parkrun tourism: Weymouth parkrun

Weymouth parkrun has been running since August 2013, just marginally longer than our home run of Longrun Meadow. As with most in the South West region, it’s been on our radar to do for a while. The course description describes part of the course as being on the grass, and with the buggy(ies) that has put us off in the wet, wintry months.

Lolly and I travelled to the run separately; I had been working in the area on Friday and stayed in a local B&B the night before, while she was coming over from Taunton with the children. As a result, at 8:29 we had a conversation on WhatsApp:

Lolly: Awake yet?
Me: Yup.
Me: Where are you?
Lolly: [Picture of car in car park]
Me: Where’s that?
Me: I tried to park in the College Car Park that the website recommends, but it seems to be closed?
Lolly: Oh
Lolly: I parked in the country park car park

An encouraging start. I set up both buggies, and walked through the college car park to the start area for the parkrun. In the Country Park car park. Oh.

So for some clarity on the parking: you can park in the Country Park car park, which is in fact where the run started and finished for us: but you have to pay: 50p for one hour, working up to £6 for all day. The College car park was eventually opened, and is free for the duration of the run. There were also toilets in the car park, although only one of them was open, causing a long queue, even early on.

Smile!

After a fair bit of faffing (it turned out that I hadn’t changed into running shoes, so I had to go back to the car) we lined up for the start. As usual, I managed to miss the first timers briefing, but Lolly gave me a synopsis: keep left for the out-and-back section, turnaround at the stone pineapple. (Which, for the record, I never noticed.) Apparently, it was a very good first timers briefing: they had a big, obvious, sign showing where it was, and it covered everything that a first timer might possibly need to know.

As noted, the start/finish area was unusually located in a car park. In general parkrun tries to avoid areas with traffic: the course map doesn’t show the car park being used, so I can only assume that this is a variation due to wetter weather, possibly. Starting at the back of the pack with the buggies, we couldn’t hear the pre-run briefing, but there were various bursts of applause – presumably for landmark runs and thanking the volunteers.

I started gently – so gently that the tail walkers went past me! This just meant that I had no one either side of me, and I could easily dart across to the side to ease my way through some of the crowds while we were still in the wide car park area. Thankfully, even when we entered Lodmoor Country Park, the path stayed wide initially – easily allowing four people to run abreast. There were a few bollards to avoid, and although there were grass verges at the sides for sections, they tended to be slightly sloped, and not ideal for the buggy to put a wheel onto. I eased my way along through the field as well as I could, targeting the buggy that I could see ahead. Me, competitive? No…

Into the Country Park.

We started off with a clockwise lap of the park, around both a pitch and putt golf course and a field with a miniature railway in. Another third of the lap, and this time we split off to head up the out-and-back section. By this stage, I’d managed to find a bit more free space, and had got in front of the other buggy (there were four in total). The terrain up this section varied quite considerably: initially it was quite nice, if a little narrow in places: roughly three people wide. This opened out onto a rough clearing that had some – well – craters in it, which had to be navigated quite carefully with the buggy. The path after this was tarmac and very nice to run on.

I noticed as we approached the turnaround point that the other buggy was getting quite close behind me – thankfully things cleared up a little in front of me at this point, and tipping the buggy back onto its rear wheels, I navigated the tight turns, to the call of “quick buggy coming through” from the marshal. Heading back, I more or less gave up on passing people as the path got congested with the mid-pack going in both directions. We weaved past a few runners, but for the most part, I was content to sit and hold position.

Until, that is, I noticed the other buggy closing in behind me again. Sigh – can’t I just have a nice jog to the finish? (I mean, obviously I could have just let him pass me and not worried about it. Apparently.) After passing the tail walker coming the other way, I was able to move out and pass people with a bit more freedom, before we finally reached the park once more. I had expected that we would turn right and head straight back, but it seemed that we were still too short for that to work, and so we turned left for another longer loop of the park. I pressed on, though without going crazy, working myself into some clear space for the finish. (I tend to prefer more space when I’m finishing with the buggy – it stops any silly accidents.)

Past the miniature railway station.

The finish funnel was pretty congested, so as soon as I’d picked up our finish token, I ducked out of the funnel and went back to watch Lolly finishing, before scanning when it got a bit quieter.

Overall, I enjoyed the course – it is nicely varied. I would say that it is pretty much completely flat, though there may be a very slight climb up to the turnaround point. But Strava reckons it was 22 feet, so, maybe not. Looking at the volunteer roster, it looks quite a labour intensive run; eight marshals, a lead bike, two funnel managers, two on finish tokens. There was certainly never any trouble finding where to go on the course!

Afterwards, it looked like a lot of the parkrunners were going back to the Lodmoor pub, a Brewers Fayre attached to the Premier Inn right by the start/finish. (There’s also another Premier Inn by the turnaround point, so both are pretty convenient for the run.) We opted to drive into town to visit Wetherspoons for a cheaper breakfast, before returning to the Country Park car park to visit Weymouth Sea Life Centre.

parkrun tourism: Teignmouth Promenade parkrun

Yes, we do still exist! It’s fair to say that the last few months have been a bit up and down. There’s been a few things I’d have loved to have written about but haven’t managed (my 100th parkrun, progress towards PB pace, on and off training plans, etc). But we’ve come to the conclusion that the best cure for all of this is more tourism. Cue Teignmouth Promenade parkrun.

Our eternal quest to conquer the South West region has suffered greatly from the amazing growth the region has experienced in the last couple of years. We’re still managing to hover at about 50% complete though, and are particularly targeting any that would make a good family trip. So something by the seaside works quite well.

Teignmouth Promenade parkrun started just over a month ago, and as the name suggests takes place on the promenade in Teignmouth. For those of you not familiar with Devon, it’s actually pronounced “Tin-muth”, so make sure you’re saying it correctly in your head! Like other promenade runs (hi Seaton, Minehead and Exmouth) this involves running out and back, in this case 3 times.

The course starts near the pier, goes along to the Yacht Club, back (past the pier) to near the lighthouse. One more complete loop, and then the last time you finish before the lighthouse end (roughly level with the start). Having read the description before we went, my main worry running with the buggy was the prospect of several 180 degree turns. As it turned out though, that wasn’t the tricky part.

Wrapped up warm with the buggies before the start

Ever so slightly chilly

We arrived and parked up in good time, and having set up both buggies we even had time to head to the toilets near the pier. Uncharacteristically for us, we were at the gathering point around quarter to 9. Enough time to worry about the number of clothes we were in (the horror of de-layering in cold wind before a run) and that the kids were in (why wouldn’t the little man keep his hat on?!).

At the Run Director’s call we made our way over to the sea-side of the promenade path, and then picked our way through the gathering crowd to get to the back, where we discovered we were 2 of 4 buggies taking part. After a little while, Ben, being significantly taller than me, noticed that the briefing had started. Unfortunately being at the back I didn’t hear a thing, which is a fairly common occurrence for buggy-runners.

The next thing I missed was the start, again with Ben commenting that people had started moving. And so we were off. And almost immediately stopped again as we crashed buggies. Slightly embarrassing, but there are far worse crashes for each of us to have! I had been expecting a standard flat prom-run, but very quickly there was a short-sharp up then down for the pier entrance. The path also zig-zagged a few times, which was slightly testing with a buggy in the initial crowd of people.

