Stort 30 – Race Report

Bringing ultrarunning to the Harriers 

Having decided to add an ultra distance to the Bedford Harriers club championship races, we’d settled on the Stort 30 as our inaugural event for 2016. A reasonably local, flat, easy to navigate course, at 30 miles it was perfect for first timers looking to step up from the marathon distance. Having pushed for an ultra to be added I’d also felt I should take ownership of publicising it and encouraging people who wanted to train for a new distance. So one of the unexpected outcomes was stepping up to be a group leader within the club, something I’m still pretty new at, but hoping to enjoy!

The day arrives

After a summer of weekend training sessions – some with others, quite a few of the longer ones on my own – the day arrived and off I went to join the handful of Harriers who had entered the event. This isn’t my first ultra, and having done races of up to 100km before I know how nice it is to have people to run with, as it becomes tough and lonely out there. Sadly though, one of the club members that I’d done most of my training with, George, had picked up a chest infection and so had been forced to pull out, but I still had a couple of Harriers I’d trained with to team up with on the day.

One of those fellow training buddies – Juliet (Ironman/woman extraordinaire) – shared a car with me on the way over and it was nice to have someone to prep with. We’d not discussed it lots beforehand, but having trained quite a lot together I thought it would be nice to run as a pair for a while. Juliet is a bit faster than me normally, but she said as it was her first ultra she wanted to take it steady and make sure she had the energy to get round. Perfect I thought, if Juliet wants to run a steady place, that should suit me too.

We got to the race HQ about 45 mins before the race and caught up with the other Harriers there. It was good to chat a bit beforehand and take your mind off the race, although to be honest, I wasn’t particularly nervous. I figured that I had done the training and I’d completed more than double the distance before, so I just wanted to enjoy it and hopefully do it in under five hours. I’ll let you know how I got on with those two goals later…

Off we go

After the race briefing and a quick group photo (see above), we were all on the start line, chatting about our race plans for the day. In fact Juliet and I were chatting so much the race started before we noticed! Off we went and settled into a routine pretty quickly. Juliet wasn’t looking at pace and distance, wanting to just complete her first ultra and hopefully (given it was a club championship) get first female Harrier home. So we agreed I’d keep an eye on pace for us to make sure we were on track for our target of around five hours, as well as ensure we didn’t go too fast and burn out. We settled into a good pace, a little faster than the 10 minutes per mile we needed for five hours, averaging nine to nine and a half minutes per mile. But it felt good and the miles were ticking off.

The course is really easy to follow, as you are literally just running along the Stort Navigation for 15 miles before you turn round and come back. They give you course directions but I never even took mine out of my backpack! I always wear a backpack on my longer, off-road events. It means I can take my hydration pack and not have to rely on anyone else for food and nutrition. There were checkpoints with snacks and drinks at every five miles on this course, but I know I didn’t have to stop if I didn’t want to as I was carrying two litres of energy drink and some gels / bars in my pack.

Checkpoint one: passed in a blur…

The first checkpoint came really quickly as we were chatting a lot and had picked up a couple of guys that were running the same pace as us. We decided not to stop at checkpoint one because we all felt fine and it was about 20 meters to the left, off the racing line, which would have slowed us down in going there and back..

The only thing of note that happened in the next five miles was that we picked up a man and a woman who overtook us and then settled in a few feet in front of us. I really wish they had carried on past us as the guy was so annoying! He just wouldn’t shut up and had the most frustratingly loud voice. He also seemed to like to use the phrase “it’s just my opinion” quite a lot as he covered topics such as the future of the NHS and obesity. He also kept going on about how he was going to crack his 3:30 barrier for his next marathon, which in hindsight may have been a clue that I was running a bit too fast. 3:30 is well outside my running capability, having only gone under four hours once by three mins!

Anyway Opinion Man and his friend eventually, after checkpoint two (10 miles – also avoided as still feeling good), started to pull away from us. Hopefully nothing to do with me muttering “oh shut up” audibly a couple of times!

It was around 11.5 miles in that I said to Juliet that we should probably see the front runners come through soon – we were keeping an eye out for Ian from the Harriers, who we hoped could maybe even win the event today, given his recent ultra results. And funnily enough literally seconds after I said that, the front runner appeared! Sadly it wasn’t Ian, but still very spooky. We cheered the lead runner past us, who looked as fresh as a daisy, bounding along. Ian wasn’t far behind, he was lying in third. Juliet and I cheered and clapped him, not noticing until he sped past us that he was going for the high five – sorry Ian!

