Tag Archives: Somerset Series

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.

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)

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…

A race report catch-up: part three

This is the third and final instalment of my race report catch ups, going through all the races that I’ve done in the past few months, most of which I didn’t manage to get around to writing up at the time as I was too busy doing other things.

  • Part one: Butleigh MT 10k, Yeovilton 5k (May), Wambrook Waddle 10k, Crewkerne 10k
  • Part two: Red Bull Steeplechase

<dramatic voiceover> And now… the conclusion. </>

Quantock Beast – 2 July

This was the third year in a row that I took on this race, put on by the local Quantock Harriers, and only a few miles up the road.

The race came just a couple of weeks after the Red Bull Steeplechase, and off the back of a not great week of running. I ran 8 x 200 metre repeats on the Tuesday evening, and I think it wiped me out – I was using a football pitch to estimate the distance, and I think I ended up doing too far, too fast. The following night I wiped out during our club run, and just felt completely drained. I didn’t run again before the race – so I was a little concerned about how it would go.

As usual, we had a good club turnout for this race, and we were especially we represented near the front of the race: Iain, Tim and Andy all run with group 1, although I hoped that on a hilly, off-road course I might be able to challenge Andy.

The race begins with a fast road descent that lasts just over a kilometre, and despite feeling like I was taking it easy, I ended up being six seconds quicker than last year. I continued to be significantly quicker over the next kilometre, although the drier weather might have something to do with that, as the second kilometre moved off-road and climbed gently uphill. I stayed in touch with Andy through these early sections, and as the course dropped to a steep downhill, I was able to pass him, though he got straight past me again as we climbed back up the hill.

After a couple more little lumps, this climb settled into the big one, almost a mile and a half long. Although it is rarely too steep, the climb is sapping, and I struggled a bit with it. I can’t really put my finger on why I didn’t do too well on it: there is a Strava segment for the hill, and my best time remains that from 2014. I’ve done lots of hill training since then, so logically I should be significantly better at it, but last year I was almost two minutes slower, and even this year I was about 30 seconds off the pace. I can only put it down to a ‘longer race mentality’ which means I’m taking more walking breaks than I did before. Maybe. Looking at Strava, I was massively slower at the bottom of the hill this time (7:32 km compared to 6:38) while I pretty much the same towards the top. This definitely suggests I started walking earlier and more. Something to consider for future shorter races with hills!

Anyway, over that hill I just had the long road descent back to the start/finish. I could still see Andy ahead, and hoped that I might catch up down the hill, but he (and everyone else) maintained their pace far more than I remembered in previous years. Despite running this final section quicker than I’d managed before, I was actually caught during it, though I managed to time my sprint finish better to beat him to the finish line.

I was generally disappointed with this race – it should have played to my strengths, but for whatever reason I just didn’t seem to be quite there on the day. On reflection I guess that given how I was earlier in the week, along with everything else going on, meant that it was actually a decent performance. It just didn’t really feel much like that at the time.

Yeovilton 5k – 12 July

After my first Yeovilton appearance of the summer, I wanted to set things straight a little with this race. My actual time in May hadn’t been awful (considering), but my pacing had shown how poorly my head had adapted to a slowing in my pace. After running the first two kilometres at 3:57/km, I then dropped off dramatically, running the final two kilometres at 4:24/km to finish in 20:48. So this time around, I wanted to be a bit more realistic.

I was boosted somewhat by this being a Somerset Series race, which meant the field was a bit bigger, but most importantly, there were more recognisable figures. Most significantly, the chap who I’d just pipped to the finish at the Quantock Beast was there, and we ended up running most of the race together, along with a couple of other familiar figures. This meant that although I was a little concerned with my quick early kilometres; 3:52, 3:53, I didn’t have to worry too much about the numbers as I was around people I considered my peers.

