Arc of Attrition 50

In my head this is the last race of 2022, even though we are well into 2023 now. It’s a race renowned for being tough, due to technical terrain, some lumpy bits and often awful weather. The appeal for slotting it in here was that Wendover Woods 50 was also hilly and tough so it didn’t need a full new training block. I’m ultra running terms doing this race now was a sensible choice…

Training went both well and badly; I put together some decent runs and steady weekly miles, but none of it was very race specific. You’d think living on a island there would be plenty of coast path to practice on, but it’s not nearly as technical as the Arc route and the best bit is a half hour drive from my house. Ain’t nobody got time for that! My preparations were also lacking in other areas, leading to a last minute purchase of waterproof running trousers (the walking trousers I’d planned to use didn’t have taped seams) and an hour detour trying to find tailwind as the half bag I thought I had turned out to be fairly empty.

Still we had plenty of time, Sally and I travelled down without the kids and got to Porthtowan in plenty of time to register the night before. Kit check done and one anxiety removed. Said hello to all the twitter folk, then off to the hotel and the local pub for dinner. I sorted my kit again, laid everything out, talked Sally through what I’d likely need and when, and failed to decide what kit to wear. I slept ok but was awake at 4am despite setting an alarm for 4:30am.

An 8:30am race start sounds quite civilised, but because of the 200+ runners and the coaches from the finish to the start line we ended up arriving at 5am. I opted for leggings over shorts, mainly to keep me warm before the start. Jacket was on but it would be packed away at the last possible moment. Passed the coach trip chatting to Will, no idea where we went but we were soon there. The Minack Theatre is a very cool place to start a race, we had a warm cup of tea, a decent sun rise, dolphins in the bay, and some loud music to hype us up.

It felt like perfect start, which was great right? It just felt a bit weird as the toughness of this race is part course and part weather; were we being cheated of bad weather? This is obviously ridiculous and I’m very glad for the lack of wind, rain and freezing temperatures. So, after what felt like an awful lot of waiting around, we were off.

The first couple of kilometres were very congested, minimal overtaking spots and no chance for the field to balance out given the chaotic start running up out of the Minack. It was reminiscent of the SDW50 start and holding back for the first few minutes is probably a good idea. It soon opened out and I started ticking off the kilometres, nothing crazy, around 6min/km, 7min when it got hillier. Sally wasn’t meeting me til Cape Cornwall so it was just a case of enjoying the east bit.

Refuelled as planned at Cape Cornwall, I’d eaten about 300kcal and grabbed a massive handful of potatoes that took me ages to work through. Pendeen came and went unnoticed and then the going got tough. Now the slow splits were around 9mins and there weren’t any faster splits. That was fine though, I knew this bit would be tough and even though my pace continued to slow I felt like I was making good progress. It was just hard. Zennor came and went, I wasn’t in great shape but forces down an orange and some crisps (I think that put me around 1000kcal in since the start). I’d started running with a guy called Louis around Pendeen and we left our crew together and headed off for St. Ives.

I’d been warned the St. Ives headland never comes so I didn’t look for it, just kept plodding on. Louis was struggling with GI issues for a bit so I would take the lead, but once he recovered he lead the way to avoid me slacking off. On the rare occasion I could take my eyes off the path the coastline looked amazing, but with only a false headland in front and always the Cape Cornwall lighthouse behind I can see why people said this but never ends. Then we went up over a ridge and Louis pointed out the new landmarks on the horizon; we were pretty much halfway and could see the bay before St. Ives, Godrevy lighthouse and a small white dot in the distance that marked the finish. It’s not often you can see the finish line of a race from 25 miles away! I don’t think we saw it again until we got there and even then it was dark and a bit of a blur.

The terrain finally got less technical, the boulders thinned out and suddenly we were pounding the road into St. Ives. An Arc Angel ran with us to the aid station and another ran with me out again (I left Louis filling his bottles as I knew Sally was nearby). Sally had my road shoes so I swapped over, couldn’t stomach much food but refilled my tailwind. She gave me some Twitter updates; Will was steaming ahead, Jon wasn’t far behind, and Helen and Kerry had dropped out but were ok. Louis caught me back up and we headed off together, we had planned to stay together to St. Ives and then see how it went but our pace was pretty similar throughout (if anything I think I held him up but he was keen to stick together regardless).

Road shoes were an exceptionally good choice, the Altra Mont Blanc were not that comfy and my feet were mildly beat up. I’d hoped to get back to splits near 6min/km again here, which I managed for some but by now any sort of incline meant slowing down a lot. Going through Hayle was annoying, we travelled a lot of distance just to go in and across the estuary, but it didn’t matter. They were all kilometres ticked off, didn’t matter as long as we stayed on the course. It was in Hayle we started passing the 100 mile runners, we tried to find some encouraging words for them all but not many of them looked like they were having any fun. The Dunes of Doom appeared, and other than being a little longer than I’d expected, they were a breeze. They in no way earned their name that day, navigating them was easy and there wasn’t even that much sand.

I’d asked Sally to meet me at the less popular Gwithian car park and as we appeared from the dunes there she was. Force fed me chips and a change of socks and back in the Mont Blancs. It was still daylight but only just, so Louis took the opportunity to put his jacket on. Just up the road at Godrevy we met his dad and stepmum, and I got my jacket and headtorch out whilst he swapped shoes and got refuelled. This is the only part of the course I’ve run before, a few years ago when we holidayed at Gwithian, but we still very nearly went the wrong way out of the car park.

At some point soon it got dark and the ultra shuffle commenced. Around here for a bit we ran with Ally, I don’t think I slowed down but she zipped off into the distance looking (but apparently not feeling) pretty fresh considering. By this point we were steadily passing 100 milers but there weren’t many 50 milers overtaking us. One did though, carrying a cup of coffee as he went by! Turned out he was another Dave and we ended up running as a threesome for the best part of the last 10 miles. This bit (North cliffs I think) was all irritatingly runnable and so I tried to run as much of it as I could, knowing there was plenty of unrunnable bits still to come.

By now we were on Louis’ regular running trails so he was able to give us a decent breakdown of what was to come, but he undersold those bloody steps. Except, like everything in ultra running, they were awful until they weren’t. And once they were behind us I soon forgot the pain of them. The last couple of climbs felt slow but they came and went and before we knew it were following the glow sticks up the hill to the finish. We were obviously finishing together but I see from the results that Louis snuck a second in front of us. Cheek of it.

The finish line was packed and I instantly got lost and disorientated. Managed to grab Louis and Dave for a finish line photo together and then chatted to some twitter folk. Finally said a proper hello to Rach and Garry who’d I’d seen a few times crewing for Jon. Then a nice lady came and dragged me to the warm room for a cup of tea, she knew I was cold even if I didn’t. Tall Jon wasn’t far behind me so I waited to see him finish then headed off.

Post race analysis and I think it went as well as it could have. I was on the 11 hour predicted finish times to start with, that slipped to 11 and a half hours after Pendeen and slipped a little further at the end. Pretty decent seen as I’d told Sally best case scenario was the 12 hour predicted times. I was faster than I’d hoped on the tough bit, which was just as well as I was a little slower than planned at the end. It was a tough race, I can’t decide if I enjoyed it or not but I certainly enjoyed the fact that I did it. Type 2 fun right. I did really enjoy the time out of the daily grind though, already feels like a distant memory but the 9-5 life is utterly crushing and some time out was very much appreciated. Am I going back for the 100 miles? Not anytime soon, I can see the appeal but I’m still not sure if I’ve got the 100 mile bug yet.

As always, Strava linky.