At around 13 miles in I started to notice that I was consistently a few paces behind Juliet, who I’d had to keep telling “slow down, we are doing 8.5 minute miling” for the past couple of miles. But I was also really enjoying this section of the run as the runners ahead of us were returning in the opposite direction, and we were all shouting out a mutual “well done” as we went past. I was also (having now got the hang of it) giving the other Harriers a high five on the way past, which was a nice social element to the run.

Raves and reality…

About half a mile from the turnaround we could hear loud music and I thought that must be a little party they had for us! But actually it became clear that the music wasn’t from the half-way checkpoint as we still couldn’t see it, and it was also a bit hardcore. Then I noticed that in the small forest next to us there were a lot of random people with bottles of booze in their hands, some strange clothing and more than one set of dreadlocks. We were obviously going past a rave that was still going from Saturday night – and it was after 1100am on a Sunday! There were some houses not that far away, and with a very noisy go-kart track the other side of the water, I thought – what a great place to live!

Well about a quarter of a mile later we arrived at the checkpoint / turnaround point. I was about 20 seconds behind Juliet at this point and we stopped together to refuel with crisps, flapjacks and coke. I looked at my watch – 2hrs 16min – well within our five hour target at half way.

We stayed there for a couple of mins and saw fellow Harriers Simon and Kirsty coming in behind us. A quick hi, and we left them there, settling off on the way back.

I must admit at this point I thought things were going really well. I felt OK, a little weary, but then I’d done 15 miles at an average of just over nine minutes per mile. If I’d been doing a half marathon that pace would be a bit slow for me, but for the longer 30 mile course this was well under my more realistic 10 minutes per mile target. In fact, this disconnect became evident within a couple of mins of running out of checkpoint three with Juliet. I told her to crack on without me as I realised I needed to slow the pace down a bit or risk falling off a cliff and she was running strong. So, with a quick “good luck” off she went.

Adjusting my strategy

I slowed down my pace a little but still felt good at around 9.5 minutes per mile. I actually hooked up for a while with a guy who had run loads of ultra events and we had a bit of a chat about mutual races we’d done. But again I soon realised I was running just that bit too fast and I dropped off from him, letting him go ahead. The next few miles were relatively quiet, the only thing going through my mind being that as it was a club championship it would be nice not to lose any more places to Harriers, so I wanted to keep Simon and Kirsty behind me if possible. I looked back every few mins but couldn’t see them, so I just assumed they were running a similar pace to me and we’d all meet up at the end.

The only point of frustration came from a runner I was following who was wearing fluorescent orange camo tights. She was on a run-walk strategy, so I’d just about catch up to within a few feet of her when she was walking and then she’d start running again! She was clearly a faster runner than me so she’d run off ahead, which was a bit demoralising. After about 20 mins of yo-yo running I managed to pass her as she caught her breath at a bridge. I was pleased because for some unfathomable reason my rapidly tiring mind was finding this to-ing and fro-ing really off-putting. My relief was short lived of course as any fool could work out she’d run past me once she started again! And run past me she did, right up to the checkpoint at 20 miles.

I stopped here too as by now I knew I was staring to tire and probably needed to take on some food and more coke (a really great energy drink when flat). The only problem was, I hadn’t been there 30 seconds when Simon and Kirsty ran in looking pretty fresh still. Where had they come from?! I had been looking back and had not seen them, so to have come on me so quickly they must be running at a faster pace. Knowing I was slowing, I actually felt a bit disheartened by this. I’d nothing against them personally – they are both lovely people – but I’d set my heart on not losing any more places to Harriers and to try and show up well on the club champs results.

The wheels start to wobble, but just about stay on

In hindsight I can see now that the pace for the first 15 miles, and what I realise was a very poor food / hydration strategy were playing havoc with my brain as I became quite demoralised – way beyond what was proportionate. Seriously, it was just a couple of people who were running well, but to me it symbolised that today was starting to become out of my reach. I had 10 miles left to run, I was increasingly bored of the same riverbank terrain and I was a bit lonely from no company. But I am pretty stubborn when it comes to running so I didn’t give up yet and cracked on – even though I could see Simon and Kirsty bound off into the distance.

