Tag Archives: Trail

Ash Excellent Eight: race report

Fittingly, the Ash Excellent Eight was my eighth Somerset Series race of the summer, and with my entry already confirmed for both the Herepath Half and Brent Knoll, I’m on course to hit the ten needed to qualify. I’d not run the Excellent Eight before, and didn’t know much about it, other than a) it was in Ash, b) it was about eight miles, and c) it was presumably excellent. I did a little bit of research: I looked at the Strava stats from someone who had done it last year, and discovered it had a downhill start, an uphill finish, and a lump in the middle. I also had a chat to Matt on Twitter, who said that he had heard from another club-mate that it was pretty flat.

The race came at the end of a busy few days. Well, a busy week really. Had it not been a Somerset Series race, I probably would have just changed my plans and done a training run instead: my plan wanted me to do 14 miles, not an 8-mile race. But after a chat to Lolly, who I’d barely seen during the busy few days before the race, we decided that her and our two-year-old daughter, Lani, would come along as well, and they could possibly do the 2k Fun Run. Or at least have a run around the school fields.

As a Somerset Series race, most of the familiar faces were there as usual, and I had a chat to a few of them before the race, though of those, only Nigel had done the route before. With his usual detailed memory, he gave me a description of the route, though to be honest I’m not sure how well I took it in!

After managing to fit in a one mile warm-up around convincing Lani that she did want to wear her race number for the Fun Run, we were at the start and ready to go. On already weary legs, I opted to let the crowd of runners, and the hill carry me along at the start, as we plummeted down the road. The hill carried on for about a mile, and Strava has proudly declared it my second fastest mile (6:04), after the really absurd descent at the Chew Valley 10k (5:58). I really need to get out and run a fast mile on the flat to beat both of those, so I can be prouder of my best mile!

The descent ended with a left turn onto a farm track. Still a road really – the Google Street View car has even been down it, but there was more mud around. Then shortly after, we turned off that road through a farm, and along what definitely wasn’t anything more than a puddle-riddled farm track. The course very gently undulated along this second mile, though it was all but unnoticeable. Opening out onto the fields, the course split shortly after, with the five mile race taking a shortcut back to Ash. The eight-milers continued through some flood defences and over the River Yeo. Sitting on the edge of the Somerset Levels, the course was pretty much pancake flat through the next couple of miles, as we circled around a golf course.

After the initial shuffling around of positions, we’d settled down past the farm, though I’d been aware that I was losing time on runners around me for most of the race to this point. From about the first drinks station, which was by the river, I started to gain positions and time. I didn’t take any water at that station, which brought me right up behind the runners that were ahead of me, and I slowly picked off each of the three as we wound our way around the golf course. The terrain was probably the worst at this point, with a wet and muddy track to contend with, and one of my gained positions almost certainly seemed to be based on me having more grip than the chap ahead of me.

After a short road climb, we had a longer gentle descent along the road away from Long Sutton. I felt like I was running well on this stretch, but on reflection, I guess it was just the very favourable terrain, as I didn’t seem to make any significant gains on those around me. This lovely section was followed by the hardest part of the course: Knole Hill. It is not, to be fair, too much of a hill to be feared. The Hill Bagging website details that it is only 48m / 157ft high, and we probably only actually climbed about a third of that. But, it is a steep ascent up grass, and everyone around me (including me) had to take it at a walk.

Of course, what goes up must come down, and with the diagonal descent of the hill down the next field, I opened a large gap on those runners behind me. Another muddy, rutted farm track followed, along which I slowly closed the gap on the runner ahead of me. We drew level at the last drinks station, had a brief chat, and then started climbing the final hill.

You remember that mile-long hill that I flew down at the start? Yeah… we had to go back up it at the end. I’d been a little bit worried about this hill, imagining the horror of a mile-long struggle up a hill with regular walking breaks. But… actually… it was fine. I easily ran the whole lot, taking about eight minutes for the mile. Just a short dash to the finish followed – by this stage I was well ahead of the runner I’d been with at the bottom of the hill, but out of range of the runner ahead of me. So I probably didn’t push quite as much as I could have done. Which is annoying, because my finishing time was 1:00:05. If I’d just pushed 6 seconds faster…

At the finish, I was amazed to discover that as well as a medal (somewhat generic, but I can’t complain) there was a t-shirt. Not bad for a race that only cost £12 on the day!

All this for just £12!

All this for just £12!

Overall, I have mixed feelings about this race. On the one hand, I felt like I ran really well. The ‘light trail’ aspect of the race probably gave me a bit of an advantage: pure road runners probably found it too ‘trail-y’, while proper trail runners found it too ‘road-y’. However, for a trail race, it was a bit flat and perhaps a little boring. But I guess there’s always the Exmoor Stagger if I want hilly and interesting!

Next up: Yeovilton 5k (14 September), Great Bristol Half (25 September)

Haselbury Trail 10k: race report

The Haselbury Trail: my seventh Somerset Series race of the season. After a late start, during which I missed the first five races of the series, I’ve now done seven of the eight since. This leaves me needing to do three of the remaining seven races to qualify, though two of those I’m unavoidably missing.

This was my second successive year of running Haselbury, and other than the very basics, I hadn’t remembered much from the previous year. Two sources helped to refresh my memory: reading through my blog post from last year, and my club-mate Nigel – who, it appears, has an amazingly detailed memory for race routes!

