Monthly Archives: July 2013

A Blast from the Past I – The Caesar’s Camp Midnight 30 – 22nd Oct 2011

I thought it might be nice to dig through my archive of past exploits and publish them here. The first one is an article I wrote for the Trailrunner Magazine:

The Caesar’s Camp Midnight 30 – 22nd October 2011.

The Caesar’s Camp Endurance runs take place over a weekend in October each year, in the Caesar’s Camp area near Aldershot, Army land used for training but accessible to the public. There are 100 and 50 mile races, which start at midday on the Saturday, and a 30, which starts at midnight that evening. The 30 was added into the event a few years ago, because, by the middle of the night, the 50 and 100 milers are well spread out, dropped out or (in the case of the 50) finished, and the feeding station crews were getting rather bored. All distances use the same 10 mile course, which has a checkpoint at 5.5 miles. This format makes the races relatively easy to support: food and drink are provided at the start/finish and checkpoint.

However, if you think of these races as ‘soft option’ ultras, you are sadly mistaken. Three things you should know about the course:

  1. It’s tough in ways you wouldn’t imagine for Hampshire (or most other parts of the UK)
  2. See 1
  3. As 2

The coarse has a total ascent of 1500 ft, and includes two climbs strewn with flint nodules and two steep and rather technical descents. If anybody wants some super-tough OMM/fell/hill training and fancies a change from the mountains and moors of the UK (especially if you like dry feet, as the ground drains well and the Hampshire climate is relatively dry), get an OS map of the area and go exploring.

You wouldn’t think any event in the Home Counties, even an ultra, would have such a high drop-out rate, but in 2010 only 50 people, out of 85 starters, finished. And if you think you’ll find a shoulder to cry on in, forget it: to quote the race director, Henk Van der Beek, from the race website; “My unsympathetic attitude to those that whine is free on supply and finally we play lots of sad country music to make the weekend even more horrid.”

My friend, Sark (the main reason I started running seriously 5 years back, let alone doing ultras) was doing the 100, ‘unfinished business’ for him after having to drop out at 50 miles in 2010 because he was throwing up. I had originally entered the 100, but later I got my dates mixed up and organised a family break in Snowdonia that wouldn’t allow me to make the midday start, so I transferred to the 30 and planned join Sark afterwards as a support runner on his last few laps.

Anyway, back to the race.

There was a buzz around the start/finish, and a large camp fire adjacent. I enjoyed hanging before the start, chewing the fat with various supporters and my fellow 30 milers.

Only 9 of us were doing the 30, and as you would expect with such small field, the start was low key. I set off at what felt like a modest pace, although I steadily pulled away from the rest of the group for the first couple of miles. After the initial climb up onto a plateau, a bit of up and down and a superb, steep, technical descent, I joined a good track. I’d been spotting the course markers easily and following them with no problems, but it was suddenly a bit too quiet (well, dim actually, as no head torches were in site) behind me. I reached a barrier, beyond which was the public road that bounds the area, a confirmation I’d missed a turn-off. I dashed back the way I’d come, then veered off towards some runners, hopeful that they were going ‘my way’. The course crosses over itself in places, although it would be easy to accidentally cross between some sections even if it didn’t. To mitigate this, as well as arrows, glow sticks are used to mark the course: green for the ‘outward’ leg to the checkpoint, and red for the ‘return’. Seeing the red glow sticks, I realised these runners were on the ‘wrong’ leg (unless I wanted to be credited with a highly suspicious 25 minute split for my first lap!) After a little more meandering, I got back en route, now no longer leading.

The rest of the lap was fairly uneventful: despite the 15 minutes or so wasted, I’d managed it in c2 hours, and had already gained a couple of places back.

I charged into Lap 2 full of optimism that I would easily better Lap 1, and caught up with Sark not long after passing through the start/finish. We ran together and chatted for a couple of minutes. He was only suffering in the ‘normal’ way for an ultra, with no sickness, and so was in good spirits.

