Gloucester 20 – 2:30:16

Coming the day after yesterday’s city orienteering race, perhaps this wasn’t the best thing for my dodgy quad. I spent most of the previous evening stretching and rollering my legs, but when I woke up on Sunday morning I knew this run was going to be tough. In the start area it was cold and cloudy in contrast to the day before, but I didn’t even bother with a cursory warm up. I was was wearing my thickest thigh compression support to try to keep the quad as warm as possible. I also wore training shoes, rather than racing flats, to trick myself into treating this as an extended training run. Being a three-lap course (with a couple of miles out-and-back to the loop) I thought I could always pull out early if my leg was giving me trouble but in the end the right quad eased up after a few kilometres and I settled into a good group. The distance seemed to tick by just fine. We had a bit of heavy drizzle on the second lap which wasn’t so welcome, but it didn’t last too long.

I had to work a bit harder over the last lap to keep my average pace up and to try to keep up with the woman from Kenilworth Runners I’d been running with – it was looking like I’d get close to 2:30, not too far off the 2:26:28 I ran here the year before – but was never in too much trouble. Approximate 5-mile splits were 37:37, 1:15:00 (37:23), 1:52:45 (37:45), 2:30:16 (37:31), nice and even.

As soon as I stopped though, 2:30:16 on the clock for 99th place and 8th MV50, I could hardly bend my right leg. It was some time before I was comfortable enough to get in the car and drive home. Not so good.

[Results]

OUOC city orienteering race

For once, spring like conditions prevailed and we were racing in shorts and T-shirt (I wore the brightest one I owned, for all the road crossings we were likely to encounter). I’d not done any running at all in the week – my right quad was just too stiff – but after an extensive warm-up I didn’t notice it at all. I wore a lightweight compression sleeve on my thighs but in retrospect they were not enough.

After a bit of confusion at the start about which course I was doing (d’oh), I forgot to start my Garmin (d’oh again), until about 10 minutes in when I glanced at it and realised it wasn’t ticking away. Quickly into my stride around the University Science Area I immediately hit a dead end – something to pay attention to on this course – but after that I had a pretty good run. Didn’t bother carrying a compass, but I had a route description holder on my arm. With 43 controls, the type was tiny and hard to read though. Overshot a couple of controls, and took some long routes through the colleges we were using to avoid getting trapped in any more dead-ends. There was a moment of amusement in LMH when I ran through a portrait shot – it was a Degree Day and graduates were having their photos done for the parents  – but I don’t think I can have been the only orienteer to have interrupted that particular photo shoot. Clearly I was getting tired towards the end as I navigated myself around three sides of a football pitch instead of one to get to the penultimate control, I think with 43 controls I’d had enough!

I ended up tieing for 27th place on my course, out of 77 finishers, and 22nd in my M40 age group, so not too bad, although this city race played into my fast running ability. OUOC’s webpage for the race is HERE. There seems to be a city race series in the south and this one was fun but but I’m not sure I’ll have much time to go to any others with other racing taking precedent through the summer.

Portsmouth Coastal half marathon

Run training was going pretty OK, although towards the end of the week before this race I started to get a hint that I might be coming down with the ‘dead leg’ sensation in my right thigh. The same week as last year in my London Marathon preparation, it seems to come on just as I’m settling into six runs a week and 300km a month.

The morning for the race was cold and quite breezy, but we didn’t have much hanging about to do, Jules’s flat is only just around the corner from the race HQ at the Pyramid Centre on the seafront. For both of us, this was just another stepping stone on to our spring marathons (Jules has entered Paris marathon with her buddy Dee, although Dee seems likely to drop out as she’s come down with a knee injury.) I was thinking about a brisk 4:20/km pace, to give me a finishing time in the 1:31 region, but I hadn’t reckoned with quite such an agricultural course – after a smooth first 6km there were sections of muddy beach and muddy, lumpy playing field – as well as a terrific headwind once we got back onto the seafront for the final 7km. All of which was not conducive to fast times, so my final 1:35:46 wasn’t too bad in the end, although I’d worked hard for it. I’d finished 46th overall and 3rd in M50. (Only 16 runners ducked inside 1:30.) Jules braved the rain that started to fall later on to finish in 2:18, still smiling.

