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!