IOW Marathon

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The weather forecast for the Isle of Wight marathon promised wind and heavy rain but as it turned out fortune favoured the brave with the warnings only being accurate up to an hour before the start – thank goodness for that !!

Ryde Harriers were hosting the 62nd running of this event which promised an undulating course (1,450 feet) as you can see from the graphic above. The route combined quiet country lanes, a section of old railway track, occasional sea views and some busier roads.

My marathon running buddy Paul Coates and I had chosen this race for its location and we weren’t disappointed.

We drove to Southampton, with both the windscreen wipes and our imaginations working overtime as to what lay ahead.

iow1Boarding the Red Jet high speed catamaran bound for West Cowes the view out of the window felt more like a car wash than a ferry !! The £17 return for the 25 minutes each way meant our international experience was about to start #ferry #sailing #abroad !!

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Once on firm ground we jumped on a bus that took us up the hill heading out of Cowes to the IOW Community Club which had changing rooms, a variety of facilities and lots of like minded people.

iow3With three quarters of an hour left before the 11.30am start the rain (which had been forecast until 1pm) had virtually stopped. Gathered on the start line there was a noticeable sense of relief that the elements had been kind to us !!

Now, with no idea where we were running I’ll try my best to describe the 4 & 3/4 hours I was out on the course.

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Paul, is much quicker than me so, after some banter and video with his GoPro he headed off in front of me after about 2.5 miles, just as the rain reappeared.

After 4 miles of a steady 9/10 minute pace I developed a curious tightness in my “right buttock” !!! (expect the unexpected on a marathon)

Stopping to stretch wasn’t a problem and in the scheme of things I only wasted a couple of minutes even with three short loosening up attempts. If anything it was more embarrassing at such an early stage of the race.

All sorted, errrr “no” – ha ha, next my big toe started rubbing, only a mile later !! So, it was off with my trainer and a quick inspection. By mile 6, with hardly any swearing at all, (kind of), I was back into my pace and running happy….. Quite a buzz.

What I’d like to mention here is how enthusiastic the marshals, locals and the Harriers on their push bikes and in their cars were. Motivational comments are always welcome in a marathon 🙂

I passed a signpost to the West Wight Alpacas farm near Wellow and then one advertising Alpaca Jumpers, you don’t see that every day. Glorious sea views appeared at about mile 9 as we were on the outskirts of Yarmouth then next, as I headed back inland, I was surprised to be guided off road at about 11 miles. This turned out to be the old Yarmouth railway line and a brief let up from the tarmac.

The railway station has been converted into a restaurant and it was full of supporters, “again”.

Half way was marked with the 4th feed station, fresh oranges and flat coke … “spot on”. I was on course for about 4.40 at this stage but was aware of the 300 feet elevation between miles 22 and 25 as well as the numerous smaller hills we’d already negotiated. Location wise we weren’t that far from the Needles but heading back up towards Cowes.

The weather was cloudy by now and the temperature was starting to drop but I benefiting from the steady early pace. I overtook a few runners between 15 and 21 miles and started using the sponges that were on offer between the feed stations.

Time wise I was around 10.20 mile pace and revelling in the IOW peace and quiet, apart from the vintage buses that rattled by occasionally. To be fair I was largely on automatic pilot for an hour or so and that’s exactly what I enjoy. The tap tap of your trainers, the mile markers passing you by and the knowledge that you are “reasonably” in control.

As promised the three miles between 22 and 25 heading towards Northwood were quite challenging, but I do like a good hill. Using a run walk strategy when needed, again I overtook a couple of runners. Sometimes not knowing a course can be a benefit because you simply manage what’s around the next corner and you aren’t planning ahead at all.

It’s definitely worth a slow jog on hills rather than the easier option of walking, straight away. I read a phrase the other week that applied to those last miles, “There’s comfort in your discomfort” and that’s very much the case when you know you only have a parkrun’s distance left.

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As I crossed the finish line in 4.42 I was pleased with my run and were I am in my training. Completing a training run marathon was very satisfying. Your run is just that, your run, it doesn’t always have to be about speed !!

Paul had finished earlier in 4.06 which is testament to the athlete that he is considering he ran 3 marathons over last weekend in Cornwall. As the ferry docked we were asked to disembark and thanked for travelling with Red Funnel.

I felt a bit light headed on the trip back home because it dawned on me I hadn’t eaten since breakfast time and according to my watch I’d burned 3,812 calories. Thankfully I knew a large chicken roast dinner was waiting for me at home.

Thanks again to Ryde Harriers and Paul for a great day out. The Isle of White is certainly worth a visit whether as a tourist or a runner.

 

 

 

 

Goodwood Marathon

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Goodwood motor racing circuit was the venue for my first race in three months. OK, I realise that 26.2 miles of tarmac don’t exactly amount to off road but the location is only 35 minutes away and the track is such an iconic venue.

This initial photo is my favourite from the day. The historic Goodwood start/finish straight, Stig (possibly not the real Stig), Paul from Fareham Crusaders and Gosport road runners Steve, Catherine, Claire, Lisa, Katrina and Hayley.

With numerous other RunThrough uk races scheduled for the day our marathon started at 9am in pleasant conditions. The pre race warm up set the tone for a light hearted day running within a fairly small field, but a very supportive one.

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This photo from the warm up shows my friend Hayley adopting the New Zealand hakka, me clinging onto an imaginary bar above my head (for what ever reason) and Paul (the Brad Pitt lookalike) talking on his imaginary phone to his imaginary PR agent 🙂 Yes we were all raring to get started !!

Before the off there was just time for mine and Paul’s trademark photo with the motor racing pits behind us.

