Off Road Training 

After struggling at the Marshfield Mudlark, and realising the Wickstead Wander was fast approaching I decided I’d better do some training. So on Sunday I planned a route involving hills, mud, more hills, woods and also a tweak on a route I’ve run before. The beautiful parts of the run were breathtaking (although that could have been the hills). Autumn in the woods is so beautiful and so full of colour. 

Photo of Autumnal leaves
Imagine running through those leaves

Six and a half miles of beautiful exploring was exactly what I needed after another stressful week at work. 

An interesting point of the run was when I ran past a new housing development. Two years ago this was a derelict MOD site which sat atop miles of tunnels. This was one of the Government’s secret bunkers in the Cold War, and I wrote about how it looked here.  As a sneak preview, 2 years ago the approach looked like this:-

and today it looks like this:-

Funniest though is how all but 1 of the three ‘slope shafts’ have disappeared. I wonder if the houses are described as having “extensive cellars”?! 

Photo of remaining slope shaft
Just a small issue here still to deal with …

From here, a new route headed back towards the woods and so onto home. You know you’ve chosen a hilly route when you stand atop the slope you’re about to run down and think “I’ve sledged down here!”


So, training done.  Bring on the Wickstead Wander …

Let the Off Road Season Start!

Sunday 8th October 2017 saw the start of the Off Road season. It was yet another running of the Marshfield Mudlark,  yet again I tip-toed past the cows, and yet again I walked up ‘that’ hill. This year I remembered my trail shoes (unlike last year), which was just as well because it was pretty sticky and slippy in places. There was also a small stream to splash through, which I had forgotten about from previous years.

I hadn’t really trained for this race (see my previous post about lack of time!), but still enjoyed it. As ever, it was a brilliant race, through stunning countryside with lovely marshals, and this year with the added bonus of VEGGIE HOT DOGS for sale at the end. Who needs a medal?!

I’m a Wiltshire Off Road League Champion!

So I managed it. I’m the 2016 – 2017 Ladies V40 Age Group winner of the Wiltshire Off Road League. Phew! The prize will be presented in June, so I’ve a while yet to clear a space on the mantlepiece. To celebrate, thanks to a friend’s suggestion I’ve pulled together a collection of my “most attractive race faces pulled whilst winning this category”.  Enjoy!

Starting in brilliant sunshine was the Marshfield Mudlark. Hiding at the back in this team photo, confusingly I’m not the one with “Lucy” on her vest.

Marshfield Mudlark

Next up was the White Horse Gallop. We got up close and personal with the Westbury White Horse, and I got possibly my most favourite race photo ever.

White Horse Gallop Face
White Horse Gallop. The photographer said “Smile!”

Keeping to the horsey theme, the Wickstead Wander involved horse jumps, ditches, a large amount of water, a rosette and an inflatable dolphin.

Elegance at the Wickstead Wander
Elegance at the Wickstead Wander

The tri-county XC race at Bath University was a scary, serious race. Not only was I last Harrier home, I was the last person home in my race. No race face, but a great warm-up skipping photo.

Coach was there, so we warmed up
Coach was there, so we warmed up

Next up was the big one, the Lungbuster, which unexpectedly had “the hill” twice.

Lungbuster finish stagger
Lungbuster finish stagger

Rounding it all off, the SMaRTT Smasher 10K :-

Where's the finish line?
Where’s the finish line?

After the Smasher, they handed out the team prizes, and I got to stand in for our Men’s team captain who was ill and collect the trophy with Julia, our Ladies’ captain. I wasn’t letting go of the trophy once I got my hands on it!

Wiltshire Off Road League Team prize goes to Chippenham Harriers
Wiltshire Off Road League Team prize goes to Chippenham Harriers

That was quite a season, more so because I accidentally entered the League as an easy way back into racing. I’ve always preferred off-road running, as it’s much easier than all that tarmac and no one minds if you walk up the hills*. There’s mud to mess around in, water to jump into and more often than not cake at the end. Have I sold it to you yet? You also get the usual assortment of goodies at the end.

Swag!
Swag!

Give it a try next season. It makes you feel like a badass – who else runs around in shorts and vest in the middle of winter? (Anyone answering”an idiot” is just being rude.)


*Except in the XC race. No one walked the hill. I think it meant instant disqualification. Or something like that.

