Why I run off road : Old Winchester Hill

owhIf one photograph sums up why I run off road then its this one. I chose it to be the banner for my blog three and a half years ago and it still remains there. This stunning view of the Meon Valley and the South Downs Way (SDW) trail takes you on a rollercoaster of physical and mental effort as well as giving you an emotional experience which calls you back, like an addiction.

In practical terms I ran up and down Old Winchester hill (OWH) three times with almost 1,000 feet of elevation. This Strava link shows you the gps and hopefully my blog will give you a sense of what running through the countryside on a bright and brisk November morning means to me.

Running isn’t just my hobby, it’s my passion and a huge part of who I am. Just lacing up your trainers improves your mood and does wonders for your mental health and self esteem.

Setting off from Meonstoke I joined the Meon Valley trail via one of the many bridges that cross over it, what with it being an old railway line.

owh2The fallen brown, yellow, orange and gold leaves all combined into a carpet of colour along the corridor of trees. The temperature was about 7 degrees which meant the day had a bright and crisp feel to it, in other words, a perfect November running morning.

With only half a mile run I caught my first glimpse of Old Winchester Hill, the surrounding fields and the hedge line that marks the route up it. After a mile the South Downs Way signposts both confirm I’m in my happy place and serve as a reminder that the path ahead will need some concentration.

For the Centurion Running racers who run the whole 100 miles of the South Downs Way this is 13 miles from Winchester and 87 to Eastbourne !!

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Over the years people often ask “what do you think about while you’re running”, well, very little is the answer !! That’s the whole point of my running. Get out there and soak up the countryside. Secondly, at this time of year, there’s mud, tree roots and the camber of the trail to concentrate on.

The technical side of navigating November trails comes with practise but having said that it’s a case of taking them at your own pace. A training run is just that, training for a race or for future running, so pace isn’t as high on your off road priority.

owh5Some tree roots stand out more than others !! , some are cunningly hidden under leaves, !! but all of them can be managed with practise and care.

On colder days the air that you breath seems to energise you that little bit more than usual. Naturally, breathing in big lungful’s makes a difference and maybe its because you are out of town but if it could be bottled, there’d be a fortune to be made.

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When running these hills I wouldn’t be without my SKINS compression socks and shorts. I’ve blogged about the socks before and I’ll blog about the shorts after my longer run next week.

As the trail starts to ramp up you find your stride shortens and your lungs are working harder, in short, you are challenging yourself and it feels great (ok it hurts a bit too). The satisfaction of pitting yourself against natural obstacles and winning becomes a powerful lure. It’s you versus mother nature and its so easy to access.

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As the climb continues it’s also worth pointing out that some of the challenges are man made. The electric fence to my right clearly needs avoiding.

By now I was about two thirds up the hill and was presented with two options. Firstly, skirt around the base of the main hill and run up the steepest section or carry on climbing steadily along the rooted path up to the trig point. I chose the later knowing I’d save the steepest climb for last.

Reaching the top of OWH naturally you are rewarded with the views in all directions but I also felt a sense of history in that the Meon Valley view would largely have been the same for hundreds of years and knowing this elevated position was once used as an Iron Age hill fort.

We are very lucky in Hampshire to have both the countryside and the coast on our doorstep.

strava2With the first hill under my belt I ran across the top and encountered some very hardy looking sheep. Two of the sheep were directly in my path and neither were moving. If I didn’t know better I’d say they were staring me out, so I ran around them. No sense in upsetting the locals 🙂

Oh yes, obstacles, I haven’t mentioned gates yet. You come across all sorts of shapes and sized gates and the curious thing is that they all open in slightly different ways. I distinctly remember running the North Devon marathon and holding up quite a few runners with not being able to open a gate. The best I could come up with was, “sorry I’m from Southampton” ha ha 🙂

Generally speaking if you pull the leaver to the left and check the latch, then you may proceed.

After a short narrow section of trail I arrived at the gate where the first photo of this blog is. Referencing the map above I was now in the 2.5 to 4.5 mile section of my run. This descent and subsequent ascent was completely different.