Wendover Woods 50

It’s finally time for the last instalment of my Grand Slam of Centurion Running 50 milers. They save the best til last, and by best I mean hardest. Wendover Woods is a Forestry Commission forest somewhere not too far from the M25, it’s not that large, maybe 2 miles across but some lunatic has devised a convoluted 10 mile loop within it. The loop is a thing of beauty that only an ultra runner could love; it probably follows a fairly reasonable loop but it deviates so frequently to go up a ridiculous incline, only to pop you out again a little further round, that it’s very hard to keep track.

So training, this is a slightly different beast to the others and I needed to get some hills in my legs. The course is also renowned as being a difficult beast to master so to get some hills in and to find out what I was letting myself in for I went for a recce. Given it’s over 2 hours drive from the ferry this was a bit of an extravagance, but Colin off the Twitter kindly put me up for the night and drove the second leg so it seemed justifiable. Eleven of us did the first loop, with Brian (just assume everyone mentioned is off the twitter please) kindly dispensing Wendover knowledge as we went. Three of us then did a second loop (had to make it worth the trip), we took it fairly easy and each loop was somewhere just under 2:30. It felt doable, I’d really like to be doing all my laps quicker than that, but we’ll see eh?

Fast forward to race day and that recce was still my longest run since CW50. Jon kindly put me up the night before again, so it was a fairly relaxed morning and a longish wait in a cold, windy trig field. There were a few of us at this one, some slamming, some on redemption runs, some out for a jolly and one looney ending his double slam.

Dress for the second mile they say, very good advice but it doesn’t keep you warm on the start line. And then we were off. As seems to have become a routine for these races I ran with Lenny from the start and I’m not quite sure where we got split up.

More good advice for handling Wendover seems to be “don’t go out too fast”, but my trouble was I didn’t really know how fast “too fast” was. Will, a previous slammer who’s quicker than me, mentioned he did his first lap in 1:51 and came 21st overall. I’d love to say I set out to emulate this but doing that well was never really on the cards, I did like the idea of a sub 2 hour lap though and by a complete coincidence finished my first lap in 1:51.

I don’t really remember the first lap. Or the second for that matter. They went by, it wasn’t too bad and the climbs were tough but tolerable. I didn’t stop at Hale Lane at all until the third lap and was doing pretty well eating solid food. My only game plan was to enjoy the longest runnable section; a mostly downhill mile termed Boulevard of Broken Dreams. I achieved this every lap with the possible exception of lap 5 when even the slightest inclines became difficult to run. Luckily the course has very few slight inclines, all the hills are steep as.

Boulevard of Broken Dreams Strava segment times

The third lap was easily the worst. It wasn’t an early easy lap, I wasn’t anywhere near the end, and everything just felt hard. I’d got the hang of the loop more or less by now; the first bit was nice enough, nothing awful in it. Some nice downhills, the death trap that is Power Line and then you’re at Hale Lane. Only you aren’t, you’re still 4km away from Hale Lane aid station the other side of the tape. And between you and the over half way point are two hideous climbs; No Name Bastard and Go Ape. Disclaimer here; please don’t take any of the distances or locations on this blog as gospel, it’s very much based on how I was feeling on the way round rather than accurate map reading. Anyway, I didn’t really mind these two climbs; they were steep but at this point in the loop I usually still felt alright so it was fine.

The climb up from Hale Lane was relatively gentle by Wendover standards and led to my favourite bit (see above). After the Boulevard though it was all a bit shit. Snake is a long slog but had a hand rail to help so could have been worse. Then there was the little Fort Hill loop that was mostly runnable but not much fun, followed by Gnarking. There was nothing fun from here til the end. Gnarking is steep, slippery and has a broken tree across it at half way (except it’s actually no where near halfway so that was not a helpful thought that I had stuck in my head). You don’t even get a decent descent afterwards, just a short gully before some steps. I made it 3km from here til the end but I’m assured it’s only 2km. Felt like 5km. At the end of every loop I felt awful, but thankfully it’s a loop so I knew the next bit would alright again!

Lap 4 was weirdly my favourite. I was very pleased to have started it with plenty of daylight left and I made it past Power Line before I needed my headtorch. Around there I started running with Claire who had caught me up, she was still running the gentle inclines and inspired me to do the same for a bit. As you can see from my splits above lap 4 I was still running the downhills as well as lap 3, which wasn’t well but it was perfectly reasonable. I was hoping lap 4 might come in quicker than the third but it was 5 mins slower (2:25 vs 2:30), still, I felt exactly the same at the end of the fourth as I had the third so that must be a positive right?

Lap 5 was going alright til I passed Power Line and started to feel proper sick. From there on it became about management and getting to the end. Climbing takes strength and I’m a weakling and I felt it by now. It’s not uncommon for me to start feeling sick and need to take it easy til it passes so no worries. I was hoping for a boost from ticking off my last visit to each hill but I’d used all my boosts up on lap 4 it seemed. Thankfully another couple of runners caught me at Gnarking and I was able to muster enough to get dragged along by them to the finish line in 11:37.

At the finish Kerry very kindly loaded me up with medals and t-shirts, I had my photo taken and had a chat to Gary. One of the highlights of doing the 50 slam has been seeing the same group of people at every race. I’ve chatted to Gary at every one both during the race as he skips past me and often afterwards. At this point I was frozen to the core so ran to the car to get dressed. Faffing in the dark with cold hands and post ultra brains took too long and I ended up in the car with the heater on and the heated seat to warm up. Unfortunately I just couldn’t face getting out again so I missed everyone else finishing. I’m a bit annoyed at myself but at the same time I needed to get driving so I could get some kip. I’m not a social creature but I’ve really enjoyed getting know everyone and seeing how they are getting on. I was going to say I’d enter a race next year solely on the basis that a lot of them were doing it if it pans out that way, then I remembered I’ll see a lot of them at the Arc50 in January.

My aim from doing the slam was initially as encouragement to maintain a certain level of fitness throughout the year. Although it became more of shared experience with the other runners doing it too. The last couple of years I’ve burnt out and had to cut back heavily in the autumn and (touch wood) I’ve avoided that this year. Not that my training has been particularly steady, I’ve really struggled to get regular long runs in due to various other life commitments, hence my times dropping off after SDW50, but that’s fine, running fast wasn’t necessarily the point. My year isn’t quite over yet though, whilst the Arc is technically next year the training for it is just a continuation of this years aim. Once that’s done 2023 is looking a bit different, I’ll be looking to improve my marathon time in the spring, running another 50 miler in the lakes in the summer and I’m not quite sure what the autumn/winter will hold yet…

As always Strava link here.

Chiltern Wonderland 50

After a longish break for the summer we return for the second half of the Centurion 50 mile slam with a jolly around the hills of Chiltern. Wherever that is.

Summer is my favourite time of year and we try to cram as much time outdoors as a family in as possible, which means it’s really hard to find the time for long jogging. It’s a shame as running in the sunshine is my favourite sort of running but priorities. Over the summer I aimed for consistent mileage, running a steady 60-70km a week for eight weeks. It was a good compromise, building that base whilst leaving me the time and energy to enjoy the summer. My other problem at the moment is stagnant local running routes so I was really pleased to get some running in when we went camping a few times somewhere different, highlight being a week on the South West Coastal Path. The downside of my approach was no decent back to back long runs and longest long run of 20miles.

As this one is a loop and not a point to point, logistics we’re fairly straight forward so the family stayed at home. This was further made easier with the offer of a bed for the night from Jon off twitter. So a bed to myself for the night and only a 15 min drive to the start for me. Thanks Jon!

Registration was straight forward and plenty of time to socialise with a bunch of twitter folk; inside the hall as it was proper cold outside. Thankfully the race briefing was indoors too then it was down to the river for 2 mins of respectful silence and the off.

We followed the Thames Path for a bit (Strava tells me I ran it before on the Thames Trot but I don’t remember it) and I found myself running with Lenny again for a bit. After that I don’t recall much of the first 10 miles. I got some food in, just drank water and hit the first aid station slightly too quickly, so perfectly normal start for me. Apparently I was 19th at this point, which is a little ridiculous but starting fast has always been my thing.

