Author Archives: Ben

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!

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?!)

Babcary 7.5: race report

The second part of my weekend back-to-back, after completing leg one of the Hills to Coast Relay with Minehead RC the day before. This was also my second visit to the Babcary 7.5 mile road race, which I also ran last year.

This race, like all of those in the Somerset Series, was pencilled into my diary as soon as I knew the date. It’s a bit of an oddity of a race – 7.5 miles is hardly a normal race distance, and the profile of this course means that it isn’t particularly quick either. But that is part of the joy of this race – it’s challenging no matter what.

No matter where they take us, We’ll find our own way back. (Well, actually we’ll follow the hi-vis arrows and marshals…)

My legs – nay, my whole body – was feeling pretty rundown after the relay on Saturday. Apparently 1,000 ft over 10 km in just under 54 minutes isn’t brushed off too easily. That said, I wanted to run 10 miles on Sunday in terms of progression for The Big Cheese race in a few weeks, and also in preparation for my upcoming marathon training for the Snowdonia Trail Marathon. Bizarrely, running a 7.5 mile race, and topping the mileage up with a warm-up and cool down seemed a preferential option to 10 easy miles on my own.

Generally, my preparation for this race was awful. Not just the fact I’d raced the day before, but also the fact that at 9:15 I still hadn’t really started packing. The race was about 35 minutes away, and on-the-day entries officially closed at 10:30. I also had no fuel in my car and no cash to actually pay for entry….

After some rather rushed packing, I was off. Via a cash machine and a petrol station. About halfway there, I was getting confused; my sat nav was trying to send me an odd route, and I was getting concerned that maybe a road was closed ahead. I pulled over, and realised that I’d written down the wrong postcode. A quick search on Strava for last year’s activity, and I simply put the street name into the sat nav, et voilà!

So, about that rushed packing. When I arrived, I found I was missing my running socks. And my Garmin. Thankfully, I was wearing socks, so I just had to give my Fozzy Bear socks their running debut. The Garmin situation was also averted, as I had my FlipBelt with me, so was able to pop my phone into that with Strava tracking the run. Because after all…

The Race

My race strategy was much as at the relay the day before, and at this event last year. It was nothing special: ‘take it easy early, get a feel for your capabilities, see what you can do later’. Largely, I think I managed to stick to the plan. I held back on the initial climb, and then allowed a few runners that I’d normally run with slip away ahead of me. I was a little concerned that Graham, my usual Somerset Series sparring partner was still near me, but the positions of everyone else told me I was about right.

The whole race undulates – although none of the climbs are particularly tough, it is non-stop. Uphill, downhill, uphill, downhill, uphill… you get the idea. My first two miles were significantly down in pace compared to last year, dropping about a minute between the two. Shortly after this, on the climb that started at around 2.5 miles, my legs started to feel pretty wiped. I’d dropped back from Graham and another Wells City Harrier, while a third was now running with me, having caught me around the two mile marker.

As I spent the next half mile climbing that particular hill, I was starting to seriously doubt the wisdom of racing two days in a row after a six month absence. While I was never in danger of dropping out of the race, I did worry that I might embarrass myself by falling like a rock through the field. However, as hard as it felt, I found that I wasn’t really dropping back from the group in front, nor were those behind closing the gap. I settled in, and remembered that racing never feels easy. It’s kind of the point.

I lost another couple of minutes compared to last year over the undulations of the middle few miles. As we ran through one village, I had a little faux race with one of the spectators, who looked to be coming out of her garden to stand with some friends. It was a nice little mental break from the race, though it only lasted a few metres! Otherwise, there was little to mark these middle miles – I went up some hills, down some hills, passed some barns. You get the idea.

Interestingly, my pace over miles six and seven was actually very close to last year; 7:20 and 7:08 this year, compared with 7:12 and 7:08 last. Finally it seems that my efforts to take it easy early in a race actually came to some fruition. The final half mile is the reverse of the start, and drops back down hill. With no one forty yards either side of me, I didn’t push too hard, but kept a decent pace that removed any real possibility of me being overtaken. Last year, I had a sprint finish with Graham which saw me peak at about 4:45/mile. This year, after easing my pace up to 5:50/mile down the hill, I slowed back down to cross the finish line. Twentieth overall, and eighteenth male, is a solid finish for me in terms of the Somerset Series; in each of the last two years I’ve averaged around 21 to 22 per race.

