Challenge Roth 2012

Prep

I meant to write a training blog before Roth but didn’t have time. In brief, there were 8 weeks between the Ultra Brecon 40 and Roth, so 6 weeks hard training and a 2 week taper. The training would be almost entirely swim and bike as I reckoned that I had enough in the legs from a spring of long running races to cover the marathon. The 6 week block started with a whimper rather than a bang as my quads were trashed from the ultra so all I could do was a couple of swims before heading to the Lakes for the Man Tri annual training weekend, where I got in a couple of decent 60 mile rides with plenty of climbing; Whinlatter, Honister, Struggle (*2), Kirkstone and Wrynose. Into week 2 and I picked up a nasty cold that wiped out Mon-Fri before getting a couple of rides in at the weekend in a rare few days of good weather. The remaining 4 weeks were pretty solid with 3 swims and 3 or 4 rides per week and some token running (longest run was 10 miles!). I’d entered the Coniston Old Man tri but wimped out because of poor weather so Roth would be my only tri of the year and my first since Alpe d’Huez almost a year ago. I did one open water swim to check my wetsuit – 3.8k in 1:12 at the Quays which felt easy enough – and also a 25 mile time trial just to get an indication of my FTP, I rode 1:03:44 at 260W on a very slow day on J2/9.

A few kit tweaks too. A new Met Pac pointy hat chosen after extensive research to find the cheapest one and also a wheel cover for my powertap wheel to make it into a (very heavy) disk. A new Selle SMP saddle on my TT bike and also raising the bars by 1cm and moving them in a bit were the changes I made to my bike set-up.

Overall I was reasonably confident I was in decent shape going into the race, despite the fairly minimalistic training!

Plans

Pretty simple really. Swim steady. Bike at 180W (70% FTP). Run at 8 min miles for a 3:30. Bike nutrition would be eating every 15 minutes alternating between half a bar and a high 5 gel.

Getting There

Myself, Brian and Harsh drove to Roth in two days with an overnight stop in Brussels. A long journey but reasonably uneventful and we arrived in Roth at about 4:30pm on the Friday, registered and met up with the rest of the gang; John, Dawn and Rich who’d arrived the day before, Paul who’d flown out that morning, and Mark and Anna. Also Konrad and his friend Wolfgang who arrived a bit later). We (apart from Mark and Anna) were staying in a Pension (guest house) near Pleinfeld about 10 miles away which was a great place (thanks to Konrad for sorting it out!) and on Friday night we had a very authentic German meal in the restaurant next door entertaining the locals with our complete ignorance of the German language! Saturday was the usual kit sort out, bike checks and race bag packing. All fairly dull apart from some drama with the front mech on Paul’s bike. Bikes were checked in and racked in the afternoon which gave an opportunity to scope out the swim and transition routes.

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Pre Race

A 4:15am alarm call to get into the usual pre race routine of P20 application, breakfast, P20 application number 2 and a few toilet trips. Drive to the swim start via a couple of wrong turns (although this did mean we got to do a part recce of the Solar Berg!) and a stroll down to transition (via another wrong turn which put my pre-race stress levels into the red, sorry guys!). On reaching my bike I almost immediately realised that I’d left my bottle of gels and my drink bottle in the fridge back at the Pension – doh! My pre-race drink had about 250ml left in it so that went on the bike and I figured I’d just pick up gels at the aid stations. But still, extra stress I could have done without. Wetsuit on and went to watch an earlier wave start before heading to the start area myself.

The Swim

Lined up in the middle, the cannon went and off we go. Not too much biff although I did clock a breast-stoke kick to the face which fortunately didn’t do any damage. Navigation is easy as the swim is up and down a canal so you just need to check you are keeping a steady distance from the bank. The top turn marks about 1/3 distance and was navigated successfully by all, apart from one guy who I saw swimming on and on into the distance! On the return leg I started to feel a bit rough in the stomach and got into quite a negative place, thinking about what my logistics might be if I DNFed! Bit pathetic really. Past the start and transition and under the bridge, was really hoping the turn would be the first buoy but no, there was another after it. Eventually back under the bridge and on to the swim exit; checked my watch and it had been accidentally stopped at 29 minutes so that was my plan for having a total time with me scuppered. T2 went reasonably smoothly; massive handful of lube on the underparts, jersey on, shoes on and off to my bike. From the time of day I reckoned I’d started the bike with 75 mins on the clock which was on schedule (although this turned out to be a slight overestimate in fact)

The Bike

Tried to get aero and into my riding as quick as possible after the first couple of miles which were quite twisty and mainly downhill. Quite soon we went through the army “ration station” being saluted by soldiers either side of the road and I grabbed a bottle and a couple of gels to cover my bottle snafu. Quite rolling for a few miles and riding to power I was going slower than most other riders on the ups and quicker on the flat and down. Heading towards Greding seemed like hard work with a block headwind all the way, and I was slightly dismayed to see my average speed for the first 20 miles or so had only been 18.5mph when I was expecting 20.5mph at least. Oh well, it’ll be what it’ll be and I just stuck to my 180W. Other than the wind, with cloud cover having rolled in conditions were good as it wasn’t that hot at all. The Greding climb was well supported and a good chance to get out of the saddle and stretch, then over the top a fun twisty descent down to some more rollers and eventually into Hilpoltstein, home of the famous Solarberg. On it’s own this would be a relatively minor climb but with crowds several deep lining the road like a Tour mountain stage in the Pyrenees it is something special. After that it’s mainly downhill to start the second lap and do it all again.