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The prospect of 11 laps might have put some people off, however, I was keen to use it as a good mental test. I spotted local blogger Anna who eventually placed as first lady in 3.26 and radio/running personality Vassos Alexander who finished in 3.22, the checked flag dropped and we were off.

Each lap of the track was about 2.4 miles and it varied with some gradual inclines and declines as well as the wind direction blowing across, in front and behind you. What I hadn’t considered previously was that there’s an aerodrome in the middle of the track !!

A good thirty or so light aircraft and helicopters were parked up with quite frequent arrivals and departures. I have to say the first time a plane landed above our heads it was quite amusing and quite close !!

With 11 laps there was only the need for one feed station but I was impressed with the number of marshals around the course who offered continued support on every lap. RunThrough had placed speakers to play uplifting music and then totally out of the blue two gentlemen in Mexican attire, complete with guitar and trumpet, added to our entertainment.

With there being a number of races held through the day we were regularly lapped or saw runners coming towards us. This did break up the day and it was great to see Andy Paton from Liss Runners charging along on his 10K.

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There were various motivational signs around Goodwood, with one that read “keep to the racing line” which I wasn’t totally sure was for us but again it made you think as we ran the twists and turns of the track.

I chatted with Hayley on my first lap and then later with Claire and Joanne. The support from the grandstand was a real boost but for the remainder of the time it was largely “you and your thoughts”.

One of the joys of running for me is to completely switch off and simply observe what’s around you. The South Downs in the distance, the aircraft and even the wind on your face or the sun on your back. Running is definitely my mindfulness.

Pace wise I stayed around ten minute miles but drifted slightly once past 20 miles. The mile markers were dotted around the track in reverse order which personally I wasn’t sure about but it did motivate me when it said 5,4,3,2,1 miles left !!

Both Paul and Hayley were a lap ahead of me and Anna must have lapped me twice but I only remember seeing her once 🙂 #oldage !!

I have to say I walked a few times on lap eleven due to a lack of training but with the marshals encouragement, the sight of the finish line and the ever supportive Gosport ladies, this was enough to carry me home in 4.42 which ultimately was a fair time for the day.

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Yes, I do look quite knackered but I achieved what I came for i.e. to get back on track and Goodwood was certainly a great place to do it.

One thought for the future …. the water came in the form of endless single use plastic bottles. It seemed such a waste with piles of them, some only half empty, scattered around the course. Naturally that also meant they needed picking up as well as going against the single use of plastic that’s becoming more frowned upon #savetheplanet.

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I liked this board …..”You will never win, if you never begin” it might not have been a quick time compared to the Berlin world record but I think all of us that entered should be proud of completing what is still the benchmark of distance running.

Thanks to RunThrough uk for a well organised day in a great location and an impressive t-shirt and medal.

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Happy Running everyone …………. thanks for reading and see you at the Isle of White marathon in four weeks.

Roger

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

South Downs Marathon #hills

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When you set your alarm call for 5.15am you know it’s going to be a long day but more importantly you know you’ve committed yourself to a challenging day. What’s life without challenges ….. boring !!

Running along the South Downs Way guarantees you amazing views of the countryside that haven’t changed a great deal for decades. Time stands still on the Downs and that’s why trail runners love it, what you can’t avoid are the hills. Some 3,000 feet of elevation awaited us. This will be my second marathon in three weeks after the great Dorchester marathon.

With Slindon college being our starting point 209 Events had organised coaches to drive us from the finish at Queen Elizabeth Country Park (QECP) to the start. I boarded our coach with Fran and Rachel from Fareham Crusaders who also ran the Dorchester marathon three weeks previously. I offered a few thoughts from running the race in 2015 and as we arrived there were menacing clouds above the college.

We quickly bumped into Hayley from Gosport Road runners and Emma Bird from Pompey Joggers. Emma has reached the dizzy hights of a 100 mile run and Hayley has been accumulations a few marathons recently. Completing the line up was Mark Highland who I’d met for the first time last week.

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Hayley’s GRR yellow kit was a contrast to the black clouds above the college 🙂

The first task of the day is to work your way up onto the top of the Downs, this combines four miles and nearly 500 feet of climbing. I spotted both Hayley and Emma ahead of me on the initial country lane but as we started the climb they eased away. The contrasting open field tracks and oppressive humid woods meant for an interesting introduction to the day.

I’ve learned that if you need to walk three miles into a marathon it doesn’t mean you’ve failed it means you are spreading out your energy.

Once onto the Downs the familiar chalky trail with flint stones poking out at random intervals meant you do need to keep half an eye on where you’re running as well as marvelling at the views for miles.

Talking of views the South Downs don’t need arrows to signpost a hill, you quite simply can’t miss them. This beauty just kept giving and giving at around 7 & half miles.

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I couldn’t resist stopping for a second to take this photo. Runners disappearing over the horizon as far as the eye can see. The camera may not show the gradient quite so well but this is another 300 feet or so. Hill two on the profile below.

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With ten miles fast approaching my drinks strategy of 500ml an hour was going well due to the humidity as much as the sunshine. The half way drinks station offers a bitter sweet mixture of refilling your drinks and the prospect of the third big hill in the distance. I took this photo a little too early but the trail ahead winds its way up the lighter green fields towards the horizon that isn’t forested.

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Setting off on this third hill I knew half of it was tarmac and the remainder harder going rougher trail. Course knowledge can be invaluable on these occasions. I made the most of the tarmac and used fast walking where appropriate.

At this point I think its worth pointing out that walking can actually be quite constructive. I eat my energy bar and collected my thoughts as to what remained, as well as the pace I’d need to finish under five hours.