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Off we go!

So, the basics: cheap on-the-day entry, two-lap multi-terrain course, mildly undulating except for a sharp climb up from a bridge at the end of each of the laps, cattle-grids, stiles, ford and a gentle road climb to the finish. After which you don’t get a medal, but do get an engraved glass. Last year it was a tumbler, this year a pint glass.

I found the race exceptionally tough. My analysis was that the course was slightly easier going than last year, when we’d had some rain through the day, and during the race itself, making the underfoot conditions less than ideal (though still not terrible).

Last year, I made the mistake of chasing after Clive in the first (admittedly downhill) mile, which I completed in 6:32. This year, Clive wasn’t there, so I wouldn’t repeat that mistake… Except that I did. In fact, I went even quicker, posting a first mile of 6:23. Either I was going to see some significant improvement, or I was going to crash and burn for the rest of the course.

Option B it was. Pretty much as soon as we hit the fields, my legs were telling me that they weren’t up for it. I took their message and dropped down into ‘consolidation’ mode. I mostly let those ahead of me slowly extend their advantage, while trying to stay ahead of those behind me, as best as I could. In most of these smaller races, after some initial shuffling around, the pack mostly settles into position for the middle stint of the race, with more shuffling again towards the end, and this race very much followed that pattern for me. I gained and lost a few places on the hill at the end of the first lap – not really sure whether I gained or lost overall though!

Much as last year, the second lap was quite lonely – I spent most of it without any runners 10 metres either side of me, and just concentrated on doing my own thing. Which was mostly trying to goad my legs into continuing, despite their insistence that maybe it would be a good idea to stop for a walk… Until I reached the hill again. At that point, I happily let my legs take over, and dropped to a walk once more.


Unnecessarily fast sprint finish.

At the top of the hill, the course levels out for a time, before heading back uphill along the road that we flew down at the start. Along this section, I quickly caught and passed a runner from Chard, and yelled some encouragement to him as I did so. It looked like he had a stitch or similar. Fortunately/unfortunately, he started back up again just after I passed him, and we pushed each other up the hill, with him passing me just as we neared the top. There was only a right turn and a short run along the cricket ground to go, and I started to push a bit harder. He responded by pushing into a sprint. I started sprinting too. He went a bit quicker again. I thought ‘sod this’ and went all out. To those around us, it probably looked like a slightly short, exhausted, and crazed-looking runner (me) trying to replicate a 100 metre race at the end of a 10k trail race, finishing ahead of a pretty nonplussed runner who wasn’t at all interested in a 100 metre dash. Because, you know, that’s pretty much what happened.


The race memento: ideal with pizza and cider!

For the record, I beat him. I then nearly threw up. It took me a few minutes to recover, and he then wandered over, and shook my hand with the quietly damning comment: “You really wanted to beat me there!” Yeah, okay, perhaps I’m a bit over-competitive sometimes.

The ‘race memento’ was a tulip pint glass – which I vastly prefer to last year’s tumblers, which are too small to be of much use (I don’t drink any shorts). Time-wise, my official time was 47:07, just one second quicker than last year, though my watch time was about ten seconds quicker again. I’m a bit disappointed that I wasn’t fairly significantly quicker than last year, but races in the middle of my current training plan are always going to be tough.

Next up: Ash Excellent 8 (4 September), Yeovilton 5k (14 September), Bristol Half Marathon (25 September, ARGHH!)

Tin Tin Ten: race report

This race has been the site of  a number of ‘firsts’ for me. In 2014, it was the first trail race I had ever taken part in. It was because of this that I bought my first pair of trail shoes, and it was the first time I wore them. It was the first Somerset Series race that I competed in, and this year it became the first race that I had visited three times. This year was also the first time in the last three years that anyone else from my club ran the race. It also nearly became my first ever DNF, but more about that later.

Having raced this three times now, it is interesting to see my development. In 2014, when I took part in this as my first trail race, it was something to be feared. Something new and exciting, an excuse to get new shoes, but mostly I arrived full of trepidation. It was a particularly wet year, and I found the terrain tough, and the hills hard work. Last year, the weather was perfect, and the course was pretty much bone dry. The course was being run the opposite way around from 2014, and I found the balance difficult: the first half was mostly quick roads, while the second half was off-road with more hills, and lots of stiles to wear down already tired legs.


Not a great start…

This year didn’t get off to the best start: nevermind about a DNF, I was worried that I was going to DNS. After getting home pretty early so that I could have a late lunch and a bit of downtime before the race, I headed back out to my car. Which had a flat tyre. After a bit of ummming and ahhhing, I decided to take it to the petrol station and put some air in it, and then see what happened. Probably predictably, what happened was: the air went in… the air came back out. It wasn’t leaking out all that quickly but, nice as Tintinhull is, I decided that I wasn’t willing to take the risk of being stranded there. Thankfully Iain was going to the race, and only works a five minute walk from the petrol station, so I parked my car up and headed over to meet him. Or, more accurately, I headed over to stand outside his building for what felt like forever, while the quick operation he was running ground to a halt, and ended up making him about twenty minutes late! Still, in the end we arrived in Tintinhull in plenty of time to get our race numbers, head out for a warm-up and get to the start line.