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But this time the stretch to Greding seemed much easier and I was pushing 53*12 where before I’d been struggling into the headwind – in fact, looking at this weather station data the wind direction changed from SE (block headwind) to W (cross/tail) which explains things. I passed Anna and Konrad early on the 2nd lap and was feeling OK, food was going down OK apart from one time when I had to miss a 15 minute feed to let things settle, and I was still hitting my 180W, although doing a bit more freewheeling and out of the saddle as things were getting a touch sore down below! Had a slight altercation with a draftbuster when he said “No drafting!” to me, when I wasn’t drafting, but thought better of pushing the issue and talking myself into a penalty! 2nd time up the Solar Berg was a bit of an anticlimax as many of the crowd had headed off to the run, but at least I knew from there it was predominantly downhill to T2 in Roth. finished with about 5:35 on the clock so had pulled it back pretty well after the slow first 20 miles.

Remembered to grab my Garmin off my bike before giving it to the T2 helpers, who very efficiently had my run bag for me. Bike kit off, run kit on plus some extra sun cream on my shoulders headed off onto the run feeling not too bad.

Bike Data

The Run

Frustratingly the cloud cover that had been present for most of the bike rolled away in time for the run so it was going to be a warm one. Got into my 8 minute mile rhythm almost immediately as the route headed down onto the canal. Saw the men’s leaders coming the other way with only a few miles left to run (was rather jealous!). Turning onto the canal to head to the top turn it was clear it was going to be warm, with little shade, but good running on a hard-packed surface. At the aid stations I got into a routine of grab sponges, squeeze down front, squeeze down back, throw sponges, grab drinks, quick walk whilst drinking, then back into my running. The 10km mark was reached shortly before dropping off the canal path to descend to a crossing underneath a huge lock (an impressive feat of engineering this canal I must say!) taking us to the first turn in a small town. Saw Mark, Rich and Paul ahead of me here by about 5:00, 4:30 and 0:30 respectively. I’d expected Mark ahead but Rich had done an amazing 54 minute swim to overtake me in the water from a wave 10 mins behind me, and it turned out that Paul had started in the wrong wave, 10 mins ahead of me! It was tempting to up the pace but I held back and stuck to the plan, eventually catching both Paul and Rich at around the 20km mark.

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Paul and I carried on together still on the 8 minute mile pace and feeling pretty good, apart from my left quad which was quite sore, but not impairing my running (a benefit of having done some ultra running is you get used to running on sore quads!). On past the turn back to Roth and down to the bottom turn at about 30km where we caught Mark. The aid station walks were becoming a bit longer but we were still running OK, and on the way out I pulled away from Paul a touch. Back onto the canal with about 10km to go and it was just a case of chugging along, keeping cool and managing my stomach which was doing OK on coke and the odd bite of banana (gels were off the menu by this point, I’d had 4 in the first 20km). The climb back into Roth with 4km to go was my only walk other than aid stations and halfway up Paul steamed past me saying “let’s run this in together!”. Over the top I put a burst in to catch him up again and that’s what we did, upping the pace for the last 3km round the town past the beer tables then in to the finishing chute. We ran down this side by side giving a few high-fives, before crossing the line together arms aloft – a great moment. I even remembered to take my sunnies off before the line and not look at my watch as I finished!

Overall time was 10:25:10 so a PB by almost 20 minutes!

Run Data

Aftermath

After a manly embrace we realised that we were actually pretty knackered; I was desperate for a drink but all they had straight after the line was bloody Erdinger alcohol-free beer which was really not what I wanted! We eventually found the food area and after a cup of water, a cup of very salty soup and a cup of Coke I was feeling basically human again. We met up with Konrad who sadly had DNFed on the run but did a great job at helping the rest of us out through the finish area. He set me up for a massage (which hurt my quads more than the run had!) before a shower and back for some food – overall I felt a hundred times better than I did after Barcelona, which was nice! Gradually all the gang came together to exchange tales from the course and we went to the stands to see Harsh home.

Swim: 1:08:30
T1: 5:09
Bike: 5:35:36
T2: 4:12
Run: 3:31:43
Total: 10:25:10

So, overall pretty chuffed with how the race went. Swim was where it should be, bike was fairly well paced – and the consensus seems to be that the wind made the bike a lot harder than normal, maybe 10-15 minutes slower – and the run again was well paced with no big explosion, although I probably could have manned up a bit more in the last 10km. That was the Ironman I wanted to do, and whilst I know I could get faster and maybe go for sub-10 hours I’m instead going to retire from Ironman for the second time (!) and return to Project UTMB. Next stop, the Northumberland 60 mile ultra in just over 3 weeks time!