The next section between 17.5 and 20 miles has a steep grassy hill followed by a shorter chalk hill that’s very rough underfoot. These 2 1/2 miles would go a long way to what my final average time was. These are hills where everyone around you is walking, everyone is grimacing and there’s very little talking. A fast walk can be quite effective and I overtook a few runners.

Leaving the 20 mile National Trust Harting Down feed station I had again used the walk to calculate what I’d needed to do on the undulating smaller “cheeky” hills that remained. Timing wise I was ahead of schedule and there was still the bonus of the last mile being largely downhill.

The last 6,5,4,3 miles did hurt but I was gaining in confidence and emotion because 2015’s 4.58 looked very achievable. At mile 25 we reached the glorious downhill into QECP !!

I crossed the line in 4 hours 52 minutes which I was very pleased with. My SKINS socks had done me proud on my first marathon wearing them. For a full write up on SKINS take a look on the menu of my blog.

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Marathons are a metaphor for life …. it’s testing, you are in it for the long haul but ultimately you get out of it what you put in. Thank you 209 Events for an emotional, hard and rewarding experience.

Thanks to Emma who cheered me in after her amazing 4.19 time and to Nick from Alton Sports who I also chatted to after the finish. A huge well done to Mark with his fabulous 3.43 and Hayley with 4.37 . Equally well done to Fran and Rachel for their heroic 5.48’s on a tough course were on the brave actually entered never mind finished.

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It was all smiles after my second marathon in three weeks. Running off road is scenic, exhilarating and challenging but most of all it’s so rewarding. The sense of achievement to take on mother nature and come out smiling is what its all about.

And finally ……….. free race photos are always a bonus !!

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Happy trail running, I run off road, we run off road 🙂

The WSR Dorchester Marathon

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First things first I’d like to thank White Star Running (WSR) and all the other organisations that combined to make Sunday the 27th of May such a memorable day.

Running a marathon is a time consuming undertaking but planning and marshalling one inevitably take a lot longer !!

Why do I sound so enthusiastic about the whole thing I hear you ask, well, for a variety of reasons the Dorchester marathon was my first race of the year, “really”, yes really. The reason I chose to run in Dorset was after watching Film My Run’s video from last years inaugural race. The video was screaming WSR !! The organisation, the humour, the facilities, and the trademark lovestation.

With the marathon start time being 8.30 this meant setting my alarm for 5am, “FIVE AM”. Isn’t it funny how getting up for work at a later time seems a pain but getting up not that long after sunrise, for a race, is a positive joy 🙂

During the hour and a half drive from Hampshire to Dorset the skies gradually moved through the colour spectrum between blue and black. Some 20 miles away from Dorchester the heavens opened and my windscreen wipers were going ten to the dozen. However, the running gods were kind to us because within ten minutes of the start I was hurriedly applying sun cream to my arms, legs and face.

aastartI spotted Andy Palmer “Mr WSR” just long enough before his safety brief to be able to introduce myself and in no time we were lined up. As I scanned the start line I said hello to Fran and Rachel from my Fareham Crusaders and as we got going I also said hello to Emma from Gosport Road Runners (GRR).

The first mile was full of banter and chat as we started the gradual incline of the High Street. I’m old enough to remember when there wasn’t a Dorchester bypass so it was a trip down memory lane for me. The historical buildings were equally matched with the

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hysterical fancy dress costumes a number of runners had on. As we turned left out of town I could see Richard Law from Gosport Road Runners. We’d talked earlier this month about running a similar ten minute miles strategy so we ran side by side. I can only put my facial expression down to the quickly applied sun cream getting in my eyes in these initial first few miles … ha ha. Schoolboy error.

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The crowds along the streets were very vocal and there was a real feel good atmosphere. With feed stations every three miles we would be spoilt all day. At around four or five miles the “ever smiling” Phil Hoy from Pompey Joggers overtook Richard and I. Phil had arrived 15 minutes late and was gradually overtaking a large proportion of the field. He eventually came 90th out of 603, hats off to you Phil.

The countryside lanes were starting to warm up as the mornings sun burnt off the clouds and by the time we reached the twelve mile feed station we’d also encountered our first proper hill. This next photo was taken by one of the Bournemouth Joggers and their “Under the Sea” themed pit stop. I thought it summed up the day perfectly ….. hot, hot, hot.

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That’s me in the background taking out one of my 500ml soft flaks. I think most of us wore as much of the water as drank it !! I’m not sure what the temperature was at that point but it was 23 degrees by the end.

From twelve miles until the lovestation at twenty the country lanes wound their way through picturesque villages and crops of various descriptions. Due to me not knowing the area that’s about as much of an explanation as I can give, however, this elevation chart from my Strava does add more to it pictorially (is that a word, spell check thinks it is so I’ll go with it).

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Miles 16 to 20 were harsh, the breeze dropped, the humidity climbed and I have to admit to enjoying the marathon ever so slightly less 🙂 Richard had moved ahead and fellow runners were becoming much less frequent. Two lads entertaining us with their guitar and double base made for a welcome lift in spirits but it was hard work.

I would compare myself to a contestant on a games show at about 19 miles because I was banking on playing all my cards on the famous WSR oasis that their lovestations are. They came up trumps, food – drink – humour – showers – toilets – music and a genuine “how are you finding it, what can we do to help you” , suffice to say I left with added vigour and almost a spring in my stride (almost), plus a litre of fluids.

It’s surprising how stopping can actually be beneficial.

The long gradual climb at around 21/22 miles gave me mixed emotions, it was tough on the legs but I could also see a string of people ahead of me and all of sudden the prospect of improving my overall position on hills that I’ve trained for felt like a game show host had asked me to “come on down”, yes, “the price could be right” or in running terms, I was getting my second wind.