It would be fair to say that I wasn’t feeling in the best shape coming into this race. After a week’s holiday at Center Parcs, during which I had eaten copious amounts of rubbish, I had also picked up a cold and tight chest. Thankfully my chest actually felt alright on the Wednesday of the race, after a couple of bad days on Monday and Tuesday: had it still been bad on Wednesday, I wouldn’t have considered racing. Still, lining up at the start, I was feeling okay, though I wasn’t intending on racing hard.

The weather had been wet in the days leading up to the race, but also hot, so the course wasn’t in bad shape: slippy, rather than boggy, except for a couple of parts. One of these came during a narrow section: you turned a sharp bend and stepped straight into it without warning, it could probably have done with a marshal really, but no harm done! (I’ve been stacking up the excuses for a slow time here, have you noticed?)

We headed off, and for the first third of the race, I was going well. I wasn’t taking it quite as easily as I’d intended, but I was by no means pushing myself. In fact, everything was brilliant until about 4.5 km. We were climbing up a hill, and I started to realise that I could quite do with going to the toilet… and not the sort that you can just pop behind a hedge for. Well, not without hording some soft looking leaves first.



My following thoughts went something like this:
“It’s fine, it’ll pass.”
“Hmmm… this rhythm doesn’t seem to be helping. I’ll slow down a bit.”
“This isn’t getting any better.”
“We’re heading back into the village now, I wonder if I can pop over to the village hall, use the facilities and then get back into the race. Except I don’t know which way the village hall is…”
“Okay, now at the stage that just behind that tree looks acceptable.”
“Ooo, that marshal just came out of that house, maybe I could… Oh, too late, I’ve past him.”
“Yes! Finally, it’s eased off!”

By this stage, I’d ticked off another three kilometres. My pace had dropped to a comfortable one, though I was still slowly catching runners, and was only passed by one other. Given that I had the start of a cold, and had already lost any chance of what I would consider a good time, I decided to continue at a similar level of effort to the finish. When I saw Iain, about 20 metres from the finish line, I glanced behind me, saw noone was anywhere near, and continued to amble to the finish line rather than put in any sort of sprint. Not like me, but there we go!

I found the course much easier than I had been expecting. This might have been because of my relaxed pace second half, which would have meant my legs weren’t anything like as tired. Another major factor is the amount of off-road running I do now compared to previous years. Although I’ve not been able to do as much lately as I would have liked, I try to get out on some ‘proper’ hilly off-road routes at least once a week, where before most of my running was on flat roads in Taunton.


Wambrook Waddle: race review

After running better than I had expected at the Glastonbury 10k, the focus was on building up my mileage. Though I would like to set some short distance PBs in the near future, my main focus remains on an autumn half, so I don’t want to start introducing too much speed-work if it’s going to compromise my endurance efforts. Hopefully soon I can find a nice balance between the two.

However, in the mean time there were the next two club championship races: the second Yeovilton 5k race and the Wambrook Waddle. It’s reasonably fair to say that there are few races that could be more different: Yeovilton is a flat, fast, road 5k, while Wambrook is a hilly, technical, trail 10k.

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The smiling Running Forever group after Yeovilton.

Going into the week, my prospects didn’t seem great. After my Sunday run, I was starting to get bad knee pain, and so I was pretty concerned about running on it. I skipped my planned Tuesday run, and drove out to Yeovilton knowing that I might have to be a spectator. My warm-up run, roughly one mile, was completely pain-free, and so I made the decision to race. Despite having been raining most of the day, by the time the race started the sun had come out, and it was really quite warm. Nonetheless, I had a good race, managing better (though still pretty bad) pacing than last time, and improved to 20:44. Still about 30 seconds slower than my best, but a 20 second improvement on last month, so I’m still hopeful of beating my best this summer.

After Yeovilton, my knee continued to trouble me, though it had been fine during the run itself. I was more wary of Wambrook, knowing that a hilly course would be more likely to be problematic, and so I had a discussion with my physio about what I could do to minimise any trouble. He recommended a few exercises, some kinesiology tape, and Voltarol gel. I continued to avoid my other planned runs, and so I arrived for the race not really sure if I’d be able to complete it. Like Glastonbury, this was a race that I hadn’t done before, but I knew a fair bit about as Lolly ran it last year. Or at least, I thought I did – turns out that nothing really prepares you for this course.

For a full description of the route, you’re probably better off reading Lolly’s report: she describes it well. But succinctly, it is a beautiful, but very challenging course. The hills would make it difficult enough, but the terrain is very technical and varied. There are descents on grass, loose stones, solid but wet stones, and ascents on all of those, plus bog. And trust me, there is little that is more draining that running up a hill through a bog. Three river crossings, a scramble over a fence (no stile), and even a couple of short stretches of road!

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Beating Clive to the first river.

The race starts with a sharp descent to the first river crossing. I’m better than average at trail descents, and so I was happy to fling myself down the hill and see what happened. Apparently, one of my club-mates, Nigel, took this one step further, and was aiming to be the first runner to the river. He didn’t quite manage it, but I was a little surprised to see him ahead of me when I passed him at the start of the climb after. As is typical of these Somerset Series races, I knew a lot of the people around me, and was able to use these to gauge how I was running. Which told me that even after the really, really, really long climb after the river, I remained further forwards than I would have expected. I was just behind the first woman (Jo from Minehead), and one position ahead of another of my club-mates who normally beats me by a minute or two, Clive.

