Haven’t posted in a while – Then again I haven’t been running in a while! Well I have but only just got round to posting about it – Bank holidays and all that jazz.
So last week I didn’t run from monday until sunday as I was signed up for the Narberth Nobbler trail half marathon – Narberth being a small town in West Wales. This meant I had to get up at 6.30 on a bank holiday sunday – I mean really?
But I did and tootled on down there. There was a half marathon and 10k going on similtaneously so there were plenty of people about. The whole thing seemed well organised – red bibs for half runners and blue for 10k. 2 courses that joined for a while.
I wont bore you with too many details, just the things I need to remember really. And sadly the problem with races is that it’s kinda hard to stop to take photos – And we all love photos.
Of course at the start everyone went out way faster than I would dream of normally – However I tried my very best to not get caught up in the first mile madness – Which was mainly downhill so I still ended up with an 8 minute mile – I was happy though letting myself drift right to the back of the pack as I had a plan. It’s not much fun mentally knowing you’re behind pretty much everyone and watching people huff and puff past you. But as the miles ticked by at around 10-11 minutes pace I was feeling fine and the foot was giving me hardly any trouble at all – My main concern.
After maybe 4 or 5 miles I started to slowly reel people in and then started passing them. From this point the course got more technical. I didn’t know West Wales had so many hills – And after rain the night before – So much mud. Slidy, sticky glorious mud.
And this is where I knew I could then make up ground. While people picked their way through the mud and took the downhills cautiously I ploughed straight through and virtually sprinted the downhills. I was running alongside a lovely lady for much of the latter part of the race who could easily pull away from me on road sections on hills but as soon as we returned to the forest I could easily catch back up much to both our amusement. Its the little things that keep you going. I also enjoyed sections where the half and 10k met – particulary because I was actually overtaking 10k runners.
In the end I ran a 2.20 ish – I forgot to stop my watch at the line again which I’m pretty happy with on a humid day on a tough course with very little flat and plenty of mud.
My foot didn’t play up at all while running but was swollen and painful yesterday as were my hamstrings – Unusual
Things I learned
Hydration pack is a must for me – People were really suffering with lack of water. I think the first aid station was around 7 miles in. I sweat a lot and need the fluids even if carrying a pack is a pain.
Don’t be afraid to be at the back. People will come back to you and for me this is endurance not speed. I have to remember a year ago I could run nowhere near 13 miles.
Altras worked really well – the cushioning helped and they did remarkably well in mud. Quick tip for road runners – If you’re running a race advertised as a trail race then wear trail shoes or you’re gonna have issues.
I probably won’t do another half for a while unless the course really takes my fancy – Preferably one with no road whatsoever. I think I’ll prefer training at my own pace for a longer distance now. We shall see.
Last night I was off to the beach, covered six miles and was out for over an hour and it felt great … up to a point. My foot was aching a bit. Probably been overdoing it a little since the injury I thought …. This morning it’s more swollen and painful to walk on.
Hmmmm so this is where the realism comes in I guess. Hard to admit but i think I may have jumped the gun signing up for the ultra in Cornwall in now only 5 weeks. Being realistic instead of blindly optimistic my spidey senses tell me I can’t train hard enough without screwing my foot again and I really don’t want months off running again.
I can defer the race til next year and I’m starting to think its the only sensible option. Which does indeed make me feel a bit of a fool for getting all excited about it and then postponing it almost immediately. It’s not in my nature to give up and this feels a bit like giving up.
I’ve read back through my blog and this stood out – I wrote it just as the injury was healing “ I’ve spent some time considering things while off injured and have come to realise I can’t hammer my body at this age (which does makes me sound old) when it’s not really used to it. If I want to run at all I need to run smarter, lower impact and run slower.”
Guess I may need to be smarter ….
Anyway yesterday was a lovely run in the sun! Apologies for the poor quality but i forgot my camera.
How do you keep an idiot in suspense goes the old joke. I’ll tell you later.
