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?!

Portishead Sprint Tri. A guide for first timers, by a first timer

I am a triathlete! No, really I am, I completed Portishead Sprint Triathlon this morning and am still all in one piece (and still wearing my medal, truth be told).  After training for my first Tri earlier this year but then having to miss it through illness I knew this was an itch that was going to have to be scratched. I needed to justify having the bike and 18 months of swimming lessons apart from anything else.

Rather than take you through a blow by blow account of the day I’ll give you some lessons as learnt by a first time triathlete.

Faff Time

Triathlon needs serious amounts of stuff. As I was getting everything together the night before I commented that it was like packing for a fortnight away.

Stuff!
Stuff!

Once you arrive at the race venue, all this stuff has to be sorted out and put in your transition area. Not just put, but laid out in the precise order you’ll need it, cycle stuff separate from running stuff, bike correctly racked (i.e. hanging precariously), helmet ready to put on BEFORE YOU EVEN TOUCH YOUR BIKE.

Tidy transition area
Tidy transition area

Then you have to find the toilets. Then you have to escape from your trisuit in order to use the toilet, and then get back into it again. Leave yourself plenty of time to get poolside for your race briefing, and whatever you do, don’t at that point realise you are still wearing your non-waterproof Garmin watch which you were meant to leave with your cycling stuff. If you do, make sure you sprint really fast back UP the hill to transition, and then back down again thus arriving just as your race briefing starts already panting and out of breath.

Race Tattoos

Do not get your tattoo wet until it is on the part of the body it is meant to go on. If you do, you’ll have to join the queue of similarly foolish people waiting to use the special “tattoo pen”. My pre-race prep included having a strange man holding my leg and writing on me, followed by me doing the same to him. How to make friends and influence people.

This is cool
This is cool
This is not
This is not

Swim – 400m

This is seriously confusing. Each person has to start at EXACTLY the right time, which in my case was 8:44:10 am.  The swim was in Portishead Lido, which is a lovely 1960’s 33m pool with 5 lanes. Each swim start had about 6 – 7 people in each lane, all with a different coloured hat* so they could start in the right order, 10 seconds apart.

Do we look like we know what we're doing?
Do we look like we know what we’re doing? The lane marshal is even having to point to the water to show where we should be “IN the water. Start IN the water!”

* I was special, I was “No Hat”. They ran out of colours.

Do not get emotional whilst swimming, even if you often get emotional in races. It is impossible to blub and swim and breathe simultaneously. It is okay if you immediately catch up with the swimmer in front of you, who is doing slow breast stroke, meaning you also have to do slow breast stroke so you can give yourself a quick talking to.

It is perfectly acceptable to feel surprised that you are enjoying the swim and even passing people. Just remember to tell your swimming teacher next time you see her.​​​

​​​Transition T1

If you have laid your transition area out in an orderly fashion, and practised changing from one sport to another, then transition is a breeze and will save you minutes of time. However if you are too full of adrenaline you will end up standing in bare wet feet in the middle of a field, struggling to pull on your brand new cycling jersey with very tight arm elastic over wet arms whilst simultaneously putting on your helmet because you MUST have it on your head before you even think of touching your bike. 4 minutes and 11 seconds is a long time to faff about in transition, but as long as you finally leave with the correct stuff then its fine.

Bike  Section – 25K

Getting on a bike straight from swimming is not as soggy and awful as it sounds. I was convinced this was going to be a dreadful, cold and squelchy experience, but it wasn’t. A tri suit is designed to dry quickly, and even my Aldi bargain did this magnificently.

If it’s a hilly course, then practice cycling up hills. This course had 3 long hills that I only got up because I was too stubborn to stop. My legs are saying “We told you so!” each time I try to go upstairs tonight. Enjoy the downhills, smile at the photographer but if you must cry “woo hoo!” make sure no other cyclists are too close by.

Transition T2

Your legs will feel like lead as you start running after cycling, and the conventional wisdom is to “spin” your legs before you get off the bike to minimise this. Conventional wisdom doesn’t say what to do what the final 50m of the bike course is up a short, steep hill that you have to struggle up.

This changeover should be quicker – just shoes and moving your number (on your tri-belt) from back to front. I wish I’d taken my cycling jersey off, but I was trying to be quick, and I feel self-conscious in my tight fitting trisuit. There was such a huge variety of ages, shapes and sizes I really shouldn’t have worried.

As soon as you’re ready, locate the “Run” exit and plod your heavy legs towards it. Feel encouraged that the other athletes around you are staggering as well.