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Ultra Brecon 40

I arrived at Race HQ in Talybont on Friday evening after a fairly relaxing drive down the Welsh Borders, a few showers had cleared by the time I got there and it was a beautiful evening. Registered then went to a pub and had tea with a couple of other competitors. I’d arranged to stay at Race HQ and my bed was probably the closest to the start line it will ever get in any race I ever do!

Race day dawned with clear blue skies, not too windy and fairly cool; perfect conditions. A few words from the organizers and a roll call then with the ringing of the cow bell we set off. The first 3 miles was mostly along the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal – it was just like being at home training on the Bridgewater! – nice flat running to ease you into the day. This was short lived though as turning away from the canal we started the climb up Tor y Foel gaining 1200ft over the next couple of miles. So out with the trekking poles and 25 minutes later the summit was reached. Poles away and a short descent down the other side to Checkpoint 1. I’d started with two 600ml bottles and still had plenty left so no need to stop here.

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Photos of me by Darren Ross. Photos not of me by me.

The next 8 miles to CP2 were reasonably flat and good running, although very wet towards the start running along what could only be described as a stream for a while, always annoying to get the feet wet for the first time but at least when it’s done it’s done and you can just get on with it. Into some woods the path twisted around the head of a steep valley, very precipitous in parts and if you fancy taking this path I would advise doing it sooner rather than later as it didn’t look like it will be attached to the hillside for too much longer! Out of the woods and onto open moorland before a sharp turn back on ourselves for a short road section then a good wide track through some old quarries. Onto the moors again before a couple of miles descending to CP2.

CP2 is at 15 miles and represents the end of the warm up, now things get interesting! The next 6 miles to CP3 are a steady climb right up into the heart of the Brecon Beacons. The lower section was a horrendous slog through wet boggy grass, not very steep but the ground was so soft that even when running progress was frustratingly slow; no need to get the poles out as they would have sunk right up to the handles probably! It was a relief to clear this section and get onto a good rocky path along the edge of the ridge with great views to the Beacons above and the valley below. The halfway mark was passed with about 3:45 on the clock so well ahead of an 8 hour schedule, although I was well aware that most of the hard stuff was still to come. At the top of the ridge (814m) it’s a short descent to CP3 at Bwlch Duwvnt, the col underneath Corn Du.

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Photos of me by Jon Phillips. Photos not of me by me.

The next 4 miles are just mean! A long quad mangling descent down a good track losing 400m of altitude in a mile and a half to CP4. Half a mile along the road then climb all the way back up to where we had just come from; CP3 and CP5 are one and the same! Fortunately it’s then not much further either along or up to the summit of Pen y Fan, the highest point in the Brecons at 886m. Obviously from the highest point there is only one way to go, down. And down and down and down to CP6 in the valley. The initial drop off the summit was very steep but thereafter it was more runnable. Great views Eastwards to Cribyn our next objective but we were going to have to get there the hard way.

A quick top up of water at CP6 then across a couple of fields to the road and the start of the climb up Cribyn; we’d lost 600m of altitude and now had to regain 500m of that. The lower ridge of Cribyn is a steady climb but looming ahead is the incredibly steep upper section. The poles really came into their own here and helped me to haul myself up to the summit. There was a good crowd at the top but no time to hang around with CP7 in sight via a grassy descent to Bwlch y Fan. Another water top up plus replenishing my waist belt pockets with more food made for a slightly leisurely stop but I needed to get a wriggle on if I wanted to get under 8 hours as the clock was ticking and the hard terrain had eaten into my earlier advantage. A last climb bypassing Fan y Big before the poles could be packed away for good. It was still hard running here though, along the path tracking the edge of the Northern Cwms of the Brecons and then cutting off Eastwards across some peat bogs. After longer than I’d hoped we started to head downwards, and down and down and down. My left adductor was really feeling the descents by now and wasn’t very happy at all.

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Photos of me by Jon Phillips. Photos not of me by me.

At last we came off the hill by Talybont Reservoir just leaving a flat 3 mile run in to the finish. 7:35 on the clock, do-able but I’m going to need to shift a bit. I was also expecting a checkpoint here, I’ve no idea why as it wasn’t marked on the map but I was a bit confused when it didn’t appear! Anyway, across the dam and a left turn to head for home. I was running side by side with another chap here – we had traded places a few times from CP7 – and as we ran along a good flat track we could see ahead a fork with one track going down and one going up. We looked at each other and both said “I hope we’re going down” but of course when we reached the junction the arrow was pointing to the uphill track – doh! I walked the climb and he continued running and pulled ahead. Over the top and get the running legs back on dropping back down to the canal; 12 minutes left to break 8 hours and a mile left to run – good job! Luckily I didn’t relax too much as it was actually 1.3 miles to go, closed out the last section on sub 8 minute mile pace and came home with 75 seconds to spare.