I caught Richard and a number of others, I also had the advantage of wearing my running vest so I was carrying two 500ml soft flasks while most other runners were stopping at feed stations. I could drink and run (who says men can’t do two things at once). Actually I was doing three things, I was overtaking people !!!

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As miles 23,24 and 25 passed with yet more undulations along Slyer’s Lane I passed Jo and two other Pompey Jogger ladies who were running in the half marathon. The final mile was downhill and then it was just a case of squeezing everything I had left out of my proverbial running sponge to cross the line, pick up my medal and t shirt and to be greeted by my cousin Jane who’d kindly come along to support with her husband Peter.

We retired to the shade of the main tent and I apologised a number of times for my sweaty condition. I drank around three litres over the course and didn’t need the bathroom once, that’s a measure of how hot it was.

4 hours 41 minutes and 304th out of 603 were my vital statistics.

The Dorchester Marathon did us proud.

Thanks again to all the people that I’ve mentioned and any that have slipped my mind. Today has given me the confidence to enter the South Downs marathon in 3 weeks.

I love marathons 🙂

 

 

Purbeck Marathon #tough #scenic

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The Purbeck marathon has it all … narrow technical trails with mud and stones to negotiate, coastal hills (with amazing views) and inland hills (with amazing views). The 26.7 miles were a tad longer than a standard marathon but that’s trail running for you 🙂

My running buddy Paul and I travelled down to Dorset to find a sleepy Swanage. Our first sight was the sea lapping up against the beach and the second was the promise of the rolling hills that we’d driven past being our challenge for the day. Registration was at the foot of our first hill and as we made our way up to the start the scenic views had begun before the race had !!

DSC00639Today we were joined by fellow Fareham Crusaders Dave, Kate, Nikki and Thom as well as Dean from Pompey Joggers and Ben from Gosport Runners.

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The sun was shining on a perfect early Autumn morning and after our race briefing I couldn’t resist a photo with the official starter. My pre race anticipation was slightly tempered with knowing I haven’t done the volume of miles recently but when determination is required, I’ve got buckets of it 🙂

DSC00643Our first sight of the coast and the endless sea that really did look like it stretched out for ever was at about 1 & 1/2 miles. The lighthouse was an impressive sight but very quickly we had to concentrate on the trail ahead of us. The track was only two feet wide in places, there were numerous stones that jutted out from the soil and the cliff edge was quite often uncomfortably close !! It was certainly noticeable that the banter and chat between all the runners around use quickly changed to focusing on the job at hand.

Once through the worst of the technical section the path widened out and I joined Kate and Dave queuing for one of the frequent gates and styles that are a feature of this area which combined National Trust land and military firing ranges.

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With better running conditions underfoot we could start to appreciate the stunning landscape more. The deep blue sea contrasted with the light blue sky and both were offset with the lush green cliff top.

Our first significant hill took us inland at about five miles. As trail runners you are often presented with big hills, the accepted practise is to try and combine some running and some walking because you can be sure there will be lots more ahead !! The sheep and cows that we passed would also be a common feature for the rest of the race.

A section of narrow country lanes then brought us out again onto the coast by about the eight mile mark and from then on we steadily climbed up and away from the coast. The views here were once again stunning.

DSC00648coastAnother feature of this part of the area are these yellow poles that you need to stay between as they mark the route through the firing ranges !!! Thanks to Dave Fuller for this photo.

Dropping down to Tyneham (a village that was taken over by the army for training purposes) we were past half way and approaching a very steep climb that lasted well over a mile. I considered taking a photo but to be honest I decided getting to the top was my priority !! Luckily Paul and Ben took a photo so thanks to them for this one.

15At around 16 miles my spirits were lifted by running along the top of the downs and Nikkie Yeo catching me up. By 18 miles Nikki and I had combined with 100 marathons Nigel, Julie from Billericay and her running partner (it’s good to talk to strangers !!)

Running as a group, offering encouragement and collectively feeling the pain of our challenge meant that the miles passed quicker and in no time were approaching Corfe Castle. I have to say Julie’s constant talking was a delight, … one of Essex’s finest 🙂 and just the sort of personality that inspires you to press on.

DSC00651Running through Corfe village itself I lost Nikkie for a while (she stopped at a shop to buy a bottle of coke), the rest of us laughed that this was where Julie was staying for the night but she couldn’t drop out as the accommodation key was in the car at the finish. Next we crossed a railway line. Yes, that’s right, a railway line !! There’s an old steam train which runs down to the coast.

“All that remained now” were miles 21 to 24 that had three long gradual hills and then we’d drop down to the seafront. The three miles of hills took their toll on me and even though I made some ground up on the downhill I joined the seafront with a likely five and a half hours finish time.

In true running club tradition Paul, Kate and Nikki were waiting at the finish line and ran with me in the last couple of hundred metres shouting encouragements. I was impressed with the medal, t shirt and even a bottle of cider that came in the race goody bag. We celebrated with a burger and coffee, I thanked the runners who’d I ran with in the latter stages and on reflection our times ranged from 4.29 to my 5.33 so I wasn’t too far off the pace on a tough course.

Great running by all of our local runners that headed down to Dorset. The other positive to take from today was that five and a half hours of effort will be a great springboard for future weeks.

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Many thanks to the organisers for “so many” marshals, a fantastic course (ever hill is a challenge that makes you stronger) and the stunning scenery.

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For those of you that are on Strava here’s the link to the 26.7 miles Strava Download 

This is the Purbeck marathon course profile . Trail running can be tough but it’s a pleasure and a privilege to experience our Great British countryside with like minded souls. If this post has inspired you to try trail running then my job is done. Join us, but beware, once you’ve tried it, you’ll be hooked like us 🙂

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3 Forts Challenge 27.2 miles

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The 3 Forts Challenge is a 27.2 mile trail run that takes in the South Downs Way (SDW)and three Iron Age forts. So, Cissbury Ring 250 BC, Devil’s Dyke 100 BC and Chanctonbury Ring 600 BC mean not only are you in a beautiful part of the world but you feel like you are going back in time as I doubt it has changed for hundreds of years.

