Cool Cats – North Downs Way

Coming Soon…

London Doughnut Run Club

I’ve always loved a good sugary doughnut (A jammy bastard from Sweetmans Bakery back in the day were the best ones!), so when I came across the @dougnut_run_club on Instagram, I knew I had to get involved. Doughnuts and running, yes please.

The shout out was done, Saturday 25th November, a group of like-minded sugar fiends would be meeting at the Tate, running a 5km route to the Doughnut Time on Shaftsbury Avenue. Here we go…

Doughnut Time

I was in good shape off the back of the Lisbon Marathon and had continued my running (January and the 2018 challenge would be here sooner than I’d like). I was out for a long run so decided I’d run to the meeting point, do the 5km and then run home also. I had a plan.

I rocked up at the Tate and hung around until I spotted a few other runners who looked equally lost, how exactly do you approach someone and ask “are you running for doughnuts?”. But I did. Intros done and we were on our way. The route was planned and we headed across millennium bridge, along the embankment, into St James park and into Soho.

Chatting away it was great to get to know fellow runners, find out about their experiences and stories and also find out the back ground to the run club – a few friends, after a run, went for a doughnut and were challenged by the seller as to whether they should be eating doughnuts. So they thought, feck it, let’s run specifically for a doughnut next time. And they did, then others joined them and it grew from there. Such a friendly bunch with regular runners, ultra runners and newbies to the running scene.

The doughnuts themselves were sickly good (I had a honeycomb crepe number), although I don’t think any doughnut is worth a fiver! Give me a 5 pack from Sainsburys for 90p any day! I’ll certain run with them again and eagerly wait the next time I can join the guys.

The Doughnut Run Club

After a coffee (and a warm up!) we headed our separate ways. For me, another 8 miles or so home to round off a 20 mile trip.

Cool Cats Trail Run – Beachy Head

Coming Soon

Big End of Year Run

I’m at that stage now where all my social media feeds, all my advertisements and all the recommendations are running related. Over Christmas one flashed up that caught my attention – “The Big End of Year Run” set up by a dude going by the alias of ManVMiles. Yep, I want some of that.

Dai & Daryl

It was the 31st December and I’d dragged that mate Daryl out with me. The plan was to meet at Marble Arch, run a half marathon and see out 2017 the only way runners know how. Daryl was delayed on the trains and I was left to mingle with the masses. I fucking hate mingling. Not something I’m comfortable with. I am now getting used to the frequency of it. The running community (in London at least) is surprisingly incestuous and it wasn’t the first time I’ve recognised some faces and had to say “I think I know you from Instagram”. A theme that would continue throughout the run!

Before too long it was time to get underway. A brief intro from the organisers (including the background to the event – two of them did a run a few years back and over time its grown) and we were off. The route leading up and around Regents Park, up to Primrose Hill (for a quick group photo) before heading down into and around Hyde Park (where some more runners joined), through Westminster and along Southbank before crossing the river and ending in Embankment Gardens.

I mentioned how incestuous the running community, both Daryl and I knew people at the event as well as Mark, whom I’d spent 6 hours running with the day before (yet not once either of us hinted at the run we’d be doing the next day!). It turns out that we both know Mark and he was the reason I did The Nohtaram all those years earlier. Small world.

Running Friends

The Nohtaram

It was late one Friday night on the 22nd April and I received a text from Daryl. “What are you doing tomorrow night?” (I assume it said that, I honestly can’t remember, but it makes for a good story so let’s go with it.). “Nothing” I respond. “Want to run a marathon” he replies….

Now then. What’s all this about? Daryl explained that there was an unofficial London Marathon taking place the night before the race. In a nutshell, you meet at 2am at the finish line, run the course in reverse and finish before the marathon starts in Greenwich. This did sound appealing. I was generally in a good state of fitness. I hadn’t run more than about 10km that year though. Either way, I understood it would be a casual run. No pressures. No expectations. Fuck it. Why not.

