The Florence Marathon 2010 – a breakthrough moment

Screen Shot 2014-09-07 at 16.22.28I was recently talking to someone involved in the organisation of the Paris marathon and she asked if I had run her race. I said I had and I explained that it was a bit of a breakthrough race for me. The first time I ran under 2:45. But actually if I think about the race that really was a breakthrough, for a number of reasons, it was Florence 2010. Why do I consider it to be a breakthrough? Here’s why:

Getting my race head on

The Florence marathon was in November, seven months after the sub-2:45 Paris race. I like the fact that instead of being satisfied with my Paris result, I redoubled my effort and tried again for a faster time. I think that I am inclined to be satisfied with a good result sometimes and yet when I went to Florence I wanted to improve on the time that had been a big target up to that point.

Getting the days before the race right

I was supposed to be sharing a room with a friend at the Florence race, but unfortunately he wasn’t able to come at the last minute and that left me on my own in a big hotel room. Usually I would have found the solitude rather disquieting and I would have ended up running around trying to keep myself busy. Instead I stuck to the plan of a couple of very short easy runs, planned where and I when I would eat dinner and then spent a lot of time on the bed in my hotel room watching TV. I really did as little as possible in the couple of days before the race and so by the time I was on the start line, I was really rested and ready to run.

Not panicking when things don’t go right

Screen Shot 2014-09-07 at 16.21.56On the start line, two things didn’t go to plan. One, it was tipping it down with rain. I mean really pouring with rain. I was soaked an hour before the race started, with puddles in my shoes. The other thing is that I mistimed my toilet break and five minutes before the start I was in the middle of a crowd of runners desperate for a pee.

Rather than panic about these things though, I rationalised that the rain was good because it would keep me cool and I waited until the race started, ran 800m and found a bush in need of watering. Then I got on with the race. In the end neither the rain nor the 60 second stop 800m into the race made any difference at all.

Getting tough with myself

Screen Shot 2014-09-07 at 16.22.12Marathons tend to hurt, especially if you are running them as hard as you can. The Paris marathon had certainly hurt. And the Florence race was tough. I wasn’t running to a time plan, instead I focussed on the person in front and I tried to catch them. Easy at the start, harder as the race went on. But I kept pushing. I didn’t allow myself to ease up and the result – 2:40:49. An improvement of over three minutes on my time from Paris.

So there you have it – I knew what I was getting in to in Florence and I really welcomed the effort that I knew it would entail. The result was great from a time point of view. But more than that I was happy that I had grown up a bit as a runner and started to get all the things right that would be essential if I was going to run the marathon any faster. Maybe I need to re-read this list and see if I can do it again…   Screen Shot 2014-09-07 at 16.21.12

A race with no end – the Wings for Life World Run 2014

Do you crave something different when it comes to running? I think that personally I might be at a bit of a turning point as far as my running is concerned.

My marathon PB feels like something I achieved in a different life and getting in share to tackle that feels like it would be a long, long way off. Whilst I still feel a strong competitive drive and I want to test myself, I know that with all the fantastic opportunities we have at Freestak and the fact that Like the Wind magazine seems to have built up some momentum (next issue will be out towards the end of May, by the way) training to beat my time in London 2013 doesn’t seem feasible.

So I am increasingly finding myself attracted to ‘other’ races – different distances and different terrains in particular. I am probably going to run at least one mile race this summer. And I have booked myself into a series of off-road ultras this summer – in particular there a couple of meaningful races for me: the CTS Classic Quarter in Cornwall and the UTMB CCC in August.

So in the spirit of doing ‘different’ races, I was rather excited to be taking part in the Wings for Life World Run yesterday. This is a race with quite a few quirks:

  • The race is being run to support the Wings for Life charity, which has been set up to fun research into spinal injuries. Being backed by Red Bull, every penny of the entry fee goes to the charity, which I really like.
  • The idea of the race is to stay ahead of a catcher car – the ‘finish line’ is attached to the outside of a Landrover which follows the runners at a set pace and as the car passes you, your race is over. In that sense there is no finish line – you simply run as far as you can before the car catches you
  • The run was taking place simultaneously in 35 locations around the world – luckily for us in the UK, we started at 11am. In China, Australia, South America, etc they weren’t so lucky…

You can’t change a leopard’s spots

Screen Shot 2014-05-06 at 18.07.37So how do you approach a race like this? Well, Wings for Life sort of made it simple by setting up a ‘slider’ on the race website which allows you to work out how far you would get before the car reaches you based on distance or time. So I obviously looked to see how fast I would have to run to get to 26.2 miles before the car caught me. The answer: 3hrs 8mins. Not easy, but also not impossible. Well, so I thought!

Just before the race I spoke to my friend Tobias Mews and we agreed that we would run together at 3:08 marathon pace and just see how we got on. The morning dawned clear and cool but it was obvious that it would warm up and by 11am it was already t-shirt-only weather. In fact a vest might have been a better idea.

The gun sounded and off we went – at sub-6 min/mile pace! There was about 8km of running on the circuit at Silverstone and to be honest that is probably where my problems started, although I didn’t know it at the time. It was really warm and I was almost certainly dehydrated from working all day on Saturday at the Trail Running Team day and then running around on Saturday night and Sunday morning looking after the elite athletes that Freestak had invited to the race. I was sweating hard (there is NO shade around Silverstone for obvious reasons) and with Tobias and I clicking off 7 min miles, I only grabbed a few mouthfuls of water as we passed the aid stations. Worse was to come.

Off the track, into the unknown

After 8km we left the circuit and headed on to the roads. This is where the hills started. The course had been described as undulating and it certainly was that. In fact it was hilly. Tobias and I kept clicking off 7 or 7:15 min miles but the uphills and the heat were taking the toll.

The real problem for me came after about 16 miles. By this stage there were only 70 runners left (according to the results) and the water stations stopped. I had been trying to get water in but balancing this with keeping the pace up was a real struggle. I was sweating really heavily and getting very, very dehydrated. It was really hot by 1pm.

In the end I was reduced to walking a couple of the uphills and begging some water off a passing motorcyclist. I could hear the ‘catcher car’ coming and I pulled myself together for a final burst. In fact from that point the car took 15 minutes to catch me and I was really interested in the motivation that extending the time to getting caught gave me.

Sadly I didn’t get to the marathon. 22 miles was my lot. Tobias had forged ahead at about 21 miles as I was reduced to a walk and he managed 22.8 miles. We were 17th and 13th respectively in the UK.

Overall?

Overall I thought the Wings for Life World Run 2014 was a great idea. It was fun to race in a different way although I admit that the marathoner in my took over and I reduced my target to trying to run a very familiar distance in a target time (destination goals as described by Stuart Mills – there will be a post on this soon so keep your eyes peeled). I am sure that a few of the logistical challenges will be sorted in future years and this should be a great event with ever more people seeing how far they can go – after all why stop at 10km or 13.1 miles if you can keep going?

