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It’s a Crazy Plan…

but it might work. Well, I know that the events I was going to do anyway over the summer won’t stop me getting round another marathon in September, but beyond that they’ll be great endurance training, as they’re mostly long or very long (ultras).

So, in the summer, I shall mostly be doing:

  • 11-12th May – The Ridgeway 40. Or Ridgeway 80 if you’re me.
    This is a walking event (that takes runners), 40 miles from the start/end of The Ridgeway National Trail at Overton Hill to Streatley on Thames Youth Hostel.
    The proper event starts on the morning of 12th, but for the last 2 years I have set off from the finish at around 10pm the night before and ran though the night to the start. Setting off on a long journey on foot overnight feels very intrepid and it has been quite a special experience the 2 times I have done it. It has also earned me ‘celebrity’ status, including royal treatment at the mile 29 ‘tea & cakes’ checkpoint.
  • 9th June – Welsh 1000m Peaks Race.
    Approximately 20 miles and 8000m ascent, covering all the 1000 metre summits in Snowdonia. A classic in the fell racing calendar.
  • 30th June -1st July – South Downs Way 100.
    Miles that is. I’ve run 100 miles once before, and it was the toughest thing I’ve done: I’m hoping this one will be more straightforward. I ran the 95-mile West Highland Way Race 3 weeks after my last 100, and it wasn’t too bad, so it’s not a far-fetched hope.
  •  29th July – Seaview 17.
    A lovely, scenic run along the South West  Coast Path from Countisbury to Minehead. Roughly 20 miles (the 17 is alliterative and possibly refers to the ‘as the crow flies’ distance), with plenty of climbing, especially the monster up to Selworthy Beacon.
  • 4th August – Creag Dhubh Hill Race.
    A possibility for my first few days of my main summer holiday in Scotland. 4.3 miles, 1319ft of climb – fell races are very accurately measured! It’s part of the Newtonmore Highland Games, which sounds fun.
  • 5th August – Glenshee 9 Hill Race.
    Another classic: 21 miles and 6000ft, covering 9 Munros. I really want to do this one, but will need to do the Welsh 1000s to qualify! After all, the race the day before is a bit short.
  • 19th August – Lomonds of Fife Hill Race.
    Another holiday possibility. 10.1 miles, 2493ft.

I probably won’t be able to fit any other races in before the Kent coastal Marathon on 2nd September. I’ll need to mix in a bunch a speed training with that to get my sub 3:15.

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Big blow-out before the taper, part 2

After yesterday’s toughie, Llanbedr to Blaenafon, I was a tad nervous at the prospect of the Combe Gibbet today! However, after yesterday’s grey skies, yet more glorious sunshine, combined with a cooling breeze, was most welcome.

I love ‘point to point’ races, so 2 in the same weekend has to be a good thing. Routes that follow ‘geography’, such as coastlines or, in this case, ridges, are even better, so I knew I was in for an aesthetic treat today, if I could focus on anything other than my tired legs.

I turned up at the HQ/Finish at Overton Primary School, just in time to catch the coach to the start, at Combe Gibbet, a hill top that is pretty bleak when the sun’s not shining. My legs felt surprisingly normal after yesterday’s rigours, so I felt fairly comfortable when we set off. I started near the back of the pack because I realised that my shoes needed tightening – I’d driven over to Overton in them and ‘racing tightness’ shoes make my feet fall asleep if I’m not running in them – just before the race director said, “Go!” I’d planned on a gentle start, just easing into things, so that was fine, but there were plenty of slow runners to work past anyway.

The scenery was magnificent, with views far and wide and, with my ‘normal’ legs, I was enjoying myself. When we got to the 5 mile marker (there were only markers at 5 and 10), I realised I was running about 8 minutes a mile, and thought, “Fine, that’ll do after yesterday”. However, despite keeping a fairly level head, I built up speed, really feeling the flow of the run and being spurred on by each ‘next runner’ ahead to catch.

The race has one ‘big’ climb, a fairly long grind back onto the high ground after the A34 is crossed (foot tunnel) at about half way, although of coarse it’s nothing compared to The Blorenge! I dropped several more runners on my way up, enjoying the easy gradient after yesterday!