Saturday evening I was in a pub watching Man United vs Everton with two friends. They’d arranged to go out and ‘make a night of it’. I was thinking ‘when the game end will so I can get some sleep’?!

I met Daryl in the city near his office. Our plan was to leave our stuff there and head back afterwards for a shower before joining his running group – Run Dem Crew – to support the marathoners doing the actual race. We prep’d up, had a laugh with the security man on duty about how ridiculous what we were about to do was, and headed over to Birdcage walk and the meeting point.

The runners started trickling in before a large group, who’d met at McDonalds for some calorie loading, showed up. I distinctly remember overhearing one guy say he’d just come straight from a wedding for the run. He was loaded up on Gin. Crazy fool / legend! I think there was close to 200 people in total who showed up (or would be showing up as there was also a second pace group starting later).

Someone gave a little speech. I don’t think they said much other than “Off you go” and that was it. We were running a marathon. At night. Through the heart of London. It wasn’t long before the mayhem of a large group of runners took over. People headed off on their own, at different paces. Runners were separated at traffic lights and junctions. People took slightly different paths/cut corners at their discretion. Daryl and I stuck together as we intended though. I think somewhere along Embankment we found ourselves in a little group of about 6 people, we started chatting away and settled into a pace we were all happy with.

The vast majority of the run was uneventful and can be summarised as follows: Drunk people, Canary Wharf – getting lost, pit stops & cheese, getting to know each other, Canary Wharf – always visible, Woolwich – so dull, The hill – the damned hill! Let me elaborate…

As we ran through the city, I realised that, in all my time in London, I’d rarely (if ever) enjoyed London at night Sober. But one thing was immediately clear was the volume of drunk people staggering around at 2:30am. We got plenty of cheers from the drunk revellers searching their next party.

We reached Canary Wharf at some point. I don’t know when or how. This was back when I wasn’t recording/tracking runs. We were just running. Whilst the majority of the route was prepped with railings ready, Canary Wharf wasn’t. We were running the major roads with traffic in all directions. We were going round in circles and had no idea where we were. Fortunately one guy had a pretty strong understanding of the route (you’ll find out why in the next section) and he managed to direct us through the dark concrete jungle. Two fingers to you Canary Wharf. We win.

In our group was a gentleman (I forget his name) whose friend (I forget her name too) had decided to cycle the route with us. Whilst she had to take different roads a lot of the time, we’d often find her waiting up ahead. This was brilliant for two reasons. Firstly, it made us regroup and stop and re-fuel. Secondly, she’d packed a tonne of food in her bike bags. We were treated to homemade flapjacks, fruit, chocolate and cheese. Cheese on a run?! It’s been a staple of my running nutrition ever since! Whoever you were, thank you!!

And so to the runners we were with. It was a mixed bag. There was a woman who was training for an 8 day, self-supported ultra across Scotland. A man who would be running the marathon straight after this one following a bet from a friend to raise an extra £500 for charity, the gentleman who knew the route as he paces at the London Marathon as a guide for partially-impaired runners (he too would be running the race after completing this one) and some dude who was dressed as Spiderman. I don’t know why. Then there was Daryl, running his first marathon and me, the tag along with a days’ notice. A mixed bag! I remember the woman’s story was particularly impressive and touching. She was a keen runner and cyclist but last year was knocked off her bike. She broke both her legs. Less than a year later, against her doctor’s advice she was running marathons and ultras. In her own words “it doesn’t hurt when I run. But it does when I don’t run”. She was one determined lady!

Night Running
Running through the capital at night

The second half of the course was tough going. As we entered South London the streets were quieter and there were less distractions. For me, Canary Wharf become the bitch of my fascination. She was so visible, all lit up in the dark. Everywhere we turned we could see her. She never escaped us. Always teasing us. She was doing my head in! We then reached Woolwich, I’m guessing around 5am. It was very cold by now and raining. Woolwich isn’t the most attractive of places at the best of times. On a grey, damp, pre-dawn April morning it’s an absolute shithole to look at for an exhausted runner. The chatting had gone. We were all in silence. Just running. Plodding along. I (and probably a few of the others) knew what lay ahead. Daryl didn’t….

