Wednesday
May022012

Greater Manchester Splashathon

On the advice of a few club members (namely James Bruce, Gareth Rees and Amanda Thompson), I'd like to submit my race report for the Greater Manchester Marathon on Sunday just gone (you remember, the day with the freakish weather!). I hope folk enjoy reading it, if not out of solidarity then at least out of schadenfreude ;-)



Most marathoners, myself included, are control freaks. Through their respective rituals and practices, they will try to manipulate every possible variable of a race: hydration, nutrition, comfort, pace/speed and to some extent even the course itself (don't go too wide on that corner!). But the mere mention of one particular variable will strike fear into the heart of any long-distance runner seriously gunning for a shiny new personal best: wind. No, not the kind that prompted Paula Radcliffe to take an unscheduled roadside toilet break during the 2005 London Marathon, but the kind that sweeps almost unnoticed across flowery meadows before hitting you square in the face with all the subtlety of an anvil.

For almost every kind of weather there is some line of defence. Hot and sunny? Don't sweat it: just don your cap and sunglasses and take on plenty of fluids. Pouring with rain? No need to get all pissed off: you'd only be drenched in sweat otherwise. Even snow and ice can be negotiated pretty well in the right footwear. But wind? Well, the best you can do is tuck in and 'draft' behind another runner, preferably one bigger than you are. Then again, there aren't many big guys towards the front of the pack and, man, why is this guy going so slowly?! See what I mean? That's why I and -- I suspect -- most of the other 7,999 runners who had signed up for the Greater Manchester Marathon were anxiously checking the long-term weather forecast up to a week before the big day.

Never before have I been kicked so hard in the teeth by Carol Kirkwood. Meteorologically speaking, Sunday 29th April was a truly vile prospect: 5°C, heavy rain and, crucially, gusts of up to 45mph. As the big day encroached, the long-term forecast proved uncharacteristically accurate. What's more, the conditions were set to gradually deteriorate right up to Sunday morning and then improve again! (As I write this on Monday afternoon, I'm considering stripping down to my underwear, such is the intensity of the sun effortlessly beating its way through the tinted glass of the conservatory roof...) It was as though the running and weather Gods had got together for a piss-up and chosen us as the butt of their cruel, drunken practical joke. Well, all I could do was suck it up and take it like a man. Albeit a martyred one. Probably a contradiction in terms, right? Yep, thought so.

On the morning of 29th April, 8,000 marathoners awoke at some unearthly hour and gingerly pulled back the very corner of their net curtains to peer outside. Faced with incontrovertible evidence of those dreaded weather forecasts, some 3,200 runners turned over and went back to sleep. I, on the other hand, had made a 300-mile round trip for this event and had resorted to run whatever the conditions. As an added incentive, I had been kindly put up by my cousin and her fiancé, Mark, who would also be running that morning (somehow it's always more motivating to do these things in twos).

Mark and I drove separately to the start as we would be heading in different directions after the race. Once we had parked, we figured we should do a bit of a recce of the finish area. "May as well get used to the cold", I thought as I pulled on my gear (racing shoes, running tights, a base-layer vest and t-shirt) along with a bin bag sporting head and arm holes. I soon realised I had underestimated the temperature. After 20 minutes of milling around outside, my arms and hands were genuinely painful. Mark and I agreed to keep warm in my car until the start -- I headed straight there while Mark took an unenvied detour to the portaloos. When I got back, I rifled through my running bag for a long-sleeved top. Hadn't packed one. What an idiot. Despite all my preparations, I had made a total rookie error.

Mark got back to the car to find a gibbering wreck in the driver's seat: what was I going to do?! I hadn't even started the race and could barely feel my extremities! Mark said he had a long-sleeved top I could borrow, but it was locked in his car, the key to which was now at baggage collection a 10-minute walk away. We looked at our watches: 30 minutes until the start. Selflessly, Mark set off to get his key anyway, but after 20 minutes he still hadn't reappeared. Something must have gone wrong -- we would never find one another now. I frantically scanned the contents of my car: compression socks! I pulled them over my arms and looked at them. They covered my arms pretty well but the parts meant for the feet were flapping about annoyingly. Thankfully, there was a pair of scissors in the first-aid kit in my passenger door. I customised my socks. There. Now at least my arms would be warm.

