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.

Crewkerne 10k: race report

TL:DR summary: Not my best day.

I ran the Crewkerne 10k previously in both 2015 and 2017. A truly undulating road course that departs Crewkerne and visits the villages of Merriott and Hinton St George before finishing back in Crewkerne (a bit further in than the start!) In 2015, I found the hills really tough, while in 2017, I was far more at ease, but a bit off the pace still after the birth of our second child.

This year, I looked on this as one of my favourite routes. The hills were rolling, but no individual hill is too bad, and I felt that it played to my strengths: achievable climbs and fun descents. On the day though, nothing really felt right. I woke up feeling overtired (a theme all week – possibly my 19.3 mile, 3,500 ft long run last Sunday was still working its way out of my system). I got to Crewkerne and found the warm-up tough. It was pretty warm – not so crazy hot as the London Marathoners had it this year, but plenty hot enough. According to Garmin, it was 13.9°C in both 2015 and 2017, while this year it reckoned 20°C.

Now that I’ve got all my excuses lined up early, let’s cut to the crux of the matter. I started too fast. A fair bit too fast. I had looked at my splits from last year, reckoning that I was in similar shape (not thinking about the heat), and had seen that the first couple of miles came in just under seven-minute miles. Forgetting that the fact that the first mile has a climb followed by a long descent would mean that my time would improve throughout that mile, I pushed myself too hard around half a mile in to up my pace. My attempt to aim for a 6:55 mile resulted in a 6:40 mile. Sigh.

Unfortunately, this error was compounded by the fact that I didn’t even notice I’d done it. By the time I glanced down at my watch after passing the mile, it was showing a time in the early seven minutes, and I assumed I’d clocked through at about what I’d expected. A 6:40 pace might not sound too extreme, but Strava made it a 6:10 grade-adjusted pace, which definitely wasn’t going to be sustainable. My second mile of 6:57 was much closer to what I should have been running, but felt awful, as runners seemed to stream past me.

I set four Strava segment PRs during this race, despite being slower than last year. Three of them were within the first four kilometres of the race. I was a little surprised to find that one of these segment records came during the climb through Merriott. On reflection I guess it makes sense – both times previously, I’d felt like I was cruising this section, whereas this year it felt like a slog. I’d assumed it was because I was struggling, but in fact, it looks like it was because I was going too fast and pushing myself too hard.

By mile four, my pace was definitely taking a downturn though. I was really suffering from the heat. I’d trialled running with a cap to protect against the sun, and although it was working well from that point of view, it was just a normal cap, rather than a running one, and it was too thick. I eventually (around mile 5) gave up and took it off, but the damage was done by then. Matt Powell from Burnham (@no1mattpowell) was chasing me down, and although I managed to keep him behind for a time, I crashed on the final hill climb and had to walk, letting him through. Looking now, he had a brilliant finish anyway, so it seems unlikely I’d managed to stick with him even if I hadn’t been forced to walk.

Great honeymoon souvenir. Sub-standard running cap.

Somehow, I managed to set a PR on the “One Last Push” segment near the end of the race, but it didn’t really reflect how I was doing at that stage. I managed to sneak in sub-45, timed as 44:44 by my Garmin, 40 seconds slower than last year.

Next up, next weekend, is the Piddle Wood Plod 10k.