At some point shortly after this I took a brief wrong turn or rather ran past a hole on the hedge that had a pink tag attached to it. No harm though, probably less than 100m overage. As things started to feel a bit tougher I found myself cursing the road, there seemed to be a lot of it and it was hurting the soles of my feet and my achilles was making itself known. Thankfully not long after thinking this I barely saw any tarmac/concrete for ages and my achilles felt fine for the rest of the race.

I started to steadily fall back through the field but was moving along at a pace I was happy with. The second aid station came and went without any issues. I was still eating well (boiled and salted potatoes are amazing) and drinking water. Around now I started playing a little game of tag with two ladies running together, we never got round to exchanging names but I saw a lot of them throughout the race. Then, much like NDW50, I was confronted with a massive gert hill around halfway. It was here that Gary (of twitter double slam fame) caught up with me and we hiked the hill together. I was happy that as he skipped down the other side my legs still felt equally happy, but I got stuck in traffic and got left behind; probably just as well as I’d have burnt myself out if I tried to keep up for long.

Going up the next climb is when the previous big hike caught up with me and suddenly I was feeling pretty shitty. Thankfully the next aid station was nearby and a very nice volunteer remarked that I “looked like a man who needed a coke” which was very true but also made me wonder if I looked as crappy as I felt. Before she would let me leave she made sure I’d eaten something too, which I had. Mainly though I got a lot of fluids onboard as I’d run out of water from not topping up properly at the last aid station. Plonker.

The next hill and I had my potatoes out again, a wasp apparently thought they looked good too and stung my arm whilst I was getting them out. Left it’s stinger in so I suspect it came off worse than me. Once I’d recovered some composure I was happier but this next section seemed to have all the hills in it, I passed them by with a guy called Derek who I ran with until the next aid station. We were talking about times and I had a quick spot check and figured 9 hours was still in reach, I was right as one of us would finish a few seconds over 9 hours (spoiler, it wasn’t me). Because, as I turned to run into the field at Swyncombe, cramp hit my left calf.

I realised I’d lost track of time and hadn’t been eating much but I hadn’t had enough tailwind either. Running on low calories is depressingly normal for me but by neglecting the tailwind I would guess I’d let my salt intake drop too. Cue a tailwind top up and a hike out from the aid station eating the last of my salted potatoes. I spent the rest of the race nursing cramp in my left calf and my right groin. I found if I concentrated on my form and kept my head up and my pelvis engaged I was fine, but this is tricky on often rooted lumpy terrain with low hanging branches and tired legs.

Despite that there were some really nice runnable slopes in the latter stage of the race and I was careful to run them all and just walk the inclines. I tried to hike the inclines with purpose but my hiking still needs some work. I was managing to move with a bit more purpose but it was wearing me out more than running and I was finishing all the climbs feeling light headed. It was on the way down through Grim’s Ditch that I finally caught up with and started chatting to the two ladies from earlier; one was really struggling but was a slammer so determined to finish. We ran to the last aid station together, where we were met by some very enthusiastic and encouraging volunteers; exactly the right energy for the last aid station, it was a well needed boost.

I left the aid station behind a group so I opted to run the hill until I caught up for a bit of company. Not long after we left the two ladies behind (I did see them at the finish) and I ran the last section with a chap called Neil. Initially it was Neil encouraging me to start running again and then as time went on our roles swapped a little. At one point he pulled up and told me to go on without him, only to rejoin me a minute later after having a word with himself. I’m always in awe of moments like that, I guess I must have them too but I find myself asking if I could push through in that way. We fell into a steady routine of running until an incline then walking. The chatting got less and less as we both struggled on. I was still getting light headed on the climbs and at one point just opted to run with the cramp for a stretch until it subsided. I think Neil was struggling with his hip.

As we reached the final 5km I started thinking about finishing times again, I hadn’t worried until now as I was going as fast as I could. Any attempt to actively increase my stride resulted in cramp twinges unless it was descent assisted. We had a really steady sub 6min/km followed by a slow one over 9mins so I wasn’t sure what pace we could average the rest of the way. A quick sum (who knows how accurate it was at this point) showed if we could do 4km in less than 40mins we’d be sub 9:30.

Thankfully the last few km were a steady descent and by now we were committed to running it home. We were joined around here by a runner I’d stopped to chat to a few hours ago as he was feeling very shit, another one who’d had a word with himself and kept going. We remarked what type of people would willingly put themselves in these situations…

And then we were done, with an entertainingly inauspicious finish line going through the back gate to Goring Village Hall. I completely forgot to stop my watch so had no idea what my finish time was, but knew it was under 9:30 (turns out it was 9:16:48). I found Gary sitting down so had a chat to him for a while, checked the tracker to see where others were and was pleased to see everyone going well. Jon was on the last stretch, which seemed very sprightly given his injury concerns. As I tracked Lenny he appeared through the gate. I planned to wander back to the car and cheer Spencer who wasn’t far out but got distracted by hot tea and food (I’d got dressed quickly but was still shivering). The lady making the tea very kindly retrieved a peppermint tea bag from her personal stash and I actually ate a post race veggie sausage for the first time. Caught up with a few others, chatted to Lenny and when I couldn’t put off the drive any longer I waddled back to my car.

As it turned out I timed the drive home perfectly getting straight on the 8:15pm ferry and was home by 9:30pm but as I was booked on the 7pm and cutting it close for the 8:15pm I very nearly ended up hanging around for the 10pm. Time for a shower before laying in bed trying not to move as a new cramp appeared every time I rolled over.

Now it’s the next day and generally I’m feeling pretty good about the race. Although I haven’t forgotten how I felt around 55-60km when it was tough and I was hating it. Plus I’m annoyed at myself for making life harder than it had to be again with poor nutrition, I’d planned to swap to tailwind as soon as my appetite started to go but I lost track of time and kind of forgot. Overall I really liked the course, it was a lot more enjoyable than the NDW50 which is why I managed to finish 20mins quicker. For most of the time running through forests and fields you felt nice and remote, listening to the red kites whistling and not the sound of traffic, just would have just been nicer with a less concrete.

Before the race I set myself a series of goals, some faster to push myself (faster than SDW50 or sub 8:50) and some a little slower to keep me motivated if/when it started to slip (9:05 or faster than NDW50), with the threshold for abject disappointment being 10 hours. I made them with zero knowledge of the route so in hindsight 8:30 was never likely and 8:50 would have needed a very clean run (not something I’ve achieved to date). I think 9:05 would have been doable on this attempt if I’d not got the cramp but it would have been a push. Very happy to come in under 9:30 on the day though. Having multiple targets helped keep me moving but I barely gave the timing a thought from 50km to 75km.

All in all an enjoyable (relatively speaking) day out and good to catch up with a few familiar faces. Of all the Centurion 50 mile races so far this is the one I would come back to first. Now a few weeks to get in some hilly back to back longs runs ready for the finale at Wendover Woods.

As always Strava link here.

Challenge the Wight and the Hampshire Hoppit

The one where I run one of my slowest ever marathons and then run another one even slower 12 hours later…

What do you do when two marathons you like the look of fall on consecutive days, with start times 12 hours apart as the first one is a night race? You enter both of them obviously.

The first marathon was Challenge the Wight, starting at the Needles and running almost the full width of the island to finish at Yaverland. We actually started at 8:45pm as it was a small affair and everyone was getting cold stood around waiting in the wind. The first half of the race is a route I know well and thoroughly enjoyed, although in hindsight probably ran a bit too fast. Most of the hills are here, rolling up and down towards Carisbrooke. Darkness fell around Brighstone but it was still pretty warm.