For a flavour of the day and how it all worked, check out the video below which was a live stream on the day and is now a record of the event.

I will definitely be back for more!

 

 

 

 

The Virgin Money London Marathon 2014: a personal view

I am increasingly of the opinion that to do something really well – I mean to the absolute best of your ability – you have to focus as much of your energy on it as possible. One hundred percent of your energy if you can. And I don’t just mean physical energy – although focussing that on your goal is essential – I also mean mental energy. Give everything to the challenge you set yourself and you have the best possible chance of achieving it. 

Mornington Chasers contingent in the VMLM Championship Start
Mornington Chasers contingent in the VMLM Championship Start

Which is why I went into the London marathon this year with very low expectations for the time I was going to run. Freestak has replaced running as the thing that I think about as I am going to sleep and the thing I am thinking about the moment I wake up, as well as all the minutes in between. BF (Before Freestak) I would spend most of my time thinking about running – my running and how I could improve and see how good I could possibly be. Indeed work was a rather inconvenient distraction from the important business of running.

But all that has changed recently (although not entirely. More on that in a minute) and I went to London to see what it was like to run this iconic, world famous race for fun. I had a partner in this endeavour – Mat Chataway, a 2:41 marathon runner now in training for the Comrades Ultra marathon – and I had no expectations. So we decided to set off at 3:20 pace and enjoy the day.

Changing my focus from racing to running

I enjoy racing and I remember feeling as relaxed last year, aiming for a PB, as this year with no pressure on my shoulders. After all, running is for fun and given my background, the fact that I am running at all is a wonderful thing, so I don’t worry all that much about my times. It is great to run times that you are proud of, but my feeling is that you can only control so much and if you have trained properly, all you need to do is execute your plan as well as possible on the day.

So I strolled across Blackheath with two friends who were also running the marathon, taking in the sights and thinking that the weather looked beautiful.

After an hour and a half in the Championship start pen (what a privilege that is!) chatting to friends, we shuffled to the start line, clapped and cheered for the elite field as they were announced and then we were off!

The first 10 miles just ticked by. Mat and I were striding along together chatting about ultras and plans for the summer. We caught up with a fellow Mornington Chaser, Ian Girling, who was aiming to run sub-3 for the first time, and we fell into rhythm with him, grabbing drinks for him and trying to be helpful. We were ahead of our scheduled pace within a mile of starting!

Approaching half way the route really starts to get interesting. Tower Bridge was amazing – a sea of charity flags and cheering supporters. I had briefly glimpsed my own band of supported – Julie, Mum and Dad – at the Cutty Sark, but the crowds were incredible and they were unable to get to the barrier. Still I knew they were there and that was lovely.

The run down towards the Isle of Dogs and Canary Wharf was still massively enjoyable and I was finding people I knew who were running – Hi, Chris Watt! – and saying hello and checking how they were. The only issues I had were a growing blister on the top of my big toe on my left foot and the fact that at 3 hour pace, we (that is Mat, Ian and I) were getting caught up in the peleton of runners following the official 2:59 pacer.

The best was yet to come

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Coming through the RDC CheerDem station at Mile 21. Photo © Candice

Coming past Mudchute, I thought that I might see Julie and my parents. I was actually well ahead of the schedule that I had told them I would run, so they weren’t quite expecting me when I did arrive. Suddenly I heard Julie’s voice and looked back over my left shoulder to see her sprinting along the pavement to catch me. I was in such high spirits that I impulsively u-turned in the road and ran back towards her for a kiss. She was clasping a bunch of spare TORQ gels that she had brought with her and was yelling at me to not run in the wrong direction and waste time, but I was so happy to see her and I wanted a kiss. After a few seconds with her, I was off, kicking along to catch up with Mat and Ian.

After mile 20 I started getting excited about the RunDemCrew cheering point at mile 21. There were posters on lamp posts in the mile or so before the ‘Crew and I was desperate to find some space so I could take it all in. Obviously the difference between this year and last year – at that 21 mile point – was that I was about 18 minutes slower and there were a lot more runners around me. But the ‘Crew look out for their own and despite me not wearing the right kit (I have to wear a club vest in the Championship race) I threw up my hands in a ‘gun finger’ salute and the CheerDemCrew went crazy! Charlie set off a confetti cannon and there was just the most immense noise. Absolutely brilliant!

After the RDC tunnel of noise, I passed the Mornington Chasers at mile 22. This was a much tamer affair – actually how could it not be?!?! – and trundled on towards the finish.

Blackfriars underpass was as usual: a deathly silent, surreal place. I saw one of my training partners and at least a dozen other runners, heads bowed, walking through the underpass. By this stage I was feeling a bit tight in my hamstrings and glutes, but generally I was OK. I just kept motoring along.

The magic last three miles of the London marathon

The last three miles of the London marathon are magical. The crowds are amazing. The sights are incredible – the Millenium Eye, South Bank, Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament. If you are still feeling OK at this point, it is the best end to the race in the world.

I was definitely feeling tired by this point. I had really not trained for this race and I was still knocking out 6’45” minutes per mile. But I was also grinning from ear to ear and happy to just run all the way. On Birdcage Walk I saw Catherine Wilding, a great friend and runners who has written a wonderful race report here, and gave her a wave.

And then the finish line.

It was a great experience. I love the London marathon – the crowds, the runners, the sights and the sounds. It was fun to run within myself and enjoy it rather than pushing as hard as possible for a PB. I must admit though, that my desire for a crack at my PB has not diminished. I’m not sure that I can balance two huge passions in my life – running and Freestak – in a way that will allow me to train hard enough to run as fast as I have in the past. But you never know…

Guest race report from the Perkins Great Eastern Run, Peterborough (2013) and some thoughts on running a sub 75 minute half marathon

In this guest post Jamie Rutherford, friend of the blog and top level runner, writes about his recent run at the Perkins Great Eastern Run half marathon and how that relates to the blog I wrote recently about picking your half marathons carefully, if you want to focus on performance. Take it away, Jamie…

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This run (in its current format) has been taking place since 2006 and every year attracts legions of runners looking to take advantage of the flat and speedy route around Peterborough, as well as those who are running the distance for this first time. The one lap course starts and finishes at The Embankment alongside the River Nene and boasts a total elevation gain of only 16 metres. With plenty of good local support along the route, it is easy to see why this event is so popular, a fact testified by the 5,200 entrants this year.

I first took part in the race in 2011 and was pleasantly surprised to find just how flat and suited to a fast pace the course really was. As a runner coming from Sheffield, flat is not gradient that I am used to, so Peterborough made a welcome change! This year, I returned to Peterborough with the aim of running under 75 minutes, a target of mine for the last 2 years and one which I hoped could be achieved on this course. Having experienced its benefits previously, I felt that this would be the course for me.

Race time!