The path got narrow, and my next worry became how on earth this would work as an out-and-back, let alone once people started lapping as well. This was answered when runners started coming the other way – on a higher path to our left. The joining point for the two paths required a sharp turn, and my timing meant that there were 3 runners side-by-side going the other way when I had to make the turn. Note to self, practice sharp turns with the buggy!

Ben with buggy

Ben being way more relaxed about corners (from TP parkrun Facebook page)

There was then the expected 180 degree turn round the cone, which actually after the zig-zagging path didn’t seem all that bad. The (marginally) inland of the two paths was much better surface, albeit still with one zig-zag, and before I knew it we were rounding an ice-cream hut and passing the gathering area, where the finish funnel was set up. This just left a nice wide path near the lighthouse, an even wider turn round the end, and another easy path to get back to the start.

The second lap was much the same, with the added excitement of being lapped. It was pretty tricky on some of the narrower sections, having to run with one wheel consistently close to the wall, but the faster runners generally seemed appreciative of my efforts. As we passed the finish funnel for the second time I noticed how narrow it was, but hoped that (as is often the case) it would be wider by the time I finished.

Pushing buggy

Can we agree to ignore my posture, just this once?

The third lap was hard. I hadn’t run for 4 weeks, and I was pushing a buggy containing a 5 year old. Slowing down slightly also meant ending up in a bigger group of people, which meant more pressure to get the corners right! Despite being tired, and struggling to answer the many questions my daughter was asking, it didn’t go too badly and I was soon speeding up towards the finish. Which, by the way, was still the same width.

Finish token in hand, I carried on following the line of cones and was a bit confused not to find a barcode scanner. I asked a nearby marshal, who said they were in the Lemon Tree cafe and pointed me in the right direction. On the way I met up with Ben, and we decided to put the buggies in the car first. Because the barcode scanning was actually significantly further away than where we’d parked, as it involved crossing the road, walking past some shops, and then identifying the cafe by the line of people outside waiting to be scanned. As with Exeter Riverside, I imagine they will have a fair few tokens disappear as people fail to make it that far.

By the time we actually made it to the cafe to have our barcodes scanned it was fairly full, so we headed to an alternative nearby cafe (Coasters) instead – testing our children’s patience when we ordered just after a large group of South West Road Runners.

View of course from pier

Pier-ing at the course from a different angle

Afterwards we had a lovely hour or so admiring the sea view, visiting the section of pier that was open, and enjoying the amazing play park. Definitely a great one to take kids to.

While the route wasn’t entirely what I expected, it was still a very enjoyable run. Being by the sea was great, although it’s fair to say my passenger had more chance to admire the views than I did. Definitely a great location for an extended visit. I’d love to visit again when the event has had a bit more chance to bed down (and our daughter wants to go to the park again), but there are so many places left to visit that who knows!

parkrun tourism: Bideford parkrun

Bideford parkrun has been up and running since April 2016, and is up to event #125. We’ve been intending to do it almost the entire time since. Bideford is about an hour and a quarter drive for us, so is very reasonable as an out-and-back in a morning option. With Lolly’s parents over for the weekend (helping us out with a childcare emergency – thank you) we were free to roam. Unfortunately, the August Bank Holiday meant that the roads were likely to be awful, eliminating most of our options. After a short analysis of the remaining options, we chose Bideford – essentially as the one using the least amount of M5/A303!

Bideford is a town in North Devon that sits on the River Torridge (the name comes from ‘by the ford, rather than a ford of the river Bide). It’s closest other parkrun is Barnstaple, which we did in November 2015. The pair tend to double up for New Year’s Day. The course goes around Victoria Park and King George V playing fields, near the river.

The parkrun course is also marked as an England 3-2-1 route.

We arrived in plenty of time, and parked in the spacious pay and display (or Parkmobile) car park located right next to the park. With some time to kill, we had a wander around Victoria Park, getting a feel for the place. We were annoyed that we hadn’t brought the children, as there is an amazing play area in the park, along with a cafe, paddling pool, toilets, and well… all sorts!

Pre-run faffing and toilet stops done, we headed over for the new runner’s briefing. This was relatively short and to the point, explaining the course: three and a half laps. Basically, one loop of Victoria Park itself to start (the 0.5) and three full loops of Victoria Park and the King George V playing fields. Or, as the RD succinctly put it at the end: three times around the tree stump and four times past the toilets.

The main briefing was similarly routine; one runner on her 50th run, standards terms and conditions apply, let’s go! We were shepherded a short distance back towards the start, and after a little wait for some runners that were late, we were set on our way.

Four times past the toilets (and amazing playing area).

The half lap to start is entirely on tarmac paths skirting around the outskirts of Victoria Park. The event feels like it has a lot of marshals, giving great support on the way around. I can recall eight marshal locations, plus the mass of volunteers around the start/finish area. Not bad for such a small course. The paths are all a pretty good width, and the event tends to attract between 100 and 150 people (we had 133), so there isn’t too much issue with congestion.

After the first half lap, we passed the start line and headed right, going around a Children’s Centre, and into the playing fields. This involved switching off the tarmac paths onto the grass. I’d opted to wear road shoes, not having noticed the grass section during our wander around the park, but thankfully it was plenty solid enough that I didn’t regret my decision. Towards the end of the grass, the ground started to get a bit rutted. On the first lap lightly turned my ankle, but thankfully it didn’t bother me after a few strides. On the final lap, rather than continue back past the start line, we turned off early and headed down the grass for the finish.

Finish strong!

In advance, I always think that courses with three or more laps will be tough and dull, but I didn’t have an issue today at all. In fact, thinking back, I’m not sure I ever have. From a personal point of view, my run was quite disappointing. After a few weeks of not running, I struggled with the pace, and faded away after the first kilometre or so. Hopefully a couple of weeks of decent running will get me nicely back into shape.

As a parkrun, I’d say Bideford is good without being amazing. The park itself is lovely, and the volunteers were plentiful and supportive. Having done 35 different events now, it can be easy to start being snobbish about different courses, and I might have prejudged this course harshly because of that. I would have no complaints at all if this was my home run, and it benefits from being almost entirely pancake flat (just a small lump past the toilet block really).

The Barge Cafe.

Lolly had a fantastic run, setting her P2BPB (post-second-baby personal-best). We considered hanging around for second breakfast in the cafe (which is on a boat!) afterwards, but neither of us were feeling ready for food immediately, so we ended up stopping at Sainsbury’s cafe in Barnstaple on the way home for food instead. Victoria Park also hosts a junior parkrun, Torridge junior parkrun, and we’re already planning a weekend away to spend a Saturday in Bude (Tamar Lakes parkrun) and the Sunday in Bideford. Both because the park will be great for the kids, and because Bideford looks such a lovely place.

parkrun tourism: Street parkrun

For the list-orientated type, parkrun tourism is a veritable treasure trove of opportunities. We’ve mentioned in the past our (very) long-term goal of becoming South West regionnaires (that’s every parkrun in the South West region), but along the way there are different counties to complete. When we did Shepton Mallet back in January it completed our Somer-set, but with a parkrun collection you’re never complete for long.

Street parkrun started in May 2018, and became the 3rd parkrun to feature on Longrun Meadow‘s “Other parkruns nearby” list. We’ve had it on our to-do list ever since, but it’s risen in priority since the start of the summer holidays as it requires neither the M5 or the A303 for us to get there. After 2 failed attempts (kids poorly, adults poorly), this weekend we were extra determined to make it.