The knotted skipping rope of disaster

Anyone who has had to sit with me through our respective children’s school sports day knows the story about me and the skipping rope. It’s a sad tale going back I guess 41 years, so sit down, make yourself comfortable and I’ll begin. Unless I’ve already unburdened this story onto you, in which case feel free to skip to the bit where I try and link it to my current situation.

At school, I wasn’t one of the sporty ones. I was more of a nerdy, glasses-wearing bookworm. One year in primary school I was given the chance to represent my ‘house’ in the Obstacle Race. This was it! My big chance! I frantically grasped the opportunity with both hands (much in the way I had to use both hands to catch anything). I practised throwing strangely smelling square canvas beanbags into plastic hoops. I was small and skinny, so wriggling through said hoops was fine. I skipped as though my life depended upon not catching a foot in the rope and tripping up. My preparation was impeccable.

Come the day, I was primed and ready. As ready as a NHS-glasses wearing klutz standing on a start line can be. The whistle blew, and I threw those beanbags. I shimmied through the hoops. I ran towards the waiting skipping rope and realised that, amazingly, I was in the lead! I simply had to untie the skipping rope, and skip to the finish line, just as I’d practised for the last few days.

I excitedly picked up the skipping rope to untie the knot, and unti-…. and unti… and nnnnnnnnghf!

and realised the rope was tied too tight and I simply couldn’t untie it. As I stood in my lane struggling, everyone else caught me up, easily untied their rope, and skipped off into the sunset. I came last.

Have I had a complex about this incident? Deep emotional trauma?* Well as I said, I’ve retold it many times and I can still feel the mix of fury and frustration that I felt on that day. So, why the need to unburden myself now?

It struck me that I am currently in the same position as I was on that day standing on the start line. As I have mentioned once or twice I am on course to win my age group in the Wiltshire Off-Road League – I just need to complete the final race, which is on Sunday. If I don’t finish (or don’t start) then my friend will win instead. Obviously I’d far rather my friend won it than someone from another running club but equally I’d rather I won it than her (I knew I had a competitive side deep down), if only because I’ve never won anything like this before.  I’m also unlikely to ever be so close to winning it again. It’s so close I feel a little bit sick.

So on Sunday morning, if I make it to the start line, think of me and make sure my skipping rope is loosely tied, and my shoelaces are tightly knotted.

*Yes I do, as with so much to do with PE in school. Have I told you about the hockey lesson? Well maybe that’s for another day.

Lungbuster 2017

Another cold foggy morning, another off-road race. After much research (i.e. Strava stalking and run club chatting) I’d discovered this 9 mile race was actually 8 and a half and there was only one steep hill on the course (which everyone walked). So far so good. I also heard that last year someone fell into a waist-deep puddle and the farmyard at the start was a slurry-slick which one runner fell face first into after just a few hundred metres. Not so lovely.

The reality was a wet farmyard but no slurry and on the course sticky, slide-y but not waist-deep mud. The pre-race briefing surprised us with the news that this year’s race was a new course which was 9 and a half miles long and sent us up “the hill” twice. With this joyous news still ringing in our ears (or it could have been the noise of numerous sets of teeth chattering and knees knocking) we set off.

At the start. Running and smiling.

The route didn’t sound thrilling, mostly around the edges of fields, but in reality it was lovely. We started in fog, but by the second loop this had lifted and we could see views right over Wiltshire which emphasised how high we were. We ran on a mixture of concrete farm tracks, fields, woodland and paths – the woodland was beautiful and I would run through there again in an instant. The hill was steep and short, but everyone walked up it to the loud encouragement of a marshal. I say encouragement, it was part heckling, part harassing, and mainly shouting. How she had any voice left for the second loop I don’t know.

The hill. Walking but still smiling.

By the second loop, I needed every once of help I could get. Around mile 7 I got a stitch, caused by scoffing a veggie Percy Pig and then glugging my water  too fast.  I had a little walk and stretch to ease it out, but after that my legs just said “No”. They’d had enough, but there was still 2 and a half miles to the finish, so I just had to pull up my big girl pants and get on with it. 

At the finish. Running again, but no longer smiling.

These were some of the hardest race miles I’ve ever run. You know that bit in a marathon where you just have to ignore what your legs are telling you, and get them moving automatically? Well that’s what these miles were like.

Of course I finished, but phew was I glad to see the finish line, and also the cakes back in the village hall. Oh and the medal! Off road races seem to pride themselves on how low key they are. No goody bag at the end for these bad boys (and girls)! Just a cup of puddle water and if you’re lucky you can buy some cake. At the end of Lungbuster, as I staggered over the finish line unable to even smile, a lovely lady put this gorgeous hunk of metal around my neck. I’ll even forgive them the pink ribbon. 

