4 Hallowen hills, 20 miles & 2,200 feet of elevation with great company

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Today’s run was all about hill strength so I mapped out a 10 mile loop that could be run once or twice, as I intended. Howard “haircut” Stinton was fresh from his recent Beachy Head marathon and Mark “Ironman” Greenfield had accumulated 47 miles in the last week already, so they would be with me and Paul Coates initially, then Paul and I would press on for the full 20 miles and 2,200 feet of elevation.

As we left the Meon Hall, Meonstock, at 7.30am it was a dull overcast morning with the promise of rising temperatures to come. To begin with there was the usual banter between everyone as we all caught up with what we’d been doing recently and the fact that Mark turns 50 soon so he would join me and Paul as “Saga” runners. Our route joined the Old railway line via a flooded road so it was wet shoes after less than a mile and soon we were at the South Downs Way (SDW) sign for Exton, following a narrow path where we encountered our first mud of the day.

Running through sleepy Exton we started out across the fields along a track made by ramblers, runners and mountain bikers which meant climbing a number of styles as well as electric fences. The springy grass soon began to climb and any conversations were ended with oxygen being saved for the hill, something that couldn’t be said for Mark’s “gas” !! The elevation soon ramped up and the long gradual climb meant a short stride as we spotted the “Beacon” in the distance. The Beacon is actually a fairly new addition, made for the millennium celebrations, and there is a further half a mile of SDW track before we reached the trig point. Howard and Mark were making good progress, Paul was consistent and I was saving some for later 🙂 The tough climb was followed by a “steady” descent due to the hills camber, the damp grass and the steep drop. Frankly I was quite relieved to get to the bottom without any “issues” !!

After retracing our run back to the railway line we approached the lower slopes of Old Winchester Hill with its mud that’s been churned up by the rain and MTB riders, so it needed some balanced “4 wheel drive type” running. As we ran around the base of the main hill the steepest climb of the day awaited us. I was thankful to reach the top and all four of us agreed our legs were being tested. A quick selfie later (Paul is the George Clooney look alike) and we were off admiring the countryside views on route to this hills trig point. The descent also had tree roots as an added challenge to go with the mud.

awin We were at about 7 miles here.bhwh1

We arrived back at the car park to see “Second Wind Running’s” Phil Hoy in a skeleton outfit and a number of Denmead Striders, who Phil and Teresa were taking on a recce for our upcoming race. Mark and Howard said they’d enjoyed the route, I refuelled and managed to stop Paul talking long enough for us to get back running 🙂

It’s funny how even a relatively short stop can make your legs feel stiffer so we agreed we’d concentrate our efforts on the two remaining hills and take the rest steadier. Beacon Hill was again a challenge with more cows to negotiate and the legs were definitely starting to protest. The track is quite narrow and the clumpy soft grass adds to the climb. Trig point reached that just left one more hill. The weather was starting to clear now and we both marvelled how great it was to be out in the country for most of the morning.

The final climb up Old Winchester hill was a lot harder than the first time but we stuck at it with a mixture of determination and humour. When mile 17 came up it was all downhill and flat from then on so we really could take in the views that stretch for miles, the sun that had come out and the fact that we had largely achieved what we came out for. We directed a young lady that was running to the Shoe pub in Exton and had a chat with a bloke on a “Fat Bike” that had the biggest push bike tyres I’ve ever seen and we were back to the car. Twenty scenic, hard but hugely enjoyable Meon Valley miles for Paul and me. Cheers to Paul, as ever, for lightening the mood, and to Mark and Howard for an entertaining first half of the run as well. Great runners, great lads.

12 miles & 8 hills but more importantly “I listened to my Legs”

It’s a busy weekend for me so I will have to keep this relatively short. I didn’t know when I was going to run today so when a few hours were on the cards at 12.30 I jumped at the chance. My plan was 1 & 3/4 miles to the bottom of Titchfield Hill and then as many hills as I could fit in. The hill can be used as a roller coasted as it climbs up half a mile either side of the lowest point where the village is. Both of the half mile climbs have a 100 feet elevation and a grass verge next to the tarmac pavement to save on pounding your knees downhill and making a springy more challenging uphill experience 🙂

I’d only just started the first hill when two cars worth of encouragement came from Claire Jeffrey and another well wisher, who knew my name, but I couldn’t make out them (sorry). The trees that line the hill are fast loosing their leaves now but the sight of orange leaves on particular trees was quite a sight. My breathing was good and my legs were working well so a target of 10,12 even 14 hills looked achievable. Having watched the SAS program with their ascent of Pen y Fan I was inspired to push myself today.