Uncharacteristically, we actually left a few minutes earlier than planned. 5 minutes into the drive we realised my Garmin was still on charge and so we went back to get it and ended up running a more familiar 5 minutes late. Street parkrun takes place in the playing fields of Strode College Sports Centre. We were initially unsure if the sat nav had taken us the right way, but happily saw the familiar collection of running kit at the other end of the car park.

First running buggy assembled, I took it (and our son) over to the start, hoping to catch at least a bit of the first timers’ briefing, while Ben stayed with Lani as she decided whether to run or go in the buggy. I found the briefing on the other side of the playing courts, and typically was too late to get much course information. The safety warning at the end for rutted ground was pretty crucial though, particularly with a buggy.

Backdrop of run

Apparently there was a view of a well-known landmark. I genuinely didn’t notice.

Handily, at the end of the briefing someone said hello to me – it turned out that Al who we know from Longrun Meadow was also visiting that day. He confirmed that the course was 3 laps of fields. Just as I was starting to get worried about timing, Ben and Lani appeared having made the decision of no buggy.

Everyone moved the short distance to the start, which was a reasonably wide area on the grass. The briefing covered the usual basics, with more emphasis on being careful with the ground conditions. The start was a nice clear air-horn sound, which meant it was easily audible at the back of the pack. Not that the back was very far away, thanks to the wide starting patch.

And so we were off and dodging obstacles. At least that’s what it felt like, with the usual shuffling of people finding position combined with a few sports-related fixings. I was happily surprised with how good the surface was underfoot, and more importantly for me under-wheel. We were quickly at our first 90 degree turn to go along the top of the field, and despite fears to the contrary I found enough width amongst everyone to swing round.

The course sounds pretty awful on paper. Round two sides of one field. Through a gap to the next field. Round 2 and a half sides of the field. Out and back in the middle of the field. Round the other 1 and a half sides of the field. Back through the gap. Round remaining 2 sides of first field. Do this again twice, then straight on to finish. See?  Really not appealing.

Course route

A map from my Strava. Because my route description could use some work.

Strangely, though, it works. One of the beauties of visiting different parkrun locations is you see the wide variety of ways that you can do 5k. Running with the buggy I found that the many turns broke it up into manageable sections. There was a slight gradient, and so for one side in each field I could relax a little as the buggy gained a bit of downhill momentum. It was a welcome let-off, as the rutted grass was otherwise relentless.

The back-and-forth nature of the course made it a very sociable event. It was easy for me to keep track of where Ben and Lani were, with having several reference points. There were also a surprisingly large number of marshals, with one at pretty much every turn. I don’t know if they will reduce the number slightly as the event beds in more, or if it’s felt the number is right. The marshals were very encouraging, several with jingle bells, and also helpful in pointing out the worst of the terrain.

Inevitably on a 3 lap course, I was lapped reasonably early on. I tried to stick obviously to one side, as I was a bit worried about the width in places. It all worked ok though, with one runner passing me on the narrowest bit with no issues. And I didn’t even take anyone out while going round the corners.

Running with buggy

At least he’s too young to ask if we’re nearly there yet

As is my standard, I’d saved a little for a faster finish. Unfortunately there was someone relatively close in front of me, and it became clear that if I kept going I would either hit them or the route markers, so I didn’t go as fast as I could have. The finish funnel was a little on the narrow side for a buggy, but wider than it first appeared.

I collected my finish token, and had a chat with the volunteers about my barcode placement (I keep it on an extra hairband in my hair). After a quick chat with Al, I headed to the car to pick up Lani’s barcode wristband, which had been left there in all the indecision. The ease of pushing the buggy across the playing courts instead of the grass added an extra spring to my step.

All that was then left to do was chat to some more people near the finish, cheer people in, and wait to watch Ben and Lani finish. Which they did 4 minutes faster than the previous time Lani had done a 5k parkrun.

Photo of Lani and Ben

Determined finisher

For most of the year there is a cafe in the sports centre, but it was closed due the summer holidays. The other sports facilities were still available, including free to use showers. Unsurprisingly, though, we were in need of post-run refreshments. So we headed over to Clarks Village for food and shoe shopping.

Street parkrun was a pleasant surprise for me, and a good reminder that the paper description doesn’t mean everything. The community feel was particularly good for such a young parkrun. I’d be interested to see how the fields cope over the winter, and was definitely pleased that we went in such good conditions. We could well be back to this one though… probably the next time the kids grow out of their shoes!

parkrun tourism: Exmouth parkrun

A bit of a #throwbackthursday post today to a parkrun that we visited back in May, but for one reason or another, we never got around to writing up at the time: Exmouth parkrun.

Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside…

This was sort of unintentional parkrun tourism. Sort of. Exmouth parkrun was not our intended destination when we set out. Let me explain…

My in-laws were with us for the weekend, and so we decided to take the opportunity to get out and visit somewhere new. A look around, and we decided that Torbay Velopark took our fancy. It was a reasonable, but not silly, distance away, and it looked an interesting course.

We set off, a little bit late, but without too much concern. But, as we went, we noticed the traffic was a bit heavier than we’d accounted for (it was a bank holiday weekend). We kept going, though the sat nav estimated arrival time was starting to get a bit concerning. 8:55 might be an acceptable time to turn up to your home run, where you know what’s going on, but for touristing… it’s not ideal.

We passed Cullompton (and the turning for Killerton), and the traffic certainly didn’t seem to be easing. We had to make a decision soon: did we keep on going past Exeter to Torbay, or turn off early to either Exeter Riverside or Exmouth? We hadn’t really fancied Exmouth initially, as being a “road” course, it was one we could easily do with buggies. But, we were getting really touch-and-go for Torbay, and didn’t fancy repeating Exeter Riverside.

And so, we arrived in Exmouth with plenty of time. Which was handy, as we drove around the block a couple of times while I got confused about where we should park. In the end, we got it about right, parking on the prom, just metres from the start/finish. It’s paid parking, but I seem to recall that it was pretty reasonable, even taking into account the extra hour’s cost to fit in breakfast!

After popping to the toilets (very conveniently located) and faffing around for a while, I realised that I should probably head off for a warm-up jog. I headed off west along the Esplanade, knowing that the course mostly went the other direction. I knew I didn’t have too much time, but for some reason, I just kept on going, and ended up clocking up 1.1 miles. Which is perfectly reasonable, except when you get back to the start and find that everyone else is already gathered up ready to go!

Having missed the new runners briefing, and apparently the normal briefing too, I was initially slightly disorientated, and couldn’t work out which end of the pack I should integrate myself into. It soon became apparent when I paid attention, and I snuck myself into the side. Unfortunately, poor preparation meant that a few things weren’t quite ideal. Firstly, I was wearing my new inov-8 Parkclaws. These light trail shoes had seemed ideal for the mixed terrain of Torbay Velopark, but for the 100% pavement course of Exmouth, they were less ideal. Unfortunately, they were the only shoe I’d brought with me. Well, other than my Primark rip-off Vans, and well, no. Secondly, I was still in two layers from my warm-up, and couldn’t see anywhere obvious to leave the outer layer. Thankfully, it was just my ’50’ top over my apricot vest, so it wasn’t like I was in a thick hoodie, but still.