Back when I ran the London Marathon in 2013 I remember the starting few miles. The crowd is split over 3 different coloured running starting points. Just before you enter Woolwich Arsenal all the starters merge together as you run downhill. Yep, downhill. It isn’t particularly steep or much of an elevation but, running the course in reverse and having to go up the hill after 20 plus miles was going to be a struggle. I was mentally ready for this. Daryl wasn’t. Eventually we hit the hill, and with it the runners wall. None of us were particularly good at this point and we all slowed and walked where we had too. Daryl dropped off slightly as he vocalised his mantra “Daryl made for hills, Daryl made for hills” repeatedly. We eventually regrouped at the top again as we reached Blackheath. It was completed.

The Notharam
The people that got us through the run! Thanks

There was no fanfare. No supporters. No cheering. No congratulations. No medals. No anything. Just rain and a desire to get the fuck out of there and find somewhere warm. We took a photo with the group. Said our thanks and all parted different ways. Daryl and I headed down into Greenwich. We were freezing as the dampness and morning chill combined to make us shiver. All the restaurants and cafes were still closed (it was before 7am after all). We sacked off waiting to meet with other runners completing the run and instead jumped on a tube back to Daryl’s office. Warm showers and some more snacks and we started to perk up.

We headed out to East London to join the Run Dem Crew supporters. They were in amazing spirits with music, instruments, banners and loud voices. We spent most of the time in a busy café eating huge breakfasts. I don’t remember what happened after this but I know I slept well that night!

London Marathon
Watching and cheering the marathoners with tired legs of our own.

 

Salomon Sunset Series – Box Hill 10km

I’d signed up to Race to the Stones, but I’d never run a trail run before. It was time to get some practice. Facebook kept prompting me with the Salomon Sunset Series adverts. A 10km around the infamous Box Hill. It was set up by Salomon as part of their Sunset Series across the UK, the race taking place at 8pm a night as the sunsets (duh!). I was in.

This is where I mixed it up a bit, I decided to combine the 10km trail experience with a long training run and also gain some experience of running in the dark (because I had no idea how long I’ll be out on the course for Race to the Stones!). So the plan was, head down to Box Hill, enjoy the afternoon, take part in the workshops (trail running, Yoga etc.), run the 10km, pick up my bag and run the 18 miles back home to London. Simple.

The event itself was great. It wasn’t a big crowd in the day, although numbers increased for the race start. I’d gone down to Box Hill early and had me a little wander. It was early afternoon and I just lay in the field, my eyes closed, enjoying the relaxation and wind before I realised I was getting bitten to pieces by an army of ants. Fuckers. Inside the race village there were some stalls and products available as well as workshops on trail running and yoga. I enjoyed both. The techniques for running up and down hills particularly useful! Afterwards it was time to grab some food and listen to the professional Salomon athletes talk in a Q and A session. There was something ironic about me sitting there eating a pie whilst listening to them talk training and nutrition. I was happy. Before long it was time to run.

Pie
Stay classy!

Part 1 – The 10km race. This in itself was tough but manageable. It was good fun getting on the hills and properly testing my trail trainers. There were a few very steep sections that required ‘power marching’ – a technique taught in the workshops earlier that day – and I certainly felt the effort this required! Towards the end of the race though it started to rain, pretty heavily. There was no “Sunset” on this run. Finishing up at Salomon’s Memorial I decided not to stick around. I grabbed my finisher’s coaster (better than a medal!) and ran back to the baggage store and quickly getting changed and setting off for home…

box hill 7
No sunset here!

Part 2 – the run home. This was going to be dull. It was dark. It was wet (very wet!). I was soaked before I’d even begun. I was committed though (I had miles to do!) and I had recently bought a waterproof jacket (OMM Kamleika Smock if you care!) so this was the perfect opportunity to also test running in that! There would be a lot of testing on this run!

box hill 9
Best pizza ever!

