Tuesday, 28 January 2014

An ideal way to spend a Birthday....

I reckon that having a birthday is really just an excuse to spend a day doing some of your favourite things........and for me that means running, eating, drinking and hanging out with friends.

My lovely "virtual" birthday cake made
(and eaten) by my nephew and neice!

I did ponder the wisdom of my plan for the day when I had to leave the house (with presents and cards still unopened) before first light to drive down to Carlisle. I met some of the lads from Denton Holme runners there and we all piled into one car to drive down to Inskip for one of the first road races of the year.

Having followed the directions perfectly, we found ourselves parking at the edge of a field, wandering into a marquee to register and then lining up for the lovely portaloos! It had been raining on the drive down, but luckily that had stopped and keeping warm was the only problem (especially if you are a numpty like me and grabbed a sock and a glove before leaving home rather than 2 gloves)!

Jogging out under the huge gantry marked "Start/Finish" for my warmup, I wasn't sure which direction the race was due to go in, as there were cars parked on the side of the road in both directions. I opted to turn right and soon came across a large "13" sign, hence guessed we were due to run in the opposite direction. Turning round, I jogged back, past the turning to the gantry and then came across a sign marked "Finish". I was now really confused, as this sign was a good half mile from the "13" marker, not the 0.1 of a mile that I'd expect! 

Everybody seemed rather nonplussed by this as we milled about under the start gantry, but I figured if would all become clear as we neared the finish. After a short run briefing, we were told that we would be led to the start. We started to chat as we jogged out to the main road, behind the race organiser in his car. At the main road we turned left, and we all assumed that we would then get lined up on the start line (as there was no chip timing in the race - hence a good start was important if you were running for a time).

Unfortunately it turned out that the clock started as soon as the car passed the aforementioned "finish" sign and so the race had started without most of us realising. Several people (myself included) suddenly found ourselves caught up way further back than we would have chosen to be, and had to dodge past many others in a fartlek kind of effort for the first few hundred metres or so. Luckily the field quickly spread out, but my pace for the first mile was probably way too fast due to some panicky moments.

I avoid looking at my watch too often in a race such as this one, and try to run more on feel, but then like to review the race afterwards with my splits. Unfortunately, although it seemed to be working in the race when I glanced at it, there was no recording afterwards. Interestingly, according to my garmin, I did a warm up and a cool down with nothing in between (did the race actually happen?).

With clubmate Kevin postrace!

I started off feeling comfortable with my speed and was pleased with the time it took me to cover the first 10k. The main obstacles we had were patches where the water stretched across the road up to ankle deep in places, but it only took a few steps to cross each of these puddles. Marshals kindly warned oncoming traffic (as the roads were open) and there was only one man (with a huge trailer) who appeared to be very anti-runners. At one point in the race, we turned off the roads onto a gravelling lane, and I did have a close shave with a walking stick. A Preston Road Runner and I were running very similar speeds as we spent the first 11 miles of the race leapfrogging each other. We rounded a 90 degree bend on the lane with me inside the other runner. Unfortunately a family was standing with their dogs just around the corner hidden from view, and the grandfather's walking stick was tucked under his arm horizontal to the ground exactly where I was running - whoops!

I had felt (strangely) hungry in the first part of the race, and this must have taken its toll on me, as I cannot remember much from about 11 miles to the finish. I remember my vision going a bit blurry and fuzzy black, so I'm blaming a chocolate deficit. I must have slowed considerably in the last couple of miles as the man from Preston RR finished 30s ahead of me.

Toasting a carload of success!

Still, I managed to negotiate the final turn from the road up the lane to the gantry (luckily not back up the road to that previously mentioned sign) but couldn't work out why I was being directed away from it. I wondered if I was being directed off to break a bit of tape as first lady home, but this was not the case. We were all directed down a stretch of grass alongside the tape to the side of the gantry and were handed a bag and a bottle of water. I guessed that this was the finish - luckily for me, I was not involved in a tight sprint finish, unlike one of the Carlisle lads, as he also made the mistake of heading for the centre of the gantry.

The goodie bags we received were great as they contained a huge bar of chocolate and a good quality hat, and then there was as much hotpot as we could eat available in the marquee afterwards.

We then decamped to a pub down the road and toasted the success of the car....3 of the lads had run PBs and I had a new CR! Not a bad way to spend your birthday!

Saturday, 18 January 2014

A New Year with a Difference.....

I knew that I needed to get a long run done on New Year's Day, but I wasn't sure exactly how motivated I would feel in the morning, with a combination of tiredness, a head cold and poor weather all taking their toll. In order to give myself no option but to get out and run, I decided to go to the Hardmoors 30 - a 30+mile trail race on the North Yorkshire Moors around Whitby, Robin Hood's Bay, Ravenscar and Cloughton.