In other news, the running club that put on this race must have the longest name of any running club. Just have a look at my race number – the random letters on the bottom are the initials of the club, the “Royal Wootton Basset Hounds Runing Club”.

In summary, a really good race with great marshals and a good varied route, but it is a proper hard off road race so make sure you’ve done some long runs beforehand.

A swim, a ride, a run and a race. AND A HILL!

It’s been a busy week, but the headline news has to be about the race. (Read about my cycle ride, and my discovery of “coffeeneuring” here).

The White Horse Gallop, described as a “quad-burning” 8 mile off road race basically runs up and over the Westbury White Horse. And then down again. As predicted it was hard, as someone said to me “when you’re walking in the first two miles of a race, it’s not good” this was said as we walked up the first hill, in the first two miles.  To cut a long race report short, here’s the moment I spotted the White Horse:-

And here’s the moment I made it to the top of the White Horse (mostly on hands and knees):-

Race face
Grr!

Now that you’re all scared, here’s me safely back home complete with finishers’ rosette:-

And just in case you’re doubting how steep it was, here’s the elevation profile:-

HILL!
HILL!

 

Impressed yet? Cause if not, I’ll have to do my scary face again.

Two runs (one race), one swim and a cycle ride. Boom!

So I finally did it. In one week I managed a swim, two runs AND a cycle ride. Never mind that, one of the runs was a race. I know – get me, eh?

The bike ride went surprisingly well. I enjoyed it, especially as it just *happened* to include one of my favourite cafes* as a stop to warm up.

Mmmm

Unfortunately it was also a chance for me to prove as true the old saying “pride comes before a fall” by also including a stationary “couldn’t unclip in time” tumble off the bike in front of an admiring audience.

The swimming lesson went well, the first (short) run was fine and I was feeling quite enthusiastic for the Marshfield Mudlark on the Sunday.

Finally got to wear my club vest again
Finally got to wear my club vest again

First real race for nearly a year, so I was feeling nervous, and glad I would be meeting up with other runners from my running club – the race to be “last harrier home” was on! It was only as I stepped out of the car, I realised I’d left my trail shoes at home. Sigh. The recently-retired road running shoes I was wearing to drive in would have to suffice.

Fortunately it wasn’t very muddy at all this year, and there were zero cattle on the course (woo hoo!) it was just a lovely run through the countryside. Wearing a number. With a bunch of other people. In old road shoes.

Felt so good afterwards I was persuaded to enter another trail race. I’ve just noticed it’s described as “quad burning”. What have I done??!

* Merkin’s Farm, Bradford Leigh, Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire, BA15 2RW   GO!

Getting better all the time*

Another few weeks of trying to get out for some exercise, repeatedly telling myself that just like when I first started running, it WILL feel better eventually. Suddenly, just maybe, I might be there…

To recap, I’ve been going to my swimming lesson every Monday and still haven’t drowned (although this week it was pretty close – I thought I could do breast stroke!) I’ve been mostly managing my two runs a week but haven’t been on my bike so much**. Fantastically soggy parkrun on Saturday 1st October, which reminded me how much fun running in the rain is. Makes you feel so much more hardcore than a hot and sweaty run, that’s for sure.

parkrun011020162
Soggy parkrun. Mud and everything – including a smile

Buoyed up by that run, I entered the Marshfield Mudlark, an 11k race that consists of hills, beautiful countryside, sometimes bulls, oh yes and mud. And hills. I have run this race several (3?) times before, so I do know the course and I may have been a little too keen as the race is this Sunday.

How much hill work have I done this year? Erm – does the tiny slope at parkrun count?***
Is my longest run anywhere near 11K? Even allowing for the metric / imperial conversion I don’t think 5 miles is that close to 11K.
Oh well. It’ll be a lovely day out in the countryside anyway. A full day maybe, but lovely.

Just as I was feeling like I’d definitely bitten off more that I could chew, I popped out for a 3 mile trot around the village this morning. After the chilly mornings of the last few days, today looked sunny and beautiful. It was. This was the view looking down over the field I was running around.

Beautiful view over field
Wiltshire looking stunning in the autumn sunshine

I returned home feeling happy and satisfied. And a little smug if I’m honest. Bring it on Sunday – I’m ready for you!

*  another earworm, anyone?

