Friday, 31 December 2010

The year in numbers

So 2010 is almost finished with just four hours left of the year as I write this. So it must be time once again to get all reflective on what the year has served up. I have to say it has surpassed all my expectations. Words don't always cut it, and I can ramble on at times so instead here are a few numbers to sum up my year of running.

1681 miles ran (just 39m more than in 2009)

155 total number of runs (28 less than in 2009)

108 longest run (miles) (Adidas 24hr Thunder Run)

32.3 average weekly mileage

10.8 average run in miles (avg 9 in 2009)

23:30.51 longest time on feet (hh:mm:ss - Adidas Thunder Run)

6 the number of seconds that I was over my 3:30 marathon target in London! argh

1000 amount £ raised for PACE centre at Royal Parks Half Marathon

120 highest weekly mileage

55 longest training run

1:27.51 half marathon PB

3 average number of runs per week

168,000 number of calories burnt (100 cal per mile avg for male)

569 number of McDonalds cheeseburgers I could have eaten (295 cal each)!

1953 or the number of chocolate digestive biscuits... hhmmm yum yum!

220 number of loops completed on my local 440yrd track in a single training run

5 number of ultras completed

369 total number of miles covered in the 5 ultras

1 number of ultras won (Lightning 12hr)

A few pics of my highlights in 2010
London Marathon 2010 (perhaps shaving would have made all the difference!)

Wiggle Lightning 12 hr

Adidas 24hr Thunder Run

Royal Parks Half Marathon PB

Leighton Santa Dash

ROLL ON 2011!!

Sunday, 26 December 2010

ElliptiGO maiden voyage

The snow had cleared enough on the roads to take my elliptigo out for the first time. It was a short journey over to my mum and dads for boxing day lunch. I had already run 8 miles in the morning so my legs were warmed up nicely for this ride. First Impressions - it's a workout!! unlike a conventional bike which makes it feel like the miles are going past effortlessly on the elliptigo you really do feel like you are working out! The sense of this will be heightened by the fact that it was my first ride and thus the body and muscles aren't use to this different type of work out.

Technically the elliptiGO is a fine machine. It's solidly built with some high performance components including the shimano alfine 8 gear internal hub. Features conventional breaking system and steering column. The fine with the elliptigo is that it doesn't feel exactly like running nor cycling. It is a unique feeling. The makers say that it takes a while to get really use it to the point where you don't need to think what you are doing.

Even my ride back from the folks felt smoother and more at ease than he ride there. And this was in the dark utilising my new cateye light got for Christmas.

I'm thoroughly looking forward to getting to grips with the elliptigo in 2011. I plan to enter a few events. This includes getting my name enrolled on the official elliptigo century club list which is reserved for the first 100 riders to complete an offical 100 mile race.

Watch this space for updates on my progress and further thoughts on how I integrate it into my training.

Merry Christmas people.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Sunday long run report

With a number of ultra races coming up in January including the ULTRArace90 which is a back to back 45m on consequtive days along the Grand Union Canal, I need to start getting in some higher mileage. Hence Sunday's long run in the deep snow. I was actually really looking forward to getting up at 6:30am to be out the door by 7am in the sub-zero temperatures. Why waste such glorious opportunities to get out and experience nature at it's wildest by spending it in bed!

I wrapped up warm (base layer / insulated T / outer shell) and this worked a treat. It was earrily quiet as the snow acted like an impenatrable blanket letting neither any sound or light through. Most weird of all was the lack of any colour in the landscape as it felt like I was emersed in my own black n white film. Magical. See photo. 

It was such a nice run and whilst the effort levels were considerably higher to trudge through the snow it was most definitely worth it. Perfect resistance training! I ran 8 miles on my own before hooking up with two running club buddies Fred and John. Fred then led us on a tough off road 10 miler through Stockgrove Park and Rushmere Woods. This including some very steep ascents and long stretches through untouched snow. By the end of this run I was beat. At 18 miles and still 2.5 miles from home I didn't have much left. My pace at this point must have been in the 11-12mpm range. The avg pace for the 20.5 miles covered was 10.38mpm completing it in 3h38m. However speed and distance mean nothing in these types of condition. Effort wise it was easily a marathon and I felt far better for it. 

So that's my first 20 miler in the bag for a while. I need plenty more of them to get my endurance back up to where it was in the summer. The focus on speed since then has definitely effected my ability to string out the miles effortlessly. So roll on 2011 with more long runs to come :-) 

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Track run

I really wasn't feeling it today. I was meant to go for a long run (15-20 miles) but just couldn't be bothered (unlike me). But rather than not go out all and mope around in my dressing gown I went to the local track (concrete 1/4 mile loop) and blasted out 20 laps (five miles). definitely not my usual Sunday morning run yet I got my head down and went for it!

The track was half frozen because of tall tree cover at one end. So I had to go for it on the dry half and be a bit more cautious (slow) on the icy half. However this didn't stop me setting the pace. My mile splits were 6:01, 5:59, 6:00, 6:04 and 5:54. Total time 29:58!!! This is actually the first time I have gone sub 30 minutes on a full 5 mile course. Whilst in racing terms I ran a 29:40 last year I measured the course at 4.89m so coming up short. With this being a 1/4 track, and confirmed by the garmin at exactly 5 miles this for me is the first sub 30 minute 5 miles I have ever run :-) Funny what you can achiee on a cold frosty Sunday morning when you don't even feel like running.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Buckingham XC race report

An overdue race report on last Saturday's XC race in Buckingham. This was the 3rd race in the Chiltern XC League. I missed the first. Me and 2 team mates reccied the 2.5 mile loop which we would be running twice. It was up and down but hardy ever flat! The snow was still on the ground in places with some slush but quite firm footing due to the exceptionally cold weather of late. 

I was determined to give this one my all. However from the start my mindset quickly changed as a few runners passed me in the pack obviously putting in far greater effort than I was and i wasnt prepared to respond. However when your team mates go past you it's a different story and this gave me the kick up the backside I needed to start my race proper! Isn't it funny how the mindset can change so quickly based on just one external factor. I didn't feel any better physically but the competitive streak kicked in and I found another gear that wasn't there before.

At this point I was just hanging on to the back of my 2 team mates Tom and Joby, but importantly I wasn't losing ground. This continued for a bit whilst I adapted to the new faster pace (6:30 mpm).

As I said this was a very hilly course which I actually relish! Nothing worst than flat and boring. I used the down hills to my advantage lengthing my stride and going for it. I was able to past Tom and Joby on the down hills. Then on the flats they would pass me back. This ding dong battled continued for the rest of the race, with me pushing the pace on the downs and they on the flats. 

On lap 2 two more LBAC team mates joined us - Pete and Tom M. Both were the faster of us five runners so quite what they were doing behind us at this point in the race was a mystery. But actually they were just pacing it well. There were now 5 LBAC runners all in line working well together to push the pace with Pete and Tom M up front and the three of us continuing our own battle. 

The course was such that you rarely knew exactly where you were. There were so many switch backs and zig-zagging up hill after hill and down again that I never gave too much thought where I was on the course. It was just head down and run. The 5 of us were still together however Tom M had started to push the pace and opened a gap between him and Pete who was further in front of myself, Tom and Joby. At this point in the race I wasn't in a position to respond as I was already giving it my all. A gap can open up so quickly and if you do not respond immediately in a split second they have the advantage and you have to let it go. I always leave something for the finish though. I had dropped back to 5th behind Joby in 4th. But there were still a few down hills before the finish line where I could attack. 

One of these short sharp hills is followed by a very sharp slippy right hander which you practically need to stop at to get around and then proceed straight up again. So with the pack together with other club runners also fighting for position but slowing down the hill to take the corner, I sped down the hill at full tilt taking about 4 places sliding around the corner and only just staying on my feet, but that I did. The up was tough but I held position which then flattened out slightly before a gradual descent and another ascent back up the other side. Pete was now in my sights and the finish line was less than 400m away. I gave it what I had and caught and passed Pete but this chap is a 2:54 marathon runner so I knew he would respond. He didn't immediately though so for a split second I thought I had him but then he came back at me and passed making me look like I was standing still. I chased Pete to the finish but he was too strong for what I had left in my legs.