Somerset (and surrounds) races in July 2018

Races and other running events in Somerset and surrounding area in July 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 July – Quantock Beast
    Quantock Harriers’ 5.7 mile multi terrain race around Fyne Court, Broomfield
    Website
  • 1st July – Bristol Race for Life 5k & 10k
    Cancer Research UK’s 5k and 10k multi-terrain charity runs in The Downs, Bristol
    Website (5k), Website (10k)
  • 3rd July – Summer sunset 5 mile
    Aspire Running Events’ 5 mile multi-terrain race in Corston, Bath (event 2)
    Website
  • 3rd July – Run Exe Summer 5k
    City Runs’ 5k road race in Exwick, Exeter
    Part of the Run Exe Summer Series
    Website
  • 6th July – GWR Towpath Series Race 3
    Great Western Runners’ 10k towpath race from Ashton Gate, Bristol
    Website
  • 7th July – Ham & Lyme 100k/50k
    Albion Running’s 100k and 50k multi-terrain races between Ham Hill Country Park, Somerset and Lyme Regis, Dorset
    Website
  • 7th July – Cider Frolic
    White Star Running’s solo or team marathon (6km segments) in Blandford Forum, Dorset
    Website
  • 8th July – Two Tunnels 5k, 10k & half
    Relish Running Races’s tarmac 5k, 10k and half marathon races in Bath
    Website
  • 8th July – Bath Race for Life 5k & 10k
    Cancer Research UK’s 5k and 10k multi-terrain charity runs in Bath
    Website (5k), Website (10k)
  • 11th July – Yeovilton Summer 5k Series
    Yeovil Town RRC’s road 5k in Yeovilton
    Website
  • 15th July – Frome Half Marathon (& 5k & 10k)
    Half marathon, 5k and 10k road races in Frome
    Website
  • 15th July – Taunton Race for Life 5k
    Cancer Research UK’s 5k multi-terrain charity run in Taunton
    Website
  • 21st July – Bath Running Festival Omnium
    Relish Running Races’ combined sprint, obstacle, middle distance and endurance challenge in Bath
    Website
  • 21st July – Exeter Pretty Muddy 5k
    Cancer Research UK’s 5k obstacle run in Exeter
    Website
  • 22nd July – Brean Down Challenge 5k/10k
    Aspire Running Events’ 5k and 10k multi-terrain races up Brean Down
    Website
  • 22nd July – Bath Running Festival trail races
    Relish Running Races’ 5k, 10k, half marathon and marathon multi-terrain races
    Website
  • 22nd July – Dalwood 10kish
    Roughly 10k multi-terrain run around Dalwood, Axminster, Devon
    Website
  • 22nd July – Exeter Race for Life 5k & 10k
    Cancer Research UK’s 5k and 10k multi-terrain charity runs in Exeter
    Website (5k), Website (10k)
  • 27th July – Kennet & Avon Canal 145 mile race
    Non-stop tow path race from Bristol to London
    Website
  • 28th July – Dorset Invader marathon
    White Star running’s multi-terrain marathon race in Blandford Forum, Dorset
    Website
  • 29th July – Seaview 17
    Minehead Running Club’s coast path run to Minehead
    Website
  • 29th July – Dorset Invader half marathon
    White Star running’s multi-terrain half marathon race in Blandford Forum, Dorset
    Website
South West parkrun anniversaries

Because parkrun birthdays mean celebration and cake

  • 28th July
    Blandford, 4th birthday (Website)
    Stonehouse, 2nd birthday (Website)

 

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

parkrun tourism: Lanhydrock parkrun

When someone asks ‘Which parkrun is the prettiest / most scenic?’, Lanhydrock parkrun is invariably listed among the responses. It’s also a common reply to ‘Which parkrun is the toughest?’ Both of these seemed like good recommendations to me. In fact, Lanhydrock is probably the parkrun we’ve wanted to visit the most for almost as long as we’ve been touring.

I honestly have no idea if we could see this from the route…

We certainly had the weather for it – a gloriously sunny early May bank holiday weekend. We travelled down on Friday evening to stay in a holiday cottage on Bodmin Moor – a convenient 20 minute drive from Lanhydrock. Being National Trust members, we didn’t have to pay for parking, but I don’t think it’s too silly at £1 for an hour or £3 all day.

After the usual toilet stops on arrival, we made our way into the House grounds to find the start. It’s a bit of a walk from the car park to the start, so it’s certainly not a run I’d want to be running late for! As it was, even bimbling along we were there at about 8:45 – plenty of time. A brief course description in the new runners briefing was following by the standard briefing at the start line, and then we were off!

Gathering at the start.

And boy, were we off! A road downhill start meant that when I glanced at my watch about a quarter of a mile in, I was averaging about a 5:20/mile pace. Not sustainable! Despite the promise that the 1.5 miles were downhill (and the next 1.5 miles uphill), we hit a short incline after that first quarter of a mile, and things got a bit more sensible. For a little bit anyway. Well, until we hit the next downhill…

The course is well advertised as being ‘downhill for the first half, then uphill for the second half’. I was happy with this – I could take it easy early on, and then half plenty left in the tank for the climbing later. Unfortunately, an off-road descent is far too tempting for me to ‘take it easy’. My pace eased up: 7:00/mile, 6:10/mile, 5:03/mile, 4:31/mile(!). I was flying past people – and was also pretty certain that I was going to be pretty embarrassed later when they all came back past me again. Allegedly, this downhill was in a gorgeous wood with bluebells, but I’ll be completely honest and say that I was only watching my feet and the runners around me!

The course kicks back gently uphill for a short while before the end of the first mile, and then is mostly flat, with a slight drop for the next three-quarters of a mile, as it loops along the River Fowey. And then the climbing starts. We’d dropped about 300 ft from the start line to the river, and most of that needed to be made back up again. (Lanhydrock is actually a net downhill course, as the start line is uphill from the finish line. It doesn’t feel it.)

The uphills definitely lived up to their billing. A gentle initial climb gets harder when the course turns up along ‘The Avenue’, one of the driveways up to the house. Some respite (though it isn’t flat) is provided as you cut diagonally across a field, but the subsequent scramble up through the woods more than makes up for it. I dropped down to a walk for a while, and was far from the only one to do so – in fact I was still making up ground on those around me while doing so. The course returns to the garden drives with a short bit of climbing to do, before the final push downhill to finish.