Hills 2 to 6 passed without any hitch and the forecast rain seemed a long way off. Nikki Yeo shouted out of her car as I dropped down towards Titchfield Mill (a converted pub) and all was building well, until, a “tweek” on hill 7 and a growing realisation on hill 8 that my hamstring was getting tighter. Why ? Hmmm … maybe I didn’t warm up enough, should I have included some recovery flat sections between the descents & ascents ? All of which was academic, a decision needed making and I called it, at the top of hill 8 I carried onwards back home.

Lessons Learnt :-

  • Even with taking it easier at the end, a 2 hour run is still a 2 hour run
  • 8 hills and 800 feet of elevation are in the training bank
  • I know in my head I had plenty more to give so “mentally” it was a success
  • Warm up more !!
  • I did the right thing, no regrets, just add some extra miles onto another run
  • And finally, Listen to your Legs ……. “If you listen to them when they whisper to you, you won’t have to hear them scream late on” 🙂

17 Miles & 5 Hills. With each hill, “Only a click away” !!

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I thought I’d try something different this week and use Google Maps “Street view” for the 5 hills. Once clicked you just close the photos “hide imagery” and click to navigate up/down or 360 degrees.

No. 1 Paradise Lane fence & Portsdown Hill No. 2 Southwick to Portsdown Hill No. 3 QA Hill No. 4 Crooked Lane Walk No. 5 Portchester Lane

With the Meon Valley marathon only 5 weeks off todays 1,436 feet of elevation did include more roads/lanes than normal but it served it’s purpose. I was on my own this week but when you are out in the country there is always something to look at. The early morning chill soon wore off and in no time I was heading out across the fields from Paradise Lane towards the footpath sign and up Portsdown Hill (No. 1) The climb rises to the high point of Fort Nelson and the monument to his name. History and a panoramic view of Portsmouth after only 2 miles !!

Next it was across the surprisingly dry fields and down Crooked Walk lane to Southwick roundabout. The early morning birds were in full voice, probably due to the sound of gunshot, shooting season must have begun !! I started the long gradual climb up from Southwick (No. 2) it’s about 1 & 3/4 miles and has a grassy verge so even though you are near the road it’s strength building springy grass almost all the way up. Running across the top of Portsdown Hill is a narrow track that’s parallel to the road and has both views for miles as well as quite a few squirrels !!

Dropping down towards Cosham from the George Inn gives you a good idea of the prospect that awaits running back up past QA hospital (No. 3) I was half way up this hill when I looked at my garmin for the first time, 8.5 miles and 1 hour 20. The fact that 80 minutes had passed before I even thought about pace showed how much I was enjoying it. Topping up my water bottle at the burger van was an added bonus and the long downhill towards Southwick meant an easy 1 & 3/4 miles.

Isaac Newton once said whatever goes down must go up (or was it the other way around !!) he was right, Crooked Walk lane (No. 4) was quite a challenge. Cresting at the top of this one was, you guessed it, (No. 5) Portchester Lane, the steepest of the five. It’s a winding lane that kicks up sharply at half way , by now this was a test and slow but steady progress was made. No walking … no surrender !! The fields don’t have any crops in at the moment so I used the edge of the fields whenever possible, instead of the road.

Returning to Nelson’s monument was a welcome sight and dropping down into town with all the hard work behind me meant I allowed myself a nod of  satisfaction. I’d set myself a target and achieving it, in beautiful surroundings, what more can you ask for 🙂 The map was 15 miles but if you add running from home and back that made 17. In summary, two hours and forty-three minutes without a thought in my mind …. apart from how lucky I am, to be able to do it.

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My first Head Torch run – “All senses required” !!