GPS Data | Results

I was pretty shattered when I finished and a few minutes sit down was required before getting on with the standard post race Rego, shower, compression, food, sleep, food. Stretched my legs down to the pub in the evening with a few fellow runners for a couple of pints which was a nice way to end the day.

Just a few closing comments and notes. The course was excellent, well signed and very tough; harder terrain than the Lakeland 50 for my money. You had to be self sufficient on the course other than water and I ended up taking far too much food with me, probably about twice what I actually ate! For the record I consumed half a margarita pizza, 6 assorted muesli bars and 4 gels – so actually not that much really. Shoes were Mizuno Wave Harriers which were great, no blisters and just a bit of rubbing on the top of one of my toes. It was the first time I’d used walking poles in a race, I had super lightweight Mountain King Trail Blaze poles which weigh very little and split into 4 pieces so go easily on the back of a running rucsac. On the uphill walking sections they were great, taking a bit of the strain off the legs and also because it’s very hard not to walk purposefully when using poles. I’ve not really got the hang of running with them yet as they make your arms into much longer pendulums so they come through a lot slower. And it was a bit of a nuisance having to stow then away when done. But overall I think they are a good bit of kit for a race with this amount of steep climbing. Finally, it was the first time I’ve used my Go-Lite Rush sac in a race and it was fine other than some bruising on my back. I think this was caused by my phone being against the back of the pack which doesn’t have any padding down the middle, nothing that a bit of camping mat can’t fix.

So that’s the end of my Spring running campaign, overall quite successful with good runs at Haworth Hobble, Edale Skyline, London and here, with the just the one DNS at 3 Peaks. I’ve now got less than 8 weeks to train for the Challenge Roth ironman, I was supposed to start straight after this race but my quads have been so sore I’ve only been able to swim so far this week! Heading off to the Lakes for the Man Tri training weekend in a minute so hopefully I’ll kickstart my bike training there.

Buxton Mountain Time Trial and London Marathon

“Previously on ER” I was patching myself up after a bit of a tumble in the Edale Skyline. It took 5 trips to Altrincham Minor Injuries clinic before they were happy with the state of my elbow. I also must have torn something in my upper arm as it’s been very sore since, and also my calfs were very tight and DOMSed.

So I couldn’t run and couldn’t swim but I could still ride which was lucky because I’d entered the Buxton Mountain Time Trial on Good Friday – despite not really having done much cycling for the previous 3 months. I last did this race back in 2008 and I remember it being very tough and getting caught in a hail shower! The weather Gods were playing with us again as two days before the race there was a freak heavy snowfall which left many roads in the Peak impassable. Fortunately the sun came out the next day and the roads were clear for the race, albeit with some very impressive alpine-style snowdrifts covering the verges.

Given my lack of cycling miles I was pretty happy with how the race went, although I fell apart at the back end of the last lap! It’s a really good course, 3 laps of a triangular circuit that goes up, across then down and is a good all round test.

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The remainder of the Easter weekend saw a good (if wet) 3 hour bike ride with the boys on Sunday and then a solid 20 mile run on the Monday. Unfortunately my left calf tightened up during this and over the next week and a half it was tough and go whether I’d be able to run the London Marathon or not. Drastic measures (such as doing the Hope Mini Mountain Marathon entirely at a walk, and I still didn’t come last!) were taken and a late fitness test passed on the Thursday, so on Saturday morning I was on the train down to London.

Everyone seemed convinced that it was going to rain on race day, not sure why as the forecasts I’d seen said it was going to be OK. And this turned out to be the case as it was a sunny morning with hardly a cloud in the sky. The “Fast Good For Age” start pen (which puts you at the front of the Red start) was pretty relaxed as the clock counted down to the start at 0945. Met up with Andy and Brian, and we also bumped into Michael H and Chris.

I’d planned to run it at a fast training pace rather than race it but in the early stages it was very hard to slow down as you were swept along by everyone else. This and the fact that the first 3-4 miles is downhill meant I covered the first four miles on close to 3 hour pace, whereas 3:10 was the target. Calmed it down a bit and trotted along nicely, past the Cutty Sark then over Tower Bridge. The crowds were amazing, like nothing else I’ve ever experienced, lining the entire course 3-4 deep in places plus bands and music – just awesome.

Saw Paul and family (my hosts for Saturday night) just after halfway and the race winner Wilson Kipsang coming back the other way (8 miles ahead!) as I turned away to do the loop round the Isle of Dogs. No matter what pace you run it at a marathon still hurts and past 20 miles the legs tightened up a bit, including my dodgy left calf; to be honest it stayed good much longer than I was expecting. So I was distracted from my sight-seeing during the home stretch and completely missed Big Ben, although I did see Rich in the crowd at 25.5 miles. Crossed the line in 3:07, happy with that and already resolving to make it an A race next year and have a good go at getting that sub-2:50.

