13 The Hard Way and The East Farm Frolic

Another weekend of back to back races beckoned and something bad happened.

We had to say goodbye to Ernie.  He only came into our lives under a year ago.  We gave him food, warm shelter, a cushion and laps to sit and dribble on, regular brushes and all the love we could.  In return, he gave us love and lots of fun.

Making the decision that he was too ill to carry on was tough and having him peacefully die on my knee was equally as hard.

There’s a bit of a hole in our lives now.  Bye bye mate.

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A weekend away was really what the doctor ordered.

We started with the inaugural 13 The Hard Way.  This is a trail half marathon organised by Sussex Trail Events (one of my 2 favourite race organisers) on our doorstep.

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As you can see from the profile below, it’s pretty easy to guess where the name comes from.  This definitely rivals the 3 Forts Half for the crown of toughest half in the county.  104 metres of climb in the first kilometre.

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After the first climb, it is up and down all the way to the 7km point along the wonderful South Downs Way.

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Then it is downhill all the way to the turn around point, apart from a ‘little bump’ when you are almost at the turn around aid station.

The climb back out when you start to retrace your steps is brutal.  It is about 4km in total and really tough in the heat.

Even when you get back up on to the main wide area of the South Downs Way, you’re not out of the woods.  It’s still up and down all the way back to the steep final downhill section (which I walked).

As with all Sussex Trail Events races, this is welcoming, low key and a great way to spend the morning.  I know this part of the the SDW like the back of my hand, so nothing was a surprise.

I heard one lady saying that it was her first ever trail run.  She was either very brave or didn’t read the race description properly.

Burgess Hill Runners made up a considerable portion of the field, including a couple of first time half marathon runners.  It’s very impressive to take this one on for your first half marathon.

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As soon as we finished, it was back home, quick shower and the surprisingly short drive over to Dorset for the 12 hour East Farm Frolic from White Star Running (the other of my favourite 2 race organisers), which was due to start at 8am the following day.

BHR had 5 teams of 4 plus a large amount of small people in tow.  We had a large group of campers and once set up, it was time to pop to the main race tent for some hydration.

The race was laps of 6km-ish and the idea was to do as many as you could in 12 hours as a team of 4, 3, 2 or as a solo runner.

The course was up and down, through some woods, over some fields, down some tracks, up some tracks and back to the start line.

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With the usual sense of WSR fun, the baton was a squeaky rubber chicken, which had to be carried at all times.  And there was a chicken baton change over point.

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I managed 6 laps, which was just over 37km.  Another lap would have made a marathon, but the exertions of the past few weeks, the beer from the night before and the temptation of clean clothes, a shower (the best portable shower in history), a beer and a chat got the better of me and I stopped.

I was lucky enough to do the last lap with Gary, one of the most improved runners in the club and a top chap.

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The winner did 69 miles.  Amazing.  Almost as incredible is the medal.  Wow.

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What summed up the weekend and really shows what White Star is all about was Monday morning and the Folic Chaos race.

We had never done a Chaos Race, as we have always left after the race.  The Chaos Race is a bit of fun for everyone over a short distance and any profits go to charity.  The proceeds of this race went to MNDA.  It is £6 to enter and the medal (yes, there’s a medal) was tremendous.

We gathered for a dance warm up, then we removed our shoes, put one in each of the large refuge sacks at the finish line and watched them disappear off up the hills where they were deposited on the floor in 2 different places.

The idea is that you run up the hill, find your shoes, run back down the hill and complete a 4km circuit, including a visit to the Love Station, before heading back to the start and collecting your lovely medal.

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We walked a lot of it, nursing a bit of a hangover, and giving the kids a helping hand up the hills.  This was probably my favourite part of the weekend.  The kids got a chance to experience a race and an aid station and they got a great medal.

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A huge thank you to Rob (at the Frolic) and Jon and John (at the Hard Half) for the great photos.  Thank you for Jay, Chris, Danny and Steve at STE and Andy & his team at WSR.  If Carling made weekends and all that.

Now for 3 weeks of taper before my biggest test so far, the Chiltern Wonderland 50.

Take care, Neil.

#fuelledbyplants

 

 

 

Bad Cow Marathon Weekend

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).

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Philippe is forgetting how to speak French.
  5. 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’.
  6. The weather always sounds worse inside a tent than it actually is outside.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.

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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.

#fuelledbyplants

The Lunar-tic Marathon 2016

Another week and another race that starts in the light goes into the night.  That’s the Lunar-tic marathon from Sussex Trail Events.

