I have been looking forward to the 2019 Flower of Suffolk 18 miler ever since the same Ely Runners crew ran the SVP50! Charlotte, Emily and Jon are superb running buddies, and I knew that this event would be a laugh as well putting us through some effort as well as exposing us to some gorgeous countryside.
This particular event, laid on on by the Norfolk & Suffolk LDWA (I think this one was more a result of the efforts of the Norfolk LDWA) was a great route, and we opted for the 18 mile option, perhaps just as well given the weather on the day! There is no way to describe how wet it was, it went from torrential to heavy and back all day: with no breaks.
I am mortified at the error I made in my poor preparation for this event. It rained for a short while at the Ely Tri Club Ultra the week before, so I packed away and zipped up a wet and perhaps slightly sweaty HIGHER STATE waterproof shell/ jacket, and left it in the boot of my car. I decided to open it in the car on the way to the Flower of Suffolk: the aroma was far from pleasant, and way from flower-like. I am not sure Charlotte, Jon and Emily will ever get over it. I discovered small patches of mould inside the jacket: it was not good. I am ashamed. Rookie error.
We rocked up at Walberswick Village Hall (on the Suffolk Coast) nice and early, but we were still a few minutes late as poor Jon had had to negotiate the most treacherous of driving conditions; so bad that on the way there we got to the stage where we all felt that the event must have been cancelled. On arrival, we hurriedly made ourselves known to the friendly organisers, and once given our checkpoint cards, we were away. I had little choice but to wear the horrid jacket, but we were soon to discover that the weather, and even worse smells would soon neutralise the offence I had caused so far.
We stood in the porch of the Village Hall for ages, discussing the route, swearing about the rain and setting up watches: I know these were all delay tactics! None of us could believe the state of the weather; and we all knew it was going to be like this for the duration. Off we set!
It was hard not to be introspective, to look at the ground just in front of us, and to deny the distance we had to cover in such conditions. Very early on, I recall commenting to Jon that were it not for the rain, taking a little look round would confirm that it was a gorgeous route. Jon was not ready for such positivity! I felt that maybe in some way he blamed me for us all being there in the pouring rain: it was in fact Emily’s fault this time!
The route took as along the edge of the Dunwich Forest, and for a while just inside it. The path around and the through the Forest was challenging in that it was undulating, and at times we were just below knee level in water. The route was not coping with the sudden amount of rain. After a while, we gave up avoiding the really deep stretches of water, and ran through them: you can’t get wetter than wet!
We had the sea to our left for the first half of the route, and although we only got glimpses of it, when we did, it was amazing! Loud, rough and scary to see! At a few points along the route were pig farms, higher up than us and flooding into our path! This made for interesting and smelly wading at several points!
We had some great chats with staff at the aid stations! It was raining very heavily at the first check point, with the poor volunteers holding onto the marquee/ tent shelter, as it was threatening to blow away! At another aid station, we perhaps outstayed our welcome and ate a lot of date balls (amazing); crisps and fruit. The aid station of the day was being looked after by brilliant people with amazing Norfolk accents, who had prepared home-made jam and butter on brioche: we could not leave it alone! We liberated a lot of the food at this station!
I have tried to identify a ringleader for depths of inappropriateness to which we plummeted ‘conversation-wise’ during this run: I could point to Charlotte, but I am not sure that would be fair, as we all covered subject matter that shocked one another, and maybe ourselves, but it certainly helped us get through what would have been, on any other day a pretty straightforward 18-miler. But, due to the very challenging conditions, we were on our feet for a long time and we needed to get each other through it.
Controversial subject matter (and singing 90s House Music to each other) got us through it. Emily reminded me of ‘Smart E’s Sesame’s Treet (by singing it whilst running through pigs’ slurry). I love her for this, and for throwing me back to 1992, just for a few moments!
For me, the stretch at the end was the highlight: we were on the beach, and the sea was crazy! We all managed a final push back into the Village Hall, to discover the whole floor had been ‘tarped’ and the kitchen as laying on tea as well as beans on toast with grated cheese! We all ate and drank whilst quietly steaming, before posing for a photo and then using the very small toilets to get changed into dry track suits: let’s just say Jon and I got to know each other a little better, and we laughed” a LOT!