After I posted my recent Whiteley woods blog I received a text from fellow Fareham Crusader, Mark Greenfield. The text simply said “that route has head torch written all over it”.  So as we drew up and parked at around 6.30pm, with the light fading towards dusk the prospect of my first head torch run “loomed” in front of me ….. #excited.

The daylight was fast disappearing and it was too early for the moon to help so our torches lit the trail ahead. Running in the dark affects your senses in a number of different ways, firstly there’s the “balance” issue you have to get used to. Knowing where to focus the beam of your head torch, so you are confident of where you’re running, needs to be weighed up with the sense of what your feet are doing underneath you. However, concentrating on your feet “too much” leaves you open to a slap in in the face from a branch !! Yet, as long as you run with your normal rhythm it all falls into place.

The first mile was straight forward but I got too adventurous and headed down a narrow twisting track that looked fine in the daylight but got confusing in the dark. After 5 or 10 minutes of going round in circles we reappeared on the original trail. Luckily, Mark saw this as part of the entertainment and we said no more !! What I also realised is that under pressure I’m not very good with my “rights and lefts” …. something to work on 🙂

It’s also surprising how different sounds take on a new twist when you are surrounded by the dark. The crunching sound of our feet on the gravel seemed louder than normal but perhaps that was due to everything else being still and silent. The hoot of an owl could be heard through the trees but other than that it was just me and Mark shouting “tree root” or “mud” as warnings. One other sound that could be clearly heard was me swearing as we approached a fallen tree that blocked our path and meant we had to re jig our route but that’s all part of the unpredictable nature of running off road.

Your sense of smell is also heightens with the over powering “woody/pine” , “grass and ferns”, and “damp/misty” October evening fragrances. The next sense to be challenged is the perception of distance because with your guiding light not being too far ahead of you, then your normal judgement of distance is altered, but it’s surprising how quickly you adapt. A final twist was that because Mark’s head torch was a lot brighter than mine, when I was leading, my siloett seemed to be running in the light of my head torch, which was quite distracting but again part of the fun. Mark is used to head torch runs were as I was probably over cautious, however, if bramble scratched legs were the only injury I’d call that a victory. This new experience lasted about 7 miles and Mark has already mentioned a route he knows for next time.

All of these attacks on your senses made for a great run and a welcome change from pavements  and street lights. One final thought, if you do take a photo, just remember there’s a bright light on your head which makes quite a difference to the picture you were hoping for !! I would recommend night running, “just go steady” and finally, don’t forget your sense of humour, it may come in handy 🙂

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Cracking 13.1 miles around the Meon Valley/ South Downs Way

Today, Second Wind Running, organisers of the November 22nd Meon Valley marathon, also organised a recce of the half marathon, so this was both a good opportunity to run the last 5 miles of the marathon route as well as get some great trail running miles in too.

Meon Hall in Meonstoke is both the HQ for the marathon and todays recce, so once again, all valuable knowledge ahead of the race. We were guaranteed an enjoyable morning with not only fellow Fareham Crusaders Paul Coates and Rod Nairn but also Phil Hoy the race organiser and his partner Teresa. Completing the eight of us that went out were Paul, Michael and Simone who we hadn’t met before and all played their part in a great mornings run.

The 13.1 mile route had 400m of elevation and a combination of old railway line, footpaths, byways, lanes and grassy trails with a good measure of hills thrown in and some stunning views. All in all a fantastic way to spend your Saturday morning. I’d say the route was roughly half/half between road and grass with some chalky sections but surprisingly little mud !!

The first mile and a half was a gentle introduction along the old Wickham railway line which is just starting to accumulate a carpet of multi coloured autumn leaves. We turned off left on a gradual incline up towards Winchester Hill and as the chatter died down we all knew the main climb was almost upon us. This climb is only about 300m, but at a steep gradient, so it was all smiles once we’d reached the top and taken a “scenic selfie”. The reward for our hill climb was naturally the view of the valley and in the distance Southampton landmarks. You also know you’ve run up a good hill when there are par gliders above your head !!

