After a heavy October, I have kicked back a bit: I have ran way fewer miles in November, and yet carried on eating at the same rate. I have kicked back too much, I have gained a few pounds (not a major problem) and have definitely lost some fitness. My fault! I have some serious training to do in early 2020.
I have just two things to report: the new Soham Village College parkrun, and the Ely Runners annual Christmas 18 miler (oh, and maybe a little review of the year).
Soham Village College parkrun.
parkrun, is, as we all know, is a global phenomenon, and thanks to two fanatics, it has come to another part of our little corner of the world. Andrew Scarlett and Jon Price discussed Soham Village College parkrun ages ago, it has been a real slow burn in its planning, and with the help of a core team of Run Directors (of which I am one) and volunteers, a trial event took place on the 16th November 2019. We are now at event number 4.
I have enjoyed working on the social media and promotion for this parkrun, and with the help of Neighbourhood Cares Soham, we managed to reach out to the local community. It is really early days, but so far, we have had enough volunteers to cover all of the roles needed to allow parkrun to happen each week, and we have had a respectable turnout of people to walk/ jog/ run the events.
Soham Village College parkrun is an interesting one, with some twists and turns, and time spent on the concrete of the College grounds as well as on gently undulating fields. It may not be a PB course, but it is a fun and varied one, which will certainly help with anyone’s 5K times. Come along and see what you think! It’s brilliant!
The Ely Runners 2019 Christmas 18 miler.
This is one of the BEST events in the club calendar! Members can choose to run from Woodditton to Ely (cross country), which is just over 18 miles, or a couple of shorter options. All distances are demanding, mainly due to mud, the undulating terrain and the fact that it really is a bit of a technical run.
This year I ran the best part of the route with running buddy, Emily. We covered the trail though woodland from Woodditton (ups and downs, tree roots, mud) and along the amazing Devil’s Dyke, which gives stunning views of the surrounding countryside, and requires you to run along a very high path lined in clumps either side with Hawthorn; Blackthorn; Wild Rose bushes; thistles and general all-round prickly stuff! It’s great! The wind made the run a little more demanding, but not as much as the mud and puddles as the terrain turned more ‘Fenland-like’. We met up with Charlotte, who wore the BEST festive costume (see if you can guess who she is from the pic above)! Sadly, as we got to the second food and drink station, Emily decided to cut her run short as she was not feeling so great. We tried some sublime Rolo Vodka and Sloe Gin, provided by the amazing Claire, and then we carried on. For the rest of the run, we stuck with Martin (who I ran the Kings Forest Ultra with) and Allistair, another amazing Ely Runner.
I found that the Sloe Gin and the Rolo Vodka led to a slightly elated feeling as I took in the views and enjoyed the banter with my fellow runners; however, the drinks did repeat on me a fair bit! Speaking of banter, there was a lot of it and I’m not sure it should be documented here: needless to say at times it was controversial (it often is when Charlotte is around)!
It should go on record though, that after Emily had ran off to find undergrowth and bushes, behind which she could ‘spend a penny’, she ended up with loads of those burs (hooked seeds) in her underwear: upon rejoining the trail she looked somewhat flushed and loudly announced ‘I’ve got seeds in my under-crackers!’ Emily, it would have been wrong of me not to record this for posterity.
Once we got to Ely (and that last slog with the Cathedral in sight is tough), it was time for a shower and slap up roast lunch, organised by the Ely Runners Social Secretary and superb running buddy, Lauren Thomas. All in all a brilliant event!
It’s been a crazy year for me, with many highlights and personal achievements: 26 races (including my first duathlon); getting very close to my 100th parkrun; delivering my first one-to-one coaching sessions; delivering my first track session; completing 6 ultra marathons (and getting my Positive Steps Grand Slam tankard); winning the Ely Sporting Hero Award (The Ely Hero Awards) as well as the England Athletics Regional Volunteer Award (inclusion category); supporting people with a learning disability and/ or autism to enjoy parkrun. Hard work like this doesn’t happen in a vacuum: it requires support and understanding from loved ones, great running buddies and an amazing club. I have loved 2019!
