With a decent weather forecast, easing restrictions and a socially distanced format, the 2020 edition of the Four Fans Fell Race provided a welcome reason to head over the River Severn to the Brecon Beacons with Andrew Wood.
Event start/finish was on the hillside opposite the Storey Arms Outdoor Centre, the very popular launch point for wannabe ascensionists of the highest summit in the Brecons, Pen y Fan. Even before 9am parking was at a premium. On the plus side, the Storey Arms burger van was open and provided an “old school” pre-race feeding opportunity.
Always a “no bells; no whistles” event with a small number of entrants, the 2020 Four Fans was even more austere than usual. No marshals and just a sign-in process before hitting start on the MapRunF application (An app that uses SmartPhones for timing and route checkpoints, avoiding the need to put marshals out on the course) and heading in the opposite direction to the Pen Y Fan hordes.
Our first checkpoint was Fan Number 1, Fan Frynych, and the route initially followed a reasonable path that formed part of the Brecons Way. Navigation was not therefore a challenge in the morning hill cloud that was at least keeping the sun off. The temperature was, however,already ominously high, as was the humidity…
After a gentle uphill introduction on a well marked path, the more direct racing line to the first Fan required a bit of map and compass work but we picked up the “runners’ trod” without too much difficulty. The short out and back excursion to reach the summit trig point (A triangulation station, also known as a trigonometrical point, is a fixed reference point, often on hill and mountain summits, used in the past for map surveying. Typically marked by a four sided concrete pillar.) / checkpoint was duly reached without drama and in good fettle at this early stage. There was still a good way to go though.
As we headed further West the ground started to get a little rougher and the sun started to make its presence felt, burning off the morning cloud. The leg to the next checkpoint was a decent stretch which was enlivened by a brief but close sight of a family of mewing Peregrine Falcons.
With the cloud dispersing navigation became easier and brought the second Fan and checkpoint, Fan Nedd, into sight. A direct line to it provided some tussocky entertainment and colorful language but delivered us efficiently to the foot of the all too obvious climb to the summit. At these points I have found it is better to focus on the ground directly in front and establish a sustainable uphill rhythm; the summit, like Christmas, always eventually comes and provides delight.
Delight in this instance was the close proximity of the third Fan of the jaunt, Fan Llia; just a mile away. The mile unfortunately involved just under a 1000ft of down followed by the same up; it was time to disengage the brain and crack on. Apparently there is a runnable line off Fan Nedd. It eluded us however. We instead enjoyed some impressive tussocks that required some “high-stepping” action and robust vernacular to overcome. The lovely stream crossing at the bottom of the valley provided welcome and cooling refreshment ahead of the long climb to gain the height lost; such is the way of fell racing.
The summit of Fan Llia, and the third checkpoint was hard won. Expansive views of the Brecon’s Wild West were the reward. It also provided a route choice to the fourth and final Fan, Fan Fawr. The first and most direct option provided another steep, rough down and up, while the second offered a more runnable traversing line with less height loss. Having had our fill of down and up we elected for variety and took the second option. With the midday sun now beating down it certainly seemed a better choice with multiple stream crossings at the head of the valley providing opportunity to cool off. The subsequent uphill to Fawr’s summit provided a final morale tester ahead of a mercifully short but leg testing swoop back down to the route’s starting point at the Storey Arms.
There we collapsed gratefully on the grass and reflected on a cracking couple of hours tackling the Four Fans with nothing more to worry about other than the simplicity of getting round some points on the ground as swiftly and efficiently as possible in one piece. That achieved we withdrew for much needed refreshment after another tough but hugely satisfying and rewarding outing across the Severn Bridge.
PS. It was a time trial race and we were delighted to have bimbled round without getting lost and just avoiding the “relegation zone” end of the results table.
During lockdown I did a few virtual events, mainly because I liked the medals and thought they would be a good memento of a rather weird year. With no competition however I struggled to show any speed at all and so looked for other challenges to keep me motivated. I ran for 65 days on the trot and did 100 miles in a month, which was a lot for me, although I appreciate that some people do this distance in an event!! Then I saw the details of the Phoenix P24, The Longest Day – all you had to do was run 1 mile every hour on the hour for 24 hours, simple! It was apparently the first event of its kind ever run in the UK so always interested in doing something new I signed up, joined the Facebook group and started counting down the days until June 20. It surprised me how many people did sign up and the amount of runners who weren’t based in the UK. Regardless of where you resided however you had to run your first mile at 8am (UK time) and then every hour on the hour until 7am on 21 June.
I decided on 1.1 miles every hour so that would give me a marathon distance and was handy as the loop that I decided to run, during the hours of daylight, was exactly 1.1 miles. A video was posted on the FB group page of an American guy who had done something similar and he suggested having a list of 20 minute jobs, ie all those little things that you keep meaning to do but never get round to, to do during the downtime in between runs. He did actually make a garden table in between his runs but my carpentry skills aren’t up to that standard! I duly made a list of about a dozen jobs to do to keep me busy – one of the items was to make a shepherd’s pie and boy was I glad of this one the following day!
Fuelling was a big concern because although I was only running 1.1 miles it was going to be a long day and also I was planning on no sleep until I’d done! Regardless of how far I run I struggle with eating beforehand so knew I had to go for the little and often approach to avoid nausea but had to eat enough so I didn’t feel sick through lack of food! Therefore I stacked my ‘aid station’ with chocolate, squashies, crisps, more squashies (best post-run food ever!!), some cake and haribo. I was ready! The only other bit of prep I did was to set alarms for 5 minutes to the hour every hour just in case I got distracted and decided to make a garden table or fell asleep!