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This weekend I was supposed to be running the classic 3 Peaks fell race but my calf was sore again after the marathon, and then I came down with a cold anyway so that goes down as a DNS. Next stop is a 40 mile ultra-marathon in the Brecon Beacons in two weeks time, the first step on this year’s quest for UTMB qualifying points.

Finally, big up to Brian who ran the Manchester Marathon today (in horrific wet cold windy conditions it has to be said) to make it back-to-back marathon weekends – and he was quicker second time around too!

Edale Skyline 2012

Back for another crack at the classic Edale Skyline fell race after a less than satisfactory attempt last year (twisted ankle, limped round, slow time etc). This race is very popular and it filled up in about 4 days so I was lucky just to get on the start line. Pre-race most of the talk was about the weather, and in a good way! The forecast was for a warm, sunny, still day and that turned out to be exactly what we got.

It was a very relaxed start to the race with everyone milling around in the field underneath Ringing Roger enjoying the sunshine. After a few words from the Race Director we were off with the usual cavalry charge up the hill towards the zig zags. This lasted about 90 seconds by my watch until it was steep enough to justify walking, I’m not that fast going uphill so was middle of the 330 strong field at this point. It’s almost exactly a mile uphill before a scramble over the top of Ringing Roger leads to the edge of the Kinder plateau and it’s possible to actually start running.

This section along to Win Hill is good running and the views were spectacular. Over Win Hill summit before the steep descent into the Hope Valley and a drink station where I stopped briefly for a couple of cups of water. Along the road briefly before starting the long, hard slog up Lose Hill, a real killer but at the top a young lad told me I was in 65th position which was better than I’d thought. The line for the descent off Lose Hill had changed since last year sticking to the ridge-line taking quite a techy descent down to Back Tor, definitely a touch slower than the old route through the field. Mam Tor provides another tough climb which goes on a bit and is that tricky gradient where running is hard but it’s not _quite_ steep enough to warrant too much walking!

Mam Nick at getting on for 11.5 miles – over half way – provides the second and last drink station and is also where those in the know suggest that the race really starts! That’s because the terrain is much harder from this point. My feet had been hurting for a few miles so I stopped for a minute or so to tighten my laces but to be honest it made little difference so I just had to man up and live with a blistered left heel and sore balls of both feet. The going was pretty good over Brown Knoll, not as dry as last year but not too boggy, and I was making decent progress taking a few places. The line they had flagged off Brown Knoll was horrible and I turned my ankle a couple of times, luckily with no lasting consequences, and I was glad to reach the flagstones heading to Jacob’s Ladder.

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Photos from http://www.dpfr.org.uk/albums/633 and https://picasaweb.google.com/ShaunP050/EdaleSkyline2012

From here it’s only about 6 miles to go, but the 6 hardest miles of the race with a lot of rough ground and also a couple of “racing lines” to find to cut off loops in the normal path. For the first of these round the back of the Woolpacks I was lucky enough to catch up with a group of local Dark Peak runners who knew where they were going and I tagged along for the ride – result! So with 4 miles to go and heading for Grindslow Knoll all was going well when – BANG – coming down a moderate descent I must have tripped over a rock and before I knew what was happening I slammed into the rock-covered path taking most of the impact on my left elbow. The Steel City Strider I was following turned and asked if I was OK and I was already back up and running trying to assess the damage, which was a lot of blood from my elbow, a bit from my right hand, but otherwise I seemed to be OK. For the next few minutes I had blood running down my left arm and dripping off my fingers but it did eventually clot up which was a relief.

From the top of Grindslow Knoll the elite have the choice of the “down and up” straight across Grindsbrook Clough, but for the majority it’s the long (and it feels even longer than it is) run round, eventually Ringing Roger is clearly in your sights and then just a mile downhill remains back the way we’d started. Not a nice descent really, especially not when you’re still a bit stunned from a fall! But finally a lefthand turn takes you back into the field and a grassy run in to the finish line. I finished in 3hrs 23 for 39th place so I had paced it reasonably well and made up 25 places in the back half of the race, even with my little incident (which I don’t think made a great deal of difference to be honest).

After a few cups of water and some jelly babies it was down to the stream to wash off some blood and assess the damage, which included a rip to my bumbag in roughly the place where my car keys were, which luckily were still inside (now that would have been a bad way to end the race!). Back at the race HQ the St. John’s Ambulance guys did a great job at patching me up and making me look a bit more presentable! They did recommend getting the elbow looked at again though so as soon as I got home it was straight off to Altrincham Minor Injuries clinic to get it cleaned and dressed again, with another trip two days later and I’m back again tomorrow morning. I’ve also got a big patch of road (fell?) rash on the left side of my chest and my left arm isn’t working too well, but is improving slowly.

So two years, two accidents – I might give this race a miss next year!

