Archive for the ‘Running’ Category

Although I call myself a triathlete and I belong to a triathlon club the truth of the matter is that I’ve not actually done a triathlon for quite a while. I have a sneaking suspicion that training for all three sports and doing them individually doesn’t really count. Eventually the guilt got too much an I entered one. It helped that it was the first running of the event and that it wasn’t too far to travel.

It was a perfect morning for this sort of silliness, warm and clear. We all racked our bikes, listened to the race briefing and then started some dedicated milling about whilst the swimmers with slower swim times started off. I always enjoy watching swimmers and today was no exception. There was a real mix in the pool, from someone who stopped at the end of each length though some very strange stroke styles to some very polished swimming. This is what I love about these events, people having a go. I sometimes feel that televised sport gives the impression that everyone needs to be absolutely perfect when in fact it’s possible to complete no matter how imperfect you are.

I joined the line and waited to be ushered to my lane. As usual there were people who wanted to talk and people who didn’t. Eventually I was taken to the lane nearest the side and told to get in. The pool seemed very shallow, I was expecting it to be deeper. I got myself prepared and completely missed the starter telling me to go. I thought he was starting someone in another lane. It took a few lengths to get into a rhythm but slowly things started to get a bit smoother. The other person in the lane was quite a bit slower than me so I passed them many times but I made up for it by messing up at least half of the turns by misjudging where the edge was. Before the start of the swim I’d been playing with my watch to put it in “multi-sport” mode. I wasn’t sure if I’d done it right. I was quite relieved when it beeped signalling the last lap.

There was a “no running in the pool area” rule. This meant exiting the pool consisted of a fast walk to the door and then a sprint to the transition area. My transitions have always been slow. I don’t know why I find it hard to put on a helmet and a pair of shoes quickly, I just do.

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Yet another lightening fast transition…

I enjoyed the bike course. I didn’t think I would as they were roads I was familiar with but I was on pretty bike and she always makes me feel good. I was don on the tri bars as much as possible and tried to maintain the position. It took a while but eventually I saw someone up ahead. This always makes me feel better. It didn’t take long to be “that bloke”. The one hunched in the time trial position that comes storming past. It happens to me often, it’s nice when I can do it to someone else. Not long later “that guy” passed me. There was a roundabout at the halfway point. It looked like a whole bunch of bikes had been held up as it seemed to be full of bikes. I negotiated it safely and set about trying to catch someone. I caught a fair few people but not all of them were actually in the race, they still count though.

The bike leg ended with a run down a path in bike shoes. It’s not a thing that fills me with joy. Other sensible people had taken their shoes off. I should have thought of that. Instead I slipped around on the path on route to another tremendously slow transition. This time I had to take shoes off and then put another pair on. How hard can that be?

I always forget how hard it is to run off the bike. I spent the first kilometer of the run wondering what was wrong with my legs. Eventually my body made the necessary adjustments to be able to run more like a runner than a cyclist. The route took in two laps of a sports field. As a chugged round a couple of my club mates came past, one made it look easy and the other looked like he was putting in a lot of effort (he won the over 50’s category). About half way round the second lap I realised that my watch thought I’d not started. I’d clearly managed to get the set up wrong. I started it anyway, now my swim would be in the middle of the field. After four hundred meters I changed the sport. Now I was cycling round the field. Eventually I got it to the running bit. The record of this race is going to look very strange.

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I claim my bottle of water and a medal

Just outside the entrance to the sports centre I heard heavy breathing behind me. Someone was catching me. I had a choice, I could sprint for the line in a display of pride or I could just let them go past. In my last sprint finish I managed to damage myself since then I’ve given up of the notion of sprinting for the line. The extra few seconds gained are not worth the weeks of recovery. I watched him gain a few seconds before I crossed the line and was rewarded with a medal, a bottle of water and a slice of cake.

When the results were published I found I’d done quite well. This could only mean a full fried breakfast to celebrate.

