Wednesday
Apr062016

The Journey to Merthyr (Almost) Half Marathon

There had been a few attempts to join 10 miler or a half marathon distance race in the last few years. The last time I trained for such a distance was for the inaugural Wales Trail Half and Full Marathon at Coed-y-Brenin in 2012. It was also my first ever half marathon after having just started running in 2010. It was definitely a race in which my attempt was abysmal and forgettable but I can never forget the picturesque route and I vowed that I will return at some point to do better.

Due to over-training on trails prior to Coed-y-Brenin, I picked up an injury. Due to over-compensation of some muscle group, my right iliacus muscle had ‘switched’ itself off and whenever I run uphill or increase my mileage, I can feel a building discomfort just beneath my right hip bone. I eventually had it looked at and slowly but surely I don’t hurt anymore.

Subsequent attempts to enter Forest of Dean Spring/Autumn Half and SOSPAN 10 were foiled because I sprained my ankle out running two weeks before the races and I did not want to risk aggravating the foot. Learning from Coed-y-Brenin, going into a race slightly injured or carrying an injury is not a good idea as it could mean months after of pain, discomfort and frustrations.

So the attempts to race stopped.  I stepped away from even parkrun because I just could not find the motivation or incentive to ‘perform’. I still ran as I do, less frequent during the week but gave up training for any races until I felt better physically and mentally. My annual mileage dropped. Normal life took over – work, college, house hunting and moving to Merthyr etc meant training for any race became less of a priority.

The journey to the Merthyr (Almost) Half Marathon then began when I ran the Merthyr 10K with my sister when she came to visit. I have just moved to Merthyr and I thought it might be nice to enter a local race and to run with my sister Li who was the one who got me started on running.  That was back in August 2015. It was a lovely little race and we both enjoyed it.

Then it was about trying to find time to run that fit around 3.5 days of work, 1.5 day of college plus an hour train commute/journey to and from work and college during the week. This began with getting up at 5 am and get a 3 – 4 miles in before work or college. It was not sustainable. After a few weeks, that plan was ditched and I began running on my lunch break. I run with a few colleagues who are new to running and soon we got a small group going and I found someone who is at my pace and a bit faster. Soon we established a regular Tuesdays and Thursdays run, Tuesdays being a shorter and faster run of just 2.5 – 3 miles and Thursday is a 4 – 6 miles. The plan was to help my colleague train for her first 10k. It was wonderful to see my colleague do really well in her first 10K as we both ran the St David’s Day 10K in Bute Park.

On days when I have college, I sometimes leave the house early to beat the traffic jam and get a 3 mile run in before class which starts at 9:15 am. In doing so, I discovered a nice 3 mile route around Pencoed which is quite pretty!  Longer runs were then reserved for the weekends, either a Sat or a Sunday and consists of building up to at least 11 miles two weeks before the Merthyr (Almost) Half Marathon. The routes I would take is either run downwards along the Taff Trail to Aberfan and back home which is about a 11 mile loop if I ran all the way including an uphill section home or stop in town and walk up the hill. If I feel energetic and can mentally get myself psyched up for a bit more of a challenge it could be a run north on the Taff Trail to Pontsticill Reservoir which makes a 12 mile loop.

Did I think I was ready for the Merthyr (Almost) Half Marathon after some shape of training? I thought I could have done with another 2 weeks of longer runs to be better prepared but a few weeks of chesty cough and cold, knocked the plans off a little. However, I thought I know part of the half marathon route which is the stretch along the Taff Trail from Merthyr College to Aberfan as I ran it as part of the 10K and I ran it as part of my long weekend runs.  I also double checked online to see the route and a youtube video of the route in 2015, confirmed it. So I was optimistic and felt I should do fine.

Come race day, I was completely taken aback. The first half of the route was unexpected. It was along the Trevithick Trail which meanders through the hillside from Merthyr to Merthyr Vale before you drop down to the valley floor and come back along the Taff Trail from Aberfan. The climbs were not sharp nor steep but the route undulates continuously throughout 3.5 – 4 miles on tarmac trail and then you have a short 2 miles or so of forest trail before you drop down to a pretty stone bridge called Pontygwaith and then you have another 2 miles of undulations again. The route finally flattens out after mile 8 and the last 5 miles is almost a flat route to the finish. Just two little climbs, one as approach the leisure centre and another as you approach Merthyr College. See Figure 1 for route map and Figure 2 for elevation below. I had only realised this route is similar to the San Domenico 20 recently when I compared the routes!