Anyway today it was time to see exactly how much fitness I’d lost through injury, there was a reason for this test but first the run. As I knew I was likely to be going at least 10 miles I knew I’d need water and fuel so I cracked out the salomon squishy bottles and made myself some new fuel – I hereby announce to the running world the invention of the Honey Bomb!
Ingredients – all chucked in a bowl with no measuring.
Raisins, dates, flax and chia seeds and a dollop of honey all mixed together and placed carefully in scientific manner on a baking tray and then wanged in the freezer.
Result? I have discovered purest energy! Well I ate three of them on my run and they certainly kept my energy levels topped up. The only drawback being their incredible stickiosity. I wrapped them in silver foil so when unwrapping them I must have looked like the worlds healthiest junkie.
I was also glad to have taken a litre of water too as it started to get hot towards the end although I did actually hydrate myself all the way through which I’m disproportionately proud of. All this I packed away in my Inov8 race pack 4 which is just so comfortable I don’t even notice it’s there. The salomon soft flasks work great as once you’ve had a gurgle out of them they fold up and can be carried in a pocket until empty.
Anyway I managed just over 12 miles which didn’t feel like a struggle until the hill into Wick to my folks (another shout out to the folks) near the end which just felt like it was going on forever, plus it was half road and as we all know I hate roads. My body felt fine above the waist, the legs simply haven’t got the miles back in them yet but I’m sure that will come.
The beach was as usual beautiful even though I was going into a headwind on the way out and I managed to remember to breathe through my nose pretty much for the whole thing. This is becoming second nature which I’m especially pleased with as I know I’m no longer blowing myslf to bits early on.
Enough text they cry! Where are the photos?
Oh yeah so the news ….
I’ve signed up for a race in August. In Cornwall! It’s a trail run along the Cornish coastal path. A friend of mine and I are going to camp down there for the weekend as there is a bar and DJ and stuff to entertain him while I run on the saturday.
Thing is … the 20 miler I was originally going to do was full so I kind of ….. signed up for the 32 mile option. I have 6 weeks to prepare. I may well die (note to parents this is a lighthearted throwaway line I won’t really die)
Ultra or bust! Probably bust but I’m going to give it my best.
A couple of days later I’ve had time to think about what went well and what didn’t at the Beast Mawr on saturday. So warning this is meant as something I can read an consider before my next race and hopefully before the same race next year too. Might give some thoughts to those just starting to enter events as I am.
What went well …. I’m here to type this so I didn’t croak on a hillside somewhere?
Seriously though, getting to the venue early was good, perhaps not the few hours I did but it did give me chance to chill out and relax rather than rushing off to the start line.
Half zip running tops work for me. I tend to get very hot as I run and the ability to open up the zip to allow more airflow was great to cool down.
Recognising I was struggling and forcing myself to slow down and accept I’d be passed a lot. I’m a competitive wee beastie by nature, no-one likes being passed in a race, I think that’s natural. Realising that I was going to have to slow down because of the foot injury meaning half the field was going to pass me was hard at first to swallow. I sucked it up and told myself I was doing well to still be running at all let alone trying to hold places. As it dawned on me I was doing all I could I realised how meaningless these places were, no-one but me cared where I finished, my friends and family cared that I DID finish, once I worked that out I felt fine. (For the record I was 120 out of 179)
My attitude to others out there was good, I didn’t feel much like being cheery, it’s hard to smile through gritted teeth but I’m so happy now that I thanked and smiled at every marshall and tried to acknowledge all the people supporting from their gardens and in the streets. None of them had to be there for hours to watch me limp past but they did and I’m glad I tried to repay their support at least with a gesture. Also as I mentioned earlier in the latter stages I got passed a lot – I took the time to gauge runners coming up behind me and then stepping aside and waving them through. It felt like courtesy and the vast majority said thanks, I think it took a few by surprise and for the one or two who didn’t acknowledge me – I hope you run up a hill on a screwed up foot one day … I don’t mean that but guys if there’s someone obviously struggling and in pain a word of encouragement or thanks for stepping aside means a lot.