Do you ever get that Deja-vu feeling? I’ve often experienced that in London, mostly being in a place I recognise from a drunken night out somewhere, well it happened here again. Many many years earlier I’d spent some time with a woman who lived out in Reigate. This one time she took me to a pub in the middle of nowhere where I had an awesome Chinese duck and plum sauce Pizza (I know right!). I never knew where that pub was (or even what it was called)…until my route home took me past it shortly after leaving the race village. It’s the Arkle Manor for those interested. Get involved.

As I continued running I soon realised I’d planned my route home based on roads, not necessarily those roads that were safe for pedestrians, never mind pedestrians in the pitch dark. I did not enjoy running those country roads in the dark and the rain, although I was so glad of my head torch.

After about 6 miles I took a stumble in the dark after a short detour through some paths in the woodlands. I stumped my toe pretty hard and now I was also grumpy bastard as well as wet and tired at this point. The rest of the run was uneventful though until I rocked up in Croydon shortly after midnight on a Saturday. Seeing all the drunk party-goers on their nights out spurred me on to get home to bed! Hah, how times had changed. I was home a few miles later. Finally.

Muscat Marathon

Where & When:

Muscat, Oman, January 2018

Oman is truly spectacular with an incredibly beautiful landscape full of mountains and Wadis. We spent a few days exploring some of Oman’s offerings and were welcomed by such a welcoming culture with very smiley and happy locals.

Why I ran this course:

This is a great example of meeting people through running, being inspired by other runners and discovering amazing new places. Laura, who I met at the Lisbon Marathon, spent some time in Oman when she was younger. On talking about races and adventures she suggested I look at the Marathon in Muscat and shared some pictures from the country of places where we could visit easily on a trip. As always I didn’t need to think twice after seeing the pictures! I was joined on the trip by Angela and Stephane whom I met running in Myanmar back on 2016.

The Course:

A very flat, 2-lap route along the coast taking in golf courses, rich-people’s housing areas and the sea front. Nothing overly scenic and an extra 3-mile (out and back) stretch on the second lap added a particular mental challenge to the course.

The Organisation:

Pretty good. Everything leading up to the event was efficient and informative. The organisers were quick to respond to questions via email and accommodated overseas entries and runners very well (e.g. able to make special arrangements to collect race packs). A slight delay (20mins) to the 6am start was annoying but beyond the organisers control (technical difficulties ensuring traffic barriers were cleared). I feel the organisers were let down though by the volunteers on the day who were mostly not particularly attentive (needing coaxing at the water stations for example) or just appeared un- interested in the race.

The Atmosphere/Support:

Non-existent. Despite plenty of people being about the atmosphere was as flat as the course. I can recall just a handful of people clapping/cheering/supporting runners around the course. This naturally improved at the finishing stretch but not to the extent that it created an atmosphere. A traditional Omani band provided some entertainment along the route which was a pleasant relief.

My Race:

You might have gathered by now that I don’t tend to stick to any particular, regimented  training plan. This continued through November and December as I just ensured to do a number of long runs and few shorter ones in the week. In December I started going to some ‘Mountain Athletics’ training sessions held in London by the Never Stop London community (North Face). These sessions focus on upper and lower body workouts fused with running and techniques. through the community I also started trail running with a few people I met. So distance wise I was certainly covering the miles now (December ended up being my third highest month for total mileage, impressive considering the top two months included a 100km race each time!).