At halfway I was doing alright, probably looking at just over 4 hours if I maintained pace but with most of the elevation behind me. Then we went up to St George’s Downs, another route I know really well. Along here a car followed me down the track… a bit creepy, it stayed well back though so no worries, possibly just a race marshal. Down and put the back of Arreton and now I was in less familiar territory. I started running with Steve who was struggling with a bit of cramp, I’d overtaken him earlier but he’d caught me back up so we started running together. I say he was struggling with cramp but we seemed to be keeping a similar pace at that point. We hit Knighton (pronounced Kay-nighton) and we’re engulfed in fog, which was a bit annoying with head torches, probably the ghosts.

On the way down the other side of Brading Downs and Steve’s cramp kicked in again. Decision time and I opted to slow down and wait for him; I have no doubt he’d have finished without me and I do doubt I’d have been much quicker without him. From there we got lost, probably did an extra 1km but eventually found our way to Brading and off through the marsh, skirted Culver and plodded down into the Yaverland car park to finish. We collected our medals, said our goodbyes and I drove straight to the ferry terminal, parked up my lane, climbed into the back of my van and fell asleep.

Two hours later and my alarm went off to make sure I was awake to drive onto my ferry. An attempt at a nap on the boat then a 45 minute drive to the start of the Hampshire Hoppit. I was very early so parked in a nearby car park and made myself coffee and porridge (I did have to go and use the race portaloos before registration opened). At registration I found Colin (off twitter) and for chatting, so much so that we started the race together and ran for the first few kms. Any idea I had of a time were long gone, this was just about finishing and trying to enjoy myself.

My legs were feeling fine, I was just tired. At some point we got chatting to some other runners and I went ahead of Colin with a runner called Charlotte who I would play tag with for a lot of the run. It wasn’t long before the tiredness caught up with me and I started to slow (I wasn’t exactly going quickly to start with), Colin came back past me at an aid station as I stopped for some watermelon. I’ve no idea where I was for any of the race but it was generally a lovely day out on a variety of trails. At some point in the second half I was just tired, not so much “exhausted can’t move” tired, more “I would like to go to sleep now please” tired.

Around 35km in and we hit an open slightly downhill section that lasted about a kilometre and it rejuvenated me a fair bit, I wouldn’t say I was fast but I was moving more freely again. A reasonable climb followed it but I was still feeling positive and managed to keep running for another few kms. I’d been warned that the final hill was a tough one so I knew there’d be a little walking left but ran all the way there and actually overtook a few people. At the top of the final hill I lost some of my positivity as the path turned away from the finish, at this point I spotted Colin again going back the other way on the finish straight. He challenged me to catch him up so when I finally turned onto the finish straight I opened it up a little. I was amazed that my legs felt fresh as a daisy and I was actually running properly for the first time all day. I did catch Colin, he was struggling but still moving so after checking in I ran off again to enjoy the finish. There was only a couple of hundred metres left and we came in just under 5 hours.

They were two very different marathons; the first was a low key local affair, the second was a much larger operation. There was no getting lost on the Hoppit, every possible junction had a superbly cheerful marshal to direct you with words of encouragement and often the ringing of a bell. There were goody bags at the end (salt and vinegar crisps are a post race winner) and a free pint in a free pint glass (I poured mine in a flask and drove it home).

I’d originally planned to run them both like the first half of a 50 mile race (around 4 hours but holding plenty back) but ended up running them both like the second half of a 50 mile race (lots of walking and not very fast). Lots of reasons, but mainly I haven’t trained for these specifically, they were just something I threw in at fairly short notice for fun. And now I’ve written that down I feel a lot better about it, sure they were slow but I have to be grateful that my fitness levels allow this sort of silliness without much prep! Suspect I’ll go back to the Hoppit to run it properly one day, it was a good day out.

As always Strava links here for Challenge the Wight and The Hampshire Hoppit.

North Downs Way 50

Six weeks between races is a fairly civilised interval, in theory it allows for recovery, a week or two of training and a taper. In theory. I prioritised recovery initially, lots of cycling and no long runs. Then life got in the way and I couldn’t find the time for training, so my longest run was 10 miles run just after parkrun, although I did get a 5 hour bike ride in one day. I gave up and did a two week taper, week one had similar mileage but little and often, race week was just two looseners.

So I was relying on my South Downs Way 50 training to still be in my legs and carry me along the North Downs too. Given the circumstances that seemed fine and probably the missed runs wouldn’t have added much at this stage anyway. Goals for the day were the same as last time, sub 9 hours, sub 10 hours or at least just bloody finish. Race plan was the same too, half way at 4 hours and hold on, I’d heard the second half of this one was a little tricky.

As always I dragged the family up with me and we got to the hotel at 9:30pm on Friday night. I was in a room with the eldest as she always sleeps through… so obviously she was up for half an hour at midnight. Pre-race sleep is always naff though, so felt fine when my 5:15am alarm went off. Registration opened at 6am and I bumped into Helen on the way in. Once I was ready I headed in for the briefing and got chatting to Lenny, we stayed together for the first couple of minutes of the race before I optimistically went ahead. The start was weird, we were led from the briefing towards the start and then suddenly someone was counting down from five and we were off.

I thoroughly enjoyed the first half of the race, I ended up running with a small group going at my pace for a lot of it. I ran with Ian for most of the early race, he was local to the area so was very useful in keeping me on course. A couple of others ran with us for a good while but left us behind after Box Hill when the going started to get tougher. Ian was struggling but you wouldn’t have noticed as he left me behind heading up the second steep climb. I was feeling fine up to 50km but I was starting to slow down, which was fine, all part of the plan.

Just over 60km and I started to struggle, nothing hurt but I was just tired and I was getting increasingly despondent about my pace. I just couldn’t string a whole kilometre together at a reasonable speed, too many short sharp hills that just sucked the time away. I wasn’t doing the maths but it soon became apparent that sub 9 hours was out the window and that’s when my motivation vanished. I kept moving, I didn’t want to slip beyond 10 hours which I easily could if I wasn’t paying attention, but the need to push was gone. Somewhere in there Gary (of double slam fame) came passed looking fresh as a daisy on legs that did a sub 20 hour Thames Path 100 two weeks ago. He would go on to finish sub 9 hours; I’m a little in awe of his fitness levels!

Not long after the last check point I met Cas (off twitter) who was cheering on runners, I knew she would be somewhere towards the end so seeing her gave me a nice little boost and I finally put together some semi-respectable splits. Until the next hill anyway. At this point I was being passed by the occasional runner but wasn’t overtaking anyone. Then a familiar figure appeared in the horizon and I caught back up with Ian, he was really struggling and was mostly done running so I was very pleased to see him get to the finish not too long after me. Not far from the end I looked over my shoulder and saw Lenny catching me up. It would have been quite nice to finish the race as I’d started, but finally I’d found a bit of motivation to push a bit! Lenny was only behind me because he had the misfortune of catching covid not long after SDW50 (where I think he finished half hour in front of me) and there really was no need to race him but some part of my brain said no so on I jogged. Still got overtaken by someone else but for some reason I didn’t care about that.

I preferred the finish line here to the South Downs, except for having to run past it first and the uphill finish, in a field surrounded by cheering supporters. The kids joined me to cross the line and then we relaxed to watch some other finishers for a while. Across the line in 9 hours 34 minutes and 21 seconds. Not the time I wanted by the right time for me on the day.

Looking back at my splits I was 16 minutes ahead of schedule at the third aid station, just before halfway but by the next aid station I was 6 minutes behind. I only lost 4 minutes in the next section but then I hit those difficult kilometres after 62km and lost nearly half an hour from here to the end. I wasn’t paying masses of attention to my time during the race but this fits with how I felt; good to halfway, ok but a little slow up to 60km and then demoralised as my time slipped. It’s really weird to have finished a 50 mile race and have no strong feelings about it, but there we go, that’s why I didn’t push harder and I don’t feel bad about it.

