Monday, 20 July 2015

May the 24th be with you...

Feeling the need to ease a few stiff muscles I started the month by booking a massage, a rare treat, and it obviously did me the world of good as the very next day I seemed to do the best run I'd done for ages, not a long one but all felt great and I even managed to get a PR on one of my favourite Strava segments
(And for a short while top of the leaderboard too, which has been subsequently beaten of course)

A few of my friends were running the North Dorset Village Marathon on the early BH weekend, one which I was not planning on running myself, given how I feel about road marathons, but on the other hand If I ever did decide to try another one (maybe to punish myself for something?) I could do worse than this picturesque 26.2 miles through some of Dorset's charming villages.
We attempted to find a suitable place halfway along the course to watch and cheer and as luck would have it, arrived at our chosen spot just in time to see the lead bikes crest a rise in the distance followed by the lead runners.
A lot of cheering and clapping later, and having seen all out friends go through, we decamped to the finish stretch, which is a long straight former railway trail (and one which probably seems never ending when you are running it) and managed also to see them cross the line. Opening a bottle of bubbly seemed the order of the day; as a recovery drink probably not the best idea but it was well received all the same!

The BH weekend was concluded with a long run, but this time plus a little experiment which subsequently got me told off by a fellow runner!
As part of learning about how my body copes with fat burning I decided just to see how far I could go at a low HR taking in nothing but water, and after no carbs for breakfast. No electrolytes, no gels, no snacks, no input but water. Obviously though I wasn't completely stupid as did take sustenance with me so I could take it if really necessary, but the plan was to see what happened and how i felt.
I say to see how far I could go, but I was limiting the run to around 30km, not just planning to keep going till I fell over! (this was my last really long run before the Ox Marathon on the 24th)
For the first half both dogs accompanied me and I just went round the heath a couple of times but I had Kev pick Daisy up at halfway simply because she hadn't gone that far before and so carried on with just Max (and before you ask, of course I took sustenance for the doglings and plenty of water!)
Then I decided on a little bit of uncharted territory and left the heath to try and make it across to Canford School (large posh private school by the river with loads of grounds and apparently a footpath) and return along the Castleman Trailway.

Got a bit lost getting through the school to the river path, oops. .

I don't know if they have CCTV but if they have I'd like to think they have some puzzling footage of a Lycra-clad runner and a small brown dog jogging aimlessly round and round looking for the exit! I probably should have listened to the advice of a walker I passed who said I had to go back and go along the road, but: a. I hate retracing steps, b. I like to keep the dogs off road if possible, and c. I'm stubborn (there must be a path through here somewhere, dammit, I saw it on Google Earth!)
Anyway, eventually I made it too the river, chucked Max in (it was a warm day) to cool him off which he wasn't happy about as he hates going in water he doesn't know the depth of (since disappearing into a large 'puddle' on a past run), and continued on my planned trailway route.

As for the experiment, well I will say its perfectly possible to run 29-30km (18 miles?) on just water and no fuel but you do end up having to slow down considerably, my pace across the whole run was an average 8:27 a km (yes snails pace to all you fast chaps and chapesses) although some of that was, as I put it "...stopping at rivers for the dogs, feeding them biscuits, saving Daisy from fierce dogs that were obviously going to eat her, persuading max that all the pushbikes weren't dangerous on the trail way. waiting for horses to go past, waiting for bikes to go past, getting lost in canford school etc etc", and a couple of km were actually under 7mins... :-)
In the end I didn't feel to bad although a little tired, but the whole run took me 4 hours. Yes I know a lot of people do a marathon in less time, but it wasn't intended to be a speed workout, it was just putting in the miles.
What was interesting to me was to see how I felt as the run went on way past the generally accepted 2-2.5 hours that your stored glycogen is supposed to last. Apart from feeling a little lightheaded about halfway through and having to slow my pace a little (this soon passed) I was able to keep going without any drastic and complete loss of energy. Yes I was hungry later. Yes I was tired. But the world didn't end. All helpful information as mentally this means that if i ever find myself in a long race (or indeed training run) and I have run out of food/gels, or heaven forbid the aid stations have run out, or I get lost and spend 2 hours trying to find my way back (which has happened in trail marathons though not to me thankfully!), then I know I can notch the pace back a bit and carry on.