Distance = 5.08m. time 33:12. Position 73 out of 184 Div 1 runners. 100th ish out of 300 runners overall. I was the fastest Santa though!! Donning my fab new seasonal head gear :-)

This was a great XC race and definitely my favourite to date. The way the 5 of us worked together was great racing and I definitely benefited from it on this day. Otherwise I fear I would have plodded along coming in several minutes slower. 

Other club times were: Simon in 29:45 (non scorer as 2nd claim run) followed by Andy 2nd in 31:29 (1st LBAC scorer) and Mark in 32:18. Then the 5 of us who battled - Tom M - 33:07, Pete - 33:09, Me - 33:12, Tom - 33:18, Joby - 33:19. So it was all very close! 

LBAC finished in 10th place (juniors/female/male) out of 14 in Div 1 and keeps us out of the drop zone! The club hasn't stayed up in the top flight for years so if we continue to perform and get our runners on the start line we stand a good chance!

Bring on Luton XC in January           

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Leighton Santa's Dash... ho ho ho snow

The real Santa! Lili asked for a Lego house :-)
Today was the first Leighton Santa's Dash! A 2 mile loop out and back from Church Square. Organised by the Leighton Fun Runners this was a lovely jolly affair with at least 50-60 fully clad santa's raring to go (mainly because it was so cold!). It had snowed last night making conditions under foot interesting.
To add even more fun and festivity to the occasion I chose to run with my 2 1/2 year old daughter Lili in the pushchair who was also addressed as Santa, as the photos show. Aarrr so sweet!
Lili fuelling before the big race!

I thought what with this not being a proper race and all, plus dressed as Santa, plus pushing a pushchair that I wouldn't have my competitive hat on today... Yeah right who am I kidding! Even on the start line I was positioning myself to ensure I had the very best of getaways.

Getting prime postion on the outside line
 And it worked a treat. Lili and I blasted off the line (mummy missed it on camera!!) and we chased down the Christmas Pudding in true festive style. It was SO much fun.

I haven't raced with lili in the pushchair before so wasn't sure how she would be. She was ok, but I was glad the race wasn't any longer. Not sure I would take her on one of my Ultra runs :-O The pushchair was actually helpful in a way too as I had something to hang onto on the patchy snow and keep upright!

Anyway back to santa's dash and we were fighting for 3rd place after the first mile. The Christmas Pud had disappeared in to the distance and 2nd place was gone too but we looked good for 3rd. Singing jingle bells to lili we sped on our way and made sure of 3rd i thought only for lili's Santa hat to fly off her head with the sheer speed we were going :-) Disaster. I quickly retrived the hat whilst I was overtaken and back in fourth spot. But this guy wasn't really going flat out so we took back 3rd and pushed in the final 1/2 mile all the way to the finish.

Santa gave lili and I our medals and we waited for mum (who decided to go shopping and missed her daughter's first race and podium finish!) oh dear mummy. Soon mummy was back all apologetic and cuddles, and we retired to the pub to enjoy our well deserved mince pies and mulled wine.

Paul - The Christmas Pud (LFR runner)

I was very proud of my little girl.
Her first race medal and many hope to come ;-) A great race and very well done to LFR for organising such a lovely event. All proceeds also went to KidsOut charity so a nice warm glow all round :-)

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Dirt Half Marathon

RACE UPDATE 21/11: official results are in ~ 15th Position out of 384 finishers

I ran the first Dirt Half Marathon held in Leighton Buzzard today. Great to have another local race in the calendar and this one particularly up my 'trail' as the event name suggests. Despite the claims though the majority of the actual route is along the grand union canal so flat and fast but no dirt! But this changes at 6 miles with a one mile climb that gets steeper and steeper. Once at the top it was a short dash across the street in Great Brickhill before descending into Stockgrove country park. This was by far the best part of the course with two miles of winding single track trail. It was brief but thoroughly enjoyable.

From the beginning of this race I could feel the hamstring strain I picked up on Thursday so there were no thoughts of a fast time. I would of been happy with 1:35 and wasn't really even thinking of a time anyhow. As the race progressed though the strain wasn't showing any signs of slowing me down. About 3-4 miles in and settled into a pace I found myself running amongst 2 other runners (one just ahead and the other behind) whom were running the same 6:45 pace +- 10 seconds. This helped to keep me honest as I didn't want to fall behind or be passed.

In the woods from mile 7-10 I really had a blast and used the downhills to pass both runners. I always prefer to have a clear trail ahead of me so even though the other two weren't going anywhere we flew along together. Back onto the canal at mile 10 it was a 3 mile flat stretch home but this didn't make it any easier and I didn't have too much left to give. It was only now that I could see that I was potentially on for a 1:30 if I could up the pace. This spurred me on as I tried to chase the others down who had passed me again in a boggy field prior to rejoining the canal section. The two I had run with were extended their lead now, but I had caught another guy whom I tried to stay with. I kept an eye on the garmin and was managing to sustain around a 7 min pace. The avg pace read out was 6:53 and I knew to go sub 1:30 I needed an avg pace of 6:51 or better. This meant I had to up the pace in the final 2 miles. Some jelly babies at the final water station helped!

We were now off the canal and into the final mile around the lake where we had started 12 miles prior. I was closing on the same guy still ahead of me and I upped the pace as I passed him, then through the gate, and a short dash across the school playing field and under the finishing arch. My garmin time was 1:29.36. Nice. Avg pace 6:50. Don't know my placing yet but might have sneaked into the Top 20. 500 started.

I was chuffed to bits. I really didn't think I could sustain this pace over such a course and show that I have carried over the speed and fitness from my Half in October despite the relatively low mileage in the past month.

My right knee is complaining a little bit now so I don't plan to so too much in the remainder of 2010. I don't have any races booked, unless you count the XC season. The next one of those is 4th December.   


Thursday, 18 November 2010

Bob Mallows Cup run

Today was the annual Bre (my company) Garston Grand Prix race which is a 2.5 mile on and off road blast. We have a couple of races in the bre calendar, which is great for a company to do. This was the first year that I took on the race organisation too so added pressure as well as actually running it.

I didn't stand a chance of winning it as a new kid on the block Glen Watts recently joined the company and is super quick. And I don't just mean a little bit quicker either ~ Glen's half marathon PB is 66 minutes!! I really didn't stand a chance, that was until he pulled out of the race this morning. I should have been thrilled but I wasn't as I really wanted go see what he could do and the course record of 12:53 set by BRE running legend Bob Mallows which has stood for 25 years was under threat!

I certainly wasn't going to be challenged the record but I would settle for going sub 15. The field of 16 runners lined up with Bob present to start proceedings. My strategy was simple ~ go out really hard and open up a lead early then hold on. And this is pretty much what happened. My opening mile was a 5:41 on road, but I wasn't able to sustain this pace and my second mile which went off road was a 6:23. It didn't feel this much slower and I was giving it everything I had however by this stage I was totally alone with no one to push me even harder.

I still thought though that I was doing enough to go sub 15 minutes (my pb was 15:36). I only had an avg pace read out on the garmin though so had no idea what the time was and how close I was. The last half mile is through the woods. There was a bit of slipping and sliding but the innov8s kept me moving forward.

As I exited the woods for the last 200 yd dash on tarmac to the finish I gave it what I had, but again had someone been baring down on me I would have surely found a few more seconds! And as it was I needed them... I crossed he finish line in 15:00.88. Overall I was pleased with my run although my second mile let me down. 2nd place finished 1:20 behind me so quite a margin.

Had Glen raced I certainly wouldn't have won but perhaps I would have gone quicker!!! So there is the question: what's more important ~ time or positioning or both!! Obviously you would take both given the chance. Bottom line winning any race is a good feeling, and it might be my last for a while if Glen does get racing! So I will enjoy it whilst it lasts! And the best thing of all I can still go quicker.

The only downer on today is a slight hamstring strain which has had the Deep Heat treatment. Basically there was zero warm up before the race and I've paid for the opening mile! Not sure how it will be for the Leighton Dirt Half Marathon this Saturday. I will race but it may not be full on.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Watford Chiltern League XC race

Saturday was the second cross country race in the Chiltern League calendar held at cassiobury park in Watford. For some reason I expected a flat course but instead we were presented with a challenging hilly course that certainly got pulses racing. It was 9km and involved an out and back beginning section and a woodland loop which we would run twice. 

