So, the Bad Cow weekend arrived and we headed back to Holton Lee in Dorset, where we had run the Bad Cow Saturday marathon last year. We love Dorset, but we had agreed not to do the same event 2 years running.
We broke this promise for 2 reasons. Firstly, it’s White Star. We love White Star. They’re cool, as are their races. Secondly, with the Chiltern Wonderland 50 fast approaching, this seemed like a good last big training weekend with a marathon on Saturday and Sunday.
It’s 100 mile drive from Sussex, which took me 4 hours. Lovely Friday rush hour. When I got there, Nick and the rest of the Burgess Hill Runners campers were there along with Nick’s Dad and his wife.
My tent was already erect and all I had to do was to open a beer and get my vegan pizza from the on-site caterers (MYO – very good you know).
It was pretty cold on Friday night and we soon headed off to bed pretty early ready for an early start on Saturday. I didn’t sleep well (surprise surprise). 6 foot 2” light sleeper inside pop up tent while the wind is blowing a gale and it’s chucking it down outside. Recipe for 3 hours kip.
So, I got up. The first person on the camp site to emerge from their shelter. If only there were a prize for this. I’d win at every race where we camp. Breakfast was good. The stomach wasn’t playing up (yet) and slowly but surely the camp site came to life (assisted by Andy, the race director driving round the field with music on full blast).
9am and it’s time to go. The 2 marathons are on the same course, but are run in different directions on each day. There is also a 10k race at 6pm on Saturday and a half marathon on Sunday morning for those who don’t fancy taking on 26-ish miles.
The race is 8 laps of varied terrain and flora/trees and so on. This is the flattest of the White Star events with only 2 sections that I would call hills.
There is always a sense of fun at WSR races, but I think that they outdid themselves this time. There’s always fancy dress and there’s always an incredibly relaxed and jovial atmosphere. The runners are always very friendly. There is always a ‘Love Station’ as well, which is the feature aid station on WSR events. For the Bad Cow Marathons you pass it 8 times and it was a joy. It was ABBA themed. Music playing all day. There was singing, dancing and booze. It really was quite amazing. I don’t know how they kept it up all day. They did also have a lovely selection of the usual aid station food and drink.
So, for my races. I knew that I should have taken day 1 easy, but that would be too easy. Something inside me was saying to go for a time. So I did. Well, a time for me, but it’s all relative. These races are chip times, so you have accurate lap split times. One day I decided to set off around 6 minute km pace. This would give me my second quickest marathon ever and would batter my trail marathon record. The splits are below (each lap is 5.3km).
Lap 1 – 31.17
Lap 2 – 30.55
Lap 3 – 30.56
Lap 4 – 30.22
Lap 5 – 31.07
Lap 6 – 33.10
Lap 7 – 38.33
Lap 8 – 38.57
I’m getting pretty good at running even splits, although I ran out of gas on the last 2 laps. There was a lot more run/walking involved, but a finishing time of 4 hours 25 minutes and 7 seconds. That’s my third quickest marathon ever and quickest trail marathon by a distance.
At the end of day 1, I must admit that I was pretty reticent about doing the same thing the next day (but in the opposite direction). It turns out that there was nothing to fear. In fact, day 2 was much more fun. I ran with Nick and Philippe for the first 3 laps. We took lots of photos and had a real laugh.
I set out at 5 hour 25 minute pace (an hour slower than the previous day seemed like a good arbitrary target). My pacing on day 2 was spot on.
Lap 1 – 39.40
Lap 2 – 39.02
Lap 3 – 38.38
Lap 4 – 39.41
Lap 5 – 38.11
Lap 6 – 38.15
Lap 7 – 37.12
Lap 8 – 36.12
That’s 5 hours 6 minutes and 51 seconds.
Almost constant until the last 2 laps when I speeded up. I felt strong and really loved day 2. Very unexpected.
I fuelled on baby food, tomatoes, crisps and fruit. I took a salt tablet every hour and used Zero electrolyte tablets in my drinks.
As far as confidence boosts for my second 50 miler go, this could not have been better.
So, what did I learn from this weekend:
- Pacing is king. Choose a pace that you feel you’re going to be comfortable at and keep to it. Even if you’re feeling good at 10k, 15k or 20k, don’t speed up. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Literally.
- If you wear a head torch in bed and there is a moth in your tent, it will constantly fly into your head until you turn the torch off.
- Learn from the professionals. Having read about the meticulous preparation of the Team GB cycling squad and how they take their own pillows with them everywhere they go, to aid with better sleep, I decided to take my own pillows with me. This was clearly a step up from rolling up my bulky clothing to fashion a pillow, which is what I did at Giant’s Head.
- Philippe is forgetting how to speak French.
- Get smaller bags to pack different types of things in, rather than putting everything in one big bag. This will make it easier to find things. In conjunction with this, get everything ready the night before the race rather than rolling up, cracking open a beer and saying ‘I’ll do it in the morning’.
- The weather always sounds worse inside a tent than it actually is outside.
- Runners are brilliant. Volunteers, photographers, fellow runners. Just amazing. This community is the business. It doesn’t matter how quick or slow you are. Everyone cheers. Everyone encourages you along. Big hugs to you all.
- ABBA can make you happy. I know that the circumstances were slightly strange, but ABBA actually made me happy. My only regret is that I didn’t get the chance to sing ‘Knowing Me Knowing You, Aha’ in an Alan Partridge style at the aid station.
- Hokas are sooooooooooooooooooo comfortable. I ran the first half of day 2 in my normal Adidas road shoe, but changed back to my Hokas for the last 3 laps. My first ever pair and I love them.
So, that’s the Bad Cow by White Star running. In a nut shell, great race, lovely place, wonderful people, amazing medals, free photos (yes free photos – free – yes free, and they’re really good. A huge thank you to Rob Hannam for these) and the best aid station on the planet. There is only one thing I’d suggest as an improvement for this event and that is the flavour of the crisps in the goods bag. Would have loved veggie friendly crisps. You can tell that your £30-ish has been well spent when that’s how deep you have to scrape the barrel for something you’d like to change.
Thank you Andy, the Race Director. Just amazing. You set the standard.
Thank you all of the White Star crew, thank you to all of the volunteers, thank you to my wonderful fellow runners and finally, thank you to my Burgess Hill Runner friends for being in the best running club there is.
So, what’s next. Oh yes, East Farm Frolic. See you next week White Star people.
Take care, Neil.