What an amazing, low-key, friendly and well-organised event by the Norfolk & Suffolk LWDA. I do hope Charlotte, Emily and Jon have another stab at this in 2020! I will be; and I almost hope for rain!
A lot has occurred since the last blog! Parkruns; a couple of Kevin League Races; coaching the amazing Ely Runners Beginners and general training. Among all of this, two awards for work around inclusive approaches on the beginners’ course as well as promotion of access to parkrun for people with a learning disability and/ or autism. The first was the Ely Heroes ‘Sporting Hero’, which I won having been nominated by the amazing Lauren girlrunninglate and then, winner of the Eastern Region of the England Athletics Inclusion Awards; nominated by the amazing Natalie Andrews. All very flattering and a little surprising! One of the most touching aspects of these awards was the Ely Runners Coaches and current beginners rocking up to the awards to surprise me!
Back to running! The Wibbly Wobbly Log Jog might be THE event of the year! The race is hugely popular and takes runners through winding and undulating forest trail at High Lodge. It’s so much fun that it’s hard to describe! Just do it some day!
I had my fourth stab at RunNorwich 10K, it’s another favourite of mine, and a big event. There’s a tough hill in this one, with amazing crowd support and a great medal! Do try this one!
I was introduced to plogging recently. I feel guilty that I hadn’t heard of it before. Fellow Ely Runner, Shaun grabbed a few Ely Runners and we ran/ jogged a brief route on the outskirts of Ely whilst picking up litter, which Shaun then went on to recycle. This was a satisfying experience, we had a laugh and managed to clear a lot of litter! It is rather a shame that plogging is necessary, but I did win the strangest item of the plog having discovered a peeled boiled egg! We will be plogging again soon!
I had been so looking forward to the Stour Vally Path 50K Ultra marathon as it was due to be the first ultra for fellow Ely Runners, Jon and Emily. I had arranged to run it with them: they have both trained so hard and shown pure determination in their approach. So there now follows an account of the event, with plenty of pics! With permission from Jon and Emily, it is ‘warts and all’!
It was quite a journey to get to the start having dropped a car off at the end of the route, and it was great to see Ely Runner, Charlotte at registration. Having registered and as we waited to start I sensed some nerves and anticipation from Jon, while Emily organised herself, clearly uncomfortable at having to do so really close to the off! Eventually we were all herded off to the start.
From the offset it was clear how stunning the Suffolk countryside is along the Stour Valley Path; being a Suffolk boy, I know some of the area, and it being hilly was no surprise to me. Jon and Emily did not expect the hills to be as sudden and steep as they were! We hit a good few climbs, and we used the perfectly acceptable ultra approach of power walking them, often adopting the hands pushing on quads and knees technique.
It would be fair to say that although Emily and Jon enjoyed their first ultra, it was a strange kind of ‘enjoyed’: both of them longed for the first aid station, and there was much grumbling about the hills. As I was there in the capacity of support and encouragement, I had to read them both carefully to judge when pushing just became annoying: Jon only insulted me and told me to ++++ off a few times, and as for Emily, I was more wary of her, and took silence as a sign to ease off a bit. Later in the event, they both told me that they had appreciated the approach, which I was really pleased to hear. The first aid station was at mile 11, and it really was the most amazing oasis! I have to say that the food was the best I have encountered at an event: they laid on boiled new potatoes rolled in crushed rock salt! We all ate a little too much at this point! Emily clearly felt better at having reached this milestone, and her mood visibly lifted. Off we went!
Leaving the first aid station was tough, and we faffed about a bit too much to avoid the inevitable, but we were rewarded with even more beautiful countryside as we progressed. It was during this stage that Jon rather poetically commented “I think it was round here that Constable painted all his sh*t”: beautiful.
Moving on to section leading to the aid station at around mile 26, Emily started to struggle mentally: she was a little tearful and could not see this particular check point soon enough. I had been encouraging them to run on the flats and downhill, and leading slow runs where it was favourable. Mood-wise, Emily really picked up at the aid station, as she knew it was only a matter of 4.5 to 5 miles to go!
The final push saw a total change in Emily, who took the lead in initiating the run sections, so I backed off a bit. Jon became more chatty and less resentful at my pushing, and we covered this final section pretty rapidly: the dark had set in and we used head torches to work our way through the final sheep-filled fields and onto the finish, which was marked out with ribbons and glow sticks.
