Maidenhead Easter 10 – 1:05:38

This a race I’ve done a few times before – always a good test of fitness before spring arrives – with a best of 1:02:48, set in 2004. The last couple of races I’d done this year I had finished strongly, so today I decided to go out as hard as I dared and hang on, just to see how fast I could go.

We were lucky with perfect conditions, just like the Gloucester 20, cool and sunny, and after a decent warm up I was ready to go. After a couple of brisk laps of the business park where I was nearly tripped up, I was caught by a familiar face – Rob Webster of OCAC – although he was running in a Woodstock Harriers vest. Although we were ticking along at 4min/km pace we had enough breath for a chat. Rob had changed to Woodstock for the road (but not track) as he couldn’t get into the strong OCAC team! We were stride-for-stride through the next km and then I let him go as I just feeling the pace a bit.

Out into the countryside I caught another Woodstock vest, Jake Harrison, who I know from Oxford Tri. We also had a bit of a breathless chat – he was home from uni. Around the 8km point I was starting to think I’d started too fast, but I was determined to try to test myself. Jake reached for a gel here and as he hesitated to open it I pulled out a small lead. Up ahead I could see Rob was dangling off the back of a bunch, and I wondered if I could reel him in. I passed a few runners and closed on him a bit, but by 11km I knew the game was up, I didn’t have much energy left.

Along the rough lane back to the finish circuit Jake caught and passed me, looking good. I got back up onto my toes for the final 1500m back to the finish but didn’t make any in-roads into his lead. He was just outsprinted to the line by Rob (a good 800m runner). I finished about 30 seconds behind them, pretty happy with my effort, half splits of 32:45/32:54. I was 115th/800, 14th M50 (quite a strong masters field here!)

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Gloucester 20 – 2:20:39

Back to the Gloucester 20 for the third year in a row. It’s a good little race for preparing for London marathon, but every year seems to mark the point where my right quad fails and the last few weeks go downhill (in fact, after this race last year I decided not to run in London at all). It’s been behaving itself a bit better this year but I was still cautious of it although this year’s Gloucester 20 was further away from London, at 6 weeks, than the 4 or 5 it’s been in the past so perhaps if things went badly there would still be time to turn it around.

After a bit of a jog to warm up (my sore hip seems to have settle down now) I decided to just wear a vest to run in. It was cool and sunny, pretty much ideal conditions, I was feeling pretty good, if a little nervous. Off the start we had a couple of laps of the local business park to run and then out into the countryside. Although I was thinking of a 2:20 finish I didn’t get too carried away with these opening km, they seemed quite brisk enough and it wasn’t until I was coming around to the end of the first of three large laps that I found myself in a smallish group although they soon split up and I was just running with one other guy from Gloucester AC who was getting a lot of cheers from the marshals. We had a bit of a chat – he’d missed quite a bit of training with a bad cold.

Second Lap (Original is here. Photocredit Jemma Mulraney)

I walked through the water stations – the water is handed up in cups at this race which isn’t the easiest to deal with – but I don’t think it was costing me much time. I had a couple of gels tucked into my waistband for the second and third laps and they provided a welcome boost. I was still feeling good coming around the back half of the last large lap so I pressed on a bit here, and kept a slightly faster pace all the way to the finish, catching dying runners all the way to the line. My 10 mile splits were roughly 1:10:34 and 1:10:04.

Finish (Original is here. Photocredit Jemma Mulraney)

Very happy with my time, 80th from 500 starters and 6th M50, and my quad was not too bad at all – I managed an easy jog to warm down before climbing into the car for the drive home.

Coventry half marathon 1:28:19

Blimey, the queue for the pay-and-display machine was longer than that for the loos! I warmed up in a jacket it was so cold, and then nipped into the leisure centre for a final pee before making my way to the baggage area and race start.

I had a steady start, thinking of a 1h30 finish, not sure how my hip was going to cope after yesterday’s parkrun when it felt so tight at 4:10/km pace but hoped that my nice squishy Hoka Odyssey would do the trick. The 1h30 pacers took off at 3km never to be seen again (!), but I stuck to my plan. I think they finished in sub-1h28, naughty boys.

I found had plenty in reserve for the rolling first half, overtaking all the time from about 8km onwards (a brass band was playing Hey Jude, cool) and stretched my legs out on the gentle descent from 13km onwards. Started to really push with 3km to go, racing the last 5km in around 19:45, a great way to finish.

