better. I jogged up quickly as Graham was walking a little at this point and he told me he was just taking it easy as he didn’t want to get to the last CP too soon, I smiled as I said bye for now not knowing if we’d see each other again before the finish?

I now started to feel a little better and I resisted the urge to run / walk for now and decided I needed to which focus for a while and loose some miles so I dug out the Yurbud headphones (thanks Run Active in Chelmsford) and fired up my new waterproof mp3 player. This had the desired effect and I was soon catching up people once again. I managed to catch up with the first placed lady who I believe was a runner from Tiptree Running Club? I stopped and said hello and she was saying that she was feeling it now. I was now on yet another low (somebody say rollercoaster) and we started run / walking and I was actually feeling probably the worst I’d felt on the whole event as I was running out of energy fast. The next CP was close but the coastline wound inland and out again just as you thought you were getting there, this was the longest 9 miles ever! Eventually we met a friend of my new running partner and she led us into the last CP.

As I stood at the table not really being able to take everything in, I noticed that the next placed guy in front of us was still at the CP with us. Again we all swapped greetings and we were then joined by Ford Andy and UD vest guy. Both had obvious taken advantage of me slowing in the last few miles but Andy especially looked in bits as he could barely walk! (if you’re ready this Andy, I’m sorry mate but it wasn't your best look). I composed myself and me and the leading lady left together. She by now thought she’d lost the lead as Jackie Stretton had steamed through the field today (Justin had unfortunately dropped during day one) but I told her that Jackie still had to make up time from the previous day so it was still all to play for? Not sure if this made any difference but she pulled away from me and I never saw her again. I was soon overtaken and I tried to keep with this guy as we passed the last point we could cut short the race and retire to the finish. We were both asked by marshals if we wanted to stop and neither of us even slowed down as we shouted “no thanks”.

This was it. The end was close as we only had 6 miles until the whole event would be over. I felt alright but again was on a low point as the guy I was with slowly pulled away and I couldn't keep with him. We were on a killer sea wall loop along marshland with no landmarks or features just miles and miles of grass track and water. By now I had no choice but to walk regularly and then as I noticed my running pace was at 15 min miles! I kept pushing as I passed a few walkers and as I was rock bottom I bumped into Sarah Colbert and Malc from my running club again! I didn’t stop as they said I had a couple of miles to go, so I dug in one more time and tried to up the pace. I’d got the instructions out as I was paranoid that I might get lost and any extra miles would probably be the end of me. I saw another supporter who said “just around the corner” and I was on a high now, gave it all I had as I crossed the last field and onto a road. I passed some cheering children who “High 5’d” me and they’d even made massive “well done runners” banners! I could see the finish now and everyone cheered as I ran into the grounds of the hall in Salcott, it was over!

It had been hard today as I was still tired from the first day and camping and I was feeling a little light-headed and sick near the finish so I was just glad it was over. I had a little stretch and had a few cups of tea. Soon a few of the usual suspects crossed the line and we shared some thoughts on the days adventures. LDWA Graham had a 2nd wind and finished well as did UD vest guy, Ford Andy’s knee had given up at the last CP but he got it strapped and managed to crawl to the finish (nails), Graham said that Dave had decided to drop at the last CP as he said he had to pick his dog up? (I kid you NOT!) and MdS Colin made it home “comfortably” and still managing to smile.

We all sat and had a well-deserved something to eat and shortly after we were joined by Bob Gear who was now solo as his son Iain had dropped at Maldon (still he’d covered an impressed 50 plus miles!). Later Maxine finished well, an awesome weekend's work girl!

My overall time to cover 76.7 miles was 15 hrs 56 mins. 14th placed.

Full Runners Results:

Beacon Buddy track for day 2 - A great app!

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

The White Cliffs and SVP100 Race Reports

Post TG100

I'd had a couple of weeks to get over my experience of the Thames Gateway 100 mile race in Kent. The race had promised so much but delivered so little in a mixture of lack of experience in 100 mile races on my behalf but also lack of planning and preparation from the race organisers.

I'd wrote that I felt that the organisers had spoilt my race but in hindsight I think that if I'd done more homework then the outcome might have been different? I'd recce'd half the course including the tricky night section but I should have looked at the start as this set the tone for the whole event.

I took everything onboard and decided to jump back into the frying pan. 