Nutrition – My homemade energy bars seemed to do the trick now I think about it more clearly. I struggled early on but recovered well and I had no issues with energy later on, the lack of training was the issue so i’ll keep making them and hopefully I can judge their effectiveness on a course I know well soon.
Determination – I’m proud that I finished in some shape, I have that going for me, when I read this back before my next race I need to remember I can live with the pain, my head was strong on Saturday and it will be next time.
Things that didn’t go so well
Injury – I’m an idiot and I shouldn’t have run on that foot .. There I said it. I so so wanted to do this particular race that I risked further injury, have probably set back my recovery by a way and put myself through a world of pain just to complete it. Would I do it again – probably as sometimes I’m not very bright. But in retrospect there was a chance I would come through unscathed and I took it, a gamble that both succeeded and failed.
Hydration – It got pretty hot what with starting off at 12.30 in the afternoon, I took a Salomon squishy bottle with me so I could drink from it and then stash it in my flip belt. The problem being the water in the bottle got very warm as it was in my hand and carrying the bottle itself was a pain. I need to rethink how i’m going to hydrate in hotter weather as I tend to chuck a Nile full of sweat out.
Out too fast – It’s pretty hard in a race not to just stay in step with those around you even if they’re hitting a pace you can’t sustain. In retrospect with little recent training and an injury I should have skulked near the back but oh no I happened to be near the front of the pen and so that’s who I ran with …. Idiot (see an idiot shaped theme here?)
You know what – I’ll leave it at those three – To be fair to myself I’m not going to beat myself up, I did what I could and If I can address these three next time I’ll be improving and that’s really all I want to do.
I forgot I took this one – That there in the background is the Beast! I’ll be back!
So yesterday was my second ever race. The Preseli Beast Mawr (little beast) – How hard can 11 miles be?
I was up with the lark as I wasn’t sure how long it would take me to get there, those west Walian roads can be small and twisty. As it turns out it was a simple enough 2 hour drive in the trailmobile.
Yes thats right yesterday was also the unveiling of the trailmobile. no not a new car but a ad hoc conversion. The back of my battered old mondeo is now converted to a pre race nervecentre and also post race sleeping accomodation. This could be a fun summer!
So I was an hour or so early and just chilled out in the Trailmobile (now capitalised) and got ready while chatting with some friendly guys from Swansea who were next to me.
I had 3 main worries, the race started at 12.30 and it was getting hot and I don’t particularly like the heat, I was woefully undertrained having hardly run for two months due to my major concern my foot injury. Still nothing I could do now but give it a go!
The race started from the centre of Maenclochog with a quick prerace briefing from the organiser Caz the Hat and we all had to hug people around us in a pre race show of solidarity. When you run alone these things can be awkward but luckily I was stood next to some pretty ladies.
And we were off! I take my hat off to the locals from the village who cheered and clapped us and even banged drums and rattled tambourines. After a few hundred metres of road we hit a gravelled farm track which led us to a wonderful marshy forest with single track wooden bridges throughout it. I spent most of the time just enjoying being out and praying the foot would be ok which it seemed to be, there was a slight ache but I could cope with that despite forgetting to take painkillers before setting off.
Out of the forest and the first hill, all good feeling fine. Nothing to it! Then down through a farm and through an old slate quarry. This was a lovely technical section with lots of twists and turns, ups and downs. I’d love to run this alone at my own pace when fit but was content just to be sensible and hold pace with those around me. A nice touch around here was Caz the Hat who had obviously taken a sneaky shortcut waiting to greet, encourage and fist pump every single runner going over a stile. This man has class!
Then another hill and this is where things started getting tricky as I suddenly felt awful, this was only a few miles in but I think the lack of training was starting to show itself. The gradient wasnt really enough to force a walk but it felt like there was nothing in the legs and the heat was getting to me.
I slowed and unleashed my secret weapon – My homemade chia, flax, date and raisin energy bars! (see this post for details) I admit I found it hard to swallow the first one – mainly because like an idiot I crammed it all in my gob at once and then found I had to chew it for about 300 yards – Well it took my mind off things!