In fact, it worked out pretty nicely. After the quick start, we then dropped to almost dead-on 20 minute pacing, running the last three kilometres in 4:00, 4:02, 4:03 (though that last one was only due to a sprint at the end). I finished in 19:46, a little quicker than this race last year, but most importantly, back under 20 minutes. It’s a silly little thing, but in my head, I’m a sub-20 minute 5k runner, and until I’d got back to actually doing that, I just felt a bit out-of-place, almost a fraud. It also meant that I could see everything was coming back in the right direction, which was a huge boost.

Haselbury Trail 10k – 2 August

Another race that I’ve done a couple of times before.

I had a good few weeks between the Quantock Beast/Yeovilton races in early July until the Haselbury Trail at the start of August, and I clocked up the training miles, including a few decent speed workouts. Haselbury was well timed after a recovery week as well, meaning that I went into it feeling the best I had been for a while. We had a surprisingly good club turnout again at this race, especially considering the awful weather – it had been raining all day long, and that didn’t stop in the evening. For me, this was great – the Quantock Beast had been too dry for my liking, so I was looking forward to a wetter off-road race!

Again, there were all the familiar Somerset Series regulars (well, minus the two Matts, one of whom has been injured most the year, and the other of whom has just had a baby). My previous two visits to this race finished with near identical times; 47:08 and 47:07, though conditions had differed significantly between the years, making the 2015 time the more impressive. This year’s conditions were definitely more akin to 2015!

Unsurprisingly for similar overall times, my splits were similar in places too: both years started with 4:01, 4:20, 4:52 kilometres (give or take a second). Both years, my race report talked about having gone off too fast, and needing to rein it in. Which I sort of managed this year – my opening kilometre was 4:11, though I then ran 4:18 for the second and 4:45 for the third. Those good at arithmetic will notice that as a result, my first three kilometres were actually therefore more or less done in exactly the same time in 2017 as the two years before…

But despite the similar overall time, I think the specific kilometre splits made a difference. I didn’t destroy my legs so much with an over-fast sprint start, and I think I’m in better shape anyway than the previous two years. By the end of the third kilometre, I’d settled in behind Graham, figuring that given our recent relative results, I didn’t want to get ahead of him. However, the pair of us were stuck behind another runner who seemed to be struggling on the slippier off-road sections, and when Graham didn’t pass him on a wider section, I opted to pass them both, backing myself to manage my own pace. As it happened, Graham must have passed him soon after, and was back on my heels by the end of the fourth kilometre.

Shortly after came the first climb of the “Horrible Hill” (to quote the Strava segment). I was fully expecting to lose ground here – in previous years I had been passed on the hill, and after my Quantock Beast experience I had no reason to think it would change this year. But amazingly, not only did I not lose any positions, but I actually gained time on those around me. Admittedly, I was probably a little bit slow to speed back up again on the level, but still! As we came around to begin our second lap, there were a group of four of us, strung out a little; a runner from Maiden Newton, a chap in a triathlon club top, me and Graham. The pace was being pushed by the two runners I didn’t know, particularly the triathlete, though I was a little confused at his variations in pace. Sometimes he was sprinting along, easily passing me, but then at others, I cruised up to pass him.

Although I made some decent pace down the hill to start the lap once more, I decided not to push along with the other two initially, but temper my pace closer to Graham’s once more. As the lap continued though, I kept swapping positions with the triathlete, and I soon worked out it was because he had road shoes on. On the more solid terrain, he was much quicker than me, but when we were on the slippier sections, I had the edge. Coming back around to the hill at the end of the lap, he was slightly ahead of me, but really struggled in the mud that had been ground up at the bottom of the hill. In trying to go around him, I ended up more or less running into him as he slipped around, but I pushed myself hard up the hill, and over the last section of off-road terrain. I knew that my only chance to keep ahead of him was to have a decent gap before we got back on the road.

My hard work paid off, and I retained my position to the end; the group of four of us that had started the lap together ended up finishing within 1:10 of each other, having gained a couple of positions past some struggling runners. I was very happy with finishing 22nd, especially doing so ahead of Graham.

