Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Looking forward.......

What an `odd` year....

I`ve been busy at work & socially - not too much running as I`ve had a hamstring strain for most of the year - remembering I had my left hamstring taped up in February in the Pilgrims Ultra.

This strain really did blow my early plans of 14 Marathons (or Ultras) in 2014 - I got to 5 by April then had to let this challenge go.

It has not been all doom & gloom though (not that you would have expected that from me) as I managed to sneak in 4 Marathons & 5 Ultras (not inc. the 5 laps of Endure 24 & 5 laps of Thunder Run or the Elstead `Marathon`). I did also including a couple from my `bucket` list - a back to back Ultras, Alexander The Great Marathon, The `D-Day` Marathon in Normandy & still ran at Endure 24 & Thunder 24 and not forgetting I ran my 250th parkun (inc winning the 100 mtr challenge) plus having fun at other races.

(I would like to thank everyone who came along & sent me kind messages that weekend)

During this time I didn`t really attempt any `speed work` & cut my mileage down by 50 miles per month (& I know it`s all relevant and what`s makes running so good as we are all at our own levels) but most of my running has been at around 10 min / miling (easy of the brain too) with hardly any long runs.

So instead of getting down I`ve been looking forward....

So on 1st September I entered and I guess my biggest challenge....the `COMRADES` - a 89 Km (55 Miles) road race in South Africa and I need to finish within 11 hrs 59 mins & 59 seconds of starting gun.......Oh and it`s on an `UP` route.

It`s a big challenge - my biggest one yet & I`m so glad I ran Caesars Camp 50 M in less than 12 hours.  I know I can do this.

As it`s a `gun to gun` time I really need to be as close to the start as physical possible - to do this I need to get a good starting pen position (or `Batch`). The qualifying time is 5:00 hrs, then 4:40 hrs, 4:20 hrs, 4:00 hrs, 3:40 hrs, 3:20 hrs & 3:00 hrs & race times can only count from 1st Aug `14 to 4th May `15...

My thinking here was to qualify in the 1st place & taking the pressure off & then use another marathon to bump up my pen. With that in mind I went to Portsmouth marathon (No. 38) this weekend to obtain this - I am glad to say I got my qualifying time of 04:35:11 - Pen `F`.

My training plan still need to be firmed up - so far I`ve entered the Fleet Half, Dover & Brighton marathons - still awaiting to hear about London and might enter Tadworth 10, Bramley 20, Moonlight Challenge (32M) & Surrey Spitfire 20......

All in all it`s going to be an exciting (& fun) time ahead.........looking forward is so much better than looking back.


Saturday, 21 June 2014

What a weekend - Le Marathon de la Liberté & #DDay70 (Plus 7)

(Drawing by Benjamin Thomas & really does sum up how you feel when running this event.)

Another event on my bucket list – I first saw this event back I think in 2011 & I`m so glad I left it to #DDay70 to run it which I have to say was more luck than judgement. Like all races in France you need a Doctor`s note (£25) so with that in hand I entered, I eventually booked the ferry crossing (initially I tried to booked the actual D-Day weekend & did wonder why the Friday night & Sunday night`s crossing were already full !!) & booked a nice quiet hotel (Hotel du Havre) about 2 miles away from the finish and waited till race weekend……..

And what a weekend it was !!

The train from Farnborough was hassle free as it was straight to Portsmouth Harbour and with a short taxi drive I was at the International port awaiting boarding….

It was a really nice, smooth crossing except that I fell asleep in my reserved seat & woke up in the morning on the floor....a bit bizarre and there was me thinking I was a light sleeper !!! Shortly after arriving I found a café in Ouistreham & over breakfast I planned out the day – trip to Sword Beach landing area, see some of many memorials & visit a few museums.

First up was Sword Beach - even the walk to the beach brought goose bumps to the back of neck - it was quite electrifying. The houses were still proudly showing their appreciation by showing flags of all sizes. (I instantly knew what I had forgotten - a flag for my race). I got to the actual beach & have to say it was quite a humbling experience -I had pictures in my head from various war films like Saving Private Ryan and knew it wasn`t even close to knowing how those young men felt fighting for survival on all of those landing beaches not just Sword Beach.