15 senior male LBAC runners lined up for the start. The female race had started eariler with 4 runners representing the club. 300+ runners toed the start line as we were set on our way down hill. It was a pretty frantic first half mile as everyone attempts to position themselves. You soon learn from these affairs that unlike other races going out too fast is an absolute must if you aren't too get stuck in the pack using even more energy later in the race to pick off people as it gets stretched out.

My first mile was a 6.06 which included a climb. I found the early downhill sections especially pleasing as I let rip and passed quite a few less sure footed runners more hesitant to let gravity do the work. I worked hard on the uphill sections too which weren't too steep but a few of them quite long.

Soon into the second loop it was evident I was tiring but so were those around me. It was a case if survival mode now and holding position. The pattern of the race was that I was passed by a handful of runners on the flat sections but would take back the places on the ascents and descents as I pushed to keep in contact with those infront.

With the second loop over it was a 1/2 mile or so slog to the finish initially downhill and then a long uphill to the finish. I was planning for this section for most of the second half of the race determined to hold back some fire in the legs and pick off runners up the final hill. It worked a treat as I passed   one by one each pass being a small victory. Then there was the usual finishing straight sprint for the line against a fellow competitor. I pulled alongside and he pushed I went with him and he pushed again, but I sat back, he relaxed and I pushed with everything I had which he responded to but I took the photo finish! :-)

Total distance - 5.33m according to the garmin in a time of 34.01 and 76th place (4th for the club) out of 210 division one runners and 331 runners in total. I enjoyed almost every second and look forward to the next XC fixture on 4th Dec which promises to be even hillier than this one with more mud!  


Friday, 12 November 2010

Quality not quantity... Training sessions that work of me and might for you too!

I thought I would take the opportunity to capture the main training sessions that I frequently find myself doing as part of my normal training. Hopefully some of this might be useful to others to incorporate into their own training.

Now for the caveat: I'm no trainer and have no coaching experience. These sessions are just ones that I personally have consistently found to be beneficial to my training to both improve my stamina and speed. They can be easily adapted to suit different abilities and speeds.  These sessions are greatly aided by the use of a Garmin GPS unit or similar to be able to accurately measure pace and distance.

It is not intended that they are all performed in a single week. I personally aim to do 4 'quality' training runs per week.  I always try and avoid going out the door just to put in junk miles - those runs without any real focus or goal for the session. Quality over quantity is the order of the week here!

Session 1 - Long Run (negative split - 10-30 miles): distance dependant on ability and by definition your long run is simply the longest run in that week. The long run should be paced accordingly so that whatever speed and distance you run it at, the second half of the run is faster than the first half. This teaches good pacing and finishing strong which are two crucial attributes to running ultras! increase long run mileage by 10-20% per week or whatever you feel comfortable with. 

Session 2 - Recovery run (4-8m): slowest run of the week to recover from a long run or hard session and get energy back in legs for harder runs later in week. Best run at easy Conversational pace (approx 1-2 mins slower than marathon pace).

Session 3 - Tempo Run (5-10 miles): This is the fastest run of the week where you are really pushing your limits. Speed and distance will be dependent on ability but you should be pushing the effort levels to the max and not holding back. Even Pacing is still vitally important and should aim not to slow. Each week either try to up the distance slightly running at the same pace or up the pace over the same distance.

Session 4 - Progressive Run (4- 8 miles): The goal for this run is to run each mile faster than the last. So depending on ability you may start at 8 minute or 10 minute miling then knock off 10-15 seconds per mile for each subsequent mile run. A great workout and really teaches the body and mind to push the boundaries even when you are tiring.

Session 5 - Hill training (10 reps on 1/4 mile hill) this is a really tough session and best done in a group. Runners position themselves on hill based on ability so that everyone reaches the top at the same time. The aim is to go out hard but controlled up the hill and recover on the way back down. If paced well each rep should be consistent and after a few of these hill sessions when you know your pace you should aim for each rep to be slightly quicker than the last. As said best done in a group so you have people to aim at when you approach the crest of the hill. You should nothing left at the end of this session!

Session 6 - One mile intervals (1m x 4-6 with 0.25m recovery) this is a great run to get the heart and lungs pumping. Run on the flat take a short half mile/mile warm up first before the first interval. Know your pace and stick to it. It should be run at about a 9 on the effort level, whilst being able to maintain the same pace for each rep.

Session 7 - Short flat out tempo run (2-3m) it's a killer but well worth it. I only do this run once a month organised by my club.  It is a good gauge of improved fitness (hopefully) during the month. Find a good flat 1 mile loop that you can repeat two or three times. This way you can gauge the effort levels on each loop and get consistency.       

Session 8 - Cross training (1hr+ low impact workout) Gym workout, cycling, swimming etc. For me never the easiest session to find the motivation for. Key is to find something else that you really enjoy that aids your running.

So that's it. Eight key sessions which if you build a training plan around, buiding up the mileage and speed as you go should really make a difference come race day whatever the distance.

Love to know what others think and what works for you!? 

Sunday, 7 November 2010

ElliptiGO test ride!

Went out today on one of the first test rides of the ElliptiGO in the UK!! What an awesome machine and a complete unique riding experience. It's similarities with a conventional bike end after the handle bars and two wheels. Everything else feels quite different, from the high upright standing position, to the way that the legs operate it. It's basically running on a bike with no impact. It's 100s times better than an elliptical trainer in the gym... whilst I do use one because they are static they get dull quite quickly. On an elliptiGO however you are constantly on the go and I had a grin on my face nearly as long as the ElliptiGO itself! (nearly 2mtr in length). In terms of getting a work out - it's great. I was out for over an hour and we (me and Idai Makaya (the European manager) )covered 11.5 miles - we were taking it easy (avg speed 10mph). the legs felt it (slightly) after that but the arms definitely so! So an all over body workout. And cos you are constantly balancing upright it works the mid area and core muscles too to thought.

This is a really fun machine and it looks awesome too but underneath the bold green paint (also comes in black or blue) it is a serious bit of kit. Technologically it's pretty advanced - with it's all aluminium frame, carbon fibre drive arms - the bit you stand on that connect to the crank arms which drive the shimano 8-speed hub gear set. This allows for good speed on the flat (although not as fast as a road bike) and serious climbing ability on the hills. Words really can't describe the ride experience because it is so unique so if you are intriged then go try one for yourself!

Am I sold on it...? I reckon so but I will have to find £2,000 first to make it mine :-O However even before the ride i was sold on the concept and riding one has convinced me! I will integrate it into my ultra training by riding the 45 mile round trip to work. At first once a week, but perhaps 2-3 times as the days get longer. This way i get all the training benefits of high mileage but none of the high impact issues and injuries that result from running all the time.

 It's not yet released in this country but a cargo container is bound from Taiwan to the UK as we speak. The guys at ElliptiGO are expecting to have it on sale direct by December. My name will be on the waiting list. The only remaining decision is do I go for Green, Black or Blue!? Hhhmmmmm decisions decisions....

My thanks to Idai who took time out of his Sunday to take me for the 1hr test ride. Cheers. I hope you have loads of success with the ElliptioGO once it hits the UK (online) highstreet.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Club Stag Run

Time had come around once again for the club stag run. I dread it and look forward to it at the same time. It's 2.5 miles at full tilt with a staggered start based on ability and points awarded from 25 down to 1 for 1st place to 25th.

In short it was hard work from start to finish but that's the point as you chase down one runner after another. Mile 1 was a 5.34, mile 2 a 5.39 and the last half mile run at 5.38 pace. Finishing time 14.04. A new PB by 15 seconds over last season's final race where I took the stag title. Can I do it again... Probably not as to keep improving from that tome for the rest of the season is gonna be tough if not impossible. But hey with 23 pts on the score board there is always hope :-)

Stag race times:

09/10 stag 1 - 15.29
09/10 stag 2 - 15.04
09/10 stag 3 - 14.54
09/10 stag 4 - 14.31
09/10 stag 5 - 14.19
10/11 stag 1 - 14.04

Monday, 25 October 2010

On the Wild side (long run report)

So it was back to what I know best at the weekend with the reinstallment of the regular long run. I have been meaning for quite some time to do a big loop from Leighton Buzzard which takes the Two Ridges Link ( to Ivinghoe Beacon and then the Icknield Way ( from Ivinghoe Beacon down the valley and back up and around and along the Dunstable Downs before the trek mainly on road back to Leighton Buzzard.