After a mile and a half cool down (mileage top-up) I was done. My two-race weekend was concluded. I grabbed some lunch from Burger King just down the road, and headed back. This morning (Monday) I had some serious DOMS. But now, this evening, it seems okay. And I seem to have planned a 2,000 ft run for tomorrow…

Hills to Coast Relay: “race” report

After not racing since last August, for some reason I decided that it would be a good idea to return with a weekend back-to-back. On Saturday I took in Minehead Running Club’s “Hills to Coast” Relay, an internal club event that I was kindly invited to take part in. The following day was my first Somerset Series race of the year, the Babcary 7.5 mile road race, but more on that in a later blog post.

MRC “Hills to Coast Relay”

Each year, Minehead Running Club arrange a club relay, and this year I was lucky enough to be invited to take part. The event comprises four legs, and the course isn’t marked – the onus is on the runners to learn the course themselves in preparation for the day. A couple of months ago, I found out that I was running leg 1, and had been sent the route.

I plotted the route onto my OS Maps app, and headed out in early January. Lolly dropped me off near the start, and then headed off to the end with the children for a splash around in the woods. Meanwhile, I studiously followed the red line on my phone to navigate across to meet them. My daughter was a bit confused when I turned up, asking how I’d got there without a car! About a month later, I headed out again with a few other runners to try the course again. I was pretty happy with most of the route, but I remained a bit uncertain about the start. Hence, Tuesday this week, I nipped out again to get it firmly sorted in my mind (and maybe have a CR attempt at the downhill segment on Strava…)

Stunning views

Roll on Saturday morning – I dumped my car at the finish, and got a lift to the start with Josh. Running Yeovil Montacute parkrun last weekend had given me a bit of a wake-up call; I’d shot off too quick and suffered later. So my plan was firmly to take it easy early on, and then reap the benefits later. It’s important that I make it clear that this was my plan.

The first mile essentially weaves its way through Williton, and is basically flat tarmac throughout, crossing the West Somerset Railway on its way out of the village. After that, the course moves off-road, and starts to climb (this is something of a trend – the leg started at 93 ft and finished at 421 ft, so there was always going to be plenty of climbing involved.) The next mile and a half are more or less a constant gentle climb up to the base of the Quantocks. Throughout this section, which alternates on- and off-road, I maintained a grade-adjusted pace of roughly 7:00 min/mile, and was holding quite nicely in fourth/fifth.

Up, and up, and up…

Then came the “Unnamed Combe”, as the Strava segment dubs it. And off came the wheels of my race. A long drag of a hill, this starts up a boggy field, continues up a footpath which is basically actually a stream, and then turns into what might as well be a brick wall (albeit a gorgeous one, pictured). It involves 569 ft of climbing in one mile, and my pace dropped right down to 13:32 min/mile – even grade-adjusted it was 8:16. Given that the Snowdonia Trail Marathon, which I’m running in July, includes four successive miles that clock in with 769, 601, 385 and 953 ft of elevation respectively, I think I might need to work on this…

I dropped back from fourth on the climb, and then a navigational error meant that the runner behind me caught up. With seemingly better legs, he pressed on ahead of me on the gentle climb on towards Bicknoller Post and Longstone Hill. I managed the gap, but could do little to dent it until we dropped downhill. I flew down the last mile, which was entirely downhill on tricky loose stone, to reclaim fifth place, and finish in just under 54 minutes.