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The SDW is know for its chalk base and as I ran down the weather and frequent use has exposed the white chalk. It is quite rutted and again the challenge of negotiating the downhill needs as much concentration as the tree roots on the other side. On my return back up I knew my calves and thighs are being tested but I made steady progress.

This particular hill will always remind me of the Race to the King which is a double marathon that finishes in Winchester. On that day this hill was about 35 miles through the race and I walked every stride of it, so it’s always empowering to run it all in one go. This photo was on that hot June day.

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And so, my final challenge lay ahead, the steepest climb. On the map above if you look up from mile 5 you’ll see a 120 feet short and fierce climb. As I descended you actually need to plant your feet with purpose because otherwise you’d start running away with yourself !!

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Again this photo was from a sunnier day but you get the scale of the trail. It’s just a case of one foot in front of the other and try to spread out your effort. Your calves are burning, your thighs are burning and your lungs feel like they will bust out of your chest but that the thrill, the excitement, the adrenaline, that sense of “really” being alive !!

In life you have so many responsibilities, deadlines and expectations of you, sometimes its great just to test yourself purely for your physical and mental resilience. Take yourself out of your comfort zone and revel in your achievement.

You have more to give than you think you have and quite honestly if you need to take a short break or walk for a while then so what !!

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If the first photo from this blog sums up why I run off road then this one above comes a close second. I passed the signpost and smiled, running with other friends clearly adds a different dynamic to your day but sometimes its great to just soak it up on your own.

Old Winchester Hill and the South Downs Way are my favourite … location, location, location and running is great for your heart and soul.

Happy Running

Roger

UK BLOG Awards, Sports & Fitness

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I’m proud that my blog has been chosen along with 32 others in the UK Blog Awards Sports and Fitness category. If you’ve enjoyed reading my blog over the last three years then maybe you’d consider voting please.

Here’s the link … Vote Here

Clicking on this link will take you directly to the category and then all you need to do is page down to irunoffroad and click the heart icon. It’s as easy as that.

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Voting is open for the next six weeks and then a shortlist will be judged.

Once again, thank you for reading my blog.

Roger

National Get Outside Day Sept 30th

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To quote those enthusiastic people from Ordnance Survey (OS) Leisure …… On 30 September 2018, they want you to get active outdoors. Join in with a National or Regional event near you, or create your own adventure outside with family and friends.

For more information, just follow this LINK

I’ve long been a convert to the Great British countryside, it’s out there just waiting for you …. take in the fresh air, the scenery, the sights and sounds and you’ll be hooked, just like me 🙂

 

 

Meon Valley Trail training

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Over the last month I’ve been using the Meon Valley Trail for my training. In its basic format the trail is a ten mile stretch of disused railway line that starts in Wickham and heads north to West Meon.

The trains may be long gone but this local gem has been resurfaced and now provides access for runners, cyclists, walkers, horse riders etc etc. The tree lined track gives shade from the sun but at the same time creates dappled sunshine markings ahead of you.

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Numerous bridges break up the essentially straight pathway and you are constantly reminded that you’re in the countryside with the birds in the trees, the occasional squirrel and sights of the surrounding fields.

You really can switch off as your miles tick by because with the exception of only a couple of road crossings the horizon in front of you is one long tunnel of green.

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Seven miles into the trail you’ll come across the South Downs Way signs to Exton and Eastbourne in their West and East direction. You pass old sidings that have laid asleep for decades as well as a privately owned station at Soberton.

Whats at the end of the trail I hear you ask ??? The remains of the West Meon station and a car park.

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All in all if you are in the Southampton / Winchester area I’d recommend it as a great route to run. There’s a gradual incline as you head North but naturally you benefit from this on your return.

Whether you are starting out on your running journey with a couple of miles or you use it as I’ve been doing for marathon training, the Meon Valley Trail offers something for everyone.

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For lots more information just follow this link MVT

Happy Running !!!