Through May the low HR runs continued, and possibly I was now starting to reap a smidgen of the benefits, as during the next long run less than a week later, a 10 miler, my speed was not improved, but 10 miles felt like half the distance and I felt good and strong at the end.

Obviously I felt too good as for some reason I signed up for day 2 of this. . .

Why I thought at that point it would be a good idea to sign up for my first (yes FIRST!) 50k ultra only 2 weeks after the Mont Blanc Cross I have no idea but my reasoning to myself developed as follows: 1) I had been looking at this race since last year. 2) I like Avebury. 3) I can run it slowly.
At the time I thought I would do it on my own but looking back I'm glad that pal and Rebel Scum member Neil decided to join me (Top marks to Neil though as for choosing an ultra as only his second marathon!) as in hindsight I'm not sure I would have liked to run it on my own.
But I'll go into more detail in a later race report, I've got a little jog around a mountain to report on before that.

Spring had sprung a while ago, and the grass had riz, and we were into upton summer series season, a nice little series of 2-weekly 5k races around Upton Country Park, arranged by Poole Runners, and at £2 a time (no frills, no medals, just a finish time) a bargain.
I was not running any of them as Kev was marshalling, but I dropped him off, ran around the heath with the dogs then wandered back to the park to spectate and shout a bit of encouragement or friendly abuse depending on who it was directed at!

The next couple of weeks before the Ox marathon was mainly spent on shorter runs under 10k (if I was feeling particularly rebellious I would ignore the low HR guidelines and have a bit of a 'blat') and enjoying a few long sunny dog walks, occasionally hearing the distant calls of the local hasher group ("ON, ON!") and thinking how lucky I am having these lovely and accessible trails on my doorstep.

In the middle of all that peaceful bliss fell the Race Day for Spring 10k charity trail race, just a little warm up for the Ox which was the following week May 24th.
Considering this was the race's first outing it was quite well done. Obviously the glorious weather helped but a reasonable £12 for the 10k, and £7 for the accompanying 5k (plus a childrens 1.5k fun run) got you a lovely run around the paths, both old and new, of Upton Country Park, water, cheerful marshalls, toilets, and a bespoke medal. Proceeds were going towards SPRING, a Poole hospital charity. Although the route is not hilly it is undulating, but that didn't stop me being less than 30 seconds away from a new 10k PB, quite encouraging!

So, May 24th loomed and so did the Ox Marathon. Not sure I was entirely ready but then you never are, are you? However, this in turn was all just warm up for that little mountain race a month later. I wasn't intending to try for a time, I just wanted to get some decent hills and distance under my legs, and if the half last year was anything to go by, this should do it. I was also using the opportunity to test my full kit for the Mont Blanc race and so I had loaded my waist pack according to the compulsory kit list and wore all the kit I intended to wear in the alps.
Rocking up once again at the Rushmore estate, (The Larmer Tree Races were held on this estate too) I was impressed with the adjustments made this year. In 2014 the Ox Start/Finish/Race HQ and camping facility was at the top of a very windy cold hill. This year the windy cold hill was still there but had been shunted back to about 3 miles from the Finish which along with the Start and the camping was near the estate Golf Club and the entrance lodge. This was much more sheltered and the camping fields were nicer for those who were roughing it.
Food vans serving pizza and chilli and cider were in situ, and while not that busy at the start, were guaranteed to do a lot of business apres-race!
Kev was not running the LoveStation this time but an aid station at approx 18 miles. The Kilt was still in evidence but he wasn't required to be quite so full-on, which of course didn't stop him trying...