The course is flat, but don’t let that make you think that this is easy.  Maybe the fact that the Endure 1250 was only a week earlier made my legs a little heavier, but this race is not to be underestimated.

The race starts at 8pm.  Registration is quick and easy, as it always is with STE.  Plenty of time for a photo with the rest of the Burgess Hill Runners team before kick off.

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The race starts with a couple of laps of the field at the Adur Outdoor Activities Centre before you head out onto the course itself for 3 laps before returning to the finish which is near by the start line.

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My plan was to hang back for a while and keep running for as long as possible.  Waling was going to be inevitable at some stage.

We have done a lot of events around this part of Sussex.  The Downslink Ultra, The Darkstar Marathon and the BHR Downslink relay all take in this area of the River Adur.  It is easy to become bored and blasé about it, but it really is lovely.

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This river has a place in my heart as it is a tidal river with mud flats, which reminds me so much of home.

It was important to make the most of being able to see the sights on the first lap, as the second and third were in darkness.

The laps were up the east side of the river, over the bridge at Bramber, down the west side of the river and then over the wooden bridge in Shoreham, which was the sight of the floral memorial for the air crash victims.

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I had planned to go round in around 4.45, but this was very ambitious, given the tired legs, the terrain, which I found tough again and the fact that it was at night.  I began to slow down at around 16 miles, when it became obvious that 5 hours + was on the cards.

This was good for 2 reasons.  First of all, with longer distances on the horizon, I’m happy to get used to run/walking and secondly for the first time ever, I finished a race with Nick.

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I was slightly in front at the last checkpoint when I heard her voice, so I decided to wait.  We kept each other going over the last 7km.

This could, should or might have been the race for Nick to come home in front of me (she did by a couple of seconds to be fair).  Who knows what would have happened if we’d actually raced for the last hour.  I thought that she was dragging me along, but it seems that the feeling was mutual.  It’s only a matter of time though.  She was so stubborn towards the end, she kept going and going.  So impressed to see it first hand.

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And this is one of my favourite racing photos ever.  I’m so lucky to be able to do this and to share it with Nick.  Happy days.

A huge thank you to Jon for the wonderful photos and to Jay, Danny and Chris for another lovely race.

Next on the list is the Hard Half (also from Sussex Trail Events) and the East Farm Frolic on the same weekend.

Have fun and keep moving.  One foot in front of the other.

Neil.

#fuelledbyplants

 

 

 

 

 

The Endure 1250 – 50 mile race

The Endure 1250 was to be my first 50 mile race.  The furthest I had been before was 38 miles on the Downslink Ultra, so this was going to be a test and hopefully a stepping stone to something bigger next year.

The Ensure 1250 encompasses 3 different races, 50km, 50 miles and 12 hours. You can run solo or in teams as a relay.  Each lap is 5 miles, so my race was 10 laps.  Just to make life more difficult (as if it needed to be) the race started at 7pm, meaning that by the time I’d finish, I would have been over 24 hours without sleeping.

I’m not really that worried about races with many laps.  I did the Velothon last year, which is a 78 lap marathon and the Lemmings Marathon the year before, which is 106 laps of a 400 metre track.  Lapped events just pose a different challenge from point to point races.

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My first impressions on arrival were very positive.  It was very relaxed, friendly and low key.  Registration took 2 minutes.  There were lots of people lazing around 2 hours before kick off.  There was the smell of bar b q in the air and it was almost like a mini festival rather than a race.

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I parked 20 yards from the start finish straight.  This was perfect.  I could have my own food, drink and other supplies within touching distance at the end of every lap.  I couldn’t have asked for more.

With 2 hours to kill, I prepared everything.  Food, change of clothes, music and first aid gear.  I learned from the London to Brighton race that you have to know where everything is in the dark, as it’s difficult and frustrating to try to find things mid-race.

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So, we set off at just gone 7pm in bright sunshine and really warm temperatures.

I ran with my phone on the second lap to take photos of the course.  The first 1.5km are on grass.  It’s pretty rutted in places and there is also a camber in places.  It’s pretty pleasant and there was a flock of geese watching us.

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There was then around 1km on a single lane tarmac road, which was slightly downhill. This was a pick me up on every lap.

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After that you encountered the most difficult section.  2km of ruts across a couple of fields and along a section of the Thames river bank, which didn’t look too used to me.

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You then run through Beale Park with its statues of animals before heading off road again and through a wooded area back to the finish line.

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There are a few things to you need to be aware of if you’re doing this event for the first time.