This was a great little event, well managed by the club. If anything, I probably enjoyed the exploration beforehand more than the relay itself, though both were enjoyable. The downhill terrain played to my strengths at the end, but I’d already lost too much up the hill for it to make much difference. Minehead make a day of the event, following the relay with an evening social, but I skipped that part as we had family staying. I’m hoping to get out running with Minehead more this summer during their ‘Strate Liners’ to explore more of Exmoor and the Quantocks.

parkrun tourism: Yeovil Montacute – B course

As “parkrun tourism” goes, this is a bit different to usual. I actually first visited Yeovil Montacute parkrun back in October 2014, which you can read about here. I returned again in October 2016, when they reversed the course to celebrate the clocks going back an hour. (Or something like that). I meant to visit again last winter, when they moved to their B course, but I didn’t make it. I thought I’d missed my opportunity again this year, but then an opening sprung up, and off to Ham Hill we ventured…

Yeovil Montacute parkrun has suffered over the winter. They have managed just two runs in November, three in December, and only one in January. The “A” course winds it way around the grounds of Montacute House, a lovely National Trust property near Yeovil. Being a completely grass course, it can get waterlogged and chewed up through the winter, and so the parkrun moves to the nearby Ham Hill Country Park for January and February.

Ham Hill itself isn’t immune from waterlogging – a similar grassy terrain, the course can get pretty muddy, and on the morning there was a warning of mud on the event Facebook page. But who doesn’t like a bit of mud?

Walk to the start.

We arrived in plenty of time, and had no problem finding somewhere to park. The toilets were conveniently located on the walk to the start, which was signed from the car park. The path to the start was quite muddy in places, but once we got out onto the fields near the start, it firmed up a bit. Normally, I like to do a warm-up before parkrun, but we’d timed things such that there wasn’t really enough time. We either arrived too late for the new runners briefing, or there simply wasn’t one; I’m not sure which. Still, the main briefing was more than sufficient, and frankly, I know the main parkrun guidelines, and I’m not quick enough to have to worry about the route – I can just follow whoever is in front of me!

With little fanfare, we were sent on our way – and I made my first mistake of the morning. A wide start meant that I was in the second row, and I stupidly stayed on the shoulders of the front-runners. After a few hundred metres, I glanced at my watch and assumed it wasn’t tracking me properly, or maybe I had left my pace in kilometres – it was reading 5:50 – FAR too fast.

After about half a kilometre, I had managed to pull my pace back, letting what felt like half the field stream past me. Despite this, I recorded a 4:10 opening kilometre, which given the terrain, a slight incline, and my current fitness level, was still too fast. The second kilometre finished off the climb before dropping back down the other side, and I was still letting people past as I ran a more reasonable 4:27.

Despite the warnings, the course was firm underfoot throughout, and actually really nice to run on. The third kilometre finished off the lap, and as you dropped back down hill slightly, you had good visibility of the route ahead. By this point, I’d fallen to the right part of the field for my pace, and a 4:20 kilometre was about right. Climbing back up the hill for the entire fourth kilometre, I passed a runner – the only change of position I had for the entire second lap!

I glanced at my watch a short while later and was slightly confused by the distance it was showing – it didn’t quite add up to me. As I got closer and closer to the finish, it became more and more clear that the course was over-distance. Not uncommon for “B” courses, as if it was quicker than the “A” course, then you might set a PB that you couldn’t beat on the main course. That said, it soon became clear that this wasn’t a slight extension; in the end the course measured in on my Garmin as 5.5 km!

I’d intentionally “raced” this parkrun – due to my ankle injury, I haven’t raced since the start of August last year, and with a few coming up, I wanted some practice. The fast start was a reminder that it is easy to get carried away early on, and will definitely be something I keep in mind over the next few weeks. After that I was relatively happy with my “race craft”. I didn’t have much to do, and maybe I let myself get more isolated that was ideal, but generally after the quick start I kept a pretty even pace (considering the profile) and was able to push myself throughout. On a proper length course, I’d have got about 22:07, which isn’t unreasonable for that route with my current fitness, though it does show that I have a way to go yet before I have a shot at setting any new PBs.

I’d really recommend this course – while I love the main course at Montacute house, this is certainly no disappoint in comparison. The terrain and undulations are pretty similar between the two, giving the same feel. It clearly isn’t a course you’re likely to PB on, given the length, but given that it is a trail course anyway, that really doesn’t matter.

All done!