Done.

I measured the course slightly short (4.88 km), but the twisting and turning through the woods was probably not tracked properly by GPS. It would be an odd course to be short, given they have the flexibility to move both the start and the finish.

It was refreshing to run a one-lap course; the last parkrun I ran that was a single lap was Moors Valley back in July. Of course, for my parents and the children spectating, it was less ideal! The route was nice and varied, and allegedly very scenic, though as I mentioned earlier, I don’t appear to have noticed. (Lolly took a bit longer than me, and reassures me that it was, in fact, very pretty.)

After the run, it was off to the Stables Cafe for breakfast, our daughter’s favourite part of parkrun tourism!

Somerset (and surrounds) races in June 2018

Races and other running events in Somerset and surrounding area in June 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
  • 2nd June – Rainbow Run Bristol
    Children’s Hospice South West’s 5k colour run at Blaise Castle, Bristol
    Website
  • 3rd June – Crewkerne 10k
    Crewkerne Running Club’s 10k road race in Crewkerne
    Part of the Somerset Series
    Website, Blog posts from 2015 and 2017
  • 3rd June – Run the River 7.5k/15k
    Aspire Running Events’ 7.5k and 15k multi terrain races in Corston, Bath
    Website
  • 5th June – Run Exe Summer 5k
    City Runs’ 5k road race in Exwick, Exeter
    Part of the Run Exe Summer Series
    Website
  • 9th June – Rainbow Run Exeter
    Children’s Hospice South West’s 5k colour run at Westpoint, Exeter
    Website
  • 10th June – The Piddle Wood Plod
    Hydro Harriers’ 10k multi terrain race in the Piddle Wood, Taunton
    Part of the Somerset Series
    Facebook page
  • 10th June – Chew Valley 10k
    10k road race in Chew Valley
    Website, Blog post from 2014
  • 10th June – Yeovil Marathon & Heron Half Marathon
    Yeovil Town Road Running Club’s marathon and half marathon road races in Yeovil
    Website
  • 13th June – Yeovilton 5k
    Yeovil Town Road Running Club’s 5k road race in Yeovilton
    Part of the Yeovilton 5k summer series
    Website
  • 15th June – Run Exe Relays
    City Runs’ 4 x 4k team relay at Exwick Playing Fields, Exeter
    Website
  • 16th June – The Maverick inov-8 X Series Exmoor
    Maverick’s 15k, 21k and 42k multi-terrain races from Lynton, Devon
    Website
  • 16th June – The Conquest of Avalon
    Albion Runnings’ 30 mile and 10 mile multi-terrain races
    Website
  • 17th June – Martock 10k
    Immortal Sport’s 10k road race in Martock
    Website
  • 17th June – Race for Life Yeovil 5k
    Cancer Research UK’s 5k multi-terrain run in Yeovil
    Website
  • 19th June – Summer sunset 5 mile
    Aspire Running Events’ 5 mile multi-terrain race in Corston, Bath
    Website
  • 20th June – Race for Life Weston-Super-Mare 5k
    Cancer Research UK’s 5k multi-terrain (including beach!) run in Weston-super-Mare
    Website
  • 23rd June – Cheddar Gorge Challenge Omnium
    Relish Running Races’ combined sprint, hill climb, middle distance and endurance challenge in Cheddar Gorge
    Website
  • 24th June – Cheddar Gorge Challenge
    Relish Running Races’ 6k, 10k, half marathon and marathon multi-terrain races in Cheddar Gorge
    Website
  • 23rd June – Giants Head Marathon & Sydling Hill Race 10k
    White Star Running’s hilly, multi-terrain marathon and 10k races in Sydling St Nicholas, Dorset
    Website
  • 24th June – Torbay Half Marathon
    Half marathon road race in Torbay
    Website
  • 30th June – Race for Life Bristol Pretty Muddy 5k
    Cancer Research UK’s muddy obstacle 5k run in Bristol
    Website
South West parkrun anniversaries

Because parkrun birthdays mean celebration and cake

 

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

Isle of Man Easter Festival of Running 10k (2018): race report

Surprise! A race report that’s not from Ben. Well, not much of a surprise if you read Ben’s training update a few weeks ago, but still. It’s a bit of an understatement to say I haven’t been racing lately. My last race was in fact the Stoke Stampede, way back in December 2015. Rest assured, though, that not everything has changed. I mean, it’s taken me the best part of 4 weeks to write this one up.

I picked the Isle of Man Easter Festival of Running to be my race return way back near the start of 2017, while still pregnant. I’d never run it before (although Ben had in both 2014 and 2015), the route is right near my parents’ house, and the timing worked at just under a year after my due date. While I entered other races (although ultimately gave up my place for both), this was always my target.

