White Star Running events are legendary in this part of the world. Off road trail races, in beautiful countryside, organised with a light touch of madness, and notoriously hard. Distances are in “country miles” with one last-minute-rerouted half marathon coming in last year at 16 miles!* The Dorset Invader races took place in the last weekend of May, based on a farm in the deepest darkest part of Dorset. A weekend of camping and running (and eating if you were in my party!).
On Sunday morning, I got up to see the marathoners set off. They were to do 2 laps of the course, whilst the half-ers were only doing 1. I scared myself doing this, because these runners all looked super organised and extremely well prepared (and incredible fit) with running poles, hydration vests and muscles. When I turned up for our start, two hours later, I felt reassured- here were my people! Still looking prepared but also looking like they were prepared for a fun trip through the countryside.
I was running with my running buddy Liz, who had been signed up for the marathon but was still feeling very tired after her previous marathon so had decided to drop down to the half. We squeezed in towards the back and with very little ceremony were off.
Dorset is hilly. Dorset is REALLY hilly. I don’t think we had any level ground at all – it was all either up or (you guessed it) down. We were sent up the second highest hill in the county and then – yes you guessed it again – up the highest. Fortunately it was so pretty, and the views spectacular from the top, that I’ve almost forgiven them.
As well as the hills and the views of course we encountered cows. As a line of runners carefully trouped through a field, the bullocks were all gather in one corner at the top of the field watching us. We made our way past them without incident (no bogs to fall in) and climbed over a massive gate into a farmyard. We breathed a sigh of relief at braving the bovines, then a runner behind us pointed out that the cows had been hiding the sign showing us a different stile and the correct route out of the field. Sneaky!
Whilst leading the way through a wood, Liz suddenly shouted out. On the path in front of us was a slowworm. It’s very rare to see one of these, so I quickly took a photo before we encouraged it off the path into the safety of the undergrowth.
Apparently some people can run past the official photographer without acting up for the camera. Apparently I’m not one of those people
Of course we finished this tough course – we’re tough (if rather tired) women. It was definitely a PW for me, but that wasn’t really the point of this race. The bling at the end – that’s what it’s about. A medal, a pint glass and a drink to put in it – what’s not to like!
Oh – it was also about exploring an amazing part of the world, and about running with a friend both encouraging and in turn being encouraged. Liz told me that she was so glad she wasn’t doing the marathon approximately every 10 minutes or so, and being a good running buddy I didn’t tell her to shut up. (Truthfully, I really enjoyed running with Liz – although we both love our running and take it seriously, we don’t take ourselves too seriously). She’s a perfect running partner!
It was brilliant, and as soon as I can feel my legs again I’ll be back out in our Wiltshire countryside.
* There was a last minute problem with the course that meant it had to be so much longer – but basically you have to be prepared for anything
Sunday was a beautiful day – a cold start which turned into blue skies and brilliant sunshine. A great day to be out and about, but probably not the best day for running a half marathon, nor for marshaling said race.
The Chippenham Half Marathon is a fantastic race, and I say that as someone who has run it twice previously. It has an interesting route that goes from the town out into the countryside on little lanes and then back into the town, friendly locals, amazing marshals, a great medal and t-shirt, and it’s not expensive to enter. A couple of years ago, the race was voted in the top 5 half marathons in the country by readers of Runner’s World. With all this in mind, I felt under just a tiny bit of pressure to be an amazing marshal. As the race is organised by my running club, Chippenham Harriers, we were all press ganged into helping.
Those of us with bikes were given a section near the start, and then a section near the end (with a speedy short cut bike transfer between the two). I was at just over 1 mile, and then at about 12.5 miles which meant I saw everyone at the start when they were still fresh (well -most of them), and then nearly at the top of a sneaky hill just before a final downhill stagger to the finish.
Having frozen on the ride into town, I then baked in sunshine for nearly 3 hours (thank heavens I fight to slap sun cream on). Honestly, the way the runners were complaining you’d think they had it hard. They just didn’t think of me standing there, with sore hands from constant clapping and little voice left from shouting encouragement. They probably never consisted the danger I was putting myself in by lying so blatantly on a Sunday – I was expecting a thunderbolt from above each time I shouted “looking fresh!” at a staggering runner. I was also a little worried a really hacked off runner might just come over and punch me. Well, when you’re suffering, being told how fabulous you look might just be the final straw.
I did have one large, sweaty runner ask me to hold him up whilst he stretched out his hip. That was surprising and rather unpleasant, but apparently all in a day’s work for a marshal.
Despite working so hard, I had a fabulous day. I really was tired as I cycled home, but maybe not quite as worn out as the runners.