 

Steelman 4

All changing rooms need a glass tower

It was a last minute decision to enter the Steelman Aquathlon and between making the decision and turning up on the start line I had managed to pick up a calf injury. It’s amazing how long a week can be. I was overjoyed to find out that my event even had a civilised start time of two in the afternoon. This meant that I could have a lie in and race on the same day.

After a frustration drive round the motorway I arrived and registered. The registration tent was almost empty as mine was one of the last evens of the day. Once I’d registered I needed to find something to fill in the time between now and start time. The flapjack stall seemed to obvious place to start. I’d not had any dinner and I felt that a big wodge of stodge in my stomach would enhance my prospects in the race.

I got to transition changed and in plenty of time but due to chatting and watching someone change an artificial leg I missed the announcements that we were due at the swim start. It made me feel better when I found I wasn’t the only one sprinting across the field to the start. As I entered the water I was told that there was one minute till the start, so there wasn’t enough time to complain about the wetness against my skin. I lined up with everyone else, I was the only one not wearing a wetsuit, and waited for the start. It wasn’t a long wait.

Steelman 1

The swim course was full of buoys

The fast people steamed off into the distance. From my point of view it looked like the entire field had overtaken me on the start. I’m used to people going faster than me but not quite that many. I headed in my not very direct fashion to the first buoy convinced that I was at the back of the field. There was nothing I could do about it so I settled into my stroke and started enjoying the swim. It was a two loop course in the Eton Dorney rowing lake. Despite my proven ability to swim in circles I managed to go in a reasonably straight line. I nearly went round the wrong side of the first buoy but apart from that it seemed to go well. The people in front disappeared and when I tried a cheeky glance back I couldn’t see anyone. I must be last.

Transition was its usual haphazard affair. Not wearing a wetsuit removed a layer of complication but putting on my shoes seemed to be far more complicated than it needed to be. After struggling with laces and realising that sitting down to put shoes on was far more preferable to hopping about I set off on the run.

The run route was along the slide of the lake to a turnaround point, twice. There were other events going on and that meant there were plenty of people to chase, catch and overtake. This did my ego wonders. I slowly worked my way round to course reeling in people. I felt that I was going really well but my calf was complaining a little. The high point of the run was overtaking two others from the same event. Admittedly they were running along side by side and chatting but I could ignore that minor detail. It also meant that in my world I was in my favourite finishing position: not last.

Steelman 5

The end in sight

The last part of the run was a struggle. Thankfully it was with the wind but my calf muscle was complaining quite wildly that it shouldn’t be subjected to this sort of treatment. I tried to explain that I needed to reel in just one more person but the muscle just carried on grumbling. I could see the finish line from a long way out. I knew it would end soon and I knew without looking at my watch that I’d done a fast run split. What’s more I knew I wasn’t last. All of that made for a good finish. The (non-alcoholic) beer after was a bonus.

Steelman 3

Re-hydration, Sir?

After changing I headed over to the results machine. I looked at the ticket in surprise; I’d finished a lot higher up the field that I had expected. My swim split was good and my run split even better. I felt so pleased that I demanded a selection pack of flapjacks from the flapjack man.

Steelman 2

The stall of heavenly delights

TunWellsHalf

Got the T-Shirt and the medal

I like this race. It was the first half marathon I ever did and it’s the course where I ran my personal best. It’s a lovely route though countryside. It is one big loop and apart from the one big hill the course is mainly flat or downhill. All these things combine with the excellent organization to make this an excellent event.

I met up with Mike, Keith and Jane in the sports hall-cum-race HQ.and the pre race banter started. All the usual stuff about what times we expected and how the training was going. Jane and Keith were going to run together. Mike was planning on following nice looking bottoms around the course and I was just hoping that the recent marathon training that I’d been doing hadn’t left me too tired. This week was meant to be a rest week but that wasn’t going to stop me doing the race.