Lolly had a fabulous run, getting her fastest paced parkrun since child number two arrived, despite the course being harder than some of those we’ve run recently. We’re planning some flatter “road” courses over the next few weeks, so it’ll be exciting to see what she’s capable of! For me, I’m contemplating a slightly mad return to racing with a weekend double – the Minehead Running Club “Hills to Coast Relay” on the Saturday, followed by the Babcary 7.5 mile road race on Sunday (see last year’s blog post.)

parkrun tourism: Shepton Mallet parkrun

At around 9 am on New Year’s Day, we had no plans to parkrun. Long ago, we’d been talking about doing a double, but neither of us were in any state of running fitness to complete 10k in one day. We had discussed the possibility of going down to Killerton for Lolly to repeat at 9:30, but we never really got our stuff together in time for it.

At around 9:05; I mentioned the possibility that maybe we could both run at Shepton Mallet – a buggy each. Shepton Mallet parkrun is about a 55-minute drive from us and was starting at 10:30. Making the decision, more or less out of the blue, to go just 85 minutes beforehand probably wouldn’t be too unreasonable for most parkrun tourists. But when you have to pack not only yourselves and your running gear, but also two small children, two buggies, changing gear for the youngest of the two, and all the other ancillary rubbish that goes with small children, it really was a crazy decision.

But then, that’s probably what we do best.

Somehow, we managed to get ready in pretty much 15 minutes, thanks mostly to the fact that our 4-year-old daughter decided she would put clothes on – if that decision had gone the other way, we might still now be trying to wheedle with her.

As we got closer to Shepton Mallet… it started to rain. Just another thing to make the experience a little bit more stressful! We arrived to pretty light rain, in which I had to try and remember how the rain-covers for each of the two buggies worked (differently, of course!) By the time I had got both children into their buggies, the eldest had decided that she would like to go home now, thank you. Well, of course she did!

We hadn’t really done much research on the course: we knew it was three-laps, allowed buggies, and was mostly tarmac. We rushed down to the start, and more or less only just got in place at the back of the crowd in time to begin…

SONY DSC

A blurry two buggy start.

… Which turned out to be less than ideal. The course started by winding its way along a narrow path, including a corkscrew-esque uphill hairpin bend. Throughout most of the course, it is run on narrow tarmac paths with grass either side. Running with a buggy, this was a bit of a nightmare when starting from the back – I got out onto the grass early to pass a few people, but it was seriously slippy. If I have one recommendation for this parkrun, it is to make sure you start according to pace!

Still, after continuing up the hill a bit further, we went along a short (10 metres maybe?) muddy, tree-root riddled section, and then were on a nice wide path. Or at least, it seemed nice and wide, until someone yelled: “lead runners coming!” So, the bit where I said I hadn’t done much research on the course? Yeah, hadn’t realised that there was a really long out-and-back. So now, while trying to pass people, I’m also having to try and stay out of the way of the quicker runners coming back the other way.

Out-and-back stint navigated, we dropped back down the hill, quite sharply, and ran next to the pond for a few metres. It’s probably pretty scenic most of the time, but by now it as pretty much torrential rain. My daughter kept trying to talk to me through the rain-cover, but I frankly couldn’t hear a thing, so I just kept saying “Yeah” from time to time, and crossed my fingers that I wasn’t agreeing to anything too expensive. Not that I could actually cross my fingers, as they were numb with the wet and cold.

Another climb followed, up towards the car park we’d arrived from, before the course dropped back down to the start/finish area, past a little shelter full of huddled, cheering spectators. And repeat. And repeat.

As usual, I was able to make better headway through the field as it spread out, but the out-and-back section was even trickier second time around, as I was trying to pass people, while being wary of runners coming the other way (some of whom were trying to pass each other) and also paying attention to those lead runners who were by now lapping me. So just the potential for three abreast each way. On a path wide enough for… well, three.

Having started as the fourth of five buggies (Lolly being the fifth), I somehow made it through the finish as the first buggy, though it involved something of a quick final half a lap! I was slightly surprised halfway through the second lap to hear a cheer of “Go on Ben.” After checking a couple of times that I wasn’t wearing anything with my name on it, I paid more attention and realised that it was Joanne, who I know from Twitter, and I’d met before at her home event of Kingsway.