The question being, then, what was my target? The first, and most important, target that I set myself was to finish the race with a smile on my face. I’d love to say I was happy to leave it at that, but like many runners I wanted a time goal. The obvious goal was to beat my time from the British 10k, which was my first post-natal race last time round. But my dream was to under an hour.

A month before the race, I headed to Burnham and Highbridge parkrun for a benchmark 5k. Clinging to my dream, despite all my training indicating I wasn’t fast enough, to me sub-30 was crucial. I crossed the line in 28:44.

But then it all went wrong. Between low energy levels (I’ve been on and off iron tablets for anaemia) and bad weather (snow in Taunton? seriously?) my next run wasn’t until 3 weeks later at Minehead parkrun. By the time I made it to the Isle of Man my confidence was low. And by the morning of the race (which is in the evening) I was also tired and unsure if I’d even take part.

Getting race kit ready

What does race kit look like again?

Happily for this post, I did indeed decide to take part. Ben walked me down to by the start, where the feeling of being part of a race instead of on the sidelines felt surreal. After the customary queue for the ladies loos, I had a chat to a few people before handing Ben my outer layers. The atmosphere at the start was great, which helped relieve a few nerves.

I’d mentally broken the race down into 5 parts: Port Erin, connecting roads, coast, climbing and home stretch. The course starts by heading out and then all the way back along the prom, before climbing up to the upper prom and through the village. I’d practised this section a few days before and was pleasantly surprised how much quicker it seemed to go with other runners and a supportive crowd.

Turning at the end of Station Road

Ah yes, this is how races work

Despite vaguely targeting my British 10k time, I decided to only look at my watch at each mile beep. Having felt run down earlier in the day, I was wary of pushing myself too hard. Mile 1’s pace of 9:42 was not only significantly faster than expected, it was only fractionally slower than 1 hour pace. Not great for my chances of thinking straight about my fitness levels!

Heading out of Port Erin, I started the section I’d written off as ‘filler’ miles. Once actually running, though, I realised how I would normally go out of my way to run along ‘country’ roads like these. (Ok, it’s technically an A road, but it was still nice). Around this point I found myself running near someone else with Tikiboo leggings, which was a nice extra focus. My watch beeped to tell me that mile 2 had been almost identical to mile 1.

I took the turn onto what can definitely be described as a country road, and started to get excited. As well as being a generally nice road to run on, glimpses of the sea started to appear. Yes, the race had started by the sea in Port Erin, but this was the bit I was really looking forward to.

As I crossed over to the pavement by the sea, I told myself to just enjoy the views. I’m kind of surprised I didn’t get a cricked neck from all the time I spent looking to the left. The weather was just perfect for lighting up the coastline. The route continues along the coast path as it splits from the road, and shortly after this was the 5k clock. I passed this at somewhere around 29:40; my second fastest 5k of the year and on a much tougher course. The only niggle being that I had another 5k to go. With a teeny tiny hill.

Running by the sea

I remember! You have to hop!

Happily, before that hill was more coast path. And a drinks station. More neck cricking commenced, as I ran past Port St May beach. The metal bridge-path known as The Catwalk followed. Perhaps strangely, this is one of my favourite places to run. Whether it was fatigue or simply enjoying the view, my pace for mile 4 had slipped. With the climb up still to come, there was realistically no chance that I would finish in under an hour. This realisation actually calmed the last nerves I had and steadied me for the effort.

The climb up through Port St Mary and out the other side lasts for just under a mile. To start with, the incline is reasonably gradual, as the route follows the high street. I was definitely starting to get tired, but kept plodding along. The turn off onto the back road to Port Erin brings the steepest part of the climb. It’s a section of road I know well, and an early decision to walk the very top as it rounded the corner was probably the only reason I kept running until then.

With the bulk of ascent completed, it was time to settle into a tired rhythm. The beep for 5 miles brought with it a new determination. My pace for the mile had been 10:50, but my overall pace was still just around 10 minute/miles. New race goal set.

At the perfect time for a motivation boost, my family were just along the road. A power-up high five from my daughter (a junior parkrun staple) set me nicely on my way to the end of the road. Turning the corner it all went downhill. Literally. Which is pretty nice 5 and a half miles into a 10k. Sadly I’m not all that confident at letting momentum take control of my running, but I managed to let go a little.

Back on the prom things were a bit chaotic. Nice evening weather on a bank holiday weekend had brought a fair few people out. And faster runners (which, let’s face it, most of the field were compared to me) were running up and down the road on cool downs. It was a bit of an obstacle course trying to get through.

Passing the start, there was just a small incline before the finish was in sight. I’d promised myself that I’d push for a fast finish even if no one was in sight. As it happens, I managed an overtake just before the end. The perfect finish to a very enjoyable and well organised race.