Crusaders Paul, Sally, Jon, Dave, Lucy and Kate joined my trail running buddy Paul Coates and I on a windy morning along with Phil Hobby from Stubby. Kit choice was going to be important today seeing as we were set for 3,450 feet of elevation and the temperature can drop significantly when you get up onto the top of the exposed Downs. I wore my long sleeve Helly and was pleased I did as well as carrying my Ron Hill waterproof jacket that ties up around your waste because heavy rain for forecast for later. Finally with ten feed stations on route the organisers certainly had the runners interests at heart.

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As we set off on the initial two mile gradual climb to meet up with the SDW much of the chat was the fact that this would be two miles downhill to the finish !! Having said that when you have been on your feet for 3/4/5/6 hours the jarring on your thighs can actually mean you hold back on your natural instincts 🙂

Once onto the main trail some concentration was required due to the dry rutted mud and it was here at about four miles that I chatted wit Phil Hall who I know from twitter and have been in the same races but not actually met, so it was great to have a bit of a chat.

By six or so miles our days task came into view with the skyline being our target.

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I’m a firm believer that you get out of life what you put into it and as runners we train for days like this. The sheer beauty of our surroundings coupled with the physical and mental challenge ahead quite simply make you feel alive and highten all of your senses. With 350 + like minded runners the day promised to be a memorable one. As Julie Andrews once sang, “The hills are alive with the sound of runners” … or was it music ??

We dropped down towards the River Adur which meant the wind dropped and the sunshine was pleasant on your bones but as Sir Issac Newton will tell you what goes down inevitably goes up. Not having run in this area before I couldn’t say for certain which hill this was but it certainly meant walking from about half way up !! The grass and trail then gave way to a narrow road and this road weaved towards the top of the hill. With vehicles parked on the roadside it reminded me of a Tour de France stage, I almost excpected Chris Froome to run past me !! (Cycling joke)

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I’d read on the course notes that 11 miles was a turn around point so it didn’t surprise to to see “speedy” Paul Webster heading in my direction. Paul finished an amazing 41st out of 352 so much respect to you Sir. Paul Coates passed me next with a picture of concentration on his face which isn’t like Paul, we usually get a pose of some description. Clearly his 38 mile ultra from the previous week was starting to take some toll on his legs. I turned and fairly quickly saw Sally & Jon on the downhill then followed by Dave, Lucy and Kate. Seeing as I had my waste band open for a drink I took a photo.

DSC00352Apologies for taking a photo when you were walking but trust me we had all been run/walking at that point. An easy section of downhill was gratefully received and I pressed on to the most challenging section between 17 and 21 miles were the long drawn out hills tested your resolve and patience !! I use either a slow but constant stride for these or walk for a count of ten and then run for a count of ten. This works for me 🙂

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I passed an open toed sandals runner stopping to take pebbles out of his shoes (well flip flops really) and was mindful that the dark clouds were starting to roll in and that rain was on its way. The twenty mile beep on my watch was a welcome sound and a downhill chalky section between 21 and 23 had to be taken with some concentration but was still a delight. The final hilly section between 23 and 25 miles took some effort but again this is what we train for. If you can smile when it’s hurting you must be enjoying it 🙂

In many ways hills are a metaphor for life. You keep plugging away with whatever it throws at you and sometimes it feels like you aren’t getting anywhere but when you reach the top and know you’ve reached your goal then the sense of accomplishment is immense. Running can be quite emotional, at points like this, as a wave of self belief sweeps over you and you feel like you are on top of the world (well the South Downs).

The last two miles were bliss as the downward trail wound its way towards the finish line. The drizzle that had started at about 22 miles was becoming more noticeable but there was no way I was going to waste the “free miles” of the downhill section putting on my jacket !!

I crossed the line in just under 5 hours 7 minutes and in 218th place out of 352 which I was happy with in a field of runners who would have specifically chosen this event.

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Phil and Paul had both finished ahead of me and Paul Webster was probably at home having his tea 🙂 The remainder of the Crusaders came in through the heavy rain that had developed so well done to them too. Today got the thumbs up from both the lads above and certainly from me too, even if this photo was from before we started ha ha !!

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Thanks to the organisers for a great event. People ask me why I blog, it’s for days like today when you come away with a sense of achievement, pride and simply an overwhelming feeling of enjoyment. Come and join us on the trails, maybe you will get hooked just like us 🙂

P.S. I hum to myself when I run (sometimes this gets me funny looks) todays choice was mainly Ben Howard with the lyrics “Keep your head up, keep your heart strong” 🙂

 

 

 

 

QE Spring marathon : 1,000m elevation in the 26.2 miles !!

 

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Today’s marathon was one of those days were it was a pleasure to take part. Second Wind Running  (SWR) always put on a great race (I’ll let Phil off with the 26.6 miles as everything else was spot on). The combination of a challenging course (1,000 metres elevation), lots of trail running friends and the March sunshine made it a day to remember.

With the marathon setting off at 9.30 and the half at 10.15 there was a lot of activity in the race HQ area. I bumped into Mark from the New Forest as well as Paul, Allie and Richard from Fareham and Ian from Chichester. Paul Jeffrey, a fellow runner & blogger was there as well as Ros, Dean & Kiernan who were out on the course marshalling. It was also great to get a shout out from Fareham’s Mel and Trevor who were just arriving as the marathon set off. Ironically within a mile I was chatting with Thom from Fareham Crusaders who I’d seen on the race entries but didn’t know. We chatted briefly and agreed to train in the future. This pre marathon photo of the two Pauls and Allie shows you what a scenic location we were in.