Firstly. there is water and energy bars available out of the course and at the start/finish line. However, you don’t get the usual mini banquet that you get at Centurion or Sussex Trail Events races.  This isn’t an issue, as you can set up your own aid station on the start/finish straight.  However, it could be an issue if you turn up without food.  There is, however, a food area that you could buy items from if you wanted to leave the course to buy something.

Secondly, starting a race at that time of the day is tough.  By the time you’re 20 miles in, your body starts to tell you that it wants to go to sleep.  This makes concentrating on the rutted trail sections event more difficult.  I definitely underestimated how the lack of sleep would affect me.

Thirdly, if you’re scared of the dark, this may not be for you.  I am surprised by how I coped, but there were a few occasions when I was on the Thames bank when I thought that there was no-one in front of me and no-one behind, especially when the 50km race had finished around 4am.  Evidently it’s very safe, it’s just the stupid irrational fear of the dark.  Maybe I have beaten it now.  Woo hoo.

I was really pleased with my performance.  My lap times were as below:

Lap 1 – 51.45
Lap 2 – 54.45
Lap 3 – 56.26
Lap 4 – 59.00
Lap 5 – 1.02.40
Lap 6 – 1.11.09
Lap 7 – 1.09.39
Lap 8 – 1.13.46
Lap 9 – 1.12.35
Lap 10 – 1.13.17
Total time – 10.45.02

I had 3 plans.  Plan A – 10 hours.  Plan B – 11 hours.  Plan C – Get round.

So I got well under Plan B.  By the time I got to half way, it was evident that Plan A was not going to happen.  It was too hot and I underestimated how tough it would be to cover the rutted off road section only with the aid of a head torch.

I am over the moon with the times for laps 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10.  There is hardly drop off in the lap times between laps 6 and 10 and the total distance covered was 25 miles.  I did the sensible thing and slowed down to meet the amended target of Plan B.

I made sure that I ate and drank sensibly.  I had at least a banana, a Nakd bar and a gel on each lap and used both Salamon water bottles with Zero tabs in.  There was never a hint that cramp was going to set in.

I wrote this on my hand and looked at it regularly.

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It may seem a little silly, but I have been saying this to myself on recent races when the going has got tough and I proved to myself that I am strong, both mentally and physically. Without a doubt, I was boosted by the sun coming up on the last 2 laps.  I was still run/walking on the last laps and I was overtaking people (not that that’s that important).

A nice tip that I have learned from crewing on long races over the past 18 months is to change clothes and brush your teeth during the race.  I did this at half way and it was a real pick up.

I may have celebrated a little too much as a went over the line, but this meant a lot to me. I was so happy that I forgot to get my medal and had to go back to get it.

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So, my verdict is a big positive for this event.  I would recommend it for sure and will probably go back next year and do the Endure 24 (the longer version of this one).  This event is £35 to enter and ticks most of the important boxes, including a lovely medal.

A huge thank you to the organisers and the volunteers, especially the marshals.  They were out there all night and it probably wasn’t huge amounts of fun at times.  They were always enthusiastic and encouraging (and dancing on occasions).  Thank you, thank you, thank you.

So, the 50 has been done.   Thoughts have already turned to a 100 at some stage.  We will have to wait and see about that one.  I don’t think I’m physically capable in the current shape I’m in.  Things may change though……..

 

Giant’s Head Marathon 2016

I nearly failed to start the Giant’s Head Marathon for a couple of reasons, but I’m now sitting here on the sofa watching the cricket, eating the left off munchies from the weekend, reflecting on 2 days in the Dorset countryside.

The Giant’s Head Marathon was voted the best marathon in the UK in 2014 by Runners World magazine. Quite an accolade. This has got me thinking about what are the ingredients for a good marathon for me.

There are several reasons why we like an event and I am going to base my race report around the important factors for me.

The setting is a huge for me. I love being in the countryside. I will do very few town/city road races from now on. They’re dull, tend to be expensive and I’m not that bothered about setting records.

Giant’s Head is based in Sydling St. Nicholas. It’s in Dorset. It’s in the middle of nowhere. It’s a lovely little village with lots of flint cottages, old style stone walls, a stream running through it and it is surrounding by hills. It is very green. There is a village green and quaint little village hall.

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The camp site is a field. That’s it. They have removed the cows and added some toilets. It’s simple and absolutely perfect for what we need. It is a 1 minute work to race HQ and the start/finish of the race.

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It is a real skill to be able to create the right atmosphere at a race. I’m using up my weekend and taking holiday to run 26.2 miles, so it’s important that I feel relaxed and comfortable with my surroundings. Well, registration took 2 minutes. You don’t have to worry about turning up with driving license, passport, 15 utility bills and a note from your Mum to get your number.