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Feeling so much more confident in my sore hip today. Eight weeks to go to London Marathon is usually the point where my good winter starts to fall apart, so I’ll be keeping a careful eye on every single creak and twinge from now on!

Oxford parkrun 20:51

Amazingly (given how often I run/race), it’s taken me until today to get round to doing a parkrun. A spur-of-the-minute decision just before leaving work on Friday afternoon saw me walking out the building with a sheaf of barcodes in hand. After all, I had nothing better to do on Saturday morning.  Although… I must admit that I would normally treat myself to a bit of a lie-in on Saturday as I usually have an early start the rest of the week, and the hair-shirt in me says that as Oxford parkrun is only 9½ km away, I should be cycling there which is FAR too much hassle for before 9am. But today I had no excuse and got up early for the trundle on my bike around the ring road cycle path.

A nice, crisp morning greeted us and after a brief intro from today’s race director where I put my hand up as a newby, we were off. The first 200m were fast and then I remembered I’ve got Coventry half tomorrow and backed off a bit! Good fun all round and I guess fairly informal, it was nice to have something short and sharp under my belt before 10am even if my sore hip didn’t appreciate it much, and a bit of a chat to some familiar faces and another parkrun first timer friend-of-a-friend. And then as I was warming down I saw another face I recognised from Fetch – iPLOD was out for a run too – so I introduced myself and we finished another half lap together, chatting about running and so on, like you do.

Then I just had an easy cycle into town for a coffee and some dull stuff to do at my bank. Sorted.

Country to Capital 68km 6:22:54

This ultramarathon has been on my list of races to do for some years, ever since I read about it in James Adam’s blog. It was the first ultra he ran and features the left turn at Bulls Bridge off the Grand Union Canal to Paddington which became so significant for him in later years when he ran in the Grand Union Canal Race (145 miles from Birmingham to London – don’t think I’ll be entering that in a hurry).

After hanging up my wheels at the end of October I’d built my running and joined a Christmas advent running challenge, running at least 8km every day, to a total of 464km in December. Doing quite this much running was tiring, but it had all been just steady, with one hard session a week (a cross country race or orienteering event). I managed to keep the “dead leg” problem I’d had in the past under control, mostly with a lot of stretching in the evenings and wearing compression sleeves while out running. I was managing to get out for a long run most Wednesday mornings, something between 30 and 40km.

The day before the race Ralph Dadswell contacted me (I knew he was running the race too) to say he was heading out at 55min for the first 10km. He had been carrying a small adductor injury but hoped that it wouldn’t be a factor on the day. 5:30/km pace sounded about right for me and it would be good to have some company over the first half, at least. Ralph had been clocking some quick times over shorter distances lately so I wasn’t sure whether he’d outpace me, or whether my distance work would give me an advantage.

There was a short preamble from the race organiser outside the Shoulder of Mutton race HQ and then 300 of us were off down Wendover High Street for the first right turn at a gate at the bottom – traditionally a bit of a sprint for the faster racers but the rest of us were more circumspect. It was sub-zero, and I was wary of ice on the pavements although we didn’t cross any until much later in the day. The opening kilometres climbed up to the Ridgeway – we were soon powerwalking up the first long hill – but we were keen to keep a good pace on the flatter sections, to keep our average up. Although I had the map book we’d all been provided with in my hand it was good to have Ralph along as he knew the twists and turns. After some frosty views across the Chilterns we dropped down to the first checkpoint and there was a photographer to snap our progress. We were laughing because Ralph’s friend had sprinted off the front of our group to get a good photo.

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A quick stop to make sure we’d been registered (my tracker failed though) and then we were off through Chesham and along the Chess Valley Walk. We had a good group here –six or more of us at times, ticking along quite nicely. The route takes a mixture of lanes and footpaths, and there are a few hills to break up the rhythm, now we were following the Chiltern Way. After the CP2 we started to split up a bit and then ran past Elstree Aerodrome. The route dropped down towards Denham and the Grand Union Canal and it was still very sunny, if a little cool.

Around here Ralph started to find the pace a little too much and he waved us on. I was left with a runner in an orange jacket who was metronomic in his pacing once we hit the towpath. I ran with him for about 5km but started to find it a bit much and shortly before CP3 dropped off the pace too. I stopped a bit longer here to re-fill my camelback (and made a bit of a mess of it to be honest), picking up some more GU gels (although I didn’t really like them much –they were a bit gloopy and didn’t seem very digestible).