I jogged over to the start and jumped the barrier to the section for runners targeting a 3:00-3:29 finish time. We were given a motivational speech by Ron Hill, the legendary runner from the North-West who had been only the second man to break 2:10 for the marathon (none of the UK's current marathoners are quite as fast). "I'll settle for an hour slower than Ron", I thought (3:10 would also be a 'good for age' time for entry into the 2013 London Marathon). The gun fired without a countdown and the pack of around 4,800 runners moved off quickly and smoothly.

The first few hundred yards were downhill and I immediately settled into quite a nice rhythm, hitting both of the first two miles in 7 minutes dead (to finish in 3:10 I would need to average 7:15/mile). Since the course looped around South Manchester, the landmarks were few and far between. In fact, they were pretty much limited to Old Trafford. No matter. It was at least largely flat. I got chatting to a fellow called Rob and together we eased our way to 10km at between 7:00 and 7:10/mile. I can't recall much of our conversation but do remember Rob geeing up the spectators in crowded areas. The energy generated by the crowd gave me (and others too, no doubt) a huge boost, so I stole Rob's tactic and started to shout and whoop whenever I saw a reasonable number of onlookers. To my surprise, they didn't look at me like a complete loon but cheered and egged us on with unbounded enthusiasm. What a buzz. I was so grateful to all those members of the public who took to the streets to support us. They probably don't realise how much of a difference they made.

I unwittingly left Rob behind at a water station and -- just as unintentionally -- sped up, logging mile 8 in 6:53. Maybe I needed a pacer. I had, after all, been overtaking other runners pretty steadily: at the start mat my position was 379th; by the 10-mile marker it was 269th. At that point I struck up a conversation with a Scouser called Jamie. He was aiming for "anything below 3:30", but seemed to be running way in excess of his expectations. This was his first marathon (poor guy!), though he had done a handful of half marathons. Together we maintained a steady pace (between 7:04 and 7:16/mile) for the next 10km or so and tackled the only real hill of the course. We were mocked by spectators on more than one occasion for doing "too much chatting and not enough running". Apparently we were enjoying ourselves too much! I moved ahead of Jamie as the course narrowed along a muddy farm track and ultimately lost him at about mile 15. I would have no more running companions, but that was perhaps for the best, as it can be all too easy to lose concentration at this point.

The biting north-north-easterly wind was starting to become more of a factor as we edged north-westwards.  I held my pace and passed a few more runners, feeling strong while others seemed to flag. By mile 20 I had gained another 46 places and was sitting pretty in 213th. In fact, my time by that point (2:21:14) pointed towards a 3:06 finish.

Then out of nowhere, things really got tough. The proverbial 'wall'? No, I had prepared for that. In retrospect it was a combination of things. For one, the wind was no longer just a factor: it was my main obstacle. Strong gusts were hitting the thinning pack head-on. The wind lowered the temperature further still and we were pelted with hail. The runners around me no longer flagged but slumped and in some cases pulled up. As though sympathetically, one of my left calf muscles knotted suddenly and tightly before releasing again: a warning sign. A month or so earlier I had strained my Achilles tendon and now the tightness in that area, which had been perceptible since about mile 10, was spreading steadily upwards.

I tired, slowed up, got frustrated and sped up again, prompting another intense shooting pain in my calf. "Don't do this to me", I muttered to my own body, foolishly expecting it to take heed. Instead, the cramps got more regular and more intense, so that my entire left leg buckled under load. "OK, I'm giving this too much thought", I decided. From then on, as far as I was concerned, my legs were no longer part of me. I shifted my attention to the people and places around me. I remembered that my best friend, Brett, would be somewhere around the 25-mile mark, waiting to give me a final push. It was the perfect focal point.

I would love to end this report with some tale of superhuman stamina and endurance, but in truth I plodded my way to the finish line on auto-pilot. One or two people passed me but, miraculously, between mile 20 and the finish I managed to climb another 30 rungs up the ladder to 183rd of 4,760! (Apparently I wasn't the only one having a hard time towards the end!). I managed a spurt of sorts in the final strait, focusing solely on the finish line and completely blanking out the encouragement offered by my uncle and cousin who had come to see me at the end. And it was just as well they did: when I sidled over to talk to them I was so cold that my words were slurring as I spoke, and I was shivering uncontrollably. My uncle offered me his coat and hat and I did away with the silly foil blanket I'd been handed. I later heard tales of runners being treated for exposure. The conditions had been cold and miserable, but at least I had made it!