I struggled with fuelling and nausea last time out but none of that here. I got some food in early on but then eased off more than planned. When I did start to feel my stomach complaining though I had some more grub and it calmed down. I know a lot of people with disagree but it really helped me that it wasn’t that hot. The shade from the trees really helped and whilst I could probably have taken on more calories I had no complaints. This leads me to think early food is good, save the reliance on Tailwind til later on.

I don’t think I’ll be rushing back to the North Downs Way, the first half was alright, some good scenery and very runnable. The second half has all the hills, which were not runnable (for me anyway) and as my hiking skills are so awful I lost a lot of time there. But that’s not really what put me off, I could train for that if I came back. One problem with the steep hills was the lack of a rest; I was yo-yoing between feeling like everything was relentlessly runnable and wondering if I’d ever be able to run again. The forest sections were great and I really enjoyed them, but it felt like there was an awful lot of road (which I don’t enjoy in an ultra) and it just didn’t feel remote enough, there were constant signs of civilisation and I prefer feeling like I’m in the middle of nowhere.

Next challenge is in a couple of weeks where I run one marathon starting at 9pm and then another one several hours away starting at 9am. Logistics still to be finalised but should be fun. I have nothing long planned then until the next Centurion 50 miler in the Chilterns. As always Strava link here.

South Downs Way 50

Looks like it’s been a while since my last blog, I’ve done a couple of races since then; a decent performance at the Chilly Hilly in December and a disappointing one at the Ryde 10 mile in February. The rest of them time has been spent on a training block for some 50 mile races. I struggled to build up the mileage so started topping up with cycle commutes, but It was starting to feel really good… Then a few weeks ago COVID breached the walls for the second time and this time I fell victim too. Luckily I was only unwell for a few days but it took awhile to bounce back running wise. When I signed up for SDW50 I had my eye on getting as close to 8 hours as possible, I didn’t quite feel like the training had got me there so reassessed to aim for sub 9 hours.

We had to wait til the 7:30pm ferry on Friday night as Sally works til 6:30pm so it was gone 10pm by the time we’d checked into the Premier Inn at Horsham. Worth it to get up at normal time though, 6am start much preferable to 3:45am that would have been needed otherwise. We drove down to the start and I got coffee, registered and did my last toilet stop. Bumped into Jon off twitter for a chat too. As always we had time to spare and entertaining the kids was a challenge; mostly they just wanted to eat. Then it was off to the start line, I had a chat with another fan of bright clothing, Luke, who I’ve seen at two other ultras, and then Helen off twitter came to say hello.

To the race! There was a warning that faster runners should start at the front as it was narrow to begin with. I obviously ignored this as I’m not fast and then for some reason was surprised when the first 3km were two abreast with no room for overtaking. I told myself to chill out, it was uphill and stopped me getting carried away, but 7:30min is a very slow first kilometre. It did mean I got to say hello to Jon again and briefly meet Spencer off twitter, so not all bad. Not long after that I ran with Like for a bit, joking that I was sure I would see him come past me towards the end just like he did at the SDW100 and Isle of Wight Challenge, but he was taking it easy today as he had the Brighton marathon in the morning, prepping for a backyard ultra! Thankfully it widened out before the first downhills so I could open up and cruise past some folks. If you look at my splits at the start you’d say I started far too fast (one of them starts with a 3), you might be right but it felt super easy, my HR wasn’t too high, so I just went with it. I really enjoyed the first 20km to Botolphs and I was running at sub 8 hour pace. I knew it wouldn’t last, after a while I lose that range of motion, but I saw no harm in using it while I had it.

On the hill out of Botolphs I had a chat to a runner who I would play tag with for a while, turns out he’s called Jason and he held on for a very solid sub 9 hour finish. He reckoned everyone’s speed dropped after 20km and he was certainly right about mine. It wasn’t long after this I started to feel sick, I kept it at bay with half a hot cross bun but I could tell my inability to consume food had set in earlier than usual. I was still pretty happy with my pace to Saddlescombe and I was still overtaking more than I was being overtaken, which is nice. It’s a long slog to the next aid station but I got a boost from seeing the family at Jack and Jill’s windmills.

It was starting to feel harder now but nothing unmanageable and I made it to 40km in under 4 hours. I think it was somewhere around here that Lenny from twitter came back past me and we had a nice chat for a while about preserving our modesty whilst wearing colourful shorts possibly designed for ladies, before he leisurely skipped off into the distance. At Housedean I was very pleased to see the selection of fresh fruit on offer and ate as much as I could. Next up was my worst section of the race, not long after Housedean it became a cross wind and I found myself feeling sick, whilst being too hot and too cold, often at the same time. Multiple muscles were threatening to cramp and really I was just concentrating on keeping things ticking over. It felt rough but my pace didn’t drop too much and I was very satisfied to see my watch read 4:59:59 at 50km (my second fastest 50km according to strava). My stomach was still causing issues and I made the mistake of dwelling on it, daydreaming about being sick, which instantly made me feel like I was about to be sick. Lesson learned, I didn’t let my mind wander that way again.

By now I was running purely on tailwind except for aid station fruit so I was pleased to see Southease where more was on offer. Another lesson in mind games here, I’d told myself that when I got to Alfriston, although there were two big hills left I was on the home stretch and I was nearly there. This worked nicely and gave me a boost at Alfriston, but it back fired before that as now I thought I still hand a bazillion miles to go after Southease. I ran out of Southease with Eugene whose GI issues sounded worse than mine but who still outpaced me after a chat. Still he was kind enough not to laugh at me for mistaking a model airplane for a bird of prey. Whilst the previous section had been physically worst, this next bit was mentally the hardest. The family were waiting at Firle Beacon and it was all I could do not to cry. I ran with the kids for a bit which was lovely and left to the sound of Sally ordering me to eat something. I thought about it but just couldn’t face it; I knew I was feeling sick because I wasn’t eating but equally I was convinced I would be sick if I ate something.

Just after this I ran with a couple of really nice runners who gave me the encouragement I needed just then. I don’t remember much after that, I was just trying to keep my head up and willing Alfriston closer. Alfriston came and went, more fruit was consumed and now I was feeling more positive. With the big hills the last two sections were my slowest paced but I knew the end was coming and I felt good. I caught up with a couple of runners at the bottom of the penultimate hill who were part of a group near the front who accidentally cut 3 and a half odd miles out of the course by taking a wrong turning. They’d been given a one hour penalty at the next aid station and were gutted, among their group had been the leading woman as well (she finished 2nd lady but dropped to 7th with the penalty). We had an interesting chat about how to encourage our kids to pick up good outdoors habits then I spotted mine again; they’d snuck in an unexpected third supporting stop. This gave me another burst of energy and I used it to make it look like I was running and it kept me going beyond them. I even had the energy to run again when I spotted a photographer halfway up the hill.

Jevington came and went, I got a tailwind top up but didn’t touch it, just an excuse for a rest really. On the way up the last hill I was caught by Gary off the twitter, he’s doing the double slam so has Thames Path 100 in four weeks, then North Downs Way 50 two weeks after that. Sounds mad but when I saw how fresh and bouncy his gait was as he left me for dead down into the gully (after a quick trig point selfie) I figured he could probably do it. The last I saw of him was sneaking under that fallen tree, squatting down under it nearly did for my legs; they were not prepared for a different movement.