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They serve very nice home cooked food in the race HQ, prepared by the local WI and there is a beer tent outside serving lots of local booze. There is even a chap in the corner playing music on a tape deck.  ‘Always look on the bright side of life’ was playing when we walked in.  Nice and apt.

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Everything is relaxed and runners are sitting around chatting over food and a few beers, before making their way back to the camp site for a crap night’s sleep (I have never heard so much snoring in my life).

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This atmosphere is all down to Andy and his team. From his social media videos to the most relaxed (outwardly at least) attitude to race day and the dedication of the marshals and aid station volunteers, Andy and the WSR team nail this every time.

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Running is our hobby and hobbies are supposed to be fun. I think that runners (and probably other amateur sportsmen) can often forget this. WSR don’t and Giant’s Head is proof of this. Shamelessly, there is a penis theme to everything. Race number, t-shirt, buff and the spinning willy medal. There isn’t some weird fetish thing going on. It is because the race passes the site of an ancient fertility symbol carved into the hillside, the 180 foot high figure of the world famous ‘Rude Man’, the Cerne Abbas Giant. So, keeping with the theme, the marshal at the check point at 10 miles made a huge penis, complete with hair (fake (I think)) for the runners to sign.

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So, the course. Never, ever to go to WSR event expecting or hoping for a PB. That’s not the point. This is about testing yourself against something that is beyond a road marathon. Something that challenges you with hills and changes in terrain when you least expect or want them. There are 10 hills. At times, the incline is above 20%. This can also be said for some of the down hills.

Giants HeadThe terrain changes from road (not for long), to short grass, to long grass, to dry soil with flint in, to rutted fields, to paths of loose flint, to mud. Some of the climbs and descents are on a camber too, adding to the difficulty and the stress on the ankles. These sections require serious concentration to avoid any mishaps.

The countryside is beautiful. There is no other way to describe it. One of the great things about walking up the hills is that you get to look around and take in the sights.

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When I go away for a race, I’m dipping into my pocket. For me, this is quite deep as well, given that 2 of us take part. I don’t like to feel like a race is taking the p*ss. At £33 for the entry for GH, I can’t think of many races that give you better value for money. First of all, the race is 27-ish miles. That’s 3.8% more distance for your money. The medal is a thing of beauty. There are no other medals like it.

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The free technical t-shirt is well designed and high quality. You get a free buff. The aid stations are well stocked.

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The facilities are excellent and the merchandise is all well priced and excellent quality.

I can never afford to buy photos after a race.  It just never happens.  The only ones I have are from the London Marathon.  If you’re in the same boat as me, WSR has the answer.  They have people out on the course taking photos.  They are volunteers and they are amazing.  The 2 photos below are from Jane Tearle, who picked the most fantastic spot to see us fighting up one of the hills.  Thank you so much to all of the photographers.

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So, what more could I ask for? Well, perfect company from my wife, Philippe, Karen and Francesa. Lovely, chatty, happy fellow runners. Oh yes, cracking weather.

That’s it really. I now know why it won this award. I’m also really happy I didn’t stay at home nursing a grumbling stomach. A perfect way to spend 2 days in fields. 2 days that felt like a week (for all of the right reasons).

For me this was the second marathon in a week and was the last long run before the Endure 1250. Having been a doubtful starter through illness, I’m seriously impressed with my physical and mental effort. I ran all of the flat (there isn’t much) and the downhills and was still strong in the last 25% of the race, even though the hills continually sapped the legs. I’m getting the hang of fuelling and watering myself and the salt tablets seem to be making a real difference.

Can’t wait for the next WSR event and I have 4 to come for the rest of the year.

Thank you Andy and the team. See you soon.

Big love.

#fuelledbyplants

The Hampshire Hoppit Marathon

So my first marathon of 2016 was the Hampshire Hoppit Marathon.  It’s taken me 6 months to lose my 2016 cherry and I’m very glad to have completed my 20th marathon.  A lovely little milestone.

It’s an early start to Sunday morning.  5.30 alarm call and an hour and three quarters drive over to Hampshire.

On arrival at the race venue, the first thing that strikes you is how lovely the area is. We’re only about 10 miles or so outside Basingstoke and we are pretty close to the M3, but it’s lovely.  The view from the car park was probably worth the drive.

The field of 400-500 runners for the half and full marathons slowly arrive, park up and make their way over to the start/finish area, which is about a 15 minute walk from the car park (no big deal before the start, but I thought it was going to feel a lot longer for the journey back after the race).