Sunrise on the Two Ridges Link
 Well this was my chance to do some nice long slow miles and I enjoyed every minute. This is even despite getting up at the ungodly hour of 6:30am on a Sunday morning to fit it in and get back to do my fair share of looking after the little one. This meant however that I was treated to a nice sun rise which really is the only way to start the day!

The Two Ridges Link is the same trail I attempted months back however I was thwarted back then by a couple of barking dogs blocking a narrow part of the trail that goes up alongside a driveway. Well this time there were 3 dogs between me and my journey onwards but they didn't look too threatening so I did the trick of looking confident in my stride and edging pass them. I had made it! I still don't think it's right that home owners should be allowed to have their dogs out on the loose creating a nuisance on a national footpath.

View from Ivinghoe Beacon back across to Leighton Buzzard
 The rest of the Two Ridges Link was a lovely run and highly enjoyable across sheep filled fields, farms and wood lined trail. It climaxed with an extremely steep climb to the top Ivinghoe Beacon which was a hands on knees job. The prize however was a view I've enjoyed many times before (and the start line of the Ridgeway Trail).

Icknield Way back up to Ivinghoe
From here it was down onto the Icknield Way - a path I haven't run or walked before. The animal theme continued on this run as I also startled many Deer who wandered across in front of me on the trail. I tried to get some photos on my phone but they weren't hanging around for the shot.

Spot the three deer in this shot!
 Now the next animal that I happened across I'm glad to say wasn't on the same trail as me. If it was I don't think I would be writing this. A grey rhino! Yep I not kidding rhino living wild in central Bedfordshire!! Ok maybe not wild but part of my run went around the perimeter fence of Whipsnade zoo which is where I saw it off in the far distance. Very exciting stuff. From Whipsnade it was a very pleasant jaunt across the undulations of Dunstable Downs before I was off the trail and back in civilisation with a bump (Dunstable kind of does that it you!)

Not much more to say of any note re this run. Just nice to get back in the saddle and let the legs know that it won't all be half marathons. 22 miles in all in a very leisurely 4 hours however it didn't feel like it with quite a few climbs.

Recovery day today. Legs feel fine which shows they haven't completely forgotten what going long is all about.

Taken from Dunstable Downs back across the valley
with Ivinghoe Beacon in the far distance (left of centre in shot)

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Sunday long run report

A week after the half I was back to what I know best... going long. Different individuals from LBAC lead a Sunday run and this particular run started in Milton Keynes and was going to be a gentle 10 Miles through the many parks and greenways of MK. So to add a little distance I decided to run to MK along the old favourite grand union canal which made the total distance 24.5 miles. 

It was a good test because I haven't gone further than a half since the end of August. What didn't help though is that I made a very poor choice of footwear. The canal path is almost entirely on hard surface as was the MK 10 miler yet I threw on my innov8s with their ultra studded sole designed for proper off road running which this definitely wasn't! So this didn't exactly make for a comfortable ride. What a silly mistake which slightly took away the enjoyment of the run. It was still a good run don't get me wrong and I was pleased to get in the miles but I won't be making that mistake again in a hurry. 

One last point to note is that despite MK having a reputation as a bit of a concrete jungle designed exclusively for the car it actually offers the runner a huge connected playground of parks, lakes and greenways which offer endless running opportunities. This includes Willen Lake which is also the location for a weekly timed 5km Park Run held every Saturday.  Register at 

So what's next for me? 

Well it seems that I may run the Bedford half marathon in December. I haven't decided for sure but it's a club championship race so attracts many of my fellow runners all seeking to run a PB so I may tag along and see what happens. 

Excitingly my company are also organising a sponsored walk/run around a mile circuit on our company site. The idea being to walk or run as many laps as possible within a certain time limit. Perhaps 5 hours. This sounds right up my street so would definitely participate in what should be a fun day out with colleagues. 

Then there's the Winter Tanners ultra run on 9th January which I have registered for. This is a 30 miler open to walkers and runners organised by the Surrey Long Distance Walkers Association. There's also a 20 mile option. But the best thing of all - the entry fee is a mere £2.50!!! What a bargain which helps with the fact that my wife and I have baby number 2 due in April so £40+ entry fees are not so appealing!    

Friday, 15 October 2010

Royal Parks Half Marathon race report

Well it has been quite an interesting 6 weeks since the Ridgeway run to bring me to the start line of the Royal Parks Half Marathon on Sunday. Back then I would never of thought that I could be challenging for a PB over this distance. But the body is amazing and can adapt very quickly to change. Hence the long runs were out and the short fast efforts were in.

Training for this race went well but then I was hit with flu in the final week. This meant I didnt run for 5 days before the race but perhaps this was a blessing in disguise.

Sunday was a glorious day for racing with clear skies and a warmth for mid October previously unknown. This race attracted 12,500 runners and resembled a mini london marathon at the start as we squeezed into our pens like livestock with heads as far as the eye could see.

We were soon set on our way as we passed landmark after landmark. I tried to soak up the atmosphere and the occassion but in reality most of my energies were focused on keeping pace with little else to spare to outwardly enjoy the occassion but I did have a beaming smile on my face as I went about my business. My first mile was a quick 6.43 but not so quick that I could afford to let up the pace as I would need to continue this similar pace for another 12 miles. Eeek.

Unlike the wednesday training runs which felt effortless this was a different story. On the perceived effort scale I was already up at 7-8 in the early miles but it still remained enjoyable. We passed Big Ben and onto victoria bridge before doing a U-turn at the end and down the other side of the road onto victoria embankment and along the River Thames. At this point I had banana man in my sights! (I'd already passed a carrot and two peas in a pod in mile 1! ). There really is nothing that makes you feel slower than someone in fancy dress running at the same speed as you. I had to get pass him and quick before I slipped up! ;-)

The elites were already flying back down the opposite side of the road towards Green Park running 2 minutes per mile quicker than I was. I dont know how they do it! Next in my sights was celebrity runner Ben Fogal. That probably does him a slight disservice as he and James Cracknal have done some awesome things. I wasnt taking any prisoners however and I was soon past him whilst overhearing him tell a runner that his knee wasnt too good so he was taking it easy.

Approaching 3 miles by this point (splits: 6:38, 6:45, 6:42) needed fluids and if by magic the first water station appeared in the distance. Not just any water either... It was M&S water :-) but actually it had a funny taste to it so I had half with the rest over my head to cool me down. I could see ahead to see hundreds of runners still streaming over victoria bridge. Always nice to know there are plenty of people behind you feeling way worst than you do. The next 3 miles took us along Horse Guards Avenue and up Whitehall towards Trafalgar Square before going left through the Old Admiralty Arch and down The Mall alongside St James Park. Then it was a right at Buckingham Palace (a quick wave to Queeny) and up Constitution Hill on to Park Lane and back into Hyde Park (Any tourist would love this course!) Splits for miles 4 to 6 were 6:38, 6:49, 6:43. So I was keeping a good pace but still wasnt even half way so couldnt get too excited but I had settled down and was feeling good.

The entry back into Hyde Park was lined with cheering crowds which continued as we wound around the Park circling the Serpentine. It was at this point that I caught up with the official 1:30 pace maker holding the flag aloft which was fixed to his back. I had spotted the pace maker at the start and knew he had crossed the start a minute before I did so if I could stick with this guy he would comfortably bring me in within my goal pace. There was a pack of runners together at this point all it seems with the same goal in mind. It didnt make the pace any easier as it was still fast and the effort level now up at a solid 8 or 9 to keep on track.

This was a flat race no question but because of this every slight incline was even more noticeable with all of them coming in the Park. I used these however to accelerate past those that laboured ever so slightly getting ever closer to my goal. The miles ticked by as we continued to circle the park. Splits for miles 7 to 9 were: 6:49, 6:44, 6:51.

Then at mile 9 the pace maker simply stopped and desserted us! His parting words being I brought you this far on exactly 1:30 pace with an inferrance that we were now on our own. It was make or break time now. I turned to one of the others in the pack and half jokingly said he was only holding us up anyway! It took a mile to regroup my thoughts and hang on to the pace and then from mile 10 I decided to push on to the end with a concerted effort with everthing I could muster. Effort levels by this point had reached 10. I was giving it everything I had and for my rewards I continued to pass more runners as I had been throughout the race.

And soon I could see the home straight with the finish line off in the far distance. This alone must have been over half mile easily. I pushed to the finish with one last big effort. The clock read 1h29m... And my watch (and chip time) read 1h27m51s.