A race report catch-up: part one

So, it would be fair to say that I’ve got out of the habit of updating the blog with my race reports. Well, to be honest, I’ve just stopped writing pretty much anything on it. Which is annoying, as reading my blog reports from previous years is one of my most effective pre-race preparations. This year I’ve raced 11 times, and yet I’ve only put up 4 race reports. Now two of those were Yeovilton 5k races, which I don’t tend to write up properly, but that still leaves five whole races unrecorded.

With this in mind, I’m going to try and summarise my thoughts on each, going back over some short notes I made at the time and the Strava report.

Butleigh MT 10k – 19 March

This was another “new to me” Somerset Series race for 2017. It used to be 7 miles, but this year they dropped it down to 10k. Unfortunately, to make it this distance, the race had to loop some fields at the start and end of the course, which wasn’t great – I’m not convinced that it is important enough to make a race 10k that this looping was needed. But whatever.

I probably, definitely started the race too fast on the initial lap of the field, but wanted to make sure I was in a decent position to avoid having to wait to cross the stile out of the field, which became something of a bottleneck for those behind. We then entered another field (there were lots of the them) which was extremely boggy. Everyone was taking different lines, trying to find some firm ground, but there simply wasn’t any. I ended up tight against the fence on the right-hand side, which I’d initially worried was electric, but it turned out not to be!

At the end of this field, the course rose up towards the road, though we didn’t actually run on the road, but through the trees alongside it. This was apparently the local fly-tipping area too, which a range of furniture and tyres on offer. It wasn’t great terrain to run on, but thankfully I was following another runner, so was able to keep track of the track, so to speak. We dropped back downhill into the fields after this section, and were helpfully warned by the marshal “Careful as you go, very slippy.”

Pack running

He was right – I slipped over. Thankfully it was all just mud, so no harm done, and I barely even lost any time on those I could see ahead of me. I picked up the pace a bit down the hill, but a little more cautiously than normal after my fall. After a short stint back on the road, we turned off it again and up hill. I was passed by another Series regular, Graham, (no surprise there) as we climbed up, but I went back past him once we headed downhill again. For most of the last two miles, four of us ran close together, our positions switching around a few times.

Graham’s course knowledge helped a couple of times, but I was leading the group coming into the last mile. Until the bloody “main” road crossing, when I got held up by a car passing, and the group caught back up to me again!

After a few more twists and turns (and the bloody pointless lap of the field) I finished in a reasonable (given the course and conditions) 48:01. More importantly, I was around, or ahead of, those I considered competitors in the Series.

Yeovilton 5k – 10 May

After Butleigh, I had a couple more weeks of good running before illness (a sinus infection) and the arrival of my new son stymied my running for a while. I skipped the April edition of the Yeovilton 5k Series, and returned in May. My hope was for a time around 20:15. Last year I peaked at 19:13 in September, but I was obviously going to be well short of that. Rightly or wrongly (the latter) I headed out at sub-20 minute pace, ticking off 3:56 and 3:58 for the first two kilometres. Then the wheels fell off; 4:12 for the third kilometre followed by 4:25 and 4:22. My body had just given up on me, though I shouldn’t have been surprised. I finished in 20:48, more or less equivalent to my time at this race in May last year, when I ran 20:44. So, if nothing else, I knew I was in roughly the same place, and so could improve back to the same place as last year.

Wambrook Waddle 10k – 14 May

Lani probably had as much fun as I did at this one!

This race came on the Sunday following the Yeovilton race, and so I was feeling a mixture of disheartened by the 5k result, and confident that hopefully if I had more or less matched my 2016 5k performance, I could more or less match my 2016 Waddle performance. Which I guess I more or less did. I opted to follow the Nigel Baker Race Start TacticTM, which I admit probably isn’t the best long-term plan. It essentially involves doing a race with a downhill start, and then absolutely pegging it down the hill. It was great fun. It probably killed my legs. Unsurprisingly, I lost a lot of places on the subsequent uphill, though I had plenty of fun dropping back down it again after.