So, the start/finish is in the grounds of the horse racing stable.  Not a big fan (understatement) of horse racing, but you can see how much the industry is worth.  They use huge expanses of land to train on.  This isn’t the back end of Lincolnshire where land is cheap.  It’s prime land in the south of England.

Everything is well set up.  Start/finish arc, massage area, baggage drop, food, drink and most importantly, the toilets, of which there were plenty.

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The sun was out and it was a bit too hot as I changed into my running gear and got lathered with sun block.

I only knew one other person running the race and that was Jan, who is probably the single biggest influence on my running in recent years, so it was lovely to have this picture with her before the start (photo courtesy of Jon Lavis)

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The race stared bang on 10am and off we went.  Up the hill.

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That’s the hill in front.  This is it close up.

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And this is the view from the top back down.  Big, isn’t it?

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Welcome to the Hampshire Hoppit.  It was worth the climb though.  That’s where the best views are.

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The first 5km are pretty much all up hill, but after that, there is a lot of gravity assistance until after half way, with the odd little bump thrown in.

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It’s a tough race.  It is technical in places and you have to concentrate in order to keep your feet.  The sections with wide paths are a welcome relief.

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There are less photos from the second half of the race, as there tends to be with me.  The second half was tough.  Obviously I was getting tired, but the net gain in the second half compensated for the net loss in the first half (when you remove the huge hill at the start and the finish), as the profile below shows.

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I am preparing for a couple of 50 milers at the moment, so there were a couple of things that I wanted to check out as part of my prep.

First of all, fueling.  I had used Ella’s Organics baby food in the past and quite enjoyed it. This time I decided to try some sweet and some savoury.  The savoury was horrific.  Cold lentil and vegetable stew.  It had the texture of when you’re sick into your own mouth and you have to swallow it again, so that no-one realises (we’ve all done it in the pub before).

The sweet ones were lovely though, so I will take some of those on my first 50.

The other point was mental attitude.  I chanted a mantra in my head. ‘I’m so lucky to be doing this’.  Over and over again.  It seemed to work.  Maybe I should come up with more mantras and put them to a tune, so that I can hum them as I go along.

Anyway, so other things about the race.  The marshals.  Bloody amazing.  They ranged from lovely and polite, to really encouraging and cheery to slightly crazy, dancing to the music on their stereo.  Probably the best marshals for some time.

For me, this race was a huge confidence boost.  2016 has been pretty rubbish health wise and there hasn’t really been a period of sustained happy training.  To be fair, there hasn’t been before this race either and that was the test.

My 10km splits were really quite cool in the way that they were so even.

1st 10km – 1 hour 7 minutes
2nd 10km – 1 hour 7 minutes
3rd 10km – 1 hour 6 minutes
4th 10km – 1 hour 19 minutes

That’s pretty consistent given the hills and I kept myself going well towards the end.

The last mile or so is really tough.  Steep downhill and that’s not funny at that stage of a marathon.

But I did it, all in tact.

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And a little tired.

I would seriously recommend this race.  Apart from the hold up at the bottleneck at the top of the first hill, which can be resolved very easily by staggering the half and full marathon starts, I’m not sure what could have been better.

I love it.  I love the feeling of being free in the countryside.  I love the feeling of pushing my body and I love crossing the finish line and the elation it brings.

Thank you Tim and everyone that made this happen.

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Green Belt Relay 2016

So this was the 3rd Green Belt Relay that we have taken part in.  This could become a habit.  In fact, it already has.  Last week I received emails from a couple of our runners counting down the number of sleeps until the weekend.  People really have taken this event to their hearts.

After 4 months of preparation, the weekend was upon us.  3 teams, 33 runners, 2 reserves and one dedicated driver were ready to go.

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My preparation hadn’t been good.  My stomach issues have got in the way of pretty much everything since March.  I wasn’t even sure that I was fit enough to get through 2 stages totaling 22 miles over 2 days.  Things got a lot more ‘interesting’ last week when Ernie was attacked by a fox.  Ernie is the stray cat who is living in the shelter we built for him in our garden.  We couldn’t risk him being outside for a while, so I spent over a week cat sitting him in either the spare room or the living room, keeping him away from our elderly, rather poorly house cat.  The result of this was about 3 or 4 hours sleep per night and this doesn’t make me a happy boy.  Sometimes it’s hard to be an animal loving tree hugger.

Anyway, back to the Green Belt Relay.  Have I ever mentioned how totally amazing this race is?  If the answer to that question is ‘no’ then you haven’t been listening.