I needed a long run, set off without a planned route, and ended up running a half marathon today. I ran where I felt like it, incorporated parts of routes run by my running club, stopped to find a geocache, failed to resist a set of steps I’d never noticed before, and took lots of photos.
Best bit of this run though was running through town and having an old man say in his broad Wiltshire accent “Oi loike your daps*!”
Yes -I’m not surprised. I like them too.
* if you’re not familiar with this Westcountry word, ‘daps’ are what people from the north west would call ‘pumps’, and other people would call plimsolls. Caused no end of confusion first time I had to buy some for my daughter.
The morning of the Cricklade half marathon, 2014. A lack of pre-race nerves meant minimal pre-race “night before” preparation, which led to me dashing around the kitchen on Sunday morning, eating porridge with one hand whilst grabbing drinks and snacks with the other. The half full box of gels I’d been saving turned out to be mostly out of date, but the two I’d managed to salvage had completely disappeared overnight. As a last resort I grabbed the remains of a bag of Veggie Percy Pigs as I shot out of the house.
Cricklade is a very pretty little town that I hadn’t visited before, and although I parked about fifteen minutes walk away from the race HQ I simply followed the other runners to find it. (Runners are easy to spot on race day). At the start I was spotted by a good friend of mine who was doing the 10K. It was lovely to have a hug and a ‘good luck’ when I’d travelled there on my own. I lined up by the start, and by the time I’d contemplated how adrenaline stops you feeling cold when you’re dressed in shorts and t-shirt in 7 degrees centigrade, we were off.
For a small half marathon it wasn’t surprising that the roads weren’t closed. What was surprising was how busy it was. Runners, cyclists, horses as well cars made for an interesting route. The 10K runners set off after the half marathoners, so we had a stream of faster runners passing us. Although distracting, it did mean I got to see my friend again and have another quick word.
The course was an out-and-back route with a couple of loops but despite this it wasn’t dull. We got to see the leaders heading back whilst we were still plodding out, and we got to run between the lakes of the Cotswold Water Park as well as through pretty villages and under autumnal trees. The water stations were at interesting places, coming add they did at 1.5 miles, 5.5 miles, 7.5 miles, 10.5 miles and then 11.5 miles. I knew I would need water to wash my Percy Pigs down, so from the 5.5 mile stop onwards as soon as I saw a sign saying ‘Drinks Ahead’ I grabbed a couple of Percies from my pocket, stuffed them in my mouth and chewed frantically whilst taking a cup of water. The disadvantage to eating sweets was that I really needed the water as my mouth felt so sticky, but sugar obviously helped because I was feeling strong, and only felt tired coming up to mile 9, a distance that I always struggle at. A good talking to myself soon sorted that out.
As I was finally heading back to Cricklade I could see the church spire above the trees and houses and I could feel it calling me to the finish. The slight incline up the High Street felt like an enormous hill coming as it did in the last mile, but really it was the only slope on the course. I knew my time was good, but I was amazed when I stopped my Garmin and saw 2:09:31.
I had finally beaten my PB from last year’s Devizes Half and taken 3 minutes and 33 seconds off my time.
As I slowly walked around the field at the finish line to stretch my legs I confess I had a little tear in my eye. I blinked hard, looked up, and saw a small plane performing acrobatics over my head.
Thanks for the celebration, and a huge “Well done” to me AND to Percy Pig!
It has not been a year of races. For once Mr B&T has earned more medals from cycling events than I have from running. Time to do something about that! So, this Sunday I’m running in the Cricklade Half. Online friends told me it was flat which sounded good to me. Then a ‘real’ friend told me because of the potential for a PB the race is full of speedy club runners. This didn’t sound so appealing. Then my electrician told me about the big hill near the end which was not good news. (I hope you like how I’m taking advice from so many people).
Normally I’m a bundle of nerves before a race. Frantically sorting out what to wear, planning how to get there, obsessively reading race reports to try and glean any sort of ‘insider info’ that might help, along with imaginery ailments really wears me out in the week beforehand.
I’ve not run a half marathon since October last year, when I ran the Devizes Half in torrential conditions. Funnily enough, I’m not feeling nervous about Sunday. Maybe my brain thinks I can always bail out like I did for the Chippenham Half four weeks ago. Maybe I’m in complete denial because I’ve forgotten just how hard a half marathon is. Maybe I’m finally pleased just to be making it to a race this year, knowing I’ll run the best I can on the day. Maybe.