The first few miles of lap 2 went well, but things were about to get interesting. I approached one of the cattle grids on the course, on the boundary of an area of forest leading to the far checkpoint. I had slowed to cross them previously, as they looked to have very large gaps. I approached this crossing as slowly as before, but didn’t place my right foot as carefully as I should, and it slipped and twisted in between the deep, rectangular cross-section bars, battering my shin and ankle and leaving me on one foot in the pit underneath. I jumped out almost as quickly as I’d fallen in, in a state of panic, as it’s easy to imagine snapping a shin in a situation like that. My thigh and calf cramped, as they had tensed in reaction to the accident: the calf was particularly painful. As is often the case in these situations, I was mad at myself for having been so careless. Once the cramps had died down, I just felt a bit beaten up, and was back into a proper run within five minutes. I felt like I’d been lucky and got off lightly.

However, my ‘proper’ pace didn’t last long: I had two days’ holiday eating and lack of routine from the Snowdonia break coming back to bite me. Not long after my mishap, my gut became tense and tender, and was quite painful at times. I had to slow up when it got really bad, and this, together with my accident and a couple more minor wrong turns, led to another c2 hour lap.

Henk used a generator to power the big lights at the start/finish, with the added bonus of having a beefy sound system on the same supply. Despite his threats, the music was actually pretty good, an eclectic mix of ‘classic’ stuff and the more esoteric (including some country). Black Sabbath’s Paranoid was blasting out as I finished Lap 2, and I managed some nostalgic head banging as I headed through, which must have looked more amusing with a head torch.

At the start of Lap 3 I was no longer thinking of catching any more 30 milers, just finishing in reasonable style. My energy levels had been good throughout the race, but I was feeling the strain of the climbs, and the discomfort and occasional intense pain in my gut was slowing me down. My concentration was definitely more ‘off’ on the last lap: I took a couple more wrong turns in places I had previously sailed through.

I allowed myself the luxury of a little sit-down at the far checkpoint, enjoying a bit more of a break than the previous very quick stop-offs. With a lightness of heart (but not gut), I trotted off into the final section, eager to nail it and finish. Progress felt smooth until the wooded section near the finish, which seemed to take an eternity. Why did it seem to take so long, when it had felt quite quick on the first two laps? The answer, of course, is that I wasn’t giving it much thought then.

My final lap took about 2:30, which wasn’t a disappointment considering the problems I’d had (my gut was still sore). My finish time was 6:32:51. I got a bottle of beer as 3rd male (5th overall), and felt a bit cheeky taking a prize when I was one of only a handful doing that distance!

I looked at Sark’s previous lap times and estimated his arrival at about 09:00. I realised that continuing at this pace would leave him no margin for the 30 hour cut-off, so I was pleased when he rolled in at 08:15. I’d been lolling about in a sleeping bag for a while by then, and made to get out of it to join him (I was still in my running gear, sans shoes), but the pain in my gut as I bent to get up forced a quick re-think. He was still bearing up quite well, so I had no fear of him not finishing, barring mishaps. I promised I’d try to get mobile for his final lap and waved him off.

I lay about for a couple more hours, enjoying the company of those around the camp fire, and didn’t feel in a particular rush to get up and about. When I finally got my right leg out of my sleeping bag I was shocked to see a deep, gaping cut. I’d been in the sleeping bag since before dawn, and hadn’t bothered to examine what I thought was a graze from the cattle grid: I was still bleeding into my sock although the wound was 7-8 hours old. A helpful first-aider gave it a clean and dressed it. It was obvious I would have to get it to an A&E and an offer was made to drive me to the nearest one. As it was, however, I felt perfectly able to drive (I ran about 17 miles on it) and wanted to see Sark come in on his next lap, which he did at about 11:15

Later that morning, I spent a pleasant enough hour or so watching Every Which Way but Loose on the Frimley Park A&E waiting area telly and left with 3 steri-strips across my cut to show for my escapade. Sark went on to finish his 100 in 29:26:20: no mean feat considering the drop-out rate.

My Shin Gash

My Shin Gash


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The Fell (off the) Side Race

I’ve had a few days in the Lakes, so I thought I’d do a series of posts on what I got up to.

First, a little aside.