A very wise man had offered some consolation post first DNF ever and said "you learn far more from a DNF than from a finish!" Well they were spot on and I didn't think I'd have to think about that comment again so soon.

I decided that I'd try and enter another 100 asap as I need to utilise the training I'd done to date but the problem I had was that they were all full. There's not that many 100 milers around so the good one's sell out sometimes even a year in advance! I looked around and decided what I needed to do was gain some more ultra experience at shorter distance then attack the big one next year. I put my name down on the waiting list for the Thames Path 100 but also entered the Centurion Running South Downs Way 100 in June.

I had already qualified to enter the LDWA 100 in Wales in May so I decided to keep my options open between the two events. For now though I decided I needed to break to 53 mile mark (the longest I'd run) so I entered the Stour Valley Way 100k as this would achieve the above and also take my into that night running stage for the finish.

I have to admit that the SVP100 wasn't ideal and in hindsight it was the wrong race for me (I'll go into that in a minute). For now though I needed to focus on my existing race commitments. I'd run a couple of short races since TG100 but I had the LDWA White Cliffs 30 miler to run and anyone that knows that part of Kent.... it wasn't going to be flat!

LDWA White Cliffs 30

As I've said before, I love the LDWA events and considering the location of this run (can't call these event "races" really), I knew it wouldn't be dull.

I'd somehow manage to convince two other club runners, experienced ultra runner Bob Gear and ultra newbie (but seasoned marathon man) Paul Bridges to join me. These guys are good runners in their own right but more importantly great company! I posted on Twitter (@bibo_boy) that I'd never looked forward to an event so much ever.

The forecast wasn't great so I knew it could be hard work especially as we were on the coast so I packed for the worst. Paul had even gone out and brought a decent raincoat so yes you guessed it..... sun burn all the way around :)

SVP100 was only a week away so I said to the guys that we would have to take it slow and easy to try and save my legs and they were fine with this. We all met around mine and Paul who was driving had brought the Bridges support team of his Mum and Dad who are two of the nicest people you could ever meet. We made great time and had an hour to kill at the start but we were told we could start early so soon we were off.

We were soon firing the banter at each other from all angles as we made our way through some fields to the cliffs. The main topic at the start was Paul's limited ultra experience and how he wasn't allow to run uphill. Paul's quite a fast guy and thinks nothing of getting his head down and charging up any kind of incline! This is fine in those shorter distances but we needed to find a way of slowing his pace for later. I decided that we should introduce him to the "rules" of ultra running where you were never allowed to run uphill and you get three strikes then you were out!

This kept us amused for ages and also spent some of the time stopping to pose for photos of the amazing views with France in the background on the other side of the channel. Yes you can tell we meant business. We were soon running along the sea front of Dover and navigating some of the biggest steps ever then out of the town and soon along the cliffs again. We'd spent the first section of the course telling Paul how he would be amazed by the LDWA checkpoints as he probably would have never seen so much food on offer. We'd got to the first CP and.... errr water, juice and a digestive! Not even a custard cream. I think Paul thought we must have been winding him up and I guess he might have been regretting not bringing any backup food. It turns out as that first stop was only 5 miles in it didn't need to have much more and when we finally left the cliffs and headed inland, the second stop was back to normal standards!

We were all laughing all the way around still as we reached Dover town again and ran along the hills that surrounded the population. You could see why this place was so important in the security of the country and also why so many generations had chosen the location for defence as I wouldn't want to attack it with today's military technology let alone years ago! It must have been amazing being there during key points in history like the Battle of Britain.

Paul was still finding things really easy as we passed the halfway point and me again Bob were still enjoying the process of reminding him that ultras were a game of patience. We got to approx. 10 miles left and we were now steadily passing walkers who had left earlier in the day. All was going to plan as we passed another group then "arrrrh" I turned around and Bob had gone? I looked down and the man mountain that is Mr Gear was flat on the floor! We immediately stopped in our tracks and ran to him... by the time we got to him lucky enough he was on his feet and brushing himself off. He'd simply tripped on a root and landed hard but seemed ok so we carried on.

As we approached the magical 26.2 marathon mark, we all commented again on how this would be the furthest Paul had ever run before. I told him that I'd got him a cake and I feel he was a little disappointed when it didn't turn up at the next CP. Joking aside, this is a big deal for any runner. The marathon is for many the ultimate distance and breaking that mark in anyway should be recognised.