By the time I was on the high ground again, I felt like I was really flying, loving the feeling of strength and stamina my training has given me. It’s one of the most joyous running experiences I’ve ever had, real bliss. A consistent 8 minute mile run would have given me a 2:08 finish, but the 10 mile marker made me realise I could beat that by a few minutes.

The icing on the cake was that I didn’t fade at all: negative splits aren’t recommended for nothing. Malcolm Green, Winchester & District AC, clung to my heels for the last three miles. I’d tried dropping him on the small climbs, but we were so well matched, that wasn’t going to work. My suspicions that Malcolm is a good sprint finisher were confirmed when he shot past me as we got into the last 200 meters, but I didn’t resent this in the least because there’s no way I’d have gone sub 2 hours if he’d not been right behind me: I finished in 1:59:47, 27th out of 141. I’d upped my pace by a whole minute in the second half (average 7:29). Result!

So here I am, on a bit of a high. Yay!

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Big blow-out before the taper, part 1

Three weeks to go before the big one now, so training wisdom dictates that it’s the start of my taper. I wanted some tough, back-to-back stuff to taper down from, so today’s part 1 of that was the Llanbedr to Blaenafon.

The description from the race blog gives you an idea of what’s coming –

Start from Llanbedr Village, up over Crug Mawr, then climb up the back of the Sugar Loaf, down into Abergavenny, out to Llanfoist and then up and over the KILLER – The Blorenge. Finish in Blaenafon

It’s a category AL fell race, A is the hardest category (there are also B and C), L is ‘Long’ (there are also M and S!) It is 15 miles and has 4500 ft of climb. AL indeed.

The weather was dull and cool and the cloud was on the summit of Sugar Loaf.

I had a fantastic race. I ran most of the climb up Crug Mawr and all of Sugar Loaf. I also enjoyed the feeling of ‘flow’ on the easier sections; a real pay-off from my training.

The Blorenge really was the killer, though. The climb onto it was a big wall; long and very steep. I ran up a good way before my will broke and I walked. Blaenafon is a lot higher than Llanfoist, so the descent off the back to the finish wasn’t very steep, although it was rather rough in its upper reaches.

Me at the top of The Blorenge - check out the slope below me, which I came straight up!

I almost caught a fellow runner on the home straight, sprinting furiously for the line, but he put on a good turn of speed and came through about 1 metre ahead of me. I came 30th out of 89, in 2:50:49. For comparison, Steven Cole won in 2:04:39. About 1/3 of the way down the field is ‘right’ for me in a fell race.

I enjoyed some excellent hospitality at the Blaenafon Rugby Club after the race, crowning a glorious afternoon.

Tomorrow comes part 2, the Combe Gibbet! I’ll report back on that when it’s over: I can tell you now the first few miles will be tough, but I hope my legs will resign themselves to what’s being asked of them and I’ll loosen up after that :mrgreen:

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Heaven & hell on the Hastings Half

Well, not much hell actually.

I waved goodbye to Saul and Rachel this morning at 8.45, which of course felt like 7.45 because of the clock change. I’d done nothing more strenuous than travel the length of the Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Railway and eat fish & chips with them, which was lovely.

It was a little hectic getting to the Hastings Half Marathon parking and rushing about to find the registration desk to pick up my number, but, as is usually the case, I had some time to spare before the start to chat to other runners. I once turned up 25 minutes late to a small trail race, the Seaview 17, to find the race organisers had already gone and I was running on my own to catch the back markers, which I eventually did over 12 miles into the race, having drunk from streams to stay hydrated on a hot day! I wouldn’t recommend that.

It was sunny, but there was also a keen, cool breeze blowing, so I opted to wear my ‘tribal art sleeves’ top under my Chippenham Harriers vest. Strictly speaking any runner entered in a race as a club runner should wear their club’s ‘colours’, so even though the vest was only really holding my number, on it went.