If you read my posts from way back, you’ll know I’m a ‘minimalist runner’. That means I wear very little ‘shoe’ under my foot when I run: recently I’ve gone over to completely ‘zero drop’ shoes, meaning they don’t raise your heel at all relative to your forefoot. This type of shoe tends to have very little or no cushioning too: all of mine have either a very thin midsole and no insole or no midsole, but an insole. Still awake? Good. Anyway, I bought a pair of Inov8 Bare Grip 200 a few months back, a shoe with an aggressive tread for more extreme off-road running.

Inov8 Bare Grip 200

On the one hand they feel great, giving loads of feedback on the trail underfoot (hardly surprising, as they have no midsole) and feeling very agile. On the other hand, they’re not as grippy as I’d imagined they would be and your heels get a battering on steep, rocky descents, which force you to land on your heels sometimes.

The other shoe I’d considered was the Inov8 Mudclaw 265, a shoe with a thin midsole and a 3mm heel-toe drop.

Inov8 Mudclaw 265

I’d decided that the Bare Grips were only going to serve me well on shorter or grassier runs and that I ‘needed’ a pair of 265s too, so the first thing I did when I got myself over to the Lakes on Tuesday, 23rd July was visit Pete Bland Sports, in Kendal to buy a pair! I’ll post a review on here soon.

After Kendal, it was straight up to the appropriately named Fell Side, on the northern border of the national park, for the Fell Side Fell Race! There had been some hefty showers during the day and my hopes that things would improve by the time of the race start (19:15) were not met! Even the decision to walk less than 100m from my car over to the ‘HQ’ tent to register without my waterproof proved to be stupid, as I had to wait a few minutes for the torrential rain to ease off before venturing back to the car to change.

As I stood at the start, I could see that the modest (c650m) hills we were to race over were shrouded in murky cloud. I admired the lady who briefed us, as she made sure we were actually listening in a no nonsense way. She told us that they had carried out a kit check on 5 runners and hoped we were all sensible enough to have the ‘regulation’ fell kit on us (full body cover, map, compass, whistle): my lightweight waterproofs and other essentials were stowed in my bum bag, and jolly glad I was of that.

The race itself was a mixed bag for me. I set off fast, but was soon dropped by the lead group. As the field thinned, I was left on my own and unsure I was going in completely the right direction in the cloud. I heard a fellow runner behind me and slowed to let him catch up. However, we were both newbies to that area and race, and each hoped the other could set him straight! We knew that we were probably west of the proper route (the highest parts of the very rounded ridges) and corrected, having to climb about 60m because we missed the high point of a col, but finding the first checkpoint without overshooting.

I left this runner behind, but soon repeated my westward drift and found more runners in the same boat as me, once again correcting and finding checkpoint 2. Yet again I went too far west, this time ending up with some awkward traversing across a rough hillside. We only had 1 more checkpoint to do, and we passed a hut we knew was en route: a most welcome site. At about this time the cloud lifted enough for us to stay on course and the last checkpoint was despatched, leaving a lovely run in to the finish, down a long, not-too-steep hillside. My new Garmin later showed me I’d run a 6.5 minute mile during this part of the race, which is a really good pace over rough grass.

Have a look at the results if you want: 35th out of 48 is probably my lowest proportionate placing of any race, but getting lost will do that for you.

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Tebay or Not Tebay

Ages ago I bought a small map from Pete Bland Sports with the route of the Tebay Fell Race on it. Tebay village is just off the M6 J38, and doing a run from there looks very convenient as a ‘stop off’ activity en route north or south.

I set off from my home near Perth to visit family in Yorkshire yesterday with a plan to do a run round the race route on the way. As is usual for me, I didn’t leave home anything like as early as I’d planned, and so I finally set off from Tebay onto the hills to the south of the village at about 14:20.

The route was surprisingly hard to navigate in places, and often slow going on very rough grass with some (mostly dried out) tussocky bogs. Even in the breeze my hands felt like radiators as my body pumped them full of blood to lose as much heat as possible. In the more sheltered places I really cooked.

The best part of the run was the path over Black Force, although I managed to ignore the instruction on the map to find the topmost path and ended up on very loose, steep ground before I slogged up to the correct path.