The start pens were marked by expected finish times. I didn’t want to be too optimistic but even though I’d said to everyone that I’d be happy with anything under two hours I was very unspecific on just how much under two how I’d be really happy with. My recent run of halves hasn’t been that encouraging. I found a space in the 1:50 pen. That would do, there were some pace makers ahead as well which should make life easy. After the usual clapping and cheering the start gun went and maybe a minute or two later we were off.

The start had too be slow, there were lots of people. The pace felt right to me and apart from having to navigate round groups of people who seemed insistent an running together life was good. Groups probably annoy me as I mainly run alone, it’s only in races that I have the added feature of trying to get round people.

I could see the pace makers up ahead, they were carrying little banners with the expected finishing time. They were surrounded by runners, like a swarm of bees chasing a queen. I had no desire to get tangled up in melee but I was slowly catching up with them. I had a choice, stick with the group or overtake. The overtaking had risks, risk of ego deflation. What if I couldn’t hold the pace and the pacemakers pass me near the end. That would really be a large needle in the balloon of my ego. In the end I edged my way slow past the group and freed myself from the tyranny of the pace maker. I’m sure my ego could take the potential deflation, it has many times before.

The field started to thin out, there were still people running in groups but the groups were now smaller. Some insisted on running on the other side of the road, the open side with on coming traffic. I couldn’t understand why they looked so amazed when a car appeared. It wasn’t the car’s fault that they were on the wrong side of the road. Some people are just a little too oblivious for their own good.

I checked my watch at the half way point and was pleasantly surprised. If I kept up at this pace I would be finishing well under two hours. It was a big “If”. I’ve been at the halfway point feeling good before only to totally capitulate in the second half. Doubling the time at half way is never necessarily going to be an accurate predictor of finish time.

The hill was coming up. I’ve suffered on this hill before and ended up walking. Before the hill is another little hill. Some people think that this is the hill and are disappointed. I was determined not to make that mistake. The road started upwards and the pace slowed. A few runners had taken to walking. I kept telling my self that this was only the little hill. It did seem to be going on a bit though. I kept running, the road kept going up. At the top two things dawned on me, This was THE hill and I had just run all the way up and was feeling fine. It was such a boost that I decided to up the pace ever so slightly. At one point I imagined I could see the 1:40 pace makers in the distance but that was just a hallucination.

With nine miles gone and all the major climbing behind me I was motoring. At ten miles I took a look at my watch. A little bit of maths told me that a 1:50 was not only possible but well within my capabilities. It was also possible to better that. I lifted the pace a little more. I’m not used to passing people at this end of the race. They are usually passing me. It was a strange sensation. I lifted the pace again, other runners were going backwards and I felt exhilarated. Those last three miles streaked by. I have never, ever felt like this before, finishing strong has never been in my repertoire but now here I was with a big grin on my face crossing the line with a finishing time that I thought would be impossible at the beginning.

I ran a good race, I was happy.

The Vale Gallop

Posted: February 2, 2016 in Running
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It’s time to start running again after the winter layoff and where better to start than a hilly, off road 10k. I’ve done this race before but this year they had reversed the course. The start is in a field at the top of a hill with a cruel cold wind whipping across it. Warming up consisted of curling my hands around a cup of tea whilst chatting to friends. The PA kept announcing the minutes until the start be no one showed that much enthusiasm to assemble until the very last moment

Vale 2

Long grass and soft going can age a man…

The start happened very quickly, a short count down and we were off across the field and a reasonable trot, a little too fast for my liking. The first hill slowed things down and sorted things out. The fast boys disappeared up the field whilst the rest of us slogged our way over the thick grass.

The first part of the course was a 2k loop that brought us back to the entrance of the field. I remember doing this bit last year after slogging up a long hill. Having it at the beginning was so much better. None of that hearing the finish and wondering how much more pain to go through. A few club mates passed me, they always do at this point in a race. I rarely see them again until the end. Up ahead Dave slowed to an almost walk. I wondered what was wrong. He picked up his pace before I could catch him, whatever it was it can’t have been important.