Anyway, without much further ado, we were off. And I had no idea where we were going. Normally, before any parkrun (or race, or training run) I intensely study the route, the elevation, any slow bits on Strava that might be because of mud etc. However, as I’d been expecting to go somewhere else, and had missed the run briefing to boot, I really had no idea. Sure, I knew it went along the seafront, and went mostly east, but a little bit west too. But I didn’t know how many laps it was, or whether it was the same lap each time, or, well, anything useful.

Actually, a very simple course!

On the other hand, it didn’t make a huge difference; I wasn’t going to finish first, so obviously I could just follow those ahead of me. That said, I was still caught a bit by surprise at the sharp hairpin bend we had to negotiate almost straight away! They had pacers when we were there, so I decided to tuck in behind the group that had formed around the 20 minute pacer, and just see how long I could settle in there before I lost them. Even holding back behind that pack, I was cracking along at a fair pace; around six minute miles for the first quarter of a mile; far quicker than the 6:25 needed.

About three quarters of a mile in, we were directed around to the right of the lifeboat station. I fully expected this to be a turnaround point, but no, we kept on going. It was quickly becoming apparent that this was in fact a single lap course. Out-and-back east, followed by a small out-and-back west. Which was a shame for my spare layer of clothing that I was now wearing wrapped around my hand – I’d hoped to throw it somewhere as we looped for a second lap. Damn this missing the briefing thing.

All the way to the end of the esplanade, about one and a quarter miles, and we turned around a nice large circle – none of this tight corner around a cone nonsense here! (That was later, at the other end.) Heading back, we were directed around the other side of the lifeboat station (right again, of course). Being near a pacer, there was still a nice little pack of us, which was helping me to keep with a pace I hadn’t really expected to maintain. In fact, Exmouth parkrun was a rarity for me – a fast paced run in which I ran perfect negative progression. After 2.4 miles, we re-passed the start/finish area, and I was  finally able to throw my spare layer of clothing at the RD (what else are they for, after all?) Unburdened, I headed off for the eastern spur of the run reinvigorated! Or something like that.

As I alluded to earlier, the turnaround point at this end was just a cone, but with the field spread out more than at the other end, it wasn’t an issue for me as a pinch point – had I been running with the buggy in the mid-field, it might have been a bit trickier. That turn comes at about 2.7 miles, so provides a nice mental point to start ramping things up a bit more for a quick finish. The course veers to the right to finish, but carries on a little further than the start line (this would have been nice to know in advance – if only I’d been around to hear any sort of briefing!!) I was chuffed with my time of 19:41, my second fastest parkrun ever!

Lolly did pretty well too, finishing in 29:27, her 10th different sub-30 parkrun course, also making it only the second course on which we had a sub-20/sub-30 pair. (Along with our home parkrun, Longrun Meadow.)

Not just a dull out and back… The wheel is more or less the start/finish area, which is a handy landmark on the run.

The course sounds a little dull; out and back along the prom. Similar to Seaton, but without the run on the pebble beach, and Minehead, but just one “lap”. In some ways, it is a bit dull. It’s flat, all pavement. But, of course, the views counteract that to an extent – Exmouth is a pretty bit of coast. It’s a much quicker course than Minehead, (Seaton is relatively slow because of the beach sections), but this might have a bit to do with the relative amount of wind at each. Despite having pretty big number when we were there (337), it didn’t feel too overcrowded, even with passing other runners on the prom.

After the run, the barcode scanning is (a little confusingly at first) in the cafe across the road from the finish. Although there were signs, I found them a bit unclear initially, and mostly worked it out by following other people! Of course, once we were in the cafe, it would have been rude not to stop for some breakfast too…

Training Diary: 16-29 July

As seems to be typical for me, I don’t have any running goals at the moment. Well, technically, there are a couple of things I’d like to achieve, but they aren’t anything I’m specifically working towards. As Ben keeps telling me, the most important thing right now is to actually run. And I’m hoping that keeping a training diary will help motivate me to do that.

16 – 22 July

Wednesday – RFRC Club Run

I’m pretty sure that the last time I went on a normal club run it was 2015. I went with the combined groups 7 & 8 and hung out at the back in a sweeper-type role. There was a bit of stop/starting on the way out of town, and then some run/walking after one member of the group pulled a muscle, so not my fastest run. But it was nice to run and not need to remember a route. It was also the first time since the Easter Festival 10k that I’d run for an hour, so definite psychological boost.

Saturday – Longrun Meadow parkrun

The ‘getting out of bed’ part of running on a Saturday morning is rarely an issue for me, as I have two playful alarm clocks for that. Mostly it’s making sure that I’m motivated to go out that’s been my downfall of late. Still, I made it out in enough time to walk there, which always helps loosen my legs a bit. It was reasonably cool at the start, but quickly warmed up. Despite that, my gradual improvement in fitness gave me my fastest time on the new course, and a nerve-wracking wait for my result of 29:59.

Sunday – Junior parkrun & Quantocks

Probably the most regular running I do at the moment is the 2k of junior parkrun with my daughter. Often we also have my son in the buggy as well, but this week Ben was around to spectate. The main aim of this particular run is to make running as enjoyable as possible.

Afterwards, we drove up to Lydeard Hill car park. Ben took the kids for a walk and I went for a run to Wills Neck and back. I was really tired so it was tough going, but definitely nice to be running somewhere other than the middle of Taunton. On the way back to the car park I took a detour to try out some different paths, which was fun to be able to do. I always have to be wary of pushing myself too hard when I’m tired, but just under 3 miles turned out to be a pretty good compromise.

23 – 29 July

Oh, there isn’t a day sub-header. Yes, after a week of actually running, a week of no running followed. Illness is the nemesis of all runners. In my case, though, it’s generally other people getting ill that’s the issue, as it steals both my energy and motivation. The main thing is making sure I bounce back. Again.

My Snowdonia thoughts

A bit of time has passed now since the Snowdonia Trail Marathon. (Did I mention that I ran a marathon?) I wanted to post again to reflect on my thoughts about a few things. Overall, I did it. I did it in more or less the exact time that I estimated. So I can’t have too many qualms about the race really. But.. there are a few things that I’ve learnt from.

Training

So, again, I finished, and I finished in pretty much the time I predicted. But that doesn’t mean that my training was perfect. Or even adequate. I took a relatively laid-back approach to this training cycle. My focus was on two main things: mileage and elevation.

The latter I certainly achieved (compared to my previous efforts, at least). I opted for a two-pronged approach: I simply made an effort to target more hills in my runs, and run far less in central Taunton, and I joined Minehead Running Club for their Monday evening runs. The combined effect meant that by early July, shortly before my marathon, I had run just over 50,000 feet this year. In contrast, the most I’d ever run before *in a whole year* was 42,000 feet.

Courtesy of Veloviewer.

Mileage was generally less successful. I only ran one long run of 20 miles or more; and only three that were 15 miles or more. My weekly mileages were also pretty low. In the 12 weeks leading up to the race, my biggest week was 40.7 miles. In contrast, my biggest week for the Bristol Half Marathon was 45.9 miles. Accumulated across the whole 12 weeks, the difference is even more stark: 422 miles for the Bristol Half, compared to 301 miles for Snowdonia.