So, the all-important question: what was my finish time? Well, I came home in 3:10:36 -- not bad considering! I suppose that's not fast enough to qualify as a good-for-age time, but on the advice of a friend and fellow runner I'm going to call the organisers of the London Marathon to find out, just in case. A wise man once said: if you don't ask, you don't get.

Update: In case you were wondering, the London Marathon organisers are very strict when it comes to good-for-age times. Unfortunately, not one second's leeway can be given, regardless of course and conditions. Public ballot entered, though -- fingers and toes crossed!

Ed Ashley

Monday
Mar122012

Déjà vu again and again… aka Barry 40!

The historic Jenner ParkHaving lap counted on 2 previous occasions at Barry 40 I’d been keen to have a crack for a few years however, prior engagements or injuries always seemed to get in the way. So after getting a marathon PB last October at Newcastle (3.13.11) my mind turned to considering Barry once again.

Training:

I’d aimed to do Barry 40 in 2011 and had mapped out my training weeks intricately only to have it all fall apart with an injury so this year I decided just to go with the flow and take it week by week. Unfortunately due to a bizarre tight hamstring issue that has blighted me since Newcastle (despite lots of treatment) I was unable to run at pace for fear of flaring up the problem although a slow (very slow) plod mile after mile seemed more manageable. So after resting 5 weeks up to Christmas hoping the hamstring issue would clear (it didn’t) I finally got back to plodding. Most of my weeks were based around only 4-5 runs / week allowing me 2-3 days rest for the hamstring to recover a little. Then in January I tweaked a calf out of the blue that had me lose a further 2 weekends and now I was seriously thinking Barry was yet again a pipe-dream. With 6 weeks to the start line I knew I had to decide so concluded I could use Barry for a decent long training session and maybe do the marathon distance or if things went really well maybe a baby ultra (50km). With no 20 miler sessions in the legs at this stage and only having 6 weeks till D-Day the option of a 3 week taper was a non-starter. Those last few weeks actually went really well and although I was only running 5 days a week I managed a couple of weekends just before race day where I managed up to 15 miles on the Saturday and then around 25 miles on the Sunday at a steady 8.30 mile pace with my biggest weekly mileages being around only 55. So with 13 days to go I started my taper.

Gear:

Based on the weather forecast (cold, potentially wet and very windy) I decided to go with a long sleeve HH base layer top allowing me to adjust for temperature (sleeves rolled up, sleeves rolled down, simples)! I also went for long leg tights and 1000 mile socks. Hat and gloves were worn from the start and dispensed with after the first few miles.

Although I rarely suffer blisters I tend to have a few toes that take a battering in long efforts and would therefore usually tape my toes for said long efforts. Recently I’ve been trying out a different, newer type of tape called Kiniseo-Tex in training and it worked brilliantly. This tape is less abrasive than others therefore friction against un-taped bits of skin is much less likely meaning less risk of hot-spots and it also has a bit of elasticity therefore will give a little if/when feet start to swell. It’s also very sticky so will stay attached and comes in many different colours for those who want to be colour co-ordinated.

Nutrition:

The subject of nutrition and endurance performance is a passion of mine and I love to experiment with nutritional strategies all the time. I’d been trying out a supplement that is designed for multi-hour endurance events called Perpeptuem, which as well as providing the usual carbs and electrolytes also dribbles in a steady stream of amino acids to minimise muscle breakdown during ultra’s but in a manageable very dilute tasting drink (I chose strawberry flavour).

 

So my plan was to use up to 3 bottles of SiS ‘Go’ (in the first half of the race), 3 bottles of Perpetuem (for the middle and second half of the race), have plenty of gels at hand (only used 1) and have electrolyte capsules (Endurolytes) every hour. Additionally I also had more basic food stuff such as chocolate and fruit pastilles ( these worked a treat).

Race Day:

Me and my lap counter (thanks Tom) arrived around 9am to find Jenner Park was cold, wet and breezy, actually it was very cold, very wet and very windy! But ever the optimist Mick’s first words were “It’s going to stop raining by 10am I have it on good authority”.