In short, it is a relay around London’s Green Belt in teams of 11 running 1 stage per day over 2 days, with each stage being between around 6 and 14 miles.

It’s an early start on the Saturday.  The 3 teams met up at 6.15am in Burgess Hill to get to Hampton Court Palace for the 8.30 start.

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Hampton Court Palace was as lovely as ever and we’re there in plenty of time for our 3 runners on the first stage to get ready.

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And they’re off bang on 8.30am and the fun begins.  We head off to the end of stage 1 to meet our runners and the other 2 vans head off to their relevant stages to get our runners safely to the start of the 11 stages on day 1.

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My stage on day 1 was stage 7, from St. Albans, through Hatfield, finishing just south of Welwyn Garden City.  A lot of the stage was on the Alban Way.  It is a tarmac path which is protected from the roads around by trees and bushes. This is a lovely part of the race, but far from being the most picturesque of stages, which says a lot for the other 21 legs.

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I really quite enjoyed it.  I set off a little too quickly, but that’s nothing new.  I slowed down a little towards the end, but that was more a choice than a necessity, given that this was only day 1.  This is a pretty easy stage and the route markings were very easy to follow.

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Our path crossed with our other 2 vans throughout the day as the start and the end of stages are in the same place.  This is great as you get to swap stories about what has happened and you get to encourage people in at the end of their stage and cheer people off at the start of theirs.

It is a little unfair to pick out highlights, but there were a couple of special moments on day 1.  Seeing 3 Green Belt first timers and pretty new members of the club off at the start was great to see.  Seeing Nick, Gary and Helen come in at the end of the Epping Forest stage was great.  I really want to do that leg one day.  Glyn’s finish at the end of stage 4 was one of the best I have ever seen.

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So, with the running over on day 1, we headed off to the hotel in Brentwood.  The check in could have been slicker (although checking in 36 people at once was never going to be that smooth).  Before you knew it, we had beer in hand and were off for a curry, 5 minutes down the road.  The food was excellent again and catering for that many people at 10pm is not easy.  They serve Quorn piece curries.  It’s veggie heaven.  Give that restaurant a medal.

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With 5 hours sleep, we’re off again.  Jaded and a bit sick with nerves, we head off to the wonderful Thorndon Park to drop off our first runners of the day for a 9am start.  Pictured below, Jonathan treated his body more like a temple than I did.

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My favourite start/finish location of the whole event is the end of 15 / start of 16 at Lullingstone Park.  I just love it.  The end of stage 15 is beautiful and I have very fond memories of running stage 16 in 2014.

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My stage on day 2 was 19.  We had wanted to run up Box Hill and during the planning we allocated ourselves the stage called Box Hill.  It turns out that this is the stage that starts at the top of Box Hill.  A school boy error for sure, but it certainly didn’t make things any easier.

Stage 19 is amazing.  Difficult. Really tough, but totally amazing.

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You run steep downhill for about 2km and then steep up for about 4km.  After that, it is up and down for the rest of the stage.  It takes you through Denbie’s vineyard and through some amazing countryside.  Several sections are on the North Downs Way.  It is totally different from the South Downs Way.  There is a lot of tree cover and there are a lot of technical sections.  I loved the forest trails.  They were technical with tree roots to avoid and the uphill and downhill sections were short, so it was constantly changing.

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I’m so lucky that I accidentally allocated this stage to myself.  I can think of lots of people who would love to do it next year.

We dropped our last runners off at the start of the final stage and headed to the finish where everyone was gathering to welcome the runners crossing the line on the glory leg.

We did it in style as well.  We were last over the line with all 3 runners hand in hand.

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I always find the end of races a bit emotional.  This was especially so.  We’d got around the course safely and all of the vans were still intact.  I feel a lot of responsibility on this event and the most important thing for me is that everyone is safe.  After that, everything is a bonus.  Luckily there were lots of bonuses.  Club course records, great atmosphere in the vans, amazing countryside, Helen went under cut off for the first time and I wasn’t ill.

And we won a trophy.  The Most Supportive Team.  I’m so proud of this.  We are never going to be the quickest people out there.  That’s not really the point of why we spend time together in fields at the weekend.  It’s all about enjoyable and supporting each other.  So I got the chance to lift the Wissahickon Trophy.  Oh yeah.

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It’s hard to imagine what goes into staging this event.  Organising the marshals (this is a self-marshaled event) is a huge task in itself.  How on earth do you mark out 220 miles of course close enough to the event so that idiots get as little chance as possible to move the markings and signs?  How do you handle a tree falling down on the day of the race, making the route impassible?  The answer is with a huge amount of organisation, dedication and pride in knowing that this event is just the best.