When time is short, you have to squeeze in runs when you can. Last Sunday was a long run – 10 miles- which felt more like half marathon training should do. Twelve hour working days meant no more running in the week until Saturday. Obviously I needed to make this run count, so I opted for hill repeats. Leaving family* and visiting in-laws in bed, I grimly set off.
A 20% slope is tough, but as it’s only short I felt the need to run up it three times. It was hard work, I had to walk bits, but I did it. I took several selfies for the blog, and was thinking ofanything interesting to say, and failing dismally. It was only later when I was looking at the photos I saw the selfie below. Taken accidentally, unposed, I love it. Wonder if I can take more accidentally?
*I should add (before he does) that my husband was out on a 100 mile cycle ride, but everyone else was still asleep.
And certainly not pushing open lock gates on the canal. (No photos of that one -sorry).
I think it was the last one that particularly broke the arch support in my running shoes (although along with opening and closing the lock gate paddles it was a great upper body workout). All I know is my plans of running up and down the tow path never materialised, and my first couple of runs back home left me with knee and shin twinges. Getting injured just seems so stupid and such a waste of time, so I immediately ordered myself a new pair of trainers and didn’t run until they arrived.
The good news is that two runs in my new shoes and I’ve had no more twinges or aches. Also the oh-so-pink shoes that I’ve always hated have now been replaced by a very stylish black and purple great-for-winter pair.
The bad news is that I missed getting one last long run in before Chippenham Half Marathon on Sunday 7th September. I struggle with long runs in the Summer holidays but this year I played it safe and I decided not to run. Yes I could have run and made it round I’m sure, but my shins were saying “at what cost to us, eh?!”
So after last Sunday’s mud and bull filled Marshfield Mudlark, I’d been presuming that this weekend’s half marathon would be a straightforward road race. Starting and finishing in the small Wiltshire market town of Devizes, the route quickly heads out into the surrounding countryside. The elevation profile showed 4 hills, rave reports from last year had moaned about the hills, but after my extensive hill training for Marshfield (cough cough) I thought I’d be okay.
Race day dawned grey and damp. I was thankful to wake up from a dream about the race where I got lost in the town centre, so decided to pop into some public toilets, and when I came out the town was deserted, with no marshals or signs to be seen anywhere. Hoping it wasn’t a prophetic dream I set off in good time, managed to park just across the road from the start area and joined a very short queue for the portaloos. All was looking good so far. I managed to meet up with two online friends from Runner’s World (that I’ve met a couple of times before), and we shivered and chatted before we were summoned to the start line, half an hour before the race started. This was the perfect time for the heavens to open and the rain to start falling.
My friends were both aiming for sub 2 hours, whereas I was hoping to get somewhere close to my Chippenham time of 2:13:35, so I was aware that as we got closer to the start time I’d need to shuffle backwards. We couldn’t hear any of the pre-race briefing, we couldn’t see the Mayor who was supposed to be starting the race, but we did suddenly hear an air horn and felt everyone start moving forwards. Whoops – no time to head for the back, I just had to start running. We crossed the start line – surprisingly with no chip timing mat – started our Garmins, and we were off.
My friends disappeared off and I struggled to stick to my 10 minutes per mile planned pace. Runners streamed past me, as I was that annoying person who gets in the way by starting too far forward. As I’m used to starting at the back this was a depressing experience that I won’t be repeating. I was aware I was going off too fast, but decided the first hill would slow me down. The rain carried on falling as we headed out of Devizes on a main road. We headed up the hill, which wasn’t as steep as I’d thought it would be, but it did carry on around a corner which was too much for some people who started walking. The wind and rain was battering down on us now, but at least climbing the hill helped warm me up.
The views from the top of the hill would have been amazing if it hadn’t been smothered in cloud. I did see three White Horses (I think it was actually 2 Horses from three different angles), and we ran through some very pretty villages. Unfortunately the rain was getting heavier, and at one point it felt like hailstones. The side of the road that we were running along gave up being ‘full of puddles’ and moved into ‘small continuous stream’. One house we went past had two canoes outside – it was very tempting…
The rest of the race went swimmingly (sorry). I had a gel at four miles, just before the water stop, and planned to have another at mile 10. I only usually take one gel in a race but thought I’d try two and see if it helped with my stamina towards the end of the race. The next couple of hills were okay, I was soaked to the skin and my legs were feeling stiff. I really wasn’t feeling the love for running at this point, but knew the only way to keep warm was to carry on running.
The Mile 7 ‘Heart FM Cheer Point’ did make me smile. It was in a farmyard, with a Heart FM car with the radio turned up, a man with cups of water and a lady with a large foam hand and a tray of jelly babies. Very Wiltshire!