Good Friday 2017 photo

Good Friday 2017

Good Friday 2018 photo

Good Friday 2018

For the vast majority of us, running is all about personal achievement. And so in that spirit, I present my 10k time of 1:01:34 (9:54 min/mile). My personal best 10k as a mum-of-two, and my personal best returning-to-racing 10k.

And I finished the race with a smile on my face.

Snowdonia Trail Marathon: Weeks 3 and 4

“The key to improvement is consistency. Much more than any fancy training schedule featuring interval training, tempo runs or hill repeats. Just run day after day, week after week, year after year at a level where you never become injured.”

Hal Higdon

Sadly, I think Hal probably knows a thing or too about this running malarkey. These two weeks have been anything but consistent. After weeks one and two, in which I was little below my target mileages at 26.1 and 29.9 miles respectively, I was hoping to use my week off in week three to really push on.

Short version

It didn’t happen.

Long version

We flew over to the Isle of Man to visit Lolly’s parents on Monday afternoon, and I was planning a couple of midweek coastal path runs before taking part in the Easter Festival of Running at the weekend. Unfortunately, after not managing much dinner on Monday evening, I had a fever overnight, and then some stomach issues and diarrhoea through until Thursday. So, a whole load of training miles missed. Although I was feeling much better on Friday, I was still pretty weak, and so had to miss the 10k race that evening too. (More on that race in a blog post coming soon from Lolly though.)

My 2015 Peel Hill Race beanie that I never ‘earned’.

On Saturday morning, I reckoned I was feeling up to giving Nobles parkrun a go. Lolly was going anyway, and I figured that I could easily drop out early if I wasn’t as ready for running as I thought. A relatively gentle run of 23:41 was managed without any issues, and I started to ponder the very real possibility of actually being able to run the Peel Hill race. I’d signed up for the race back in 2015, and then not actually raced, as I was concerned about a knee injury. (Although, I did run the 10k that year.) Despite not racing, I still collected my beanie at registration, and have worn it frequently since, something that has always felt a bit odd.

So, it felt like closure when I finally made the decision that I was well enough to race. The race is short and sharp. Very sharp. Despite being just 3.5 miles, the race climbs 691 feet. Starting more or less at sea level, the race goes up the hill, reaching the 475-foot peak at about 1.25 miles. The women’s race turns around at that point, but the men head back down the other side to add another climb. A 1.25-mile downhill sprint to the finish then ensues. This would normally be totally my thing, but unfortunately I was suffering from some kidney pain, and couldn’t really push myself at all. I lost a few places, but managed not to drop off the pace too much, to finish in 29:42.

Photo by Dave Kneen

On Sunday, feeling much better, I headed out along the coastal path for 10 brutal, but gorgeous miles. I clocked up just over 2,100 feet of climbing which, alongside the previous day’s race, destroyed my quads. The route climbed initially to Lhiattee ny Beinnee, which peaks at 988 feet, before dropping all the way back down to sea level at Fleshwick Bay. Before climbing all the way back up to 764 feet for the top of Bradda Hill. And what a climb that is! I was really happy, with both getting a pretty decent long run in, and getting out in the stunning scenery.

Beautiful. Hilly.

The weekend recovered my weekly mileage to 16.7 miles. It could have been a lot worse, and I was looking forward to kicking back on in week four.

Short version

It didn’t happen.

Long version

I got ill, again, and struggled to even make it to work each day. The evenings, rather than consisting of running, involved a nap straight after work, followed by the essentials of sorting the children out, making dinner and preparing for the morning, and then bed, as soon as possible. I was feeling better towards the end of the week, but we travelled down to Cornwall for my brother’s wedding, and I still wasn’t well enough to have energy enough for both the wedding and running!

Hopefully, week five is going to be better…

Snowdonia Trail Marathon: Week 2

After a pretty positive week one, despite not hitting 30 miles, I was looking forward to getting some more miles under my belt in week two. The P&D plan introduced some strides into a general aerobic run on the Tuesday, before a midweek 10 miler on Thursday. With my lower mileages at the moment, the latter was never going to happen, but I was keen to try and incorporate the strides into my running.

Tuesday: 7-ish planned. 0 completed.

As Lolly was travelling away with work, and would be away Tuesday and Wednesday evening, I had to either run early Tuesday morning, or fit my run into my workday. I chose the latter: I planned something like a seven mile route based around Brean Down, which I could do after my first job in Weston-super-Mare. Unfortunately, I ended up coming straight home after that job, as we got a call from nursery to say that our little boy had to see a doctor. As it turned out, he was fine, and went back to nursery that afternoon. But my planned run had been ruined.