The last 3 years have given me and Burgess Hill Runners that chance to test ourselves against some great countryside, to get to know each other better and to forget about the troubles of life for a  whole weekend and immerse ourselves in the wonder that is the Green Belt Relay.  For that, we will always be indebted to Peter, the Stragglers and everyone who makes this happen.

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We already have new people asking if they can come along next year.  Will it see 4 teams of Burgess Hill Runners taking part?  That is a question for another day.

In the meantime, it’s off to the Hampshire Hoppit Marathon for me in June.

Take care, Neil.

 

3 Forts Half Marathon

This was my first 3 Forts Half Marathon.  In fact it was my first hilly trail half.  I have done the 3 Forts Marathon twice, so knew what it was all about and this year just fancied doing the Half.

That was a pretty good choice, given the recent illness, as I would not have enjoyed the extra 14 miles.

They call this event ‘The Tough One’ and there is no doubt why.  This is the elevation graph for the Half.  The 27 mile race is certainly no less up and down.

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So, 3 Forts.  It’s low key.  Around 400 doing the Marathon (well 27 miles actually) and the same number doing the Half.  The Marathon starts 30 minutes before the Half, which works perfectly with the narrow paths in the first 2 miles.

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They send you your chip timing race number in the post or you pick it up on the day.  It’s easy.  Bag drop takes 30 seconds and they ask for a donation to their charity.  There is hot food and drink available.  Toilets, shelter, a group warm up.  You know, pretty much everything that you need.

The race heads out of the field at Hill Barn Rec in Worthing, up a road for 200 yards (this is the only section of road that you see – you come down the same section on the way back) and then you’re on trails.  Oh yeah.  Trails.  Thank god for that.  Bye-bye tarmac.  A summer of trails, grass and hills beckon.

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It is 3.2km straight up to Cissbury Ring.  It flattens out in a couple of places, but it is nothing more than a small respite.  Anyone at my pace will walk up here (if they have any sense).

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What goes up must come down.  That’s what happens from 3.2k to 5.3k.  You pass the first aid station and enjoy the freedom to stretch your legs.

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This section is very empowering and great fun.  Best make the most of it.  What goes down must go up, especially when the high point of the race is Chanctonbury Ring.

From 5.3km to 10.8km the elevation varies from steep uphill to slightly uphill, with the odd short section of rolling ups and downs.

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And this is the view back down the hill.

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The views are just fantastic.  One of the good things about walking up the hills is that you get the chance to take in the countryside.

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And the hills keep coming until you reach the highest point of the race at Chanctonbury Ring.  By the way, don’t expect that to be the end of the hills.

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From there, you have 3k of decent.  It’s lovely.  It can be a little tough on the knees and quads, but most of it has a gradient that is gentle enough for you to run it comfortably.

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And then comes the first sting in the tail.  Well to be honest, it’s the first of 2 stings in the tail.

There are 2km of ascent and it’s pretty steep in places.  I was wondering if I’d be able to run sections of it, given that I was only doing the Half and I’d had to walk it on the Marathon.  No chance.  I had to walk most of it.

You then have around 2km of descent and flat until you meet Cissbury Ring again.  Once you have walked over it (no way at this stage am I thinking about running up here) it’s downhill all the way.  You are now retracing your steps to the start.

So that’s it.  The 3 Forts Half.  My race was good.  I wasn’t ill.  That’s the most important part.  I had a time of 2 hours 10 in my head and went just under 2 hours 13.  That’s good.  Time is almost an irrelevance on events like this.

I pride myself on being able to pace myself well.  This can apply to hilly events as well as flat road races.  It’s just a different way of doing it.  I was as quick on the downhill sections at the end as I was at the start.  There was still something left in the tank.  For someone with my ability, walking up the hills and running the flat and downhill works perfectly.

If anyone wants to run this race next year, I’d highly recommend it.  It’s very well organised.  The timing is done by chip.  They have cake at the end.  The marshals are lovely.  The course is tremendous.  Not easy at all, but flat is dull.  For the medal hunters out there, the lump of metal is nice as well.

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That’s it, I think I’ll search out some similar Half Marathons in the future.

Take care, Green Belt Relay, here we come.

 

The Brighton Marathon (or a small part of it)

So it really couldn’t have been much worse.  I started a race that I shouldn’t have started and pulled out way before half way.

Stupid f*cking stomach.  It has plagued me throughout my training and it decided to pay me a return visit on the Thursday before the race.  The issue that I have had for about 12 years that doctors have been unable to diagnose is becoming too frequent.