The effect on my pace was immediate. Psychologically I slowed down, and physically I did too. My times for the next four five miles were 10:18, 10:24, 11.19, 11.52 and 12:02. My body and mind were struggling and boy did I know it. My quads were on fire now, every step was painful, and I was having to mentally fight the desire to walk. I hate walking unless I have to – in hilly events this is often a good strategy (walk the climbs to save energy), but this was pan-flat. I had to run this whole event or in my head I had failed. I kept saying to myself – I have run way more than twice this distance before, what is wrong with me?!

Eventually I gave in. I allowed myself a stretch of run-walk and did a couple of rounds of run for four mins, walk for one. Then as I came up to checkpoint four (25 miles) I upped that to nine mins run, one min walk because I actually felt a bit better after the relative rest of the previous walking. I made it to the final checkpoint, and took on more food (well actually a few hula hoops and nuts – my stomach was rebelling and telling me it couldn’t take any more).

The final fight

Right: five miles left, four hours 10 mins gone. I could do this I said, I could still do under five hours, I just had to keep a steady pace and not walk. However, I am not sure what my brain was thinking as to achieve the final five miles in 50 mins I would have to run 10 minutes a mile with no stopping whatsoever – something I had not done since mile 19. The chances of me speeding back up were none existent, but it took me another mile or so to realise this.

Eventually though, reality kicked in and I realised my target of under five hours was gone. I had run the first half in just over two and a quarter hours and you would have thought an extra half an hour for the second half would have been enough, but not when you’d gone out too fast and you’d not been eating and drinking right. Schoolboy error really.

So I slogged on. I passed a few folks walking, but I’d decided that I would keep going until I absolutely had to walk again. I wanted to finish this last five miles running if at all possible – whatever pace I ended up at. And run it I did, as I came back into the last mile in Bishop’s Stortford, off the canal and onto the roads I did contemplate walking for a while as it was all uphill to race HQ, but I actually managed to dig in and get back to the field where we had started over five hours earlier.

Oh but at this point can I make a plea to all you race directors out there? CAN YOU STOP MAKING US RUN ROUND A BLOODY FIELD AT THE END OF RACES?!?! I know you often need to make up the last few feet / yards to get the distance spot on, but believe me, coming into a field with the finish line just to your left and then being sent RIGHT around the field is soul destroying. Are you taking some perverse pleasure in this????

Rant over. 😉

In the final analysis

I came across the line in 05:10:54, which is only just over 10 mins a mile on average. If I’d done my own pace from the beginning I’d probably have hit my target. But in reality it is still a great time for an amateur, and I am proud of having completed the 30 miles. I was a bit grumpy with myself and my performance at the time, but I was quickly buoyed up by the great results for the Harriers overall. We had quite a few people who came in the top three for their age group – an important result as it was the UK Trail Running Middle Distance championship. Of particular note were – Ian who came in third overall, and Juliet who not only was the first female Harrier home, but was third in her age group overall. Well done everyone!

MOST importantly, every Harrier that started the race finished it. For many it was their first ultra distance, and that is hugely impressive.

Overall, it was a great event, well organised and a good day out. Personally the course wasn’t for me (I prefer hills and proper off-road terrain), and I had a bad day at the office, having gone off too fast. I had also (I discovered afterwards) only drank half a litre of my two litre reservoir – no idea why.

But it was a success for our first club ultra championship. Just need to work out an event for next year now!

St Neots Olympic distance triathlon – race report

Getting there

I wasn’t sure about taking my place up on this event as I was laid up with an Achilles problem for most of the first three months of this year (off the back of a lackadaisical pre-Christmas training regime). With an expanded waistline and a general lack of fitness I’ve only been starting to train again since late March, and I had already decided to pull out of the Grafman half iron distance later this month. I only noticed about three weeks ago I had booked this in (having forgotten since I signed up in the autumn), and my initial thinking was I would just have to forgo the entry fee for this one too.

But with a couple of morale-boosting sessions in the last 10 days (54 mins for a 10k and a 1km swim in the lake a few days ago), I decided to just turn up and enjoy it. I may be some way off my best, especially running-wise, but with the new confidence I wouldn’t drown in the swim I thought I’d give it a go.

