Janathon Day 29. Slaughterford 9 Race

Slaughterford 9 is a hard off-road race. I’ve run it twice, but as it’s organised by my running club in the last few years I’ve had to volunteer to marshal instead.

This year the race is part of the Wiltshire Off-Road League. The club runners who have run the previous four races in the league this year were allowed to run it, as a very special honour. And to gain points for the club in the Club championship, of course.

We still had to help out, so all of us Harriers racers were out bright and early on car park duty. The weather was cold, it was faintly drizzly, and it was very soggy underfoot. At about quarter past nine we escaped in order to strip our many layers off, collect our race number, assemble for the team photo and to try not to shiver too much.

The race has a mass jog down to the start line, because everyone has to cross the very busy A4 to get there. After shuffling myself towards the back, with very little ceremony we were off. The early part of the race is practically on home turf for me, so I knew exactly where to walk and where to push on. I looked longingly up the footpath which leads 1mile to home, and resolutely followed the racing line.

I don’t want to describe every muddy, sticky, squelchy step of this race, take it as read it was hard. Instead I’ll let the pictures speak a thousand words:-

I finished. I surprised myself, I had genuinely been dreading it. It was my slowest time, but in fairness it was the worst conditions I’ve seen on the course and I was in the worst condition to run it as well.

The best bit (slight exaggeration ) was getting ready for bed and realising I didn’t still have to perform a random exercise whilst cleaning my teeth for Janathon.

Happy New Year 2018!

Don’t worry, I’m not going to do a huge “My 2017 – a review” post, complete with Powerpoint presentation and Strava stats (my stats are rather half-hearted for 2017, but that’s not why I’m not doing it. Honest.)

I think there’s just time for a squinty-eyed short-sighted peer at the year ahead. I really need to be more organised in order to find time for running, swimming, cycling, my allotment, the house, my family (apologies to my family for putting them last in that list!) Having decided to stay on in my what-was-meant-to-be-temporary job, my life needs to become more regulated (boo!) in order to find time for the stuff I want to do (hooray!). As this job is quite stressful and unrewarding, it’s actually essential that I manage to find time for any stress-relieving activities that I can.

This might mean forcing myself out for a run after work, even if I don’t feel like it. I’ve hit the “it’s too dark to run” nail squarely on the head by buying an “Ironman” style chest torch which should illuminate most of the village as I run by. I have entered the tough “Slaughterford 9” race at the end of the month which will act as quite an incentive to get out and train! My son bought me a lovely insulated cup that is meant to fit into the bottle holder of my bike, which hopefully will persuade me to get out for even short rides (in a “Coffeeneuring stylee) . I haven’t been swimming for weeks and weeks, and the worry that I might have forgotten how is enough to have me checking the timetables for a suitable session (just as soon as my “sniffing my way into 2018” cold clears up).

A few weeks ago I asked my Facebook friends how on earth they fitted everything in. I was especially asking a lovely lady, who is a mum of 3, a full time dentist and runs Ultras (not simultaneously). Responses from everyone were basically along the lines of “just get out and do it!”, but also, and perhaps more surprisingly, “don’t beat yourself up if you don’t manage it”. This made me feel much better for the last few weeks of the year, and means that the thought I’m taking into 2018 is “Be kind”. I always try to be kind to the people around me, but maybe I need to focus a little more on being kind to myself. Let’s see how it goes!

I wonder what thought other people are taking forward into 2018?

 

Tri-county XC Race 2017

I feel obliged to point out that this race was my least favourite race of last year. It was full super speedy runners hoping to gain a County vest, running in just shorts and crop tops. In December. There was no walking up the hills, there was no well earned amazing views from the top of said hills, there was no feeling of being lost somewhere in the middle of nowhere. So why on earth did I enter it again this year? Well, it was race number 4 in the Off-Road League. ‘Nuff said. I’m unlikely to win my age category this year, but pride and the fact that our Chippenham Harrier’s teams are currently in first and second position in the league meant it was a “must do”. Yes, our B team is ahead of everyone else’s A team. Unfortunately our rivals had also spotted this, and were rallying their troops in order to try and knock at least 1 of our teams off their spots. Therefore, it was all hands on deck (feet on mud?) from the Harriers as well.