In essence, this race was categorised by me not really being mentally prepared for racing in the Somerset Series “lower down the pack”. I saw those that I had previously raced around, but they were way ahead of me, and it was difficult to deal with. I probably had a reasonable race considering my fitness levels, but it just felt like a bit of a fail. But if there is anywhere to do that, it’s the Wambrook Waddle, which remains a gem of a course – impossibly hard for a race that is only 10 kilometres long (though in fact, most of the work is done in the first 5k, it’s just that your legs are completely shot for the second half.) Again, my race time was more or less equivalent to what I ran in 2016 (about 20 seconds slower.)

Wells 10k – 28 May

I did actually do a full write-up on this race, which you can find here: Wells 10k: race report. In summary; felt tough, but managed to equal last year’s time.

Crewkerne 10k – 4 June

This was the final of the more or less back-to-back-to-back Somerset Series races, which featured three 10k events in four weeks. This was a return to a race that I last did in 2015, when I found it really, really tough. The race starts with a steep hill climb, then drops down just as steeply, and then undulates until it loops back around to do that hill in reverse once again. When I did this race in 2015, I’d done about 1,800 ft of elevation so far that year. This time, I’d done 17,300 ft. It’s fair to say that I’m a bit better prepared for hills these days. In fact, the whole race only has about 500 ft of climbing, which isn’t unusual for Somerset Series races.

My time of 44:03 was almost identical to my Wells time of 44:02 the week before, and gave me a lot more confidence. For whatever reason, I just felt strong on the hills, and quick on the descents. Sure, I was still a distance back from the pack of runners I felt I should be with – I could see them for most of the first half of the race before they got too far ahead of me. But I’d come to terms with that now, and knew that I was running for myself, and working my way back to where I had been. Even if I wasn’t there yet.

Right, that’s enough for the moment. I’ll follow this up with part two later on; another go at the Red Bull Steeplechase, the Quantock Beast and my second Yeovilton 5k of the year.

Wells 10k: race report

For the second year running I took part in the Wells 10k, another race in the Somerset Series. Although the larger field means that the race is unlikely to count for me,1 years of picking up injuries has taught me to get in all the races I can, while I can.

My body is still suffering a bit from the birth of my second child. Okay, I mean, clearly not as much as Lolly’s body is suffering (she wrote a bit about this, here), but the lack of sleep has still had an impact on my training. The combination of not being at my best and the undulations of the course, meant that I was never going to get an especially great time. With that in mind, I opted to take the race a little bit easier, so that I would be able to run a third lap of the course to get my weekly distance up, which should help me in the weeks to come.

As usual, the evening before the race I did a little bit of research: I looked over my Strava and blog from last year. It was a very hot day last year for the race, and after heading off fast (partly because I thought I might have a shot at a PB) my race fell apart when I hit the hill for the first time. Looking at this, I decided that – shock horror – I should try taking it a bit easier on the first lap to see what I could do on the second.2

Race day came around, and as usual at the moment, I hadn’t had enough sleep. This manifested itself in the usual way lately; sinus issues. At this point, a sane person might decide that on this Bank Holiday weekend, a little bit more sleep might help knock these issues on the head. A runner just has a few more sips of water, because water basically cures everything.

A post shared by Ben Timpson (@bentimmo) on

Now, although the hot weather from the week leading up to the race had broken with storms, it was still pretty warm out there. Interestingly, Garmin reckons it was 15.0°C last year, and 17.2°C this year, but I’m convinced it was hotter last year.

So: to my gentle start. Ahem. Roughly 400 metres into the race, I was flying along at about 5:55 min/mile. I was aiming for 7:00 min/mile. By the end of the first kilometre, I’d managed to slow myself down to a 6:26 mine/mile pace. All in all, my pacing strategy didn’t seem to be working. But, with a bit of concentration, and a lot of ‘but everyone is flying past me, this must be far far too slow’, I managed to drag myself down to a reasonable 6:47 for the first mile, before 7:02 for the second mile.