So the morning of the longest day arrived I dragged myself out of bed early so I could shove some toast down me, listened to the race brief on FB live and off I went on my first run. The weather was great for running and lap 1 was over before I knew I’d left the house! On about the 4th lap I saw one of my neighbours who thought she was seeing things as thought she’d seen me running a few hours ago. I quickly explained what I was doing and her response was ‘WTF?’
For the first 6/7 runs it was just a case of wait till the top of the hour, press the Garmin, run, home, next item on my to-do list, wait for the alarm to go off and repeat!
The race director had suggested several themes for a few runs to alleviate the boredom – 2pm was a family run, 8pm beer run, midnight fancy dress. Now my kids have both left home so my husband, who I have never seen run in 20 years of knowing him, took it upon himself to accompany me for the 2pm run. With all due respect he did make it without stopping but don’t think it will become a regular thing as he declared he would be sticking to fishing in the future and leave me to do the running.
7pm was the halfway point and this lap was run to Bon Jovi on repeat:
Woah, we’re half way there Woah, livin’ on a prayer Take my hand, we’ll make it I swear Woah, livin’ on a prayer
I admit that I joined in very loudly with Jon’s dulcet tones which must have been a joy to anyone who was out walking at the same time but hey ho I was halfway there. From the FB group there were people all round the world doing exactly the same!
I had my chestlight ready for the darker hours and a route – basically back and forth outside my house. I live in a hamlet with no street lights so my lap was ok during the hours of light but creepy as hell in the pitch black. So 10pm was the last proper run I did and then 11pm saw me don my lights and off I went – now at this point everything was stiffening up; the distance I was running wasn’t very far however the stop/start nature of the challenge was playing havoc with my tired, old body!! I had also overestimated the distance from my house to the pull in at the end of the road and trying to run and see the time (without my reading glasses!) was difficult!
My husband went to bed and left me to it after my 11pm run so it was just me, the dogs and Netflix until the following morning. I don’t think I’ve ever drunk so much tea during the night before – I was struggling to stay awake and to find something decent to watch on the TV, the time before each run seemed to be getting longer and longer as well!
It started raining in the early hours of the morning and I can assure you that putting cold waterproofs back on is not a pleasant experience. I did discover that my elderly neighbours have pink flamingos and other weird stuff in their garden which they illuminate at night – unfortunately because of the rain and tiredness I didn’t take any photos. I also discovered that the pull in at the end of the road is used by canoodling couples and at 3am I’m not sure who was the most surprised when I ran past them – they perhaps thought I was some kind of pervert with my lights….
At 4am I could see dawn approaching from the east and I knew the end was nigh – only 3 more to go! The support on the FB group throughout the night was excellent with virtual marshals encouraging us and I don’t think I would’ve completed without them.
I can only loosely describe my last 3 outings as runs – everything was stiff and achy and I must have looked like a geriatric running. I just wanted to sleep. 7.11am and I was done – time for breakfast which tasted fantastic as all I’d really eaten was sugar for the previous 24 hours. Then it was time for bed.
After a few hours sleep I got up, did some washing and came to appreciate how many shorts/t-shirts/pairs of socks/sports bras I actually possessed and had worn during the duration of the challenge. I’d worn the same trainers throughout though even when they were soaking wet – it’s not like I’ve only got 1 pair so I can only blame it on sleep deprivation.
By midday I was absolutely ravenous and was so grateful for the shepherd’s pie I made. I uploaded my results on to the internet and I was done – time to kick back and wait for the medal to arrive. I have included a photo of Bruno, one of my Rottweilers, wearing the medal as he is a significantly more photogenic than me and did run about 100 yards with me!
I really enjoyed the challenge and have to admit to those 24 hours being one of my most productive in a long time. There’s another P24 scheduled for October when the clocks change again but I might only do the 12 hour one then!
If you want to watch the American guy’s video of his 24 hour challenge you can find it at YouTube Link
Since P24 I’ve also done their M25 Vultra which was running the equivalent of the M25 – 117 miles and you could pick the length of time you wanted to complete in, from 1 day to 30, (needless to say I picked the 30 day option and it took me 24) and the 7 in 7 which was any distance you wanted but you had to run for 7 days on the trot!
I’ve also done the ‘Run 8K with a mate’ charity run for the Samaritans – this was with my daughter Nats and as she’d been the last person I’d run with on the day that lockdown was announced it was fitting that she was the first person I went out with again!
Running has kept me sane this year and it’s been nice to get back to some club sessions over the last few weeks – really need some effort/tempo sessions now though before I lose any speed that I might once have possessed.
On the 5th of June, I received an email from Kurt at Cotswold Running to announce that the Cotswold Way Century was cancelled. Having volunteered in the odd numbered years and run it 3 times previously in the even numbered years, this was going to be my last time running it and I’d already decided that if it got cancelled, I would not go back for 2021 and would continue to volunteer every year from now on.
Having run it 3 times previously, as well as doing all 10 legs of the Cotswold Way (including numerous recces) and once I ran it over 3 days, I had run the southwards route at least 5 times and some sections would be in double figures. However, when I looked at my northward journey, I calculated that I’d only run about half of it and apart from the 19 miles nearest Bath, it had only been once on each section and over 5 years ago.
So when I messaged Kurt to let him know that I was not requesting a transfer to 2021, I also mentioned that I had a plan to run north solo. I still had one race (of 130 miles) left in my calendar so said that if it got postponed that I’d do my north journey this year, otherwise I’d wait until next summer. Within 24 hours, I had picked the date of Saturday 4th July.
I had a DNF at the Century in 2018, due mainly to rubbish kit not being good enough as it rained solidly for 21 hours. So for numerous reasons I picked a summer date instead of waiting.