I set out in the morning with Angela and we walked the brief stretch from our Hotel. Stephane, staying else where that night, joined us at the start line.

muscat me and ang
The darkness surrounds us as we arrive at the race village for the 6am start

By now I’d identified my plans for 2018 and the Muscat Marathon would be the first race of my 2018 12 month challenge. I’d decided to approached the marathon with a relaxed “just enjoy it” attitude. However, after the frustration of being kept waiting at the start line (and thinking to much about risking a toilet stop) I got a little caught up in a sprint off the starting line. I settled in behind a local runner and progressed through the crowd over the first few kilometers. I felt good, so I decided to keep the pace going. I devised a race strategy there and then, telling myself to keep running at a 7min/mile pace for the first 10 miles before dropping this to 7:10-7:20 min/miles for the next 10 miles. The final 6 miles I’d run at a comfortable pace and enjoy the finish. The first 10 miles went to plan and I continued strong into the second 10. Around mile 17 though my pace started to drop and I was struggling to maintain the target 7:20 min/mile pace, fluctuating more around 7:30 min/miles. I adapted once again, making the promise that I could keep this pace instead if I continued for an extra mile before dropping to the more comfortable pace at mile 21. As I reached the turn around point on the beach straight I didn’t realise that the second lap involved running further along the coast before turning back towards the finish. This was admittedly a struggle as the road was so straight and there was no sign of the turn in the distance. Eventually I reached this point (coincidentally it was about 21 miles into the race), grabbing some flat coke, popping an SIS gel, which I picked up earlier,and settled into a slower rhythm, aiming to maintain 8:00 min/miles to the finish. Over the next few miles I was over taken by two runners looking strong (one of whom was to come home as the second female finisher) and I must have sub-consciously recognised the chance at a sub 3:10 finish as my pace picked up again for the last two miles. Gladly the finishing stretch was short! job done. I stuck around at the end to cheer and support (some one had too!) and to catch Angela cross the line.

The Goodies:

Besides the medal (which I actually really like for a change, a very simplistic and stylish design) and the T shirt, participants received a rather high-quality looking swim bag. Nice touch.

muscat medal
Love this design!

Time/Standings:

  • 3:09:24 (PB)
  • 18/159

Lisbon Marathon

 

Where & When:

Lisbon, October 2017. I’d always heard great things about Lisbon and was looking for an excuse to go visit and find out for myself what one of the oldest cities in the world has to offer. It didn’t disappoint.

Why I ran this course:

When James told me he was heading out there in October with some friends and they had plenty of space in their apartment, I didn’t think twice to take the offer and run another marathon. James is an accomplished marathoner with a sub 3:00 time and a determination to keep chipping away at that time. I later found out that a friend of a friend would also be out there running the half, so a ‘runwithdai‘ to meet Laura before October was also on the cards.

The Course:

Starting outside of Lisbon in the area of Cascais the route initially heads west along the golf course before doubling back and heading along the coast towards Lisbon. Passing many towns and villages on the way, the course is a pleasant ‘point-to-point’ with stunning views and scenery to take in. There is a final stretch of about 10km or so that is rather challenging as it is along a long and straight dual carriage way through the industrial port area. Keeping focus at this stage can be a struggle! Generally the route is flat but dotted with little hills as you navigate the coast.

The Organisation:

Shocking. Considering it is one of the Rock ‘N’ Roll events, my expectations for efficient organisation was well off the mark. We queued for about 2 hours to collect our race packs the day before the race, Most of this time was outside in the blistering heat with no access to facilities. Upon getting inside the expo we were told to go to any counter and not bother going to the one corresponding to our number. What was the point then? It was no wonder the queues were so long, it was mayhem inside. runners everywhere, volunteers having to go all over the place to find the numbers from different counters. There was no order or control whatsoever.

I’d somehow been sent two different race numbers in the emails I’d received as confirmation to collect my race kit. So that was also confusing and the volunteer had to spend a bit longer determining which one was the right one. After figuring it out, and handing over the required documents, the volunteers were collecting the individual bibs, bags and other information/items individually and collating them together in the corresponding drop bag. No wonder it was taking so long! Why this wasn’t done in advance I do not know?!

We then had to re-queue for collection of the T-shirts, and much to our disappointment they had already run out of mens Small and Medium sizes. Again, what is the point of specifying your size only to be restricted when you go to collect? Quite disappointing as I’m sure the inclusion of a T is a factor for many runners to pay the entry costs for races?! Also worth noting that there was still over half a day of the expo to go and hundreds if not thousands of runners still outside queuing.