There was a short run into Cattawade before we spotted Charlotte, who had ran amazingly! She trotted along with us to the finish, which was emotional given how relieved and happy Jon and Emily looked. There was an amazing women handing out the medals, who administered hugs, whether they were wanted or not: this was superb! Emily was visibly moved, whereas Jon was more reserved, until things sank in on the way home, when he admitted to feeling a little emotional. It was a joy to see them finish what was a tough 31 miles of trial.
Ultra events make you think; they put you through a range of emotions, and they test you much more mentally than they do physically. So what next? The Kings Forest Ultra in October!
Emily and Jon, well done, and Charlotte, thank you!
At the time of writing it is 19 days since I completed the Norfolk 100K Ultra Marathon. I am still learning about recovery, and I do not recover quite as swiftly as some seasoned ultra runners! The day after the ultra I was in the usual pain that a huge effort might bring, but as is always the case with me, it was day two when it really hit me: some toenails hurt (I am losing two more); I had chaffed areas; the soles of my feet hurt (especially that area before the toes); my left hip ached; my quads felt heavy, but most of all, I felt mentally washed-out. In the week following the event, I fell asleep twice after work. This never usually happens! I felt a lot better in time for the Great Wilbraham 10K Cake Run! This is a new and very low key race, which I went along to with Lauren, and she has already written about: take a look! Girlrunnninglate
Next up was the Wolsey Waddle 20 miler, laid on by the Norfolk and Suffolk LDWA. Ely Runner and Coach, Charlotte suggested this as training run for club members Emily and Jon, who have been training hard for the Stour Valley Path 50K, which Charlotte and me are also running this August. Overall, the route took me by surprise, it was picturesque and undulating, taking in the gorgeous waterfront in the middle of Ipswich; the banks of the Estuary/ River Orwell (and under the Bridge); through woodland along stunning tracks and through the middle of wheat and barley fields. All in all, a loop of just over 20 miles. Walkers set off before runners. Charlotte fancied her own headspace so went off ahead. Emily, Jon and I set off nice and steady, with me feeling very pleased that Jon’s watch showed us which way to go and Emily had a map (she was bloody good at navigation)!
One thing stood out for us during this superb run: the Estuary part along the River Orwell was stunning to look at, but gave off an unpleasant aroma. We are sure that nastiness from sheep-grazed fields and farmland higher up on the banks had seeped into the seaweed and shingle on the banks. It was not nice, and it made for a technical run at times! Needless to say, we did not smell pleasant for the rest of the run.
The run was well-marshalled but with little by way of signage. This didn’t matter; we could tell that Emily was simply in her element reading a map and getting us through the event. I suspect she was a little disappointed at finding no need for the compass she came equipped with. The early stages of the race took as through woodland, with some rural tracks alongside cereal crops: it was beautiful. Given the pending Stour Valley Path 50K, we employed some power-walking up slopes. Otherwise, we ran!
At one point we ended up in the Docks and Central part of Ipswich; we were getting some funny looks, and the hot dog and burger stands as well as the pubs and bars were a real challenge to run past. I will be honest, I was pleased to get back into the countryside.
The food/ drink stations were interesting: the volunteers were lovely, and we were treated to ‘cheesy feet’ (mini cheese scones shaped like feet); full-fat Coke (my thing when distance running); chocolate mini-eggs; crisps and more! One food station was set up in a huge greenhouse in a park, and this was an unusual affair in my view, or at least the refreshment were: tomato, cucumber and lettuce gluten-free white bread sarnies, plates of lettuce, crisps and hot orange drink (yes, hot). We got it down us, it was fine and we were hungry. I was starting to get slightly ‘hangry’ by this stage.
The final three or so miles were tough as it got a little more hilly, we were exposed to the sun, often running though the middle of crop fields.
Nearer the end of the race we had a message from Charlotte expressing her dissatisfaction at having to run along the shores of the Estuary, and offering us an interesting name for a member of the public, who gave her poor directions (this resulted in Charlotte running an extra four miles)! I would love to quote the message, but this is a family-friendly blog.