I’d have 8 weeks to recover for my race
Even if it rained, it shouldn’t be as cold as the end of September
The night would be short as it was only 2 weeks after the solstice
And Tammy was off work that weekend, so I was free and would be able to get picked up at the end
As I was going solo, the biggest concern was being able to get water. Unlike some other trails, there is only one tap on route. I was looking at shops and there was a shop at 19 and 40 miles, but then no other shops until 84 miles. Luckily Max Luff lives in Gloucestershire now so I asked if she minded meeting me at around 62 miles with water. Kurt (who lives at the North End) also offered to meet me and bring some water (and a bacon sandwich) so I was sorted.
I had kept my attempt pretty quiet but the day before I shared a tracker link to a few people I felt would be interested, one of them (Robin Lewis) said he would meet me at the start and join me for the first few miles.
So on the morning of 4th July I had breakfast, got myself sorted, packed my bag with masses of food and water, the route on my watch (in case it’s completely different running north), a first aid kit, my phone loaded with a lot of podcasts, a power pack and cables, and a proper waterproof jacket so I wouldn’t get nearly hypothermic this time.
I caught a bus towards the start at Bath Abbey and set off with Robin at 8:19, planning to keep going until I reached Chipping Campden 102 miles later. Robin had run 45 miles, 3 days previously, so I was hoping that he’d keep me from setting off too quickly. No such luck as the first mile was my fastest and the only one under 10 minutes.
Robin joined me for the first 7 miles and left me at the Gloucestershire border. I would now be on my own for around 50 miles and 13 hours until meeting Max at Painswick Beacon.
You’ll be pleased to know that I won’t be doing a mile by mile breakdown, just highlighting a few things. A couple of miles after leaving Robin, I was bitten just behind my right knee by a dog, this was about 5 seconds after the owner had told me she was friendly.
One advantage of starting early and going the opposite way to usual is that I got to see some views that I usually miss when doing the century as they coincide with the night. In the space of about 3 miles after Stroud there are two parts of the Cotswold Way route which do an out and back just for the view and it was nice to actually be able to see it.
There are 2 places where the route splits in two, I decided that I would do the reverse of the Cotswold Way Century. There is the frankly evil 3 mile loop along the edge of Stinchcombe Hill Golf Course above Dursley in the dark when there is a perfectly functional 1/4 mile alternative route. And the other one is the slightly shorter route through Stroud which avoids Ebley Mill and the canal.
It was great to see Max when I got to Painswick, especially as she’d brought the banana I’d requested. I did not eat nearly enough on my journey and chewing anything was difficult so it was great to have something easy to get my teeth into.
Unfortunately for Max, who was joining me for a few miles, I was suffering from large blisters on my feet, caused by the wet, dewy fields early on. And combining that with not enough long runs and not enough hills in training, as well as self preservation through woods in the dark (didn’t want to trip over roots), my run had long since become a hike, albeit a speedy hike for the most part.
It was great to have company for a couple of hours even if we did misnavigate to the top of Cooper’s Hill (you know, the cheese rolling one), one of only 2 navigation difficulties, neither of which were major or added any time or distance.
Oftentimes, people doing long distances and going into the night will experience hallucinations, a stick on the ground will slither like a snake, branches in the distance will look like a person. I didn’t suffer with anything like that but I did have one brain freeze when walking along a road and everything suddenly went dark. I was going past a very large house at the time and assumed they’d turned their lights off. It took me about 5 seconds to realise that my headtorch batteries had died. It was supposed to last 10 hours on full beam, I got about 4 hours out of it. Luckily I am conscientious and had a backup headtorch.
Not long after the sun rose on the second morning, I was going across Cleeve Common Golf Course, which at 1,040 feet has the highest point on the Cotswold Way, providing beautiful views all around.
At just around 24 hours, I was coming down a rocky path (tough on the blisters) from Belas Knap Long Barrow towards Winchcombe when I saw Kurt waiting for me. He had a bacon roll and a cup of tea for me. They were both fantastic. Kurt also met me again another 2 miles on with another cup of tea. And with 12 miles left to go, I saw him walking with his family and he told me he’d left some fruit salad in syrup for me, behind his car. Kurt was a real Godsend.
I’ve often said that the Cotswold Way looks harder going north than south (and not just because you’re heading away from home) and I was being proved correct. From looking at an elevation profile, there are 4 hills on the route which climb around 200 metres in very short forward distance. One was after 40 miles, the other 3 were the last 3 hills.
For the last climb, up to Broadway Tower, I had been joined by David ‘Mitch’ Mitchell, friend of Kurt and the only known person to have gone there and back on the Cotswold Way in a single go (just over 50 hours). I had joined him from Tormarton to Bath and back to Tormarton again on his run, so it was a great pleasure to have him with me for my last 6 miles.
The tower at Broadway never comes, it’s a long slog, the tower is hidden and it’s relentless. As we finally neared the top, Kurt joined us too. The nice thing about finally reaching Broadway Tower, is that you then basically have 5 miles of flat and a downhill to finish.
Kurt went off to wait at the finish, where Tammy and the kids would also be waiting for me and I walked along with Mitch. He had cycled to Broadway and was wheeling his bike along, so with half mile to go, he cycled off to let them know I was coming and allow me to finish solo.
I was hobbling down a rocky path, but then it turned into glorious paved roads. I knew I had to take a right before I met with Chipping Campden High Street and nearly took one too early, but just resisted.
Having navigated the correct right and then left onto the High Street, it was a small straight line to the stone that marked the start/end of the Cotswold Way. As I got to the last building, I thought it was time to start running again and at least finish as I started.
After 31 hours, 1 minute, 30 seconds I stopped and laid down on the stone and that was it, I had gone north on the Cotswold Way powered only by my feet and I never have to do it again!