On the second descent, Clive took a bit of a tumble behind me, but got back up again quickly, and then passed me on the next climb, when my calves really started to complain. The first four miles of the race are by far the hardest, and judging myself against those around me, it was the section from miles three to four on which I lost time. I think I simply wore myself out so much on the first two climbs that my legs went. I dropped back a fair bit on a descent through a field, in which I simply didn’t trust my legs enough to run as I normally would, and I dropped straight to a walk on the hill after it. After that walk, I actually stopped at the drinks station to finish my whole cup, a rarity, particularly in a 10k!

160521 Wambrook 011

I really struggled with this section of the race.

The last section of the race was run primarily through fields or on decent paths, and once I had recovered slightly, I was able to start catching up to those that had passed me. On the final hill, I passed two runners, but wasn’t able to close down the gap to Clive in front. In fact, on reflection, my own position didn’t change at all from the picture above on the left, struggling up the hill. The two runners in red passed me shortly after this drinks station, but they were the pair I passed near the end. So I guess overall, we just chose to put effort in at different points of the race.

In summary, I loved this race for many reasons, even if it was really hard work. I love running off-road, and this race just cemented that fact. The tricky terrain was brilliant fun, and although this route as a race would probably benefit from being a little less hilly, the hills add to the rewarding nature of the course.

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The smiling Running Forever group after Yeovilton.

Next up: Wells 10k (29/05/16)

Early summer speed

Spring is generally considered to be marathon season, while the summer is dedicated to shorter distances. With both marathon and half marathon distances out of the question for me this spring thanks to yet another winter injury, I always knew that my first races back would be quicker, shorter distances.

My ‘training’ started again gently in March, with a number of runs aimed mostly at building some confidence and clocking up some miles. But I struggle to run without definite aims in mind, and there was no way that an autumn half marathon was going to get me going in the short-term. So, I had a look around, considered how far I was running (up to 4 miles) and decided to book the Brean Down 5k on 3 April.

In all honesty, this didn’t end up being a goal, so much as part of the journey. For those that don’t know the area, Brean Down is a headland between Burnham on Sea and Weston-super-Mare in north Somerset. The race starts by the beach and climbs up to the top of the headland, runs along and down to a fort at the end, before climbing back up to the peak and dropping all the way back to the beach. Off-road. It clearly wasn’t a course on which to get a PB, but that’s fine, as I was hardly in any shape to get a PB anyway.

1604 Brean Down 002

Grimace, grimace, smile for camera, grimace.

The day before the race, we travelled up to Kingsway parkrun, where Lolly kindly ran with the buggy to allow me to put down a more realistic benchmark for my training; 21:59. Two minutes off where my next target, and more like three minutes off where I’d like to finish the year. But at least I had an idea.

At Brean Down, I ran pretty well; my legs were tired from the hard effort the day before, and they certainly weren’t prepared for the hills, but I enjoyed pushing myself around, and getting the buzz of the race. It was also pretty nice to get a medal to add to my collection! Time was pretty irrelevant, but I came in quicker than I’d been targeting, finishing in 24:56.

After that race, I built my training up more, putting more structure in place. While I still wasn’t running from an actual training plan, I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to be doing. A couple of runs in the evenings, parkrun, and a “long” run. Which was 5.5 miles of hell that first week. No idea why, it was just a bad run.

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“This is so easy, I can do it with my eyes shut.”

Another chance to set down a benchmark followed soon after; the first race of the Yeovilton 5k series. I’d been meaning to race in these for a while, but this year I let myself give it more importance, and I’m planning to use it through the summer to benchmark my progress. I’m going to be pretty pissed off if I don’t go sub-20 at one of them!

I don’t tend to run all that well in evening races, though I do really enjoy them. Still, I managed to prepare relatively well, with a shorter day at work, and a mid-afternoon meal. I didn’t really know what to target, other than quicker than the 21:59 I’d run at Kingsway. With that in mind, I changed the settings on my watch to km pace (I usually use miles) and decided to aim for around 4:20 per km, which would give me a time of somewhere around 21:40, which seemed reasonable.

My pacing was dreadful. Perhaps unsurprising, given that the races are known for having a fast field. I started too far forwards, and found myself drifting back for the first kilometre. After that I steadied myself in the pack, but obviously everyone around me was pacing badly too, and we struggled to maintain our pace. All that said, I was chuffed to come around in 21:07, within a minute of my PB.

After Yeovilton, I had two and a half more weeks of training before my next significant benchmark, the Glastonbury 10k. But I’ll cover that in another post…

Exmoor Stagger: race review

Two weeks after getting a half marathon PB, and four weeks after running a slightly long half marathon, I was lining up to start another race that was over 13 miles: the Exmoor Stagger. The distance was about as close as the similarities got, and even that was a little tenuous:

Two Tunnels – 13.5 miles (ish)
Burnham – 13.1 miles
Exmoor Stagger – 15.8 miles (ish). Both the Two Tunnels and Burnham could fairly be described as half marathons, even if the Two Tunnels was a long course. Exmoor on the other hand was very definitely longer. In fact, I wasn’t sure exactly how long to expect: the course had changed slightly from the previous year, when it had been around 15.1 miles, and there wasn’t a published distance on the website for 2015, though it was clear it wasn’t going to be too different. I like to consider it an “ultra half-marathon”!


Dunkery Beacon. It’s up. Lots.