The rest of the route was all along the canal towpath, very straightforward. I was picking off slower runners every so often, which was a confidence boost, but looking at my heart rate files in retrospect I was probably working a bit too hard here. When I got to the famous left turn at Bulls Bridge I was very relieved – only 13½ miles (22km) left to run. It didn’t seem too much but I was getting tired now and didn’t seem to be passing anyone. The guy in orange eventually disappeared out of sight on a long straight – he finished 17 minutes in front of me in the end but I later found out he ran 7500km last year so I don’t feel too bad about that!

I pulled into CP4, with only 17km left, feeling distinctly jaded. Ralph’s partner Lorraine was here with his two boys. He’d get a change of shoes, but I lingered only enough to dump old gel wrappers and pick up fresh supplies. The canal was getting monotonous now, and I was starting to find myself annoyed with fresh looking joggers out for their afternoon run, although a few of them offered words of encouragement. I was quite relieved to see the last checkpoint come into view. I didn’t really stop – although I’d already had a couple of short walk breaks I thought I’d seize up if I stayed for long, just wanting to get it over with. My quads were dead and my stomach was quite sore and I really needed to get some more energy inside me but it was all I could do to sip my drink. Despite the sunshine we were running on the shady side of the towpath and it was cold.

The last 9km featured quite a few walk breaks. I would manage to shuffle along for a kilometre or so and then be defeated by a shallow bridge over a tributary or a patch of rough ground. I caught and passed one more runner going even more slowly than me but I was in turn being passed by faster finishers. Finally, Paddington Basin came into view. I managed to raise my hands a bit for the camera and it was all over.

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Ralph came in only 5 minutes behind me after a strong finish. We shook hands and I attempted to get changed into some clean kit for a shuffle to Marylebone station and the train back to my car in Wendover.

It looks like I got through the race relatively unscathed – a small blister and some stiff hamstrings. I’m expecting to be tired for a week or so and then I’ll crack on with training for London Marathon, 14 weeks away.

Full results HERE

Dartmoor Devil

Another return to the hilly roads of Dartmoor, this time for my sixth lap. As we ride a variation of the route every three years I knew we’d be back on the Pepperdon Hill circuit, which is by far the hardest of the three. Last time around this took me 5h20, more than 20 minutes slower than the other routes.

For once the forecast was for a fine day and indeed, it proved to be so, even better than the year before although the roads were covered in wet leaves from the rain of the last few days (the infamous Pepperdon Lane was definitely a walk, although I made it about 2/3rds of the way up before a lack of traction and the gradient defeated me). It was very cold early on, especially freewheeling down to the start from Haytor although once we were tackling the first few climbs I soon warmed up! I felt like could’ve done with some more hill training in the weeks beforehand and struggled up some of the gradients later in the ride but the fantastic views this year more than made up for it. I got back to the Kestor Inn after about 5h35, so a bit slower than the previous time, but I was happy enough with that, as I’d had a bit of a hold up with some cows being herded down the road near Drewsteignton.

I paid Kevin, the organiser, for a six-time award to be posted to me, I’m not sure whether I’ll go back for another ride – this audax seems to come right at the end of a very long season and I struggle to find my motivation for training for it in some years. Maybe though, I should aim for a nice round 10 completions?

I'm off in the 9am start [thanks to Kevin Presland for the photo]

I’m in orange (natch), with cardboard devil horns. The 9am start [thanks to Kevin Presland for the photo]

Oxford half marathon 1:31:00

Recent running had tended to suggest that while I was carrying good fitness from PBP, I was feeling a good 2 or 3 kg overweight. Didn’t feel too bad warming up though, and it was a nice day for October – hardly any wind and cool.

After a delayed start due to travel problems for some people arriving by train, I was off to a steady start, and thinking that maybe my target of 1:31 was perhaps too ambitious. Certainly the open kilometres up through Summertown and back felt a bit harder than perhaps they should, but then on the leg to Marston, an old friend from my rowing club days, Julian, passed me. I thought that would be the last I saw of him, but coming back out of Marston I started to pick up some form and caught him on the twisty bit back through the Parks in into town. My feet were getting pretty sore but I surprised myself by having enough left in the tank for a speedy last kilometre and hit the finish line exactly in 1:31:00.

Running back through the parks, about to catch Julian

Running back through the parks, about to catch Julian [thanks to Barry Cornelius for the photo]