Those were the two reasonably flat miles. Mile three is pretty much up and over Constitution Hill, and proof that you lose more than you gain from a hill. Though in fact a 7:24 split wasn’t awful, and I kept running the whole way up, so small victories! We ran through the well supported area near the start/finish before starting the lap again. Around this point in the race, I just lost focus. There was no real reason for it: I wasn’t particularly struggling, but my mind just started to wander, and my pace dropped off to a 7:19 mile. It would have been even worse, but for the fact that I noticed it and consciously kicked on towards the end of the mile. It just goes to show how important race focus is. My next mile mirrored my first lap effort: miles two and five were more or less the same section, and I posted 7:02 again on the second lap.

So, just that hill to go again…

And yeah, it felt tougher second time around. BUT – I was more consistent this year than last; the Strava segment for the hill had a difference of 7 seconds between laps, while last year I was 16 seconds slower on the second lap.3 I started to push on the downhill. And then one thing led to another, and I was basically starting a hard finish with more or less a kilometre of the race left: Stretching my legs out down the hill, matching the runner beside me to start with before easing ahead of him. Turn into the path behind the Bishop’s Palace, and my pace dropped a touch, until another runner started to catch up behind me. I let him sit on my shoulder, pressing us both on until we turned again into the finishing straight. He strode ahead of me, but it wasn’t time to push yet. He was ahead by one, two paces, and then with just the last 20 or so metres left, I accelerated past him for a much faster finish than I’d planned; shocked to see the clock displaying more or less the same finishing time as last year.

By no means had I been in great form this time last year, but I’d been on an upward trend, and I felt pretty strong when I posted 44:08. This year, my baseline is stronger after my training last autumn, and some reasonably consistent running since then, only really broken by my sinusitis and my little boy arriving. So I guess that this year’s 44:06 shouldn’t be that much of a surprise, and it certainly gives me some confidence going forwards that I can get myself back to where I think I should be.

Oh, and yes… I headed out for that third lap as I’d planned. And felt smug in my 10 miles for the day. Right until I found out that @craig1854 had run the 12 km back to his house after the race…

Next up: Crewkerne 10k (Sunday 4 June. Yes, that’s next weekend.) Yeovilton 5k (Wednesday 14 June)

Notes

1. In the Somerset Series, you have to complete eight races to qualify, and then only your best eight count.

2. Let’s be honest, this should pretty much be my plan in every race.

3. For those interested, last year I did 2:52 and 3:08, this year I did 2:59 and 3:06.

Big Cheese: race report

NOTE: Apologies for this being a little very late. I ran this at the start of March, and I’m posting this exactly two months later. In my defence, in the mean time, we’ve had a little boy, and he’s filled a lot of our time. I’ve got another race report, for the Butleigh MT race, to catch up on too, and then a couple of ideas for other stuff. I’ve also got quite a few races coming up. So we’ll see how well I do on keeping up with writing!

A while back, I decided to ditch my plans to race the Bideford Half Marathon and switch to the Big Cheese instead. The link above explains the reasons in full, but essentially I didn’t want the pressure of the training while Lolly was getting more and more tired due to her parasite pregnancy.

Along with the Exmoor Stagger in both 2015 and 2016, and the Red Bull Steeplechase last year, this would be my fourth “ultra-half”. In addition to the distance element (the Stagger was around 16 miles, and I got 14.4 miles into the Steeplechase before being eliminated) each of these races is made much more challenging due to the terrain and elevation. The Big Cheese actually isn’t so bad as the others; a mere 2,000 ft compared to climbing in excess of 3,000 ft for each of the others. (For reference, Scafell Pike stands roughly 3,200 ft above sea-level.) So… 2,000 ft… should be a doddle, eh?

My club mate, Iain, had done the race last year, and it basically killed him (though he was doing it the week after the Grizzly, which itself came a week after the Bideford Half). Meanwhile, Matt reported that a couple of his club-mates described it as essentially “not too bad”.

It was.

The trip from the race HQ to the race start was around a mile, so made for a handy warm-up. I had ummed and ahhed for a while about what to wear; the forecast was for a complete mix of weather, and the race directors had recommended, though not enforced, us to wear a waterproof. (As a fell race, they could have instituted mandatory kit.)