I was hugely excited to crack the 1h30 mark and so pleased with how my race had gone and the effort I put in from start to finish. My splits for the final 4 miles were: 7:00, 6:36, 6:24, 6:12. (also later found out that finished 154th out of 12,500 finishers).

The medal was put around my neck and photos taken. I was particularly taken with the medal which was made from 100% sustainble wood and in the shape of a leaf with 10.10.10 engraved in it. I found my wife and daughter amongst the crowds enjoying the post race festival and we took in the great atmosphere and laid on the grass by the Serpentine. A lovely day which I would happily repeat next year. I would recommend it to anyone interesting in running a big city race without the need to train for the full marathon!
I have also raised £920 for the PACE Centre so a big thank you to everyone that has supported me. It's not too late to give something -

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

It's raining it's pouring...

Everyone will relate to the feeling when you look outside and it's pouring with rain, it's dark, and you really don't feel like going for a run, but know you have too! Well this is how I felt tonight. I had to because this is the final BIG week of training before a taper week next week for the Royal Parks Half. 

On Sunday I put in a steady 12 miler off road. On Monday I put in back to back 4.5 milers (one at 6:30 avg mpm pace, the other at a more leisurely 8mpm pace) so 9 miles in total in one lunchtime! Tuesday was a rest day which brings me back to today's club run.

I'd eaten a massive jacket potatoe too just an hour earlier which isn't exactly ideal for a Wednesday LBAC club night which is always a rapid affair. It's often the way however that once you get yourself out there, such runs so often surprise and turn out to be the best. Tonight was no exception!

The rain literally fell out the sky in sheets soaking my supposedly water proof TNF jacket to the skin. Most were wearing just a tshirt, some even vests (Tom the pocket rocket), but us ultra runners are taught to go out prepared!

Anyway I quickly got into a nice stride and set about my business sticking to what felt fast but sustainable. On these type of training runs I try not to look at the garmin as I want to feel the pace I'm running rather than be told. I felt good (apart from the potatoe that was sitting high in my stomach or hadn't even made it that far!) I like running in horrid conditions (sometimes) as it's an extra challenge and most others probably don't prefer it this way so it's always an advantage if you can harness this and set yourself apart from others. I ran and ran.... harder, faster and further than anybody else. Was this really the slow ultra plodded from just a few weeks ago. I smashed out the miles mainly because I wanted to finish the session as quickly as possible. Why prolong such a run when the greatest benefit can be gained from going out hard from the start and sticking to it. 

As you can probably tell from this post I am still pretty pumped up from tonights run. It really is a great feeling to feel that the effort I am putting in is paying back so quickly. This short 4 week training period in the lead up to the Royal Plans is going exactly to plan.

I covered 8.6 miles tonight in 59 minutes 10 seconds. My mile splits were: 7.24, 7.05, 6.47, 6.53, 6.47, 6.39, 6.37, 6.53, 6.41 (last 0.6 miles). Total avg pace 6.52 mpm. This just happens to be exactly the pace I need to run to go sub 1h30m in the Half! So if I can do it on a club night in the pouring rain, dark, dodging cars and puddles then what I wonder beckons on a fine Sunday morning in the Royal Parks of London. It's an exciting prospect and I can't wait.

It might come across that my motivation for this is based on time and splits, and getting a new PB but actually i'm on a high more because I'm just thoroughly enjoying my running right now. Why - well I think mixing it up and going from the ultras to training for a half has a lot to do with it. I'm learning a lot from this shift in training and it can only be a good thing.

what's next? A slower recovery run tomorrow lunchtime... :-)        

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Sunday LBAC long run report

Today was the first LBAC Sunday morning training run. Basically quite a few club runners get their weekly long run in on Sunday morning like so many other weekend warriors up and down the country. So therefore individuals from the club have volunteered to lead a run every Sunday morning from a start point of their choosing in and around Leighton Buzzard. Today it was Joe's (Mr Ironman) turn who led a super little route with 3 of us in tow. Tom (the pocket rocket and club captain), Fred (Super Vet), and myself.

The route took us initially along the grand union canal on a surprisingly muggy morning. The flat start was nice especially with the hills to come. We turned off after a few miles to Stockgrove Park, and meandered up and down undulating trails crossing paths with a few other runners and dog walkers on route. The speed was around the 8 mpm pace so not sluggish but more than sustainable.

From Stockgrove there was a quick water stop before we continued into the ajoining Rushmere Woods which with the carpet of pine needles that covered the trails were very easy on the feet. We joked that these would make for great inner cushioning! Very sustainable too!! Held together with hubba bubba we decided :-)

Anyway once out of rushmere having clocked 10 and bit miles we made our way up the road, over the grand union canal and continued through to Linslade Woods which was a very neat short cut back to where we started. Total mileage 12.2 miles in 1hr49min. A good run and my last at that distance before the Royal Parks in 2 weeks time. Between now and then it all shorter speed work.

So to all LBAC runners and anyone else reading this local I can thoroughly recommend joining us on a Sunday morning. See here for full details -

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Royal Parks Fundraiser - PLEASE HELP

A quick post to ask for your support (and money) for my Royal Parks half marathon in a few weeks time. I'm running on behalf of PACE who help children with physical disabilities such as cerebral palsy, also enabling them to transform their own lives and that of their families. A very worthy cause and I would like to raise at least £200 for them.

I'm gunning for sub 1:30 and training is going well so its definitely ON. And for every £1 raised I will personally throw in 50p too so if I hit my £200 target, that's £300 raised!

Click on the link below to my Just Giving Fundrasing page. Thanks

STUART BLOFELD is fundraising for The PACE Centre

Thursday, 16 September 2010

LBAC Club Run

Wow yesterday’s club run was a real blast. Who would have thought road running could be this much fun! I went out with the intention of doing around four 7 minute mile intervals with quarter mile recoveries in between. It soon became apparent however that whilst I was doing the 7 minute miling I wasn’t going to get the recoveries I planned. This was because I settled into a good stride with fellow LBAC runner Chris at the front of the pack, and Chris' approach to every run he does is flat out all of the time with 100% effort! He chuckled at the suggestion of taking a rest in between. I wasn't going to be beaten or suggest that I need rest! So it was that we maintained the effort mile after mile through the streets and parks of Leighton Buzzard.

We weren’t alone for very long though as the racing snakes in the pack soon caught up and pushed the pace on further. At this point I look down at my Garmin (which was on its best behaviour today) to see 6.10mpm pace. Bloody hell what am I doing I thought... The answer being exactly what i need to be doing! This was speed training at its best... heart pumping, lungs bursting, full out running.

What I was most surprised about from this session is that I'm not as slow as I presumed I would be after the recent ultras. My speed was there. I just need a bit more speed endurance so that I don't die in the latter stages of a race. The session ended up being exactly 9 miles in distance with an average pace of 7.07mpm. Just 4 extra miles at just above this pace would bag me a PB at the Royal Parks in 3 ½ weeks time. A real possibility then, and a huge motivator to keep the training cranked up to the max.

So it’s more of the same over the coming weeks which may look a bit like this:

Sat - Long run (plus hard hill reps session in middle)
Sun - Rest
Mon - Short sharp effort. 4 miles at close to 6mpm as possible
Tues - Rest or slow recovery run with Leighton Fun Runners
Wed - Hard fast LBAC run. 6-9 miles at 7-7:30mpm
Thurs - Rest or v. slow recovery run
Fri - Rest

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Speed training begins

I'm writing this on the train on way back from London and wanted to fill the time. So not perhaps the most thrilling of intros or reasons for a post but let's see where it takes us. 

So the brooks green silence running shoes arrived on Saturday and I couldn't wait to try them out having never wore a flat racer before. So Monday lunchtime saw me don them and head out for a quick blast along the very familar 5 mile out and back from work accompanied by my colleague Dave.

My first impressions were how amazingly light they were. Not just a bit lighter than what I'm use to, but like i wasnt even wearing shoes at all. I knew I would be sacraficing cushioning and a certain amount of protection for this but they were extremely comfortable and felt right. 

We had intended in doing a session at 7mpm but the garmin was playing up and wasn't picking up the satellites. So we cruised along at a fair old click. Only when the garmin decided to work did we realise it was sub 6:30 pace. Blimey i didnt know i was still capable of such speeds after a summer of ultras. It felt good though so we didn't adjust the pace. it quickened further and we soon found ourselves running sub 6s (mainly because Dave doesnt know how to run any other way). I hadn't being running at that pace for months!... Was I losing the ultra shuffle!? 