Two Tunnels – Primarily canal tow paths, some of which was a little uneven, but generally good condition. Also some pavements and roads. A short off-road section early on was slightly harder going.
Burnham – Sports field at the start and finish, but otherwise entirely road and pavement. Easy and fast conditions.
Exmoor Stagger – Proper off-road fare, with the exception of a stretch at the start/finish and through Wootton Courtenay. The east slopes of Dunkery were particularly treacherous, with fist sized rocks which slipped around under your feet, trying to find the ideal position to break an ankle. Although the weather had been pretty good to us, there were still some pretty slippery sections too, but thankfully not anything as bad as I heard it had been in some of the previous years.

Two Tunnels – Strava says 479 ft, but this is an overestimate, as it will assume I climbed over the hills, rather than went through the tunnel. I would hazard a guess at around 100ft, maybe.
Burnham – Strava says 0 ft. Really. There were a couple of railway bridges, but this was as flat as a half marathon gets. No marble tests were needed here.
Exmoor Stagger – Strava says 3,199 ft. Three major hill climbs, though the middle one was split into two, so it felt like four climbs. Many of these were far too steep to have any chance of running, and even walking was a significant effort. Dunkery Beacon is the highest point on Exmoor, and the highest point in Somerset, while Minehead, where the course starts, is a seaside town. Oh, and in between the two is another hill. In fact, the short road section through Wootton Courtenay in the middle was about the only extended flat-ish section, and even that was hillier than most of the Two Tunnels and Burnham courses!

Two Tunnels – Pretty good, the tunnels themselves were a great experience, I enjoy running alongside canals, especially a working canal, unlike the Taunton & Bridgwater Canal, and running up to the weir at Poulteney Bridge in Bath was pretty cool too.
Burnham – Nothing amazing; the back lanes were all much of a muchness, and although I think we could see the sea around Berrow, by that stage I really wasn’t interested.
Exmoor Stagger – Stunning, with a caveat. I’ve run to the top of Dunkery Beacon before, and the views were spectacular. On the day of the race however, it was foggy. In fact, on the top of the hill, our useful visibility was about 10 metres. It was brilliant conditions for running, but not great for appreciating how amazing Exmoor is. That said, even within our limited visibility, there was plenty to appreciate, and at lower altitudes, we could see much further.


With my club mates before the run.

Fellow runners:
Two Tunnels – One of the chaps I was running with seemed perpetually grumpy, and spent most of the race moaning at the other path users that they were getting in the way. He wasn’t a good advertisement for runners. On the other hand, he encouraged me to start running again when I dropped to a walk near the end. Otherwise, I had little interaction with other people during the run.
Burnham – No interaction at all with other runners during the run. Too busy running.
Exmoor Stagger – Lots of hills meant lots of walking, which meant lots of chances to have a bit of a chat. I think the fact that I was taking the race a bit easier, and being more laid-back also contributed. On the climb up Dunkery, I had a lovely chat with a bloke who’d come down from Rugby for the race; we were both dismayed at the point at which a walker coming down suggested it was “only” 15 minutes to the top! (Thankfully he was wrong.) Another hill got me chatting to a lady who had done the Stumble a couple of times before, but not the Stagger, while I had a few short chats with an older fellow who opined that the course change had benefitted “road runners”. All in all, whether because of my own attitude, or just the nature of the race, it was extremely amiable.

Overall, this was a completely different challenge to anything that I’d done before, and I really enjoyed it. It has given me a lot of confidence ahead of the Grizzly next March, and I certainly wouldn’t rule out doing this one again, though I’d quite like to try the Herepath the week after…

Training summary: 10-23 August

Back when I was training for my first half marathon, I found it useful to write a summary every week, or every couple of weeks. It served both to hold myself accountable, and to help me organise my thoughts and analyse what worked well, and what didn’t work so well. With a few big races coming up, I thought it might be useful to do it again. So first off, let’s have a look at the raw figures from the last couple of weeks:


Very much a tale of two weeks! Last week was meant to be a recovery week, so the mileage was meant to be low. But, well, not that low. I didn’t have a solid schedule, but the aim was to hit around 15 miles across four runs, all at pretty easy pace. We were going away over the weekend, so the plan was to do some parkrun tourism. The week started pretty well; I finished work pretty early on Tuesday, and drove up to the Quantocks to get some miles in. I live right in the middle of Taunton, so while there is plenty of countryside around, I have to clock up a few extra miles getting out of town, and even then things are pretty flat and dull. So having time to jump in the car and drive 20 minutes up the road to run on some pretty stunning trails is great. I had only been planning to run four miles, but enjoyed it so much that it ended up being five, and I could have happily kept going for more.

Much better than town streets...

Much better than town streets…

The rest of the week ended up being quite stressful and tiring, both at work and home, and I just kept putting running off. Because the weather was looking pretty awful for the weekend, we cancelled our hotel for the Friday night and therefore didn’t engage in any further parkrun tourism, which was a bit of a shame. We had still been planning to go to our local parkrun, but in the end we didn’t really wake up early enough (which with a 22-month-old, is a rare achievement!) Saturday afternoon, evening and Sunday were spent travelling to, socialising at, and driving back from a family BBQ, which just left time for a pretty lacklustre four miles on Sunday afternoon. That run was one of my least enjoyable for a while, but I did see a shrew, which was a first!