As 10am approached and with everyone gathered a clearly emotional Mick paid tribute to a great champion, George Dayantis, a very sobering moment and one that I was proud to be a part of if only in contributing to the cacophony of applause.

10am arrives, the sky dries up (Mick obviously has powerful connections) as we toe the line and….. BANG! I almost had to make an un-scheduled toilet stop on the first lap to check my pants as an unexpectedly loud starting gun went off right next to us. Crisis averted we settled into the first of many laps and it was clear from the outset that Grant Jeans meant business as he bounded away at the front at what must have been 6 minute-mile pace. Before the end of my 4th lap he’d lapped me and continued in this vain throughout. It was great to see the front runners chase each other around lap after lap although it was clear unless Grant came a cropper it was going to be tough for his closest rival to keep up with never mind beat.

Personally I had no concerns about what anyone else was doing and only focused on my plan which was to stick at a steady 8.30 mile pace for as long as possible. The first few miles were slightly quicker than I planned at around 8.00 minute mile pace although everything felt fine. My approach to the race was to break it down into 5 mile blocks in my head but not to dwell on the lap numbers in any significant way. I know I can switch my head off when needed and so this was my plan in essence. Distraction works well for me and so I passed the early time away counting steps between marker posts, number of bulbs in the floodlights, number of seats ripped out of the stands etc. Also chatting to the other competitors when the opportunity arose helped. But how Heather was able to talk as much as she did in amongst giggling and laughing and still lap me consistently I just don’t know? About the only time she wasn’t laughing was when she lapped me yet again only this time with blood streaming down her face, neck and legs and her telling me how accident prone she was and that in the process of ripping off her jacket she’d inadvertently sliced her cheek open with a pin!

Everything was going well when I reached half way and I’d managed to stem the loss of laps to some runners by this point but by mile 21 I’d started to notice some aches in my left leg, particularly my hip flexor, hamstring and quad. Prior to the race Mick had warned that some people suffer with the repeated left turning. The aches worsened and the pain grew and I was starting to suffer. My confidence of getting to the marathon marker, never mind the 50km started to waver. However plod on I did at an ever decreasing pace and eventually got past the 26.2 mile marker telling myself only 5 miles to go before I could gracefully withdraw. By this point the wind was really getting up and every lap we had to endure the full force in the back straight which was energy sapping and on a few occasions the gusts almost forced me to a dead stop. However the miles slowly clocked by and I could see everyone else was suffering in their own personal world of pain as one by one athletes called a premature end to their own race. On approaching the 30 mile point my stubborn streak began to kick in and visions of going past 50km came to mind. This was re-enforced by 3 repeating motivating thoughts. Firstly I didn’t want to spend the next days and weeks having to explain to anyone that asked that I pulled out before the end point. Secondly I’d found Mick’s tannoy race updates interesting and informative whilst I ran, however when it came to him saying “sadly ‘x’ number of athletes have pulled out so far and we hope they’re all ok” going onto name them I became determined that my name wasn’t going to be one of them and thirdly I had a vision of Mick’s results page in weeks to come showing the named runners with timings listed for each 5 mile point up to the point they’d stopped and from then on just having empty boxes. I really didn’t want my name against a partly completed result page and decided I hadn’t completed 31 miles only to stop so with these thoughts bouncing around my head I urged myself on to see just how far my legs could go.

Tom was giving me signals that 50km was approaching but by then I was already taking on more food (the fruit pastilles really did the trick at this point), fluid and salts, and the odd pain killer for the final push! Once the decision to continue was made I found those later miles easier although every lap still hurt. By now I, as well as a few others had resorted to walking the back straight into the increasing wind to conserve energy and running the remaining ¾ lap. I’d also started to get some laps back on some of the earlier, quicker runners just ahead of me which was encouraging although any aspirations of improving my position were a distant second to merely getting across the finish line. The support grew louder as the laps ticked over and I was happy to respond to regular requests for a smile from Phil Cook (I really wasn’t grimacing)!