The brooks continued to feel great and so was I. I always find the hard runs mighty satisfying and this one especially so, giving me a glimmer of hope that perhaps sub 1:30 is attainable at the royal parks half in 4 weeks time. Only time will tell but I plan to do plenty more of these sessions between now and then plus some intervals and hill sessions. I guess the trail shoes are staying in the cupboard for now. 


Friday, 10 September 2010

Leighton Fun Runners Invitation Run

LBAC runners
I joined the Leighton Fun Runners (LFR) for their invitation run on Tuesday. The LFR are the other running club in town, my club being LBAC (Leighton Buzzard Athletics Club). There is quite a lot of history to both clubs but the main thing is that we have two thriving running clubs in the same town which are growing in numbers all the time. That can only be a good thing.

The annual invitation run invites other local clubs from around the area. There were six of us from LBAC. Many others were running in the Tour of Milton Keynes which was unfortunately the same night meaning that the LBAC turn out here could have been

There were well over 50 runners in total which were split into three different pace groups. A 7mpm group, 8-10mpm group and 10-12mpm pace group. I convinced myself to join the 7mpm group as I needed to shake off the cobwebs and lose the ultra shuffle. The slower groups set off and we stood around for a bit longer eyeing up the chocolate chip muffins which would await us on our return.
Pete Mackrell blasting along

The route took us along the Grand Union canal whilst still light and as darkness began to fall we ventured on road and through the maze of residential streets that make up the north side of Leighton Buzzard. I've lived here for 7 years and still never know where I am most of the time!

The 7mpm pace was just about sustainable mainly because it was nearer 7:30 pace... Phew! The LFR were very welcoming had we had a great run.
As darkness fell in LB...
Whilst they said it would be 6 miles the extra mile making it 7 meant that we had definitely earnt our tea and cakes that awaited us back at the club house. A very nice evening which I plan to repeat by joining the LFR on their Tuesday run more often as nice to mix it up a bit!

LFR club house - award given to their club captain

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Ridgeway Results

Whilst the full results still haven't been published a clever forumite has extracted the following from the Hall of Fame (which contains times for all years that the event has taken place). So it appears I finished in 23rd place out of 87 finishers. With over 100 starting the finish rate was quite good with only about 15-20 people dropping.

Well happy with my placing. Reckon I can knock off at least an hour next year :-)

Ridgeway Results 2010
(List of finishers in order, including those on the earlier 10am start) 
Robert Treadwell 2010 14.48 1
Michael Beard 2010 16.21 2
Karen Hathaway 2010 16.24 3
Steve Reading 2010 17.05 4
Steve Charleston 2010 17.12 5
Linda Huxley 2010 17.45 6
Allan Rumbles 2010 17.56 7
David Larkham 2010 17.58 8
Vaughan Wade 2010 18.03 9
Claire Shelley 2010 18.10 10
Rob Harper 2010 18.15 11
Alwyn Johns 2010 18.24 12
Anne Wade 2010 18.40 13
Dicky Wilkinson 2010 18.40 14
Matthew Taylor 2010 18.44 15
Helen Smith 2010 18.49 16
Anna Finn 2010 18.49 17
Tom Sutton 2010 18.52 18
Adrian Holloway 2010 19.21 19
Sarah Thorne 2010 19.24 20
Julie Ewers 2009 19.29 21
Robert Edwards 2010 19.46 22
Stuart Blofeld 2010 19.37 23
Ian Morris 2010 19.37 24
Colin Fitzjohn 2010 19.43 25
Robby Elson 2010 19.46 26
Nicky Taylor 2010 19.47 27
Glyn Raymen 2010 19.49 28
Neil Pringle 2010 19.55 29
Kevin Mayo 2010 20.07 30
Anthony Hayes 2010 20.07 31
Jennifer Bradley 2010 20.23 32
Jim Binks 2010 20.37 33
Jonathan Venning 2010 20.57 34
Mike Lall 2010 20.41 35
Paul Britt  2010 20.55 36
Tony Nott 2010 20.56 37
David Oliver 2010 21.01 38
Paul Oliver 2010 21.01 39
Catherine Holloway 2010 21.03 40
Joan Clarke 2010 21.04 41
Peter Johnson  2010 21.04 42
Nicholas Sheard 2010 21.05 43
David Telfer 2010 21.07 44
Andy Horsley 2010 21.10 45
Sarah Matthews 2010 21.12 46
David Berger 2010 21.12 47
Rob Jones 2010 21.15 48
David Hegarty 2010 21.15 49
Sean Corney 2010 21.17 50
Fraser Scott 2010 21.20 51
Martin Campbell 2010 21.20 52
Mark Rawlinson 2010 21.37 53
David Bruno 2010 21.40 54
Phillip Stapleton 2010 21.45 55
Raymond Hickman 2010 21.45 56
Dino Ilaria 2010 21.45 57
Nichola Newton 2010 21.52 58
Suzie Niven 2010 22.10 59
Carl Miles 2010 22.10 60
Steve Paterson 2010 22.40 61
Guy Nesbitt 2010 22.44 62
James Radford 2010 22.47 63
Brian Layton 2010 22.50 64
Justin Bowyer 2010 22.50 65
Tom Hallett 2010 23.20 66
Jeremy Smallwood 2010 23.20 67
Mark Ball 2010 23.23 68
Sarah Kibble 2010 23.23 69
Barry Miller 2010 23.23 70
Stuart March 2010 23.23 71
Dave Jones 2010 23.45 72
Henrietta MacKinnon 2010 24.29 73
Vicki Johnson 2010 24.37 74
Mel Corden-Lloyd 2010 24.38 75
Martin Matthews 2010 24.46 76
Ian Blakebrough 2010 24.49 77
Steven Wall 2010 24.49 78
Andrew Ferguson 2010 24.52 79
David Palmer 2010 25.50 80
Elizabeth Tunna 2010 25.54 81
Paul Jefferies 2010 26.00 82
Neil Salmons 2010 26.00 83
Kevin O’Rourke 2010 26.17 84
Kathy Tytler  2010 27.50 85
Luke Attwood 2010 27.45 86
Steve Cairns 2010 27.45 87

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Post Ridgeway Recovery

Unbelievably its already been a week since the ridgeway. I haven't suffered any major post race blues mainly because I have a half marathon to train for in just 5 weeks time! And secondly because my post race recovery has gone so well. Normally I couldn't even think of running in the week following a big ultra, however remarkably I was out with the local running club on the Wednesday. And whilst I was firmly at the back of the club running pack at least I was there. It was a nice slow six and half miler around the roads and trails of Leighton Buzzard, Ledbury and Wing. And even with just 4 days off from running it was nice to get back into it.

Clearly it's going to take me a while to get back on pace, and it will be interesting to see exactly how long. On today's (Sunday) 10 mile run I didn't try to push the pace as it was mainly off road but in the last mile and back on the road I tested the legs and run a quite unfamilar 7mpm pace (the pace I need to be running at the half marathon in 5 weeks time) and I managed only 200 metres before it felt far too much!! So there's evidently a lot to do to both sufficiently recover whilst also getting in the speed training.

With this brings the realisation that if I want to run a good time in the half then I've got to hang up the trail shoes and dust off the roadies! This is actually strangely appealing (at least for a short period anyway). And luck would have it that in the latest Runners World magazine they have a feature piece on 4 week training plans for 5km up to mara distance including the half. Perfect!

So for the next 4 weeks I shall return to all the fun and intensity of fartleks, interval and tempo runs. Nice. And another bonus is that I now have an excuse to buy a new pair of roadies :-) with some birthday money that needs spending. Any suggestions people? I'm thinking perhaps the Brooks Green Silence, which fits with my green ethics and is the first running shoe to really embrace Sustainability! Plus it's a no thrills flat racer :-) It bloody ugly though but for this very reason is actually quite appealling -

Friday, 3 September 2010

Ridgeway Challenge

So it was that after only 4 weeks following on from my first  100 miler I was back on the start line for another ultra. This one the Ridgeway Challenge was 87 miles in length and follows the oldest road in Britain (possibly Europe) that dates back 5000 years. It starts at Ivinghoe Beacon on the Chilterns and is  just a 15 minutes drive from my door step. It finishes in the little village of Avebury (outside Swindon). Being a National Trail it is very well waymarked throughout with the distinct White Acorn sign making navigation that much bit easier. However that didn't mean that you didn't have to pay attention and with so many footpaths, bridalways and byways intersecting the Ridgeway it is entirely possible to go off route as we found out!