The race begins with a climb up, and up, and up, which lasts just over a mile. I was content to drop down to a walk reasonably early on – there was plenty more to come, and there was no sense in destroying my legs on the first climb when there would be over 14 miles left to go! Still, it was a bit demoralising letting people stream past me, and my legs felt pretty tired anyway! But hill climbing is still the weakest aspect of my running (a symptom of doing most of my running in Taunton town) so I just have to accept that I’m going to lose some positions on hills. That first mile was actually my slowest of the whole race, and included 615 ft of elevation!

After a mile, or just over, things levelled off to an extent and the terrain got trickier as we dropped down into Rowberrow Bottom. I started to gain some places back on the steeper sections of the descent and paused briefly at the first drinks station. Of course, when you’re in anywhere described as “Bottom”, there’s only really one way left for you to go: up. We were now heading towards Beacon Batch, over Black Down. But of course, nothing is that simple. After a run/walk tactic up the initial hill, we took a sharp left and dropped back down the hill rather than taking a direct route to the peak of Beacon Batch. The descent was a treacherous mix of flooded moorland that was of variable quality, but it was nigh on impossible to judge it by look. It was interchangeably slippy mud, sticky mud and lake. I was running pretty quickly to start with (it was a downhill – duh!) but in order to keep my balance, I kept finding myself going quicker and quicker. I probably looked like a pretty cocky so-and-so, practically sprinting through some of the worst terrain of the course. Had I fallen (and it was probably about 50-50) I’d have looked like a right tit.

‘Shit, there’s a camera, make it look like you’re having fun!’

After a short spell of this, the terrain solidified somewhat and took on a more technical aspect before we started climbing again. Along here the ground got silly, just excessively slippy. It was impossible to find a “good” route through it, you had to be content with finding a route that didn’t place you on your arse. This was pretty much the story of the first half of the race – you were either climbing a hill, descending a hill, or struggling through horrific underfoot conditions. The race website has this to say about what shoes to wear:

“It’s likely to be pretty muddy so off road trainers are an advantage but you will be able to get around fine in normal trainers.”

I mean… sure, you would be ABLE to get around in normal trainers. But I doubt it was fine. It wasn’t fine in my trail shoes. But still, whatever.

I made a fair fist of trying to keep running through the bottom part of the climb, but after a switchback, when I noted that I was closer to Matt than I had expected, things got more difficult. The hill got steeper, we’d turned to face the wind, and the mud was still pretty bad too. I dropped to a walk for pretty much the entire climb up to Beacon Batch, the highest point on the Mendip Hills. Thankfully what goes up must come back down, and most of the following four miles was downhill, although after about 400 metres the path had turned into a rocky river, as it had presumably provided a handy run-off for the rain of the previous week. Down this section I heard one runner behind me stumble and fall, though there were other runners around him, and I’m pretty sure he got up and continued okay.

The next mile was predominantly a gentle downhill along the road, which was a nice change in some ways, although it was tough on the legs in trail shoes at that point of the race. We then turned back off the road down through some former mine workings along Velvet Bottom. The path remained pretty good, and this was one of the quickest stretches of the race, though there were a few tricky drops from plateau to plateau.

And then… the worst section of the entire race. It was probably only around 500 metres, but it was steep, with horrible footing, and 11 miles into the race. While trying to negotiate slippy lumps of rock underfoot, you also had to make sure you didn’t get clothes-lined by an low-hanging tree. Still, as I say, it was only a short section. And best of all: it was the final climb, just a few miles and 700 ft of descent left!

The course mostly levelled out for the next mile and a half, before dropping in a reasonably steep, long downhill towards the finish. Even on tired legs, this played to my strengths at an ideal time: a downhill finish lets me get past a few people who then don’t get a corresponding uphill to regain their place. (Technically, I guess, the mammoth climb at the start of the race was the corresponding climb. So ha, we’re all even!) The terrain varied a little bit on the descent, being a decent even path in some places, difficult stony track in others, before the final half-mile stretch along the road.

Overall I come home in 2:11:35 for 39th overall, although that was partly due to a group of runners that had been ahead of me going the wrong way. Considering my relative lack of training, I was well chuffed. And best of all, afterwards – the free cake and cup of tea!