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The first 2 miles are largely uphill so the initial banter soon went quiet as we all pondered that this would be the same for miles 13 to 15 with today being a two lap course. Regardless of the incline I could hear lots of people saying how beautiful the trail and trees were as we threaded our way through the forestry commission woods.

A group of about ten of us had joined up and as we passed marshal Dean the pace was in line with a 5 hour marathon due to the frequent hills. I chatted with Ian from twitter/Chichester and he mentioned he had a 100 miler in five weeks !! By the 4.5 mile mark we had our first aid station. The group largely stopped on mass so I couldn’t resist running straight through so as to get a head start on the steep incline back out of the park. Today I had two 250ml and one new Osprey 500ml soft flask in my waist belt, these take up less room and work well for me. With five feed stations I only needed to stop at three so it saves a certain amount of time but more importantly you keep on the move !!

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By the top of the climb I seemed to have distanced myself but I figured it would only be a matter of time before they caught me up. With us still relatively early in the run I spotted Stuart March ahead taking the official photos. As he appeared to be taking a long shot and a close up I had time to ponder on what pose I’d go for, as it was, I think the smile on my face summed up the whole day. Trail running with friends …. “it’s simply the best” 🙂

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I thanked Ros for marshalling when I passed her and this took us down a welcome decent for a while. The sun was becoming stronger now and I exchanged places with brothers Simon and Jonny from Pompey Joggers for a number of miles. The Staunton Way took us back into the park with a long drag across the fields as we headed for the forested area. While I took a gel I snapped this photo to give a sense of the long drag.

DSC00252The second lap started with a slap in the face of realism, this was going to need some concentration. My legs were feeling good but I chose to progress steadily seeing as I haven’t run more than 17 miles this year 🙂 The Pompey brothers appeared again and we had some banter. It’s funny how we chose different sections of the hills to take short walks, so we kept on overtaking and reovertaking (made up word !!)

The Queen Elizabeth Country park was now full of visitors seeing as we’d moved into the afternoon. I’d kept my snood twisted around my wrist and this was very useful to wipe away the sweat from my eyes. After passing Ros & Kiernan marshalling at 19 miles the South Downs Way becomes a narrow tarmac (hilly) road that then gave way to a downhill section which meant my gps watch alarm went off for 20 miles (deep joy)

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The drinks station at about 22 miles couldn’t come soon enough and I have to say I slowed down as we rejoined the Staunton Way for a second time. The final mile and a half through QECP was quite emotional because I knew I’d had a good run and shared the experience with lots of friends. The sound of a woodpecker echoed through the trees and the smile on my face was getting bigger each hundred metres.

My time was 5.07 which I was happy with considering the hills, heat and lack of 20 mile training runs. For a bargain £3 there was chilli con carnie & a roll on offer so I scoffed those down as I chatted with lots of the people I have mentioned. As you saw at the start of my blog the medal and T Shirt were eye catchers and I finished off the day with some photos of the people involved.

DSC00256This is my trail running best buddy Paul, then below me, Ros & Richard.

DSC00257And finally I owe a debt of thanks to Simon and Jonny who kept me on my toes for quite some time, thanks lads.

DSC00258 Last but no least thanks to Phil & Teresa from Second Wind Running for hosting a great race and a great day. Lots of complements, I recommend if you are in Hampshire, look them up 🙂 Yes trail running can be challenging but it is also very rewarding.

Roger

The Meon Valley Marathon, 11 Crusaders 1 Great day

Front left to right, Chris, Gary, Paul, Pete, Howard, Paul, me, Lucy, Rod, Dave and Ed were the 11 Fareham Crusaders that took on the challenge.

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Endurance is said to be, the ability to endure an unpleasant or difficult process, without giving up. As a marathon runner I can relate to this, however, as an off road marathon runner I can’t see what’s unpleasant about running through our “Great” British countryside on a cold and crisp day with it’s sights and sounds. OK there’s the mud and the hills (800m elevation) and the water logged sections but they are simply challenges to boost your sense of achievement when crossing the finish line.

Second Wind Running (SWR) were the hosts of the race and I can’t compliment them enough for the organisation and effort that went into a great day. “Hats off” to Phil and Teresa. SWR even organised the weather !! Saturday’s biting wind had gone and so had the rain from earlier in the week all we had to contend with was the 2 rising to 5 degrees.

Now that you’ve got an idea of my approach to this run, lets set the scene. Lucy drove Paul, Pete and me to the marathon “parking field” and it was only a short walk to the Meon Hall race HQ, Meonstock. These East Hampshire Downs and the wider South Downs National Park would be todays setting. Our 133 other competitors were made up of local clubs as well as runners from further afield and Twitter runners @ChiltonDiva, Ben Jarvis and Phil Hall. A special mention also goes to Paul Coates who only had stiches out on Friday but was keen to run. The hall was filled with a mixture of banter and anticipation.

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After our thorough race briefing from Phil Hoy we were off down a country lane and onto the old railway line via a large puddle. In no time we were being guided onto the South Downs Way (SDW) by Teresa and the lower trail that weaves its way up towards Old Winchester Hill (OWH). I use a technique I call “slip and slide” along these muddy trails i.e. you just follow one stride with the next and hope to stay on my feet !! 4 wheel drive trainers would certainly have come in handy.