XC events consist of a series of races throughout the day, to ensure the entire family has the chance to get cold, muddy and tired. Starting with the youngest first, the course gradually becomes longer for each subsequent race, with additional long or short loops. Just to make it more confusing, each race at this “tri-counties” event has runners running for their own county.

For the “Senior and Vetern Ladies” we had to run 2 short loops and 1 long loop of a muddy, sloping field at Bath University.  I was consoling myself with the fact that it was only 4 miles long, but sadly this did include going up the long hill 4 times.

Just adding to my joy and anticipation for this race, was the weather forecast which predicted snow for the day. Wonderful! After spending the morning  checking (with fingers crossed) to see if the event had been cancelled, I finally resigned myself to having to run and set off. As I got closer the weather became snowier and snowier, until I found myself squelching and crunching across a field to huddle with my team mates.

Brave Harriers Ladies. I'm NOT wearing shorts
Brave Harriers Ladies

As I feared, running this race was cold. It was miserable. It was snowing. It was horrible. It was really horrible. I told every marshal I passed how horrible it was (but I did thank them on our last lap – it must have been just as miserable standing there all day).

Running in the snow photo
“It’s horrible. It’s really horrible”

Despite being several minutes slower than last year, I didn’t finish in last place. I was chased all the way around the final lap by an Avon Valley Runner woman I only shook off on the last downhill ‘dash’ to the finish line. Her sprint finish must be even slower than mine.

Sprint (trudge) finish
Sprint (trudge) finish

Still, at least it’s done now. This race has officially won my vote for “Most horrible race. Ever”, and I gained 100 Hardcore points for finishing covered in so much snow. I have also finally defrosted my toes, so that’s all good.

Photo of snowy runner
100 Hardcore points to the lady with the snow and the tiny runner hitching a ride on her head

Roundway Revenge 2017

Here we go again – Wiltshire Off-Road League Race number 3.

Bring it on again! Bring mud, hills, more mud, more hills. Then bring even more mud and even more hills. That just about sums this race up, although it doesn’t do it justice.

Sadly, at the top of the hills it was so foggy you could see nothing. However I’ve been assured the views are magnificent on a clear day. It was so muddy that you couldn’t even run some of the downhills, but hey – walking’s okay!

Without wanting to sound like a masochist, I really enjoyed this race right up to mile 5. After that, my lack of fitness and training really made themselves felt. I struggled to stay warm after the water stop at mile 5 and probably should have taken something sugary to eat for an energy boost.

A huge plus point is the fantastic race photo I actually bought because I liked it so much. Me with two of my Harriers buddies. Look at us running up that hill, whilst the people behind us walk (cough cough – as IF we’d start running again as soon as we saw the photographer!)

Photo of happy runners
Exhibit A. Smiles all around!

Race number 3 of the off road league complete. Next stop – Tri-Counties XC. It couldn’t be worse than last year, could it??

Wickstead Wander 2017

We all remember this one from last year, don’t we? The only with the big, dark, water jump? Okay, a little photographic reminder:-Water Jump 2016

This race was again part of the Wiltshire Off-Road League, so of course I again had to enter it. It is the only race in our local off-road calendar that encourages fancy dress, so at the last minute I tried to think of an economical costume that would be amusing, runnable-in, and that would survive the water jump and other horse jumps. Seeing as the water made such an impression on me last year, I used that as my inspiration. So, I give you :- swimming cap and goggles!

Here you can see me preparing for my impressive entry into the water:-

but sadly the actual moment of flesh-hitting-murky-water was missed by the photographer.

The rest of the race was much as I remembered last year’s (to be truthful, quite a lot of fairly dull running around the edges of fields). However, moment of the race for me had to be seeing the burly “Marilyns” from the Royal Wootten Bassett Hounds helping each other over a stile by keeping the brambles from snagging their dresses. Although this sadly wasn’t captured on camera, I can however show you them pouting their way through the water jump:-

Marvellous stuff!

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.