At last – a run! Nothing too adventurous as my running buddy has a sore knee which hurts going uphill. She lives down the valley from me, so we currently start every run with her run/walking up the hill to mine, and then we run round and back down another hill to take her home.
Today we did well, and after I’d dropped her off at home I struggled back up the steep hill (running all the way) and then realised I was trotting along again quite nicely – the hill hadn’t finished me off.
Pleased with this, I ran past my house (we all know how difficult that is!) and added on a little loop across the fields.
In all about 5.5 miles (watch didn’t start at the start), and it was my first run in shorts of the year. Very pleasant!
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
… I just didn’t know where I was. Well, I knew roughly where I was but I couldn’t see how to get back home. Right – excuses out of the way, I’d like to describe my run this week (yes there’s only been one. So far).
I grumbled home from work, in a foul mood and telling myself I’d feel better after a run. In my running gear I decided I’d go out of the front door, turn left at the end and do my usual loop. I ran down the drive, turned right, and realised I was already going the wrong way. Ah well, never mind, I’ll run down to the green, then up between the houses to the village hall, turn left and go round that way, I thought. Brilliant. I made it to the footpath by the village hall, and was struck an inexplicable desire to see where the footpath that went straight over went to.
It went across many fields and through gateways (with me peering through each one to see if I could spot the local cows before I ran into it). It ended up near the local long barrow which was approached through armpit high grass.
What an adventure! Now I just had to turn around and heard back the way I came. Um- just needed to find the path. Then I just needed to remember how I got into that field. Then I realised that where I thought I could squeeze through onto a footpath I actually couldn’t, and ended up squeezing over and through a very rickety gate.
Safely back to the village hall and I simply had to get out of one field, across the cricket pitch and home. Easy peasy, except I couldn’t get out of the field. Up and down along the electric fence I finally gave in and clambered over. I managed not to snag my Lycra, but just at the point of no return I realised the barbed wire had caught my trainer lace. I managed to wrestle it free just as I crashed over the top, then had to slink past the village kids at cricket practice.
Still, I’d made it back home safely. I wasn’t too badly nettle-stung (only both legs from ankle to knee), and I felt like I’d had a real adventure.
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 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.
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?
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.
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).
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.
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.
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!)
Race number 3 of the off road league complete. Next stop – Tri-Counties XC. It couldn’t be worse than last year, could it??
We all remember this one from last year, don’t we? The only with the big, dark, water jump? Okay, a little photographic reminder:-
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:-
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.
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”?!
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 …
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?!