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]

Leo 30-mile TT 1:01:38

I had a bit of a stop-start week’s training, with some travelling to a meeting midweek, but I’d also managed a reasonable set of 2-minute intervals – not quite as good as those I’d done before my the Icknield 10, but good enough to give me some confidence going into this last TT of the year. London East had found a new variation on the E2 courses, and this 30-miler was basically the fast middle bit of the E2/50 – it promised to be quick if the wind stayed away.

In the end we had a rare calm afternoon for racing even if it was a bit cool, and a full field produced some very quick times. Off near the tail of the field, I did my usual warm-up – a bit of riding around and a few low-gear sprints – and then I was ready for the race. After about a kilometre along a country lane I was out onto the dual carriageway and zooming along. Riding to power these days, I have no real idea how fast I’m going but I seemed to be flying along. Everyone was going quickly though – I wasn’t catching too many riders. I thought it might be a bit harder coming back from the far turn and tried to contain my enthusiasm on the way out, only partially successful. In the end I started to blow with about 10km to go as I rode over the A11/A14 flyover sliproad, but still had enough left in the tank for a final mad minute back to the timekeeper, stopping the clock in a massive new PB, nearly 4 minutes faster than my best, set way back in 2001.

Getting back to the HQ, there were plenty of smiling faces and a new women’s competition record by Rachael Elliot (1:03:29). There were also women’s and men’s team records, and 10 men went under the magic hour. Quite a day!

At the turn. I was experimenting with a lower/shorter bar position to get my head + shoulders lower. It proved very slippery but less powerful. Swings and roundabouts... [thanks to Davey Jones for the photo]

At the turn. I was experimenting with a lower/shorter bar position to get my head + shoulders lower. It proved very slippery but less powerful. Swings and roundabouts… [thanks to Davey Jones for the photo.]

Henley Hilly 100

A good hilly test for the Dartmoor Devil to follow in a month’s time, this audax seems to becoming a bit of a fixture in my calendar. It used to be that I’d ride the 100km Ted Friend/Kevin Hickman audax out of Charlbury at the end of September, usually riding there and back to make a day of it and often in the company of a few guys from the local TT scene, but that audax died out some years ago.

The day started very very cold, 0°C was recorded at Benson as I rode through there from home. I wore some plastic gloves under my track mitts but they didn’t do much good really and I was frozen by the time I rolled into the village hall HQ. After a few cups of tea in an attempt to warm up, we were off. The sun was occasionally peeking through the clouds but it took me some time to get going. After about 30km or so I started to reel in the faster starters, but even so, one rider remained ahead. I just didn’t seem to have the legs for the climbing today – that cold start had really had an effect on me and I was happy just to get round in reasonable time and then plod home for a warm bath, 174km clocked up for the day.

Lake 62 End of season triathlon, 7th (1st M50)

A nice little ‘Olympic’ distance triathlon for the end of the season I spotted not too far away, in the Cotswold Water Park. I realised I’ve not raced over this distance for three years, although at just over 2 hours it should lie in the best range of my endurance.

Despite a decent week’s training the weather had got distinctly autumnal and I’d managed to put on another kilo as a result, not ideal but I knew I still had good fitness. Indeed, my old BlueSeventy Synergie wetsuit was a bit of a tight fit this morning but it didn’t seem to hold me back as I had a decent swim: after a quick sprint off the line I settled into a good rhythm and apart from a slight pause at the second buoy to clear my misted goggles I really enjoyed it. The leader of my wave (I was in the first of four waves) was miles ahead but I don’t think I was more than 5th or 6th out of the water, a good start.

After a bit of a struggle with cold hands to get my wetsuit off I was quickly out on the bike and reeling in the early leaders. Not too many on the road just yet, so I was able to ride my own race, the way I like it. Coming in around the second lap, the next wave of triathletes were just emerging on to the road. I had about 10 minutes of overtaking them and then another lap mostly on my own. With 5km to go I downed my one and only gel, although I was feeling little “full”, maybe from drinking too much of my bidon on a cool morning.

I stopped in T2 to put on socks – a little insurance for my broken toe – and was soon out on the run. The leader of my wave was already coming around to complete his first run lap, minutes ahead. We had six laps to do, and the guy I’d caught at about 30km into the bike was already past me at the end of lap one. A bit frustrating, but I just had to keep plugging away. At the end of my first lap there were still only four bikes in transition, all good. Looking at my Garmin I thought my run pace was a bit slow, but it was a tight, rough twisty path and all the run times were a bit down. It was good though to have been in the first wave here, as we didn’t have too many runners to overtake each lap. Finally my six laps were up and I could head for the finish. I had a moment of doubt as I’d managed to accidentally pause my Garmin for about 30 secs coming out of T2 and wasn’t sure I’d done quite the right distance, but I hadn’t lost count of those laps!

Quite a nice little event. There were even a couple of newly-weds from Cheltenham Tri doing the event as a relay – the bride ran her laps holding a wedding bouquet from the day before (I’m guessing the wedding breakfast was a relatively sober affair!). The club was having a BBQ at the end of the race which added quite a bit to the atmosphere.  After collecting my M50 award I headed home and a chill on the sofa with the Sunday paper.

Swim 1600m/23:59 (no need for my own splits as the timing mats were well placed)
T1/01:33
Cycle 41km/1:05:26 (37.6 km/h)
T2/01:20
Run 9km/40:12 (4:28 min/km) = Total 2:12:29, 7th overall and first M50 [Results]

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Icknield RC 10-mile TT. 20:29

Back to the esoteric world of cycling time trials. Recovery from PBP was going well, and I’d snuck in a great 2-minute interval session on Thursday – one of my best ever – so my confidence in a fast, powerful ride was good. The day was a bit cool and breezy, but sunny for all that. High pressure and cooler temperatures are not ideal for fast times, but this is a quick course and I’ve not ridden it for a year or more. I was also more confident in my time trial bike now that the rear-triangle had been re-bonded last winter – it tracks in a straight line at high speed now!

Because there are three distinct hard sections to this course (the F11/10), split by (i) a long first turn, (ii) a downhill and (iii) the final roundabout, it’s a bit of an extended interval session. As a result your average power can sometimes look a bit low compared to a more even course like the F20/10, but on the hard sections here I was pushing on, right up to my limit. My repaired bike was much better on the downhill section this time too and I didn’t get quite so much of a rest as on previous rides here. That’s good though – and surely helped me to a 7-year best time of 20:29. Coming back to the timekeeper under the final overbridge I glanced down at my Garmin and could see 19-something on the clock so I knew I was on a special ride.

I finished 11th overall (although the field was not as strong as it would’ve been earlier in the year), which was pretty good for me. Had the weather been kinder I might have been a few seconds quicker and maybe close to an all-time PB. Happy with that! [Results]

Riding out of the first (long) turn

Riding out of the first (long) turn