 

Figure 1: Merthyr (Almost) Half Marathon Route

 

Figure 2: Merthyr (Almost) Half Marathon Route Elevation

The unexpected undulations for the first half, played havoc with my breathing and thus I battled with stitches until I got into some form of rhythm. However I did manage a pace that I had planned for about 6 miles then everything got a bit harder as the undulations tired my legs out. By mile 8 when it flattened out, my calves were so tired and began to lock. So it was a case of stopped, stretched, jogged and ran whenever I can and finally made it to the finish line at 2:25. I wasn’t too pleased when we had to do two loops of the carpark just in front of the finish line. Quite soul destroying! Even worse when you found out, having done that it was not 13.1 mile. It was just 12.94 on my Garmin!

What did I like about this race? I liked it for a various reasons. Firstly, it is an interesting and quite picturesque route and this appeals to me. Personally, I do not like running around concrete and city streets, if I can help it. However, the down side of this is that, picturesque route means it is more challenging! Secondly, it was inexpensive compared to other city half marathons and thirdly, there was only 443 runners compared to big city races where you have thousands.  There was also many people along the route who came out to cheer the runners on and some were even handing out jelly babies as we came past them.

My only criticism of this race is, the course should be better measured so that it is not short. I am not particularly concern that it is short but this will deter many club runners from entering what is otherwise a beautiful race. I understand from Phil that it was measured for 2015 but the route may have changed and he had not heard from the organisers since. It is such a shame. I also don’t think running two loops around the carpark before the finish line works. Perhaps much better, if they consider relocating the start/finish point to make up for the distance and a better finish.

Will I enter this race again? Yes I probably will as it is local to me and it will be good to see if I have improved in a year’s time. Now I know the route, I can use it as one of my long Sunday runs.

Ai-Lin Kee

Tuesday
Jun022015

Rack Raid 2015

“What a must do event, thoroughly enjoyed by the lucky thirteen Les Croups pioneers that took part in this relay”.

I had thought about making enquiries on whether Les Croups could take part in this mini Castles relay, many times, but with my many other roles in athletics and this relay date always close to our own “Castles” it was always only just a thought.  It was Tracy Newman that the club can thank for prompting our final decision on applying to enter. Tracy canvassed various people, including the organisers Fairwater (Cwmbran) Runners and they more or less verbally agreed. Our club committee agreed, with a proviso that none of the Castles Committee would be able to give any of their already committed time to a relay race taking place only six days before our own huge relay event.  I then offered to take on the role of manager and formally applied online and we were successfully accepted.

The club agreed to pay our entry fee and the next step was selecting a team. The whole ethos of the club entering was to give a “second chance of competing” to members that narrowly failed to get into our very strong Castles teams.

Now the work began as the Rack-Raid (Ruins and Castle Keeps) is no ordinary road relay! They actually start and finish at these ancient sites, irrespective of terrain and use the “B” roads as much as possible to avoid traffic. Their cut off time is much tighter than our Castles, nine minutes per mile and the average stage is about 7.5 miles.  With 60 already chosen for the Castles, selection would have to be spot on to choose a team to represent our club and also do well in the event.

My first hurdle was to wait for the names of the 60 selected Castles team members and then start selecting from the reserves. This was the biggest hurdle, as nobody on selection would send me the chosen Castles teams and for the first time I had doubts about getting involved. Luckily some members rallied around and sent me the three selected teams, to enable me to start on my selection, without this information I would have certainly walked away from the event, as the Rack-Raid organisers needed names urgently.

Choosing the team was much easier than I had first expected, as I had members desperately wanting places and it was a case of actually having the unenviable task of asking people to go on reserve/standby for the event.

The team was eventually chosen. (2 Women and 11 Men) Next was the task of putting them on suitable stages for their ability. Ralph Davey and I, went on a recce of the course and were taken aback by the severity of the terrain, we couldn’t report it as too arduous, as this may have deterred members from competing.  Next was the complex issue of getting runners to their starts, not that easy, as they were often within remote villages accessed by “B” roads. This is where the cavalry came in, Dave McDonald assisted by Tim O’Sullivan, they mapped the course and timings and decided that 3 cars would cover the race. 

Now for the Big Day, how would this eager team of 13 runners perform on this arduous event against some clubs that would not be competing in our prestigious Castles Relay and were mostly from this hilly Gwent area?