I walked past the `Memorial Commando Kieffer` & down towards Colleville-Montgomery - I didn`t realise how far it was. As I came back I stopped in Museum No. 4 Commando & Le Grand Bunker Museum - quite incredible. You could easily spend all day walking round just that one little place & if I ever came back I would spend more than a few short hours plus you would need a car to see the larger tributes to those fought & died during D-Day & the weeks after.

Eventually I headed back to the ferry port area to have lunch - I had almost forgotten I had to collect my race number from `Le Memorial de Caen` & check into the hotel plus it wouldn`t be a bad thing if I got off my feet for a while. The expo was in full swing when I got there (4pm ish), got my number & had a look around the various stalls. I knew my hotel was about 3Km away - I just had to make sure I headed 3Km in the right direction. I am glad I walked back that day as I knew I had to do the next day too. I eventually got to the hotel & it was a fairly straight forward route - even going past a couple of nice bars - and checked in. After I had a shower I did manage to grab 40 winks, afterwards I got my race kit & bag together & realised I didn`t bring my normal breakfast - good job I carry a few things to eat after these long runs so they would have to do plus I`m sure (hoped) I would find a cafe open near the start. I went out for dinner but did dragged myself away before the England game as my taxi was booked at 06:30am..

We had free buses taking us from the finish to the various starts (10Km, Semi or Full Marathons) - it was quite funny as I saw loads of buses & headed that way. The marshal informed me that they were the Semi-Marathon buses & that I needed to head over in that direction - I headed off & turned the corner & saw only two buses...and thought I`m gonna actually be last then!

As we got one of the first buses we were almost the first ones at the Marathon starting area - a little fishing / harbour town called `Courseulles-sur-Mer`.  I found my cafe & coffee was drunk :-) I walked a little just to keep the legs ticking over - I wanted to keep the warm up to a very easy one as while the hamstring was OK I didn`t want to push my luck anymore than I was already !! I guess within 10 minutes of the start (09:10am - odd time eh??) I went for a little jog - only to see a `Farnham Runner` on the other side - I said hello & wished him luck. As we formed into the starting area I saw another local running vest - this time it was Reading Roadrunner - bizarre. We chatted for a bit then the race started.

My race plan was changed when I saw in the previous week the cut-off times (being 5hrs) as ideally I wanted to jog round taking loads of photos & clocking a time of 5:30hrs perhaps. So I changed it to around 4:45hrs.

We headed out of Courseulles-sur-Mer & the support was amazing - loads of cheers - I even got my first "Monsieur K" - we headed out of the town and along the open roads. After about 3 miles we ran along the beach road and I began to notice was how flat & open it was & thoughts of what it must of been like 70 years ago. We were at this stage running towards "Juno" Beach and past many memorials. Pace wise I hit the 10Km mark in around the hour & time for my 1st gel (1 every hour on the hour)

Just before the 10M point (01:36:xx) and it didn`t feel like the 10M point we ran into Colleville-Montgomery so my trip the day before wasn`t wasted as we ran exactly where I walked even past the Grand Bunker. The support around here was great. Soon enough we went past where I had breakfast & lunch the previous day & headed down the river. I went through half way in 02:06:xx so a bit quick - looking back I guess it was due to I wasn`t really thinking on the running but more on the history of the area (that`s my excuse anyway).

For some reason I had expected the half way point was to be Pegasus Bridge & us to actually run over it but as we came up towards it I saw it from side on - I stopped to take a couple of photos (14.85M in 02:24:xx) & saw a Hatch Warren (nr Basingstoke) runner just ahead (he did keep that way too). Despite me paying not too much attention to running I was getting (& no real surprises) a bit tired esp after about 16M we turned off the river path and headed up into a built up area. Another thing was also clear this part had more of an incline without a lot of descent parts.

I guess I first started to walk around 17.5M (02:53:xx) which on the back of my recent runs wasn`t too bad really. This last section of the route was very pretty but again very open & despite the inclines very flat. We headed down narrow tracks and here I did wonder how many hours it took to clear back in 1945. We past several small cemeteries - all carefully looked after.

At around the 3:30 hr mark the last of the pacers (4:30) came past - I did half think of hoping on board but by this time the `Ultra shuffle` was in full swing. My hamstring was generally OK but what I had noticed was that my soles of feet were hotting up - I guess from the lack of pounding (something to note for next year I think).

Soon enough & I do not recall many Km / Mile markers we came into the last mile - the crowds were building up & cheering away - during the last 1/2 mile or so I untie my flag & waved it back - great response back. Went through the line & collected one of the best medals I think I have (Dog tags), collected my goodie bag, grabbed some water & coke - I did declined the cheese.