I'm getting more use to the start line of ultras these days with their very low key almost non-eventful type feel but there is still an underlining buzz of excitement. Ivinghoe Beacon is some what exposed on the top as you would expect with the wind whipping up good and proper. So the talk on the start line was whether one was wearing too much or too little. As always once you get going it always tends to be the former as you heat up and need to strip back the layers.

The actual start was bizzare and reminded me of the start of the grand national (weird I know). The organiser struggled to make himself heard or get everyone back behind the imaginery line and then everyone just set off without so much as a go, hoot or hollar. Mrs Disco Stu aka the wife got some great photos of the first descent and ascent as we all set off on our way (I'm on the left in the bright green T and blue shorts).

The first descent (image courtesy of Mrs Disco Stu)
The first ascent (image courtesy of Mrs Disco Stu)

To CP1: Distance from start 10.5 miles; finishing at Wellhead Farm (Wendover). 1hr 45mins
The first section was one I was familar with having run it a few times before. This was nice and enabled me to relax and not worry about navigation. I was running in the field that started at 12 pm. 30 or so other runners had opted for the earlier 10am start with an extended 28 hr cut off as opposed to 26hrs for us. In total a 100 or so runners were attempt this Ridgeway.

For the most part of this section I used it to check the vital signs and how well I had recovered from the TR24 four weeks ago. How were the feet...the ankles... the legs. All signs were good (at this stage). However my stomach didn't feel 100% but I was carb loading on pesto turkey pasta at 10 in the morning which was probably something to do with it.

I was aiming for an average 10 minute pace on the first two sections and whilst it started slower than that the pace picked up and I did indeed reach CP1 in exactly the time printed on my pace band. Game on :-) There was an array of sugary treats on offer. I grabbed 2 mini flap jacks and went on my way into Wendover, up the highstreet (see right) and started the climb to the top of coombe hill using my power walk to good effect catching two in front who were running up abet very slowly.  

To CP2: 16.8 miles; Whiteleaf Hill. 2hrs 50mins
Section two is a lovely stretch of tree lined woodland trails which wind around, up and over the Chilterns. The pace stayed in the 10 mpm zone and I thoroughly enjoyed this part which finished with an extremely steep long climb to the top of Whyteleaf hill where CP2 awaited us and table full of goodies. Whilst there were sandwiches on offer I thought it was a little early to hit the savoury snacks so opted instead for a few mini Mars bars and a bit of banana. I was still on target for an 18 hr finish but that wasn't going to last surely...

To CP3: 24.5 miles; Kingston Blount. 4hrs 15mins
The third section was a blast with a short but fun down hill section down to Princes Risborough then on to the main road for a bit before it diverted back onto the trail and across a series of wheat fields linking onto the Icknield Way. It was on the road section that it seems the Ridgeway had already taken it first casulty. I passed a chap with an MdS tattoo on his calve so I commented that I'm sure he was wishing for a bit more sand. anyway he said that he was already thinking of dropping at the midway point in Goring. I was taken back that he had decided this so soon into the race with still 5-6 hrs til he got to Goring but I guess if your head isn't in the right place which his didn't appear to be then perhaps it's for the best and you live to fight another day. I encouraged him as best I could before going off on my way.

The next part included a few climbs but nothing too serious (that was still to come). It was on this section that I got talking to a guy called Ian who was running his third ultra, his second being the 145m Grand Union canal race earlier in the year. What amazed me is that before that his only other ultra was a 50 miler and he hadn't run a marathon before either. That's pretty hardcore by anybody's standards and quite refreshing to hear that you don't necessarily have to run a marathon to up your game and give ultras a go, which really breaks from conventionally thinking I feel (apart from you Nick!) Anyway Ian was a great guy and really good company to run with and so we plodded along chatting about ultras and all things running. This helped to pass the time and take my mind off the miles and the slight fatigue I could feel in my legs.

By this stage the pace had now dropped well below 10mpm as the miles wore on and was probably nearer 11mpm. The end part of this section was a very straight wide trail with quite poor footing due to the ruts. CP 3 was a swift affair only stopping to gulp some lemon squash and grab a few nibbles and on we (Ian and I) went.  

To CP4: 31.7 miles; Swyncombe Church. (time unknown)
The start this section was more of the same straight trail that I was very familar withtraining prior training run on this part of the Ridgeway. However once past Watlington I was on new ground with no previous knowledge of what was to come. A few km further along the trail actually turned off left (a real rarity!) and proceeded to climb up and up. However what goes up must come down and we were rewarded with a great downhill section which at this stage of the race I was still able to thoroughly enjoy and brought a massive smile to my face. The the reward for this was CP4 which sat at the top of a short sharp climb which I power walked up. What I heard next was music to my ears "would you like a cup of tea" said the very kind Marshall in her caravan. Not only that, I got a buttered fruit bun and jam sandwiches to go with it too! :-) At that precise point I didn't want to be anywhere else as I devoured the bun and sandwiches and tasted every sweet drop of tea. It's a very British thing I know but there really is no better remedy when you need a pick me up than a good cuppa! We took a bit of time at CP4 as what was lay ahead was a tough 12m section (the longest of the race) before we would reach the half way point at Goring. Looking back now I think Ian wanted more time at CP4 and I'm feeling a little guilty now that I perhaps pushed him outta there quicker than he would of liked. I'm a firm believer though in keeping moving forward and whilst I could have happily stayed for a few more buns and tea we were here to run the ridgeway.

To CP5: 43.7 miles; Goring On Thames. 8hrs 7mins.
Time wise things well going very well and whilst we had dropped our pace we were still on schedule against the CP splits on my pace band. An 18hrs finish was still on. Section 5 was without doubt where things got difficult for the first time (for both of us). I was thinking clearly and knew what i wanted to do but that didn't mean that my legs would obey. However we continued to push a 11mpm pace which to a racing road snake is gonna sound awfully slow boardering on crawling but to us it felt like a good maintained effort.

The scenery and terrain on this section was great including cutting through crop fields (see left) and back to what I really love which is narrower twisting trails which keep the mind alive and focused on every step. It included the famous (so I'm told) Grim's Ditch which is a series of ancient defensive earthworks. To me it was an ultra runnable trail and the smile was firmly back on my face as I led the way and we pushed on. It was a super 4km stretch which at the end of it took us within a stones throw of the River Thames but you couldn't (yet) see it.

A very long 2km later and having gone through a church yard and cementary (see below - that's Ian) we were on the final stretch into Goring on Thames through fields right beside the Thames. This final stretch certainly did 'stretch' and felt like ages which is always the way when you are anticipating a stop ahead where we would get hot food and warm clothes. The temperature was certainly dropping by now.

Before we reached CP5 I had a lovely chat with my wife and 2yr old daughter. It's so nice to hear a familar voice and feel that warmth and closeness even when the reality is that you are still pushing and your legs are tired however at that point  we were flying (comparatively speaking) and getting ever closer.

Ian and I discussed and agreed that we should spend a good amount of time to eat, change into warm clothes and prepare for the night section. We arrived at CP5 with 8hrs 7mins on the clock having run 44 miles. And on my pace band was 8hrs 8mins! We were early ;-) and still on track for an 18hr finish, however I was certain this wouldn't continue because for one I don't think I had accounted for a 1/2 hr stop in my calculations nor the climbs that lay ahead.          

To CP6: 52.4 miles; Bury Down. 10hrs45mins.
So having thoroughly enjoyed a baked potatoe with beans and cheese, choclolate, jelly beans, and cola I was refuelled and changed into my night gear for what would be a very long night. We went over the Thames bridge and up the road to be met by a T junction with not a single Ridgeway sign in sight! Had we gone the wrong way!? Time to consult the map which had stayed in the bottom of my bag until now (such are the extremely good waymarkers throughout). We were indeed on track and proceeded on our way out of the town and onto a country road that passed by some very nice homes.