The whole race was organised really well. Number pick up was easy and straightforward, there was a bag drop at race HQ, along with changing rooms and showers (always nice after a muddy trail race!) The route was well signed and the marshals were all friendly and encouraging – which given the inclement weather, particularly on the top of the hills, was much appreciated. All in all, this is a race that has joined my ever-growing list of “want to run every year” races. In fact, I’m starting to run out of weekends in the year…

Babcary Road Race: race report

Coming into this year, I’d done all but five of the nineteen Somerset Series races over the past few years. Most of the ones that I hadn’t done came early in the year when I’m typically sat at home moping about an injury, rather than getting out and racing. So this year, I’ve been taking every opportunity to get out and do the unknowns. Babcary was one of those. Described as “undulating” on their website, the race also had an unusual distance of 7.5 miles. After a bit of research, I managed to find an elevation profile so that I knew what I was heading into.

I wasn’t injured, but I was still moping – a string of colds had struck me down (too over the top??) through the start of the year, I was really struggling to string two decent weeks of training together. Babcary itself came at the end of another cold, albeit one that I tried to ignore and just run through. With mixed success. At the race, I met up with Nigel, who briefed me a bit about the course (he has a ridiculous memory for courses; he can do one once and then relate the whole thing in detail the following year). I did a short recce of the start of the course as my warm-up, heading out for about three-quarters of a mile before doubling back, confirming what Nigel had told me: it was a long uphill drag to start the race.

If I looked (and felt?) like this at the start, you can only guess how I was at the end…

Forewarned is forearmed, and so I planned a gentle start to the race. Turns out (no shit) that everyone else had the same plan – especially the leaders, who made a very sedate start. So much for my plan of having a bit more in the tank after not wrecking myself on the first hill. I swear runners are never normally this sensible…

The course lived up to its description of undulating: it never really levelled off. A gentle descent replaced the first climb, before itself switching to another steady uphill. Throughout the race there were no awful climbs, but merely a continuing series of ups and downs that prevented you from ever finding a proper pace and rhythm.

The race went generally as I might have expected: I was slightly further down the field than I would have liked (but better than I worried I might be) and I mostly lost time to those around me on the climbs, and made it back on the descents. I started to struggle towards the end of the race, slightly negating a downhill finish that should have suited me well, but overall I was happy enough with my performance given how the year had started.

There wasn’t much time to rest and recover though; my next race, The Big Cheese (15 miles of hills and mud) was the following Sunday…

Chard Flyer: race report

As the first race of the Somerset Series each year (and let’s face it, being on New Year’s Day, there will never be one earlier…) this race has been on my radar for a while. Two years ago I signed up for it but was ill and so didn’t run. Last year, I was more interested in running a parkrun double. Truth be told, this year I was more interested in running a parkrun double too, but as Lolly wrote about in her last post, she got too pregnant, and we realised it wasn’t going to be a sensible idea.

So what are the pros and cons of running on New Year’s Day?:

  • Con – New Year’s Eve. Staying up until after midnight drinking is hardly great race preparation.
  • Pro – New Year’s Eve. If you don’t stay up until after midnight drinking, you’ll probably do better than most.
  • Con – New Year’s Eve. That means if you want to do well, you might have to avoid staying up until after midnight and drinking.
  • Pro – You get to clock up some miles on the first day of the new year, which is a great way to start.
  • Con – Christmas. All that food and drink and merriness is not great race preparation. And, with no disrespect to the Chard Flyer, if you’re taking Christmas easy to prepare for this race, you’re probably doing life wrong.

I actually ticked the ‘pro’ box for New Year’s Eve – having a toddler, and being sad, meant that I was tucked up in bed at home before 10, rather than partying hard through the night. My race morning didn’t start especially well though. Despite assuring Lolly more than once that I wouldn’t forget anything, particularly my Garmin, even though I was leaving my preparation to the last minute, I forgot my Garmin. Thankfully, rather than being of the ‘I told you…’ persuasion, my loving wife instead undertook an hour’s round-trip to bring me said watch. Much to the disgruntlement of our daughter, who quite specifically declared that she wanted to stay at home, and didn’t want to watch Daddy running.