Race day itself fell at the end of a very wet week and Sunday morning was no exception.  As the ‘off’ loomed, heavy rain was accompanied by strong winds and I’m sure many participants were cursing the MET Office’s unusual accuracy. Any non runner would surely have cast a worried look at the hordes of lycra clad people wandering about in black bin bags but in conditions like this, runners seem to care more about function rather than fashion!

As the Kenyan favourites sped off, the rain kept falling and the assembled masses surged forwards amongst the continuous bleep of thousands of stopwatches.

The race took a winding route through Peterborough’s centre and then out into the surrounding local suburbs. Despite the conditions, local support was as strong as ever and increased towards the second half of the course as the rain started to clear up. Compared to a race like the Great North Run, there are a large amount of hard left and right turns to be taken around Peterborough but then who wants to run along a boring dual carriageway for the whole route anyhow?! The course has stayed the same since 2012 and was amended from 2011 for increased speed. At the time it felt as if this was not the case but the end results definitely contradict this!

Men’s top 3

Peterborough winner1. Nicholas Kirui (Team RUNFAST): 1:03:59.

2. Peter Emase (Team RUNFAST) 1:04:10.

3 .Elivd Kipserem (Team RUNFAST) 1:07:33.

Women’s top 3

1. Purity Kimetto (Team RUNFAST) 1:11:51. NEW COURSE RECORD.

2. Perendis Lekepana (Team RUNFAST) 1:14:44.

3. Jo Wilkinson (BEDFORD & COUNTY AC) 1:17:30.

As for my run, I set off with thoughts from one of Simon’s recent articles about running fast times in my head. I knew that this race had a high percentage of runners coming home in under 75 minutes (38 in 2012) and thus my best chance would be to put myself in the company of some of these faster runners and hope that the physical and psychological effects of running in a group could help me achieve my target. To recap on Simon’s thoughts, the two biggest benefits of running in a group are:

  • Physical: shielding from oncoming weather, thus allowing a more protected and easier run in the group slipstream
  • Psychological: runners in a good group can take it in turns to lead the group and keep up the pace, allowing a back runner to relax and be pulled along

I managed to find a group of runners all going for sub 75 minute time (5.43/mile pace) fairly quickly and we bunched up together. For me this was a definite benefit, as running solo in the miserable conditions which we experienced during the race would have been much harder on my own.

Jamie Rutherford
Jamie Rutherford, half marathon expert!

We all seemed to be working well together and took it in turns to lead. I’m more used to burning off too fast at the start of races and then struggling solo for the remainder so this was an unusual experience but one which helped me to maintain the target pace.

As halfway loomed, myself and two other runners pulled ahead from this pack and spent the next few miles trading the lead and words of encouragement as the finish came closer.  Despite feeling fatigued, my legs and enthusiasm stayed strong and the pace for the second half picked up. I am sure I can thank a recent good block of training for my body not calling time on this race but I owe many thanks to these other runners for helping me to keep going. I am not sure if I could have kept my pace up had I been on my own and would certainly have suffered in the cold and wet.

The Result

I am pleased to say that by keeping a level head and with the added bonus of a strong racing field, I and the others around me all came in under the desired 75 minute barrier! My personal splits were between 5.32 and 5.52 with an average of 5.39/mile and an overall race time of 1:14:47.

In conclusion, the Perkins Great Eastern Run is a cracking race. It offers a flat and varied course which is suitable for those chasing a PB or those who want a fun and friendly race to test their mettle. The course is one of the fastest in the UK and is highly recommended for those who are chasing a fast PB, with a high proportion of runners finishing with a time which will qualify them for London Marathon Championship entry. In total, this 2013 race yielded 37 runners running faster than 75 minutes. Of these, 13 ran PBs and 2 ran SBs. Not bad for a wet Sunday morning run…

Guest review: The Royal Parks Foundation Half Marathon 2013

In this post, Peigh, a man of many talents and great wit, who I know through the RunDemCrew, talks about his battles with the pavement and how this years Royal Parks Foundation Half Marathon would be an opportunity for redemption. He was ready to exact his revenge on the 13.1 miles of London streets if only he could get a place…

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In January of last year, good friend and fellow RunDemCrew member Alex Stableforth proudly announced she’d be running a half marathon every month, foolishly I decided to join her on her quest.

All was going well until October’s run.

As Alex had doubled up on the previous month, I was playing catch up and found myself alone in the starting pen on 2012’s Royal Parks Foundation Half Marathon. Its safe to say I wasn’t feeling too confident as I had picked up a little niggle in a previous run and was actually warned by physio Barbara Brunner to take it easy, back in June. Being the stubborn carefree Gemini that I am I quickly found myself at the 1st mile marker. My right knee started to give me grief, and Barbara’s words repeatedly echoed in my head.

I’ve started so I may as well finish

I said it to myself, and finish I did. Admittedly it was extremely idiotic to disregard the advice of a professional however, my ego wouldn’t let it rest.

I’ve done 10 half marathon to date and that was my slowest ever time coming in at 2:10: the ego I tried ever so hard to protect was now shattered into a million a little pieces.

My knee had ballooned up to the size of a Mitre ball, and I could no longer run.

I was now in a dark place, broken my commitment and could no longer support Alex on her remaining 2 half’s.

Running was my vice, my escapism, my physiologist, what on earth would I do now? I started to feel sorry for myself gained loads of weight and became very close friends with my mother’s couch.

Peigh KneeFast forward to the New Year, and like most of us I decided to make a change. Immediate point of call was the doctor, he took one look and recommended I have an injection, to which I of course agreed. Knee injected it was now time to partake in some regular physio session. Four weeks down the line, and 6 physio session later I felt confident to train again. Knee obviously still feeling fragile I wasn’t going to run just yet. As suggested by the physio I picked up swimming and began to swim every single day.

Side note: Massive thanks to @MrFatChance & @NyxDeyn who actually taught me how to swim properly.

The swimming wasn’t enough, I needed the buzz the rush of endorphins running gave me, I needed more. I took up boxing at Double Jab ABC. This is was it, this was what I was missing, the void was now well and truly filled. I gingerly skipped in the mirror praying my knee would hold out. I found myself taking care of the food I ate, the weight dropping off and my confidence growing.

So much so I signed up to do a Triathlon in May. I feared the run at the end, as I hadn’t run since Royal Parks last year. Fortunate enough for me it was only a super sprint thus meaning the run was just 5k. Upon completion I thought;

Well I’ve just run 5k and it hurt, what if that’s now my limit what if I can’t run anymore than 5k?

Mr Confident was now Mr Not So Sure.

Fast Forward to July and Jim, my coach at Double Jab, announced the whole club would be running a 10k in memory of his deceased nephew.