After a while I started to feel better in myself and spied another serendipitous opportunity – a fresh mountain stream. Much to the surprise of the runners around me I leaped from the track straight into it up to my calves in lovely cool water. It was worth a few seconds to drench myself.
Invigorated I reached the top of the climb and then we sailed across a beautiful mountainside towards the aid station at mile 5.
Aaaaaand this is where the foot went …. running down and sideways on this path meant I was unbalanced with my bad foot on the uphill side and running at an angle hurt it. By the time I reached mile 5 the pain was getting bad and I was now favouring the other foot and the limp had begun. Well I guess this is trail running, it’s going to hurt and no turning back now.
The next stage was across the moorland in the photo above in a steady climb until we hit the Beasts Back.
This hill/mountain/evil incline of ultimate pain seemed neverending. Much of it we walked, some of it I could run by staying on my toes to reduce the pain but climb it we did and what views from the top!
Annoyingly my legs had come back to life and my breathing felt as good as it could be considering but the pain in my foot was now crippling me. It was time to simply dog it out for the last four or five miles or so. There’s a saying that kept running through my head at this point – It’s not the size of the dog in the fight its the size of the fight in the dog. Does anyone else get random mantras stuck in their head while running? I was telling myself that despite the fact that physically I was undertrained, injured and in a lot of pain I still had my head going for me. Time for fight in the dog to show up. I’d rather forget the downhills from that mountain. Normally I’d fly them, savour them and enjoy them but I couldnt impact the foot at all and so had to brake all the way down meaning my toes were being slammed into the toebox of my trainers causing more grief – It never rains but it pours!
Once back on level ground it was back through the forest again and into the village. And what a greeting, I was dead on my feet by this phase and just wanted to walk to alleviate the foot pain but I couldn’t give up with these people watching. It was like the whole village were in their gardens and on the road clapping and cheering. At that point it meant a lot – the whole run the marshalls and supporters had been fantastic and I tried to thank every one in passing. I limped over the line and what a relief to collapse on the grass! Now I know why they call it The Beast -even fit and uninjured that would have been a challenge.
Afterwards I waited around chatting and relaxing until the presentations. There was tea, cake, cawl all dished up by some fantastic volunteers. In fact I have to say the whole village should be proud of the day they put on for the runners. It really felt like a close community showing their warmth to a load of strangers who pitch up to run around in their beautiful countryside.
The organisation was top notch. I take my metaphorical hat off to Caz the Hat who clearly loves the area, running and his event. He’s created something special there and I would heartily recommend it for anyone with an interest in trail running. There were of course the full beast (24 miles I think) and a 32 mile ultrabeast too. If i’m fit I’d love to try the full beast next year.
The gory details
Oh and the goodies – I nearly forgot the goodies – an awesome tshirt and a fantastic slate coaster! So appropriate, I’ll never forget that quarry – I’m coming back one day at speed!
Despite the personal pain I really had a day to remember. You don’t get to say that very often. Beasted but not bested!
I now know the meaning of bittersweet. It’s been a bittersweet kind of weekend. Around an hour or so after I posted yesterday, my eldest cat Spoon had his food and then a short while later lay down and simply passed away. He was 18 so a good run, I guess old age finally got him. At least he died peacefully and with me here with him. This didn’t really put me in any mood to run, I get so attached to my animals I’m heartbroken but I figured as with everything in life it’s the setbacks that make you stronger when you overcome them.
So this morning I buried him and then laced up and got ready to run my first event – The Hoka Trail half marathon at Margam park. The weather was still atrocious with gusting winds, cold and miserable drizzle. I got there about 45 minutes before the start not knowing what to expect and there didn’t seem to be much direction to anything so I just sort of hung around and kept warm. There were still large queues of people registering as we got close to the start time of 10 and the time hanging around dragged but I didn’t feel nervy. Hey after burying your cat first thing in the morning a trail half is easy :p
In fact we got going pretty much on time although no-one could really hear the tannoy announcements (unless you were at the line I guess) everything seemed to be done by general consensus of the crowd following each other like sheep. Once we were underway though I felt fine. I didnt know really what to expect from the course or myself so I decided to keep it fairly easy and just ran the pace I normally would by myself. After a few miles I was still at 10 min per mile pace which was fine by me. I knew i wasn’t pushing too hard. Then the hills started, though the first was a single track with hardly any opportunity to pass, as it was still early in the race and I’m used to hills I wanted to run it but knew I couldn’t waste the energy slowing and stopping continously to pass people, without my usual even hill climbing stride I figured I’d screw myself so I just walked it with the others.