Come race morning, the trains to the start line were also massively crowded (perhaps more were needed?) and there was a completely insufficient amount of toilets at the starting line (which had an open space that was also too small) for the number of runners.

During the race the on route entertainment was in my opinion quite pathetic. The entertainment being one of the USPs for these Rock ‘N’ Roll events . the bands/DJs were either isolated in areas of no atmosphere or just not performing (I appreciate they can’t be performing non-stop all day, but I did get a sense of a lack of enthusiasm)!

All that, all of my gripes, though are insignificant to an experience a friend had on the half-marathon route – delays experienced in queuing to get to the start, for toilets at the start, and to begin the race meant he didn’t cross the start line until almost an hour after the race was due to start (despite him being on time!). This meant he was running midday in the blistering heat. Many of the water stations he reached had run out of water and runners were having to pick up discarded water bottles from other runners or buy from shops along the way. This is frankly dangerous. I provided my feedback to the organisers and never heard anything back. Regardless of the rest of my experience, I won’t be doing one of these events again that is for sure.

The Atmosphere/Support:

As the route runs from out of town towards, and into, Lisbon, the majority of the route has limited support. The support once entering Lisbon however was great and had a real party vibe.

My Race:

Training wise I was still in good form from the summer’s ultras. I’d recently started using some of the hills around where I live a little more so I didn’t do too much in the sense of long runs. A few additional hill training sessions closer to the event meant I was feeling quite strong.

Lisbon start
Pre-race smiles

As James was injured, he decided to not race his usual pace but to enjoy the weekend more in a relaxed way. Think beers and custard tarts the night before the run! He ran a slower race and I was able to stick with him for the first three quarters of the route (despite an urgent need for a toilet stop which I had to then play catch up on). It was like having my own personal pacer which was a great help. We stayed ahead of the 3:15 pacer for the majority of the run, however, after James had left me for dust (around the 20mile mark) the pacer caught up with and passed me. Surprisingly he was alone and had lost the huge gang who’d previously been tracking him.

Approaching the finish line I made the last mad dash as I saw the inflatable finish arch in the distance, hoping to hit the sub 3hr 15 time. Oh how wrong I was, after reaching the arch it turned out to be nothing more than a sponsor’s advertisement and I still had a few hundred meters(3 sides of the Praca do Comercio) to run before reaching the actual finish line. My sprint finish ended up being a finishing wobble. Despite everything, I’d come in with a new PB, a big chunk taken off my previous best from earlier in the year. I was smiling at last.

The goodies:

A wrong size T shirt a banana and a medal that looks like it was the result of a children’s design competition. Can you tell I wasn’t too enthusiastic about the event?

Time/Standings:

  • 3:15:52 (PB)
  • 272 / 4673

SVP100

Where & When:

Stour Valley, August 2017

Why I ran this course:

It happened, I was hooked. That feeling, whatever the science is behind it, it had me. Post RTTS I had the craving, I’d sampled something I liked and I wanted more. I wanted it soon. I started looking and I found this local(ish) 100km and didn’t hesitate to sign-up. Race day just 3 weeks away.

The Course:

Starting in New Market and winding south along the Stour Valley path towards Manningtree. Taking in sites such as Newmarket Race Course, Devil’s Dyke and Flatford Mill along the way. The majority of the route was marked (as it is the Stour Valley Path). Some course specific markings helped navigation, though the dry dusty landscape meant these were often difficult to see and missed.

SVP marking
A smiley face to keep you on route!

The Organisation:

On the scale of events, this one felt small. Whereas RTTS had over 5,000 competitors, the SVP100 had under 100. That said, the amount of effort and input to organise such an event is still mammoth undertaking. There is no doubt a greater reliance on support and volunteers to make the event go to plan (which a number of local running teams support). The team did a great job with information, route planning, training guides and support throughout the day.