When we finally entered the hall at the end of the event, we were chuffed to bits to discover hot food, included in the cheap price of the event! I am sure I broke the world record for the most speedily-demolished beans on toast and apple crumble with custard! Fantastic!
This was a really enjoyable event, so much so that we agreed we must do it again in 2020, and the fact that there was no medal didn’t bother us so much in the end!
Jon and Emily were such great company, and we made a superb team: Charlotte is a comedy genius.
No-one stole any potatoes and put them in their ultra vest.
I will blog again after the Stour Valley Path 50K. Until then I will just say, I still have stuff to learn around recovery and nutrition post-ultras. I have not hit other runs hard since the ultra, but I can still feel what the Norfolk 100K did to my body. I hope the energy levels increase soon and the aches go away!
I had to leave it a couple of days before describing my completion of the Norfolk 100K ultra: for two reasons. Firstly, I was too wiped out to write straight away, and secondly, I just did not know how I was going to write about it. It was so intense, so physically and mentally demanding, and so crazy, that I needed a few days to process it. I have decided that my account of the event needed to be ‘warts and all’, as some horrible stuff can happen during and after ultras, and what’s the point in logging only the positives? So here goes.
The lead up.
In the lead up, I decided to lay off the beer for a few days and hydrate well; I tried to eat sensibly (a challenge for me as I eat anything and everything); I tapered a bit, and was generally sensible. Fellow Ely Runner, Lisa, the same athlete who ran Peddars Way with me in January 2019, was running the Norfolk 100K with me, and she is a camping nerd! Lisa’s thing for tents worked in my favour, as I could tap into her excitement at the idea of camping over within just 5 minutes walk from the end of the race! We decided to camp the night before and the evening after the event. Lisa organised and provided everything! All I had to do was provide my ultra kit, a sleeping bag and pillow, and pick her up on the Friday! Result! Having taken a day’s annual leave, I collected Lisa in the middle of the Friday, we packed the car and off we went to lovely Beeston!
On arrival at Beeston, Lisa had to take charge, as I know nothing about camping/ tent erection etc. Within a very short time, we were sorted, and I was impressed with our view from the tents!
Among Lisa’s impressive camp kit was a fridge, and in this fridge, other than sausages, black pudding, bacon etc, was beer! This I struggled with a little; it was tough to have set up camp right by the sea and not sit and drink beer, but we didn’t! Lisa’s husband had prepared spag bol for us, so we got that down us, and had just a half glass of calming red wine. Beer would have to wait until after the event!
We decided to stretch our legs a little as the coast was so gorgeous where we were camped. We were right next to a high point on the cliffs known locally as ‘Beeston Bump’. We walked over it with a couple of Bungay Black Dog Running Club members we bumped into: Jules and Rachel. They were superb company and very funny; and the walk over the bump was gorgeous. Lisa and I were to find out the next evening how much it was possible to hate the Beeston Bump!
Jules and Rachel had a rather superb camper van, and they offered to get us to the place where a bus would take us to the start in the morning; so, after food, and a night’s sleep drifting off to the sound of the sea, the day arrived to tackle the Norfolk 100K ultra! We had to get up at 0400hrs! Yes, 0400hrs! There’s stuff I need to have done before I run! I am not one of these people who rocks up at a race without showering; and I like to have used the toilet and eased into the morning. We got ready swiftly, and we had checked the mandatory kit, read and re-read the race rules and laid everything out ready the night before. Soon we were in the camper van, and ferried to the point where a bus was taking loads of us to the start! It was still silly o’clock in the morning, and loads of ultra runners were looking nervous and tired. Many were trying to eat: no-one looked like they wanted to. I had forced down a bowl of cereal, a banana and a biscuit; at 0430!
We got to Castle Acre to register and had a brief from Kevin of Positive Steps. We were then told about the check point at mile 45: this went on to haunt me for a huge chunk of the event. The deal was that runners had to be there by 1800hrs. Also, if marshals felt that someone looked unwell/ unable to carry on, they would be pulled from the race! No pressure then! We were herded to the start line, counted down and sent on our way!