Posing with the club

We had a decent club turnout for this race, which also forms the first of our Club Championship, and so there were plenty of people to mingle and chat with before and after the race. My main concern before the race was how many layers to wear – it was pretty damn cold and wet, but I tend to overheat in races. Initially I went for the club vest over t-shirt approach, but a particularly heavy shower saw me run back to the car to switch to a long-sleeve base layer instead. This, it turns out, was the wrong decision.

Anyway, as usual, I’ve blathered on for ages before even getting to the run itself, so I’ll get on with it. I knew that the first couple of miles were mostly downhill, then there was a tough uphill, and then it was mostly flat with a gentle climb at the end. So I planned to take it reasonably easy early on, and use my energy in the second half of the race.

Ha, like that ever happens! I covered the first two kilometres in under eight minutes, as we descended down out of Chard and alongside the reservoir which we were to loop around. Ostensibly, this is a road race, but a lot of the course is along tarmac paths and back roads that aren’t necessarily in the best condition underfoot. It’s definitely a course for road shoes, but you have to have your wits about you. The race follows route 33 of the National Cycle Network, which runs along the path of the old Taunton-Chard railway line.

We scaled about 15 steps to climb back to the road, and then the hill began. I’d done my research before the race, and so I knew that the ascent went on for about two kilometres, and so settled myself in for the long haul. Being a Somerset Series race, there were plenty of people around that I recognised, and I felt that I was in about the right place, but I didn’t mind if a few of the went past me up the hill – it isn’t my biggest strength, and I’d rather save my energy. (Genuinely, this time.)

As it turned out, with the exception of one particularly good climber, we all stayed pretty much in position with few significant gains made by anyone. One slight annoyance on this hill was the marshal who declared “drinks at the top” while we were about a quarter of the way up. I know he didn’t mean it to, but it sort of suggested that it wasn’t going to be much further to said drinks, even though it really was. The hill had a small false summit about three-quarters of the way up, which was a little disheartening, but soon we crested the hill and were able to take on some water.

This being a road race, I hadn’t really expected my recent trail downhill specialism to have any effect, but it turned out that the Chard Flyer has a particularly steep downhill section, and though it is on road, it was that steep that it played to my advantage. I passed a fair few people on the half mile descent, but mostly, I just enjoyed it!

Unfortunately, there was still about two and a half miles of the race left. The course remained mostly flat as we passed the reservoir on the other side along some paths that gave the course a nice off-road feel, though the terrain remained solid and friendly. I was beginning to struggle now; the ‘easy first half, reap gains in second half tactic’ having fallen by the wayside during the first half. Which was a shame, because I’d have quite liked that plan in the second half…

This picture does somewhat oversell the race scenery…

As it must, given that we’d dropped down towards the reservoir at the start, the end of the race climbed back up into Chard, twisting and turning a little through industrial estates, residential streets, and some paths. I wasn’t really aware of anyone that close ahead or behind me by this stage (quite a familiar feeling late on during Somerset Series races) so it was hard to judge my effort levels. Other than to say that I didn’t feel like I wanted to put much more in! Still, I soon recognised that we were back near where I had parked, and therefore the finish line. A little spurt got me to the end, though it wasn’t enough to overhaul the runner that I had finally caught sight of ahead of me.

In the end, I finished in 42:06, good enough for 26th, and sort of a new PB. Sort of because, 1) I’m not completely sure that it was full distance – my watch said 9.8 km, though obviously GPS isn’t all that accurate. 2) During the Bristol Half Marathon, my first 10 km was somewhere in the region of 41:30, and my overall average pace during that race was quicker than my average pace in this race. So, yes, it was a PB time for a 10k race. But also, I can do better. Which is good. The Stoke Stampede the following weekend was supposed to give me a shot at proving that (and maybe, just maybe sneaking in under 40 minutes) but unfortunately, I had a cold, and didn’t run.

Me, looking gorgeous, at the end.