The gully was a bit slippery but not too bad, the worst terrain of the whole course for me was the footpath into town. It was here I contemplated pushing hard to finish but as my calf cramped running through some mud I figured it probably wasn’t worth it. Pretty sure the cramp was just the different movement of running on mud, but I was looking at a comfortably sub 9 hour finish and the couple of minutes I might gain wouldn’t change much. Better not to risk completely knackering myself and impacting recovery before the next 50 miler in six weeks. Still I plodded along at just over 6min/km and was pleased to finally see the track, with the kids waiting. The eldest two joined me for the whole lap and the cheer squad at the end made for the perfect finish. Afterwards I was very pleased to see PBs on strava for every segment I’d run at SDW100 except for the track at the end.

My time was 8:35:23 so I was made up. I still think I have an 8 hour 50 mile in me but not this year. Those 25 minutes were all made up in the first 20km, which for me validates my positive split approach but I might just be kidding myself. Solid start to the slam and a great day out, next up date in six weeks after the North Downs Way.

As always Strava link is here.

Gosport Half Marathon 2021

This one is a race I’ve run before, back in 2019 I ran it in 1:34, going out too fast as always and struggling to keep the pace up for the second half. I’ve not run a half marathon since so this has remained my PB for the distance despite running a sub 90min strava PB last year when I was at the peak of a really good training block but with no races to run.

Obviously I entered again with the aim of repeating this performance and breaking that arbitrary time barrier. Then my ankle and foot started playing up and it became about running a steady race and beating the 1:34 PB. Thankfully after the Newport 10km I’ve been able to add in some more speed sessions and increase the weekly mileage slightly (peaking at 50km so still fairly low). Then my training plan took another hit when I realised the race was a week earlier than I’d thought! I was planning a decent distance tempo run to test the waters but had to sack it off as I didn’t realise my error in time. Then in the weeks running up to the race we had to navigate a series of close COVID calls (all negative so far thankfully) and with less than a week to go I caught a cold…

That’s enough excuses, I’d managed to cobble together some good runs and for the last couple my foot was feeling a lot better. So was sub 1:30 back on? I went back and forth over a pacing strategy, should I got out fast aiming for around 4:10min/km and see if I could hold on, try a neutral split at 4:15min/km or start slower around the 4:20min/km mark to secure the PB?

On to race day and I bribed my wife with the promise of Wagamamas for lunch and dragged the whole family over on the ferry. We arrived in Gosport in good time but parking was in short supply and I had to rush off for a last minute toilet stop. Still made it to the start line in plenty of time, I didn’t have time for a warm up run but foot felt fine so wasn’t overly fussed. The start was super congested, had to carefully shepherd the kids through the throng and to the safety of the pavement beyond the start line then try to find a decent place to start. No time markers meant it was a bit of a free for all.

A short speech from the Gosport Mayor and we were off! The first km felt slow due to the sheer volume of people but it kept me modest and set the tone for the first half. A few spurts between crowds and first km was done in 4:14. So were the next 3 splits. It was all going pretty well; I didn’t realise I’d been going uphill until we went back down again or that there was a headwind until it was a tailwind. The pace felt good and sustainable so I tried to stick to it as closely as I could, and the splits were pretty even for the first 12km.

It’s around this point that you do the loop a second time and now it felt uphill and the wind was clearly against us. No worries though, I let the splits fall back to just over 4:20min/km til it was over and then pushed them back under that as we turned downhill again and back along the front. I couldn’t find the 4:14min/km pace of the first lap but that was fine. 90 minute finish would be very tight, but more importantly this was the pace that felt sustainable. I could feel my form slipping a bit, when it got too bad I corrected it but I know I wasn’t quite as light footed as earlier. But I wasn’t struggling excessively so I just kept plodding along.

I’d planned to up the pace a bit after we left the seafront and then again once we left the loop on the finish straight, which I though was just over a km. I struggled to make up the time lost on the slight uphill from the front and then I had a km to go and I wasn’t where I expected to be. Ah well, time to push and finish with a progressively quicker last km. Always pleased to see the last split be the fastest of the bunch and I was spent across the line. I knew when I saw the 400m left sign that I wasn’t sub 1:30 but I pushed to keep it as close as possible.

A different sort of write up to an ultra, it’s all splits and speeds, but that was the target today. I didn’t really run with anyone today either, there were a few faces (backs anyway) that featured a few times. One chap thanked me for pacing the first few km nicely for him, one lady seemed determined to trip me up with tight overtakes (she finished comfortably in front of me in the end) and “Robbie” ran behind me for a good stretch and must have been cheered on by every single spectator we passed. Entertainingly he finished stronger than I did but when I checked the results his chip time was identical to mine.

So primary aim of a new PB comfortably achieved, knocking 4 minutes off my result from two years ago. Seems I went for a steady attempt at a neutral split but couldn’t quite keep the pace up, despite giving myself a slight bit of wiggle room for a positive split. Secondary aim of sub 1:30 missed by 19 seconds. I’m determined not to be annoyed by that though, could I have made up 20 seconds if I really pushed? Probably, but I ran a strong race, felt good throughout, and really enjoyed myself so who cares? It’s worth noting that my average pace according to my watch was 4:15min/km and my strava half marathon time was 1:29:48. A reminder that watches aren’t 100% accurate and to hit targets you have to give yourself a bit more wiggle room than 12 seconds!

I’m hoping this is the start of the end for my niggling foot and achilles issues and I can enjoy the last month of the year before starting a decent training block in the new year. I do have another race in December, the Chilly Hilly, a local 10 mile race involving some tasty hills. I ran it last year, again after recovering from a foot injury (different injury same foot), so will be looking to see if I can go faster this year. Then 2022 is the year of the Centurion 50 mile slam…

As usual, strava linkie here.

Newport (Wales) 10km Race

I think a lot of people have experienced a race like this during the COVID pandemic. When I signed up I don’t think COVID had even been coined as an acronym yet, 2020 was going to be the spring of the fast marathon. I was starting the training cycle with a fast 10km attempt (that I never ran, ended up transferring my place this summer as couldn’t make the new date) and then on to an intense marathon training plan.

I think you all know how this story goes. First there was the initial postponement without further info as we waited to see how COVID would pan out. Then there was the virtual race offer; I ran two halves back to back that weekend but it was the peak of the first lockdown and running a full intensity marathon just didn’t feel right for me. Then we waited some more… and finally a new date in Autumn 2021. My original target for this was to go sub 3:30 and I got the opportunity to do that at my local marathon last autumn. Could I go faster? Maybe but 2021 was the year of the ultra, I was training to go further not faster and, to be perfectly honest, I’m knackered! The prospect of running a marathon without the time and energy to train properly was not appealing so during my slog across Dartmoor I made my mind up to downsize to the 10km instead.

This is where everyone’s COVID delayed A race stories diverge, did you run yours? Decide it wasn’t as important anymore and give it a miss? I wasn’t going to run my fast marathon on the flat Newport course, but I could finally get a road 10km race under my belt and put a chip timed PB in that box finally. Realising I had nothing longer than a half marathon planned for the rest of 2021 was quite liberating and I loved running fast again and concentrating on better form and structure, rather than distance, distance, distance. Obviously then I got a cold, always do in the autumn. Running didn’t suffer much and I thought I was recovered when I set out for a 20km steady long run, but towards the end I felt full of cold again. Afterwards my feet and achilles hurt, I shrugged it off but the next day I could barely walk. I self diagnosed plantar fasciitis and insertional achilles tendinitis, and started on a reduced running schedule with calf raises daily and some strength work.

Training was now just about moving and stretching out my legs. I started adding in some speedwork again but it was limited to making sure I could maintain a reasonably fast pace, not going as fast as I could. The logistics of getting to Wales were a challenge as well, we ended up making a weekend of it with the family. A good excuse to get off the island, do something different, see some friends and do a little jog. Somehow I managed to forget to take my trusty Injinji toe socks, all I had with me were thick winter socks so I ended up running in a pair of my wife’s Christmas socks… not sure why that’s all she had with her!