No more now until Peddars Way in January 2020! Merry Christmas!
October has been a silly month. Too many longer distance events all inside four weeks: it won’t happen again. That being said, I have learnt something about myself: I think I am slowly becoming conditioned to the longer runs, as I do not seem to require the recovery (time-wise) that is often quoted for longer runs. For example, I ran the Kings Forest Ultra, and with no running in between, I felt really strong at the Thetford Forest 10K Night Run. Less than a week later I was able to run the Thurlow 10 Mile race, and again, I felt good! Then, just a week later, I ran the Stort30 Ultra, having volunteered as 25 minute pacer at parkrun the day before. The rule of thumb is one thing, and I recognise the need for rest, but, there is a lot to be said for becoming conditioned, and knowing your own body, and what works for you!
Thetford Forest 10K Night Trail
The Thetford Forest 10K Night Trial was special for one main reason: it was Ely Runner Lauren’s return to events for the first time after a long period of injury. Lauren of Girl Running Late fame, has had to endure plantar fasciitis. Lauren might not think this, but she has tackled her injury with patience and self-discipline, at least outwardly: I am sure it has been a bit more complex closer to home. Any way, she was back, and raring to go! Lauren made it clear she was sticking with me, and I made it clear to her that she should not do this given I had ran The Kings Forest Ultra only days before. Once that waffle was out of the way, and we had posed for pics with other Ely Runners, off we set! Lauren was strong from the offset, and in her typical style, she pelted along, occasionally checking I was still there. I am under no illusions that I was faster than I have been before; I know Lauren was taking it easier than usual; but it felt good to cross the line just behind such an amazing runner; with her taking the third lady position; and considering I had ran the Kings Forest Ultra just days before. The Thetford Forest 10K night trail is a really fun race! Do it in 2020!
Each year, Haverhill Running Club organise and host the Thurlow 5 and 10: a choice of a 5 or 10 mile race through picturesque Suffolk Countryside, starting and finishing in the village of my childhood: Thurlow.
I first ran this race in 2016, and I know that I will run it every year until I can do so no more. I love the atmosphere, the way Haverhill Running Club encourages everyone, and of course the fact that I get to run through my old stomping ground. It is pure nostalgia for me.
A couple of years back, I agreed to run the event with an old primary school friend, Jacqui. In fact, Jacqui was my girlfriend at that tender age: but she doesn’t like to dwell on this! The first time we ran the Thurlow 10 together we chatted away and took our time. Fast forward to the most recent race: Jacqui and I found ourselves stood next to each other at the start line, and, although we had not agreed to run together, when we set off, we found ourselves running side-by-side and at the same pace. We commented on how we were running too quickly, and then it occurred to me just how fast Jacqui had become over just a couple of years. We stuck together for the whole race, and it is a tough one: undulating – with hills that are long and steady rather than steep. We had a natter, but there was the understanding that we might need to keep quiet when it got tough. We talked way less than we did the first time we ran together, as our pace this time was not at all conducive to conversation!
The race took us from Great Thurlow into Little Thurlow; with bit of trail along the river Stour into the hamlet of Little Bradley; uphill to Noarley Moat Farm and along tracks into the village of Cowlinge. A bit of a loop took us back the way we came until there was a long sweeping downhill back into the Thurlows. I was really pleased to see an old school friend, Neil Mustoe (Haverhill Running Club), who was marshalling out in Cowlinge: what a superb and encouraging gentleman he is.
I had a quick think about how I would tell Jacqui how I felt as we both executed a sprint finish. I did not want to sound in any way patronising, so I told her exactly this, and how amazed I was at her progress over the past couple of years. Jacqui seemed chuffed with my observations, but nowhere near as chuffed as she was with her overall pace and race! She really was bloody amazing! Oh, and I won a spot prize! See you again next year, Haverhill Running Club!