Eventually I reached mile 10 and took my second gel. Only a 5k to go. Mile 11 – less than one of my ‘short’ runs. One more water station, a sharp turn off the road onto a gravelly track and the last hill. Oh boy -they saved the best till last! This was a steep hill, made worse by the fact it now had a stream running down it making it slippy and very loose underfoot. I started off running but when the lady just in front of me started walking then of course my legs automatically started walking as well. At least there was a steep downhill on the otherside which gave me the impetus to carry on to the finish.
As I came back onto the field, which we had to run around to get to the finish line, suddenly I heard shouting and clapping. My friends had waited and were cheering me over the line. It gave me enough of a mental push to put in a sprint finish. I crossed the line, according to my Garmin, in 2:13:05, another PB by 30 seconds.
Although I was pleased that my friends had waited in the rain for me, I was even more impressed with the marshals who stood out there, in the rain, for hours and hours. They were all smiling and encouraging, and they made a huge difference. Thank you, Marshals, and thank you Devizes. I may well be back next year… as long as my trainers have dried out.
So after a summer of irregular training, last minute upsets and two emergency training plans, the morning of Sunday 15th September 2013 finally arrived. It was in the middle of a very busy weekend involving various family members staying with us, and a trip up to London for a family get-together of around 35 of my husband’s family. Getting to bed at 2am on race morning is not ideal, but I told myself I never sleep well before a race anyway.
When the alarm went off, adrenaline kicked in straightaway. I shot out of bed, and tiptoed down to the kitchen for my traditional pre-race porridge. This was followed by a hastily remembered beetroot shot for stamina, a banana for energy, and a cup of tea to wash this strange mixture down. Feeling slightly queasy I sidestepped the early rising visiting children and finished getting ready.
My kind husband had offered to drop me off at the start, and I was surprised to see him in full cycling gear, loading his bike into the car. Turns out he was planning on being a mobile cheerleader-cum-photographer. This is good news, because he’s very good at both of these roles. (I think he may have set a new world record at the London Marathon, when he and the children managed to see me running 6 times!)
As we arrived I walked down to the start area and immediately joined the portaloo queue. I was hoping to meet up with a lady I’d chatted with on an internet runner’s forum, so as I queued I was scanning the other runners to see if I could see any one who looked like they were looking for someone as well. She’d texted me what she was wearing so I approached someone matching her description with fingers crossed, and nervously asked “Dee?!” Thankfully it was her, so we queued together, chatting and trying to hide our nerves. Sorting out our bags, Dee pulled out her bottle of Lucozade and somehow managed to squeeze it open and shower a man standing to the side of us. Fortunately he saw the funny side and declared he’d rather it was champagne she was spraying him with after he’d won the race.
We skulked off at this point before Dee sprayed anyone less forgiving and made our way to the start. At Chippenham it’s a bit of a narrow route onto the road for the start, but we squeezed through and made our way to the back. We were both hoping for a time of around 2:15 (having both had disrupted training over the last few weeks). I had been thinking of pacing at around 10:30 and then speeding up towards the end if my legs would let me, however Dee confidently said “so, around 10 minute miles then, yes?” and I gulped and squeeked “okay – but I reserve the right to slow down if I need to!” We were still chatting as an air horn shattered the Sunday morning peace, and then a very loud firework made us jump again. I hastily set my Garmin to finding some satellites and Dee sorted her phone out as we started shuffling toward the start line. Chippenham is a relatively small race, compared with our neighbouring races at Bath, Bristol and Swindon, so two minutes later we were running over the line and our race had begun.
The first mile took us up Chippenham High Street where we saw Mr B&T for the first time with his bike (and camera). We carried on out of town and then turned onto a small country lane. There were plenty of people out clapping, but not as many as previous years. Maybe the threatened wind and rain had kept everyone indoors, despite the fact that the weather was actually perfect for running – dry and cool.
By the first water station at mile 3 we were running well, had both got into the pace and were chatting as we ran. I always talk when I’m nervous, so poor Dee got quite an ear bashing! I won’t mention the fact that she barged me into the hedge at one point as I’m sure it was accidental and not at all just to shut me up.
By the second water station at mile 6 we were glad to think we were close to the half way mark as to be honest we were both starting to find it hard going. At mile 7 Dee confessed that this was the point her mind started playing games with her, and I knew exactly what she meant. My legs were feeling tired, and my lack of sleep meant my head was fatigued as well. By mile 8 I was telling both of us we were nearly two thirds of the way, so were effectively on the home straight. I might have mentioned the nasty hill at mile 12 at this point once or twice, only because I had bad memories of having to walk up it one previous year. I think I had Dee worried about it, as she kept mentioning it. At mile 9 we saw Mr B&T again and he took another attractive photo of us. My legs were really feeling tired now, and I remember telling Dee I’d forgotten quite how long a half marathon really was.