Along with Mitch, we may be the only two people who’ve completed both ways of the Cotswold Way in single goes, although Mitch was much quicker and did them both together. Indeed, his north run was quicker than mine when he’d already gone south.
From a psychological perspective, I find it fascinating. I was weak mentally as I could have run much more than I did, especially once the sun rose on the second day. But I was also mentally strong, because I was happy to just keep moving forward and never had any dark moments. I kept my pace up at all times.
It took a little while to recover and I still have remnants of the blisters now after 5 weeks. I couldn’t even stay awake that evening, so the celebratory bottle of red had to wait until the day after. While I could have gone faster, I had a lovely hike along the Cotswold Way and enjoyed myself.
I’d like to thank Kurt, Max, Robin and Mitch for meeting me along the way for company and to provide me water and tea. Also like to thank the supporters following me on the tracker. And obviously I’d like to thank Tammy, Oscar and Bonnie for supporting me in doing these things and picking me up at the end.
For those of you who read my last race report, you may remember that I mentioned about a parallel universe not being possible. Well…, I’m not quite so sure – read on!
Today I ran the same 10K route (well the last mile was slightly different); with very similar weather conditions, rain that had stopped and a slight breeze (though not in the same miles), slightly overcast with the sun threating to emerge at any point. The difference? Today Stuart was also racing so he wasn’t pacing me; it was down to me to race and see what I could do. So, I decided I was just going to let my legs do the talking – well, as long as they went relatively quickly!
Laura was also racing 10K today because she had entered the Calne Clock Change Challenge (as did Stuart) and it had been changed to a virtual race. I was racing for my 2nd claim club, Ravens (London based).
As we were preparing ourselves, a young male runner went past. I knew we’d probably pass him at some point, but wasn’t sure where. It would be interesting to see, if he chose the same route as us.
So as per before, 2M warm up, quick pre-race wee and count down from 3, 2, 1 and go. Now Laura had said she was going to stick with me for the following reasons: she had a few drinks the evening before, a very late night, an even later morning and just managed half a biscuit on her way to ours (to follow us to our designated parking in Chippenham). She also noted a slight niggle in her lower leg. I’ll be honest, I doubted she would stick with me because she is quicker so there was no reason for her – but to be fair, she did – well at least for the first 4 and a bit miles.
Mile one was pretty uneventful; you all know how it feels, it’s great, you’re running with pretty fresh legs and it doesn’t hurt. So, mile 1, 6.38 – that’s okay I thought, same as I started last time but slowed to 6.50 to keep the pace; no such thing holding me back today. I didn’t question the time or wonder if I could maintain sub 7 this time.
As we were working our way on mile 2, we were approaching the young man I mentioned earlier. He must have wondered what was happening; first Stuart would have passed him within the first mile, as would Robin (Schols from AVR), then came Laura and I. I was actually quite surprised at how fast he was running when we approached him and how long it took to overtake him; I tried to guess his pace – I decided it was probably about 7.20s – 7.30s. Other than that, nothing much happened on that mile other than I was trying to gauge how I felt last time, but to be honest, there wasn’t much either way. The wind was slightly more within the first two miles, but nothing I couldn’t tackle with fresh legs. Mile 2 finished with 6.50 so yes I’d slowed but nothing to be alarmed about.
And so we pushed on, Laura and I almost stride for stride; it felt good being able to align my breathing with my leg turnover; it felt comfortable having Laura at the side of me and probably spurred me on too. There was absolutely no conversation, both of us concentrating intently on the road, our pace, our breathing and conserving energy. Mile 3 ended very quickly too, 6.52. Another 2 seconds down but I didn’t feel it was anything to worry about at this stage.
Mile 4 was quite interesting; whilst I was still maintaining pace, it was clear Laura was ready to up the pace and so I stuck with her for a few hundred metres but at the end of mile 4, I could see she was making quite a space between us. However, at 6.49, I was still holding steady and had not slowed. My glutes were starting to complain a little but I tried to pass that off and not think about it. If I gave it too much head space, it would start to bother me; and with two miles to go, I didn’t have time to be bothered with twinging glutes. I could stretch and rest when I’d finished, so get on with it woman!
Mile 5 saw me trying to chase; it’s not my favourite part of the route; once you go past the pig farm, the road winds a little and the wind picks up and it seems a very long way to the end of that particular road, where you can turn out of the wind. I also find that the road on this part of the course has quite a tough camber but I don’t like running directly down the middle of the road either, as there is a lot of gravel so you can’t get a good grip. Call me fussy, but it’s my nemesis on this part of the route. Before we get to the end, my watch beeps and that’s another mile done, mile 5 in 6.47. To say I don’t like that mile, I’ve obviously found something from somewhere to propel me forwards.
Finally, we’re at the end of this particular road and making a right turn (instead of left which is what we did last time); it’s not time to relax yet though. Not only have I got a mile to go but actually it’s then .22 on top to make the 10K distance (and to make Strava happy), so it’s almost another quarter of a mile on top. Stay focussed I tell myself, don’t get side-tracked, you’ve done well so far, keeping your splits under 7mm, you really can’t afford to lose focus now. Unfortunately, Robin thought he had taken a wrong turn (although he hadn’t) so retraced his footsteps only to see Laura and I and had to turn around and continue where he had originally headed. So he is now running to catch up with Laura and probably overtake her to stick to his own strategy. Meanwhile, it’s now getting hard for me. It’s always the last mile (I even think this to myself). If it had been a 5 mile race, I’d have been fine until mile 4 then started to struggle! So, I had to employ tactics I’d not needed until now. Head up, arms like pistons, but relaxed, (pretend you’re drawing a gun, someone once told me), trying to lift your legs, feet up to your bum if you can, not scuff them along the floor.