I then spent just under a week resting. I did my usual parkrun pacing on the Saturday, but other than that, I did nothing: I ran not one step. I went though all kinds of anxieties in the lead up to the Strort30 (a 30 mile trail race in Bishops Stortford along the River Stort). I entered this race ages ago, and all I could think of by the Saturday night before the event was just how many miles-worth of racing I had done so far in October 2019: too many: but I was coping.
I ran this race with fellow Ely Runners, Andrew and Emily. Emily drove us to Bishops Stortford at a silly time in the morning, having laid on a bit of a 90s play list on her car stereo (it was interesting and amusing). We all reminded each other the night before of the fact that the clocks had to go back an hour. The following image should tell you who ballsed up the necessary clock action. I will leave this here….
The Stort30 is a super-friendly and well-organised event laid on by Challenge Running. It incorporates the ‘UK trail Running Championships’ Middle Distance Race; something we become all to aware off when we looked at many of the other runners at the start: there were some serious looking people: the kind of people we knew would see this race as a bit of a walk in the park! All we cared about was finishing, and given this race had half-way and overall cut-off times, this focussed our minds somewhat!
The route was a glorious run along canal and riverside, often on track, but at times on uneven and very muddy footpaths. I loved the slippery mud, Emily hated it, and Andrew, in typical Andrew style wasn’t too fussed either way! There was a generous number of aid/ food stations, staffed by really friendly, chatty and helpful volunteers! One of these stations was home to the self-confessed most-inappropriate volunteers. We won’t go into detail, but they were funny and superb! Emily had in her ultra vest a stash of boiled new potatoes in butter and salt: this made me like her even more than I usually do, and during the whole event I got two potatoes from her!
We agreed on running the first 15 miles and then adopting some kind of run/walk/run strategy on the return (this was an out and back course). The first half went well, although the muddy parts of the river path were really hard work, but the weather was amazing, as were the views! The canal stretches were gorgeous with the quaint locks and gorgeous little cottages.
Andrew is pretty understated and matter of fact about all events, although this is not to say he is not enthusiastic, and anyone who knows him well will know he loves a chat! When Andrew wasn’t chatting with Emily and me, he pulled ahead for a while to chat with people ahead of us: legend!
During the longer distance races and training runs I have ran with Emily, I have found her to be superb company, very funny, and at the same time, mercurial in her moods. Emily will tell you just how she is feeling during an ultra, sparing no detail, and unapologetic for her language. It is brilliant! But, it makes me very mindful of how bossy I can be when there is a distance to cover, and especially when there are cut off times to consider! To this end, I carefully dictated the run/walk/run strategy on the return journey, which was, for the best part a 4:1 (four minutes run, one minute walk). This worked well, but I was mindful of how acutely Emily was feeling the eternity of the four and the transiency of the one! I studied Emily’s facial expression and body language carefully before each announcement of a run section. I would not want to give the impression that Emily is in any way unpleasant: far from it, she is lovely! She just wears her heart on her sleeve during ultras! Ultras are tough! I place Emily in with a handful of the very toughest and mentally stubborn people I know. Although equally tough, Andrew is a different creature: whether he found it tough or not, he gave me the impression he had just popped out to post a letter!
The last few miles of this event did drag on somewhat. It was not hilly, but at times it was a technical run, with tree roots and very wet mud on uneven paths. But, we got that usual second wind, and as we approached the finish, the fact that we had to do a lap of a field before the crossing the finish line was made all the more palatable by the fact that there was a still a crowd out, shouting and cheering for us, even though we were among the later finishers in an event that included some fast runners! Crossing the line with Andrew and Emily was amazing, and after a cuppa, a clean up and a hobble back to the car; we found ourselves chuffed with the shirts and medals, but more importantly, happy with what we had shared together.
A special mention should go out to the organisers and volunteers of the Stort30! Brilliant event! Do enter it! I will be in 2020!
What next! Nothing major for a while. I need a period of fewer miles. More another time!