Next was a long down hill on tarmac. I’m not that fond of running down hill. I can no longer do that almost out of control careering that nearly every child knows instinctively how to do. I think I lost the ability when I lost the immortality of childhood. I fear for my feet on slopes like this. The tapping of my heals on the tarmac makes me think of past injuries. It’s not a nice feeling. I was glad to reach the soft path at the bottom of the hill.

She passed me as we were going downhill, I passed her going uphill, and so it went on for the next few kilometers. She looked very athletic and she was racing, she was racing me, I could tell. When she was in front she would check where I was. When I passed her she would put a little extra effort in and try to stay with my uphill pace. Eventually she pulled out a 10 meter gap. It slowly grew. We both knew it was an uphill finish and going on the race to date that is where I could make up the distance. She turned onto the rise and looked behind. I wasn’t sure, I didn’t attack the hill, I tried to reel her in slowly. She increased the pace, so did I. We could hear the shouts from the finish, it was close. I was reeling her in but the finish was getting closer. I ran out of race two meters behind her. Beaten by a worthy adversary.

Vale 3

The finish, in a muddy field

A look back in reflection

Posted: December 31, 2015 in Cycling, Running, Swimming
Badges

My 2015 Audax medals collection

I don’t mind saying it: I’ve had a good year. I started out with a few wants, desires and ambitions and on the whole most of them have been satisfied.

It really has been the year of the trike, what started out as a bit of curiosity blossomed into a full blown love affair. It started with the Beast (a red Higgins ultralight) and like any love affair it had it’s down moments, the wheels literally came off. After this breakup there was the long repairing of the relationship but eventually the Beast returned from whence he came because Gracie had appeared in my life. Gracie and I have been almost everywhere together. We have completed long rides, Audax’s and a couple of time trials together. Our crowning achievement was doing a whole lot better that expected on the KCA 12 hour; we won a medal for that! Looking back I’ve only used my other bikes for two rides, these were hilly monsters and I’m not sure if Gracie’s climbing abilities would have been up to it. I’m not a great one for climbing, in fact I would rather avoid it if possible but this year I decided that I needed the Audax Gold, Sliver and Bronze Grimpeur medals in my collection. It was hard work but they are now in my possession thanks to riding Mad Jacks, The Invicta Grimpeur and The Hell of the Sussex Hills. All cracking rides and very well catered.

I had thought about riding the Mersey 24 but as it got nearer the time it became obvious that it wasn’t going to happen, mind you the KCA 12 went more than half way to make up for it. I was also planning to do a time trial in Italy but a storm put pay to the whole event and left the course covered in debris, there is a strong possibility that I’ll be tackling both these events next year.

The swimming has been fun, the cold water championships at the beginning of the year was a wonderful way to open the swimming season, the Swimathon was a good test for the Guildford 24, the whole silliness of swimming one mile an hour, on the hour had a wonderful brutal simplicity about it. After watching the Soloists struggle I was glad to be doing it as part of a team. The Eton Dorney 10k swim was testing, it was the first time in a long time that I’ve swum that far and it was satisfying to have done it in a time that was well within the qualifying time for a long swim I have desires on completing. The Arun River Swim by complete contrast was in fast flowing water that flushed me down the river at an amazing speed. The best swim by far though was through Durdle Door, it was the combination of a perfect day, still water and good company that made it so perfect.

I’m still a bit dubious about running as I’m prone to the odd over use injury and I spent 2014 not running at all due to severe plantar facieses. That said I’m quite happy with the two half marathons I completed (The badger and the Reigate halves) even though the times were no where near what I used to be able to achieve, I guess I’m going to have to accept getting older has one or two drawbacks. The highlight of the running year was undoubtedly the Man Against Mountain run up Snowden. Challenging yet satisfying, although I would have preferred it if the obstacles were not there. For some reason that I can’t really fathom I was inspired by this run to enter a Marathon. Madness!