What running, a race, more than 5k? Me never

Alas I knew I had to train, as I didn’t want to hurt again. Come race day I absolute flew around the course and got a new PB. Mr Confident was back. So confident he had signed up to his first half since Royal Parks. September I find myself in the start pen of yet another Half Marathon, paced by @MrFatChance I come in with a new PB of 1:41:52

By this point my confidence is super high, and I’m ready to take on the world. Royal Parks 2013 is in my sights and I’m ready to revenge last years mishap. I put word out that I’m after a place and I mean business.

Two weeks pass and I hear nothing, my chance to revenge the race that left me emotionally scared was rapidly slipping through my fingers. Monday morning I receive a DM from Algy Batten asking me if I still wanted to run Royal Parks, I immediately reply with;

Hell Ya, that race and I have BEEF

We go back and forth and delegate how we can make this happen. 10 minutes later I receive a DM from the running god that is Simon Freeman [Oh come on now, that is a bit extreme – ed.] He drops his number and of course like an excited little schoolgirl I ring ASAP [He did ring really fast – ed.]

We catch up for a little then get straight to business: Royal Parks. He explains how it was all going to work and forwards me on to a lovely lady named Emma. Emma then sends me an email with a form to complete, I immediately print it off scan it and send it back to her. Buzzing like a kid on Christmas Eve my wish was granted, I was running Royal Parks.

Saturday morning I jump on my Vespa and head straight to Hyde Park to pick up my race number, this is happening, this is real. After picking up my race number I advance to my mothers to of course carb load (my fave bit). One more sleep and I’d be in the starting pen ready to show Royal Parks whose boss.

RACE DAY!

Back on the Vespa I again head for Hyde Park. Greeted by the lovely team at the Media Tent from where I’m ushered to the VIP tent, which of course had nice loo’s, beautiful breakfast and a masseuse for the post race pain. Of course none of this mattered to me, I was in the zone: I was after a sub 1:40 and no fancy sandwich was going to deter me from this goal. The main advantage of being a media runner was the VIP tent being situated right at the start of the race, which meant we got to set of first. This I was happy about as I avoided that horrid rush of human traffic often experienced at the start of the race.

SOUND OF THE KLAXON

And we’re off!

Press play on my phone, start on the watch and begin to pound the pavement. I had a plan in my head but as soon as I started running it went out the window, the ego was back, this was personal I really wanted to prove a point.

Got to Westminster and saw the 4 mile marker

Wow 4 miles I’m flying I thought to myself

Only to notice it was in fact on the other side of the road and we had to double back, I was only mile 3 in. Albeit it only at mile 3 I was still a minute or so ahead of the 1:40 marker this of course made me happy.

After mile 6 I found my self beginning to wish the next mile would hurry up and I wanted the race to be over already, having not stuck to the game plan and going out too fast I was now beginning to feel it.

By mile 9 I was well and truly hurting, I start popping my energy beans like there was no tomorrow, in hope they would immediately fix me and I would fly through the rest of the course.

At Mile 10 I saw members of the #cheerdemcrew and needless to say they lifted my sprits and gave me the extra boost I was in search of. Now I haven’t checked my splits but I can guarantee after seeing them I sped up.

At Mile 11 I looked up and saw the 1:40 marker about a minute ahead of me, I began to panic

I’VE F*%^ED UP, HOW COULD THIS BE?

The remainder of the race was playing catch up, I had to catch that marker I couldn’t come in with a slower time than my previous half, I just couldn’t. The emotional rollercoaster of the last 2 miles is one I never want to ride again.

As we approached the finished I looked up at the clock and saw 1:42:01, I was broken I came in slower than my previous half. Greeted at the finish line by fellow Run Dem member @lukeandco he proclaimed;

You was flying bro, you smashed it, I try wave but you was in the zone

Little did he know I was trying to play catch up and I was in agony.

I was embarrassed, upset and started to question myself.

Why didn’t I stick to the game plan?

Who did I think I was?

Why did I go out Friday night?

Why did I go to watch the boxing at the O2 last night?

Once I’d picked up my medal Luke continued to assure me that I’d done good and shouldn’t worry, I wasn’t hearing non of it.

A text came through and broke our conversation

CONGRATULATIONS!
You completed the Royal Parks Foundation Half Marathon in 01:40:05

I dropped to the floor and began to whine like they big baby that I am.

NO NO NO NO NO!

Luke:

What man? Its still a new PB that’s sick

I still wasn’t satisfied that 5 seconds will haunt me for the rest of the year.

When I finally got back to my flat had a cup and tea – earl grey rooibos! It dawned on me that I actually did an OK job. I had shaved a whole 30 minutes of last year’s time so I guess that counted for something. A lesson was definitely learnt.

I just want to end this post by saying well done to everyone who took park, a massive thanks to #CheerDemCrew

Algy Batten

Emma at the Royal Parks Foundation

And of course Mr Simon Freeman

2012 Royal Parks Time: 2:10

2013 Royal Parks Time: 1:40

The ghost of Royal Parks is well and truly slayed!

PeaceLoveUnity

Peigh x

The New York marathon: an Englishman’s view from across the pond and across the years

My first encounter with the New York marathon was in the period of my life I call ‘before the rebirth’ (I don’t actually call it that, but it sounds dramatic!) which was back when I smoked, did no exercise, drank too much and ate too much. I went to New York with my family for my Dad’s 60th birthday (he is 70 at the end of this month – Happy Birthday, Dad!)

I had friends who lived in New York and who were running the marathon and it is hard to be in that city on marathon weekend and not get caught up in the race, so me and my family went down to watch the thousands of runner take on the challenge. My overwhelming memory, though, was of getting tired (of watching, not running!) and sitting on the sidewalk, smoking a cigarette and looking up to see Woody Allen and Soon-Yi Previn walking along the street towards me.

My first time running New York

Fast forward to November 2006 and I was back in New York for the marathon weekend, but this time I was with my two best friends, Rob and Dave, to run the race myself.

What had happened? Well, I had had my ‘road to Damascus’ moment and given up smoking. I’d started running, got addicted to training and racing, run a couple of marathons and a handful of half marathons and decided, with my friends, to take on one of the greatest races in the world: the New York City Marathon.

To be honest that race was such an amazing experience, that I sometimes worry that my recollection is now part personal myth, part collective euphoria, part truth. But there are enough details that are verifiable that I would like to take a moment to give you my top tips if you are running the New York City Marathon for the first time.