The start was a bit slow and crowded, as they often are in races of any size, but that’s what I expected, so I was happy to warm up at a stop-start pace until the field thinned. Like many bigger races, this one had signs in the start area to indicate where runners should place themselves based on their expected finish time, but for some reason, many runners ignore these, so you have a lot of overtaking to do in the first mile or so.

The Hastings Half rolls a bit in the first 3 miles, with a couple of short, sharp climbs, then has a long steady climb for about the next 2. After that, it rolls a bit more, with a couple more short, sharp climbs and some quite big descents. The last 2.5 miles go along the Hastings sea front, back to St Leonards where the start/finish is.

I stuck with an official 90 minute ‘pacer’, who, like the last one I ran with at the Swindon HM, seemed to overcook it a bit in the first half, especially considering the big climb. After the big climb, his entourage pulled away from me by 100m or so, but he still seemed to be running over the pace, so I didn’t worry.

I kept up my pace pretty evenly and enjoyed the sunshine. On the last section, along the sea front, I faded a little, but I caught and passed the pacer, who didn’t want to drag his group along too quickly and probably lose some! I reckon I lost a minute in those last 2 miles, but I didn’t care because it was obvious to me I was going to beat my previous HM PB (1:29:46 from the Forest of Dean in 2010), and, as I was only using the event to judge my pace and and test my shoes, I felt I could relax a bit near the end!

My ‘chip’ time was 1:28:47 and I placed 129th! Last October, when I ran Swindon, I couldn’t stick with the over-fast pacer and eventually finished in 1:33:22. If I can gain four and a half minutes, on a tougher course, 5 months later, my training is definitely paying off and I’m chuffed!

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Terminator Video

The race I did at the end of February, that is, not the killer robot from the future.

Track, Field & Road did a video feature of The Terminator on their website. The bog sequence is fun. I am very proud of my bog crossing: I don’t quite know how I managed it, I must have trod on the back of an unconscious runner. I cross the stream at about 10:15, just after the commentator says, “That’s a great one in the middle there,” make to go over the crossing on my right, then dither and decide to pass on my left instead. I must have been very lucky :mrgreen:

See – http://www.trackfieldandroad.tv/?v=bGQN3q9dOg0t4a6MDdEgjg==

Call me Legolas 😆

Check out the last person out of the bog, shot closer up: he has quite a time of it.

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Oh Yay, Oh Yay!


Seaton’s town crier, David Craner delivered one of the better race briefings at the start of The Grizzly today, and started the race by ringing his bell.

The Grizzly is probably the most popular trail race in the UK. The combined entry for The Grizzly and its little brother, The Cub is around 2000, and when entries opened last September, it filled in a day! It always used to take about a week to fill, but this year was its 25th anniversary, which may account for the super fast sell-out.

It is approximately 20 miles, but is unusual because the course is never the same year 0n year, although many features crop up again and again. Its main ‘selling points’ are steep climbs, bogs, streams and shingle beaches to run up, through and over. However, these factors by themselves do not fully account for its popularity; the big plus point that brings people back is that the whole of Seaton gets behind the race. There are various Grizfest events going on over the race weekend, parking charges are suspended for the day and the whole town buzzes with excitement when The grizzly is under way.

I travelled down early this morning with 2 friends, Kevin and Ian (a regular running partner-in-crime). It really was a lovely morning to be doing such an arduous, pointless thing.

Once the town crier had done his stuff, way were off through the streets, a boatyard, and onto our first section of shingle beach, right along Seaton’s sea-front. Stiff climbs, beautiful cliff tops, mostly on very good going, one cold, fairly deep stream crossing and sections of minor roads made for a fast first half. I assumed that the second half would be tougher, and I was right!

The first (and biggest) bog came fairly late by the standards of my previous Grizzlies, early into the second half, but it was a doozy. We were funnelled through the worst bit at the start of it so the race photographer could get entertaining pictures of us struggling. It was perfectly possible to get stuck, and one person near me had to be pulled out by marshals. The organisers were very kind however: this year, the next section of stream came just after the bog, not before as it had in previous years, so at least you could wash your shoes off.