After that the track widened and I really started to enjoy myself. I won’t bore you with details of the whole thing but I felt fine and under control all the way, in fact the more painful parts were me were the downhills which caused me some knee pain because of the impacts. I did enjoy flying the downhills though …. until what’s this? The leaders coming past going uphill! At this point the realisation that I was going to have to come back up the hill I was currently enjoying was a sobering moment.
In fact the long slog back up wasn’t so bad, I picked a lady in front of me who seemed to be doing the same metronomic pace and stride as myself and simply followed her up. Apologies to the lady in question, I just needed a pacer at that point to keep the legs turning over.
Once we were back on the downhills I knew there were around 3 miles to go and opened up the legs to see what I could do. I was pleasantly surprised at myself. I hadn’t been out of breath at any point and the legs felt fine so at this point I felt like I was flying and could run all day …. but to my surprise we appeared to be reaching the end of the race early. Someone on the side called outonly 400 yards to go and I figured they were trying to give us a boost … but it really was 400 yards. Unbeknownst to pretty much everyone it seemed the course had been shortened by almost 2 miles (I’m presuming due to the weather conditions at the top (The mist meant visibility was down to 10 metres or so in places)
So with plenty left in the tank I motored on in for a time of 1.49.21 which meant a dead on pace of 10 minutes a mile which i’m really pleased with! I’m obviously disappointed by the short course but I do know that i had loads left to give and would have easily finished in a good time.
Unfortunately not everyone is as easy going as me it seems as many of the more serious runners were annoyed by the short course and it’s taken no time for the complaints to start on the internet – why they can’t just talk to the organisers I don’t know.
I must admit there were a few things apart from the short course that bothered me. There were no facilities to change whatsoever and no bag drop so I had to leave everything at risk (we all did to be fair) and the organisation overall at the start left a little to be desired.
On the flip side this was a first trail event of this scale for the organisers and they did well to get it going at all in these weather conditions. The people I spoke to on the course seemed to be enjoying it and I did thoroughly and can’t wait to do another. I’ve already dropped a quick email to the organisers thanking them for their time and efforts, i’m sure as with everything it’s a learning curve for them and teething problems can be remedied.
So yeah it’s been a strange weekend, veering between sadness and exhilaration. I’m proud I have this event under my belt and look forward to the next.
Registered today for the Hoka Trail Half so I can have an extra half hour in bed tomorrow. It’s only a half hour drive so no rush anyway but it settled a few nerves anyway. By now you’ll know (as I’ve been banging on about it forever it seems) it’s my first event of any description so now it’s real.
The bad news is the utterly atrocious Welsh weather – What, did we think we would get away with a trail half marathon in Wales in February without getting wet? it’s not only raining it’s positively evil out there a solid wall of drizzle and gusting winds too.
I signed my name on the dotted line (I exaggerate – the guy crossed me off his list with a highlighter pen) picked up my goodie bag and strolled back off into the rain. Inside my bag was a t-shirt and sun visor! Yes indeed they will come in handy tomorrow! Nah only joking, I didn’t expect anything at all so it’s a nice touch by Hoka.
The event itself is at Margam Park which I haven’t been to for many years (maybe since our sixth form party ended in a riot over 20 years ago) so it was nice to have a quick look around.
Oh and of course I nearly forgot my bib number! So if you happen to be freezing to death at Margam park tomorrow and see number 656 then give me some encouragement – I think i’ll need it!
Will catch you on the flipside tomorrow for celebrations (I hope)