Monday, 29 July 2013

LDWA Shotley 50 event review

The Shotley 50 is a 53 mile narrative off-road trail race run by the LDWA as one of their challenge events where runners as well as walkers are allowed to take part. As I’ve said previously, LDWA membership is almost essential for any off-road long distance running fan. In a time where fitness and outdoor sports are big business and race fees are now into hundreds of pounds (and I do realise there are a lot of overheads), the LDWA manage to put on events Like this for £11 where you can pay £60 plus for other events.

On route to the start

 The race itself actually started and finished in a little village called Holbrook which sits a few miles South East of Ipswich on the Shotley Peninsula between the Rivers Stour and Orwell in Suffolk. The event was split between the walkers and the runners and I got to the village hall in time to see the large group of walkers set off and after starting late on the last event I was determined to not make the same mistake so had plenty of time.

I registered early and made a note of the minor course amendments so there would be no surprises but as we’d been sent the route description prior to the event I’d already used my Ordinance Survey mapping software to review the course so I had a rough idea of the major landmarks we’d hit and even tried to memorise some of it. You could argue this takes some of the “fun” out of navigating during the event but nothing can fully prepare you to being on the ground running the event on the day and anything to help can’t be bad.

Kit wise for the event, this was going to be the longest I’d ever run in Luna Sandals. Before today I’d only ever run 30 miles in the minimal footwear and only covered 4 miles in the new Mono’s. Other than the sandals, I opted for my usual Inov-8 12 litre Race pack and I’d planned to battle the heat wave by carrying a spare 2 litre water bladder which I’d frozen. This would act to cool me in the 30 degree heat and also be spare water if required. This didn’t happen though as I’d managed to leave the pack in the freezer (actually it’s still there now) and I was lucky as the day was overcast and only 21 but still warm enough.

Fuelling wise I’d decided to use my two front mounted Inov-8 water bottles (one as a spare) filled with water with Nuun hydration tablets. I chose this combination as it wasn’t mega hot but also there were 10 aid stations so the legs would be short. As for food I’d again left the gels at home and carried a small bag of fig rolls in my back pack just in case and decided to keep my front bum bag empty and fill it as required at each stop as the LWDA events are well known for the amounts of food offered!

I was feeling really relaxed pre-event as I knew I’d prepared well and I was quietly confident that I should at least beat my 50 mile PB of 10hrs and 44 mins (and 9 seconds) as that was set on the South Downs Way in some of the worst weather where this was flat(ish) and near perfect conditions. I said hi to a couple of people I recognised from previous events including Jon Legge and Julian Catnull (SP) who I believe are Striders the same running club as me? As the clock ticked over closer to the runners start I was wondering where my friend Darren Coates had got to but with a few minutes to spare he arrived ready for action. There were a smaller group of runners ready at the start time which was exactly an hour after the walkers and I have to admit I was slightly surprised as there’s normally quite a large running contingent at these events but I guess the extra distance could have put people off?

Soon we were off and as we all jogged away from the hall I briefly wondered exactly how long until I saw the place again? A couple of really fast guys went off but the main group stuck together and it was nice to run for a while with some runners who were obviously in a different class to me. I knew I was going too fast but this normally happens so I thought I’d just enjoy it while I could and within a couple of miles let them go. Well the course took in some of the landmarks that I’d highlighted including running along a large dam next to a reservoir, sports fields, churches and eventually the banks of the massive river Stour. I’d already fallen foul in a classic trail race mistake when I missed a turning but was lucky only to do an extra couple of hundred yards before realising the error.

I was now following Darren and the rest of “the elite” along the beach. I’d pulled ahead of them earlier as they stopped to do a nav check but now normal service was resumed. The route was amazing as we ran with trees on our right and the water right next to our feet on the left. My only issue was that the fine sand didn’t really suit running in sandals as I’d found previously but although uncomfortable wasn’t really too bad.

Following the fast boys (Darren Coates in the blue)

We soon got to the first check point and we had started to pass the first walkers so we briefly stopped to swap pleasantries. I took on a couple of bits of bread with marmite and stuck two pieces of flapjack in the bum bag for later and I was off again. More and more walkers were passed and as usual it did get a little tricky in narrow sections trying to negotiate a route past them. Most of the time they are great and swop greetings but you do get the feeling that a small number of walkers might begrudge sharing the trail sometimes especially with comments of “hurry, hurry, hurry” as you would pass them at speed. I’m sure they struggle to get their heads around why anyone would like choose to punish themselves and miss all the wonders nature has to offer, and they do have a point!

Well I was still managing to keep with the group as we sped at speed across fields and through forests and within no time we approached check point two. I again ate a couple of snacks, filled my bottle and refilled the pouch. As I walked away from the CP I took out my phone and quickly recorded on Facebook where I was. I try and do this on long races so my supporters know my progress (ok it’s so the wife know where I am really). We were soon running again and we passed the site made famous the painter Constable and continued along some of the most picturesque scenes you could ask for. It must have seemed slightly surreal for many family’s enjoying the scenery as they sat relaxed on a lovely day only for half a dozen sweaty men to sprinted pass (one in flip flops).

Enjoying the race a little too much?