I said in the build up to this run that I was really looking forward to this event and even though I was really suprised to see with the finish in sight finally as we ran home along the white cliffs for the last time that the watch was saying over 7hrs! Considering the amount of hills/climbs the time wasn't actually that bad with the fastest person only an hour or so in front of us (not bad when we were taking it really easy). We all finished together being met by the Bridges family with smiles on our faces, a reminder of what distance running is all about... Good course, good views and great company.

My only down side to the whole day was the fact that I'd picked up a couple of little niggles on my left foot/ankle. I'd switched back for Autumn into minimal shoes due to my experience at TG100 and since then I'm starting to get injured again, touchwood nothing serious so far but I'm going to have to wait and see.


As I've hinted towards already... I think this race was actually a poor choice for me. This event was 100K starting at Newmarket and finishing in Manningtree near Colchester in Essex. This was the first race for the organisers as I was a little nervous considering the last "new" event I took part in. I'd spoken to Matt one of the race directors and they sounded fine and even though they admitted some things were WIP, everything should be in place. I was struggling to get to the start in time as it was so far away and as a point to point race I would be miles away in the end with no easy public transport links to the start.

The main issue though which I was reminded of several times by many other runners was the cut off time. It was 13.5 hours to cover 62 miles where I'm used to having to cover just 50 miles in the same time. Because of this the usual cushion of time I have in 50 miles races wasn't there. I knew this and there was even an early start option but due to my lift only getting there for the 9:15 start I couldn't take that option. I typed the details into the Cool Running Pace Calculator which gave me a worst case pace of 13 min miles to complete the race in just under the allowed time.

I then took that time and allowed 5 mins for each CP and finished with the 12:30 min mile pace that I should try and average. Anyone that is experienced in the ways of ultra running will already know what I'm going to say next! I had almost no spare pace as I already said and what I hadn't considered was the effect of the recent heavy rain on the mud on the course and the possibility of getting lost. A slow section due to mud combined with a couple of missed turns could take me over the time allowed. I just tried my hardest to keep going and reached CP 1 (12 miles)in decent time. I'd ran so far easy making sure I didn't over do it in the start like I'd done before. I carried on and the runners had now spread out so I was on my own. I followed the decent GPS course provided but on a few occasions the path was redirected and I found myself totally off course having to negotiate my way back which took time.

Finally I got to CP 2 (21 miles)to be told I was near the back of the field and many people had already dropped. I knew I'd be one of the slower runners but I was told I was still 10 mins within the cut off for that CP so I thought I stood a good chance of getting to the next point on time especially as the RD had said times would be extended a little due to them being a little tight. To be honest even though I'd taken the whole week off exercise I was still feeling the effect of last Sundays 30 miler in my legs. For a change I was fighting the mental said quite well but it was the legs that just wouldn't move fast enough.

I'd this leg quite well with only a couple of wrong turns and as I passed a couple of other runners as I approached Long Melford and CP 3 I was feeling confident I'd be allowed to continue as I was still under the max. pace for the whole race. I got my head down as I ran down the high street looking for the CP I managed to miss yet another turn on the watch route (really need to set some kind of audio notification) and did another few hundred bonus metres. As I stopped to refuel I casually asked if I was ok to carry on and the helper said errr no your way over the cut off? I was amazed but accepted this straight away as unless I was 100% sure I would never challenge the CP staff as they have a hard job and someone always needs to be given the bad news.

As I said though I thought I was close and I still wasn't over the max. pace I'd set (later realised that I'd cover a mile extra at that pace and later didn't help) but to be told "way over" hmmm? One of the ladies that had been stopped was a tad upset (she was a lot calmer shortly after) and I have to agree a little with some of her points. I'd not made a note of the actual cut off times for each CP (rookie move) and I was 17 mins over the 7 hours allowed I guess I was frustrated that I'd got lost so often and this easily took longer than 17 mins. What I couldn't work out was the amount of "extra time" we were given? At the end of the day the cut offs are there for safety and so I boarded the minibus to the finish.

Generally I thought this was a decent event run by some nice guys who do care. The CP's were run by some of the nicest people ever with probably the best food I've ever seen, even better than Centurion! I just felt along with other runners that the cut offs should have been longer as they were the same as 50 mile races and a small detail from me was that the RD's should have been a little clearer on timings and actually what was the "extra time" amount? All in all a good event that I'd like to have another go again possibly.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

TG100 Summary

Here follows a few points that come to mind from my first 100mile attempt yesterday at the thames gateway 100.