At this point, I got into my own head. It was still only 13:00. I could easily fit in a run; more or less any run I wanted. I didn’t have to pick the children up from nursery until 17:30. But for some reason, I just couldn’t quite get myself out the door. After my planned route, I decided that anything from home would be too boring. Fine – that shouldn’t be a problem, a 15-20 minute drive can get me to some gorgeous places. But no. Alas, I couldn’t get over myself, and I didn’t run at all.

Wednesday: Tuesday’s run (8 miles)

It’s not trail running, but it’s still scenic enough.

Not running on Tuesday put a lot of pressure on me for Wednesday. If I didn’t manage to get out for a run, then it was unlikely I was going to be able to match the previous week’s mileage, and my main aim, for the first four weeks of the plan, was consistency. Thankfully, I managed to finish work around three, and had none of the previous day’s head issues. I got home, changed and went straight back out for a run along some of the roads at the base of the Quantocks. The route was loosely based on a reverse part of The Humdinger course. Although it was road mileage, it was pretty lumpy and, with the snow around, simply pretty. I averaged just slower than 8:30 per mile, which I was pretty happy with, considering the terrain, and that I wasn’t pushing myself.

Thursday: Getting out on the river (5 miles)

There’s a huge cliche about the first light evening runs, but they are genuinely so uplifting. I managed to use the last bit of light to start my run along the river, before ducking off around some residential estates to get back home. Like the previous day, I was pleased with the pace given that I never really pushed myself. It was a pretty modest 8:12 per mile average, but after so much time on the trails, I’ve got used to paces in the 9s, 10s and even slower. As I mention above, my focus at the moment is on consistent running; getting the miles done week after week, and building to a decent platform. Once at that platform, I’ll switch my focus more to pace. Trying to build mileage and pace at the same time is just a recipe for injury.

Saturday: Longrun Meadow parkrun (5 miles inc run there and home)

Splash splash.

It’s been ages since I’ve run at Longrun Meadow. Over three months in fact. The underfoot conditions were pretty bad, though far from the worse that I’ve run in there. As I was racing the next day, I was intending a relatively gentle run, though ended up going a bit quicker than expected as I ran with a mate. It was good to be back and to socialise with a few people I hadn’t seen for a while. It’s also a pretty (mentally) easy way to get five miles in.

I’ve got out of the habit of parkrun – partly because I was injured for so long, partly because when I was training before it didn’t fit in very well, and partly because I have given Lolly priority for parkruns lately. It’s a habit I’d like to get back into, even if I can’t make it every week these days. I ran 38 parkruns in 2014, 20 in 2015, 36 in 2016 and 18 in 2017. Based on these numbers, I’m due for 34 this year, though that seems unlikely so far!

Sunday: Race day (11.5 miles total)

Climbing through Butleigh Wood.

For a full race report, see my previous post. While the race was important to me, namely for Somerset Series points, I also needed to make sure to top my mileage for the day up to 10 or 11 miles. A one mile warm-up was followed by the Butleigh 10k. The race went pretty well; I was more or less where I expected to be, though I’d have liked to be 30 seconds to a minute quicker. (Always).

Race done, I caught my breath and chatted for a while, before switching from my race vest into a t-shirt, and my trail shoes into road shoes, and then headed off for another four miles. I opted for a simple two miles out, two miles back route, rather than trying anything fancy and getting lost! I found the miles came surprisingly easy, and although I was a bit bored of the flat roads by the end, it was a pretty nice end to a higher mileage day.

Weekly summary: 4 runs, 29.9 miles

So, yeah… If I’d known I was that close to 30 miles, I’d have cleared tacked another 0.1 miles onto my run. But never mind. Overall I’m happy with what I got done this week. I struggled early on, but in the end, I built the mileage nicely from last week, and the race went about as well as I could realistically expect given the current focus of my training. It’d be nice to get out on the trails a bit more, but sometimes life just gets in the way. More races are due to follow next week, with the Isle of Man Easter Festival of Running; a 10k on Good Friday and then a 3.5 mile hill race on the Saturday.

Butleigh MT 10k: race report

It was the second year in a row running the Butleigh MT 10k for me. Last year’s race summary ended up in my catch-up post in July.

My focus over the past few weeks has very much been looking towards Snowdonia in July. The nature of my training plan means that at the moment I have been adding on distance, rather than looking at any serious speed stuff. While this is absolutely the right approach (I’ll discuss this more in my weekly summary) it does have a slight detrimental affect on my racing at the moment. (If you’ve read enough of these, you’ll know that I like to get my excuses in early.)

As is the case with a lot of the Somerset Series races, Butleigh has a relatively small field, and I wasn’t worried about it selling out, so left it until the day to enter. Even on the day, it was a very reasonable £12. A few of the Somerset Series regulars were missing, possibly because of the Yeovil Half Marathon, which clashed with the race. It was though nice to see Matt Powell, my old sparring partner, back racing again. Well, it was at first.