The route has a real sting in its tail, where it drops to the same level as the start, at the confluence of Carlinggill Beck and Weasel Gill, followed by a steep ‘hands on thighs’ climb up to Blease Fell. I got to the low point, but couldn’t face the steep climb, especially as the bracken is now very well established on those slopes. The race takes place in mid June, when the bracken is probably still just coming through and much less of a hindrance. Instead, I followed the western branch of Weasel Gill, which allowed me to indulge in some scrappy Gill scrambling and plunge my feet in the pools to try and control the overheating. By this time my Camelbak was almost empty too, and I took several deep drinks on the way up, keeping the dehydration at bay.

Because I didn’t get to the summit of Blease fell, I ended up heading back to the start over Hare Shaw and Knott, not Powson Knott as the race route goes, but they’re roughly equidistant, so that wasn’t too bad. It was a relief get back to the car, where more water, banana milkshake and peanut butter sandwiches were waiting.

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Get with the Program

Having resisted the 21st century (or at least stayed in the noughties) in my running habits, I have at last entered the brave new world of GPS assisted running. I bought myself a bottom-of-the-range Garmin Forerunner 10. So no navigational capability and no heart-rate monitor, but I know exactly how far I’ve been and my speed, and it pauses automatically when I stop to tie my lace or whatever, then restarts when I get going: no more pausing my timer to stop the idle time messing up my overall time, forgetting to restart, then guessing how long the rest of the run took me!

You can see the run I did tonight if you really want to.

How very modern I am. Seriously though, it’s a huge timesaver if I want to log my running properly, which I did for the last 5×50 Challenge, and a right pain it was too: measuring what I’d ran could take nearly as long as the run itself if it was a ‘quickie’.

Note: if you do click on the Garmin link above, and wonder why it’s called the Football Field Fartlek, it’s because the loop at the end goes round a playing field with a football pitch on it.

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Up to Speed

Until the last month or so, I’ve had one of the least active periods of my life since I started running seriously in 2006. I had my first ‘proper’ injury in the new year (tendonitis on the top of my left foot), then life got a bit too complicated (I’d moved up to Perth, Scotland in December for work) and the running took a back seat. Whilst my injury still had a firm hold, I hatched a plan for a big project: check out my post on Twitter. It’s sometimes good to bite off more than you can chew, but my plan to run all 116 miles of the Fife Coastal Path in less than 24 hours on the ‘longest day’ was definitely a step too far with the other pressures in my life, and I shamefacedly dropped the plan in June. I will resurrect this plan, though. I managed 100 miles last summer, on a hillier route, so it should be within my capabilities.

I’m now firmly established in Perth, doing the new job, life has eased up on me, and I’ve re-discovered the joy of running, especially racing. I’m still dead keen to get a 3:15 marathon under my belt; to take the struggle out of getting into a future London Marathon as much as anything.

As I said, I’ve rediscovered the joy of racing: from 22nd June to 6th July I raced 5 times! They were 2 short and 2 medium hill races, plus a flat road 5 miler for good measure. This renewed enthusiasm led me to cast about for a marathon to run at the end of the summer, to see if I could put this 3:15 thing to bed. The Moray Marathon looked good, but it’s on 1st September, a little too soon to train properly for. The Loch Ness Marathon is on at a much better time, 29th September, but it’s £46 to enter and very hilly for a road marathon. Then I found the Newcastle Town Moor Marathon on 27th October. It only costs £17, is near my family, and would give me plenty of time to train. It’s a very small event (you could guess that from the website), on a lap course on the Town Moor. And it gives me LOADS of time to train.

And training I am doing; combining hill running, a bit of speed work, and some slow stuff. I just need to mix in plenty of long, slow runs to get my stamina up to scratch. To help with that, I’ve just found out I’ve got a place in the Glenmore 12 hour Trail Race (I was on the reserve list), little brother to the 24 hour race. Getting in training for that should be a real boon to my endurance for the marathon.

I’ve been really enjoying the mountain and hill running since I moved up here. Another endurance event I’ve entered is the Glenshee 9. That’s 21 miles, 6000 feet of climb and 9 Munros. That’ll really punish those legs! Again, training for that will build my endurance, and on that note, I’ll leave you with a few pictures I took when I had a big run/walk this Friday and Saturday, over the hills between Blair Atholl and the Linn of Dee, spending the night in the ‘Tarf Hotel’ bothy and taking in 3 Munros

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