The enormity of covering 62 miles is something I had carefully filed in a place in my head that is designed to protect me from horrible thoughts. But I could not get over this cut off point at mile 45: Lisa kept trying to reassure me, but I felt this was on the tight side for new/ inexperienced ultra runners like myself. The early parts of race were fine, and we experienced no problems other than me feeling quite thirsty despite my hydration efforts the day before and my use of Tailwind in my bottles. Lisa and I worked as a team, reminding each other to eat, and to follow the example of experienced ultra runners, and power-walk the hills and make up time running on flat and downhill sections. The trail, was stunning throughout.
The first 32 miles was hot, humid and cloudy, and sweat was not evaporating from our bodies. I has used my Tailwind correctly and replaced it in my topped up water bottles at the first check point: despite this, I was experiencing serious hydration issues: with a constant thirst I simply couldn’t seem to satiate. To make matters worse, my efforts at eating were being thwarted by a dry mouth, leaving me struggling to swallow food but able to chew it for ages. Small sips of water helped a little. Lisa was bearing up better than I was. Then disaster struck and Lisa took a tumble, almost certainly due to fatigue kicking in caused by the heat, leaving her not lifting her feet as high as she should. She broke her fall like a pro, but still hit her face on the trail. Despite this, she got right up, made no fuss and we carried on.
I didn’t tell her at the time, but Lisa’s fall and how I felt at mile 32 seemed to be a green light for negative thoughts; I went on to have a long dark period during the run. We both had mentioned that we might go quiet, and we both understood what this meant. Instead of feeling pleased with the distance we had covered at just over half way, the distance ahead weighed heavily on my mind. I have never entertained not finishing a race: for the first time ever I went over this in my head, but it seemed impossible to me for so many reasons, so I plugged on, in silence, other than when we decided to communicate when to power walk slopes and when to resume running. We kept using the check points (there was a generous number of them) and I kept worrying about mile 45. In fact, we arrived at mile 45 well within the cut off point! But I was really worried about the possibility of being pulled from the race, as I was not doing well at all. I sat in the shade of a parked car and necked some full fat Coke like it was the last drink on earth. The marshals did not seem concerned about me, but I snuck off behind some cars further away and experienced quite a spectacular vomiting session. I composed myself and approached a concerned looking Lisa; who asked if I was OK. I gestured that we should set off again, and, with another 17 miles to cover, I explained what had happened and my fear of being pulled from the race. Things got really tough! Lisa had another fall and this time her mouth hit the trail, causing some bleeding. This caused Lisa some concern and it knocked her confidence a little. But nothing stops Lisa!
The coastal part of the run was enjoyable just because this part of the Norfolk Coast is so gorgeous. Castle Acre to the Coast is amazing also, but we had ran it before and knew what to expect. The coastal wind masked the sun burn though, as I was to find out the next day: I didn’t apply enough top ups of the factor 50! Lisa was continuously looking longingly at the sea: she wanted to get in it, and several times she ran in to cool her feet and legs. I was pretty sure my feet were ruined by now, I just wanted to keep them as they were!
I continued to struggle with hydration. Despite drinking Tailwind solution, for some reason I craved full fat coke; it is all I could think about, and it is all I necked at each check point. My ability to eat tailed off so that all I could do is pop a Love Heart Sweet between my teeth and cheek and hope that might help. Lisa was doing better than me on the food front.
My state of mind as we approached around 54 miles is hard to describe: thinking about how much I was suffering only moved aside to allow in other nasty intrusive thoughts; some related to the run and some not. I entertained the idea that I am not designed for ultra running and should give it and running up as soon as I got home; I thought about my three sons and their worries; all very real to them; I thought about war; work problems; the chances of dropping dead any second; I thought about my amazing long-suffering wife; and I thought about what would have happened if Lisa had knocked herself out when she fell in the middle of nowhere. I thought about stuff I can’t write about, and I cried. I have my dark moments at the best of times, but this experience really pushed me into a horrible place; so when we got to a concrete shelter marking the check point before the Shingle Beach, I necked a Coke and snuck round the back, sat down on the shingle and sobbed. When I went back to the marshals a male ultra runner walked over and gave me a huge hug, and then so did Lisa. I am not a huggy person really, but these physical gestures helped! A marshal told me to drink simple cold water: I did so, it was bliss! There then followed a few miles of shingle beach: just what I did not need when feeling emotionally and physically broken. This beach was very hard to run on, I had a go, but it was not going to happen, and as Lisa and I looked at the line of ultra runners way out in front of us, and those coming up behind us, we realised that they were all power walking – without exception. So we power-walked it, and it seemed to be a perpetual beach: it went on and on!