I can see a tight corner ahead, one I always cross over to the left-hand side of the road, the same as flowing traffic as opposed to opposite it. I was unable to shout to Robin and Laura to warn them as they were too far ahead. There was a very slight mishap; two cyclists were coming in the opposite direction just as Laura & Robin were running around the corner. Fortunately none of either party were injured but the cyclists were very shocked when they came past me. I don’t think it affected either Robin or Laura.
Up until now, I had only looked at my watch when the mile beeped but I needed to know how much further I had to run. The watch was on 5.40 so still a fair bit yet. Yes, I tried the old “maths” in my head – always a good tactic to try when you’re tired. I tried to think of how much I actually still had left to run – .80? No that wasn’t right, try again. Then horror of horrors; I saw Laura and Robin take a right turn where I was planning to go straight on. I can’t really blame them, it is after all still part of the HM route. But I know this is a slightly hilly part of the route and the last thing I wanted at the end of my race. I now faced a dilemma; should I follow them or continue on as I’d planned in order to make the “hill” more palatable and probably less of a hill. I couldn’t; if I didn’t follow them, either they might turn around wondering if they’d gone wrong, or they might wonder what had happened to me and why I hadn’t followed them. Just suck it up I told myself and another quick look at my watch. An inward groan and I’m still only on 5.79 and that means almost another half a mile on an uphill section.
Stuart was just up ahead cheering us all in; I saw Robin next and he was very encouraging, telling me to finish strong. I pumped my arms extra hard and tried to keep the legs turning over. I was determined I wasn’t going to go over that 7mm pace; I’d eluded it this long! So on to the top and a left turn. Laura was ahead and had finished, shouting me on – and finally I looked at my watch and I’d done just over the distance, of 6.23. Ah, finally, I could relax, press the stop button and slow right down to a stop.
We were all pleased with our results; Stuart finished in 37.53 so quicker than the AVR relay. Robin finished inside 40 minutes, which was the aim of the day for him. Laura knocked yet more time from her 10K PB to finish just over 42 minutes and yours truly finished in 42.29 – a full 20 seconds faster than when I was paced by Stuart a couple of weeks ago for the AVR relay. So that parallel universe I was talking about….
Laura and I walked back to Robin and Stuart and we all walked back to the main road where there was a beautiful field of sunflowers that everyone of us had missed as we’d run past it. It was stunning and we may even be able to provide a photo soon.
It was rather a longer cool down than I’d have preferred, jogging back to the car was over 4 miles with what felt like mountains to climb. But we made it and I was dreaming of ice lollies and cold drinks.
Having looked at the elevation and map on Strava, I’m wondering if it would be slightly quicker if we ran it in the opposite direction, because it certainly looks like it might be. Will there be a third 10K on this route? I’m not sure, but you can bet if we do run it fast again, I’ll be writing another race report 😊
And so here we are again, warming up for another virtual race. However, this one is as part of a team, so I really do need to put my best foot forward and not bugger it up. I decided the best approach for the 10K was to pace it, rather than race it hard out from the start. Yes, I’ve been training, but not for the longer stuff, mainly the 5Ks.
In order to try to obtain the best result, I engaged the services of my husband to pace me and I had chosen a suitable route, part of the Chippenham HM (yes again). I was extremely lucky; it had been raining for most of the morning, but now there were signs of blue sky amongst the white clouds. I silently thanked the gods, hoping the rain would stay off, but preparing to race regardless. The wind could become a problem… The two-mile warm up was complete and the necessary pre-race wee was had.
After a couple of hard training sessions, this week, I really had no idea how my legs were going to react; time to find out. My Garmin watch was ready, countdown from three and we were off; sub 7-minute miling was the instruction to Stuart. Of course, we set off too fast, 6.38 pace. Like any good pacer, he advised me to slow, which I did until we hit 6.50. It felt good, almost easy, but I knew it wouldn’t feel like that for the whole 6.21 miles.
Apart from a Chippenham runner in the opposite direction (Frank), I don’t recall seeing any one else out running in that first mile (and it remained like that throughout), despite it being a popular route.
Mile 2 continued in much the same vein, a relatively easy pace to keep at this early stage. Mile three seemed even easier and my pace increased slightly; Stuart did remind me of the pace, but it felt good; so good, I really did want to push on at this point but held back (am I a coward?) going for safety over speed. The views are amazing on this course if you keep your eye out, it’s nice to have the opportunity to have something to take your mind off the pace, stop you wondering if you can keep it going, if you’re strong enough, or if you’ll falter.
My hearing is impeccable, so much so I was able to ensure Stuart moved inside, either in front of behind me when a car approached. Mile 4 is the start of my least favourite mile of this run and toward the end of this section, the cracks are just beginning to show. Comfortably hard, I kept telling myself, that’s how it should feel.
We’re now on mile 5, the terrain has started to deteriorate, the road winds and the wind has picked up, you simply cannot avoid it. However, I just managed to pull a sub-7 out of the bag. Comfortably hard, I remind myself. It might have been physcological or it might have been genuine, but my legs have seriously started to tire. I hate running in the wind, trying to fight it, but I have no ammunition against it, I have nothing to offer. I know I only have 1.21 miles to go but that’s still a long way to go to maintain sub-7.
We are at a point now, where if we had stuck to the main HM route, we would have turned right; however, the decision was made to head back towards Chippenham, hence making a loop and turning left then immediately right. Unfortunately, as soon as the right-hand turn was made, I knew it was a mistake. The wind was as bad as the previous mile and a half and in a split second I made a decision to turn back around. From this point, I really should have then made a left turn to get back onto the HM route and out of the wind, but of course I wasn’t thinking straight and I turned right. I lost terrible seconds here and it will come back to haunt me.