I cant give you a detailed report on the route but there were a few sections that stood out. From the start there was 100 metres or so along tarmac before turning into the trees. Then followed a very nice flattish/slightly undulating run through woodland which let you get your breath in a little and warm up.
Part of the course goes along old Ox droves so straight and well worn stony paths come into play. before that I remember one section going up and down a hill along a narrow singletrack through clouds of flowering cow parsley and thinking 'how nice is this?'. There were some gorgeous views.
The Army had entered a team, from the Intelligence Corps as I recall; I remember someone saying to one of them as they were struggling up a hill, "bet this doesn't seem very Intelligent does it?".
I gradually overtook one of them about halfway, then another a little later, while passing the time of day with a 100 marathon club runner (Dave I think). After that I started to look out for runners in green tshirts with the Corps badge on the back, just to try and tick off another one! (not very sporting but it kept me occupied, and by the time I crossed the line I had ticked off 7!) 
The route took in a very muddy track just before turning onto a short road section and it was only after me and another runner hit the tarmac the nearby marshall took one look at our muddy shoes and said 'didn't you see the bridge then?'. . . 
Shortly after that and just before Kevin's 18 mile aid station, I managed to catch up the Rebel Scum guys, well 3 of them anyway, Dave was still ahead of us having employed 'Top Gear Rule 3' (As i understand it, this rule states that if any of your group falls behind, you just carry on and leave them!) I'd caught sight of the red shirts in the distance a few times, getting slowly closer and so it was nice to finally 'reel them in' going up a hill. Neil & Trevor were running their first marathon (and what a marathon to pick!) and Ian his second, as was Dave (still ahead) so the guys were doing a sterling job and I was very pleased to have caught them up, especially as they are normally faster runners than me.
The hills were getting harder by now, so I had been employing my usual method of '50:50' running, that is, up a long slow hill, run 50 steps then walk 50 steps, and repeat until you reach the top. It might not sound like much but it really gets the hill out of the way and you can catch up people who are just walking up surprisingly quickly so its quite good for moral as well as being not too tiring to do. At the same time, I realised someone following was employing me as a pacer! The giveaway was that they were matching me step for step in my 50:50 technique.
As me and my shadow caught up the Scum and ran with them for a while I discovered it was a young chap from Yeovil Town running club, and on his first trail race I'm sure I remember him saying! We chatted for a while as you do, and managed to keep chatting while fast hiking up the evil Winklebury Hill just before the Lovestation, something I was quite pleased about as last year that never ending hill nearly beat me, so I knew my fitness levels were higher.
The final hill to the finish was a real energy sapper, but clearly my sense of humour had not yet left me at that point as Gordon the photographer, poised to snap people in full suffer mode, captured me in this position at the bottom of the hill!


I was really pleased with my finish time (and a trail marathon PB) of 5 hours and 33 minutes (and *whispers* the fact that at some point in the last couple of miles I just managed to leave a certain group of red tshirts behind, but I've no idea how, Shhh dont mention it...) . And more importantly I felt that beating the mountain race cut offs was a real possibility.

Happy to have got to the OX finish line intact! (With RD Mr Andy Palmer)

During the following week, I managed to do a few slow recovery runs as well as taking a walk along the Black Hill 10k route investigating a potential new start/finish section.
Given that work was due to start on a new Bere Regis School this year and the access was to be via Egdon Close and over souls moor, where both the approach to the finish and the parking area were situated last year, it made sense to see if we could adjust the route slightly to miss out both areas. Especially as the projected increase in runners would render the slight botttleneck near the start quite busy as well. It turns out that it is possible and we found a very nice alternative but it would mean the 10k increasing to 10.5km (not a huge problem in trail running terms) and the 5k would end up being 6k (slightly more of a problem!). So the jury is out at the moment, watch this space. . . .

Upcoming in June, a brand new 10k PB, a bit of relaxing, some humid runs through foreign woodland (no banjos were involved), a spot of swimming, and nervous preparation for the big race day!

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