The event had been moved from being a river swim in St Neots to a lake swim at Grafham Water a couple of weeks ago, due to a water-logged event field at the original venue. This was also a bit of a boost as I have not swum in a river yet, but am used to lakes / reservoirs.

On the day

Being an event close to home it only took me 25 mins to drive to the venue and I was soon making my way to transition to load up my bike and set out my kit. I kept an eye out for the only other Bedford Harrier competing today, George, but I failed to see him amongst the more than 600 competitors. Transition was an easy set-up, with named / numbered racking positions for our bikes (not like the London Triathlon where it was a bun fight). I sorted myself out, got in my wetsuit and made my way to race briefing.

The briefing was efficient, with enough information to ensure you knew what you were doing, but not so much that you forgot it all. The slight wobble was when the British Triathlon technical official told us it would be the full 1500m swim, even though the temperature was only just warm enough to allow it without shortening the route. The minimum temperature for a 1500m swim is 12.5 degrees so it was going to be a cold one. As it was my Garmin tells me it was 10 degrees out there, which is below the minimum for swimming at all, but I’ll take the official’s word for it 🙂

The swim

Anyway, once the briefing was over, we were pretty swiftly in the water, which was as flat as a mill-pond. I was in the second wave, the 35-49 male age group, and they were sending us off in 5 minute intervals. The water was bloody Baltic, but I had time to acclimatise by letting water into my suit and immersing my face a number of times. (I also warmed myself up a bit but I won’t dwell on that).

Once the klaxon went I concentrated on just getting into a rhythm, I know from experience now that I tend to struggle with my breathing at the start, basically over-thinking it. But I didn’t struggle too much and starting at the back I was out of the main turbulence. I soon found myself making my way past a lot of breast-strokers and slower competitors and was getting into it. My main problem is always sighting. The buoys are big but I still struggle to make them out as I am short-sighted and I don’t wear prescription goggles. The added problem was that we were all wearing red caps in our wave and the buoys were red as well – as Father Ted might say, these swimming caps are very small, but the red buoys are far away…

Once I managed to make out the first buoy I did realise I had been a bit wonky on the run-in, but hoped I hadn’t added too much onto the distance. Round the first buoy I really was in my stride, although the next wave was already on us and so we started to have the faster swimmers go past us. At one point I think a boat must have gone past as we had quite a few waves, but I just remembered Weymouth and laughed it off!

Round the second buoy and the longest stretch ahead, meaning more guesswork on where the buoy was. Looking at my Garmin map afterwards I seemed to do OK on this leg, but we also had the final wave on us, again the faster ones swimming past and into us.

The final buoy came and I was feeling pretty happy with my swim, but this is where I had a bit of a problem. The sighting was the gantry at the edge of the water – blue, with the sponsor logo on it. However, as there was a backdrop  of trees I could not for the life of me make it out. But I remembered there being some big red flags at the exit area and I could make out two of them so I sighted on them. I carried on, but found the faster swimmers really started to swim right over me. I was a bit confused – why was this happening so frequently? I was really put off my stroke as I couldn’t get into a rhythm and kept having to look up to adjust my direction to head for those flags. After about five mins however I realised that the faster swimmers had not been swimming over me – rather I had been swimming under them! As I was nearer the shore I could now see the gantry over the exit and it was clearly about 20 metres to the left of the flags I was heading for! Basically I was swimming across the competitors at about 45 degree angle! Bloody eejit.

Once I adjusted myself and headed in I found I wasn’t getting anywhere near as much over-swimming going on. I even remember that as I came out of the water I felt a little disappointed to have to stop swimming as I was enjoying it!

Well, I actually swam 1700 meters, not 1500, because of my wonky sighting, so I was quite pleased with 37:31.

Transition 1

I am determined to get faster at my transitions so I made a concerted effort to make this as simple as possible. I had proper road cleats now on my bike (last year I had been using MTB ones), so I could attach my shoes directly to the pedals and put my feet in them when I got on the bike. I had also bought some tri-specific shoes so they had no fastenings to fiddle with, just one big velcro strap. I also decided to not put socks on for the bike, so I didn’t have to worry about wet feet.

It all went OK, apart from the fact that I had weirdly decided to put gloves on and I forgot, so as I was running out of transition I realised I still had them in my hand. I had to stop to try to get them on, but they were so fiddly I gave up and shoved them in my top-tube bag. I was fine without them – lesson for the future.

2:16 in T1, not great, but I am getting faster!