This was supposed to be a special marathon weekend.  Not because I wanted to go for 4 hours, but because my best mate was taking part in memory of his Mum and all of his family were coming down, many of whom I haven’t seen for years.

I started to get stomach issues on Thursday night, they got worse on Friday and I was getting proper stabbing pains on Saturday.

I got up early on race day, put my kit on and went for a run up the road to test it out.  It was painful and I knew I shouldn’t start the race.  So I went back indoors.  ‘How is it?’ I’m asked.  ‘It’ll be fine’ I reply.  Obviously I knew that it wouldn’t be, but I had to start.  I couldn’t let my mate down.

So, we head down to Brighton using the back up plan as the trains were screwed.

We lined up in Preston Park in the 3.30 – 4 hour group and we set off.  For me it was like running with a heavy stitch from the start.  The crowds took my mind of it to be honest.  The people of Brighton did the event proud.  They were out in their 1000’s and I really enjoyed the first 5 miles.

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Then it went belly up on the way out to Ovingdean.  Stomach started to hurt more.  The stitch became more like a stab.  I wanted to drop and make my way back to the finish, but didn’t want to cross the road and turn around, as people might have thought that I was cheating.  So I went to the turn around point at Ovingdean and then slowly made my way back to the finish line to get my clothes and warm myself up.

The plus side – getting to see this man cross the line.  This is the only important thing really.  I will ride another day and this will push me to get a proper diagnosis of the problem I have.  He got the cross the line, thinking of his Mum and this will always stand as a tribute to her.

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This was supposed to be my last Brighton Marathon.  That’s the other annoying thing.  I didn’t get the chance to have a proper crack at 4 hours.  Maybe in a couple of years.

I now need to get over this disappointment and put my trainers back on when I feel I can run pain free again.

There are some big events coming up.  My first 50 miler is in July.  I need to be fit and, more importantly, healthy.  This is going to spur me on to get myself better for the Endure 50.

A bit down, but definitely not out.

Neil.

Looking back on 2015 and forward to 2016

So, as the year comes to an end and we start to look forward to an exciting new year ahead, inevitably we start to take a look at how things have gone.

2015 has seen many milestones for me:

A new parkrun PB at Southampton parkrun of 22.23.
A new 10k PB at Mel’s Milers 10k of 47.31.
A new half marathon PB at Brighton of 1.43.22.
A new longest distance ever run of 61km at the Downslink Ultra.

The most surprising of these was the half marathon.  I had this 1.45 barrier in my head that was a stupid psychological obstacle to going more quickly.

2015 also saw personal bests at the Darkstar Marathon, 3 Forts and many other smaller events.  We discovered the wonder of White Star Running events and loved the inaugural Moyleman Marathon.  Of course, there was the Green Belt Relay, which was another roaring success.

The year was injury free (apart from the odd grumble from my knees) and I kept to my promise of training smarter.  This obviously works.  Less miles of training, more personal bests and less injuries.

Sadly the end of the year has been halted with a bout of anxiety.  It’s been going on for around 3 months now.  It’s made things pretty tough at times.  It doesn’t affect work, which is very lucky and I’m pretty good at putting on a positive face in public, but it’s really unpleasant and has seriously affected my eating and sleeping.

It feels like I’m starting to turn the corner at the moment.  I’m starting to train again, which is positive on many fronts, as preparation for the Brighton Marathon is just round the corner.

2016 is going to be a big year.  Brighton Marathon sub 4 attempt plus back to back marathons at Bad Cow plus my first ever 50 mile race at the Chiltern Wonderland.  The diary is full with 8 marathons and countless other races.

In the build up to Brighton, I have decided to write weekly about my training and eating.  There are 2 reasons for this.  Firstly, I’m changing the way that I train and want to document it.  I’m a skinny bloke, my core strength is poor and my lack of power in my glutes are hindering my performance.  I have already started to work on improving this, so want to document how this goes.  I am also going to monitor my food.  There are 2 reasons for this.  The anxiety is at it’s highest in the morning, so I often skip breakfast during these periods.  Monitoring and logging what I eat will help me to be more disciplined with this.  Secondly, as a vegetarian, I want to be certain that I am taking on board what I need to take on and disprove the notion that vegetarians can’t get enough protein.

So here goes.  It will be about 18 weeks of weekly blogs.  I hope that it won’t be too dull for anyone who reads it.  I’m looking forward to making it happen and cracking this 4 hour marathon chip that is on my shoulder.

That’s it for now, Neil.

Lovely downhill bit of the Bluebell 10