I did find the showers - which I have to say were very nice not only from a post marathon feeling but it did also mean I would not be travelling back `marathon` fresh. I walked back to the hotel feeling pretty good - the walk actually helped my recovery. I got to the hotel & arranged a taxi to take me back to Ouistreham, where I could really start enjoying the post marathon recovery with some Leffe & a bit of lunch.

The return night crossing was uneventfully in terms of sleeping positions - must of been tired.

I have been fortunate to enjoy many fabulous running weekends & mini-breaks and this one was up there with those.

Score on the doors - Marathon No. #35 (inc #18 Ultras) done.

News - To help me get into shape & be more prepared for the racers at the end of this year & next I`m working with Fleet Sports Therapy - something I`m very excited about.

Next up - is the Endure 24 & two teams of eight from Frimley Lodge parkrun (Frimley Lodgers I & II) - this will be heaps of fun plus a bit of running thrown in. 

Sunday, 27 April 2014

The first step is always the hardest.......

...and not always referring to running of course. Yes very guilty of misplacing my bloggers mojo but this is the first step getting it back.

So a bit of catch up with the latest first...

`Alexander The Great` Marathon.....or Thessaloniki Marathon

I first saw this event when I ran Athens Marathon back in 2010 - see blog - and thought why not! The only trouble was that it always seemed to clash with London - running or marshalling

By the way the only connection I could find with Thessaloniki & Alexander the Great was that the City itself was named after his half-Sister but that wouldn`t really have the same effect would it now ??

Anyway seeing how as this year it was being held a week before and I wasn`t running London I entered almost straight away and in the process hopefully ticking another event off my bucket list. With flights & hotel booked way in advance I kind of forgot that I running this one. Luckily Wendy (a fellow `Willy Wonka` - Thunder Run 24 team mate & GNR) was doing this for the 2nd consecutive year and kept reminding me.

One thing I had forgotten was how early I had booked flight out - 05:50am on Friday morning...meaning a very early start (02:30am) - I pleased to report that I kept my current streak of falling asleep before take-off going. I guess one advantage of these early flights !

I landed at Thessaloniki just before the Manchester flight and waited for Wendy & Martin (plus respective partners) - it did give me a chance to grab a couple of coffees by the bus stop. The buses are great way to travel from the airport - 0.80€. We were staying at the Zaliki Hotel which wasn`t far from the numerous bus stop but also from the finish of the Marathon. Friday was spent checking in, going to the Marathon Expo & exploring the local cafes (there is an excellent one around the corner from the hotel).

I have to say I was really impressed with the `Goodie Bag` - Two T-Shirts (one technical), a wind-proof jacket, cap, draw string bag - I wondered what the medal look like !! 

Saturday was really spent doing as less as possible but did include going up the White Tower and checking out the many, many shops and topping up the energy levels with a very nice lunch..well I had to make up for missing out on the parkrun brunch.

Seeing as we had to get the bus out to the start early the next day we all had an early night. I arranged I`ll meet Wendy at 05:15am in the hotel lobby & walk down together and hopefully catch one of the last buses. Have to say the town was really busy at that time in the morning but no sign of drunken behaviour which was really refreshing. Once on the bus and regardless of where ever you race there is always a smell of deep heat :-) As we headed out to the start we travelled along the route back so could get an idea of the route. Even though it was still dark it got darker - the rain clouds had come in !! Then flashes of lightning !!! Good grief not really what I expected from a Greek race. Upon arrival in the start village we all dived under cover till I guess 5 minutes of the start.

The rain stopped within 2 minutes of the start - Greeks are not generally known for their impeccable timing but hats off for that one - impressive.

My race plan; was Plan A - to be as near 4:00 hrs as possible. Plan B - around 4:15. and Plan C - no more than 4:30hrs. It was a shame I couldn`t really race this one but bearing in mind my training (I hadn`t run for two weeks) & recent niggles I thought those good goals.

One thing I have noticed when running with niggles is that you start with more control & more relaxed but it did seem that I was overtaken by the whole field in the first 10 minutes or so.    

The route itself wasn't complicated - we headed out of Pella and unto the `Thessaloniki Edessas` - or the main dual-carriageway to Thessaloniki. It was nice to switch off and run, occasionally we went through a village where the support was very welcoming. The early morning sun was really trying to break through the clouds.