There were definitely reasons – I was ill twice during that training period for Snowdonia, and missed something like 15-20 days (not all of these were training days, of course). That probably works out to about 60-100 miles, a big part of the difference. Without those gaps, my training would have built on itself a bit better, and I would almost certainly have done longer long runs. Or at least, more of them. Races (as always) got in the way too. Doing a 10k, plus some added mileage isn’t too bad during training for a half, but it’s a pretty big dent for marathon training. If I’m serious about a marathon in the future, I probably need to curb my shorter distance racing habit a bit.

We also had a lot going on. Both me and Lolly have been busy and stressed at work, and we also have twice as many children to deal with now compared to during that Bristol Half training.

Could I have trained better? Yes, though it’s hard to account for illness. Do I really mind? No, this was all about completion, not time. But it’s still good to analyse it to see where improvements could come in the future.

Fuelling

This, in my opinion, is where I really let myself down. I don’t even know why it all went wrong. Well, no, I do. I got in my own head about it, and messed myself up.

I have quite a sensitive stomach / digestive system. Actually, that isn’t entirely true. For some reason, my head has too much influence over my stomach. I make myself feel ill – if I get it in my head that something smells funny and has gone off, then my stomach feels funny. Not because the food has actually gone off, but because my head makes my stomach worry about it. Or something like that. Because of this, I’d never used gels before this training cycle. I’d read so much about their possible effects on the digestive system that I thought it best to avoid them with my own.

I realised that running a marathon without anything would be stupid. Particularly this marathon. I am also something of a fussy eater, so most of the ‘natural’ alternatives don’t appeal to me. After a fair bit of research, I settled on trying the Torq gels. They were described as more of a ‘yoghurty’ texture and flavour, which sounded like something I could deal with. And I could. I used them in my training runs, and had absolutely no problems. I also tried having a peanut butter sandwich (too dry and claggy) and then settled on peanut butter and jam sandwiches instead.

My favourites: Apple Crumble, Raspberry Ripple.

So, for the race, I set off with (I think) seven gels, plus two slices of peanut and jam sandwich. My plan was to eat something roughly every 4.5 to 5 miles.

I had a gel at around 6 miles, and a sandwich at 11 miles. A further gel at 15 miles, and I was done for the race. I tried to have the other sandwich around mile 21, but by then I was struggling up Snowdon and was pretty dehydrated. I should have probably tried a gel instead, but as I say, I’d basically got in my own head by then. The distances don’t look too bad, but if I convert them into times, it tells a slightly different story. 1 hr 10, 1 hr 50, 2 hr 30, 4 hr 18. Yeah, not quite the same as 6, 11, 15, 21, huh?

A simple lesson to be learnt here – distances might be fine for flat road marathons where you would expect relatively even splits. But for gnarly trail marathons with mountains… not such a good idea. In future, I might try to base my fuelling on time, rather than distance. I also need to worry less about what everyone else is doing, and just focus on myself. Which is really bloody obvious, and yet still I suffered by it.

Hydration

For the most part, my hydration was pretty good. I carried a 500 ml bottle with me (this was part of the mandatory kit). For the majority of the race, this was plenty enough, in conjunction with the drinks stations themselves. However, for that four miles from Pen-y-Pass to the drinks station on the way down Snowdon it was not. Primarily because that four miles took me about 1 hr 45. Basically, as above, I just need to consider time gaps, rather than distance gaps. For most races, a 500 ml bottle plus refills would have sufficed, but for this one, I could have done with double that, if only for the big climb.

The mountain

Despite the sharp increase in the amount of elevation I clocked up during training, nothing could prepare me for Snowdon itself. A 1,300 ft climb up Corn Du in the snow in early February was the biggest single climb I did, while my “Exmoor Three Peaks” run totalled 3,300 ft, including Dunkery Beacon. Both impressive feats, but compared to a 2,800 ft climb over about four miles, they were small preparation. Especially after 18 miles of running. Simply put, the only thing that could have prepared me for climbing up Snowdon would have been climbing up Snowdon.

Would I like to go up Snowdon again sometime? Yes. Would I want to do it in a race? Maybe, but probably not. I run because I love running. Walking for four miles isn’t my idea of running. It was a great challenge etc etc, but at the end of the day, it wasn’t running. Would I do another race with over 5,500 ft of elevation? Sure. But it would need to be more spread out over the whole race, rather than concentrated on one big and one very, very big climb.

Marathon distance

I guess the biggest question is whether I would consider doing another marathon. Truth be told, I don’t know. The long runs were pretty tough on the family, and I really didn’t enjoy them that much. The race itself was hard, really hard. But then, I’ve heard it talked about as being the “toughest marathon in the United Kingdom”, so go figure. For the moment, I certainly want to focus on shorter distance stuff again. But… I do still have my deferred London Marathon place…

Hmmm…

Somerset (and surrounds) races in August 2018

Races and other running events in Somerset and surrounding area in August 2018.

This is a reference list of events we are aware of, not a list of recommendations. We have no affiliation with any event listed.

Races in Somerset and surrounds
  • 1st August – Haselbury Trail
    Crewkene Running Club’s 10k multi-terrain race around North Perrott, near Crewkerne
    Website
  • 4th August – Mendip Marauder
    Albion Running’s 30 mile and 50 mile multi-terrain races along the Mendip Way
    Website
  • 5th August – Totnes 10k
    Teignbridge Trotters’ 10 road race in Totnes
    Website
  • 7th August – Run Exe Summer 5k
    City Runs’ 5k road race in Exwick, Exeter
    Website
  • 8th August – Yeovilton Summer 5k Series
    Yeovil Town RRC’s road 5k in Yeovilton
    Website
  • 10th August – Forest Flyer
    Dawlish Coasters’ 5 mile multi-terrain race in Haldon Forest, near Exeter
    Website
  • 11th August – Summer Sessions (day 1)
    White Star Running’s multi-terrain 8 hour race near Dorchester
    Website
  • 12th August – Summer Sessions (day 2)
    White Star Running’s 5 mile and 10 mile multi-terrain races near Dorchester
    Website
  • 12th August – Salisbury 54321
    Half marathon, marathon and 10k multi-terrain races around Salisbury
    Website
  • 17th August – GWR Towpath Series Race 4
    Great Western Runners’ 10k towpath race from Ashton Gate, Bristol
    Website
  • 19th August – Two Tunnels 5k, 10k, half, marathon & 50k
    Relish Running Races’s tarmac 5k, 10k, half marathon, marathon and 50k races in Bath
    Website
  • 26th August – Battle of Sedgemoor 10k
    Langport Runners’ road 10k near Langport
    Website
  • 26th August – Severn Bridge Half Marathon & 10k
    Half marathon and 10k road races over the Severn bridge (on closed motorway)
    Website
  • 27th August – Baltonsborough Road Races
    5 mile road race and fun runs around Baltonsborough, near Glastonbury
    Website
South West parkrun anniversaries

Because parkrun birthdays mean celebration and cake

 

Know an event that we’ve missed? Comment below, or Tweet us!

Snowdonia Trail Marathon: race report

It’s difficult to know where to start with this one. So, as is traditional, I’ll try and start at the beginning.