Well, “we were tremendous”. Everybody gave over 100% and nobody had a “bad run.”  As it is a team competition it is always difficult to single out particular names and sometimes not fair, but I have to mention a few. Matt Hooper 5th on his stage, Matt Hopkins 6th on the most difficult long stage (13.1) and Mike Davies a creditable 9th on his. We mostly held 10th position from the 24 teams throughout the race and after stage 11, looking at the scoreboard; we decided that we may have a chance to improve our position.  Caldicot were 5mins-15secs ahead in 9th and Fairwater (Cwmbran) were 8 mins-42 secs ahead in 8th position, but as the last 2 stages were very hilly, anything could happen. Evatt Cummings was on this stage and although he reduced the lead of Fairwater, Caldicot slightly increased and were now in 8th with a 6 min-03 secs lead and Fairwater in 9th with a 5min-07 secs lead. It was all down to Matt Parkes on the last leg, very hilly, with the last mile being the famous “Newport Masochist Mile” to finish. He did us proud, finishing 4min-47 secs ahead of the Fairwater runner and 8 mins-23secs ahead of the Caldicot runner.  Putting us in 9th overall position (losing 8th place by just 20 secs to Fairwater) and putting Caldicot into 10th. Tremendous!  We were also the first non-Gwent Team!  

I thoroughly enjoyed putting this team together and I enjoyed even more seeing the sense of achievement in the faces of the thirteen proud team members that competed and will be wearing their unique fluorescent finishers T/shirts with pride. Was it tough, just ask them, would they do it again, just ask them.  I know the answer would be yes!

Without Tracy’s original idea, the support of the club and the backup of Dave Mcdonald, Tim O’Sullivan, Judy and Ralph Davey the event could not have taken place. Thanks again!

I hope that the club will support a team entry for next year; it was a great decision to give our club members the opportunity for some extra competition and they excelled. 

http://fairwater-cwmbran-runners.org.uk/sites/default/files/results/RACK_RAID_2015_Final_Result.pdf

Mel James

Sunday
Nov302014

Fell Race Frenzy - Nov 2014

Blorenge

Along with Sugar Loaf and Skiridd, it's one of the three hills that nestle Abergavenny. The annual fell race is a matter of starting at the bottom, running to the top and running down. Simple traditional fell racing.

So at 2 pm on a mild moist November day a healthy turnout of 100 lined up at Llanfoist, including 6 Croups. 400 yards of steep tarmac thinned out the field, and that was just about the last bit of running. A very narrow dark tunnel took us under the Brecon canal. (Is this unique? Is this the world's only subterranean canal fell race?) Out in the light it got narrow and steep, a good enough reason to avoid overtaking. Woods, a couple of styles and out on to open ground, where it just got steeper and steeper. Many heaved themselves up the steps worn in the earth, others crawled up on all fours. This has to be one of the steepest races out there.

The top was reached suddenly in the mist with a brief flat run. Then it was back down. Delicate steps, slip slide and fall. No fell shoe can stick to 45 degree wet mud. Two wrong turns in the mist and a shoelace tie meant I overtook one runner four times! 24 min up and 10 down, that is for a total of 4 km, an average of 13 minute miles in old money.

Sandwiches and tea in the village hall rounded off a great afternoon.

Well done to Katie Beecher (first lady), Nick and Caroline Dallimore, Mike and Gill Murphy. Also Roy Silver and Matt Townsend for supporting.

Llyn y Fan Fell Race

55 intrepid fell racers turned up for the second race in the South Wales winter fell series - amazing after the gales and squalls of the day before. The bunch set off in blue skies along the track to Llyn y Fan Fach with Bannau Sir Gar towering above, topped with cloud. Leaving the track here they hit the fell, up around the bowl to the ridge proper – awesome sky running if you could see the sky and not the cloud – up to CP1 at Picws Du. From the cairn, the runners followed the ridge to a small descent then a second rise to Fan Foel and CP2. From there, theoretically, there is a steep exciting descent - if you got the right line (though it seems there were various versions taken at this point!) –which brings you down to the hill below racing back to the car park, hopefully avoiding stream gullies and bog to the right and left, the odd unsuspecting rock and a leat.

Three from the club ran:

Position Name Club Time Category Number

26 Howard Owen Les Croupiers 01:00:21 Mu40 175
34 Simon Hazel Les Croupiers 01:04:39 Mo40 174
43 Roy Silver Les Croupiers 01:12:09 Mo50 173

With thanks to Simon Hazel and Richard Self

Sunday
Jun292014

Man v Horse 2014

  

James Bruce, Andrew Davidson, Libby O’Duffy, Dave Coles looking a bit shattered after 24 miles of Man v Horse 2014.

The race

This event has been going for 35 years now and is one of the original and best of the new type of ‘alternative’ races increasingly flooding the running calendar. Due to its clash with Castles Weekend, it is unusual for Les Croupiers runners to take part, which is a shame as it is as special as Castles and one you don’t forget in a hurry.

