Category Archives: Race Reports

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting race kit ready

What does race kit look like again?

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

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

Turning at the end of Station Road

Ah yes, this is how races work

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

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

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

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

Running by the sea

I remember! You have to hop!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good Friday 2017 photo

Good Friday 2017

Good Friday 2018 photo

Good Friday 2018

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

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

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…

Hills to Coast Relay: “race” report

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

MRC “Hills to Coast Relay”

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

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

Stunning views

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

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

Up, and up, and up…

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

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

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

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.

Red Bull Steeplechase: race report (catch-up part two)

My catch-up quest continues! Three more races to get through, starting with a big one (literally):

Red Bull Steeplechase – 18 June

This was one of my favourite races of 2016, and when I saw that it was coming back to Exmoor for a second year, I couldn’t resist. Despite the huge hike in price. In 2016, I’d been pretty close to making it through the second checkpoint, and onto Lynton, but I missed out by a couple of minutes. I was itching for the chance to go further. Of course, then we had a baby, didn’t get enough sleep to train properly, and I came to realise that even equalling last year’s effort would be a fair achievement! This race also happened in what was pretty much the hottest weather I have ever run in. So not ideal… (Getting my excuses in early.)

The race started at 9:30, which I had figured would be one small mercy with the weather. Except that the day before the race, I was doing some gardening at 9:30, and it was already baking hot, so there would be no respite. I mostly tried to stay out of the sun before the race started, and made sure I drank plenty. I also toyed with my race tactics – namely my plan for the start. Last year I was surprised by the pace of the start – we did the first half mile at around 5k pace, as it went through the street (singular) of Lynmouth and then hit a bottleneck at the coastal path.

Ultimately, I decided to take it a bit easier in the heat, and then slowly pick my way through the field later on when it was wider. I then completely ignored this plan, and pelted it through Lynmouth at what Strava suggests was pretty much exactly the same pace as last year. After that quick half mile, we then had a slow half mile of hill climbing. Very slow in fact. The first half mile took about three minutes. The other half took about eight minutes. But, important detail, that was the first horrible climb completed.

After that first hill, things level off for a time, and I could just run. Each mile was slower than 2016, but between the training and the heat, it was still feeling pretty tough. Very tough in fact. About six and a half miles in, running alongside the River Heddon, I stopped for a drink station. Credit to Red Bull: there were lots of drinks stations, and they were very well stocked with bottles of water and cups of Red Bull or a water/Red Bull mix. When I say that I stopped, I really mean it. In a knockout race, I, along with two others I’d been running along with, came to a complete stop to drink a complete 500 ml bottle of water. Such was the heat, and such was the knowledge of the hill to come.

But now, some good news! The marshal at the drink station asked if we’d done it last year. Yes, we all had. Well, he said, that horrible hill climb through the scrub? Not there. Instead we’d turn left and head up the coast path instead. Great!

For some context. These two “struggling” runners came first and fourth. This is how hard the course is.

No, it bloody wasn’t.

It turns out that when you’re at 120 ft, and the checkpoint is at 815 ft, there isn’t really an “easy” option. In 2016, we had one horrible climb, and then a gentler ascent up the road to the checkpoint at about 8.7 miles. This year, the climb up rugged terrain just seemed to go on forever, and the first checkpoint wasn’t until 9.4 miles. On the two intermediate checkpoints, I’d been 110th and 108th, but I knew I’d dropped places heading up the never-ending hill and was 113th. Considering my expectations, I was surprised at how highly I was placed – in 2016, I’d been 128th through the first checkpoint.

Through the second section of the race, things became more lonely as the field spread out, and I was really starting to struggle in the heat. There aren’t really any flat sections of the route, and I was taking frequent walking breaks. Where in 2016 I’d been cheerily acknowledging walkers and those around me, this time I was grunting and hoping for it all to be over. The course was beautiful, the scenery stunning. But my body wasn’t really up for it, and I didn’t cope with the heat very well. Amazingly, I finished in exactly the same position, 110th in both 2016 and 2017. But whereas in 2016, I was only 2:44 behind 100th, this time I was 5:41 behind.

Some other comparisons; last year it cost £30, this year £45. Last year, there were 281 men and 96 women. This year 198 men and 93 women. I fear that the race might have to either move again, or consider the price. It’s an expensive race to put on, and Red Bull do a hell of a lot to make it worthwhile. The drinks (as I said) were well stocked, there was a free “runner’s lunch”, this year it was a pasty, followed by a cream tea. The hoodie from last year had been downgraded to a cotton tee though. And yet again, despite photographers and videographers all over the course, there were no participant photos, just a “pool” of about 15 shots available to the press. To me, this was the most disappointing aspect. Red Bull could get lots more publicity and marketing exposure by making the photos available, with big Red Bull logos in the corner. We’d have shared them on social media, especially given the amazing backdrop. But there was nothing.

All that said, if the race is back on Exmoor again next year… you know, I’d probably do it again: I really want to get to Lynton, and get the train down the cliff.

Right. This was meant to be all three race reports, but I got a bit carried away with the Steeplechase! Look out for part three…

 

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…