My last blog entry covered a bit of a disastrous training run on Devil’s Dyke in Cambridgeshire: I am pleased to start this entry with what I regard as a successful contribution to my club’s entry in the 2019 Round Norfolk Relay (RNR). This will be offset by an enjoyable but far from straightforward Ely Tri Club Ultra (more on that later).
Within my running club is a small, dedicated team, who’s task it is to put together and organise runners for each leg of this popular relay event. Back when the team was being put together, it seemed like a great idea to take on leg number 12: the longest stetch at 19.67 miles. The time to actually run it came round very quickly, and the nerves really kicked in; much more than usual. I suspect this is because of the awareness of the efforts of team mates covering the other legs of the race. Not only this: leg 12 is the longest, it requires a steady and rapid pace (not power walking up hills as in ultra marathons), and it has to be started at about half past midnight with support from team members following you in a van.
Given I have three young sons, who I could not expect to keep quiet while I tried to sleep during usual hours, I decided to sleep at my parent’s home on the Saturday afternoon, having already volunteered as a steady pacer at Littleport parkrun that morning. I am not overly keen on going to bed at night, let alone during the day, so I did not get a lot of sleep, but, given my Mum was involved, I got fed very well!
Fast forward to 22:30 hours on the Saturday night, I found myself in my car in a field in Scole, on the Norfolk/ Suffolk border. There were other runners around already, and some friendly RNR volunteers to chat with. I sat and used my iPhone to check the progress of the Ely Runners in the legs just before me, and then I jogged the first mile of my leg, just to check that I knew the way out of Scole before the long, straight stretch of around 16 miles.
It wasn’t long before Ely Runners volunteers, Caroline and Michelle showed up to reassure me, and to transport my car to the end of my leg. Even though we had a fair wait until it was time for the baton to be handed over to me, it came along quite quickly. I was expected to finished my leg with a time of 2:57:02, requiring of me a constant 9-minute mile pace over just under 20 miles. Fellow Ely Runner (and Michelle’s hubby), Allistair run down the road towards me (looking very strong), handed to me the baton, and I was off, with the van following just behind me.
The support van following me was being driven by Ely Runners, James and Andy, and in the back was Lisa (who I ran Peddars Way and the Norfolk 100 with). They made it clear I should gesture if I needed anything, and apart from me asking for a drink three times, and for the occasional chat and word of support from them, they left me to it.
I was running under 9 minute miles from the off, and I put this down to a fast start (as is often the case), but, it turned out I had sub-9 minute miles in me all the way! I did NOT expect this, and although I got overtaken by plenty of leg 12 competitors, it was a great feeling for me to overtake a couple of runners! The middle part of the race felt good, with me knocking out my fastest pace. Running at night in the cool suited me, and as I don’t really do loneliness, and like solitary running, the dark and quiet was just fine. The last couple of miles was tough given I had been pushing myself, but once I could see fellow Ely Runner, Matthew, waiting for the baton, I managed a sprint finish. James handed me my medal, and the van disappeared, following a rapid Matthew!
Caroline was at Thetford, the end of my leg, to give me a hug (poor lady – I was really quite sweaty) and to hand me my car keys.
The drive home was interesting: I had pushed this race hard, and I had completed it inside my predicted time (just). I was very dehydrated, and I necked a lot of water during a steady drive home. I pulled over twice in Newmarket to vomit by the roadside. When I got home I snuck indoors and got into the bed in the spare room, with the cold shivers. It took me just under a week to properly recover. It was a performance I was happy with, even if it did hurt! Special thanks to the Ely Runners organisers/ van support and club volunteers, as well as the other leg runners. I can’t wait for the 2020 RNR, but I do not want leg 12 again!
The 2019 Ely Tri Club Ultra Marathon
I really did prepare for the 41 mile Ely Tri Club Ultra. I slept well, ate sensibly and hydrated adequately for 24 hours in the lead up to the event. The race was from outside Ely Cathedral to not far from Jesus Green in Cambridge (and back the same way). I was pleased to be running this event with ultra buddy, Lisa, and fellow Ely Runner, Martin (his first ultra).