The bike

The bike didn’t start great – I got in my shoes OK, using the elastic band method to hold them on (although one was a bit long and I had to grab it to snap it off, rather than the rotation doing it for me). But as it was quite a flat start we were all quickly going up the gears and I could not get the front derailleur to shift me to the big ring. I was cursing and yanking on the shifter but it just would not go. I recently got a new chainset, chain and cranks, so I was annoyed this had happened. One for the shop to fix for me I think. I decided I’d have to just use a fast cadence for the race, but then I gave it one last go and up it went. I then thought I’d try to stay in the big ring for as long as I could, but there was a lovely steep incline at 4 miles in and I had to drop down. Bum.

Luckily, when I got back on the flat the front shifted straight away into the big ring again. Maybe just gremlins?

Anyway, I settled into a good high average speed, hitting 20-25 mph consistently on the flat. I was enjoying this, and I was finding it much easier to stay in the aero position, having had more practice. Sadly once the course got a bit more undulating and I needed to use my full gear range again, the problem came back. It took me ages each time to shift into the big ring – losing me momentum and getting on my nerves!

About 11 miles in the course doubled back on itself and as I headed back to transition I saw George from the Harriers on the other side, not that far behind me. Of course the friendly rivalry kicks in then – we were the only two Harriers there, so we were obviously racing each other (well in my head!) So I knuckled down and got some big miles in for the next 3-4, keeping in a high gear. Then disaster. I changed down to go up a hill and my chain went straight over the small ring and off the cog. Arse. I had to stop and put the chain back on, losing precious seconds and getting oil all over my hands. Plus, George sailed past.

Oh well, back on I got and chased. For the next five miles or so I trailed George, not quite making the gap any smaller. I also saw a group of Harriers at one point going the other way – on a training ride for the big Grafman in a few weeks.

After a while I caught George and went past him (drafting isn’t allowed at this distance outside the professional circuit so you have to go round someone or drop back to more than 10 metres from their front wheel). I motored on, figuring I had to put some distance between us. About a mile or so from the end he powered past me though – damn he was fast on the bike!

As we came into transition again I had another little mishap. As my shoes have big cleats on them I can’t run in them, so I need to slip my feet out with them still attached and pedal on top of them, ready to dismount and run in bare feet. The left one came out fine and I put my foot on top of the shoe. The right one however I missed the shoe as I started to pedal and the shoe went underneath, catching the road and flying off! Thankfully a lovely marshal ran after it and got it for me. I then just got off the bike and ran with it in my hand as I pushed the bike back to the rack.

1:14:55 – 30 miles

Transition 2

This transition went to plan. I racked the bike, I quickly pulled on my socks to dry feet (revelation!) and then my shoes and a visor for the sun and was off. I noticed George was still sorting himself out, having come in before me, so it really brings home the value of practising quick transitions.

OK still 1:15, but getting better!

The run

The run started much better than the bike had. I got into a rhythm and a pace I was happy with and set off across the reservoir dam. The biggest problem was the heat, boy it was hot! My Garmin tells me it got up to 30 degrees at one point – hell of a contrast to the swim! I was so glad of my visor as, although I had sunglasses on, it kept the sun off my face.

The run was pretty uneventful, apart from the phantom stone I had in my shoe. Could I find it? Not a chance. I could feel it under my right heel, but although I stopped 3 times to get it out I could not see it. Even more bizarrely after about 3 miles it just disappeared and I have no blister or any marks there! Weird.

I saw George a couple of times as we were doing an out and back each way (left and right from transition). He seemed to be struggling a bit but it was great to give each other a couple of high fives on the way!

The course was a bit undulating, but no major hills. Just a really nice run along the reservoir and back. The only issue was the heat, it was so hot and you could see people wilting.

Soon enough though, the finish line came into view and I did my 10k in 56:10. Not bad considering I did a standalone 10k in 54 mins last week, although some way off my usual mid-40s for a 10k.

Overall my time was 2:52:08 – 347th overall and 51st in my age group (lets gloss over the fact only three people were slower than me in my age group – Gill Fullen I am not!

Great day today – really recommend it as an event. Would love to see what its like in the river so I may enter again next year.

Beautiful weather, great organisation, fantastic course. Great way to spend a Sunday.