Whilst it wasn’t as windy, there was still a side wind. There was also a slight incline; it’s surprising where you can find inclines on a relatively flat course when you’re running at your absolute peak. Cursing, I tried to pump my arms to get my legs turning over, to no avail; I could feel my legs slowing down and could hear Stuart’s encouraging words, trying to get me to pick my pace up. I knew it had dropped, a quick peak at my watch, but it was just so hard, I really just needed to get to the height of the incline, then I could get going again.
Mile 6 beeped on my watch, a disappointing 7.06. It would have been so easy to give up here, but this is where I rallied. I needed a fast pace now, more than ever to get my average back down to improve my overall pace. Push, push I kept telling myself, only .21 left to go. I glanced at my watch. 6.07, not time to stop yet, keep going; 6.18, OMG, how much further, is this ever going to end!!! This is always the most difficult part of any race/run – that last push when you just want to be over the finish line, it’s in your sights but you’re not there yet!! Stuart pushed ahead and made a line on the road, I ran, checked my watched, saw it at 6.21, stopped the watch and stopped running.
I’d done it, finished, pulling back that last .21 of a mile at 6.39 pace, giving me a watch time of 42.49. Of course, I should have been happy with a 6.54 average, but I’m a runner. Instead of focussing on the positives, the consistency, I focussed on that last mile and was mildly annoyed, to say the least. Asking myself, if I had pushed on when I felt fabulous at the start of my race, would I have achieved a better time, or would I have tired sooner, got a slower last mile and an overall slower time? But we’ll never know the answers to these questions, unless of course there is such a thing as a parallel universe.
Now, to jog the 4 miles back to the car and that’s what we did, JOG!! Special thanks to my lovely hubby, Stuart Henderson for pacing me the day before attempting his own 10K (then he went and actually ran it properly the following week!).
As I’m a 2nd claim member of a couple of running clubs in London, I’ve been quite spoilt by running challenges during lockdown. One of my clubs’ offers a weekly 5K TT challenge and that’s given me some focus other than just running aimlessly (although that’s still been enjoyable). When Stuart mentioned the BMAF virtual race, I thought this could be quite interesting, because it’s for us oldies and it gives us the chance to benchmark ourselves against others in the country that we’re not aware of – and stops us feeling too smug about our own running, in case anyone thinks they’re fast!!
Stuart & I decided that our weekly 5K route would be suitable for the BMAF champs as it does not have too much downhill to warrant it being outside of the rules. We invited Laura to join us too; I felt this would be mutually beneficial as I knew I would be chasing Laura, trying to keep her in my sights (5Ks are not my forte). For Laura, she knew I’d be chasing as hard as I could so good for her too; plus of course, she could make keeping Stuart in sight, her focus.
We explained the route and where there were slight undulations, where the “fast parts” were and potential wind tunnels. So, after our 2-mile warm up, we were ready to go. We were starting from the other side of the railway bridge at Thingley, near the travelers site, where the route would be the third left, to the end, turning left into the main Corsham Road, then at the crossroads, turning left again, over the small railway bridge, to the end, left once again to finish at the crossroads with the road leading to Chippenham.
Watches ready, feet poised; the countdown, three, two, one, go and we were off; unsurprisingly Stuart was first off in the lead, then me, then Laura. Within 50 metres, Laura had taken me and the chase was on. Thankfully, there was little wind but goodness me, was it hot. Still, haven’t got time to worry about the temperature, we had work to do. Because I’ve done this route so many times, I know exactly where the mile splits are (yes I’m old fashioned and still work in Miles, not Ks). The first mile is round the corner, just before the big tree; this can vary in time for me, anything from about 6.55 to 7.07. Imagine my shock when my first mile showed 6.37!! I tired to stay calm and not worry about going so fast that I’d blow up. You see the secret is, I usually get quicker, because the Corsham Road is ever so slightly downhill. So, it was a case of “keep calm and carry on” (I love this so much, I have it on a mug and a t-shirt).
In mile 2 there is a downhill section followed immediately afterwards by a short uphill – time to get the arms pumping to keep the legs turning over in an effort not to lose too much momentum. From there, it’s a short run to the end and left into Corsham Road – which is usually where I’m able to pick up the pace. By this time, Stuart is but a dot in the distance and Laura has certainly put a good space in between us. But I keep chasing; I know this route, I know I can pick up speed. I’m coming to the sharp corner and just beyond is the tree signaling the second mile; the watch beeps and it’s showing 6.37 – again. Still not shabby, by this time although I’m usually a good few seconds faster by now, it’s still a fast second mile, so no need to panic.
And so, just to hold on now. I approach the left turn, which I need to pick up the pace a little, because there is a railway bridge that needs to be navigated with as little decrease in pace as possible, but at least the other side is downhill, so that will help me gather speed again. And this bit of road does wind, so it’s a case of keep looking forward and focusing on Laura. I know once I get to the end of this lane, it’s about a quarter of a mile to the finish. My legs are burning, I’m beginning to get that sick feeling in my stomach, but I haven’t got time to undo all my good work. I turn left now, onto the last leg – and always the hardest. The main aim now is to keep the legs turning and get that white signpost to keep getting closer. My watch beeps for the third mile but I really don’t have time to check, I need to finish now (it was 6.32). Breathing is hard, Stuart is cheering me on, and Laura has finished. A last bit of a sprint (6.34 pace) and I’m done!
I stop the watch, 3.11 so a bit over but better that because Strava sometimes has a nasty habit of changing it down. The time was a season’s best of 20:32. Thrilled was not the word, beaming would more accurately describe me. It was tough, there’s no doubt about it; I was still breathing hard and could not speak but walked slowly towards Laura who was also still catching her breath. 20.14 for her and again, she was thrilled. A personal best of all time. And racing with Laura and I hadn’t done Stuart any harm either – with a fantastically executed 18.38.