As soon as I went for a warm-down I could feel my right quad was very stiff, it’s back to square one with that. I’m going to have to baby it for a couple of weeks, I don’t want to be in the position I was in last March and April – just nursing it along.

Bramley 20 – 2:33:36

I had a fairly disastrous run at the BKO Cold Ash orienteering event at the end of January. Went OK early on, but the boggy conditions on one side of the forest (Pics here and here; compared to the relatively dry conditions on the other side) threw me a bit and I was well out of contention after a terrible bit of navigation mid-course. Having spent 2 hours on the “short brown” course, my legs were dead for a couple of days afterwards.

I’d managed a bit more running on the local grass playing fields but I was getting a little bored of those laps and laps. I was wondering about some more cushioning for my injured toe and chanced upon a gel toe cap in Boots [link]. I tried it out in a pair of my usual Asics running shoes and it wasn’t to bad, but then I had an idea that maybe some maximalist Hoka One One shoes might be just the thing. They’re supposed to “bring the trail to the tarmac” and the Ultramarathon store was having a bit of a sale, so although these’d be the most expensive shoes I’ve ever bought, I got a pair of Clifton shoes. They proved to be a revelation – light, yet cushioned enough for road running. Nothing like as clumpy as their appearance suggests. I ditched my race at Watford half-marathon, not feeling that I was ready for it, and Jules was home that weekend so we went out for a long run together on Sunday morning instead. After that it was Game On for the new shoes. I was happy to rack up some decent easy kilometres on the road in them.

I had a local TVOC Saturday Series orienteering event the day before, where I managed a respectable 15th place finish. If I’d not made a slight mess of one run between checkpoints, and been a minute faster, I’d have made the top-10 on the green course [results].

The Bramley 20 was GO!, and although I hadn’t quite managed a run of that distance I knew I’d cope OK. In the end  it was a cold, overcast day, probably ideal for long distance running but maybe a little cold for me. I was pretty controlled through the first 15 miles, and then let rip over the last 5 miles (run in 36:00) to finish in 2:33:36 [results]. That’s not too bad after a slow start (my fastest 20-mile training run last year was 2:34:40, but at a much more even pace).

At 9½ miles, comfy, forefoot striking in my Hokas. Thanks to Barry Cornelius (www.oxonraces.com) for the photo

My calves felt pretty tight afterwards – especially the left, which I’ve always had problems with – but that’s OK. These Clifton’s are pretty lightly built, there’s not much outsole and after only 180km I’m quickly wearing through the forefoot so I’ve just bought some Rapa Nui 2 Tarmac for training in. They’re a bit heavier and more substantial, not quite the fast smooth ride of the Clifton’s but hopefully they’ll hang together OK for some more long runs.

I’ve been racking up my runs on Jantastic for the YACF team, with just a single swim and bike each week, and the odd indoor row, here and there. This seems to work well for me but I’m wondering about backing off the running slightly in March so I can get more quality into it.

Willy Warmer 200k audax

Having missed the Poor Student 200 a couple of weeks back due to the weather being wet and cold, I was hoping to ride my first 200k BRM qualifier for Paris-Brest-Paris. The day was likely to be icy and cold to start with so I deliberately left home for the drive to the HQ late (in an unpromising snow storm) and by the time I got to Chalfont St Peter the early bunches of riders were already heading out – there were over 170 starters this year.

The village car park was a bit of an ice rink, but once I’d checked in at the hall and collected my brevet I headed out at 8:45am and found the main roads to be passable. There were a few other riders faffing about at the hall while Paul was shutting up, so I was pleased to see I was not alone in opting for a late start.

Almost immediately I went wrong out of Chalfont St Peter. I’d loaded both a “normal”, and (new for this year), a “contrary” version of the route on my Garmin. Leaving the hall, with fat fingers I’d set the Garmin to follow the contrary route, oops. After a few km of dodging icy patches on back lanes I managed to cross back to the old A40 and on to the correct route, a couple of extra kilometres added. The snow shower I’d left in Oxford caught up with me on the descent into Marlow and beyond, leading to some rather picturesque, if wintery, scenes on the ride alongside the Thames. After Henley I missed out the section over the climbs to Pangbourne, fearing the ice we’d met there the last time I rode this event in 2011, and opted for the main road route through Reading. I was riding very steadily – fast enough to keep warm, not so fast as to build up a sweat – and quite enjoying being out on the bike.