The Run – 5K

As a novice triathaloner, you will of course have researched the run course as well as the bike route. You won’t have chosen a run with a big hill in it, nor an Off Road section whose uneven surface is really hard work on tired legs. Scoffing 3 Shotbloks as you set off for energy is a good idea but be prepared to have a totally gummed together mouth afterwards (and face if I’m honest). Fortunately there was a drinks station at 1K which we passed again at 4K, although they didn’t have gin & tonic. I even offered to make it easier for them and just have gin, but no luck. Maybe next year.

Legs of lead
Legs of lead

As you head back to the race HQ, smile at the photographer, swear at the steps and hill up to the finish line, then sob quietly at the top as you see you have to run past the finish line further up the hill and around a tree before finally heading towards the finish line. Don’t forget your sprint finish!

This IS my sprint finish
This IS my sprint finish

Smile as you cross the finish line, and try not to buckle under the weight of the medal they distract you with as they remove your timing tab.

Ooh a shiny thing
Ooh a shiny thing

Post Race

Make sure you retire to the nearest cafe for post race nourishment. Medal wearing is compulsory. Remember to thank your faithful significant other who drove you to the tri, helped with your stuff, and has waited patiently to take photos of you as you head back to transition and the finish. Try not to feel emotional in the cafe as you realise you DID IT!!! – there is cake waiting to be eaten, dammit!

Cafe attire
Cafe attire

Notes for the future, my actual timings were:- swim 12:54, T1 4:11, Bike 1:20:34, T2 1:58.8, Run 29:57. Total time 2:09:36 🙂

Oh deer, deer, deer! A tale of 3 races

Three races in recent weeks – it’s all or nothing here! Back at the end of June I wrote about the Great Chalfield 10K, a race I’ll stagger round even if I can’t race it because it’s just such a great event. It was definitely a staggering run this year, and as I wrote in my race report a huge highlight for me was spotting a deer watching us climb the last hill.

I love seeing deer, and I’ve spotted more when running than at any other time. I’m always amazed that a wild animal of such a size can live along side us, relatively invisibly.  I always think if you see a deer, it means it’s a GOOD day.

On 2nd August I ran the Stripped Back Bustard 5 (miles), and wrote about it here. On the longand soggy drive home, in a car that now resembled a sauna on wheels, I thought I saw a deer-shaped thing at the side of the road going down Bowden Hill. It wasn’t moving, so I wondered if it was a model. I slowed right down, eventually stopped, and a fallow deer leapt out and trotted across the road right in front of me. Magical. Another good day!

Last week, I had another race, the last in this season’s Heddington 5K series. I was idly thinking of trotting around at about 9:30 minute mile pace which would get me in under 30 minutes, when I bumped into Nikki. I ran June’s Heddington 5K with Nikki when we were very disciplined and ran at a steady 10 minute mile pace together. (Read about it here). It turned out that she was thinking of running at about 9:30 pace because she was desperate to finally go sub-30 for a 5K. Again we agreed to run together, and started near the back. The first mile was fine (it’s mostly downhill!), the next half mile to the halfway point was still okay, we were passing a few runners and just keeping going.

Still smiling!
Still smiling!

At 2 miles though, the chatter stopped and we were working hard to keep to our pace. At about 2 and a half miles I could sense Nikki starting to drop back slightly, so I nagged and verbally pushed her to just keep her legs moving. We made it to 3 miles. As we came to the “200 metres to go” sign we both glanced at our watches, gave an excited squeak, and Nikki pushed off on her finish line sprint (how do people do that??!) I crossed the line in 29:21 and Nikki in 29:17.  She was so happy – and I’m glad its not just me who cries when they set a new PB that they’ve been wanting to hit for a long time. Well done Nikki – superb gritty running!

I left straight after the prize giving as I’d left my son with cooking instructions and wanted to make sure he hadn’t burnt the house down. As I came back down Bowden Hill again, I thought about the deer and wondered if I’d see it again. I looked and looked, but no such luck. As I headed along the road to Corsham though, I could see something moving at the edge of the road. A cyclist with no lights? A runner ill-advisedly wearing brown at dusk? No, of course on a special day like today it had to be another deer. As I slowed down it cautiously crossed the road in front of me and disappeared through the hedge. I *knew* it had been a good day!

What a Week!

It’s been a week of superhuman effort on one hand, and a very human effort on the other. My husband spent 4 and a half days cycling 1,400 kilometres from London up to Edinburgh and then back again. Wow. With 1,499 other cyclists. Incredible.

I did running, a bit of swimming, and a lot of driving. Not so impressive.
On Saturday we had both volunteered to help at registration for LEL (as it’s known).

Ready to register!
Ready to register!