It’s fair to say there were three exhausted but high on adrenaline Corsham Running Club runners jogging back to Lacock last Tuesday. (Sorry, we don’t have a photo of Stuart, he had to rush straight back to his work).
A few virtual races have popped up since lockdown, but none have appealed, mostly because I was down to run the actual version and a virtual one didn’t appeal. This offering by INOV8 was different. We had entered the race with my in-laws and our assorted off-spring some years ago to mark Dave’s 40th, it almost felt like a return ‘home’ and involved a voluntary donation to some local (to my mum) charities. We decided on a virtual 18km distance and printed off our Race Numbers – no chip timing here, so like a proper fell-race.
The INOV8 ambassadors for the actual event were scheduled to have been local boy Damian Hall and ultra running queen Nicky Spinks. There was a fancy dress element so we decided on the alter-egos Damian Fall and Nicky Slinks. The RD had mapped a lumpy course which appeared to be devoid of any flat, and after a bit more time faffing I left the house around 10 as my alter-ego, Nicky Slinks, who I had developed an entire back-story for and who will take over the narration from this point….
Damian Fall has kindly invited me to have a crack at some of the hills in this gentle rolling Wiltshire countryside, to be honest I wasn’t expecting weather quite this warm – but he has given me a head-start and pointers as to where the nav may be a bit tricky. I’m also on the hunt for some cows.
The start is straight forwards and I’m enjoying running in the outdoors, more than I have for a while and feel good. Flattest part to start and a lovely downhill to get the legs working, then into a delightful wooded trail up and down into the sunshine and first spot of some cows. No good for me though as they are definitely dairy. [If you can give me locations of where all the cows are and their individual names there may be a Prize on offer – (you can tek a girl out from Yorkshire….)]
I continued up the next rise along a trod lined with Ramsoms and at the top of the hill along the road to Euridge ‘farm’ which also appeared to be short on the livestock in the barn, and yapping terrier on the back of the quadbike.
Not sure as it would pass as a farm in Yorkshire, but it were Reet Gradely (Editor – Gert Lush in proper language). Along the ridge from Euridge Manor and a sign there may be some cows. Downhill and there was a herd of beef cattle, which appeared to be playing hide and seek, in the way that a toddler believes if they can’t see you then you can’t see them.
At this point the RD’s warnings about unknown paths sprang to mind, so I stopped clarting about with the cows and started to concentrate. A track up on the right, that I’d never been along before had a gate, but the snicket was rusted shut so I spent time trying to rattle it open and then realised that it had a stile adjacent! I came out into a field that was steeper (and warmer) than I expected, which led me onto a side road through Colerne.
Colerne felt like an RD headquarters – there was bunting strung all around it and even an event ambulance.
I then got an inkling of why the RD had made the route go up here and enjoyed a spectacular view back down the valley into Box. At least I think that’s why I am grinning like a Cheshire Cat, that or heat exhaustion.
A km or so along the ridge running parallel to Bybrook Valley saw tremendous views and then turned left and started a lovely trot downhill. Partway down the ‘the obvious path turns left, but you need to go straight on’ advice caught me up and I stopped to check the map. ‘Bugger’ that lovely downhill stretch had to be repeated back up, or else I would miss a large loop off the course. I checked the map, but it was the quickest way to correct my error. As I reached the apex I saw Damian Fall hove into view. We swiftly exchanged pleasantries and I followed him, which was fortunate, as this next section involved trods across grassy slopes, numerous twists and turns, in short a tactical decision to follow! I stopped taking photos at this point to try and keep in view of Damo Fall and managed for a couple of km or so, then a steep up, sharp right and descent through scrubby woodland saw me catch a last glimpse of him shooting up a hill.
It was odd in that in most fell-races I start with the pack and rapidly lose them (as they are of fleeter foot) and have to rely on my own navigation, this time for the tricky ‘middle section’ I had company for it. I followed the farm track round and realised I’d made the mistake that I often do if I have been following someone and not checking the map at an obvious point. Backtrack. I needed to concentrate for the last few km.
The RD in his wisdom had chosen a stream rather than an actual path to follow, It looked a bit like a path, but not enough. I decided the road was a better option.
I trod through and across some nondescript fields that seemed to have dead crows tied around posts as footpath markers saw me glance up to the right at what looked at first like a pack of labradoodles with ridiculously long necks, and I realised they were llama/alpaca type things. I got a wave from up the hill and continued round onto more familiar territory, along Bybrook valley through the outskirts of Box – the flattest part of the course.
I was doing the maths, it had to be about 2km to the end, with ‘additions’ I didn’t need to do the extra out and back to Saltbox farm, I could just head straight up the hill. A quick check of my Garmin and the map and by my calculation I’d be just over 18km. Result. Taking a fell racers approach, I’d covered the checkpoint, distance and elevation, I could do a direct route straight up Hall’s hill to the end. Quick stop for a final Selfie at the bottom of ‘Halls Hill’ for my favourite, an ‘Uphill Finish.’
Damo Fall was sat waiting for me, beer primed.
Footnote: That was my second fastest time up Hall’s Hill. I currently hold top lady, of 8. I think the first time I may have been running away from some frisky young Fresian bullocks – but don’t let that put you off.