10 miles & an Air Traffic Control Tower #history

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I only had 90 minutes to play with today so I decided to take in an historic sight which has now been modernised. I do enjoy exploring the past, taking in the surrounding area and imagining what was taking place years ago. One such place locally to me is the Solent airport.

The airport was previously HMS Daedalus and the vast expanse of land is gradually being developed with new businesses, potential housing and an engineering college.

What I was really interested in was the runway that RAF planes had used in WW2 and the iconic control tower which would have masterminded all the comings and goings of British and other nationalities aircraft. In fact on June 6th D Day, 435 sorties were flown, the most by far of any UK airfield.

The recently modernised control tower also now has a café and they have done an excellent job of charting the airfields history and significance. If you are local you’ll need to approach the CEMAST college turn off and then turn left along the perimeter fence, past the new driving test centre and businesses.

Image-12 The helicopter straight ahead was an impressive sight but the boards that commemorated the sites history were even better.

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Image-15I’ve run past the outer perimeter fencing numerous times so now that the site has been opened up commercially it made a great detour but still meant I could gauge my ten mile run. My mile splits were all pretty even so I’m looking forward to pushing up the mileage.

Two cyclists were just arriving as I turned back on my return leg and with the café being open seven days a week as well as it having patio benches outside, a small slice of history can be taken in along with a slice of cake !!

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My aim for today was 10 miles at a steady 9 minute per mile pace which I was spot on. Its good to appreciate what the RAF and many others did for our country in desperate times. You could almost imagine the spitfires taking off.

Running isn’t always about pace and time, it can be about discovery and appreciation too. Thanks for reading 🙂

 

Goodwood Running Grand Prix : Marathon

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Goodwood’s famous motor racing circuit is the venue for a Running Grand Prix held by RunThrough . Yes it’s only 5 weeks away, however, its flat and I’m really excited to be lapping this historic course, even if a little slower than the drivers.

The venue is fairly close to me and I decided that before I amerce myself in Autumn trail running I’d have a pop at a tarmac surface that’s also in the countryside. So, it’s a case of packing in the miles and fine tuning my engine … ha ha … I’m more of a family saloon than a racing car 🙂 ……………and with quite a few miles on the clock !!

 

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I haven’t settled on my next trail race yet but I’m hoping it will be the Beachy Head marathon as its at the other end of the South Downs Way and I’m keen to explore that neck of the woods.

That’s it for this update, thanks for reading and enjoy your running 🙂

Me being interviewed by Alton Sports !!

Thanks very much to Nick from Alton Sports and Gosvegas Running for asking me to sit for one of the #redsofa interviews. The shop that’s located in Gosport caters for all of your running requirements along with Wednesday evening and Saturday morning free runs.

The Alton Sports shop and Nick are at the hub of our local running community.

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I’ve been running for 30 years now so the 7 & 1/2 minutes chat covered quite a few topics as well as my blogging. The shop offers Nick’s years of experience and a wide selection of shoes, clothing and accessories.

Image-10 The Gosport shop is Alton Sports fifth and I’m sure there will be a sixth and seventh in time to come !!

I feel privileged to have been asked and I hope you find it as entertaining as I did making it 🙂 Whether you are an experienced runner or someone setting out on your parkrun journey there’s great advice and stock just waiting for you.

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Have a great weekend and happy running 🙂

P.S. I’m chuffed to say that as of this evening the video has had 400 views on facebook and 80+ on twitter. Thanks for watching today.

 

 

 

Lanzarote Run

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My Strava account may suggest I ran considerably more than five miles but unless there was a hidden treadmill on the plane I can only take credit for the shorter journey. I think we owe it to our families to take breaks from our sport but when my wife said “why don’t you go for a run” I seized the opportunity.

An average week in the UK consists of a 9.5 mile round trip cycle commute Monday to Friday, a long run at the weekend and fitting in a couple of cheeky short runs when I can.