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Haworth Hobble

First race of the year means first blog post of the year. 3 months since the last, and between times there has been one race, the Boxing Day 10k in Poole where I set a new PB but missed out on the sub-36. This year it’s back to the ultra distance running as my ankle which caused me a lot of trouble last year is now good enough (although nowhere near perfect) for off-road running again. Unfortunately I missed out in the draw for the 2012 UTMB so I now need to renew my qualification points as all those from 2010 have now expired.

So time to get some solid miles in the legs and the Haworth Hobble seemed like a good starting point, 32 miles over the Pennine Moors starting and finishing in Haworth (famous for the Bronte sisters) taking a triangular route via Todmorden and Hebden Bridge. I was in reasonable shape from a consistent block of running (baring a few calf niggles as usual) and had recced the middle 20 miles of the route two weeks before so knew what I was in for. The weather forecast was OK, although driving across the moors early on race day morning the cloud was down and it was raining. Fortunately the rain mostly stayed away during the race, but the cloud stayed put for the first half.

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The race starts at the bottom of the cobbled street through Haworth so immediately heads uphill before easing into a couple of miles on tarmac. I’d started too far back and worked my way up the field before deciding I was going too hard and easing off again. Just after Bronte Bridge I stopped to take off my gilet as despite a strong headwind and the cloud being down it was pretty warm. A steady climb up to the ruined farmhouse of Top Withins (supposed to be the inspiration for Wuthering Heghts) then a long descent off the moor on super-slippery flagstones down to reservoirs and some tarmac to Checkpoint 1 at Widdop Reservoir.

The next section to the Long Causeway follows the Pennine Bridleway so familiar to anyone who has done the relay (first bit of Leg 2, but the other way). Then along the road past the wind-farm which couldn’t be seen but made its presence known by the woop-woop-woop noise coming through the mist. A tedious down then up through a nasty boggy field to CP3 at 15 miles, almost halfway. I was running straight through the checkpoints as I was carrying all my food and drink and this allowed me to latch onto the back of a 20 strong “peloton” for the packhorse trail above Todmorden, descending steadily then a steep drop down into the Calder Valley. Across the river and canal then of course it’s straight back up the other side first to Mankinholes (via a second muddy field of despair) then on up to Stoodley Pike looming high above on the hillside. Down again into Callis Woods then a traverse round the hillside above Hebden Bridge, with a view of Heptonstall church across the valley. Probably a nice view were it not for knowing that to get there meant dropping 150m down into Hebden before then regaining all that height up the other side. The climb to Heptonstall is the most tedious section of the route, a steep set of steps followed by a tarmac climb, the only relief being provided by a chap manning his own aid station out of his front door giving out drinks and jelly babies (thanks!).

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Photo courtesy of runfurther

Down again to the next checkpoint then a long drag of a climb up though Crimsworth Dean where the miles (25 down now) really started to make themselves felt. I’m not that quick going uphill at the best of times – and this was not the best of times! So it was just a case of getting it done with a “run to that rock/tree then have a bit of a walk” strategy. Approaching the final checkpoint at 27 miles my 5 hour target looked touch and go, especially as straight after the CP there was a steep half mile tarmac climb. Fortunately the next section of steady climbing up to Top of Stairs was mostly runnable and going over the top Haworth could be seen, the finish in sight! The next descent was long but rocky and not that quick going before emerging onto the road with just 2 miles to go. A final climb up to Penistone Hill then all downhill to the finish. I caught up a pair ahead when they took a slight wrong turn and we were really pushing the pace down into Haworth. A bit of confusion as when we came out at the church they went left up the cobbled street to then drop down to the finish at the school, which in fairness is the logical route. Whereas I went right down the cobbled street to then have to come back up to the school, this is the described route but is clearly longer and I was probably the only person who went this way! Still, it only cost me a minute and no places and I hit the finish line at 4 hours 59.

Was shattered at the finish but chuffed to hit my target, and later I found out that I had finished in 17th place (well 19th really as there were two pairs ahead of me). So a good start to the year and apart from the usual calf troubles my legs have come round pretty quickly. Next up is the Edale Skyline fell race in a week and a half before a four week gap to the London Marathon and then a week after the 3 Peaks Fell Race at the end of April. Mid-May sees a trip to Wales for the Ultra Brecon 40, a 2-point qualifier for the UTMB. After that I’ll probably have to get some tri training in for Challenge Roth in July!

Dorset Coastal Trail Marathon

Probably the 2nd hardest part of this race was making the start line at all! Shortly after I entered I aggravated then ankle injury that has been troubling me all year. Straight after the Chester Marathon full focus went onto rehab-ing the ankle (and yes, if I’d done this properly months ago this year may have been very different) and after a few weeks of boring, painful manipulation of the ankle I finally started to get some more side-to-side flexibility. Short sections of cobbles that had me nearly walking over them just before Chester could now be happily tackled full tilt. 2 weeks out I went for a fell run with Harsh round the roughest bit of the Edale Skyline (the section that had caused me a lot of pain during the race itself) and other than going thigh deep into a peat bog I came through this with no problems. Game on!