2015 was a good year, I wonder what 2016 will bring?

EG 1

A lovely day for a bit of a run

I have a love hate relationship with local races. I like to support them as they are local and usually organised by people I know. The problem is I’m surrounded by a lot of people I know. It’s very hard to remain anonymous in a group of friends and acquaintances. In a big race it’s easy to hide in the crowds and become just another Sunday morning runner, here however that is impossible, I know many of the runners, supporters and most of the marshals too, what’s more they know me and local tradition means that “encouraging” insults must fly, regardless of ability.

EG2

The calm before the onslaught of runners clamoring for a number

The start was in the playing field of a local school. We gathered in the centre of the field ready for the start. It was a perfect autumn morning for running about, clear skies but with a nip in the air. It was the sort of weather that starts people talking about personal bests. I try to avoid that conversation as my personal best was an exceptional run and 5 minutes faster than any other time I have achieved in a 10k.

Picking a position at the start is an art. Too far forward and you are making a statement about your intentions of challenging the fast and gifted. Too far back and the first mile will be spent trying to get past people who have been a little too optimistic about their ability and slowed to a more comfortable pace. I found a place that seemed right and indulged in the usual pre start banter of feigning nonchalance whilst knowing that this was a race and I am going to give it my all.

EG3

The start had to be kept safe behind a chain link fence

We started with a big loop of the field, designed I think to spread the field out before hitting the narrow path. I was amazed; I’d picked the right spot and was travelling at the same speed as this little cohort. The barracking started before I’d left the field, with a shout of “Don’t peak too early” from one of the spectators followed by “come on now I’ve not got all day” from one of the marshals. I could expect this all the way round.

The course headed out to the Worth Way, an old railway line that had been converted into a path, and down to a turnaround point. I like this as it means I get to see the front runners coming the other way; this can be quite uplifting if this is close to the turn, even better I get to see everyone behind which dispels the negative thoughts of being the slowest runner in the race.

Phones! Who brings a phone to a race? People had them strapped to their arms. Just for an added level of irritation the phone talks to them constantly updating them with speed, distance travelled and for all I know world news. I do wear a watch that buzzes every kilometre, but this is not broadcasting to the world. It does give me the incentive to try and overtake the phone carrier to get out of earshot of the constant stream of vital information.

From the turn it was all slightly up hill for a very long way, not enough to call it a hill, more a slope, but enough to make it hard work. The lady in red had adopted a run walk approach to this section. She would sprint ahead of me clutching a drink bottle and then stop and stand for a while, I would trot past and then a minute later she would come flying past, more of a stand sprint technique, but it was working for her.

The end of the Worth Way came and along with it some quality banter “I’ve not dragged myself out of bed early on a Sunday morning to watch you shamble along, get a move on, I want to be home by nightfall!”

Eventually the crest of the hill came and it was down slope on pavements toward the finish, this was so much better. The end of the race is a little crewel; you have to run past the finish and onto a one kilometre loop, you can see the finish but know that there is still more effort to put in before it’s a reality. The marshal on the corner was counting our positions, that is how I know I lost 4 places in the last kilometre. I don’t do strong finishes.

The nice thing about a local race is that at the end I am surrounded by people I know, all of whom have shared the experience and all of whom are happy to listen to my inane witterings.

EG10K

Another T-Shirt for the collection

Yes it was a good day.

Reigate Half Marathon

Runners in the Mist – an epic tale of waiting for the start of a race

Entering the Reigate half was probably a mistake. At the time it may have been a perfectly good idea but in reality the last four weeks have been fairly demanding and it’s all starting to take a toll. Getting out of bed in the morning is taking longer and longer. I’m not that enthusiastic about getting up at the best of times but recently it’s been difficult to motivate myself to do the most basic of things. I digress; I entered the Reigate Half as it was a new event. I entered because I like supporting local events and I thought it was about time to do another half. It was only slightly worrying that everyone I mentioned it to said that the route was “lumpy”. Regardless of my recent running experiences, I’m not that fond of running up hills of any significance.