** repeat after me “buying winter cycling gear from Aldi does NOT count as a cycle ride”

*** no it doesn’t

Cows, barbed wire and a life lesson

Something funny happened to me on my long run today. I’m taking it as a life lesson, so I’ll share it so you can learn from it as well.

I decided I’d better fit my long run in today, and planned a beautiful 10 mile route from Chippenham along the River Avon, then along the Wilts and Berks canal to the National Trust village of Lacock. As ever, I just can’t resist taking photographs as I go:-

A previously neglected corner of Chippenham
A previously neglected corner of Chippenham
Rebuilding the top lock
Rebuilding the top lock
A boat - never seen one on the canal before
A boat – never seen one on the canal before

Shortly after this section the path crosses several fields before eventually winding down to Lacock. As I entered the first field, I spotted this:-

Cows - my nemesis
Cows – my nemesis

Look closely –  yes, cows. I am scared of cows. Well, I’m reluctant to run through a field of the bovine monsters – have you seen how big they are, close up?! After a close encounter with a pair of amorous bulls on the Marshfield Mudlark in 2013 I reserve the right to stand on my moral high ground and refuse to run near them.

I stood on the edge of the field and dithered for quite a while. I didn’t want to abandon my run and turn back, but I really didn’t want to go past the cows. Inspiration struck, and I decided to leave the footpath and make a detour through some neighbouring fields. Unfortunately this meant crawling on my belly under a gate adorned with barbed wire, running along the rough edge of a field of maize, crashing through a scrubby hedge with another wriggle under barbed wire, then around another field. Success!
I made it to Lacock and ran though the village, no doubt spoiling several tourists’ photos, past the National Trust tearooms (showing great willpower) and then headed back the way I’d come. As I crossed a field on the edge of Lacock I had to overtake a couple of walkers, the sort of walkers where the man has a large floppy brimmed hat, and the woman has sensible walking shoes and a floral top.* I said “hello”, they said “good morning” in a slightly snooty way, and I ran on.

At the bottom edge of the cow-infested field I again set off on my detour through hedges, maize and barbed wire. I was just crawling on my belly under the final gate, when I looked up and guess who had caught me up? Yes, Mr and Mrs Slightly Snooty.

“I see you braved the cows!” I called out whilst casually brushing mud off my legs.
“They’re only heifers” I was grumpily informed. I sighed, and made a mental note that it’s hard to take the moral high ground when you’ve just been spotted face down in the mud under a gate. I think that’s a good life lesson to take away from that incident.

* I’m making no judgements, just setting the scene.

Trail Running, Wildlife and Souvenirs

Wildlife is great (said  in a radio DJ voice). Seeing a wild creature when I’m out running feels like a privilege. Spotting something when there’s no one else around whilst I crash through undergrowth like a herd of elephants, is both fascinating and amusing. Yesterday I ran and saw a deer, heard buzzards above me, and managed to bring a somewhat surprising souvenir home with me…

Who could resist this path?
Who could resist this path?

I set off for a run not really knowing where I was going. I knew I wanted to run somewhere different, and knew I wanted to get out on some footpaths rather than a road but didn’t have the time to drive somewhere first. On a whim I headed up towards the allotments thinking I’d see what the path behind them was like. I’ve tried to go down here before (because there’s a series of geocaches there that I’ve not made it to) but have been beaten back by free ranging bulls, chest high nettles and over-the-knee mud. Not so yesterday! I successfully made my way down this enchanting path, all the way to a rarely seen longbarrow.

 

Photo of Longbarrow
Lanhill Longbarrow. Next to a main road, but hidden from it
Photo of Bluebell Wood
Bluebell Wood. The deer headed this way

Turning back from here I retraced my steps and found the four geocaches along the way. At the bluebell wood a deer ran out in front of me – not sure who was more surprised, but the deer was definitely quicker. Geocaching involves finding hidden treasure (small tupperware containers, sample containers, pet identity ‘barrels’ and the like) from their GPS co-ordinates and usually a hint if you need it. Most smart phones will happily run the Geocaching app, so the return journey saw me holding my phone in my hands whilst alternating between sprinting along the path, and rummaging under stiles, tree trunks and bushes.

I returned home, ankles throbbing from nettle stings and legs scratched from brambles, but pleased I’d had a good run and had found four geocaches. As I uploaded my Garmin data to the the PC I idly scratched at my armpit and was extremely surprised when a small green caterpillar fell out*. Now that was some wildlife I hadn’t expected to see!

* Pretty sure it wasn’t there when I set out
I