I was keen to put a line under that week and begin this one strongly, and an interval session at the track with my running club was the ideal way to start. I’ve been trying to push myself quicker over the last couple of months, now that I trust my knee again, so rather than play it safe and run with group 2, I opted to run with group 1, even though I knew it was probably too fast for me. We were scheduled to be running one kilometre repeats, and group 1 were aiming for about 3:40 per km. I managed my first two at 3:46, but then trailed off during the next two, also taking longer rests than scheduled, hitting 3:50 then 3:55. For the fifth repeat, I’d completely gone, physically and mentally, and I “trotted” around to complete 800 metres at a much slower pace than I was meant to be hitting. Nevertheless, I knew that was a risk with running with a faster group, and I’m happy enough with the result: I ran three good intervals and one pretty decent one.

velo RFRC Herepath

I kept thinking we couldn’t keep climbing. We did.

On Wednesday, I joined up with my running club’s group 1 runners again as they skipped the normal one hour club run from the middle of town to go do 12 miles along the Herepath. The Herepath is a circular route in the Blackdown Hills on which our club run an annual half marathon (plug). I’ve never done much running down there as I don’t really know my way around, and this seemed like a perfect opportunity. Well, almost perfect: I just had to keep up with group 1! As you can see from the graphic, the route is pretty hilly, and it was by far the toughest run I’ve ever done. The pace was quicker than I could find comfortable, and once the climbing and the terrain was added in, my legs were certainly feeling the strain. But all that said, it was probably also one of the most enjoyable runs of my life, and it’s given me some confidence ahead of the Exmoor Stagger in a couple of months.

The next day, I trotted around for a couple of miles just to keep my legs loose; not much to say about this run really, other than the fact that my legs felt awful!! I took Friday off (I very, very rarely run on Fridays) before a buggy parkrun on Saturday.

Looking attractive during my sprint finish...

Looking attractive during my sprint finish…

I told myself that I’d take it easy. That for once, I’d be content to trot around near the back, rest my legs and not push too hard. After a nine-minute first mile, I then ran around 7:40 for the next two, and was running 6:30 pace for the last 0.11. It was not easy. The problem is… because I start at the back for safety reasons, I then start to gently pass people. Passing people then gets a bit addictive, and rather than just settle in at a comfortable pace, I just keep trying to pass people. My legs feel pretty good, and even though my heart and lungs are screaming that it’s hard-damned-work pushing a buggy around that quickly, my legs don’t seem to understand. Or something like that. Anyway, it was a good enjoyable run, even if I did go a little bit fast.

On Sunday I wasn’t really sure exactly what I was going to do. With my 12 mile run earlier in the week, I didn’t need to do a long run, but I did need to get out for something. In the end, I settled for a tempo run, which ended up being three laps of our parkrun course to total five miles, with an extra couple of miles to get there and back, acting as a warm-up and cool-down. I’m a bit split on tempo runs: I can see the obvious value, but on the other hand, they are mentally tough. Obviously, that’s sort of the point: if I can’t maintain a steady pace for five miles, what hope have I got for a half-marathon? On the other hand, I found today’s five miles at half-marathon pace pretty tough, and it just sets me thinking: “If I struggle doing five miles at half-marathon pace, how can I do 6.22 miles at 10k pace next weekend, and 13.1 miles at half-marathon pace in a month?” Of course, for those I won’t have had quite such hard weeks in preparation, and the race adrenaline will carry me through too. That aside, I was pretty happy; I ran five miles with the quickest mile being 7:30 and the slowest 7:35, which is consistency that I’m proud of.

Next week I’ve got the Battle of Sedgemoor 10k, so I’m hoping to do a medium-long distance run early in the week, and then complete one or two gentle runs to keep my legs fresh, before kicking on with distance again the week after.

Haselbury Trail 10k: race report

This race was on my list for last year, but a combination of a cold and a bad ankle meant that I wasn’t able to take part. So this year, I didn’t want to miss out! As with most of the Somerset Series races, there were places left to register on the night, and as this is the only race that I’m aware of that doesn’t charge anything extra to do so, I took that option. Despite running injury free for a few months now, I’m still very wary of signing for anything too far in advance: I reckon I lost about £75 in race entries in the first half of the year that I wasn’t able to run because of my knee injury!

I’d been half expecting that, like at the Tin Tin Ten in June, there would be no other members of my club at the race. However, after a little tempting, I managed to suggest to Phil that I could give him a lift, and then Clive also decided to come along, giving us both a lift. I found this a little bit strange – I’ve never had a lift to a race before, and while it was really nice to receive, it also weirdly affected my preparation. When we arrived at the venue, we also found Nigel from my club, so all-in-all, we were reasonably well represented.

Preparation-wise, I can hardly blame the drive there: I’d woken up with what I would delicately describe as “stomach problems”, and indelicately describe as “the runs”. It did improve as the day went on, but I never felt tip-top. To add to this, I had an early start to make sure that I could get down to see a customer in Liskeard and back in time for the race.

Just making sure I get my excuses in early.

North Perrott Cricket Club during an actual match of cricket, rather than a 10k race.

North Perrott Cricket Club during an actual match of cricket, rather than a 10k race.

Anyway, arrived at race, signed up, yar-de-yar-de-yar. A few minutes early we were all stood on the road outside the cricket ground (the start and finish was on the outfield – the bar and kitchen were inside, good times!) We were all ready to go:

“5 – 4 – 3 – ” The countdown came over the loudspeaker.