My last purchase before the first COVID lockdown was a pair of Nike Pegasus Zoom running shoes, to go with my normal Pegasus shoes and try and help me go faster. Until recently they’d done about 100km as once the races were postponed I used the down time to transition to zero drop. They sat on the floor as a constant reminder and felt like a frivolous waste of money, but now I needed a heel again to rest my achilles and they finally had a purpose again. In a happy little side story they ended up being used on race day in Newport as originally planned and completed their purpose. Now I’d quite like to get back to zero drop though, heels feel weird and unnatural and I’m having to take it easy as I don’t have the ankle muscles to manage them.

We stayed a short drive away from the start and with a 9:45am kick off it was a weirdly slow start to the day. Rain was forecast but thankfully it stayed at a refreshing fine drizzle and didn’t progress into an energy draining downpour. My Strava 10km PB is 39:20, I didn’t think my current fitness would allow me to go sub 39mins but I had been practising holding 4min/km pace and really wanted that 10km time to start with a 3.

I started in the white pen (first starters just behind the elite runners) which was quite nice as even from the start we quickly fell into similarly paced groups. I planned to set out at 3:54min/km and see how long I could hold it. At 5km my watch put me 2secs slower than target, although the chip timing mat put me at 18secs over, and I was feeling pretty good. That didn’t last much longer though, after 6km I started to struggle, my foot was starting to hurt, and the next 3km splits all started with a 4. Weirdly the whole course felt like it was slightly downhill except for the bridge about a km and a half from the start/finish line, which was a slight bump. I took the downhill as an opportunity to get back my stride and carried the pace towards the end, finishing with my fastest split of the race.

I didn’t pay much attention to the time as my watch time started with a 39 and my average splits were 3:58min/km. When the results came through my chip time was 39:49, not as far under 40mins as I had expected but importantly it begins with a 3! I forgot how important those extra few watch metres can be over a shorter distance, no one pays any attention to the final distance over 100 miles but over 10km those extra 70m recorded on my watch can be the difference between a PB and disappointment.

No disappointment here though. I finally have a 10km chip time to call my own proper PB and my Newport marathon saga comes to a happy conclusion. The aftermath doesn’t appear too damaging either, my planter fasciitis has been just a bruised feeling on the sole of my foot for a few weeks now and no significant worsening post race. Equally my tight achilles doesn’t appear any more or less tight for the experience. Now just to see how the next 5 weeks go and whether I can put in a reasonable attempt at another half marathon…

As always Strava link here.

Summer Snowman and The Crossing

Three weeks after my last race and I was back on it. This time for something completely different; a 10km around a nearby farm renowned for being tough (we started by running down a very steep hill and then turning round at the bottom and coming back up again). On the day it wasn’t very summery, it had at least stopped raining but there was still a decent breeze. It was just cool enough that some were debating wearing more clothes, but if you’re cold then you aren’t trying hard enough!

I did this race in the winter of 2019 in an old pair of road shoes as my first ever run off road. This year I was back with trail shoes and a year of trail running in my legs… it wasn’t enough!

As always I went well down the hills but lost time on the climbs, and the climbs were brutal, after a km I think I was in 4th but two ascents that left me light headed at the top found me back in 6th. Then at about half way we had to run across a hill where I struggled on the slant and was over taken again. I wasn’t standing for that and took the place back on the subsequent decent. I pushed down a steady hill and just gave myself enough of a lead to maintain my 6th place at the top of the last hill and the finish line.

For the first time ever after a race my thighs burnt and ached for days, I’m usually not too bad at going fast and easy downhill but some of these were just brutally steep! Would I be recovered by the following weekend to run across Dartmoor? Was I recovered from the last 100km race? Was I recovered from my first 100 miler? Probably not to be honest.

Fast forward to the following Friday night, inside a tent in South Devon laying out my race kit for the next day and I don’t have a bloody survival blanket. I knew there was a pre-race kit check in the morning so figured I was buggered, and weirdly I was quite relieved (and very embarrassed). I called the race directors in the morning and one of them kindly lent me one, so that was a bit of a storm in a teacup, thankfully I was able to return it at the end. At 9am Saturday morning I toed the start line in Belstone and headed on up into Dartmoor.

I really enjoyed the first 25km, but it was taking its toll my legs from the start. Every ground contact required thought as no two steps were the same; there were big stones, little stones, grass, soft grass, lumps of grass, boggy puddles, wet mud, hard mud, rivers, and the occasional road. This race was a similar distance to the Big Way Round I enjoyed in May, but I knew this would be a slower course. At just under 60km I would have loved to have gone sub 6 hours but knew sub 7 hours was a more reasonable target given the terrain and my current fitness (I was on an upwards training curve in May, since SDW100 in June I’ve been on a slow and steady downwards curve). At 25km I saw the family at Dartmeet and then almost instantly knocked my knee climbing over a wall and then had a decent incline that drained my enthusiasm. At that point I’d been in 12th place, the guy in front was within reach and I’d pulled a gap on the guy behind. A lot of boggy terrain and my usual 30km bonk and that changed, over the next 10km I must have dropped 10 places.

Due to the inaccessibility of most of Dartmoor aid stations were few and far between, so when I was having real trouble I was well passed the last proper aid station and the quickest way to finish was to get to the end. Otherwise I think I would have just quit. My running form was shot with the uneven terrain, I wasn’t injured but I had multiple twinges and was really worried running with poor form on uneven terrain was going to leave me hurt. A slight slip or ankle roll here or there just reinforced this.

I just didn’t want it enough. When it got tough on the South Downs Way I eased off but kept going and it never occurred to me to stop, just wasn’t an option. Even going around the Isle of Wight, where I struggled for a bit, stopping was never an option (logistically I could have stopped at any point easily). On Dartmoor my central controller wasn’t happy with the effort and I didn’t want it enough to overrule them.

I think anyone who’s read any of my other blogs can guess how this one was going to end. At some point the bog gave way to some hard packed stone and I started rediscovering my form. Pace wasn’t great and walking breaks were frequent but I was getting back in the groove. At the last water station (just two guys with a lot of bottled water) the rubber behind me caught me up. I hadn’t been overtaken since I’d hit terra firma but had seen someone catching me up, turns out he wasn’t looking to zoom past but figured we were going similar pace so had pushed to catch up. I was happy for the company so happily fell into his run a mile walk a bit routine, hard to tell if it was more or less running than I’d have managed alone but it was definitely a quicker pace than I’d have managed. At the 5 hour mark I’d calculated I needed to do 7km/hour to get in on 7 hours. I was embarrassingly close to that for the first hour but now we were comfortably within the time window. I say comfortably, whilst I was happy to have fairly consistent ground underfoot it was rock (literally) hard and killing the soles of my feet. I don’t think they’d fully recovered from the beating they took on the Isle of Wight Challenge as it was only 7km about 50km in, wouldn’t have been a problem at all in May. So yet again my race had been helped along by a fellow runner.

We were promised the last 9km from the water station was all downhill, and according to Strava it pretty much was, but it didn’t feel it. Then we left the path and took a mighty decent, 125m down in a kilometre, and I was pleased to see I still had some bounce in my step downhill on some grass. Then we hit the road for a plod to the finish and formed a gentleman’s agreement not to race each other for the finish. I interpreted this that we would finish together and forgot all about it when my kids joined me on the finish straight. I ran in carrying the 2 year old, holding hands with the 4 year old and with the 6 year old following close by. Josh kindly eased off to let me finish a fraction of a second in front of him despite my hindrances!