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When we left Winchester Hill the wind had picked up slightly and as we ran along a stretch of trees we were treated to the Autumn leaves dropping on us, almost as if to mark our visit. We pressed on downhill and along the farm lanes that then take you to Meon Spings, a lovely riverside café, but there was no need to queue for water as with Phil’s local knowledge he took us to a nearby tap. This random drinks stop was much to Paul’s delight as we have run this way before and I had no idea it was there, one up to Phil !!

We were now on the second half of the run and into unknown territory for me. Not knowing what’s around the next bend or across the next field meant I really enjoyed this section, a mystery and a challenge rolled into one. There was lots of chatter between everyone and the sun had now replaced the early mist. We ran on the outskirts of Droxford and through Chidden with its quiet lanes and occasional cyclists. Phil’s love of countryside running was clear to see and would motivate anyone he met to try it. Phil and Teresa, his partner, are clearly good runners but also very down to earth and knowledgeable, great strengths to have as race organisers.

Paul, Rod and I always have some banter as we run and it was good to see everyone else getting into the swing of it too. A straight tree lined “Roman road” was a photo opportunity not to be missed then it was one last rising field that stretched on for some time and we were over the worst of it. Phil has cleverly put in some downhill stretches at the end of the route so both the half and full marathon runners will benefit from this on the day.

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Roughly 2 hours and 5 minutes of enjoyable off road running later we had both met some great people, who also have a passion for running, as well as gaining some great course knowledge. Looking forward to the 7th of November for a 14 mile recce of the rest of the marathon route.

I haven’t run through the woods for a while, it was like meeting up with an old friend

 

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Whiteley out of town shopping centre is a busy combination of shops and restaurants but what most of the people who go there probably don’t know is that there’s easily accesssible trails, very near by, to walk or in our case run. After parking in front of the Zurich building there’s a trail that’s hidden from the main road that leads to the map board of the area, “insuring” you, of the route to take.

The red spot marks where you are and the forestry commission sign “reassures” you that you’ll be in for a scenic, wooded experience. The main trail is fairly wide and straight for a good mile, until it bears left up a gradual hill. The signs of forestry management are all around you with a huge pile of tree trunks piled high that look like they could be for a giants fireplace as well as areas of newly planted trees with their protective casings. The top of the hill is also a crossroads with three alternative routes. I took the first left which ultimately heads towards Curdbridge and has a good gradient to go down and come back up i.e. another hill !!

I ran at 6pm, with an hour in mind, so this meant glimpses of the late sunshine through the trees. The whole area is quite lush after the summer but the changing season can be seen with the brown and gold colourings of the bushes and ferns, in short it’s a pleasure being out here. My reason for coming to Whiteley pastures was to meet an old friend who I hadn’t seen for a while, and it was about time I paid “the woods” a visit. Conditions under foot are more varied off the main trail so tree roots, some mud and uneven ground mean you have to keep your wits about you which is an enjoyable challenge after my recent training.

I take the next trail on the other side of the cross roads and head up to Botley Wood. The sun has definitely lowered in the sky as it shines through the trees now and in contrast the woods look dark and intriguing, I wonder what awaits me ? I weave my way through the forest with only the sound of my foot steps breaking the silence. As today’s run has no pace expectations I stop and take a snap of a grand old tree that rises up higher than most, its thick trunk suggests it has been there for some time but I bet very little has changed around it for years. I marvel at how quiet it is, as apart from the sound of its branches swaying in the wind, I seem to be alone. As I start running there’s a rustle in the undergrowth and it makes me jump and laugh with equal measures, “I’m not alone” (dramatic inverted commas) oh it’s was a rabbit, panic over 🙂

I take a different route back that I’m fairly sure of, which starts with a corridor, almost a tunnel of trees and bushes that block a lot of the fading light, I come out into a clearing and realise it is getting darker. I follow the trail and after awhile come across two small bridges so I know I’m in the right place. More patches of mud, a couple of fallen trees and a sharp over hanging bush later and I’m back out on the main trail and rewarded with the view of pink and red coloured clouds ahead of the sunset.

55 minutes and 6 miles of pure enjoyment, a few photos and video clips for the blog, it’s been great catching up with my old friend “the woods” same time next week ? Irunoffroad, I certainly do, if you’ve enjoyed the read – why don’t you ? 🙂

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