“Car! Car! Car!” We shrieked, as (shock) a car drove up the road towards us. Had the car appeared ten seconds later, there would have been all kinds of chaos. I honestly don’t know if they would have called us all back to start again, or if we’d have just had to clamber around and over the car as necessary!

After the poor young girl driving the car had driven past and received a round of applause from the assembled crowd of runners (in what was probably quite intimidating fashion) we were all ready to go again.

“5 – 4 – 3 – ” The countdown came again.

“2 – 1 – GO!”

We went. Waa-hoo, a downhill start. Oh bugger, that means it’ll be an uphill finish. Still, on the bright side, this hill was nothing on what was to come. After a short stretch of road, we turned down the driveway for Perrott Hill School, through their car park, along a single-track road and then turned off into a field. In some ways, this field was the trickiest part of the course, as it involved running diagonally down a hill. (If that makes any sense. Rather than running straight down, we ran, sort of, along and down.) This made the chances of turning an ankle, or just plain slipping much greater, and while there was no established path, and thus we could have zig-zagged to take the hill more safely, that would have clearly added on distance, and frankly avoiding injury isn’t THAT important – it’s a race, dontcha know?!

This first stretch of the lap – did I mention there were laps? It was a two lap course. Anyway, this first stretch of the lap was mostly through open fields, and after that first diagonal descent, the running was reasonably easy: towards the second half of the lap things got more… interesting.

One of many stiles on the route (credit: Crewkerne RC)

One of many stiles on the route (credit: Crewkerne RC)

Stile, stile, ford crossing, stile, stile, wooden bridge, stile, stile, slippy wooden bridge, stile, hill, stile. And I’m pretty certain I missed some stiles. The whole course was exceptionally well marshalled, with people placed to warn of inconveniently located posts, slippy bridges, and just to offer a cheery shout as we trudged past. This was even more welcome on the second lap when the rain had settled in! I enjoyed the course – there were perhaps a few too many stiles to be able to settle into a rhythm, but that’s the nature of this sort of race. The hill at the end of the lap destroyed me first time around, and I dropped back from the people I had been running with. As a result of this, I basically ran the entire second lap about fifteen seconds behind the group of runners in front of me, and much the same from the runners behind me, giving the illusion that I’d just gone out for a run on my own.

Overall I was happy enough with my time of 47:08 on a tricky off-road 10k, but I think I could have done better. I tried to chase Clive a little bit too much near the start, which killed my legs too early in the race, meaning that I settled into a slower “race pace” that I would have liked. The lack of anyone around me on the second lap probably meant that I didn’t push enough: the gap was too big for me to mentally try and bridge, and there wasn’t pressure from behind to speed me up either. I probably also pushed too much on the hill first lap, and should have dropped to a walk sooner, but it really didn’t look as bad as it actually was. Still, all in all, I really enjoyed the race – all the Somerset Series races seem to have a good atmosphere, and it’s good to see familiar faces between them.

I collected my second tumbler as a finishing memento – more practical than a medal, although to be honest, we have enough glassware in our house anyway, and then had enough time for a burger from the kitchen before we headed home. My next race? The next Somerset Series race of course, the Battle of Sedgemoor 10k at the end of the month.

parkrun tourism: Penrose

For a while I’d been reading rumours about a parkrun starting up near where my parent live in Cornwall. The nearest parkrun for a long time was Lanhydrock, and that was realistically too far, at just over an hour’s drive. So I was overjoyed when I was pottering about online and came across a reference to Penrose parkrun: within hours I’d arranged a trip down to visit my family! (I do love them really…)

As seems to be a trend in my reports, my preparation was not ideal. It was my birthday on Thursday, so we had massive takeaway pizza, and red wine. On Friday, at my parents, I had two takeaway meals from the Chinese, and a huge slice of triple-layer chocolate birthday cake, and red wine. On Saturday morning, the last thing my body was up for was running.

The views were stunning (credit: Graham Horn)

The views were stunning (credit: Graham Horn)

Penrose is a lovely area between Helston and Porthleven on the south coast of Cornwall. People might suggest I’m biased, coming from there, but it is actually a fact that nowhere else in the world is as nice. Seriously, ask those people on QI or something! The Penrose estate is managed by the National Trust, and is mostly woodland around a lake, Loe Pool, and along the coast. So it isn’t really a surprise that the scenery on this run was pretty stunning. Even being familiar with the area, my breath was somewhat taken away when we turned the corner to run on the clifftop above the sea for a short stretch. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Although the course info advised parking in a big car park at the bottom of Helston and running a couple of kilometres to the start, we opted to take the other option, and squeeze our car into the much smaller car park only a few hundred metres from the start. I do feel sorry for any holiday makers who had decided to pop out for an early morning walk and found the car park overflowing, but never mind! Next time, now that I know where everything is and what’s going on, we’ll probably run there, but I preferred being nice and close first time around.

The start was reasonably well organised, the estates old stables provided the meeting point, and after a typically friendly welcome and briefing, we were shepherded to the start line, and after a 3-2-1-GO, we were off!

Knowing that there were a few hills, and that my body probably wasn’t in peak condition, I had decided to take it easy for the first mile, and then see what I had. Or, as actually happened, sprint off like a gazelle, and hope that the cheetah tired before I did. Yeah – my pacing is AWFUL. If you ever want to run consistent splits, and you’re near me… just do whatever I’m not!! The first mile ran mostly alongside Loe Pool, but in all honesty, I don’t recall seeing the lake much. It might well have been visible and pretty, but I was mostly watching the feet of the two runners just ahead of me, and not really concentrating on the gorgeous scenery I was raving about earlier. At least, not until I rounded that corner and joined the south west coast path.