  1. The start is early: the roads to Staten Island, where the race begins, close hours before the gun goes, so you have to take a ferry very early to get there. Don’t panic. You weren’t going to sleep much more anyway and if you try to game the system you’ll have more stress than you need. This is an incredibly well organised race so just get to the start early and enjoy the buzz at the start.
  2. If it is raining, take a bin bag to sit on and one to wear for the hours before the race kicks off plus some clothes that you are happy to abandon at the start (charity shops are good for that).
  3. Eat a good breakfast and take a snack for the hours between your breakfast and the start, but don’t over-eat… it is not that long a wait!
  4. Start nice and easy: the deafening rendition of Frank Sinatra’s ‘My Way’ at the start and the boom of the cannon that starts the race will give you a buzz like nothing else, but the first mile is uphill over the Verrazano Narrows Bridge and you’ll have plenty of time to make up for a slow start (and even long to regret an over-fast one)
  5. Don’t wear headphones: the atmosphere in New York is utterly incredible. If there is one thing our cousins in the ‘States do well, it is shout and yell and give encouragement. Drink it in – it will be the best Performance Enhancing Drug you could ever take!
  6. Concentrate on the bridges: there are a few bridges to cross as you run from Queens to Manhattan to the Bronx, etc and I did see people stumble in those sections, so take it easy and watch your footing. As with point 4 above, you’ll have plenty of time to regain time / regret your haste
  7. Take in the sights: New York is a great city and the marathon is a great way to see it, so if you can, look up for a while and take some of it in
  8. Dig deep in the section along 5th Avenue between leaving the Bronx and re-entering Manhattan and when you enter Central Park – it is uphill and you need to dig deep. Do it: you only have three and a bit miles to go
  9. Don’t fear Central Park: people say this is the sting in the tail of the race with some hilly bits. That might be topographically true, but it is also the section of the course with the most support and by the time you hit the park you only have a couple of miles to go. Think back to Paula Radcliffe’s amazing win there and just go for it, carried along by a wave of noise
  10. Wear your medal for days: New Yorkers don’t have the same reserve that us Brits do – they love a hero and you will get all sorts of comments and congratulations when people know you have raced. You must wear your medal all day Sunday and probably should wear it on Monday. If you still have it on by Friday, that might be a bit much though.

So there are my tips for the New York marathon.

A race full of great memories

It is a race that has many happy memories for me. In 2006 I raced to a PB of 3:14:37 there and enjoyed a great time with my friends in the city that really knows how to celebrate.

Me and the future Mrs. Freeman just after the New York Marathon 2009
Me and the future Mrs. Freeman just after the New York Marathon 2009

And then in 2009 I went back with the woman that would become my wife and we ran together, for her first marathon. Julie’s target for the race was to try to break 4 hours in her debut over 26.2 miles and we crossed the finish line – hand in hand – in 3:59:26. I will always treasure that run, including the look of shock, pain and delight on her face as we crossed the finish line in Central Park – and the days we spent in New York after the victory.

So if you are running this November, I hope you have an amazing time. The race has all the right ingredients and if you accept that it is a huge event and there are 36,000 other people all trying to do their thing, than you will have a life-changing experience. I hope that one day I will get to go back and experience that all over again. Apart from anything else, I still have unfinished business with a pastrami sandwich at Katz Deli…!

TNF UTMB CCC race report

It has been a couple of weeks now since I ran the furthest and for the longest that I have ever done before. It has almost taken me this long to get my head around the whole event and work out what I want to write about it. But before I get into the event, here is a bit of background.

How I ended up running the CCC

When I met my wife, Julie, she was not really a runner (well, she had not competed in races thus far) and I was an out-and-out marathon runner, constantly seeking the flattest and fastest courses and training to get into the best possible shape I could, to attempt to run 26.2 miles as fast as I could.

Start line of the CCC 2013
Start line of the CCC 2013

But, much as with our shared love of jazz, despite having very different favourites within that style of music, we found that we could happily do our own running and there would always be cross-overs. In running those cross-overs turned out to be over ultra distances and exclusively off-road.

Whilst Julie had never actually competed in races before we met, she did know all about competitive sport and in fact had hiked the Sierre-Zinal course a few times in her youth, as part of the walkers section of that iconic race. So it was no great surprise when we discovered that once we were in the mountains and moving for whole days, our running intersected and we found something we could do together.

Once you go down that route – and especially if the aim of doing the races is to spend time together being inspired in the mountains – it is not long before the iconic Ultra Trail de Mont Blanc comes into view. Before we were married we promised ourselves that one day we would give that race our best shot.

In preparation for that ‘one day’ that seemed to be coming around very fast, my wife enetered us into the ballot for the shortest of the UTMB weekend’s races – the 102km CCC from Courmayeur, via Champex to Chamonix. I was pretty sure we’d be safe because the ballot system meant that we were not likely to get a place, so you can imagine my (ahem) delight, when we received the email saying “felecitations” – we were in!

Training for the CCC

With the prospect of running 102km with 6,000m of vertical ascent through the mountains, I did think that some preparation would be required. However that is easier said than done to be honest and I was suddenly trying to convince myself that a marathon training programme, peppered with some longer races, would be sufficient. To be honest, I worried that my biggest problem would be the amount of time I would need to stay awake, so perhaps setting up our business, freestak, would be perfect preparation for that…

The best things that we did, as far as I am concerned, were three races and a weekend of running:

1) The Endurance Life Coastal Trail Series Classic Quarter – this was actually a DNF – my first ever – but it taught me that sleep is not essential, at least not in the short term. The day before the race I had some terrible news and as a result ended up getting 90 minutes sleep. By the time I dropped out at 22 miles, I had only had 90 minutes sleep in 40+ hours and whilst I felt terrible, I could have carried on physically. It was the emotions that I was experiencing that put an end to my race.

2) The Adidas Thunder Run 24 hours – in terms of total distance, this was, again, not really fantastic preparation, but I did run 40km and hard. And I really only had 4 hours sleep in two days, so again I had proved to myself that I could operate on very limited sleep. Plus, the mud was unbelievable so I knew that I could deal with less-then-ideal conditions.

3) The Montagn’Hard – a 60km mountain race near to Chamonix with 5,000m of ascent. This was real running in the mountain. It took me 11 hours to come 21st and I was really working the whole time. I learned about hiking hard. I learned that I am not all that good on the downhills. I learned that stopping occasionally and taking in the view is better than any performance enhancing product. I also learned what a 900m climb actually feels like… bloody tough basically!

4) The TORQ Trail Running Team weekend. This was something that we organised at freestak on behalf of a client, taking six winners of a competition to Chamonix for a weekend of running under the watchful eye of ultra runner and all round mountain expert, Julia Tregaski-Allen. This involved plenty of running and not a lot of sleep, over three days – the first day was a marathon with about 3,000m of ascent!

On top of that, I did manage to get some great runs in, while Julie and I were in Chamonix: the Vertical Kilometer course a couple of times:  a 48km training run one day: quite a few two-hour runs before breakfast up the sides of the valley: a few runs up to the Brevant and back down. It all added up.

To the start line

image-6So by the time I was on the start line for the CCC, I was feeling reasonably confident. Sadly the same was not true for Julie, who had fallen whilst on a training run a month before and really smashed her knee, almost certainly trapping and bruising soft tissue under her patella, which was causing quite a lot of pain. We just had to hope that things would be OK.