Although I'd been to Whitby as a child, I wasn't familiar with the area so it was also an excuse to run and explore a new place, without having to plan a route out. I was slightly perturbed, however, to see that part of the compulsory kit was a head torch.......how long were we expected to be out running? A map and compass were not on the list, but I planned to carry them anyway for safety's sake.

After a nice meal and some wine for New Year's Eve (with a lemsip chaser) my mother kindly offered to come down with me the following morning. It was incredibly kind of her to offer as it meant leaving before first light and that she would be hanging around for a good part of the day in all kinds of weather. However, it gave me some company on the drive and some help in finding the hall in Ravenscar (for registration) and also meant that I would have the chance of a hot bath and food at my parents' house afterwards before continuing on home.

The roads were strangely quiet as we drove down......well I guess it wasn't that strange as it was pre-dawn on January 1st, but we didn't see anyone staggering home, and even the petrol stations were open. This meant the drive took less time than we anticipated so there was plenty of time for hanging around in Ravenscar Hall at registration, catching up with 2 of my clubmates (Seb and Craig) and also with a friend that I hadn't seen for a few years, who was going to take part in the 15 mile event.

I had a few clothing dilemmas as it was cold, but not actually raining (though this was forecast for later) and we had to keep race numbers visible at all times. I opted to pin my number to my capris, so that it wouldn't be masked later on if I got my waterproof out of my pack. There was a briefing inside the warm hall and then we all trooped out to the road and set off (at 9ish.....).

As Craig and I had been chatting before the start, we found ourselves right at the back. I quickly realised that if I remained trapped behind walkers (and those with dogs) it could spell disaster as there was only a very brief section of road through the village before we turned off onto the cliff top path (the Cleveland Way), so I put in a turn of speed unusual for me! 

A small group of men seemed very sure footed in the mud and disappeared off into the distance immediately. I settled into a nice pace, which meant I could cope with the head wind and watch my footing. I passed a couple of runners and was then surprised to see some others joining us from the right hand side (they had headed the other direction from the hall so cutting off the first small loop of the route) but they were also soon behind me.

After about 4 miles there was a steep slippery flight of steps to descend to Hayburn Wyke, a wooden bridge to cross, and then further steps to ascend on the other side. I caught up with the man who had run away from me on every downhill, and he helped me when I got stuck in a rather muddy field. We had a nice chat as we ran along the old railway 
lines towards Ravenscar hall, and wished each other luck for the rest of the run. 

Although not hungry, I thought that I should pick up some food at the first checkpoint, but unfortunately things did not go to plan. I ran in, gave my number, and could see nothing except masses of people and the race timers, and so headed out again. My mother later told me that they had laid out lots of food and drink for us "30 runners" at the back of the hall, but it was hidden by the "15 runners" milling around waiting for their start time (lesson noted by the organiser to alter the gap between the 15 and 30 mile starts for next year).

The old railway line

The next section of the route was good running along the old disused railway line all the way to Robin Hood's Bay. The miles ticked by really quickly as I chatted all the way with another fellow runner, and we arrived at Robin Hood's Bay before the checkpoint had been set up. We shouted out our numbers and grabbed a cup of water from behind a car in the station car park and carried on our way. It was lucky that I had a map and the route description close at hand, as it was easy to get lost amongst the houses (and the two guys running at a similar pace to me ended up following me to get back onto the railway path).

Whitby Abbey

It was still dry but it seemed to be getting cooler as we got closer to Whitby. Having not had any food at the last checkpoint either, we got some out of our packs and shared it as we ran. We did worry slightly as the path seemed to be going downhill and so we were running faster then expected - we were sure this would come back to haunt us later. Whitby Abbey came into view on a hilltop, but unfortunately we seemed to be going the "long way round" as our route headed away from it. It was nice to see several families out for a New Year's Day walk, though all were rather more wrapped up than we were. 

Having crossed a viaduct on the outskirts of Whitby, the path seemed to come to a deadend straight ahead of us. At the last minute, we saw an arrow pointing down a slope to the left away from the guys standing at the end of the path in high-viz jackets. As we headed down the slope, the men ran down some steps to meet us and apologised for having nothing set out for us. We were there 30minutes ahead of the time that they had been told to open the checkpoint. I dived into the backseat of their car to get some pieces of flapjack and mini swissroll that they were going to set out, and then headed down into Whitby.

The 199 Steps

I was surprised at how busy the streets were, which made for an interesting run through town, dodging tourists, feeling slightly out of place (running along streets in trail shoes wearing a backpack and race number). Having crossed the river and negotiated the cobbles, it was time for the 199 steps up to the abbey.......and I'm happy to say that I ran the whole way up!