It all started off just fine after a natter with various marshals and fellow runners; if not a tad too quickly for my liking. I noticed that it was not that far after we left Ely and headed along the river that a couple of people had adopted a very early run/ walk strategy. There is nothing wrong with that: am a well aware of how superbly it can work and how quickly distances can be covered with this approach. We did not take this approach until the second half of the race, and we got to Cambridge and the half way point (20.5 miles) pretty quickly, having stopped only briefly at the superb aid stations. It should be noted that Ely Tri Club, who have just taken this race on, organised it amazingly: the marshals were caring; funny and attentive; the course was well-marked out and the aid stations were plentiful and generously stocked. Martin was great company (as expected), and Lisa, who I am now quite used to, was predictably smiley, reassuring and enthusiastic. The weather on this run oscillated between exposed sun, and heavy rain, with a pretty constant wind (in our faces on the way out). It was OK.
Things started to go a little wrong towards the end of the first half: I could feel aching around the site of an old leg break. I have had some metal work in my left tibia for over 20 years now. It does not play up often, but when it does, it really can slow me down. This time, it was not about to go away, and this, coupled with some low-level nausea from overindulgence in full fat coke, placed a dark cloud over me for a good proportion of the second half.
I noted at between 33 and 35 miles, Martin started to question the sanity of running this far. If this was him edging into the mental struggles that arise on ultras, he was very dignified and calm about it. I had started to complain regularly and quite openly, with a marked deterioration in my language. As usual, Lisa, who also struggled in the second half, had positive things to say and kept feeding us doses of that smile! When there was around 5 miles to go, Martin made it clear that a run/walk approach this close to the end was no longer for him, as he wanted it to over and done with: with that he pulled away. About two miles from the finish, Lisa announced that she had got a second wind, and she also pulled ahead. Although I did not have it in me to keep up with Lisa (my knee and my guts would not permit it), Lisa being slightly in front of me did keep me going, especially given I could see two other runners in the distance behind me. I decided I wanted to keep them there. Cherry Hill in Ely is the last thing you want at the end of a 41 mile ultra, but once at the top and through The Porta, it felt amazing to run along The Gallery and left to the finish on Palace Green.
The Ely Tri Club team and volunteers really made a fuss of us at the end, and they looked after me given how wobbly I was as I approached their tent. I was given a deck chair and a drink and I was watched for a few minutes. What a superb event! What superb running buddies! A huge congratulations to Martin for his first ultra performance in tough conditions!
Like an idiot, I have the Flower of Suffolk 18 miler just a week after the Ely Tri Ultra, then the Kings Forest Ultra: we shall see.
I have ultras to run soon: the Ely Tri Club Ultra this month and the Kings Forest and Stort 30 next month: plenty to focus the mind. Things don’t always go well! Read on!
When things go badly.
I am the kind of person who doesn’t always learn from mistakes the first time round. Once before I have ventured out on a longish run, seemingly well-prepared and equipped, only to realise that it has gone wrong due to heat, and poor hydration the day before. I allowed this to happen again, in a big way over the recent bank holiday weekend. The decision to run from Burwell to Woodditton and back along Devil’s Dyke was a little last-minute. I am given to understand that we had record temperatures for an August Bank Holiday in the UK, and I decided to leave my run until late morning. My thinking was that it is important to condition oneself to hot days, as you can’t choose the weather on the day of an ultra, so I ran it later on this baking day: the reality is I am lazy and wanted to lay in bed a bit longer!
I adore the Devil’s Dyke run: it is scenic, quiet, and I have never failed to see amazing wildlife. The run to Woodditton was fine, although I was very hot, and had drank over half of the water I had in my ultra vest at this halfway point. There is a garden with plum trees in Woodditton and the owners had left a sign out saying ‘help yourself’. I ate three of the most sweet and watery out of season plums, and began to feel better almost right away. This did not last long.