With 5 miles to go I felt stronger and my pace had quickened even though my aches still ached, alot! With a last handful of salt tablets I felt I had enough energy and fluid on board to get to the finish line and so got into my ‘groove’ where I focused only on the bit of track ahead of me and putting one foot in front of another. Very quickly I was in the last 10 laps and was beginning to grin to myself that I wasn’t far from the finish (bear in mind the winner had long finished, showered and departed the venue by this point)! The bell rang, my last lap started and I made a final effort to the line and it was over!

My Timings:

Miles

5 mile timings

Ave pace / 5 miles

Accum times

1-5

40.17

8.03

40.17

6-10

41.47

8.21

1.22.04

11-15

41.34

8.19

2.03.38

16-20

42.45

8.33

2.46.23

21-25

44.14

8.51

3.30.37

26.2

 

 

3.42.10

26-30

49.59

10.00

4.20.36

31-35

51.56

10.23

5.12.32

36-40

48.12

9.38

6.00.44

Post Race Reflection:

I hurt like hell for 2 days afterwards but my tea tasted sweeter than I can recall for a long time, maybe because I was drinking it from my ‘Barry 40 Finishers’ mug? I really loved this event and really can’t think of any negatives, other than left sided aches. In fact the elements of this unique event that non-believers hit up on, eg “161 laps of the track, you must be mad!” etc I think are a major positive. It means you can have all the nutrition and fluid you want and never have to carry it, there is no need to stay alert for navigation purposes because if you can figure out the route of the first lap then you’ve got it cracked. You have constant support on tap from friends, who can see at a glance when you’re suffering and up the volume of support instantly. You toe the start line with a bunch of like-minded strangers yet within hours you’re looking out for each other and applauding every runner as they cross the finish line. Oh and I got a suntan!

My personal ‘yard-stick’ of how likely I am to repeat an event is how quickly I become dissatisfied with my performance and start rethinking what needs to change to improve. I’d gotten to that point by the Monday morning. I know I can do better next time so I’ll just have to prove it!

A final big thank you to all that make this event happen year up on year, all the back room volunteers, the poor lap counters who suffer near frostbite of the pinkies and last but definitely not least Mick! Take a bow one and all!

Dave Proud

 

Tuesday
Mar062012

The Bog Monster Cometh

It's just gone 11.30pm on a Friday night. I'm standing with three friends: Tom Gibbs, his good missus Astrid, and Gary Davies in Edale village hall. Around us are still an assortment of like-minded souls similarly equipped with headtorches, running sacs and other fell running kit - its the start of the High Peak Marathon........ 

To quote the website: 

The High Peak Marathon is a 42 mile night time navigation endurance challenge for teams of four.  The route traverses the Derwent Watershed, starting and finishing at Edale Village Hall, Derbyshire. The event is independently organised and run by Members of the University of Sheffield High Peak Club, past and present, and is fully insured and affiliated through the Fell Runners Association.


Competitors awaiting their start times.

We were in the mixed team category along with some dozen or so other mixed teams amongst the fifty taking part, many of which were looking very competitive. Of our team, 'Run MDC' , only Gary remained a 'HPM virgin'. The rest of us had done it a couple of times before and knew of the misery that awaited us!

The hope for this event is to have clear and frozen weather so that the infamous peat bogs remain hard and frozen. Alas this was not to be. The forecast was for around 5C with some wind, with fog and rain coming in later. However before the start the local hills disappeared into a foggy blanket - navigation was going to be extra fun.

(Ed: NB "Extra fun" - whilst us mere mortals quake at the thought of being lost on the hills, Jules seems to relish it - pervert)

We kept the start steady. Initial pacing in this event can be hard to judge as you catch slower teams, and faster ones overtake. The key is not to get carried away - the initial 10 miles is fairly easy going compare to the middle bog section that awaits, and 42miles is a long way.

Ascending Kinder ScoutVisibility was poor - very poor at times. Headtorches became little use on the head in the fog and had to be held lower in the hand. I was further blinded by my glasses fogging up and leaving me half blind a lot of the time, and the burden of navigation fell to Tom. His navigation is superb but it did leave him with a major task for the race.

Gradually check points are picked off as we crack on, each manned (and womaned!) by cheerful Sheffield students, usually garbed in some sort of fancy dress - you can't fail to smile! The group works well and we stick close. Over the bogs Tom and Gary do a great job of keeping us on what constitutes a path over the proper peat bogs on the route to Bleaklow. This is the toughest section where you do your best to avoid the bog monster, who if you are careless will suck you in and leave you waist deep in the black ooze as you to try and drag yourself out and try not to lose your footwear!