Our pace had slowed but we were still on target for a 2:15 finish. Both of us had stopped chattering by now as we had no spare breath. Dee’s phone app was telling her she’d completed each mile nearly half a mile before we got there, and my Garmin was ‘beeping’ for the next mile when the marker was only just in sight, so it was amazing we were believing anything these pieces of technology were telling us. I think we were both suffering by this point (I know I was), but neither of us wanted to be the one to say “I need to slow down!” I was thinking, through gritted teeth, that I had no idea how I was still pushing on at this point when Dee said she’d have slowed down miles before if she were running on her own. I think it’s known as peer pressure, in the nicest possible way. Apart from the low points at Brightom Marathon this year’s marathon, these were the hardest miles I’ve ever run in any race.
After mile 10 the course is very slightly uphill, the sort of incline you only notice when running. Dee did ask if this was ‘the hill’ and I wasn’t sure if it was kinder to warn her that ‘that hill’ was steeper than this, or to leave her in blissful ignorance until we got there. As it was I didn’t have the breath to grunt anymore than “not yet!” Bang on 12 miles we hit the short downhill which was followed by the mile 12 hill. To be honest, it’s not that bad, but it felt like a mountain to tired, undertrained legs.
As Dee gasped that we must be nearly at the top, I was happy to tell her it was just found the corner, and then downhill all the way to the finish. As we staggered down the hill back into Chippenham I joked that I felt like I had blinkers on, as I could only focus straight ahead. We turned into the residential streets that lead to the back way into the sports field and right on cue we passed a house playing the Chariots of Fire music. Staggering onto the grass we could see the finish line ahead, just as my roving cheerleader and photographer popped up again. I half expected Dee to pull away in a sprint finish, something I’ve never managed to do, but we stayed running at the same pace and crossed the line together, absolutely rung out, finished, nothing more to give.
I remember standing, gasping, zombie-like as my husband snapped another photo – sometimes I wish he wasn’t quite so keen. I shuffled towards my medal, t-shirt, banana and goody bag, and met up with Dee again. The clock had said 2:15 as we crossed the line, but my Garmin was saying 2:13, so we’d actually beaten our target, and had both beaten our previous PBs. I said good bye and thank you to Dee and we staggered off home.
So we did it, undertrained and sleep deprived. Official time had me in at 2:13 :35, and Dee at 2:13:34. Not sure where she sneaked that extra second from as I’m sure we crossed both lines together, but I don’t mind as I have a shiny new PB and I’m very happy. It was great to run with Dee, to run at the same pace, to both be pushing ourselves equally hard and to be suffering together towards the end. The DOMS I had for the next 3 days were worse than for a marathon, but it was worth it.
After the winter’s Marathon training, and autumn’s inevitable half marathons, I decided this summer was the time to try and improve on my 10K and 5K PBs. Currently these stand at 58:35 (from 20/11/2011, on a pancake flat motor racing circuit), and 27:46 (from 12/7/2012, the only 5K race I run every year!)
So just before Juneathon started, I headed off to the Runner’s World website and started searching for races within 10 miles to me. Whooh! Talk about being spoilt for choice!
Sunday 9th June – Chippenham harriers 5 mile road race
Monday 10th June – Westonbirt 10K
Wednesday 12th June – Springfield 5K
Wednesday 19th – Specsavers Longest Day 10k
Thursday 27th June – Great Chalfield Manor 10K
Wednesday 3rd July – Chippenham 5K River Run
Wednesday 10th July – Springfield 5K
10th August – Lacock 10K
11th August Castle Combe 10K
31st August Malmesbury 10k
Sunday 15th September – Chippenham Half Marathon
Sunday 22nd September – Malmesbury half Marathon
I asked on Twitter which 10K should I enter. The wisdom of Twitter spoke “The flattest one” – Thanks to @LaraineWynjones for this great advice – she blogs over at http://6hourmarathonrunner.blogspot.co.uk/ do pop over and say hello!
As it happens, life got in the way and for all sorts of reasons I couldn’t do most of the races. However today I entered the Great Chalfield 10K next Thursday, and the Chippenham River Run 5K in July. I’ve also entered the Chippenham Half Marathon in September.
I was hoping that entering 2 races would count as my Juneathon activity for the day. Or the two hours I spent allotmenteering this morning. Just in case neither was enough I also managed my first plank for 1:30. A new PB!