The run back was starting to feel very difficult, and this surprised me a little, as I had only ran just over 6.5 miles, and I am used to greater distances. I was drinking what was left of my water very quickly, and yet I could not satiate my thirst: this, together with a slight stagger in my gait and a sense of dread I could not quite put my finger on started to really concern me. It was at mile ten that I realised I might be in trouble, as I had water left, but was starting to feel quite unwell. I was covered up enough from the sun and had applied sun cream and block where needed: but wow, it was hot! The final three miles turned into a kind of run/ jog/ walk affair – and I hate to walk when out on a run. Two miles out from where I had parked my car and I seriously thought about sitting in the shade of a bush and calling someone to come and rescue me; but, being a stubborn chap (or a fool), I decided to press on. I was staggering like I was drunk when I got to the 13 mile point.
When I got to my car, I had already drank all of my water. I started the engine and got the air conditioning going, and found a bottle of Lucozade in the boot that I had decanted and flattened and put back in the bottle for the Stour Valley path. I didn’t care if it was off: it went straight down the hatch! I then sat in the car and cooled down before driving into Burwell to purchase a lot of full-fat Coke! I necked it all and sat in the car for another ten minutes before driving home. I felt rough for the rest of the day, and I genuinely feel that were I further out than three miles from my car, I would have been in serious trouble. It was an unusually hot day (proper hot), but I am sure it was down to poor hydration the day before. Maybe I will learn this time!
The 2019 Bedford Running Festival.
I ran the 10K at this running event last year with top running buddy, Lauren girlrunninglate. It is known for the superb atmosphere, pleasant route and amazing medals! No different this year! Sadly, Lauren was not able to make the 10K and Half Marathon she had booked, as she has been nursing an injury (which she was and is gutted about), but at least there were other Ely Runners to enjoy the weekend with. I decided to treat the 10K as a tempo run, as I did not want to do anything silly given some important events I have coming up, but mainly as I was due to run the half marathon the next morning. I really enjoyed the run and the route, and I was pleased enough with my time given what I wanted from the race. Fellow Ely Runner, Chris and his wife did amazingly, as did the superb Charlotte, who posed with me to help Erdinger Alkoholfrei boost their sales!
The organisation, marshalling and race village was all superb for the 10K! The next morning I made my way back to Bedford for the half marathon. I simply could not face hammering it, and once I had gathered with Ely runners, Don; Shaun and Jon, we decided to have a steady run round the race in order to take it all in. This half marathon turned out to be one I will never forget: we had huge fun and had great chats with people along the way. The three of us were in awe of a few Ely Runners who lapped us early in the race and went on to get amazing times, and we all had a laugh and a show off for the photographers. Just once in a while, I like to get round an event without doing it in anger: it is good for the soul!
Do enter the 2020 Bedford Running Festival! It is amazing, and you get extra bling for running more than one race!
The 2019 England Athletics Volunteer Awards
Due to a kind and thoughtful nomination by fellow Ely Runner, Natalie Andrews, and the fact that her nomination was shortlisted, I won the 2019 England Athletics Easter Region Volunteer award (Inclusion category). This was for inclusive approaches around the Ely Runners Beginners’ course as well as my work promoting access to parkrun for people with a learning disability and/ or autism. I was invited to the Bedford International Stadium to have lunch, meet the other category winners and some England Athletics Officials, including Neil Costello, who presented me with my award. I was greeted by friendly staff, who looked after me, gave me food, showed me to the showers (I had just ran the Bedford Half Marathon) and talked me through the awards ceremony. I watched the athletics event at the Stadium and was presented with my award. It remains to be said that the stuff I have done to be nominated could not have happened without platforms such as my employer, Thera East Anglia Thera East Anglia and the amazing Ely Runners Ely Runners and its beginners’ coaches.
What next? The Round Norfolk Relay and The Ely Tri Club Ultra! I will post again after these and before the Kings Forest Ultra, the Flower of Suffolk 18 miler and the Kings Forest Ultra!