In comparison with an all inclusive week of glorious food and alcohol, on tap (literally) it was a relief to be lacing up my trainers. Don’t get me wrong I’m as good at overindulgence as the next runners …. for example, when you can’t make up your mind between vodka and orange or vodka and lemon …. have them both 🙂

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I left the complex at around 6.30 pm on a balmy evening with the every present Lanzarote breeze in my face and the seafront ahead of me. The breeze can fool you into thinking it’s cooler than it is but the fact that I could wring out my t shirt when I got back just proved how warm it still was.

The volcanic nature of the island made for contrasting views on my run, lush green palm trees on the one hand and dark colour sand in comparison.

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Before taking on the seafront and its hurly burly I couldn’t resist planting my footsteps on the sand nearest to me. If the dark sand looked like it could have come from the moon then my solitary steps must have been like “Neil Armstrongs”.

I weaved my way between the locals and tourists and took note that the two meter wide cycle lane was also a popular alternative. Yes that’s right a cyclist shouted at me to get out of his lane … well I guess that was what he said judging by his hand gestures.

One feature that reoccurred a number of times along my route were these heart shaped padlocks. The various messages were interesting to read but I decided to press on 🙂

20180716_164647 I ran at a comfortable pace and made mental notes of interesting places I’d like to return to, on our walks into town. The coast may have been immediately to my left but a glance over to the right revealed the towering reminders of this volcanic island.

375BB3BE-B5A0-4DC6-A9B2-07B582A37FB0 Suffice to say I could have kept on running and exploring but I hadn’t eaten or drunk anything for well over an hour … ha ha …. so I turned around near the giraffe, yes you read that correctly, the giraffe and headed for home.

18564789-1FBE-4867-964D-B975A62CBF2BRunning literally broadens your horizons and even though I’d only been out for three quarters of an hour I’d thoroughly enjoyed my trot. OK a number of people had looked at me with questioning expressions, like … “running”, on holiday, really ?? but as you’ll know when it’s part of your life its a habit that’s hard to break.

All that was left to do was to concentrate on some hydration ….. holiday style 🙂

Cheers.

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Weekend Warriors

 

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From my point of view I have a week to go until the South Downs marathon but this short blog is more about the wider sporting community that were out in force for the Centurion South Downs 100 mile race  …… “The Weekend Warriors” !!

I’d planned my last taper run from Queen Elizabeth Country Park to Harting Down and back. Through the power of social media I’d run these twelve miles with Mark Highland (pictured above and also running the marathon next week) and meet Graham Carter (pictured below) at one of the impressive aid stations along the #SDW100 route. I’ve only chatted on twitter / facebook with these chaps so it was great to finally meet them.

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Within the hundred mile runners ( Winchester to Eastbourne) I was keen to cheer on as many as possible and especially Fareham Crusaders men’s captain Paul Pickford (pictured below).

paulAfter meeting Mark in the car park as well as Aaron, James and Paula from Fareham Crusaders who were also out run supporting we set off. The outward six miles will be the final six in next weeks marathon so this was a great familiarisation exercise.

The stunning countyside views coupled with the sunshine meant the undulating terrain was run with good spirits. This following photo amused me with a tree that had fallen across the trail but in typical National Trust fashion it had been made a feature of.

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Graham would be marshalling his Centurion aid station for some hours so hats off to him and all the other volunteers for this commitment to the running community. We chatted about the day ahead and then carried on our running.

All went to plan with the runners heading towards us on our return route. We clapped and cheered the eventual winner and probably a hundred ultra runners that included Stephen from Film My Run and our very own running clubs Paul Pickford at the QECP aid station. At this point the runners had done about a marathon, distance wise !! Paul finished in 25 1/2 hours …. fantastic.

What a commitment, one hundred miles !!! Wow 🙂 Congratulations to everyone that finished. Naturally you don’t need to run 100 miles to be a warrior, but it probably helps, especially if that meant 12,700 feet of elevation and for many running overnight #amazing

With my marathon a week away the prospect of virtually four in a row takes some processing. What a mental and physical challenge these guys took on.

Today’s weekend warriors included racing runners, training runners and aid station volunteers. Added to this mountain bikers, walkers and hikers all out on the Downs.

In summary ………… get outdoors, you’ll feel so much better for it 🙂

#weekend #warriors