Just under a year ago, in the middle of a good spell of training, I saw that one of the runners I follow on Strava had done the Snowdonia Trail Half Marathon. It looked amazing – 13.1 miles, 3,852 feet of elevation. It went over a mountain! The idea took hold quickly. But soon things escalated. I’d been looking for a trail marathon to do for a while. I wanted my first marathon to be off-road, and hilly; that way I couldn’t get too caught up in chasing a time. Also, once I thought about it, travelling all the way up to north Wales for a half marathon; one that was pretty similar to the Exmoor Stagger in many aspects (16 miles, 3,200 feet), seemed not really worth it. So obviously, rather than give up on the idea, I simply decided to run the marathon. And there it was; on Friday 28 July, I had signed up.

Six weeks later, a major spanner fell in the works when I sprained my ankle. Despite my initial hopes to be back up and running relatively soon, it dragged on. Then, in early October, more news: against all the odds, I’d got a London Marathon place. Wow. Suddenly, it looked like I was going from never having done a marathon, to a couple in three months.

In late October I started to run again – a mile here, a mile there. But it wasn’t really until December that I was doing much. Then, with Christmas and illnesses and whatnot, it was January. Various bugs meant that my training remained spotty. But, at the end of February, I made my return from racing. And I did it in typical fashion: a double-header. On Saturday, the Minehead Running Club “Hills to Coast” Relay. On Sunday, the Babcary 7.5.

On 12 March, I “started” my training. It was pretty ad hoc. After just two weeks, I was out of action for two weeks with a diarrhoea bug. Another couple of weeks of training and I had another bad bug, and missed another ten days. It’s fair to say that at this point, I didn’t really think a marathon was going to happen. I’d already deferred my London place; it was quickly obvious that wasn’t going to happen. But I was really starting to worry about Snowdonia too.

Despite all the issues though, I was still making progress. My long runs were getting longer: 13 miles, 14 miles, 17 miles?! (I blame Ron.) I went for a solo run around some of Exmoor’s highest peaks, totalling 19 miles and 3,300 feet. A few weeks later, after a couple of race weekends, I looped back, forth, and all around Center Parcs for 20 miles. By then I was pretty happy – even if I did no more running, I was confident that as long as I was fit and well, I’d be fine.

Which was handy, and I got ill, again. Another week and a bit of training gone.

I’ll start talking about the race now, I promise

Fast forward to race week. Suddenly, the logistics became real, and difficult. My daughter has been getting car sick lately, and a five hour car journey didn’t look too appealing. We created, then tore up plan after plan after plan. Eventually finishing with cancelling all our hotel rooms, and involving me driving up on my own on the Saturday, saying with my in-laws that night, and then driving back straight after the race. It looked like it wasn’t just going to be the race that would be brutal!

It’s a long old journey…

The drive up went pretty well – five and a quarter hours to Llanberis. Then another half an hour to find somewhere to park (this would have been easier if either [a] I had change or [b] North Wales joined the 21st century and allowed you to pay for parking by mobile phone.) It was then simple enough to walk into the race village and collect my number. Another twenty minute drive got me to the holiday cottage in Y Felinheli my in-laws were staying in. We went out for a lovely meal at the Torna a Surriento restaurant in Bangor that evening to allow me to ‘carb-load’. I’m not sure whether Carbonara really counts, but it was delicious, so who cares!

Okay, okay, the race

A relatively normal 6:30 alarm gave me plenty of time to have a large bowl of porridge, start filling myself with water, and get my kit ready before we left the cottage at 7:30 to head to the start. Rather than worry about parking again, my father-in-law kindly dropped me off – we arranged that he would keep an eye on the tracker, and hopefully work out roughly when I was due to finish. I guessed at something between 5 and a half and 6 hours to complete the race.

Having collected my number the afternoon before, I didn’t really have anything to do in the hour and ten minutes before the race. I took a few pictures – both for myself and others, and generally whiled away the time. Bizarrely, given that my main concern for the race was getting too hot in the sun, I also had to work on keeping warm. The sun was tucked away behind the clouds, and it was actually – for the first time in about a month – quite chilly.

An average view from the start/finish area

The Always Aim High event team were brilliant throughout the morning, given frequent updates on the mandatory kit list. They had loosened it slightly, removing the need for waterproofs or gloves – full-body cover was still needed (a long sleeve top and trousers/tights). Sadly, this made no difference for me, as the only full-body cover I had with me was my waterproofs, so I had to carry that anyway. A lesson for the future!

A race briefing was given at 8:45, detailing the cut offs, and some basic safety information – pretty generic stuff, but some good stuff. They asked runners not to use the drink station water to pour over themselves, as this would risk them running out, especially in some of the harder to reach locations.

This bit is actually the race now

Well, sort of.

Not only was this to be my first marathon, but also my first race with mandatory kit, my first mountain race, my first run with more than 5,000 feet of elevation (actually my previous most was 3,800), my first run further than 20 miles, and significantly my longest run time-wise.

I had two main concerns:

  1. Running that far.
  2. Fuelling myself.

You’d think that I was worried about the climb over Snowdon itself, and the elevation, but oddly, I wasn’t. I’d trained with a fair bit of elevation, and was fully expecting it to be a walk, so the difficulty of it had been diminished in my head. I wasn’t even too concerned about the distance. Again, I knew that Snowdon would be something of a walk anyway, so actually, I didn’t really think I would have a major problem completing the race from that respect.

Running in an anti-clockwise direction.

On the other hand, my food and drink situation was one that worried me a fair bit. I get quite significant headaches after a lot of my runs, which seems to be linked to my hydration and fuelling. This race was going to span lunch – in fact, a guide time of six hours from 9 am meant that it would actually be basically all day. I have never used gels in a race before, but had been experimenting with them during my long runs, and had no ill effects. I had also taken peanut butter and jam sandwiches out a couple of times, and found that this had worked well too. So, I made a rough plan for the marathon: 5 miles, gel; 10 miles, sandwich; 15 miles, gel; 20 miles sandwich; 23 miles gel.

My general race plan was to take it pretty easy early on: that initial small looking climb is still over 1,000 feet. So I figured that I would get over that without exerting too much energy, and then crack on along the descent and the flat section. And then, you know, the mountain. I’d basically try and survive the walk up that, and then see how my legs were for the big descent. Sorted. A plan.

The actual start of the actual race (Start to Rhyd-Ddu)

No, like, actually this time.

After the race briefing, we were called to line up at the start. It was all a little bit of a mess, and I didn’t really have a clue whether I was too far forward, too far back, or about right. I guessed I was a little bit too far back, and this was borne out by our start through the village. Heading right down Llanberis High Street, the crowd was going at slightly less than 9 minute miles. Not catastrophically slow, given that I wanted to take it easy to start, but still slower than I wanted. I was aware of a stile at around mile four which other blogs had described as a pinch-point, which long queues. While I wanted to take it relatively easy on the first climb, I also wanted to hit that stile far enough up the pack that I didn’t have to wait too long.

I can tell this is early – I had my cap on!

I continued to gradually pass people along the High Street, and then as we turned up the hill the crowd slowed to a walk. I jogged short sections when there was space, but was mostly happy to go with the group. I really didn’t see any point in killing my legs on this first climb. We continued to climb, first on what was mostly a proper road, becoming a decent, single road-width track, becoming a narrower track, becoming quite a gnarly path. I slotted in with a group of three runners at this stage, and let them dictate much of the pace for a while.