I allowed plenty of time for my prerace preparations, roads had been closed so getting there as a little more convoluted than it needed to be. When I strolled into Priory Park the enormity of this event hit me. This wasn’t a small event, there were hundreds and hundreds of people here. Tents had been set up and there were lots of shapes in the early morning mist. All about people were doing weird contortions which I think was meant to be “warming up”.

My race preparations are usually quiet and full of introspection. I’m not a noisy person and prefer to go through my prerace rituals untroubled and unfussed. The guy standing on stage leading the warm up to very loud music did not belong to my school of though. Everyone around me was jumping and bouncing and stretching on his command. It was all I could do to keep my fingers in my ears to keep the wall of noise at bay. I didn’t like the warm up one little bit.

It was a relief to start the run. The noise receded and it was down to the business of covering the miles. I had a vague target, a time I wanted to be under and I had an optimistic target, which was frankly unobtainable. Anywhere between these two times would be good but the faster end would be better. My plan as always was to start slow and as always I went off too fast, caught up in the general euphoria of the event. Around me people were speeding up and slowing down and generally being as inconsistent as me. Business as usual.

I like counting my distance in Kilometres, there are more of them but they are shorter so they go by quickly giving the impression of speed. I like counting down my distance in miles as the numbers are smaller and they give the impression that I’ve not far to go. I have internal conversations along the lines of “12 kilometres done, only 6 miles to go” it makes it seem so much more obtainable, but I’m glad no one around me is telepathic.

After a while I started reading T-shirts. One stated “This is a race we MUST win”. This puzzled me. Do you win races? There are a couple of thousand people in this race, one of them will come first, most of the rest will complete it. They may exceed their expectations, is that winning? What about the age groups. first in age group, is that a win? People win battles, they win contests, they win games but can you truly win a race. I pondered on this philosophical point for a while, I thought the T-shirt should say “This is a battle we must win” but I didn’t have a marker pen on me so didn’t attempt to change it.

Somewhere along a long stretch of road it started hurting. The road was undulating which was fine when the slope was in my favour but hard work when it’s not. I started wondering whether I actually enjoyed this running thing. At the moment it was a firm no. I liked the idea of running these events, I liked the idea of having something to train for, it made me go for lovely long runs. I was not so much in love with doing the actual event, this is where the truth was laid bare. The cold ugly truth of not enough training or never being able to better my personal best. It’s not a nice feeling. It wasn’t helped by the snippet of conversation I overheard “This isn’t fun anymore” said one old bloke to another as they zoomed past me.

I was into the last few miles, this was good. My mood perked up a bit. Two women crossed the road in front of me, one said to the other “I think it’s disgusting”. What was disgusting? I needed to know, but I wasn’t going to stop. I will be forever in the dark. A little further on and someone was shouting into a mobile phone about the road closures. He had obviously been trapped in his house because of it but his argument to the phone that no one gets up before eight o’clock on a Sunday was clearly being disproved by the thousand or so people passing his drive this morning.

1 mile to go. Really not far, I can run a mile. Well I can as long as it’s not up a hill. The hill was hiding round the corner and everyone else seemed to be taking it in their stride. Not me though. It reduced me to a walk, I felt the energy drain from my feet and stopped. It felt like everyone was running past me with boundless energy as I trudged to the top of the hill. It was not a good moment. I was really not liking this at all. Who puts a hill right at the end of a run like this, it was just not fair. Slowly I gained the brow of the hill. It hat a big banner across it so it was definitely a “feature”  of this run. It was all downhill from here but I suspect that my body had started going downhill a few miles before.

Reigate 2

Run the race, got the T-Shirt and the medal

I finished, I did OK, I celebrated with the biggest and greasiest burger I could find because as everyone knows calories consumed directly after running don’t count