Spectating cows! (credit: Penrose parkrun)

Spectating cows! (credit: Penrose parkrun)

The views around Mount’s Bay were simply stunning. Unfortunately, while parkrun is a run, not a race, I wasn’t about to hang around lollygagging. After a reasonable stretch running along the coast above Porthleven Sands, we turned away from the sea, and up hill. This is more or less where my lack of preparation kicked in – the climb isn’t that severe, about 150 ft, but in trying to stay with the people around me, I pretty much destroyed my legs, so when the course flattened off at the top, I had nothing left for the final three-quarters of a mile. This second half of the course is predominantly on smaller tracks around fields, and the footing is a little bit trickier than the paths at the start, but still nothing too serious. A final dash around a field of spectating cows led to the finish line.

For a relatively new parkrun, it was very well organised, particularly given the distance between the start and finish lines. There was even one of the core team offering to laminate barcodes for the runners to make it easier on the scanners – if that isn’t service, I don’t know what is! All in all, a brilliant parkrun, and I would highly recommend it to anyone in west Cornwall on a Saturday.

Quantock Beast: race report

In the past few weeks, I’ve been making an effort to incorporate more hills into my training. This came about for two main reasons: Firstly at the start of June I ran the Crewkerne 10k, which was an… undulating race that I was woefully unprepared for. Secondly, I’ve recently been looking through my running logs and realised quite how flat the majority of my runs are. Running in Taunton, and primarily along the river and canal, this is hardly a surprise, but all the more reason that I needed to make a special effort.

With some club mates at the start.

With some club mates at the start. Credit: Lolly.

So, the Quantock Beast seemed like an ideal opportunity: a small race local race (five miles from home) with a fair bit of climb over a relatively short distance. In the week leading up to the race, I began my “hill hunting” in earnest: last Sunday I tackled (got lost on) Cothelstone Hill, to clock up 258 metres of climbing, easiest my most ever, and then on Tuesday I managed to find 163 metres in a run from my house, which mostly involved trying to run as far from Taunton as I could manage and still get back in time for breakfast. While I’m sure that this will pay dividends with my long-term running development, I did belatedly realise that it perhaps a little foolhardy in terms of short-term race preparation. But then, it’s not like I had a 5.5 mile race time to try and beat!

The race starts and ends at a free admission National Trust property, Fyne Court. This provided a lovely location to mill around in before and after the race, and also an area suitable for my toddler to charge around in while I was racing: something my wife and brother assure me she did plenty of!

Fyne Court, when not full of runners! Credit: Rose and Trev Clough

Fyne Court, when not full of runners! Credit: Rose and Trev Clough

A short briefing before the race mentioned some of the marshalling and route problems from the previous year, when a variety of routes were run as people went off track in a few different places. We were assured that this year there were plenty of marshals, arrows and marker tape to prevent the problems being repeated. After a further warning about a fallen tree we’d have to clamber over, we were off! I intentionally positioned myself slightly further back in the pack to try and avoid haring off too fast, but the plan back-fired slightly, as after an initial road section, we climbed onto some narrow paths on which overtaking was impossible. I spent a while stuck running slower than I would like, but when the path opened up onto a field, I was able to move through the pack in front of me a little more easily. Around this point, I fell into sync with a runner in a fluorescent vest, and we ran together for most of the next two miles. Which was a steep descent, followed by a long, long, long ascent.

I soon adopted a tactic of run – walking up the hill. For all those around me were running quickly enough that I did drop back when I walked, I found I was gradually making up ground on those ahead of me by doing it. I know some people try to avoid walking during a run, but personally, in a race, I’ll use which ever method I think will get me to the end quickest. Towards the top of the hill, I began to pull away from the runner I’d been with for a while: at the end he told me that he’d tried his best to stay with me, but just hadn’t been able to.

Sprint finish

What a face! Credit: Lolly.

The climb got a little muddier towards the top, although the hot weather recently made the terrain much better than it could be. One runner I spoke to on the climb said that things had been a lot worse last year! I passed two more runners during the final stage of the ascent, and slotted in behind a chap from Weston AC as we weaved our way through the trees. At one point, one of the arrows had fallen slightly and appeared to be pointing down the right-hand fork, but the marker tape continued along the left-hand fork, and so we headed that way. (Apparently, not everyone did, and there was a fair bit of moaning and groaning at the end about people going off course “again”! Personally, I felt that the marking was fine, although as I was following another runner through this section I can’t tell for sure whether I’d have gone wrong or not if I was on my own.)

The route dropped downhill from this point, and soon moved onto the road for the last mile. I allowed myself to speed up as we cruised downhill, although I was a little wary that I didn’t know the course well enough to be sure that there wasn’t another climb or off-road section, so I was careful not to push too hard. As it turned out, I ran my fastest kilometre of the year to end the race, and even put in a sprint finish, despite there being no one close in front or behind me. Although I was slightly worried that I would trip over the toddler who ran out into the finish funnel in front of me… yes, my own daughter!

After a chat with a few other members of the club, including a couple that I hadn’t seen at the start, we headed home, to enjoy a well deserved (in my opinion at least) Nando’s!