Stockton River Rat Race – Race Report

  Nearly a year ago I signed up for this race for a few reasons. Firstly my brother was going to do it with me, secondly I quite enjoy the random fun of these obstacle course races (OCR) and thirdly because I grew up in Stockton-on-Tees and it just appealed to me to go back and race there.

The idea behind the event is to maximise the challenge of navigating the river and the surrounding waterways in Teeside, which have significantly rejuvenated since the days of heavy steel industry when I was growing up there in the late 70s and 80s. I thought it would be a bit of fun, although I was a  bit concerned as subsequently to signing up I had decided to do the Weymouth half iron triathlon and that was only two weeks away. I am trying to raise a £1000 towards my ongoing total for Parkinson’s UK at Weymouth so injury would be more worrying than just missing the race. And injury is a real possibility at these events!

Anyway, I still turned up on the day and using my mum’s local knowedge we were easily parked, registered and in a coffee shop for some pre-race caffeine well before my wave was due to leave. It was really nice as a lot of my races I travel to on my own or with club members who are also competing, but this time I had my small cheering support team of mum, wife and kids! My dad and BROTHER (yes, the one who was “apparently” going to do this with me) had season tickets for the annual Arsenal vs Newcastle sufferfest so weren’t able to join us. But I’m sure they had a lovely time shouting at the referee…

These events tend to attract all sorts of capabilities and quite a large field, so when I booked I tried to get as early a wave as possible. If you are in the later waves then you do tend to get a lot of congestion around the obstacles as the back markers from each wave start to stack up. So, I joined the rest of wave two and we did our obligatory group “warm up” (Bruno Mars Uptown Funk since you ask, and not as cringy as often can be) before we went off to the start line. Although I am under no illusions that I am particularly fast or have the upper body strength needed for the obstacles, I did still make sure I was at the front of the wave. As I say, it does get congested. 

Off we went and, with the exception of a few warm up objects to vault / clamber over, the first mile or so was heavy on the running – you still have to cover 10k after all! I realised early on that my wave wasn’t strong in running pedigree so I seemed to settle in towards the front of the field. With a quick wave to the support team (kids are great cheerleaders, I recommend having some at all events), I headed out towards the Newport Bridge, the furthest point away from the start. This section of about 2.5-3 miles was light on obstacles, but it did provide the first water challenge, reminding me of how cold the Tees can be even in August!

With a quick swim of about 5 metres across an access waterway we’d all been well and truly soaked through and sent off to clamber over a hilly section before the bridge turnaround. The one thing that was a little bittersweet was that in this section we were herded round a set of monkey bars as some poor soul was on the floor looking quite injured. Whilst I felt a lot of sympathy for the person with a potentially dislocated shoulder a bit of me was shamefully quite pleased not to have to attempt what’s in my top two least favourite obstacles. Number one is walls – both require upper body strength that has eluded me my whole life.

Anyway once we turned around we were on the trek back towards the riverside, with a stop at the white water rafting course on the way. Stockton has a fab facility that loads of kayakers / canoodlists travel to from all over the country and it provided a lovely set of water based obstacles. I fared pretty well and stayed upright where I could on the inflatable obstacles and dived in with gusto when I needed to. The only downside was being flipped a bit as I slid down the white water part of the course and scraping my elbow along the concrete. Sore and dripping with blood I didn’t mind too much as it’s the very definition of a flesh wound – nothing to bother my Weymouth prep.

After navigating all the obstacles in the white water centre we set off back towards town. This was my second sighting of the family support team who took some good photos of me and my latest friend. We had to do a loop in a two man kayak on the Tees so I teamed up with a guy who turned out to be not too shabby. Between us (me relying on latent school days training) we did pretty well and went past two or three kayaks ahead of us who were struggling somewhat to go in a straight line. 

Jumping out of the kayak, off we went again and headed to the final mile or so of the course – heavily back-ended with obstacles and sections of swimming in the river. We were in and out, swimming over and under inflatables and also having to balance on strapped-together rafts. We finally made it to the poster obstacle for the event – walking the plank of HM Bark Endeavour, a full-size replica of James Cook’s famous ship. Lots of people baulk at this one, and to be frank I’m not the best at heights but I knew my tactics had to be to just walk straight off, no messing. In reality it wasn’t that scary and soon I was swimming the 30 metres to the exit ramp from the river – not that easy in a life vest!