Much of the part of the race is a blur in my memory of arduous climbs, hammering descents and a few level sections, all in the company of some excellent fellow runners, who were always good for a chat and a laugh. I was pleased that I didn’t have to walk any of the climbs until after the second, relatively modest bog. As well as this bog, many of the familiar Grizzly features were covered in reverse this year

The last monster climb was over Beer Head. I ran the lower section, walked the steeper grass above that, then pretty much staggered up the steps where it joined the infamous Stairway to Heaven near the top. Then it was ‘just’ a case of keeping some sort of pace through to the end (I was flagging by then). I passed the 20 mile marker a few seconds after my watch said I’m been going for 3 hours, which is the approximate pace I’d been hoping for. The finish was another few hundred meters beyond and I completed the race in about 3:03. 3 hours all in would have been nice, but hey, who’s complaining.

I noticed after the race that I got my first sunburn of the year too!

The training is paying off, and The Grizzly was a good test of this. Another indication is that I didn’t hurt as much have done in previous years.

Oh yay, oh yay, what a day!

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Hasta la Vista, Baby

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I had a superb time on The Terminator, today. It’s an 11.5 trail race based in Pewsey, Wiltshire. I said in my previous post, “That’ll Teach Me!”:

I had a poor Dursley Dozen last year and went on to run a really good Terminator (start/finish in Pewsey). I’m doing the Terminator again this year, so maybe it’ll work out well for me once more.

That hope turned out to be well founded.

Conditions were as good as they could be. The weather was glorious: sunny, almost still and quite mild. The course was very dry for February.

The race Starts and finishes at Pewsey Vale School. The first mile is a nice warm-up, through some streets to the edge of Pewsey.

The next few miles cross rolling farmland, again without serious climbs. Although this is a good way to get into your groove, this section rudely messes with your mojo when you get to the first stream crossing: there is no question of picking your way across, you’re up past your ankles in muddy water. Immediately after this comes a bog of the ‘shoe swallowing’ kind! I’ve done enough of this sort of thing to be able to find my way across most bogs by the line of least resistance (the middle line of this one is a kind of Bermuda Triangle, not recommended). I don’t understand why anyone should lose a shoe in a bog, actually: fasten it onto your foot properly!

The race changes character quickly after the rolling section: you get onto a well established path, running up a steady climb, then turn a corner and you’re on the first of four steep climbs. This part of the race takes you up and down the edge of the escarpment of the downs overlooking Pewsey from the south. It includes some fairly technical descents, which are fun if your core muscles still have enough resilience in them. There are sections of rough, rabbit hole-strewn downland and easier tracks in between the ascents and descents.

The approach to the final steep climb is particularly challenging, crossing along the lower part of a steep scarp slope, with no ‘good’ line and various hawthorns to snag you if you’re not paying attention. After this you stagger up the last steep slope, run around the Pewsey White Horse, then go straight back down the only seriously steep descent of the race, which is mercifully short, saving your core muscles too much grief.

Getting to the finish is then only a case of a mile or so of level straight, starting off as a dirt road that turns into a minor road at the edge of town, another stream crossing (again, wet feet guaranteed), a path between a housing estate and fields and a dash through the school sports fields to the finish.

My time was 1:35:19, and I was 59th out of around 600. Somewhere around the top 10% is good for me. More importantly, I passed more people than passed me, meaning my pacing was good (not getting off too fast) and I felt strong at the end.

It feels like I’m reaping the benefits from my training. The long and fartlek runs are improving my stamina and speed. The regular core strength exercises helped me keep it together on the descents (as the name would suggest, your core anchors your legs and keeps you stable), and have brought a really welcome benefit: this was the first hilly race for ages where I’ve not had cramps in my right-hand gluteus medius muscles afterwards. This has been a big issue for me, I think mostly caused by spending hours sat in my van, and exacerbated by my lop sided body (my hips sit well off the horizontal when I stand, because my right leg is longer than my left). Cramp-resistance and more consistent descending were my aims for the strength training, so that’s very pleasing.

This good result has given me greater confidence in my ability to achieve my aims for London.

My next race, on 11th March, is The Grizzly, a real biggie.http://www.justgiving.com/excellentlondonmarathon/
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