The start of the CCC, like the UTMB and the other races in the series, is a triumph. Extremely well coordinated, but without feeling contrived, there is Vangelis and waving of hands and sticks and crowds and a general feeling that something really epic is about to begin. As we crossed the start line, I was as excited as I was nervous, which is a wonderful feeling to have.

The race is underway

image-3The CCC broadly follows the route of its bigger brother, the UTMB, with one major exception – the first climb up to Tete de la Tronche. Having decided to start slowly to try to give Julie’s knee a chance, we found ourselves right at the back of our wave – the second of three. That was fine, except that those at the start of the third wave, made up the 15 minute handicap that they had and were soon trying to get past us on very narrow, very technical trails. That was made worse by the fact that at a couple of points, the trails were so technical and narrow that we were queuing to get through pinch-points, which for a competitive type like me, was torture.

Still, once that first climb was out of the way (it took 4 hours by the way!) the field started to spread out and we were able to start moving at our pace.

Sadly, like a car stuck behind a tractor on a narrow country lane, which suddenly opens out into a dual carriageway, once the trail flattened slightly and we were able to start moving, we hit quite a decent pace, but there were still many runners around us, and Julie caught her toe on a rock or root and tripped, landing slap bang on the knee that had been injured before and winding herself at the same time. That, to be honest, would probably have finished most people’s races there and then. We had been running for 5 or so hours and now Julie was hurt again. Impressively after a couple of minutes, Julie was up again and moving as fast as before, with me running behind constantly urging her to take it easy and give herself space to the runner in front so she could see obstacles on the trail.

On we go

image-2The race continued in a pretty familiar fashion after the fall – up a huge climb, over the top and down the other side. Aid stations and check-points came and went. We chatted and admired the view and wondered about the night ahead. And Julie’s knee continued to get worse.

After a while, other things started to ail us. The first couple of aid stations did not have the anticipated food that seems to be the norm for ultra trail races in the Alps. By the second stop we had been on the go for eight hours and we were hungry. TORQ bars and gels were great, but they weren’t all that filling and we were getting hungry.

My naïve kit choice suddenly started to cause me a problem. I had stupidly forgotten to pack my RunderWear for the trip and had elected to run in a pair of normal shorts and no underwear, just the liner of the shorts. Despite slathering on Bodyglide, the liner started chaffing and within a couple of hours, went from a slight irritation to a raw burning in the nether regions which was extremely painful and distracting.

By the time we were climbing up to Bovine, it was pitch dark and we were hiking up through thick mud. Julie’s knee was really painful on the downhills and we had three more of them to come, each probably being well over an hour. My chaffing was a bit better since I ditched the shorts and exchanged them for tights, pulled as low as I dared to avoid any skin:fabric interface. But it still really hurt. I think both of us  started to want to stop.

The big difference was that Julie’s knee was a potentially very serious injury that was getting worse and worse. My complaint was sore nuts. Sadly Julie decided that she had to take the sensible decision and pull out at the Trient aid station.

A real low point

As we approached Trient, I did something that I am really not proud of. I was concerned that if I was to carry on – and apart from the aforementioned chaffing, I felt great – I knew I needed to get in and out of the aid station before the cut-off and I felt we were perilously close to that. So I urged Julie to speed up on what would be her last downhill, so that I could check she would be OK and still have time to carry on. Selfish in the extreme.

By the time we arrived at the check point, I had made Julie cry. It was 3am. I was tired, she was in pain. And I was not thinking about her as much as I should have been. It is all credit to Julie that she made sure I felt that she was not too upset and allowed me to head off for the last 28km.

As I climbed out of Trient, I felt like shit. Physically I felt fantastic and I was hammering up the hill, passing people by the dozen. But I felt really awful for being so mean to Julie and I texted her to say so. She called me – she told me that it was OK, that I was forgiven and that she had managed to get a lift back to Chamonix after the total failure of the organisers to get the buses to the aid stations that those dropping out so badly needed. As with every year, the drop out rate for the CCC was about 40% so this was not a surprise for the organisers!

The final climbs and descents

After Trient, I climbed. I want to push as hard as I could. As hard as my sore crotch and increasing tiredness would let me.

The only frame of reference I had was the pool of light from my headtorch and there was silence. All I could hear was my own breathing and the click, click of the sticks on the rocky ground. Occasionally I would pass another runner and quite often I would pass a few in a group. There was nothing said either by me to them or visa versa.

After a while I lost track of what I was doing. I reached the top of Catogne and started decending. The fatigue and soreness plagued me but after the summit I started to feel as though, with one more big climb to go, I might just make it.

The climb from Vallorcine to Le Tete Aux Vents was excruciating. I hit the bottom of the climb in darkness and looked up to see the snaking line of head torches disappearing ever upwards, but I knew I had to keep calm and simply hike as fast as I could. As I neared the top the horizon started to lighten and looking across the Chamonix valley towards Mont Blanc, a thin, white line appeared as the sun rose on the other side of the mountains. By the time I finally reached the checkpoint at 2130m, I could turn off my headtorch and try to run towards La Flegere in the pale morning light. I really wished that Julie was with me to see the sun rise and know that we only had 12km to go.

The final section of the race was unfortunately one of the low points for me. I was very sore and worried about how close I was to the final cut-off. The chaffing was really bad now and I couldn’t even make little decisions like whether or not to have my jacket on. Worse, probably half a dozen runners passed me as I struggled down the long winding path towards Chamonix.

We finally reached the bottom and hit the roads near to the apartment where Julie and I were staying and where I imagined she was asleep in bed. I was so tired I could hardly think. But with only 1km to go, I tried to be as upbeat as possible and being cheered into the town centre by crowds or people gave me a boost that I really needed. And then finally a friendly face: Dan and Jen from Xempo were there and Dan stepped out to take a picture of me as I rounded the final corner before the finish line.

24 hours and 20 minutes for 102km.

image-5I think that psychologically the CCC is the hardest thing I have ever done. The uncertainty about whether I could finish stayed with me almost to the very last 3 or 4km. Julie dropping out and my reaction to that, was really hard to deal with. The feeling of wretched tiredness was like nothing I can remember having to deal with. But all that made the moment I crossed the line and received my finishers gilet all the sweeter. I had done something that I never thought possible.

And I really feel as though I became part of something special. As I am sure is obvious to anyone who has read this blog before, I love running and all the things that come with it – especially the way that it brings people together and seems, in the main, to bring out the best in people. In Chamonix, during the week-long festival of running that is the Ultra Trail de Mont Blanc, that positivity is amplified by a factor of at least a million. It must be the epicenter of positivity and shared respect for the entire global population.

The UTMB CCC challenged me in ways that I really was not expecting and that is what made it such an incredible experience. I am certain Julie and I will be back for more pretty soon!

 

 

 

Run To The Beat 2013: the future of distance running?