A gorgeous backdrop that I was entirely unaware of.

We headed over to the start, which was the same as last year, a zig-zag through a field and then out over a bridge. I was chatting to Matt for a little bit as we went around the field – mostly commenting that as his pockets were jangling with some change that he’d forgotten to leave behind, I’d avoid running with him. As it turned out, I didn’t have much of a choice.

Climbing up the first, small hill, Matt passed me and soon opened up something in the region of a 20-metre gap pretty quickly. I dug in to hold it at that as we came onto the first road stretch, just over half a mile, before we turned into the field that had been so horrendous last year. The conditions were definitely better this year, though it was still tough going. Once across the field, we turned into a copse that ran alongside the road. The terrain through this section was fun and technical, though I hadn’t remembered quite what a climb it still was!

When we dropped down the next field, I had hoped to make some headway on those ahead of me on the descent, but no such luck. Or rather, no sudden discovery of previously untapped pace. Back on the road for a short stretch, and then we turned right to head through Butleigh Wood. Or, more properly, the third hill, which feels like it goes on, and on, and on. I made headway up the hill – passing one of the two red-topped runners ahead of me. The pair had been my targets for a while, and I was relatively confident of passing them both before the end.

Climbing through Butleigh Wood.

Coming down the other side, my downhill speed finally seemed to reap some benefit, and I closed right up to the next redshirt.  I remained right on his heels as we dodged the badger holes on the narrow path. I was just behind him through the last bit of field, before we headed back onto the road. Unfortunately, he then started to push away from me again. Or I dropped away from him, I’m not entirely sure which.

So close, and yet so far… After closing in, the redshirt opened the gap back up again at the end.

The bad news (or my bad finish) continued. The second redshirt put on a pretty impressive finish, and passed me just before we entered the playing fields at the finish. Another runner, from Wells City Harriers, also caught up to me during the lap of the football pitch. This time though, I was able to put on a sprint of my own. I had hoped that an initial push would see him off, but he kept coming, so I had to kick again all the way to the line.

Fast finishes aren’t pretty.

I finished in 48:36; thirty-five seconds slower than last year. Most of that was lost in mile two, though I benefited from not getting caught at the road crossing this year. As ever, comparisons aren’t worth too much – the conditions were better than last year, but my training has been anything but. Onward and upward.

Next race(s): Isle of Man Easter Festival of Running 10k (Good Friday) and Peel Hill Race (Holy Saturday)

Snowdonia Trail Marathon: Week 1

Oh heck.

On 15 July 2018, I’m planning on running my first marathon. And because I’m some sort of an idiot, I decided that a good introduction to 26.2 would be off-road. And involve a mountain.

As usual, I plan to keep track of my training on this blog. I’ve found it useful before to jot down what I’m doing. It keeps me accountable, and helps focus my mind on what my training is achieving. So, some background information to start. My preparation for this training cycle hasn’t been ideal; I’m still trying to get consistent mileage after my ankle injury way back in September. I initially planned to follow the P&D ‘Advanced Marathoning’ low-mileage plan, but it seems too much mileage for me. So at the moment, the plan is to spend four weeks figuring out where I’m at. Which leads me onto my first run…

Monday: 5k time-trial (4.5 miles total)

The P&D plan involved running a lactate threshold on the Tuesday, with the hard section at half marathon pace. But I realised that I had no idea what my current half marathon pace even is. My only fast efforts recently have been the Hills to Coast Relay and the Babcary 7.5, neither of which were really suitable for gauging my true pace. So I decided to make use of our club’s time on the running track to do just that. After a mile warm-up, I launched myself into twelve and a half gruelling laps of the track.

It was possibly the toughest workout I’ve ever done. Don’t get me wrong – I love track sessions. And I’m more than happy to run them on my own. But twelve and a half laps of push, push, push. It’s hard. I used 20 minutes as my benchmark. For the first kilometre, I came in just under; 3:54. But my pace dropped off after that, and it was a constant battle not to drop too far off the pace. The second kilometre (two and half more laps) was 4:09, and already I was behind the target. I had to remind myself that I knew that I wasn’t capable of 20 minutes right now, it was just to give me a guide pace. In the third kilometre I lost a bit more time, but managed to steady things in the fourth, clocking 4:18 for both. I maintained a similar pace for the next 500 metres, but a kick over the last half lap pulled me up to a 4:03 final kilometre, and 20:38 for the 5k.

More importantly, it gives me a figure to plug into the pace calculator to work out some race and training paces.

Tuesday: Massage

It’d been a while since my last massage with Ian, and I was a bit worried about some Achilles soreness that I’d suffered from over the past couple of weeks. A good, if painful, rub down of my calf muscles, and all sorts of tinkering with my ankles, and Ian declared that my Achilles were good to go. No swelling, no significant tightness. Good news!