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The Dorset race is the third round of the EnduranceLife Coastal Trail Series and certainly one of the toughest, with 1200m of up and down in the 26 (and a bit) miles. Being a Dorset lad myself I knew most of the route and could also call on the pre- and post-race hospitality of my Mum and Dad (thanks!). Arriving at race HQ early on Saturday morning it was grey, windy and cool. We registered, got kit sorted and then waited in the hall for the briefing and the start. We also saw the start of the Ultra (32 miles) and the slower Marathon runners who all went off about 40 minutes before the main start. Turned out that it was a TT style start with a dib in on the line, so as 9am approached we went out to the start pen to find that it had started drizzling a touch. Wished Viv a good race then made my way into the pen to get a start in the top 20 or so.

After a short steep tarmac climb away from the start a right turn over a stile and onto the Coast Path which we follow for the next 12 miles. The first few miles were mainly distinguished by some very slippery mud which made descending interesting and climbing laborious. I was a bit worried that it would turn out to be a 26 mile XC course! After 2.5 miles predominantly downhill, then the long climb up White Nothe, the fun really starts as the route is relentlessly up and down from here on in to the halfway point. Beautiful scenery but very hard work! The majestic rock archway of Durdle Door hoves into view then a climb and a nasty cobbled descent down to Lulworth Cove and a checkpoint at 7 miles.

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I would have chosen to go around the beach in the Cove, but no it was up round the back of it then a horrible descent on steep steps. A short stretch of flat running past the Fossil Forest was a relief before the incredibly steep climb up Bindon Hill; approaching it looks more like a cliff than a hill. Straight down again to Arish Mell, then back up Flowers Barrow, down to Worbarrow Bay then up Gad Cliff. Up down up down I think you are getting the picture.

By this point it has to be said that it had become clear that I had rather underestimated how hard this run would be and I was running about half an hour behind my predicted schedule. I’d also not taken nearly enough food and despite three gels by 12 miles I was starting to feel pretty empty. And after the early rain it had turned into a bright and relatively warm day – so I didn’t really have enough water either!

Descent to Tyneham which was 13 miles with 2hrs 15 on the clock and met Mum, Dad and Bella (dog) who had come out to spectate. After a quick chat off again on a long but steady climb up to Povington Hill, a short out and back section here was good to see some other runners with a checkpoint at the end where fortunately there was water and some sweets and shot bloks, so stuffed my face here to make up the calorie deficit and also refilled my water bladder.

The return leg promised to be a bit lighter on the climbs but on the flip side we were now running into the Westerly wind. Approaching Lulworth for the 2nd time I started to feel a bit fatigued, also had the only point on the route where the route choice was a little vague but picked the right (left!) way, down into the village and to the checkpoint. Seemed like rush hour here as after a relatively lonely run from Povington the Marathon route now coincided with the Half Marathon which turned for home at Lulworth. Plenty of overtaking was good for motivation on the next 3 mile section steadily uphill into the wind; head down, counting to one hundred with a rhythm of four steps per count – boring and geeky but gets the hard miles done.

What goes up… because the next three miles were mainly downhill and despite some cramping I managed to pick up the pace all the way to the Smugglers Inn at Osmington Mills this is only a mile from the finish and felt sorry for the Ultra runners who had to turn around and head away again to add an extra 6 mile loop onto their route! Was soon feeling sorry for myself though as it was uphill again on the slippery mud nicely churned up from our earlier passage. Throw in a few stiles to really trigger off the cramps and it was a tough final mile for sure. But eventually onto the tarmac for the final 200m downhill to the finish line.

That was a tough race! I finished with 4hrs 34 on the clock for 10th place, happy with that. The winner Stuart Mills (who won the Lakeland 100 in 2010 and is a quality ultra runner) did 3 hr 47 which shows how tough the route is. Viv finished in an excellent 5 hrs 23 for 5th Lady.

Also my ankle came through unscathed again so it’s full steam ahead planning for some more ultra-running fun and games for 2012!

Chester Marathon

Chester Marathon was the end of season goal for 2011, so after a short break post-Alpe d’Huez I knuckled down to the run training and although I only got in 9 weeks of specific marathon work – about half what I’d want ideally – I felt like I was running pretty well as race day approached. I’d set a 10km PB (36:34) at the Shell Sutton Six race 3 weeks out and 10 days out we did a set of Yasso 800s at the track where I held 2:50s comfortably. However my suspicion was that I was maybe in great shape for a half but not enough miles in the bank for the full distance? Anyway, to maximize my chances I had a fairly aggressive taper in the final week with 4 runs totalling a mere 11 miles (OK, so maybe I was just being lazy!).