As a runners it is easy to become cynical about new things in running: the latest shoe design or midsole material that promises further or faster; personal trainers growing beyond their weight-loss and fitness remit to start offering marathon training advice; a new GPS device or piece of software to track your progress; big brands getting involved in putting on races…

©
© Richard Brooks

So as much as I tried to go to the Run To The Beat, Powered By Nike+, with an open mind, there was a nagging feeling that I might be part of a gimmick – a marketing exercise with no ‘real’ runners. At worst a badly organised, over-hyped cock-up. Certainly my last experience of the race, when my wife ran the inaugural Run To The Beat as her very first half marathon, was not pretty. She told me about delays, confusion amongst the marshalls and a badly thought out course. Thankfully she was resilient enough to not only beat my debut marathon time on her first outing over 13.1 miles, but come back for more (though it has to be said, not more Run To The Beats).

Add to this the reaction that I got from a few people – one tweet I received read

Corporate crap. Wouldn’t trust Nike to run a bath let alone a half marathon

– and the odds on this race being one that I would remember fondly, were narrowing by the hour.

In actual fact, there were a few things that I thought probably looked good on paper, or which fulfilled the sponsor’s brief but that might not have been thought through from the runners’ perspectives:

  • The celebrity who starting the race was Adam Gemili, a sprinter, which given the amazing range of athletes that Nike sponsors might be considered an odd choice. That said, in an impromptu interview after the race, Adam offered some really great advice for all athletes of all types (I’ll post the interview in the next few days) and he seemed really genuinely enthused by the whole event.
  • Apart from water, the drinks on the course were Vitacoco coconut water in a paper carton. Not exactly the sort of high glucose energy drink in a convenient bottle that I would expect to be provided to flagging runners
  • The course was wiggly to say the least, with some very odd sections along narrow alleyways squashed between ugly industrial units and the muckier reaches of the river Thames. And some frustrating out-and-back switchbacks within the last mile that may have been added to make up the distance or to create more opportunity for spectators to catch sight of their runners – either way, it was annoying to run along a line of cones, reach the end and turn back round the cones to run the other way. Three times!
  • The winner was a 3000m steeplechaser who told me after the race that he had to stop with a few miles to go, to help one of the two wheelchair competitors who had tipped over and fallen out of his chair, so at the sharp end of the race, there was not really much competition

And maybe this is the future of road racing. I read in Athletics Weekly recently that the organisers of the New Orleans half marathon, who had paid Mo Farah rather hansomly to make an appearance last year, have decided to stop inviting and paying for elites, instead focusing their resources on ‘the masses’.

I guess the cynical amongst us could summise that big brands are getting involved in races, not because they want to improve the state of distance running, but because 19,000 people and all their friends, families and social connections is a big audience and the brands are actually more interested in improving the state of their balance sheet.

Why Run To The Beat works

But I am not of that view. And here is why. I think that it takes big balls to try to put on an event like Run To The Beat. You have to be prepared to invest a huge amount in organizing the event, paying for the road closures, hiring the staff, etc. That is a risk that most race organisers are not prepared to take.

And the races like Run To The Beat are accessible as a result. You do not need to be a hardcore club stalwart with your 20 year old vest and tried-and-tested training methods to know about the race. You can see it on billboards and on friend’s Facebook pages. And if we are to build a legacy from the Olympics then surely mass participation needs to be a part of that.

Certainly one output of an event like Run To The Beat is that the sponsors gain the publicity that they seek. But I think that is a relatively reasonable price to pay to get people into running.

All of these thoughts were whirling around in my head as I left the race village – right in the middle of Jessie J’s set (sorry Jessie – I’m sure it was great) – and made my way to Greenwich to get on the train. I was happy to get a seat and struck up a conversation with the woman sat opposite me, proudly wearing her medal. She told me that the Run To The Beat was her first half marathon. Indeed it was her first ever run over 15km. She said that there were lots of things about the race that she thought could be improved upon. But they paled into insignificance against the things that made the race ideal for her – it was easy to find out about it. The communication from the race organisers was superb. She didn’t feel intimidated by the event.

And the best thing for me, is that she had ‘the look’ – a glint in her eye which told me that she had had a really great morning. And more importantly, she told me, she would definitely be looking for another half marathon soon. Another person bitten by the running bug and I think that Nike and the race organisers can be proud of taking at least one little step to changing the trend of inactivity and obesity related health issues in the UK.

My race

As for me. Well I went to see what the race was all about. Having run 102km in the Alps last weekend in the UTMB CCC race, I wondered what my legs would be capable of. So I intended to take the race relatively easy and see what happened. Not being able to start my stopwatch at the start was an added bonus and force me to run by feel. Having started close to the front, I simply set myself the target of catching the runner in front and not worry about time.

So that is what I did. As I mentioned, I did find the course a bit too wiggly and there were some distinctly odd bits of running through industrial estates. Added to that, was the hill in the last mile which is not a memory I will cherish. But as I approached the finish line, running as hard as I could to avoid being caught, I glanced up at the clock and saw 1:20 which given the fact that only 7 days earlier I had just finished 24 hours of non-stop running/hiking, was pretty pleasing.

Finally…

The Run To The Beat is not a race that will suit everyone. The fact that it has Nike as its main sponsor is going to alienate some. But there was a great atmosphere in the race village and for much of the course there was great support. Most importantly for me, there seemed to be a really inclusive feel about the race. If the future of distance running is at least in part, about organisations like Nike encouraging and facilitating people discovering how great running is, then I for one am all for it.

adidas Thunder Run 2013… the movie!

There is a film about the adidas Thunder Run which I think captures the spirit of the event perfectly. There is even a little cameo from yours truly. If you think that you fancy having a go next year then you can register your interest here and my advice, for what it’s worth, would be to get in there: it is a truly amazing event and I loved every hot, wet, muddy, exhausted minute of it!

http://youtu.be/5JnKSyhYDFA

TR24 adidas Thunder Run: race report for 2013

If someone asked me if I wanted to get involved in a 24-hour relay race, where I would be pushing my physical limits as far as I dared, with a group of complete strangers, miles from home, where I would be camping – but not sleeping – for a couple of days during which we would experience searing heat that baked the ground rock-hard and then a night of torrential rain and thunderstorms which would turn the ground into a quagmire, with mud thigh-deep in places, I would have rather politely (or more likely rather firmly) said “No!”

But that is exactly what I did this weekend as a guest of adidas at their adidas Thunder Run at Catton Park, just north of Birmingham. It was one of the most fun, most bonkers, most exhausting and most life-affirming things I have ever done!

The team

TR24_2The whole shebang started off about three weeks ago, when I was contacted by Speed Communications about whether I would like to be part of a team of journalist, writers and bloggers, at a 24 hour relay race that adidas sponsors. My instant reaction was that it sounded like a lot of fun and I was definitely up for the challenge.

We were to be kitted out before the race with shoes, a jacket, shorts and a couple of t-shirts, although sadly my trail shoes arrived in the wrong size and with too little time to replace them before the race (more on that later). On Friday afternoon, the team would travel to the race location where upon we would try to run as many 10km loops as possible between midday on Saturday and midday on Sunday.