Wednesday: Varied 7 miles

I was staying away from home with work on Wednesday night, and had originally planned to just plod around the roads near the hotel. Unfortunately, I discovered that my hotel was essentially a service station motel, and near the friendliest of roads for running. Thankfully, I discovered that it also happened to be on the edge of the New Forest, and hatched plan B. A short drive on from the hotel, and I parked in a random National Trust car park. (Less a car park and more just a flat, clear bit of land with a National Trust sign, really.)

I had no real plan for my run, other than, well… run around. I headed up the footpath out of the car park… and was immediately met by a “No Public Access” sign. Not ideal. Still, I had the OS Map app, and so swung off to my right, across some pretty boggy grass until I hit a footpath. I followed this until it reached the A36, doubled all the way back, and then headed down the small road I was parked on. Away from my car (intentionally). This eventually led me to Stagbury Hill, a nice little climb, before I looped back to the car, adding on a bit more distance along the road to round it up to a tidy 7 miles.

Saturday: Long run (11 miles)

Long runs are always difficult to fit into family life, and as I extend the distance for marathon training, that will only get worse. I’m looking for ways to integrate these runs into the weekend as much as possible. This week, I suggested that as Lolly didn’t want to run Longrun Meadow parkrun in the wet, she could visit Minehead parkrun, and I could do a long run from there, meeting them at Torre Cider Farm. This turned out to be a fortuitous decision. Given the “Mini Beast from the East” which struck over the weekend, we both got out runs in before things got too bad. The wind was biting, and while it had caused Lolly issues during the parkrun, I was sheltered from the worst of it to start with, as I headed inland. (My original idea had involved running along the coastal path to Watchet – that would have been hideous.)

As soon as I crossed the A39 out of Minehead, I started climbing pretty sharply; initially up the road, but then switching onto footpaths. In the first two and a bit miles of my run, I climbed roughly 800 feet from the seafront to the top of Grabbist Hill. And promptly dropped most of the way back down to sea-level again to reach Dunster. After which… I went off-route.

In my defence, I did intend to vary from my planned route. I just meant to take a different variation. Still, it didn’t make much difference, and I soon found myself back up at 550 ft going past Gallox hill fort. I stopped for a bit of a breather, and for a gel – the first time I’ve tried one. I’ve intended to try gels for ages now, but as I suffer from some.. ah.. stomach issues.. on runs anyway, I’ve always put it off for another day. I figured that I couldn’t keep putting it off during marathon training though. I tried a Torq gel – I’ve bought a sample pack with a range of flavours. This one was Strawberry Yoghurt, and other than being very sweet and sickly, it did indeed definitely taste of strawberry yoghurt. It was very palatable, went down without an issue even though I didn’t have water, and I had no issues for the rest of my run. Well, no gel-related issues.

Still awful at selfies.

The run resumed with a very short descent, followed by more climbing, up to Bat’s Castle, another hill fort. Another break (to take some photos, not because I was out of breath… honest) and then about a mile and a half of relatively flat stuff before a nice descent to Withycombe. I rejoined my originally planned route. For about a quarter of a mile. Heading back out of the village, I was met with a footpath closed sign and a padlock. Oh bugger. Quickly consulting the OS Map app again, I realised that there was no convenient alternative; I would have to run the roads around the fields, which squared off my diagonal. But I had no choice, so off I went, up another hill!

In fact, that diversion meant that with the exception of one shortcut across a field, the last three miles of my run was all on the road. Not ideal – particularly in my Speedcross shoes, but needs must. My planned ten mile run ended up being 11.3 miles. I briefly considered adding a bit more on to round it up to 12 miles, but frankly decided I really didn’t give a hoot.

This run was purely a distance run, but I was happy to average 9:29 per mile over that terrain and elevation profile, especially given that I was navigating paths and roads completely unknown to me. Although 2,000 feet over 11 miles sounds a lot, it was (a) proportionally less than Snowdonia will be, and (b) surprisingly runnable.

Sunday: 3 miles road

Three miles of nothingness. I wanted to top my mileage up over 25 miles, but given the snowy, icy conditions and family considerations, I had little desire to do much. A short pootle around town did the job. It was nothing special, I didn’t even change out of my glasses into my contact lenses!

Weekly summary: 4 runs, 26.1 miles

Honestly I’d have liked to have got over 30 miles done this week, but I didn’t get home from work until after 7 on Thursday, and so any run that night was pretty much out of the window. Each of the runs I got in was a tick in the box. Monday’s time-trial was quicker than my first Yeovilton race last summer, and each of the following runs was completed injury-free, which at this stage is my main focus. The P&D plan, which I’m still loosely basing my training off, introduces some strides next week, while I also have to contend with Lolly being away for two evenings, and a race at the weekend. (A race, however will I cope?!)