It was around 16 miles and I was feeling the pace now. I’d fallen off the back of the group and could barely see them in the distance. We got to cross over the A12 and they were all long gone. I was really starting to think I’d made a serious mistake starting so fast as I could barely run and I was walking up the hills now where I’d been running up them just a while ago. I was still managing to pass walkers (just) but I was also noticing a number of other runners that I’d not seen at the start so must have started with the walkers but were using a slow run/walk strategy and a few of them were staying with me. I got to the next CP to be greeted by Darren and the gang who were just leaving and I have to admit I was happy just to see them still as I thought they’d be long gone.

The next few miles started to get emotional. Although it wasn’t boiling, the heat was still strong and really humid, I was losing a lot of sweat even though I was drinking continuously. I was now passed by a couple of runners and I just had to keep telling myself to keep shuffling because I knew if I walked anything that wasn’t uphill I’d probably never run again. I passed the next couple of CP’s until I got close to the 25 mile point and halfway. This was a huge milestone as I always tell myself that it’s on the way home now even if home was still 25 miles away in this case. I took my pack off and sat down which is a usual no-no for me but I just felt I need a couple of minutes out of the race to relax the mind. This seemed to work wonders and I chatted to the volunteers swapping walking stories, I also noted a couple of people that looked like they’d dropped so I wasn’t the only person feeling it.

Halfway point

 I trudged out along a field and after another internet update start to jog as fast as I could manage. I was still in damage limitation mode as I approached the CP at the 30 mile point. It was then that I started to see things and I thought I was really starting to lose it. I could see a couple of people way off in the distance and I didn’t think much of it until I saw that one of them was waving in my direction? I looked behind me expecting to see another runner but there was no one in sight? As I got closer I could make out who it was! It was only my running buddy Andy Hind and his partner. I couldn’t believe it and actually felt slightly emotional as I was really at a low point in the race (sad I know). As I got to them Andy said that he’d read my progress on the internet and could tell I wasn’t in a happy place so decided to come down and support! What can I say? This race wasn’t just around the corner from home and he’d also brought me a huge bag of goodies.

I reached the CP over a large reservoir and at the top of a hill and slumped into a chair in the hall. Andy refilled my bottles as one of the young LDWA volunteers brought me a bowl of soup. Once again I’d like to thanks these guys for amazing service on these events. Andy asked how it was going and I explained I was running on empty. I remember telling him I wanted to pull out at this point and I’m sure I even asked him for a lift back to the start but he refused of course and I pulled on my race pack once more which was heavy with sweat now and went to leave. I thanked Andy for making the effort but made him promise he’d  go home as I was sure they had better things to do than follow me around.

Soon I was getting my second wind as the fuel taken in and the moral boast of seeing my friend really kicked in. The miles started to fly past and I was soon approaching the next CP when I saw the familiar figures in the distance. I cursed them jokingly but I have to admit it was awesome seeing the pair again! This time I sprinted past them and into the hall for a quick pit stop. I repeated my request for them to stop following me and as I knew Andy had somewhere to be I guessed he would stick to his word but his work was done and I was a changed man.

I got to the 40 mile mark within almost 10 miles of the finish and it was at this point where I knew I’d finish despite the early hic-up. As I approached the last CP at 45 miles I was starting to feel it again. It was mixed emotions as I walked into very nice little church as I was feeling drained but good as I’d started to catch up runners again and I knew I was close to the finish. I had my card stamped by the support team there and like on many other occasions they asked what it was like to run in the flip flops. I’ve never really discussed these so far in the review and this is probably due to the fact that I wasn’t having any major issues. I guess it might have been different if it had been wet but apart from the small stones and gravel then I’d collect (but normally get rid of just as quickly), no problems.

I was now running along the Stour again and it was starting to get a little darker but this was more due to the clouds getting darker than the evening approaching. I passed another couple of people running and I just put my head down and pushed as hard as I could. I looked at my watch for the first time properly and was slightly surprised it was taking so long and thought that Darren and the others must have finished hours ago. As I passed the 50 mile point in 10 hrs 22 mins and I was happy to get a PB for that distance but wondered how much faster I might have been if I’d started slower?

Some amazing views

 The last few miles seemed to take forever! I knew that I was in Holbrook now and only a matter of minutes away from the finish but the enclosed path I was on just kept going and going. Eventually I was on the main road and took the right turn into the road where the hall was located and I finished. Darren was nowhere to be seen so I assumed the leaders had long gone. I did see a chap called Chris from Ipswich who I’d seen at a few other races. He was in a group who had finished in just a couple of minutes over 10 hrs. This guy was fast and I have to admit I was just as surprised as him that the course had taken so long? I still don’t know why? Anyway, I sat down for a quick bite to eat and other people finished and we swapped a few comments of how hard it was. I was just glad to finish and finish in daylight. It was an emotional journey but a journey left mostly good memories. A great event!

Post run feet

The winner finished in 9 hrs 35 mins, Darren Coates finished in a small group of people in 10 hrs 12 mins, I took 10 hrs 45 mins. Julian Catnul (SP) inished in 12 hrs 59 mins with Jon Legge finishing in 13 hrs 2 mins.

All and all not a bad day at the office really for all!


  1. Interesting to see the event through a runners perspective.
    Aaron Hookway
    LDWA no 32645
    Shotley50 completion time 17hrs 5mins

  2. Well done Aaron :)

    A great course and event, loved it