The official Bowood 10k race fell victim to the coronavirus outbreak but the organisers, Calne Rotary Club and LPS Events kindly offered to post a medal to any entrant who completed a ‘virtual 10k’ by midnight on 12th April and sent proof by the 15th. The results were to be collated and a final ‘virtual finishing order’ announced. Therefore it would be prudent to seek out a fast, flat course to maximise the final position on the leaderboard. Luckily, I knew an alternative event organiser by the name of S.Unsworth who asserted it would be a race like no other. I suppose the ‘(Nearly) Bowood (Pewsham Estate) Virtual 10km Run’ does fit that description but perhaps not in the way envisaged.
The virtual run package contained the following promises/recommendations: 1. Personalised race number with chip timing. 2. Well stocked water station. 3. Professional start/finish line. 4. The ‘Infamous Bus Stop Chicane’. 5. Opportunity for a PB on a ‘flat course’. 6. Run at an appropriate time of day in order to get the best weather conditions. 7. Wear road shoes; not trail.
Sadly, the reality was as follows: 1. ‘Personalised number’ was one used in a previous race with the title for this race written over in biro; additionally there was no corresponding timing mat thus the chip was rendered useless. 2. The water station was a stool stationed at around 8km with one glass of water and a small plate of pointlessly wrapped sweets. 3. The start/finish line was a piece of paper stuck to someone’s front door with blu-tack. 4. The ‘Bus Stop Chicane’ was a bus stop that you could easily run past only serving to slow the runner down in an event that was marketed as a PB opportunity. 5. The course had as much elevation as the real Bowood 10k. 6. The start time was at 5pm; the hottest time of the day at 22 degrees. 7. No marshals. 8. No km markers. 9. Definitely no medical provision. 10. Part of the course was off-road and at the far end became a marshy quagmire that rendered road shoes unusable. The hapless organiser belatedly cut this part out meaning it became a short course. Therefore in the final mile the route was hastily changed on the hoof to correct the distance. 11. Despite winning the race (because no-one else was foolish enough to enter) no winners trophy or any other recognition of success was forthcoming.
Hopefully in the months to come I’ll do races organised professionally rather than by some inept cowboy. Stay safe everyone.
The Tri-Island Egg-Cellent Adventure 10k was a charity race to be ran in the village of Rampside, Cumbria in aid of Get Leafy Home. Darren Leith suffered a stroke in 2017, which left him with Locked-in-Syndrome; Darren has been receiving care and therapy at a Neuro rehabilitation centre in Southport, which is a 200-mile trip from his home and family. The charity has been set up to adapt his home so that his family can care for him. The race raised nearly £800, well done to Tri-Island Running.
Race Day, Sunday 12 April 2020, Corsham Running Club members x 2 (Laura Midwinter (Shaw) & Marie-Letecia Vinolo-Young (Bath)).
Laura’s 10K Race Route – Shaw
Laura’s Race Report
It is very difficult to find a flat 10k route in the village of Shaw, so I decided to counterbalance the hills with starting on a ¼-mile downhill, hoping I can maintain the speed of going downhill throughout the course (only in my dreams). Therefore, as expected it was flying start with me leading, which I maintained throughout, hey, I was in the lead on my course!
As it was early on Easter Sunday morning and the country is in lockdown the roads were quiet, so I did not have to wait at road junctions and I only had to cross over twice to comply with the 2m COVID-19 rule.
As I ran through Beanacre, my pace slowed slightly which was probably down to the slight incline and my mind knowing I had a sharp but short hill to attack at the end of Westlands Lane. I then hit the top of Whitley, I picked my pace up for the downhill section and with the motivation of the sun shining, and birds chorus, I maintained the pace for the final 3 miles. I approached the final stretch and I could see the finish (Shaw School Car Park), I dug deep and with a grunt or two sprinted through the finish line, cheered on by the birds singing in the blossom trees, applauded by nature.
Amazingly, this was my second fastest 10k time, so I am hopeful for the future that with continued dedicated training and running with the brilliant CRC I will achieve my personal set 10k goal.
Marie’s 10K Race Route – Bath
Marie’s Race Report
Easter Sunday meant race day…this time for Tri-Island running which should have taken place in Barrow-in-Furness, my adopted town, the town of my first ultra! It was an egg-cellent adventure with the entry fee all going to a local charity. However, this race was to take place in the beautiful city of Bath.
6am start meant that you could forgive the easy distraction of the stunning sunrise, birdsong, peaceful streets and a time to take in all the sites one had seen a million times before but perhaps not really appreciated. Temperature was good and allowed the white pins to blind anyone who was unlucky to be glared at! This was shorts and t-shirt weather!
The course was undulating to keep it interesting and took in several burrows of the city including historic sites such as The Royal Crescent, The Abbey with the NHS flag flying proud and Royal Victoria Park, to name a few. A quick clap and thank you as the course made its way past the RUH. Pigeons and Seagulls adorned the streets and were very respectful spectators. Managed to stay out in front for the whole race and came home bringing the bronze at third lady and not even noticing Laura fly past to bring in the gold! So team Corsham again bringing home the prizes…time to get that cabinet!!
So Sunday, 5th April should have been The Devizes Half Marathon. This along with many other races had been postponed until later in the year. On Monday, 6th April at 7.21 am I crossed the start line for my solo “ Not The Devizes 1/2 half “ . The course was a mixture of country lanes and road taking in Lacock, Gastard, Whitley, Shaw and Melksham, the weather conditions were perfect. Race Highlights ( in no particular order ). 1. Seeing two care workers in Lacock outside a house putting on thier PPE and stopping briefly to clap them and tell them I loved them. 2. Bumping into Mr Biggs and his dog somewhere near Gastard and getting some motivational words as I ran past whilst social distancing. (a well needed boost and my fastest split time! ) 3. Not being eaten alive by the Lacock Alligators. ( Who knew!! ) In 2hrs 7 mins the race was over, no medal, no T-shirt just the gift of running, good health and avoiding this horrible virus. Stay safe and run….