It was again this point that I took a slightly wrong turn, going left too soon, so I found myself coming up against a wall at the end of the graveyard. Luckily I didn't have to backtrack too far before I could hurdle the wall, cross a field and rejoin the Cleveland Way as it headed back onto the clifftops.

Trapped in the graveyard

The next 10 miles were to be the toughest of the race. No longer was there a nice surface for running on.....it was now slippery, slidy mud. Having turned to head back south from Whitby, I was now running alone into a headwind......and then the rain started. Initially it was just spitting with rain, and I thought I'd be better off just pushing on as I was rather than stopping to get my waterproofs out. It was difficult to negotiate round walkers on the narrow muddy path which climbed uk and down into every bay. On a few occasions I had to hold onto the metal fence and pull myself up a slope hand over hand as there was so little traction in the mud.

Robin Hood's Bay

I was so glad to find the checkpoint at Robin Hood's Bay again, but by this time my hands were getting rather cold. The first marshal I met did not seem inclined to help me get some water, and so I was desperately trying to get my numb hands to turn the tap on. Thank heavens for the other marshal who immediately came over to help and so I was then on my way for the final leg of the race.

There was an incredibly steep road descent through the town down to the sea, and then a tough climb up steps back onto the cliffs. Some people did not go all the way down and back up again, cutting across onto the clifftop path earlier, but I was religiously following the route description. I knew I was on track now as my course joined the "15" course and suddenly I could see someone ahead in the distance.

I thought that the final descent of steep steps into Boggle Hole meant that I was nearly there, but had forgotten how high up Ravenscar village is. The final climb (and I confess to walking some of it) was a gain of about 600 feet in less than a mile. A lady passed me on the final few metres of tarmac back to the hall but at this point I didn't care......all I could think about was getting warm and dry. 

There was nobody outside the hall as I approached (understandable as it was pouring with rain, though apparently my mother had been out several times to look for me).......and so I surprised the timers as I ran in to finish second overall, in a time of 4 hrs and 7 minutes.

My mother really came into her own when I finished as my hands were too cold and numb to be very useful, so she unclipped my pack and promptly got a hot cup of soup inside me. The benefit of finishing early is that I could get changed and attack the buffet first, and them help other cold runners with their packs and hot drinks (including Craig and Sebastian who came home in 5:23 and 5:28 respectively).

Craig, myself and Seb after the race

Some race stats from the race website:

134 started the Hardmoors 30, 119 completed the full course
93 started the Hardmoors 15, 91 completed the full course.The 2012 Hardmoors 30 Record set by Jim Mann (4.20) was reduced to 3.52 by 1st place runner Jayson Cavill.2nd overall and 1st Lady Jo Zakrzewski finished in 4.07 (previous ladies' record 5.03) followed by 3rd Overall and 2nd Male Matthew Brennan in 4.12. Fantastic results in some pretty dire conditions.

Friday, 3 January 2014

Last.......and First....

My last race of 2013 and my first race of 2014 were very different in nature, but there were also some similarities.

I was in 2 minds as to whether to run the Ribble 10k on December 29th, as I was feeling rather tired and jaded, but realised that I would regret it if I didn't go, as there was no pressure on me to do anything except enjoy it.

A friend from Cheshire came up to meet me before the race, and I also caught up with various running friends from Scotland, England and Wales so if was definitely worth the trip. I bumped into a former mountain marathon partner and so we warmed up together swopping news from the last couple of years. As I was not in the elite start, I started rather a long way back......which was not my best decision of the day. When we started walking forwards, I thought we were being led to the start, but the race was actually already underway, and it took me the best part of 20seconds to cross the timing mat.

I then had to weave my way round people as we descended the first hill, knowing I would find it difficult to get past others as we climbed up again on the other side of the river. 

About halfway round the course we had a switchback, and so I saw my friend Nicola leading the ladies' race, which inspired me to keep pushing on, though I was well down the field. Heading down a steep slope and then up again into the finish straight zapped any sprint out of my legs, so I couldn't close down the ladies in front of me. Still, I was pleased to finish a good minute and a half quicker than in the 10k the previous weekend (and it turned out that on chip time, I was faster than the two ladies who crossed the line ahead of me). 

On New Year's Day, I headed down to the North York Moors for a very hilly (3050feet of elevation gained and lost) muddy trail run of 30+miles. The sun of the Ribble Valley was a distant memory and instead I had the rain and wind of the North East, but again I enjoyed a great day out and caught up with many friends from other parts of the country, brought together by the love of outdoor exercise!