Paul, Rod, Howard and I scaled some 450 feet of elevation working our way up the hill and as with every good hill we were rewarded with a fabulous view of Beacon Hill across the valley and the Isle of Wight in the distance . It’s fair to say hang gliders and buzzards are equally at home in this area. Pressing on along the SDW we met a mixture of trail and country lanes as well as this concrete path which seemed curiously out of place in such a scenic area. Running in the countryside really is visually rewarding.

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Next we were heading North and up towards the ridge of the Downs. The approach to this exposed section of the route usually includes cattle but luckily not today. However, the cows trademarks were regularly dotted about in the clumpy grass. Dodging cow pats isn’t a skill you’d practice on running club night but it’s surprising how nimble you can be when the consequences are so shi**y !!

The sharp climb up onto the ridge was made more challenging with the clumpy grass but at least there was a clear trail to follow. More styles and gates were negotiated and after over an hour we actually went downhill. The better going underfoot was short lived and it was back into “slip & slide mode”. As we approached the back of Butser Hill (the highest point of the South Downs) I knew we had the most technical section of the route ahead. The 200 metres sharp climb is up a narrow trail that years of water has cut out a V shape in the soil down to the chalk. So at times I was planting a foot at an angle on both sides of the gully. The photo below was from a training recce. Most of us walked this, Howard flew up !!

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After the lung busting ravine climb a welcome gradual descent took us down to a waterlogged section with “refreshingly cold” water !! It was through this messy section that Pete and Ed passed me, with Pete shouting “just keep smiling Roger”. Harvesting Lane was next on the agenda at 13 miles. This lane is famous as a cycling Strava segment with 300 feet of elevation and gives your legs a different kind of work out after the grassy slopes. Paul and Rod were waiting for me at the top but I insisted they carried on as I knew I was holding them back. I re-joined the SDW and headed across to the Sustainability Centre and the huge houses opposite.

Heading down Chalk Lane (photo below) a good measure of restraint was needed what with it being very slippy and uneven. You’d think running downhill would be a welcome relief but were your legs have already been pounded the jarring is actually quite uncomfortable. Unscathed by the bottom of the lane it was a relief to get back onto country lanes. Having recced the whole route I knew the worst of the grass and mud was behind me but there was still one steep lane and a gradual climb across a field to come.

 

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Emotions were high as I saw the 20 miles come up on my garmin especially as I knew the last 2 miles drop down to the finish. I was starting to get cold now after being out for some time but the thought of post race food and drink drove me on. Hydration drinks and gels do their job but they aren’t the same as a hot soup. I mainly walked the steep lane with flurries of running. Another of the excellent marshals spurred me on as I crossed over the road and onto a track across the fields.

The next downhill section again caused me pain but that’s when the thoughts in your head need to be strong, after all you can’t walk downhill !! I managed a slow but purposeful crossing of the gradual uphill field and this brought me to about 23 miles and the prospect of finishing. The sun was getting lower in the sky and the wind had started to pick up so it was time to press on and finish what I’d started.

At about 25 miles I was aware four of our Crusaders were closing in on me !! I couldn’t fend off Dave Fuller but was pleased to retain my 75th position out of the 130 finishers. On arriving we were greeted by most of our quicker Crusaders who were waiting to cheer us in. I stopped my garmin at 5.10 and grabbed the first chair I could see. Rod came over and offered me the second half of his soup, I really appreciated that Rod, thank you. I picked up my excellent medal and we all congratulated each other on a hard but hugely satisfying run. We knew Gary was still to finish but he would also be welcomed in a little while later. A great effort by Gary who only entered on Saturday. I asked Chris if this trail marathon meant he’d be doing more but I think he’ll be sticking to triathlons.

I have to say I was shattered but also on an extreme high of achievement. This is my 10th and probably hardest marathon what with the cold added in and even though this may read as hard work, it was enjoyable hard work. Paul had a “First wounded” award that Phil had made especially for him (the stiches were from a SWR recce run 2 weeks earlier) which was a great thought. I’m sure we will all be back next year.

Huge thanks to Phil & Teresa’s Second Wind Running organisation and marshals, also to my fellow Crusaders for making today a memorable one.

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South Downs Trail Marathon : 26.2 miles of Hills & countryside – all the good stuff !!

My alarm clock went off at 5.30 am and the start of a long and enjoyable day was made that much better with overcast skies and cooler temperatures, than of late. Paul Coates, Dave Fuller, Lucy Peazold and myself were soon on route to Queen Elizabeth Country park, which was to double up as both the car park and marathon finish. The first item on our agenda was to catch a bus to the start at Slindon College, so off we went with our fellow runners, “All aboard the marathon bus !!”

sdw1Paul Coates, Lucy P, Dave Fuller and me.

As we left the grounds of Slindon College Paul quickly disappeared into the distance while the 3 of us got into our stride along some narrow lanes that then started to gradually climb from a mile or so in and with only the exception of a short flat section the gradual climb carried on until mile four. It’s not too often that you see people walking in the first 3 or 4 miles but with 3,300 feet of climbing in total the tactics of, when to walk and when to run, would come into play. I ran most of the first 4 miles and was pleased to reach Glatting Beacon at 5 and the first drinks station.

Part of the enjoyment of today was running through areas I’ve seen photos/videos of while looking into the South Downs Way (SDW) generally. The fact that you have to run up numerous hills means two things to look forward to, the views at the top and the downhill that follows. Strangely the up hills seemed to outweigh the downs but the miles of lush green countryside, the cooling wind on the higher ground and the relief of the descents are all part of the package.

sdw4   sdw5sdw6    Classic SDW !!

The SDW is a mixture of obvious chalky lanes, less obvious tracks through fields and grassy trails across the top of the Downs, they all have one thing in common, it’s beautiful up there. Dave kindly took these photos for me as him and Lucy were on more of a training run ready for the 100K Race to the Stones in 3 weeks. Concentration is another feature of running off road, you have to keep your wits about you so as not to stumble and also keep an eye out for mountain bikers too. By half way I was at 2 hours 19 minutes so a sub 5 hours was on the cards.