This was an amazing experience, meeting riders from 53 countries who were due to set off on this amazing event the next day. We saw excitement and nerves, extreme preparation and last minute holdups (a strike in Calais and gridlocked M25 must have been nerve jangling for those stuck). I worried about the Indian  riders who were already feeling cold on what was quite a nice day, loved the noisy camaraderie of the Spanish riders, and was amazed by the man from Leeds who ridden down for the start.

On Sunday I waved my husband off, with prayers that he would be safe. I drove back home to Wiltshire and ran (and walked) a very slow 4 miles on Monday. I went swimming with my Mum on Wednesday morning and apart from the splashy kids I was the youngest by quite a few years. (Apart from the kids I was also the only one that got my face and hair wet!). I then raced 5 miles on Wednesday evening in a race I’d forgotten I’d entered. This was the Stripped Back Bustard 5, a great little race on a night with horizontal rain.

Stripped Back Bustard 5
Final corner

Despite just aiming to finish, I hung onto Dawn’s shirt tails the whole way round and was delighted to finish in under 50 minutes in 49:44. I was also delighted with my cup of tea and two hobnobs. (I’m very easily pleased).

Clutching tea and hobnobs
Spot me still clutching my tea and hobnobs

On Friday I drove up and back from London to bring an exhausted husband and his bike back home. M25 on a Friday. Twice. Lovely!

You might have guessed by now which of us was the superhuman! I’m only human, so can I have a rest now? Oh hang on, I’ve promised to take my son to parkrun so he can raise funds for his NCS charity of choice, Pets as Therapy. I’ll just leave his fund raising link here… Rest after parkrun then please?

Great Chalfield 10K. Sometimes it’s enough to finish

I love the Great Chalfield 10K. Beautiful course with enough undulations to be challenging but not so many that you can’t appreciate your surroundings. Low key organisation, but with accurate timing. Race HQ is the small scout hut on the Common in Broughton Gifford and profits from the race go to the Scouts. Always a medal, weather that varies from torrential rain through to scorching sun. Perfect!

Sometimes a race is run for a PB. Sometimes as a new challenge. Sometimes it feels like you’re taking several steps backward, and just hoping the forward steps will come in time. Last night was one of those, and bearing in mind my lack of recent running I was thinking of this 10K less as a race and more as a little trot with a number pinned to my front.

This year we had rain, and an altered start and finish (we did the ‘running around the common’ at the end rather than the start, but it worked fine and was less onerous than the usual “round a field to make up the distance”). Course was all on quiet roads apart from the tiny bit of field at the end (at least they’d cut the grass this year). Water station marshals promised us cider next year, there was no sign of Poldark at Great Chalfield Manor (it’s used as Killewarren, home of the Penvenens in the BBC drama), but I did spot a deer watching us runners climbing the last incline with a very puzzled expression on its face (“Why??!”)

I had promised myself a little walk up this hill, but actually because I’d been sensible and taken it easy from the start I felt okay and carried on running. I had an interesting chat with a man who’d dragged his son along for his first run. The son was swearing away at his Dad, but made it to the end just behind me. Kudos to him!

I was delighted to see (and hear) my fellow Chippenham Harriers who had waited for me urging me over the finish line (probably so they could go home out of the rain!)

Harriers at the finish line
Bless’em for waiting for me #lastharrierhome

I was also delighted with my medal. Apparently you’re supposed to get fed up of “participation” medals after so many years of running, but this one felt like a real achievement and that I’d really earned it.

Medal!
Medal!

Looking back, I see I ran this race in 2012 (hot and muggy); in 2013 (really really wet but an amazing PB); in 2014 (the disappointing one with the stitch) , AND in 2015 (first one in a Harriers shirt, just not MY Harriers shirt). Rather sad I missed last year now!

I’m back!

After many weeks of coughing and sniffling, and feeling very sorry for myself (and my poor family who had to put up with me) I’m officially back in the room. 

I ran twice last week, only slow and steady 5K each time with walking breaks and coughing breaks and taking photo breaks. 

Photo taken in a wheat field
“Doing a Theresa May” – an example of a photo break

It came as a bit of a shock to discover I had entered a 5K race for last night. Heddington 5K is run as a series of 3 races over the summer months and sells out in a matter of hours each time. This might be because the course is overall downhill, and thus practically every runner I know has run their 5K PB at this race. 

I wandered over last night, and was met by the vast hordes of Chippenham Harriers who also knew about this race’s magical ability to practically guarantee a PB. With lots of chat, and catching up with running buddies I hadn’t seen for weeks, I didn’t have time to feel my usual pre-race nerves because it didn’t feel like a race. 