Our first peak was reached at about three and a half miles, and took me about 40 minutes. I say a peak – in reality we were running up a pass between the heights of Foel Goch (605 m) and Moel Cynghorion (674 m) to Bwlch Maesgym (467 m).

Cap off – looking a bit less kempt.

More ‘average’ views.

From Bwlch Maesgym, we dropped down towards the Snowdon Ranger Path, where we had a short queue for a stile. This was the first of the pair that I’d read so much about – I was thankful that I’d clearly got far enough forward that they weren’t too much of an issue. The half marathon route splits off to head up the Ranger Path, but the marathon and ultra runners continued on, down towards Rhyd-Ddu. But first, another stile and some pretty treacherous terrain. I was keeping a pretty decent pace up along this whole section (stiles aside). The downhill nature suited me, and the terrain was pretty friendly early on – soft grass with a few rocks around to avoid. But after we crossed the Ranger Path, we seemed to be in some sort of quarry, and there was a lot of loose shale-like terrain to deal with, and some seemingly artificial mounds to negotiate.

One of the many stiles to get over early on.

Rhyd-Ddu, just about 10k into the race, was the first drinks station. Having missed my first gel at five miles, I took it on here. I also had a big cup of water, and took the opportunity to refill my water bottle. The station was well-stocked with water, High5 Isotonic drink and High5 gels as well. This was also the first checkpoint for the live tracking, so the first time that those following my progress had any idea of how I was doing: 1:08:21, at an average pace of 11:13 per mile, apparently.

The ‘boring’ middle bit (Rhyd-Ddu to Beddgelert)

After the gorgeous first section, and ahead of Snowdon, the middle section was relatively dull by comparison. That’s not to say it was actually unattractive or boring – in any other race, it would have been lovely. It’s just that in this particular race…

Approaching Rhyd-Ddu, when I was still capable of looking like I was enjoying myself!

Heading out of the drinks station in Rhyd-Ddu, we went around Llyn y Gader (a lake) and followed the edge of Beddgelert Forest. The pace picked up; mile 8 was my quickest of the entire marathon (8:25), and most were quicker than 9 minute miles. The terrain was largely compacted gravel, and with less stop-start, it was easier to follow typical race tactics. Three of us ran much of this section together, our paces nicely matching, though we swapped lead of the group a few times.

Entering Beddgelert, we reached the second major feed station for the marathon. Again late for my food, I scoffed down my sandwich as we approached it, and then once again took on plenty of water and refilled my bottle. As I was waiting for my refill, I heard my name – it was fellow RFRC runner Matt Blee, who was doing the ultra. We had a quick chat; he let me know that he was ahead of Damon, but the two Andys from our club were just ahead. After a little confusion about which direction to head in to leave, I headed off once more, through the pretty little village. Beddgelert was very busy with tourists as the time approached 11 in the morning. 11 miles in 1:49:42, at an average pace of 9:58 per mile.

The end of the beginning. Or, the beginning of the end. (Beddgelert to Pen-y-Pass)

From Beddgelert, the race continued to be mostly flat until the approach the Pen-y-Pass. The scenery was very different to the earlier stages; despite the dry spell, we were surrounded by lush greenery. We were running up the Afon Glaslyn valley, and went passed a couple of lakes, Llyn Dinas and Llyn Gwynant. Shortly after Beddgelert was the lowest point of the race, around 50 metres. Other than a brief bump around Llyn Gwynant, we only gained about 50 metres over the next 10 kilometres. Despite this, the terrain slowed us down from about mile 14, as the path twisted and turned through the trees and rocks. There were quite a few scrambles up and down steep rock formations, and there were a fair few stiles again. A feed station around mile 15 reminded me to take a gel, and put me pretty much back on track.

Just more lovely scenery.

 

Just before mile 18, the climbing starts. It sort of caught me off-guard. I’d driven past the Pen-y-Pass car park on my way to Llanberis the day before, and I had wondered about how high it already was. Apparently, I never developed this thought to really work out that there would be a fair bit of climbing before the Pen-y-Pass feed station (and cut-off, though I was well ahead of that spectre). In fact, we had to climb about 250 metres just to get to Pen-y-Pass and the start of the Pyg Track. Mile 19 was that climb; the first of four miles of it. And it was one of the most significant; 756 feet (~250 metres) in one mile. Everyone slowed to a walk – one person joked that it was like something out of a war film, with everyone trudging along, snaking up the path as far as we could see. That didn’t make it any easier – we could see quite how much further up we had to go – just to get to Pen-y-Pass.

Up, and more up. And this is before even hitting the mountain proper.

It was a relief to reach Pen-y-Pass and refill my water, which had been getting pretty low. Sadly, with the trauma of the climbing, I forgot to have anything to eat – technically it was too early, but given how much I’d had to slow, I should have done anyway. Pen-y-Pass was the last checkpoint before the finish line; 19 miles, 3:33:29 at an average pace of 11:14 per mile.

Can I please just give up? (Snowdon ascent)

The Pyg Track is often described as the prettiest route up Snowdon. It is one of the more popular, as it is also the shortest (assuming you start in the car park, and not 19 miles previous in Llanberis…) It is not however, the easiest. According to walkupsnowdon.co.uk, it “can be steep and rocky in places”. Yes. Quite. No one was even remotely considering running, and we were frequently slowing right down to clamber up some of the trickier climbs. It was amazing, let me be clear about that. Had I not already run pretty much as far as I’d ever run before, I’d probably have loved it. As it was, I’d already been climbing for a mile, knew that I had a fair bit left, and was getting fed up. It didn’t help that I didn’t remember exactly how much I had left. I recalled that the summit was somewhere around either 22.5 or 23.5 miles in, but couldn’t remember which. So I couldn’t even console myself by counting down the distance.

Mile 20 took 24:19, followed by mile 21 in 20:12 – there were actually a few points during this mile when I was able to run! Well, sort of. My this stage I was really struggling with basically everything. My groin or quads (I couldn’t really pinpoint which) were struggling with the big steps needed at times, and my calves and hamstrings weren’t too happy either. I sat down for an actual break at about 19.8 miles, and then repeated this again at 20.6, 21.1 and 21.8 miles.

Tough going.

Frankly, my head was broken. I didn’t want to keep going. I’d already gone further than I’d ever been before, and the walking was really demoralising me. I’m a runner – I train to run, I like – heck, no – love to run. And yet, for a few miles, and for more yet, I was just walking. Trudging really, not really walking at all. If there had been a feasible way to stop, to give in, I’d have probably taken it. As it was, I was halfway up a mountain. I had to either walk back down, or walk the rest of the way up. I could hardly sit there and demand Mountain Rescue come and take me off the mountain. So, on I went.

The views though!

I kept on going. And going. And going. Thankfully, my estimates for the summit (well, where the Pyg Track meets the Llanberis Path, which is as far as we went) were off, and we actually got there at mile 22. There was a photographer near the top, and I’ve not included any of the photos – the backdrop is stunning, but I was… not. My efforts at a smile and thumbs up are quite amusing though! For the record, mile 22 included 983 feet of elevation, and it took me 30:58!

Down Snowdon back to Llanberis (to the finish)

Normally, I’d have gobbled up the downhill; it was rocky and fun. However, I had no legs left to work with, and very little energy. I knew by this point that I’d messed up my food, and although I’d tried to have a sandwich halfway up, I just manage it. I’d ran out of water on the climb, and the drink station wasn’t until a mile into the descent. But, importantly, I knew that having made the climb, I could definitely finish.