With the A286 crossed this meant Cocking Downs and yet more steep lanes and tracks that also included “quick marching” when running was beyond me !! The sun had come out by know so it was “cap” time and water over your head 🙂 I do remember thinking how a hard day would have been so much harder if the sun had been beating down. The next prospect in store was Harting Down and it’s two big hills on the way to 20 miles. With hardly a spectator in sight this marathon does rely on your inner motivation, however, the cheers as I, and I’m sure everyone else, went through the 20 mile feed station were much appreciated.

sdw7The chalk track off to the left diagonally

This was probably the toughest hill of the day, what with it coming late on. Punishing is a word that comes to mind and to be honest it was hard to walk it never mind run. However, the sense of relief at the top was huge and the 20 mile feed station was also a god send. The last 6 miles are undulating lanes that I have run before and that really does help with the mental challenge of those remaining miles. Your training comes into play, your will power does too and the sense that you are achieving something not everyone is capable of, in short I love pushing my limits 🙂

With the last short hill conquered and the final mile being downhill, “what bliss” !! I approached the finish on 4 hours and 56 minutes, so it was time to “grit your teeth and push for home time”

sdw9 sdw10“All or nothing to get under 5 hours”

Kate Bush once sang “And if I only could, I’d make a deal with God, And I’d get him to  swap our places, Be running up that road, Be running up that hill, with no problems”. Personally I wouldn’t have swopped running up those hills with anyone today. 329th place out of 500 and 4-58-38 meant sub 5 hours and my marathon mojo back. Well done to Paul who was 105th in 4-11 and Dave & Lucy who has it turned out were very close behind me.

Arun River Marathon – I had a “shocking run” but there’s always Positives to draw on

The morning started at 7.20 when Mark Greenfield picked me up along with Paul Coates and Dave Fuller, we would be meeting Lucy Peazold and Sharon Gwynn at Littlehampton marina, the venue for today’s marathon. Spirits were high in anticipation of our challenging cross country run with the 14 degrees temperature, at 8am, being a talking point around what to wear. Much banter was made of my comment from the evening before that I couldn’t decide what to wear, deva/tart and “it’s not a fashion parade” were comments that I took on the chin 🙂 The best decision I made was to wear my cap, this proved a huge benefit !!

A group photo was taken outside the Boat House and it was 9am and we were off, a small field limited to 100 runners. The Arun riverbank has clumpy grass and nettles in places but in the main was fine to run on in road shoes. Running along the river was just  beautiful.

Arundel Cathedral and Castle came into view at 4 miles and a short detour through the town brought us back onto the riverbank heading for the first feed station, the Black Rabbit pub at 6 miles. I was aware that my legs had felt “heavy” today for no particular reason so Mark and Dave started to disappear into the distance, as Paul had earlier, and I slowed down a little.

We crossed the river at 8.5 miles and ran through a wooded cops with narrow tracks and a very bouncy bridge. On leaving the shade and approaching Amberley at about 1o miles it was clear the field was well strung out now and my legs weren’t getting any looser. The next section saw us joining the South Downs Way and the rise in elevation that was capped with Amberley Mount. I walked in a number of places were I would normally run and by the time I was approaching half way with 13.5 miles to retrace I seriously considered dropping out, something I haven’t done in nearly 30 years of running. Words of encouragement from our runners going in the other direction were greatly appreciated and it was good to see Luke  Ashton in 3rd place.

It’s at times like this you discover “What you are made of”, not everything in life goes to plan and how you deal with it is what’s important, “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger” etc. Added to this the views from the top of Amberley Mount reminded me why I run off road and how much I enjoy it.

As our two lovely ladies Lucy and Sharon overtook me at about 15 miles Lucy kindly gave me two paracetamol which did help, they too disappeared into the distance so it was now down to me and the conversations with myself, that I was having 🙂 The temperature must have been around 20 degrees and I knew I was on for the slowest of my 7 marathons to date. “Come on Rog, just keep at it, keep going, everyone else will be waiting for me” I mumbled these words to myself for the remainder of the run to keep motivated as the 12 minute mile pace on my watch wasn’t a pretty sight 🙂

The Black Rabbit pub at 20 miles gave me some much needed humour as I took the wrong path and ended up in the middle of the beer garden, much to their amusement and mine. At the feed station on the other side of the pub I was greeted with enthusiasm from people I’ve never met and will never meet again, so I’d like to say a big thank you to them, especially young Madeline who made me laugh. Buoyed by their enthusiasm and my dogged determination I was off heading for Arundel. With 4 miles left I had to start mixing walking with my very slow running. This part of the riverbank seemed to go on for ages and more “talking to myself” was required !!

Finally the last 100 metres came and in true Fareham Crusaders spirit, even though I’d kept them waiting my team mates were there to cheer me in , we have a great club, full of great people. Shattered but pleased to have battled through, my energy levels and sense of humour returned with South Downs Water and a cooked breakfast from the Boat House café bar (included in the entry fee). Great event, Great organisation and Great running/times for 27 miles from Paul 13th in 4.08, Dave 28th in 4.33, Mark 36th in 4.43, Lucy and Sharon 74/75th in 5.27 and me 80th in 5.37 but “That’s life”, it was a “tough day at the office” for us all . Role on the South Downs marathon in 5 weeks time, I will be looking for some payback after todays blip, having said that, I still love to @runoffroad !! 🙂

I learnt today that “The Voice” may have “Will-I-Am” but I have “Will-Power”

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