Through 10km in around 00:57:xx

At this stage, like in many races you pass and get passed by many of the same runners which is kind of cool - many seemed to walk through the many, many water stations, which I always think is kind of odd.

Halfway in 02:03:xx  (10M in 01:32:xx)

While I wasn`t `garmin watching` I felt like I did really struggle through miles 12 & 13 but knew I was on the way home now.

The course wasnt really advertised as hilly but just before 17 miles the road seemed to go up and up and with a turn you couldn`t quite see the top - I did manage to run this section but did walk through the water station at the top.

I did mange till 18 miles till I took my first major walk - about 0.5M. During this walk break a lady introduced herself as Niandi Carmont (Ian Corless - from TalkUltra - other half) who was out her writing an article about the event and decided to run it to get first hand experience - not bad job! We chatted about various podcasts out there.

Through 20M in 03:18:xx

At around 21M there was a overpass which I glady walked up as I overtook many a runner on the way down that went past me. I was struggling by this stage - the hamstring was making itself known but worrying the Achilles Tendon was getting worse - I could feel the `grating` but knowing I was in the last stages of the race was good.

In these last few miles as we got into the City`s outskirts the course got interesting as in twists and turns. At about 24M you felt like you were heading to towards the Sea front. Just shy of a mile or so you can just make out the `White Tower` and the finish - just don`t be fooled by the gantry that I guess is about 800 metres short !!

I did get a `wiggle` on as I did want a sub 4:30 time and just about made it - a finishing time of 04:28:37.

Looking back and putting a positive swing on it I did hit my Plan A time as it was the closest I could get to a 4 hrs time - I guess it`s how you look at things at the end of the day! 

Afterwards I stopped in this great dinner and demolish a couple of Mythos and walked back to the hotel for a bit of a snooze before meeting up with the others for an evening meal and catching up with their race days reports. It was a great evening.

Next day we got the bus back to the airport and made our way home.

All in all a great weekend in a wonderful City doing a fabulous race with great company. The Greeks do know how to put on a great event - mind you they have had a few years experience !!

The thing about not doing really, really well at an event on a bucket list is that it leaves the door open to go and do it again.........

Next up - maybe event writing the race reports for the Pilgrims Challenge (Feb) & New Forest 50Km Ultra (March).

Seriously my plans for this year have changed - I`ve pulled out of the next month`s Pony Express Ultra weekend (30M x 2 days), and my `A race` - the North Down`s Way 100 in August (and my version of the 14 in 14) but it`s not all dome and gloom as I`m ending the year in Wales doing the Brecon Ultra (40M around Brecon Beacon National Park) and just entered a 12 hrs race in August (target there is 52 miles or more)....and started to think and plan about next year.

Happy running folks - have fun.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

What`s that condition called again....??

Well hello :-)

Oh yes, I seem to have that dreaded condition..`Bloggers Block`....

Back soon - I promise...


Sunday, 26 January 2014

Mud, mud & er more mud…… Winter Tanners 30

I hadn`t really planned this one until Richard Boese brought it to my attention. I had run the 20 mile version in 2011 so to go back & finish the job was a major plus. I had planned to run a muddy Cross Country that day anyway so I guess all I changed was the pace & distance of the run…

We planned to set off as early as possible to make use of the daylight, so I collected Richard at 7.00am & set off towards the start at Leatherhead Leisure Centre, by the time we got kitted up and sorted & wander off to the starting hut & collected our numbers it was just after 8.10am. I caught up quickly with Rob Jones just before we set off – I knew I`d be seeing him fly past us later anyway.

The thing is with these LDWA runs is the instructions, well to be more precise the understanding of the instructions…

163559     From the pavilion entrance – facing the football pitch, TR twice to pass the pavilion on your R & tennis/netball courts on your L.  At fence corner, TL to keep courts on your L.  In 20Y, TR on tarmac path thru gap in treeline then TL along tarmac FP.  When tarmac ends, TR on X-TK (FiPo:HAWK'S HILL).  In 275Y, over railway, over water works drive & ahd across grassy area (short cutting BW).  0.4 Miles

160555    Join TK from your L & swing R uphill with young plantation on your L.  Keep to the TK nearest the trees on your R to pass redundant gate on your L & immed FL.  In 15Y join TK from your R (FiPo:YOUNG STREET).  In 650Y, cross BUSY A246 WITH GREAT CARE & along drive opp which immed turns R past gate.  1.0 mile

See what I mean and not bad for just the first mile !!!