The Atmosphere/Support:

As experienced before, supporters are few and far between. The volunteers at the checkpoints were so attentive and supportive and again without them this wouldn’t have been possible.

My Race:

There was pretty much no training for this one. I was counting on the fitness I’d built over the past few months and the fact that I’d continued running since RTTS.

SVP start
The start of a long day on the trails.

Once again I met a fellow runner, Andy, on the train out to the starting point. Always good to get talking, share plans and tips with a fellow runner. Andy and I set off together, both with the intention of making a certain train we’d booked back to London later that evening.

SVP dai and nick
Starting out strong with Andy.

I started out with a little niggle in my right knee felt from a run the week before. Whilst I felt comfortable starting the race, within 10 miles I could feel some discomfort as a result of the hard ground and grooves from tractor ruts (there was plenty of ankle rolling this day!). I was slowly becoming accustomed to managing the mental aspect of pains and niggles experienced during running so blocked it out of my mind, chatting away to Andy and other runners met on the day.

SVP tractor rut
One of the many fields and tractor ruts to play havoc with your ankles!

As the miles ticked by, Andy powered on (it was clear he was capable of running at a faster pace and he was focused on catching an earlier train he’d booked). I was now out on my own, head down, miles to go until the next checkpoint. This race was a real learning curve for me. There were long, lonely stretches where I went almost whole check points without seeing other runners, there were other segments where I interchanged places with others, passing each other on several occasions. It dawned on me that I entered the SVP100 with preconceptions. Incorrect expectations even. I had the mind set of “I did the RTTS in 11 and a half hours, I’ll beat that time here”. Wrong. Different race, different place. No two are the same as I was about to find out. I realised that the course was flatter (I think) than the RTTS so without noticing I’d spent more time running and less time walking and recovering. I’d exerted myself more and thus tired sooner. I also didn’t adapt as I ran. One example that came back to hurt me after the race was when I felt some discomfort in my back, something had shifted in my pack and instead of stopping and addressing it, I decided to continue to the next checkpoint to sort it out, some 7 miles later. Mistake, I was in agony for days afterwards and it was only two months later on a holiday that a friend (qualified physio) noticed the lump in my back and massaged it out!

Later in the day I met Chris shortly after the half way checkpoint. Chris had run this race several times before and we settled in together, happy to have some company on the lonely route. We ended up sticking together for the rest of the course, both tiring and relying on each other to get through what was left. Come the final check point the sun was setting and the temperature dropping. we’d slowed to a hobble and decided that we were both happy to walk the final 4 miles (it was probably faster than we were running at this point). All was good. Head torches on we entered some fields, much to our annoyance though we couldn’t get out. Somewhere we’d gone wrong! Walking several lengths of the field we soon managed to back track and get back on course, carrying along towards the river. Further on we could hear some noise up ahead and encountered some local youngsters hanging around on a bridge over the river. We had a choice, left or right (past the youths). They were encouraging us to go right but there were signs for the Stour Valley Path heading left. We didn’t trust them and followed the signs. All good. Wrong yet again! Sometime later we were shocked to see head torches coming towards us in the dark. Yes, we’d followed the path, only we’d followed it in the wrong direction. Great! Lost in the dark again. Needless to say we got some stick as we eventually passed the group on the bridge. Yep, they told us so.

Eventually we reached the finish to a great welcome from the volunteers still working through the night. A shower and some chips later it was time to hug it out with Chris and blag a life back to the station. Lessons learnt. Manage your own expectations in future! I’m sure we’d covered closer to 70 miles with all the wrong turns on the day!

svp-finish.png

The goodies:

A medal and a Tshirt, both bearing the SVP100 logo – Black Shuck, the ghostly black dog of local folklore. Excellent!

Time/Standings:

  • 13:35:17
  • 28/92

Race To The Stones

RTTS start
Gearing up to run.