Race day alarm went at 6am and to be honest I felt pretty knackered as I’d been up till 11:30pm watching the Kona coverage (and really wished I could have stayed up all night to see it through to the conclusion with the amazing Chrissie Wellington toughing out another win). Breakfast then out the door to drive to Chester, via a pit stop at the Junction 14 services where I bumped into Brian who had had the same idea. As I got into the centre of Chester the roads got completely grid-locked with runners trying to get to the racecourse – yes, gridlock at 8am on a Sunday morning. I think Chester need to sort their traffic flow out! So abandoned the car in a multi-storey instead of the race car park, where I again bumped into Brian (we were really on the same wavelength that morning!) and Stefan and we wandered down to the race HQ which was happily only about 5 minutes away.

On entering the racecourse we noticed a chap coming out of a building with a very smug grin (on the chap, not the building) – yes, he had found the luxury queueless toilets and we didn’t need a second invitation! We wandered over to the start line and you could have been forgiven for thinking the race wasn’t for another few hours as it was incredibly calm, not the usual melee you get at big races. After 24 hours of rain the day before the forecast weather window had come to pass and it was a bright pleasant day, bit of a breeze but nothing too ridiculous. Gradually the rest of the Man Tri posse made their way over to the start, and toeing the line we had myself, Brian, Paul, John, Andy, Rich, Stefan, Konrad, Gary, Claire and Anna.

Into the start pens on the racecourse itself and after a short delay we were off. The plan was to go for somewhere between 2:50 and 2:55 running a fairly even race (unlike Blackpool two years ago where I started to fast and paid the price over the second half). Settled into a 6:3X pace and also tried to keep my heart rate steady up the short climbs that punctuated the course by backing off then catching up again on the downs. After crossing the Old Dee Bridge at mile 2 we were out onto familiar territory from the bike leg of the Chester Deva Triathlon, the climb up to Eccleston, right turn under the bridge and a fast mile of descending the other side.

At about the 7 mile mark I caught up with Paul who was trotting along nicely having a nice chat about mountaineering with a guy. We pushed along nicely until the 13th mile which was a bit sticky, a drag into the wind cauding the slowest mile so far a 6:46. We were also joined for a while by the 3rd lady. I know this because almost every spectator we passed said “3rd lady” at us. The halfway mark was reached in 1:26 and everything was going to plan.

The next couple of miles ticked along nicely until the village of Farndon whereupon crossing the bridge from Wales back into England was immediately followed by an evil steep climb. Somewhere after this following another climb I pulled away from Paul. The difficult last 6.2 miles were approaching and my legs were starting to feel it. However, I wasn’t losing too much time and although it was much harder I was still holding high 6:3X / low 6:4X pace. Mentally I just focused on reaching the next mile marker, which were moving further away from where my Garmin thought they should be every mile (I decided that I preferred Garmin miles to real life miles!).

Re-entering Chester at 23/24 miles I was starting to be troubled with cramps in my upper calves and lower hamstrings and this was not helped at all by a couple of cheeky climbs in these last miles, particularly the nasty Sandy Lane climb which I just made it up by shortening my stride to about 30cm (well that’s what it felt like anyway). At the 25 mile mark a left turn down to the Dee again and a really good crowd as we followed the river towards the race course. Got a high 5 from Brad with half a mile to go just before turning back into the racecourse for a final gallop (sorry) to the finish line for a 2:52:46. A two minute PB – happy days! And it also meant I took the Manchester Tri club champs.

Staggered around for a minute or two but after that, to be honest, I felt OK! Got the traditional post long run emergency refuelling of a can of Coke and a Snickers down me, followed by a slightly more nutritionally favourable bottle of Rego. Met up with the rest of the guys post race and we went for a lovely meal at Telford’s Warehouse (thanks to Andy for arranging that) and we all agreed that it was a great race; well organized, good course, plentiful aid stations with enthusiastic volunteers and good crowd support in the villages en route.

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Thanks to Gary Wolstencroft for the photos.

Some more geeky stuff will now follow. Viv – or anyone else easily bored – you might want to stop here (if you’ve made it this far ;-)!

Pacing: my splits were 1:25:59 / 1:26:47 so not quite even but not a bad effort. My fastest mile was 6:16 (mile 2) and slowest was 6:46 (mile 13). Full details can be found on Garmin Connect.

Nutrition: I used 5 gels – 3 Torq and 2 SIS Go – at miles 5, 9, 12, 15, 18 for a total of 500 calories / 130g carbs. This was about twice as much as I took at Blackpool 2009 where I really ran out of energy towards the end. Seemed to work really well, getting a bit ahead of the curve on the nutrition meant I didn’t have to worry about it when things were getting tough after 20 miles. Took water at every aid station (every 3 miles roughly).

Taper: A 2 week taper as I only had a 9 week training block. Week before race week was largely as normal but slightly reduced volume, a “long” run of 12 miles, and still some cycling and swimming in there. On race week though I cut it right back with the philosophy of keeping (or even increasing) the frequency but reducing duration and intensity. So:

Mon = rest; Tues = 3 miles easy/steady; Wed = 3 * 1 mile M pace; Thu = rest; Fri = 2 miles easy/steady with two accelerations to M pace; Sat = as Fri; Sun = race day.