We agreed that we would do our own thing for the first few miles rather than following the runners around us so we could get used to these instructions. This seemed to work rather well and to be fair Richard did most of the map reading and I enjoyed the views..

This is the view we saw at around the 2 mile point – pretty awesome & made getting up early worthwhile.

Time & mile splits were really irrelevant as the terrain & conditions were never the same – we walked when we had to & ran when we could. Time just seemed to tick over. We covered the 1st 4 miles in just about a hour.  Soon afterwards we had to go up `119` steps (I will take their word for this but there were quite a few). The 2nd hour came around just as quick as the 1st hour (8M) plus we were awarded with the first checkpoint – jaffa cakes & orange squash never tasted so good. 

Just after this (& I could blame `Jaffa Cake Rush` - a little unknown medical condition that effects your eyesight) at the point…..“Keep ahd on BY for 540Y then (70Y after BY starts to descend steeply in sunken section) take the r of 2BWs either side of the BY. “ ………well I missed the “r “ (I guess like you did too) so we carried on down the North Downs Way for a few hundred yards – I do have to say it was one of the best trails to run down in the day but not only did we have to walk back up but I also took Richard & another group of runners with me – not a popular chap !!

Shortly afterwards we said farewells to the `20 mile` runners….   

I think it was just before the 12 mile point Rob came skipping past, well maybe not skipping but making it look very easy and his 5 hr 50 min time backs that up...great running. (Rob`s Blog) 

At around the 14 mile point (3.5 hrs in) we ran down this `driveway` and the Lady of end house were was working outside asked if we ran on the driveway (rather than the grass) – we replied we did as we love road. She also asked, after first asking how far we were running, if we were running for a cause – I replied “No, just fun” – well I don`t think could comprehend that response but wished us well anyway. 

Soon afterwards – well I guess about 2 miles later – we came across the 2nd checkpoint (nice photo of me eating malt cake whilst Richard studies the map) – 4 hrs in. The next section from 16 – 21 we were climbing uphill – and even more stiles or as I become to dread (I mean loved)  seeing “ST”on the instructions. Just after the 23 mile I found Richard asking a local for directions….or maybe asking him if his jokes were funnier than mine !! * (7 miles to go & 6 hrs in)

Shortly afterwards at around the 25 mile point the weather closed in as we almost started on this uphill section. Don’t just take my words for it….

138500     Cont steeply uphill on FP with wooden handrail & wire fence on your L.  When handrail ends, up 2 steps & over ST.  TR to shortly go up 51 more steps then cont ahd steeply uphill for further 20Y.  TR along crossing TK (ie DO NOT go thru KG into wood ahd). Contour on open hillside with fence & wood on your L for 200Y then BL with FP thru gate.  Up 4 steps then cross STEER'S FIELD keeping ahd on grassy TK going steeply uphill at first to leave via KG.  25.8 miles

“Steeply” is mentioned 3 times & “up / uphill” is mentioned 6 times !!! But we were awarded with `Checkpoint Charlie` - the last checkpoint but more importantly the checkpoint with the tea & coffee J (4 miles to go – 7 hrs)

We got going but we soon came up to the Tanners Youth Hostel  (27 miles) where Richard became an Ultra runner – I shook his hand as we jogged along but we duly stopped for a second or two for a photo

The section from 28 to 28.5 was a bit tough as it was uphill & the very sticky mud (& I haven`t really mentioned the mud but it was everywhere in this mud – a complete mudfest). I lighten the mood by saying to Richard “28.5 miles in and we have finally broken the back of this run now” * At the 29 mile point we basically run the first mile backwards, we got back to the hut with I guess minutes to spare before it got dark.

Richard looking very pleased (& tired) with himself & rightly so.

Well done Richard, it was a pleasure to run with you in your 1st Ultra ………….you now have a 30 mile PB to beat.

We got back to the car & had a well-deserved coffee & `proper` food.

Official Report - LINK

Results / Pictures / Archive - LINK

Next up is the `Déjà vu` weekend – Pilgrims Challenge Weekend – and a chance to log even more hours along the North Downs Way…gosh this almost sounds like a plan.

Have fun.