Where & When:

The Chilterns & North Wessex Downs (UK), July 2017

Why I ran this course:

You know that mate, that same one who’s influenced me for the Nohtaram & Tel Aviv, yep, it was him again. Whilst I was considering attempting an ultra at some point, he suggested we try this non-stop 100km event. Once the idea was in my mind I was sold. He soon bailed on the idea and went to a James concert instead…

The Course:

It was bloody long. Starting in the Chilterns and leading through the North Wessex Downs to Avebury passing noticeable landmarks along the way including Uffington Castle, the White Horse, Barbury Castle and the Avebury Stone Circle itself. It’s hard not to enjoy yourself with such amazing views to absorb…

 

The Organisation:

Threshold Sports did a brilliant job. So much information leading up to the event, smooth organisation on the day and an abundance of well stocked and supported check points along the route.

The Atmosphere/Support:

You don’t get the same level of support on a spread-out ultra trail as you would on a city marathon and this is one of the many unknowns I had which would be answered on that day. That being sad, all the volunteers at the checkpoints were a huge help and massive support. So much energy and enthusiasm in ensuring you were rested, fed, watered, injuries seen too and stocked on food ready to continue. Each checkpoint having its own unique vibe and approach to positivity. The event would not be the same with out them. The smiles, acknowledgements and support of the walkers and hikers out on the trail were also appreciated.

My Race:

I loosely stuck to the training plan that Threshold Sports provided and slowly began getting used to running consecutive days, running when tired and exhausting the muscles. Admittedly I struggled with adapting to longer, slower runs but was able to start running with others to break up the tedium of long and lonely runs.

Being too tight to book accommodation before and after the event, I set out from home at 2am on the morning of the race, getting the London-Oxford tube at 4am. On the bus I met two other fellow runners (Will doing the 50km and Alison doing the 100km over 2 days). Come our wave, we set off together falling into a rhythm for several miles before myself and Will carried on in a larger group. Reaching the first check point (and each one there after) we were like kids in a candy shop. there was food everywhere. Everything you could ever crave. It was hard not to enjoy watching the process of litres and litres of flat coke being made by kids pouring bottles into builders buckets.

As we kept on running, getting to know one another (and the other runners around us) I soon found out Will was training for the MDS in 2018 and this would not only be his first ultra but the first time he’d even done a marathon. We stuck with each other, providing company to the half way point before we separated and I carried on for the last half (after stocking up on Pasta and the base camp!).

RTTS Will
Time to go our separate ways

I’d read so much about Ultras, what to expect etc. and decided to bring with me a change of t-shirt and socks to freshen up at some point. I stopped at the 7th Checkpoint for an extended rest with the promise of the change of clothes. My word did that work! After struggling to get out of my socks and T shirt, the feel of clean, dry and fresh smelling clothes was a welcome relief (there was some rain earlier in the day). I felt empowered to carry on.

RTTS field
The ‘Golden Field’ from earlier in the race.

Not far from the final check point my Garmin started flashing the warning of Low Battery, so I stopped the tracker there and then, only to find out I still had 11% battery remaining. Doh. Something to test out before the next long run (yep, long runs are now considered more than a marathon!)! Throughout the day I’d been informed of the final stretch of the course, Spoiler Alert – you run past the turn for the finish, carry on down the road, loop through the stones for a photo opportunity before back tracking up the road and turning into the farm land for the final stretch. Like probably every runner who has reached that point, I couldn’t give a shit about the stones at that stage but hobbled on and puffed out the chest for the photo opportunity.

RTTS stones

Crossing the line with a smile on my face, it was done, I was now an ultra runner. A very tired one. The next was to negotiate a change of shuttle bus back to Oxford, I’d booked the last bus for 2am and it was now just 8:30pm. Result! thankfully this wasn’t a challenge and, several bus rides and 24 hours after setting off, I was back home and ready for some well earned rest.

RTTS finish

The goodies:

An abundance of food along the way and a medal and some food / beer at the end. You don’t get much more than that although the free photos linked to social media was a nice touch.

Time/Standings:

  • 11:27:10 (PB)
  • 81/963