As we moved to the start line I conciously kept to the back. The race starts with a mad downhill dash which means after half a kilometre you are already regretting your pace. My simple aim last night was not for a PB, but to have a steady run, with no walking / coughing / photo stops. Ideally I was hoping to try and stick to 10 minute miles but I was flexible on pace (I.e. I had no idea what to aim for!). I found myself next to another Harrier (called Nikki) who was doing exactly the same, we fell into step at the start, and ran together the whole way right up to the point where she managed a sprint finish and I managed a finish. 

Heddington 5K
Heddington 5K. Photo by Rachel Beek.
I was very pleased with my 31:04 time, which looks pretty much like spot on 10 minute miles to me, and with the fact I didn’t have to walk! Well done Calne Running Club for such a brilliant race, and especially for the chocolate at the end!

So looks like I’m back in the game again (well, I will be once my face loses this magnificent shade of puce!)

And so the Road Race season begins

Since my last post, I have been a little busy. There was “that” large birthday to celebrate, a new age category to rise up* into, a parkrun that I dragged family and friends along to, many presents, delicious food, and cake. Much cake. So much cake.

After all that  carb loading I’ve staggered around a few runs, and also managed my first road race of the 2017 road racing season. The Highworth 5 was on Sunday 19th March 2017, and before we go any further I should clarify it was a 5 MILE race, not 5 kilometres. The poor chap I spoke to in the first mile was wishing there’d been some clarification – he’d turned up to his first ever road race, after a longest run of 3 miles, thinking he was in a 5K race. It was a simple loop around the roads and lanes, with a sneaky hill at 4 miles. How the organisers had arranged for gale force headwinds for the last 2 miles (including the uphill section) was a puzzle to all of the runners. I have included an informative slide explaining my pace vs. conditions:-

Love a good mug

What was also a puzzle was why a runner thought it was okay to shadow me all through the windy section, thus using me as a windbreak. I could hear her behind me, and as I glanced behind could just see the red of her top. As we entered the playing field for the hated “rounding up to 5 miles” section. I could still hear her behind me, and had a horrible premonition that she was about to sprint past me and finish in front of me. Now I don’t do fast finishes, I am the runner people love to catch on the line, but the bit was firmly between my teeth now. I was seeing red, not just the red of her top,  and thinking of our club’s Tuesday nights Efforts sessions I sprinted for the line. The satisfaction of beating her by a second will last for quite some time. As will my delight in my race momento.

* I’m choosing to think of it as a promotion

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 tale of two races

Two weeks, two races. A muddy, hilly trail race and a fast, flat 10K. Both pretty chilly, both hard work but both an achievement in their very different ways.

Last week was the Wickstead Wander. A 5 mile meander over hills, down paths, through farm yards and over horse jumps. And through water jumps. It was good fun, despite being able to see runners in front of you then learning there’s actually an extra sneaky loop you can’t see between you. I loved the marshals who helped runners leap over a stream, and the biggest water jump had marshals armed with cameras and a safety inflatable dolphin. In my defence, I couldn’t see how deep the water was so tried to lower myself elegantly into the black, smelly water.

img_0474
All the elegance
img_0473
Made it!

I enjoyed the race and would do it again. 5.3 miles in 58:42

Race number 2 – the Bromham Pudding Run. This is 2 lap race around the village of Bromham, organised by and with all profits going to the village school’s PTA. There’s no medal at the end, but every finisher does get a Christmas pudding. Does this make it sound like it’s a small, amateurish affair? Don’t get the wrong idea – this race is a flat and fast course, so it attracts serious, speedy runners. It is fantastically organised with some of the most enthusiastic marshals around (clapping, cheering, playing Christmas music – these guys are pros!)

After being injured and not running ‘properly’ for so long I felt like a beginner in my first race. I didn’t know what pace to run, or what time to hope for, but I vaguely knew I’d be very happy to get anywhere near an hour, as I remember how hard I worked first time around to do that.

I ran with a friend from my running club, who was aiming for just under an hour to beat her PB.

Swishy pony tail!
Swishy pony tail!

We worked hard together, enjoyed the sunshine despite the frost and although I left her in the last mile (she told me to go!) we finished within 30 seconds or so of each other. The photo shows me crossing the finish line feeling shattered but happy.

Finish line in sight!

I collected my official time, and was split between being pleased with getting so close to an hour and being annoyed at how close to the hour it was.

Just 3.9 seconds!

6.2 miles in 1:00:03.9 – I’ll take that!

I’d forgotten just how hard ‘proper’ races are (ones that don’t involve mud, water or hills) but I’m very glad I did this one as it’s boosted my confidence no end.

Next weekend, it’s back to the mud and hills again …

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.