I had a good day out, disappointed by how hard I found it but aware I wasn’t giving it my best. I learnt I need to give myself longer to recover after an ultra race, planning one a month is a recipe for waning performance. Partly because of the recovery time but more because of the lack of running in between; there’s a recovery week, then a low mileage training week, then a taper week, and then race week. I didn’t find it long enough to recover and maintain fitness. I was also reminded that I really need to sort my ultra nutrition out to minimise those bonks! With this in mind I decided not to run a marathon in October (or at all this year) as I don’t have time to do a proper training block and my next target race is a half marathon in November so a marathon a month before would not help. So I transferred to the 10km distance instead; the family still gets a day out and a 10km race forms a good part of a half marathon training plan.

I had nothing to prove on Dartmoor and ended up proving nothing, I ran a steady enough race (finishing 21/94) in the time I set myself, had a nice day out and it helped me decide on my near future running plans.

As always, Strava link here if you’re interested.

Isle of Wight Challenge

The original plan for this race was to build up with a couple of shorter ultras in 2020 and then concentrate on working hard to make this my target race in May 2021. What’s the saying? Men plan, COVID laughs?

My not quite 50 mile ultra in October 2020 took longer to recover from than planned, so training didn’t start proper til the new year. Obviously around then we were well into another COVID lockdown, luckily exercise wasn’t really curtailed as long as you were alone but I did struggle to fit it in and get to the different parts of the route I wanted to practice. All the time wondering if the race would even go ahead… then the road map out of lockdown was launched and all looked like it might be ok in time, but the set up of overnight stays for the walkers wouldn’t be allowed in May so the race was pushed back to July. Sure, you say, extra training time should help. Only you’ve probably read the last blog so you already know I’d optimistically booked a 100 miler in for June.

Suddenly I had to train for my first 100 miler without stepping up to 100km first and then I had to recover within 4 weeks to do the 100km race. I took the week after the South Downs Way very easy, then started adding the runs back in. I was having some achilles tightness and with a busy social calendar couldn’t fit in long runs, so whilst I was running regularly again within 3 weeks the longest I ran was a half marathon and my weekly mileage was around 50km. Good tapering but it didn’t feel like good race prep.

Talking about race prep; I wanted to do this race as it’s around my island; a route I’m keen to do but couldn’t find the time to do as a training run. This should give me a local edge too, right? Possibly, but it also made me complacent and the night before I realised I wasn’t really feeling that ready. The 100 miler was a big logistical operation, I’d treated this one like the local marathon that starts near my house, just get dropped at the start and crack on.

On the start line I was feeling positive, opted to start in my waterproof as the forecast was wet, which obviously was a mistake but not a massive one. The plan was to go out quick, as always, because the first 25km was fairly flat. Found myself flying and running in the top 5, clearly too fast even for my fast start plan, but it felt steady and I was enjoying it so I went with it. The trouble started around 30km when I slowed. This was the plan and my splits were ok in line with that, but I got it my head that I was crashing and going to slowly and struggled to shake it off. Only 2km previously I’d felt on top of the world but now I was right back down to earth with a bump. I was tired too, normally I don’t worry about caffeine in race day, have a little to cover the usual addiction but race day gives me the buzz, not sure if it was that or the really bad sleep the night before but either way I cold happily have stoped for a nap. I plodded along the coast line as the weather cleared, really only cheered when a peregrine falcon flew past a few times then stopped and watched me run past. By the time I hit half way at Chale it was meltingly warm and I was grateful for the biggest incline of the day as it gave me a good excuse for a prolonged walk. Luckily I still had some bounce for the downhills but there were more and more roads and my trail shoes are not cushioned enough for excessive road pounding.

Needles as seen from Headon Warren
It wasn’t quite this clear on race day

It was pounding down these roads that I heard a honk from behind and was relieved to see the family cruise by and pull over down the road. Dad had brought my nephew over to say hello at some point earlier but I was struggling and it didn’t register as much as it should have (sorry!). Not sure if it’s the buzz from seeing them or just the fact that my wife force feeds me (party rings, mango and orange) that helps but I was a new man when I left them. 3 people overtook me whilst I was stopped but I’d caught back up by the next aid station in Ventnor.

St Catherine’s Lighthouse

This begins the third stage of my race, we’ve had the fast start and the hard bit, now was the bit with the people. Two of the people that overtook me where James and Richard, I ran with both of them at points and then together into Ventnor. I ended up running a lot of the race with Richard for company and we ran walked together from Ventnor to Culver, bumping into the family twice more for moral support and more mango. James struggled here with stomach and foot issues but he caught us up again before long. We were run walking now but the walking stretches were getting longer and the running getting shorter. James caught us back up with Jamie, and Charlie who had kindly nipped out to pace him for a bit as he was struggling with a toe injury. We let them pull us along nicely and ran as a fivesome into the last aid station at Oakfield primary school.

Onto the home stretch, 18km of roads. I’d planned to try and catch some time back up here but none of us had much left to give. There was a lot of walking and eventually Richard and Jamie left James and I behind with their insanely fast power walking. At Lushington Hill I convinced James to try a jog, we made it to the bottom and I felt pretty good. James was fine but didn’t have any running left so we said farewell I jogged on. When I caught the other two up we ran together for a bit, again I had more running left so I pushed on ahead. I never finish a short race strong but seem to find something towards the end of an ultra; probably just the thought of stopping soon.

It wasn’t long before the running was hurting again, but then so was the walking as it put different pressure on the blisters I could feel on the balls of my feet. I was counting down the last couple of km though and knew I had enough left to run it home. I was on autopilot now, I knew the area well and just spotted the signs to make sure I took the right route. Finishing along the cycle track is a bit boring, I was just plodding along looking for the next km marker that I knew was due… but it didn’t come. Bollocks. I almost sprinted back in myself the 300m I’d gone past Stag Lane to see the arrows pointing up the hill! The sun was low blaring down the hill and I hadn’t seen the arrows in the glare, so I’d run 600m unnecessarily and now I had to run up bloody Stag Lane. I could see Richard and Jamie (well two people) and had to shrug off the urge to just walk it from there. I know the hill, it’s not as bad as it looks so I sucked it up and kept running.

Again, I was running slower than I could ever dream of running in a training run, proper ultra shuffle at 7-8min/km. Finally I turned into the Agricultural Showground and down to the finish line. I wasn’t really expecting anyone to be there but I spotted my sister, then heard Sally give an embarrassed cheer (she assures me it wasn’t) and then the much louder cheer from Martyn. I was a bit too knackered to be as appreciative as I should have been but it is nice to be welcomed in by familiar faces. I must have been knackered because when Sally jokingly suggested the massage tent I dropped my bag and wandered in… I’ve never had a massage and hate the idea of one, the lady was keen to point out she it wasn’t going to be a full sports massage but it wasn’t so bad. Don’t think it helped though, still hobbled to the car!

I finished in 14 hours, 6 minutes and 53 seconds. A respectable time and slap bang in the middle of my target range, giving me 17th place overall I think. I didn’t get the finish line buzz that I did on the South Downs Way though, overall I was just relieved to be finished and a little deflated. I found this harder than the SDW and yet it’s hard to see why as nothing really went wrong, I didn’t have any big issues to work through, it was just really hard work. I think there were lots of little things; incomplete recovering, low recent training mileage, usual poor fuelling, lack of caffeine, starting too fast, too many roads pounded in trail shoes, etc. Ultimately though I think I just underestimated it and let myself get stuck in my own head when it started to hurt. I seem to rely on Sally a lot to get me out of these funks, might need to do the next one without her to test myself further, which isn’t an immediately appealing prospect but that’s kind of the point.

Apologies, lots of words and no pictures for this one. I decided not to bother with photos as I’ve seen it all before, turned out to be a mistake as my phone decided to disable itself bouncing around in my bag and I had to restore it from factory settings to get it working again. I dug out a couple of photos from training runs to spice it up a bit. One more shorter ultra across Dartmoor in August and then I’m concentrating on shorter, faster stuff again for the rest of the year. Maybe.

As always, Strava link here.