As I rolled into the checkpoint at Pangbourne, I could see there were still quite a few riders about, tucking into a second breakfast. I didn’t wait long though – just enough time to get my proof-of-passage sticker and send a twitter update. After this stop I was catching and passing riders all day long, right up to about the last 50km where the field had thinned out. I bounced all the next controls, happy to soak up the views of the countryside, and only finally stopped for a break at Kingsclere (132km) where I grabbed a much needed sandwich and some more drink for my bottles. Andy Watt was here, doing the same, and we had a bit of a chat about the day’s ride so far. The sun was out although it was very cold as soon as you stopped. I passed a couple of gritting lorries in the last 2 hours.

For the final checkpoint at Winnersh I bought a chocolate bar from the local Sainsbury’s for the receipt, and then as I left I was overtaken by a group of three who’d just emerged from a café over the road. They were moving quickly but I never quite lost sight of them on some of the long straights. Darkness fell as we crossed the River Thames at Maidenhead and then after a bit of an uphill effort to get to the crossing of the M40 (I decided to go off-route for the final bit and take a cut through Welder’s Lane – mistake – this narrow lane was heavy with cars), I was dropping into Chalfont St Peter for the finish, 216km in 8h45.

A very steady ride for me, one of the slowest 200s I’ve ridden for a few years. It was nice just to be ticking the km off, not too worried about what time I might be finishing. Unfortunately I managed to strain a tendon in my right knee (the good one!) later in the evening – putting my slippers on, of all the things. A few easy days will have to follow until that’s better.

Chiltern League XC. Campbell Park, Milton Keynes

A welcome change from trudging around the local fields at Horspath, I ventured over to Milton Keynes for this round of the Chiltern League. I wasn’t expecting to be too fast, but it was also an opportunity to test out the new XC spikes I picked in a summer sale, and see if my injured toe would be OK running in them.

After a bit of a warm-up and some banter with my fellow OCAC team mates we were off. I tried to take the first half lap fairly steady but still had the feeling my chest was going to explode with the effort by the end of the first mile. After that the field split up a bit and I settled into a good run. Had a bit of a race with a few other backmarkers on the last lap and came 240th out of 342, just over 40 minutes for the 8.25km race, 33rd M50. Muddy, hilly and fast as usual, but good fun.

New spikes not so new any more

New spikes not so new any more

Warming down I had a chat to Rob, our team captain from last spring’s Teddy Hall Relays. He’s going well at the moment. He reckoned that he’d rather break a leg again than go through all the trouble he had with a fractured toe. Sounds like it’s a persistent injury to get rid of! I’m up to 5 months with it now but it is slowly getting better.

One Year Time Trial

This year, Steven Abraham is attempting to beat the “Record too dangerous to break” – Tommy Godwin’s 75065 miles in a year. It’s a crazy challenge, but if anyone can give it a go, Steve can. It all started from a thread on the YACF forum a few years ago (https://yacf.co.uk/forum/index.php?topic=58795.0) and it seems that he’s had this record in mind for many years. Steve has already set a mammoth record Audax points total (http://www.aukweb.net/results/archive/2007/points/), done in his spare time whilst holding down a full-time job, but for this ride he’s taken the year off and is cashing in his life savings (as well as seeking sponsorship). No-one should bet against him achieving his goal.

To start the year off (although actually he set off soon after midnight, too excited to sleep) he was riding the North Bucks Road Club New Year’s Day 10-mile time trial. It’s not too far away from me and the weather forecast was benign, so I had a sober-ish New Year’s Eve and got up early to set off in the dark at 7:30am and ride over to wish him well.

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It was great to see that so many people had come out to race Steve or just be there in that lay-by for the first day. The local BBC TV reporters were there, and Steve seemed much in demand although I did manage get a minute to shake his hand and wish him well. At 10:01am, Steve set off in the time trial with number 1 on his back (Results and report; there are some good photo galleries there too – I’m in one, and in the background here). I hung around for a few minutes more, not tempted to test my legs over 10 miles this early in the year; I was getting cold and decided to set off home for lunch.

Steve’s website is here: http://oneyeartimetrial.org.uk/, and he’s got some competition from an American rider, Kurt “Tarzan” Searvogel (http://www.tarzanrides.com/). (Steve also has a forum nickname which is a little less romantic: “Teethgrinder”.)