And then I was off – running the 500m or so to the finish and the final obstacle of a 10ft high ramp with rope. Over I went and I was done! My strange children wanted a hug from me with my wet clothes so I duly obliged and then promptly sanitised my hands of Tees gunk before scoffing a complimentary Clif bar.

I did OK too. 1hr 21m for a 10k – a pants time normally but not bad with the added water and stuff! Other stats:

  • 11th out of 156 in my wave
  • 100th out of 619 men
  • 107th out of 941 overall

So, really glad I did it, loads of fun. Even more glad I wasn’t injured for Weymouth!

If you have heard scary stories of pumped up meatheads at these OCR events, then they are there, but they are a minority. Most people are just there for a laugh, and not worrying about their km split times. Every now and then I say do one, they are really good fun and yes they may be a bit more expensive than a standard race but you get plenty of organisation for your money.

Now, where are those probiotics again…?


Sandy 10: Race Report

A 530am start (poorly 7 year old), an early Chinese F1 GP (another win for Lewis) and off I went to join 82 other Bedford Harriers at race HQ for the annual Sandy 10 (miles, not kilometres unfortunately).

I first ran this race last year in 2014, and I really enjoyed it so thought I’d do a return trip to see if I could better my time. After a catch up with the other club runners we all trundled off for the 10 minute walk to the start. Functional, rather than picturesque, the race gets going from a delightful little cul-de-sac within an industrial business park. However, most of the route is along country B-roads so it wasn’t the shape of things to come (unlike some popular, fast, yet dull courses a few miles up the A1…)

Mile one was a challenge right off the bat as we were running into a wind but it was nowhere near as bad as the 20 miler I did a fortnight ago round Oakley so I settled into a nice rhythm. Between miles one and two is the main incline, a long drag rather than a steep slope, but it was tricky to keep the pace up as that wind was never far away. However, after the second mile marker things flatten out and stay that way until you return back down the slope at the end. Of most note for the next mile or so were the “tall impresser” and the “lost lunches”. The former was a seven foot runner that suddenly pelted past the group I was running with, as his posse cheered him on from the side of the road, only to slow to a shuffle as soon as he was round a corner! The latter were a number of rolls and sandwiches in small plastic bags strewn across the road. Careless roadside picnickers maybe?

This section was sheltered from the wind so the pace was high, but the downside was that in the bright sun I was starting to really feel the heat. Thankfully just after mile three there was a water station and after a quick swig we turned a corner through a little village called Everton. Upside – it got cool, downside – it was because we had a headwind.

Anyway, the next couple of miles were relatively uneventful, except for lots of fab marshals in their traditional Biggleswade AC silly hats! Coming through Gamlingay I found myself doing quite some pace and thought I was on for a pretty good time, sub 1:20hrs. But I stupidly didn’t realise this was because of the tail wind, and not my superhuman talents! Sadly I came right back to earth as we turned left and hit the wind again.

Miles five to seven were low points. Exposed to the wind, low on energy (thankfully I had a spare gel secreted about my person) and starting to be overtaken (hit the motivation somewhat), but I know these moments tend to come and go so I hung on and things got better as we came into the last couple of miles – mainly due to the shelter of the trees and the downhill sections.

I was having a little internal Harriers battle at this point with Amber, but she had better legs than me and I couldn’t keep her behind me. Although I had given up on my sub-1:20 finish a mile or so back I realised as we ran down the final hill that actually there was a chance it was back on. Spurring me on, I tried to run the last mile in 7 mins 30 secs. Ordinarily I should be able to do this fine but I think on the day my legs just weren’t feeling it and sadly I stumbled over the line 23 seconds over the 1:20.

I was a bit gutted at this as I wanted to beat my time from last year (1:20:07), but the windy conditions on the day were just a bit too much. However, a cracking technical t-shirt, a friendly “well done” and a (random) pot of jelly later and I felt less worried about my time. The sheer number of Harriers there made for a great post-race catch up as we all swapped war stores over cups of tea and bacon sarnies (well cheese for me as a veggie). Plus we won a fair number of awards for our fast runners and the overall award for most entries from one club (double the next club).

There was even the unexpected gift of bananas! (There were a load left over after the runners finished). I like a bit of cake after a run, so I can’t wait to tuck into the banana loaf I made when I got home!

A very well organised event, great morning out with running buddies and the opportunity for cake. Good day.