On the team, along with me and Mrs. Freeman, would be:

• Kieran Alger from T3 magazine (who is a friend of mine)

• Tobias Mews, writer, film maker and ultra-event athlete

• Charles Rodmell from Gear Selected

• Adam Purser who would be representing the excellent Run247

• Sam van gelder from Sport Locker

• Harry Benyon from Speed Communications

On Friday afternoon, most of the team (except Sam and Kieran) met at the adidas offices in Covent Garden along with another of the Speed Team, Ciaran Pillay and eight other runners who made up a second adidas team. As none of us knew each other, we all made introductions and there seemed to me to be an immediate warmth and enthusiasm about everyone that augured really well for the weekend.

The venue

After a fairly long drive, including a service station stop for something to eat, we arrived in Catton Park, where the race was being held, in the pitch dark. One thing was obvious, though: this was a big event. There were fields and fields of tents, a big canvas race village and even some camp fires burning away.

Thankfully the adidas team had reserved an area for us close to the start finish line and within a short while we all had our tents up and were ready to get some sleep. Little did we know how the calm, controlled Friday evening, would be such a different experience to the race itself.

The race

Kieran Alger handing over to me © Charles Rodmell
Kieran Alger handing over to me © Charles Rodmell

We had agreed with the Speed team to meet at 9:30am to run through everything and have some breakfast before the race started at midday. adidas had been great and really sorted us out: we had a pass which meant anything from the catering tent was free, we were given kit – a race t-shirt, buff – and in my case I was given a pair of the adiZero XT shoes, in a very bright yellow (but not for long!) because the trail shoes that I was originally sent were too small.

I was delighted – I love the adiZero range and for 10km legs, they would be ideal. The Speed Team had also brought along Maxifuel energy products and recovery drinks for everyone, which was a lovely thing to do, although I didn’t partake of any of the energy stuff and only drank a couple of the recovery drinks, because Ciaran from Speed has one made up for each person as they crossed the finish line. That was much easier than tramping all the way back to the tent in the rain for my own TORQ recovery powder that I had brought with me.

In the couple of weeks leading up to the race the team had been in contact about tactics. Only one of us had experience of a race like this before and whilst there was no doubt that we had some pretty useful runners on the team, getting the tactics wrong – or indeed not having any – would have probably made for a crappy weekend.

So Tobias ended up suggesting the same idea that I had and we all agreed on that – a pairing system that would see two people in our team alternating one 10km lap each for four laps between them and then having around 10 hours to rest, eat, sleep and recover for another double-lap session later in the race.

The course and conditions

As mentioned, the course was 10km long and runners had to complete a full lap before handing over to their team mate in the relay. It was the hilliest, twistiest and most off-road course imaginable, which was tough enough when the sun was beating down and the ground was baked as hard as marble.

© Charles Rodmell
© Charles Rodmell

But then the rain came! It had been predicted and it arrived just on time. A torrential downpour with huge lightening bolts and thunder that crashed and roared as the darkness set in. It was going to be a long night.

The impact of the rain was pretty instant. Almost as soon as it started, the runners comng back from their laps were beginning to get covered in mud. From the extremes of the roasting conditions we had from the start of the race, this was quite a challenge.

The twisty course, now became a quagmire. There were muddy puddles of slurry-like water which were thigh deep. The sides of the trails became soft and loose, offering no grip at all. The tree roots disappeared under a slick of dark mud. Athletes came back to the start/finish line, covered in the stuff. I had mud up the entire length of my legs, in my shorts, up my back and in my hair and ears.

The race unfolds

Kieran back from a lap - we all looked like this! © Charles Rodmell
Kieran back from a lap – we all looked like this! © Charles Rodmell

As the race developed and the teams spread out a little, we started to really work well together. Appointed team manager, Ciaran from Speed, was at almost every handover where one runners came in and handed the baton (actually a wrist band) to the next runner. Ciaran would hand the incoming runner a towel and a recovery shake and noted down their time. It was like clockwork.

The rain was predicted and so no real surprise, but it did add significantly to how difficult the course became and my hat is most definitely off to the runners who tackled the course between 11pm on Saturday and 3am on Sunday when the rain was really torrential.

I had a double shift on Saturday afternoon and made the most of dry conditions to really push myself to gain time for the team. I then had 2 hours sleep between 11pm Saturday and 1am Sunday, with my next run at 3:30am and my final 10km at 5am, but which time the rain had stopped, the sun had come up and the warmth of the day was turning gallons of mud into a brown, churned up glue that made running so hard it wasn’t funny!

The result

This photo pretty much captures the team spirit throughout the 24 hours! © Charles Rodmell
This photo pretty much captures the team spirit throughout the 24 hours! © Charles Rodmell

There are two results to report. The race result – we came 7th in our category of mixed team of 8. I think that is an amazing feat from all the 8 runners and is testament to the fact that we had a runner on the course for the entire 24 hours without a break. Other teams stopped for a couple of hours in the middle of the night and that is where I believe we stole a march on them.

But there was also another result – the fantastic camaraderie and incredible spirit of our team.  Remember that of the eight, I only knew two (one was my wife!) and for the others, they didn’t know anyone on the team at all. And yet, in the middle of the night, when we were cold, very, very wet, tired and covered in mud, everyone was up for their next 10km lap or were simply hanging around encouraging the runners on the course on. There was amazing genuine enthusiasm and unfailing positivity. As Charles wrote to the team today:

Everyone in the team was so positive. Conditions were awful and everyone in the team had their own extra challenges (battery failure, shoe choice etc), but everyone was ready for a smile at all times and to encourage each other. You might think this was due to the type of people races like this attract, but I talked to some other people during the event and lots of them were really miserable. Even the solo winner said it wasn’t any fun. What made the event for me was being with the perfect group of people who were prepared to see the fun side of any adversity.

I could not agree more.

As for kit, I will be updating the site with a review of the adidas adios XTs in due course, but for now suffice it to say, they were great in the dry and the dust of the early part of the race and equally up for the challenge of the flooded, muddy bog that the course became later on. Light, grippy and comfortable, I will definitely be using these again (well not this pair – they were lent to another member of the team and I don’t expect them back – but I will hopefully have another pair soon enough). I will also hopefully have a chance to try the adidas adiStar Ravens which were the shoes we were supposed to have for the race and I’ll post a review of them as soon as I can.

For now, I would like to say a massive thanks to adidas and the Speed team for an amazing opportunity and for the efforts they went to,  making the event run smoothly. My legs ache, my elbow is bruised black from the tumble I took on my second lap and my feet are stained from all the mud that was in my shoes. But I met amazing people and made connections that will hopefully become good friends. I also discovered a new side to running. And if it is a testament to how good the event was, I am already thinking about tactics for next year… who’s all in 24 with me?