Race choice is really important and I really should have made a better choice in picking my first 100 miler attempt as even though the organisers were keen and an event of this size is hard to put together, there were many areas lacking and with a 100 you need  as much help as possible.

A "decent" 50 mile runner does not mean you can do 100!

If the route description isn't great on a section you didn't recce at the start then follow someone (safety in numbers)!

Totally cocked up footwear choice. Luna's were NEVER the choice and the VFF's Spyridons were not much better. Don't get me wrong I love Luna's but you also need to know when sandals and even VFF's are not going to cut it. Yes many people run massive ultras in these in the U.S. but most of these barefoot or minimal shoes are designed for use on rocky dirt trails where they never see rain or mud.

Although pacers are a great idea, you need to be careful as they can be a double-edged sword. I will be forever grateful for my friends for stepping up to the task but I'm not good enough to forecast actual pace especially when the course and elements combined with the above point worked against me and I was feeling bad if I had them waiting around for ages in the night.

My delay due to the silly footwear decision on the NDW "fell section" at around 12 miles meant I started feeling bad for my crew. I know they were understanding but I still felt guilty for not holding up my part of the deal with pace even though this was probably the hardest section of the course and the weather was now hammering it down. It takes a very special type of person to crew!

It's not realistic to have a single pace to stick to. I'd broken the race into chunks but should have looked at the course in more detail as I was always going to be slower in the hilly first section so I was playing catch up in my head continuously.

I started to have thoughts of dropping early on and need to work more on my mental strength especially later when I got to the halfway point and had the difficult night section ahead of me. I was told by my friend, experienced Race Director and Crew guru Karen Webber at his point that most newcomers quit at this point and I should push to 60 but I had nothing but doubts. Mental note to plan something special for this point? I.e. change of kit, something nice to eat... Whatever works?

Running with other racers helps dramatically. As soon as I started to run with others then the pace and moral rose.

Recce's are amazing. Knowing what is coming up and not having to analyse nav during the race cannot be underestimated. I chose to recce 50 of the 100 miles before hand but if I'd reviewed the "fell section" then .... Who knows? I picked the night section which was probably wise but again not enough analysis.

I'd took the time to prepare my food and drink and got a large plastic box and brought the usual ultra classic treats of full fat coke, iso drink, bananas and of cause fig rolls! I also stocked up on crisps, nuts, rolls, cereal bars, shortbread, fruit cocktail, boil in the bag meal and my fav pepperoni's but didn't didn't eat any of this of course.. I pretty much ran for 12 hours on solely fig rolls! Though I didn't feel too bad and never hit the wall, I felt that I was missing out on something. My previous ultra aid stations had boasted quality wraps, fruits, and hot drinks but even though there was food on offer, nothing really jumped out at me. If there is a next time I need to put a lot more thought into food prep. Sandwiches with nice fillings, nice sausages, cooked meats, fruit and warm drinks (essential in the soaking cold conditions). There's only so many cheap value sausage rolls and cold pizza that can be eaten.

If unsupported then drop bags are a must! Should always include a number of changes of clothes including "worst case" comfy trainers (lots of people running in Hoka's which look ├╝ber comfy but I still think look strange).

Generally I feel I'd recovered well from my earlier poor section and I only realise now that I was actually doing quite well compared to the rest of the field. By the time I got to aid station 5 I'd caught up with a few other runners and a number had already withdrawn. I left the stop and started back on the course feeling ok for now. I was running with the others including a guy that I'd seen previously at some events. (One of the greatest things about ultra running is that you can actually "run with the stars".)  I managed to keep with this small group most of the time for 20 miles and whilst running with them worked out that these guys were of high long distance pedigree with most of them I believe 100 marathon club members and veterans of multiple 100's. I felt I wasn't in the same class as these guys and they didn't seem like they were even trying at times. One thing I did notice was that they ran/walked quite often even on the flat, they also said occasionally running up hills helps the strain on the quads. I guess this all saves the legs for later?

I found out after the race that these guys were the only people left standing at the end finishing in just under 29 hrs (30 limit). My schedule was for sub24 so if these guys were finishing near the cut-off then I need a re-think. I've learnt a lot from this attempt and the only real decision left is if I ever have another go?