James Bruce, Libby O’ Duffy, Andrew Davidson and myself made our way up to Llanwyrtyd Wells near Llandovery, not really fully appreciating the enormity of the task ahead. I had run it before, in 2003, but there were only distant memories of muddy fields and hills near the end, and the famous finish through the river just before the finish.

Mystery surrounds the total distance and much of the entry is made up of 3 stage relay runners, averaging 8 miles per runner, or 24 miles for the entire route. I believe there are approximately 60 horses, 250 relay teams and 350 individual runners.

Stage 1 – around 7 miles. As Andrew Davidson’s talented friend, Connor, said, ‘No part of that race was easy!’ – maybe the first half mile on road, then straight in to a very steep hill, interspersed with jungle and bogs, to reach a stunning view on top of the first mountain, with an incredible view – you might just have well been a bird flying it was so dramatic a drop to the end of Stage 1.  Enough of a tough run in its own right, but onwards and mudwards for us.

Memories of Stage 2 (around 7 miles) are not that clear, but trails full of running water and mud with undulating trails spring to mind. Very little on road, if any. Less jungle than Stage 1.

Stage 3 was the longest leg and boy did it take a lot longer – this is where true endurance fitness will show or show you up! At times it was barely more than a shuffle and it seemed to last a lifetime, a true test of real tough long distance trail running. A few really tough up hills on beautiful terrain, undulations on road which seemed like hills, more bogs and off road mud baths, then a dreadful right turn in to an ever steepening field which never seemed to end. Then only around a mile to some welcome road, a few more twists and turns, a river to traverse in front of the spectators, then yet another little cruel few hundred metres before the very welcome finish and free cakes and sandwiches – bliss!  I managed a tumble on the path towards the finish in front of the crowds, but was so bruised and battered anyway, it didn’t seem to matter. It felt like having been in a tumble dryer for almost 4 hours.

Oh yes, forgot to mention that we probably got overtaken by about 40 of the 60 horses, though to be honest, haven’t checked the results to find out how many Red Rums come storming past.

There is so much to be written about this race, but it must go down as one of the most memorable and satisfying races ever. So much more than just a ‘long run’.

Well done Libby (2nd F40), James, Andrew and Connor – superb day out and a medal actually worth putting up there in the cabinet with the best of them, just for finishing!

Another point of note – Man v Horse is 24 miles multi terrain with 1140m climb, Snowdonia Marathon has 620m climb, so makes Snowdon seem a little less daunting!

Dave Coles

 

Friday
Apr252014

Forest of Dean Spring Half Marathon

Beady eyed and tired I wondered how I was going to get through this race after the night before.  But I knew I would. The Forest of Dean half marathon is a  popular off-road spring half marathon.  Apart from the first mile it winds its way through forest tracks, footpaths and old railway track.  (There use to be a lot of mines in the forest)

 As the organisers do not send out numbers it has to be collected on the day, which means queuing.  Queuing seems to be the order of the day as the number of toilets seems to decrease this year. The organisers have stipulated three basic rules: no dogs, no pushchairs and the most controversial no headphones ( it’s against UK athletics rules)  But despite my best efforts there was no way the runner in front was going to ditch them.  I never understood this latest craze!

 After the first mile I found myself on forest trails enjoying the serene and peaceful atmosphere of the forest.  Broken by the occasional chirp of a bird and groups of spectators and marshals.  The weather was also on our side with the sun peaking through the trees adding to that forest magic! One the thing the Forest of Dean is not is flat which makes the half marathon undulating but also adding to the challenge.  Hills don’t bother me I just keep going, I think the worse thing to do is to stop and walk. 

 Around the five mile mark the courses crosses the main road and up until last year the runners were forced to stop to allow for the traffic to pass.  But now the organisers have got this right and it is the traffic that now has to stop for the runners!  This is also a good spectator place. It is around the eight mile mark that the forest tracks become railway tracks.  Although there are no longer actual railways lines there is lots of evidence of the trains that once worked their way through the forest.  Particularly as you pass old railway buildings and go under a bridge which is another spectator area.

 The last hill on the course is also most challenging as it is a gradual climb. It is one that most people will walk and it seems never ending.  But once at the top it is just another mile to the finish.  You hear the finish before you see it and it’s enough to keep you going. At the finish line you receive your medal, water, energy drink and cereal bars.  One little girl was giving out sweets which I thought was nice.  However, there are no t- shirts unless you are in the first 50 runners but they do sell t-shirts nice tech ones which fit well.   Having collected all my goodies I decide to go and cheer in Clare and Sasha.

 So would I do this race again?  Possibly; it is lovely race and challenging but a little too much queuing.  There is another half marathon in September but there loads of other races in this area including a Park Run which I also recommend. 

Tracy Newman