Daylight properly arrives as we approach the Pennine Way but no glorious sunrise in the fog, just a gradually brightening. Tom's navigation skills keep us on track and we continue to make good time. At Snake Pass: food, tea and cakes can be had, along with more good cheer from the marshals (this is probably the best marshaled event in the world!). We don't stop long - still 12+ miles to go..... however we seem to be in pretty good shape still and Astrid is running very strongly!

Kinder Scout is a pretty section, but sadly the fog doesn't give great views today, although running past the mist shrouded outcrops on the top does have a sort of eerie magic. Then onto Brown Knoll where the bog monster makes a last strike as Gary attempts to leap a section but gets caught to just below the knees and has to clamber his way out! It's not far to the finish now and Astrid continues to push us blokes along. 

Run MDC - happy now finished!

After 10hours 11minutes we make the finish dib. 10th overall, 4th in the mixed category and 30 minutes faster than last time. A very tidy result, but my legs are knackered now... must learn to train a bit more..... 

Big thanks to the High Peak Club for their organisation and enthusiasm who make a really good job of his tough event.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jules Carter

(Ed: Thanks to Jules for this piece. You can follow more of his adventures on his Blog from which this was pinched:  Random Adventures)

Wednesday
Jan252012

Enjoy Kymin? Enjoy it all again.....

You can thank Rod Jones for this footage of the 2012 Kymin race. Several Croups feature.....

Sunday
Jan152012

Riverbank Rollick 

"Riverbank Rollick"... Certain names of races just force you to run them. And this one was certainly worth it. Hidden in a forgotten corner between the A48, M6 and Hill lane, Thornbury is an incredibly quaint village with old cottages and churches and a 'high-street' with its fair share of real ale pubs. The eerie Midsummer Murders feel that descended upon us may have been a warning for the gruelling multi-terrain race that was awaiting us. This is one of the most varied multi-terrain races I have ever done: well looked after country lanes, mud tracks; fields (muddy and not-so-muddy ones), hills, trails, woodland, riverbank, and a golf course. Even after a (relatively) dry week, some parts of the course were surprisingly muddy... and fun...         

Mark (Joyce) and I were interviewed before the race for a 'specialist internet running channel' (whatever that may be) and asked why we were doing this race (yes, why?). The second question ("are you going to win the race?") was somewhat easier to answer; although for some time I was hoping to be the first Croups to cross the finish line (something I am still aspiring to). But I temporarily forgot that hope and optimism almost always results in disappointment, and this time it wasn't any different. Mark managed to overtake me in the first couple of miles with his completely inappropriate road running shoes.

The section along the Severn was simply stunning. The underground was relatively firm and the great views of some brilliant feats of human engineering (the severn bridges) and not so brilliant ones (oldbury power station) were a welcome distraction from the arduous running. It was a short respite before the course turned inland again and two nasty hills were awaiting us. Luckily enough this also meant that the last two miles were mainly downhill -although tricky as still slippy from night frost being on the ‘wrong side’ of the hill. The finish could be seen from a long way off which motivated me to run a little bit faster. But even here optimism was proven the wrong response (again). Why let runners run directly to the finish line if you can let them wade through a stream right in front of dozens of spectators? (it was one terrain we hadn't covered yet).

Mark was waiting and looking surprisingly fresh. Not long after Dave (McDonald) crossed the line looking unsurprisingly exhausted: "where are the cakes?" were the only words he could mutter. The free cakes afterwards were as varied as the terrains. Tables and tables full of all sorts of cakes. Thornbury RC would be a worthy opponent in a head-to-head bake off with Les Croupiers RC (now, there’s an idea...).

This race is well worth doing. If you tried it once, you will never go back to road running again. I also think it would be a good race for the off-road championship next year.: more than 90% of the course is off-road, and the variation in terrain and views makes it one of the more enjoyable races in the area. An absolute must do for any self-respecting (off-road) runner who takes his/her cake eating seriously...

Wouter Poortinga

Page 1 ... 2 3 4 5 6 ... 11 Next 5 Entries »