The finish funnel was pretty narrow – I’m not sure that a double buggy would have fit down it at all, and I had to slow quite dramatically and basically walk over the finish line – but this might have been forced on them by the wet conditions making the grass so muddy. Despite the weather, the support from the marshals and other supporters around the course was superb. After finishing, we hung around just ahead of the finish funnel to wait for Lolly – though I did get told off by a passer-by for asking my daughter if she “could see Mummy yet” – less of the “yet” apparently!

This photo really doesn’t convey quite how soaked through we were…

Due to the weather, no one was hanging around for a chat, and we proved no exception: after getting a photo by the pond, we got back to the car as quickly as we could.

I always find parkrun on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day to be a little bit special. The atmosphere is different to a normal parkrun – there seems to be an even greater sense of community than usual. (And there is usually quite a lot anyway.) I think it probably comes from the fact that we all feel a little loony for being out running when most other people (even more than usual) are doing anything but.

Now… where’s next?

Ballot luck

Way back in late 2015, I entered my first (and for a long time my only) ballot for a race. The race in question was the 2016 Grizzly, a reasonably well-known 20 (ish) mile trail race in the south west. I don’t know what the odds were in that ballot, but I got a place while plenty of my fellow club members did not. I had 100% success in ballots! As things turned out, I got injured and transferred my place to club-mate Iain.

BALLOT LUCK: 1/1 (100%)

I’ve never been that interested in running the Great North Run (a pretty boring looking half marathon which is bloody miles away) and the London Marathon didn’t really appeal to me either – as I typically run in races with very small fields (often less than 150 people) the scale put me off. That’s not even considering the fact that it’s a marathon, a distance that I’d long been putting off.

I didn’t enter any of the three ballots in 2016; the impending arrival of child #2 in spring 2017 put something of a stop to major racing plans.

Then, earlier this year, I made something of a mistake. After watching the London Marathon on TV, and getting caught up in the excitement, I subsequently entered the ballot. I’d always said that I wouldn’t enter until I could get a ‘Good for age’ (GFA) time. Which is 3:05 for a 18-40 male. Indeed, for some time my (very) long-term plan has been to get a Boston qualifying time (also 3:05 for a 18-40 male). But for some reason, I ignored this, and opted to enter the London Marathon ballot anyway. “I’ll put myself in the hands of the ballot gods.” I said. I didn’t actually really want to do the London Marathon, but the odds seemed so small…

Ballot entry mostly forgotten, I then entered my “first marathon”, the 2018 Snowdonia Trail Marathon, the day before my birthday in July. I told people all about it; that it would be my first marathon. All about my plan to do a tough trail marathon before a road one, as it would take away the time pressure – completing it would genuinely be enough of an achievement.

And then, one Monday at work, I got an excited phone call from Lolly, asking if she could open some of my post. I was a bit confused. Then it became clear. Oh so horribly clear.

Oh Jason…

As I said at the time on social media: Oh. Bollocks.

I still don’t know if I really want to run the London Marathon at the moment, but I don’t think I really have a choice. I put myself in the hands of the ballot gods, and they gave me a clear answer. Also, half of the members of my club seem to have entered the ballot, and as far as I can tell, I’m the only one who got in. (Though quite a few have GFA places.)

BALLOT LUCK: 2/2 (100%)

Push the clock forwards by a week, and my third ballot result came back – for the Grizzly 2018; a race that takes place one month before the London Marathon. And the result? Success, again.

BALLOT LUCK: 3/3 (100%)

So, my ballot luck is pretty good. Of course, as well as a 100% success rate in ballots, I currently hold a 0% success rate in subsequently running the race I got a ballot place for. Given the current state of my ankle means that I’m still not running, I haven’t ruled out the possibility of this trend continuing. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve got over six months until London, and not dramatically less than that for the Grizzly; but coming back from a bad ankle sprain means it’s likely to be a long and slow road back to full running fitness.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, I do enter the National Lottery; every week. And my luck is appalling.