I noticed something on the Shingle Beach: runners were chatting, joking and helping each other, pulling each other up over shingle dunes in order to find easier routes, and laughing off the sheer distance to the end of the section. It was quite touching; but it was all I could find that was positive at this stage despite an enchanting location, right on the sea in amazing weather. Lisa and I knew that we had some tough Cliffside hills to combat once we got off the beach. For some reason my mood lifted, and it was so sudden it caught me by surprise. We left the beach and felt overjoyed to be on track and grass again, and I led the way as we ran and approached the first of some hills just 4 miles or so from the end. These hills were tough, and they forced us to use the ultra running technique of power-walking up them whilst pushing our hands on our quads. There was a bit of a run along the coast in Beeston before approaching Beeston Bump itself. At this stage we had put the head torches on.
Darkness happened very suddenly, and Lisa I found that we had ran ahead of the group we were with on the Shingle Beach, which gave me quite a boost! We ran down the other side of Beeston Bump, and we could see glow sticks showing us the way to the finish. We went over a pedestrian railway crossing and then heard and saw a marshal along a dark narrow lane; she called out for us to follow her and she directed us across a field. Lisa and I held hands and ran across the field towards the finish funnel.
Kevin was there and shouted ‘well done’, then we were handed medals and shirts. Lisa was given her Grand Slam tankard for completing three Positive Steps ultras…..and we sat down. No crying, no laughing, no hugs, just sitting down. Lisa went and got a full English Breakfast from the table behind us, and I drank a lot of Coke! A lady put a tartan rug over me, I can only assume I looked about 95 years old. It was over, and we made the painful walk back to the camp site.
I thought I might leave the blog here, on a positive: we ran 62 miles! But no: I did say ‘warts and all’. I decided I must shower before drinking beer. It was about now that pain, no doubt until now shielded by adrenaline and other such wonderful chemicals, began to make an appearance. All was clearly not well in personal areas, and I knew that I had not topped up the anti-chaffing cream. Something felt very wrong along the padded parts of the soles of my feel before the toes. I had already lost my left big toe at Peddars, but something was now amis with the right one. My shoulders were killing me. I went to the campsite showers with a bin bag (to dump everything in), shower gel, a towel and a track suit. Undressing was hard, and I was grateful no-one else was in the shower area. I looked in the mirror at my reflection and didn’t really recognise the chap staring back at me: I was covered in dirt, sweat, rubbed and bloody areas and with quite a serious case of sunburn. My pants and socks were full of blood and I noticed my mouth tasted of blood. The shower was bliss and agony! I hobbled back to the tent ready for a beer and a chat with Lisa. Her tent was zipped up and a dim light illuminated the interior. I asked her if she was OK and she didn’t answer. There then followed a dilema: should I accept she had crashed and leave her alone, or should I open the tent if she didn’t answer (risking seeming weird). I quickly messaged a fellow female Ely Runner and explained the dilema: I was advised that I was to open the tent and check at once and tell Lisa she had told me to do so. Lisa was not in there. Phew! This meant she was showering. When Lisa emerged we both had a laugh at the state we were in and we retired to our respective tents, Lisa with wine and me with a beer. I slept very well!
The next morning we went and showered again and Lisa cooked a proper fry up! Bloody hero! I washed up and we took the tents down. The drive home felt much longer than it was, I was shattered and needed to go steady. Lisa was soon dropped home and I got myself back to Ely. When I got home I struggled to get out of the car. One of my sons hugged me and I blubbed again!
Over the past few days I have eaten like every meal is my last and all I can think about is food! I rested on Sunday, and had a gentle jog with the Ely Runners Beginners on Monday evening. This felt surprisingly good!
This part of my blog should close with a few words about Lisa. One of the things I have noticed about all of the Ely Runners I have met is huge mental strength, even among those people who do not see it in themselves. Lisa is among that group, and one of the toughest people I know; she dusted herself down after two nasty falls at distances that would beat many people; she always put me and others first; she made sure my camping experience was a memorable one, and she made 62 miles look easy! I am very grateful to her.
That’s all for now. Next? The Stour Vally Path 50K in August!