This road continued for a good 2km before it became trail and started to gradually ascend up and up. Our pace since starting out again was far slower than it had been before the rest, and it didn't feel like things were going to change in a hurry. It was time to get the head down and settle in for a long night ahead. I had studied the map in the days before the race and knew that the next 3 sections between CP5 and 8 was one continuous trail stretching some 26miles. That's a marathon in the dark on one trail rarely deviating left nor right having already covered over 40 miles. Plus the surface was a mix of hard chalk or very compacted mud so not very forgiving on the feet. I kinda knew it was gonna be tough and we weren't dissapointed!

There was nothing else terribly eventful on section 6 apart from being stopped by the police who asked what we were doing! We replied and was probably not the answer they were expecting but they didn't question it, enquired if we had a support vehicle to which we said no and we set off on oir way.

We reached CP6 where the big event was Hot Dogs and Hot Chocolate! The marshalls really were out doing themselves on every check point. When Ian and I arrived we were the only runners there so put our feet up (well I did anyway) for 5 minutes or so. However we were soon being joined by others so had to make hay whilst the moon shined and get outta there. This yo-yo-ing of runners at CPs happened all night and so it felt that we were neither making up nor losing ground on those around us. At least that is how it felt but I haven't seen the results yet so can't be certain.

To CP7: 61.5 miles; Sparsholt Firs. (time unknown)
We left CP6 at 10:45 and in just one section had dropped 45 minutes on the 18hr pace. However this was mainly in part to the extended stop at Goring rather than the snails pace that I at least seemed to be going. The focus now then was to see if we could keep going at the same pace without dropping more time and finish  below 19 hrs. I was quite confident that we would do so.

Only two things stick out in my mind on this section - one was Ian and I following this guy who was off in the distance with a shining bright red light on his backpack. We became it seems so mesmorised by it that we missed a left turn and strayed off the Ridgeway for half a mile only realising our mistake when we came to a crossroads in the trail with no markers of any kind bar a single footpath up through a field. Out with the map for the second time it was not clear where we were so were none the wiser as to whether we were off track or not. We then saw the shining headlights of others across to our left on a different trail passing a monument. Upon consulting the map again they were indeed in the right place and we weren't. Luckly the aforementioned footpath took us straight back onto the Ridgeway and we continued on our way as if nothing had happened. Phew.

The second incident was a runner we approached nearing CP7 who had a foil blanket wrapped round his bare legs. It was pretty chilly by this point and had gone midnight. His friend running with him said that he was in bad shape and suffering from mild hyperthermia. I wasn't surprised especially at the pace they were going. That's the problem with walking in that you just don't warm up the muscles enough. We reached CP7 and informed the marshalls who sent someone down to recover him. I imagine his race was over but you never know. A good cuppa can work wonders! As it did for me at CP7 together with more marmite and jam sandwiches plus the most delicious chocolate marbled cake ever, plus a jordans bar to go. Was there no end to their hospitality!  

To CP8: 69.4m; Charlbury Hill. 15hrs 15mins
As far as pace was concerned I was starting to lose interest in whether we would make 19hrs or not. I still thought it possible but with the Garmin dying at 60miles we had less idea whether we had to push on or just continue plodding to make it. Quite frankly garmin or no garmin it wouldn't have mattered. I was moving as fast as I could which was a little slower than Ian. I'm sure if he did push on ahead he could have finished faster. We were both grateful of the company of one another and working as a team as we had done since the third section certainly got us to this point faster than we would have otherwise done on our own.

We finally made it to CP8 and was met with a roaring camp fire (or was that CP7!?... To be honest I'm not sure as my memory is a little hazy). What I do remember is what I ate (as usual)... More marmite sandwiches, hot choc and creamed rice pudding which really hit the mark :-P

To CP9: 79.9 miles; Barbury Castle. 18hrs.
This next section up to CP9 was without doubt the hardest of the whole race in part because it was also the second furthest at 10 miles, although talk on the RW forum after suggested it was nearer 11. Whatever the distance it went on and on, and many runners were broken by the constant climbs and never ending fields. There were though some awesome descents which I was still able to enjoy and let gravity do most of the work.

I think but can't be sure that this section took us just under 3hrs to complete, perhaps around 2:45. It wasn't actually bad going when I read others blogs that it took them 5hrs. Ian and I were still running every part that didn't involve a climb and we were keeping a rhythm about our running that kept us going and edging ever closer to the end.

We finally made it to CP9 which was at the top of a 3km continuous climb along Smeathe's Ridge. By this time the sun was rising and the head torch was off. A new day and we had made it through the night in one piece :-) The danger now was thinking that with a mere 6m to the finish that it was job done. However having covered 80 miles in 18hrs the last 6m was gonna be far from easy.  

To Finish: 87miles; Avebury. Time ???
What gave us hope of a fast finish was the encouraging words of one of the marshalls at CP9 who said it was all downhill from here. Music to our ears however this fella evidently hadn't actually run it and couldn't have been more wrong. After a short downhill it was all up again! Argh. Ian still had the pace on me as he had done for the past few hours but I pushed on as best I could.

And then disaster struck as a poorly angled Ridgeway waymarker sent us the wrong way off down a steep field when in fact we should have gone straight on. Realising our mistake once we got to the bottom we then had to climb back up taking the road which we thought (wrongly) would take us to where we needed to be. We ended up exactly where we started and probably wasted a good 20 minutes. Argh. And by now we were getting more than a little concerned that the 20hr mark was creeping up on us. To have it slip away from you when for a very long time it looked like we would go sub 19hrs was a little frustrating but if we pushed we thought we would do it.

The footing on this final section was the worst it had been at any point along the whole Ridgeway. The ruts were really deep and narrow so you couldn't run in them so instead you had to skip across the tops of them hopping from one side to the other to find any flat ground that you could of which there was little. The end had to be close now.

The end of the race didn't in fact finish on the Ridgeway but instead cut off short and down into the village of Avebury however we weren't exactly sure what we were looking for. I had spotted a village off to the right as we desended down the Ridgeway but not knowing any landmarks meant we were none the wiser if in fact this was Avebury or not. But hang on a minute, what are those illuminous yellow arrows pointing right off the trail and towards the village... Could they just be... Just maybe... We still weren't actually sure even when I noticed the running IMP brand name on the arrrows. It had to be surely.... and after consulting a nearby local map it was indeed Avebury ahead of us with a sign saying 0.5 miles!!! it was such a good feeling. We passed a farm yard and onto firm ground for the first time in many hours. Avebury is a tiny village and no sooner had we entered it we were nearing the finish. I quickened the pace with the addrenline pumping charging for the line but it didn't feel right and not in the spirit of what we had been through so I slowed so as not to come in front of Ian and we crossed the (imaginery) line together. It was over. Our numbers were taken, and our official time given - 19hrs37mins. We collected our medals; mine was a finsher medal. Ian got 3rd place in the male over 40s category! Way to go my friend :-) and very well deserved. I was dead pleased with going sub 20 as this was my original target before I got carried away with  goal pace and spreadsheets!

Like every other ultra I've done the finish area and atmosphere was a no frills affair with not an ounce of bravado in the tiny hall which was mostly taken up with runners bags in the middle and just enough room to mill around the edges. I had my finisher photo taken by the organisers and then went about freshening up with a few baby wipes! I actually felt in remarkably good shape. My feet were fine with not a single blister or hot spot. Love the Injinjis and innov8 combo!! A definite winner. I enjoyed a bacon sandwich and chatted with Ian about the race and how we wouldn't do it again (yeah right!). See you next year! :-D

Overall this was an amazing event and you really couldnt ask for anything more from an ultra as it had everything. The organisation was first class. The CPs were the best I've experienced which were all ran by local running clubs. And at every time of day and night they were smiling, unbelievably encouraging and a real credit to the ultra scene. Of course what matters most is the course itself and you really couldn't ask for more of a contrast than what is thrown at you on the Ridgeway. The first half was utter delight the second was utter hell and I wouldn't of wanted it any other way. We take on these challenges for that very reason and I didn't leave this one disappointed.

That's it as far as ultras are concerned in 2010. My next race is the Royal Parks half marathon in October where if I can get some speed back will try and break sub 1:30 for the first time. However this might be a tough ask considering my lack of short fast running of late. Then it's picking out a few key races in 2011. The Lakeland 100 might be one, and/or perhaps the ONER. The Fellsman will also definitely be worth a return. But for now that enough miles for a while whilst I let my body repair and come back well rested and stronger. Unless of course I decide to ditch running and take up golf!! LOL.