I once again made full use of the drinks station, having two cups of water, and refilling my water bottle up completely. I tried to then spur myself on down the hill, but truth be told, I just had nothing left. I ended up running with the half marathon sweeper for a fair while – I think he must have sensed my despair! We chatted for a little while about the race, and running in the area generally, before he stopped to talk to some marshals and I continued on. For about two and a half miles after the drinks station, we dropped down the Llanberis Path before it deposited us on the road. I was unusually happy to see the road, and the regularity it brought with it – my muscles were fed up with variable terrain.

Spurred on by a runner who passed me, I managed to put on a bit more speed down into Llanberis. Thankfully, I remembered from the blog posts I’d read that the course didn’t head straight to the finish, but took a right-hand turn to approach the finish from the other side. I assume this has something to do with traffic management, but even knowing it was coming, it was pretty hard to cope with being diverted away from the finish when you’d already run 26.2 miles! Still, a wiggle through some trees, and an annoying little climb, and then I was into the meadow next to the race village. And then into the finishing funnel – which went on bit longer than I would have liked!

Nearly, nearly, nearly there.

Then, finally, I rounded the corner, and could see the finish. Damon, who I discovered had been forced to drop out, was right by the finish, and I’ve rarely been happier to see a friendly face and have a high five towards the end of a race.

You know what, I don’t even remember what my finishing time was. It doesn’t really matter. It was a bloody difficult course. It was my first marathon. It went over a bloody mountain. I survived – physically, mentally (just about). But, for the record, it was 5:46:28, an average pace of 12:48 for the whole thing. Pen-y-Pass to the finish was an average of 16:20.

Looking more or less how I felt.

I think this is plenty long enough for the moment – I’ll post about my reflections on the race later in the week.

Piddle Wood Plod: race report

The Piddle Wood Plod is a race that I’ve wanted to do for a couple of years. But each year something else seemed to get in the way. In 2016, we were on holiday. Last year, it came the week after a string of three race weekends in a row. The physical toll of four races in four weeks didn’t really bother me. I just didn’t think that with a two-month-old son, I could push Lolly that far!!

To be honest, I didn’t really know how this race was likely to go. I ran the Crewkerne 10k the previous weekend, and did a midweek ‘race’ with Minehead RC which involved over 750 feet of climbing. On the other hand, I hadn’t done much else. Coming into race-day I’d only run 13.6 miles in the week to that point, and nothing at all Thursday, Friday, Saturday. Not great for marathon training, but a nice ‘taper’ for a 10k.

Although I hadn’t run the race before, I know the first and last part of the course pretty well, as it makes up part of the Herepath, which I have run reasonably often. I also had plenty of Strava data to examine, as plenty of my club-mates have run the race in previous years. I spent a little while examining their elevation and pace graphs to get a feel for the course. It is essentially a lollipop variant. About 1.5 miles out, then two, different loops, then the same 1.5 miles back. The first loop had a gentle climb, then a steep climb before a descent, while the second loop had a steep climb followed by a steady climb. Looking at the paces of my club-mates, all of whom are quicker than me, I noticed they’d all had to walk the steep climbs. I immediately decided that there was no point in even trying to run those parts. Race plan: complete.

Race day

The morning of the race was a little different to normal. With a relatively late 11 am start, and only being about four miles from home, we had time to go to junior parkrun as a family before we headed over to the race. Even after doing this, we made it to the race in plenty of time to get a good parking spot. I had a pretty relaxed pre-race: collect number, chat, get changed, gentle warm-up with Dom. As we gathered for the start, I initially stood a couple of metres back from the start, but soon took stock that there weren’t that many obviously quick runners around, and shuffled forwards.

As we launched off, a leading pack quickly emerged. I was controlling my pace, holding myself back from the danger of the too-quick start. A second pack soon formed behind me, though I could sense that some in the group wanted to go quicker. Who was I kidding, so did I – it was taking all my self-control not to. We turned off the road onto a narrow path through a field, and any thoughts of passing people were gone. I caught up with a runner who was obviously out of position, but just held pace behind him, happy for another excuse to not bomb off too quick. Once we were out of the field and over the road, I made my way past him, while at the same time a few from the pack eased past me. I wasn’t too concerned at this point – my focus remained on controlling my pace for the opening mile and a half, and then see how things went on the loops.

Despite my ‘controlled’ pace, I remained in touch with those around me. The leading pack had disappeared into the distance, but everyone else was very much in play. As the course got a bit more technical and a bit steeper, though still very runable, I started to ease back past people, and soon built up a gap. I’d hoped that Dom might come with me, and was worried that on my own I might soon be running a very lonely race. Thankfully, as I continued up the hill, a fluorescent racing vest came back into view. Josh, who’d done the 34-mile Dartmoor Discovery the weekend before, looked like he was struggling a bit.

I gradually closed in on Josh as we climbed the hill, though my effort was put into perspective as I was passed by another runner on the climb. When the route turned a sharp left, I knew it was the first of the short-sharp hills, and dropped straight into a walk. I’d far rather lose a few seconds to those around me than destroy my legs, particularly this early on. As it was, Caroline behind me had done the same, and I wasn’t losing much time on Josh ahead. Nearing the top, it started to level off, and I trotted back into a run. As the course dropped into a descent however, the tables turned. I followed the inov-8 mantra. Feet first. Head will follow. I passed both the runner who’d overtaken me (who was in a Taunton Deane Aquathlon vest, so in my head was dubbed ‘the triathlete’), and Josh. I expected Josh to come back past me as the route flattened out again, and I wasn’t disappointed. However, rather than him run on beyond me, I was able to use him to push a bit more, and we fell into stride.

In-step with Josh!

When we reached the start of the loop again, we were directed back up for the second loop, and I was buoyed by the call of ‘6th, 7th and 8th’ from the marshal. Although I’d have realised it had I considered, I was shocked to find I was so high in the field. The second lap bore much in common with the first; the triathlete was strong up the hill and went past, while I’d let Josh lead up the hill too, while I concentrated on conserving my energy with a walk up the steep start of the hill. As it levelled off, I kept pace behind Josh, and then he gallantly moved to the side to let me past at the top of the descent. I flung myself down the hill again, though just slightly slower than the first lap apparently! The triathlete, who I’d overtaken on the descent, came back past me on the flat, but I was slightly surprised to see Danny, from Minehead, not too far ahead. He’s far quicker than me on the flat, but on these off-road, hillier courses, I tend to be a bit closer to him.

Although I’d thought that Josh might come back at me on the flat, positions were more or less set from here, and in the end, my finish was pretty lonely, for a time of 43:50.

Post-race

The race was really well organised, and that didn’t finish at the end of the race. Thurlbear School PTA had provided an amazing array on the cake stand, and a barbecue too. The presentation was delayed somewhat, but I think this was a tactical ploy to give people more time to buy food! Unlike many races, where lots of people disappear quite soon after the race, it seemed like everyone was hanging around, so I’m guessing the PTA did pretty well out of it.

Loot!

Considering the race only cost £10 as an EA registered runner, the haul was pretty impressive: a plastic drinks bottle, a buff, a medal… and a bottle of cider! It’s no wonder this race always sells out – definitely one for my calendar again next year.