Arizona Road Trip Preparation

After going with my sister to New York City in 2014 we agreed that we’d have another trip to the states the following year. To start with this plan was for a short trip to Florida so we could go to Disney World, and the John F. Kennedy Space Center. With news that Disney had bought Lucasfilm and would be creating a new “Star Wars Land” there we decide we’d delay the trip and instead go to Arizona.

This plan was short-lived though when my sister went into hospital and took months to recover – causing me to instead go to California with a friend. The following year we decided we’d finally get to visit Arizona and invited my friend along with us – after all it’d be an extra person to split the driving across and would give him chance to see these places too.

From our previous plans we already had a rough idea of what we wanted to see – it was just a case of figuring out the best route and how to fit in as much of it as we could. With some of the places being big hiking places it meant we’d have to try and find the best parts of these to see on limited time. Getting things booked wasn’t straight forward though – me and my sister wanted to get the hotels booked as we knew large rooms would be in short supply, but it was insisted that we looked at car hire first. Eventually there was some compromise and we went ahead and booked all but the hotels for the first and last night – as these could be dependent upon where we hired the car from.

With just two months to go before the trip we still hadn’t booked a car or the hotels for the first and last night. It was becoming a struggle. With the car it seemed my friend didn’t want the largest of the cars that was available because he didn’t think it was big enough, however the next size up was a 4×4 (i.e. an SUV) and he didn’t want to drive anything that big which left us a little unsure what to do. My preference was that we hired a large car and we just tried to fit suitcases in the best we could – you never know what car you’re actually going to get until you’ve got it anyway.

For the hotels my original suggestion had been to find somewhere as far south as possible for the first night to reduce the length of the drive the following morning, and to stay somewhere downtown for the last night to make the trip to the airport shorter and to be around restaurants, and shops. What I hadn’t figured though was my friend would be getting in 7 hours before us and was keen to get a hotel close to the airport to make the taxi fares cheaper whilst he waited.

Eventually we had everything booked, including a flight over the Grand Canyon. Now we just had to wait for the road trip to begin…

Ikano Robin Hood Marathon 2016

My attempt at this marathon last year did not go well, mostly due to lack of training over the summer, too many races, and my inability to train well in the warmer weather. This year I wanted it to be different, I wanted to beat last year’s time at the very least and if possible run much more of it. Things didn’t go to plan though, and as I’ve mentioned in a few previous blog posts (okay, maybe several) I got an ankle injury whilst in Moscow that resulted in a couple of weeks off running, and a slow recovery with fewer and shorter runs to start with. Just over a month before race day I’d only built back up to 8.5 miles at a slower pace than before and even with walking breaks I’d yet to run for more than 15 miles – even that was with so much walking it was over a minute slower than my marathon PB pace.

Things weren’t looking good. I know it takes time coming back from an injury and I’m always too impatient anyway, but it can take a toll on you mentally. Sometimes all you need is a good run to start clawing your way back and I was lucky to have a “good” 8.5 mile run and would then have 4 weekends to build up miles from that to something reasonable before the Great North Run meant that I needed to drop the mileage again which then led straight into this. Hopefully this marathon would be the last race to be affected by the ankle.

I was fortunate enough that by the time I did my 22 mile run the weekend before the Great North Run, I was able to run for 17 miles of it at a push, a massive improvement over the previous weeks. It felt like I was miles (excuse the pun) behind where I was this time last year. In truth though, when I looked at where my PBs stood as of September 2015 I was back to being capable of matching the 5K and 10K times and had in fact beat that 5K time by over a minute in the first 5K of the Great North Run. I wasn’t quite capable of my Half Marathon time as it stood back in September 2015. It didn’t seem quite as bad, but for all these times I was still quite some way off my current PBs.

 

Race Day

It was now three years, almost to the day, since I started couch to 5K. I knew a few people doing this one so I hoped for a good #ukrunchat meet-up before the race start. However, due to unforeseen circumstances a few of them had dropped out of the race so when I got to the race start at 07:10 I’d got quite a wait until there was anyone to talk to. Fortunately I knew @Roddis22, a good friend I’ve seen at races before was going to turn up around 08:30 and that soon passed the time. So much time in fact that by the time I was in my starting pen the warm-up was over, not that I’d have bothered with it anyway!

On my drive to Nottingham it had been raining, but had been fortunate that by 08:00 it had stopped so that when the race started just after 09:30 it was dry out. This year’s course was different to both the previous times I’ve done it – three different courses in three consecutive years makes you wonder the reason for the changes, but this seemed okay as I knew it’d be missing out an epic hill that had previously been there at mile 22(ish).

It was a slow start as the pen was over crowded with not just others that were supposed to be in there, but also a few blues, greens, and oranges had somehow moved forward into the pen as well which made it difficult to find any space in the first mile. Instead there was a lot of hill climbing in the first three miles as it passed Nottingham Castle. It was tiring and I really, really wanted to walk, but I wasn’t willing to walk so soon into the race. My training has excluded hills for the past 4 months due to the injury meaning I wasn’t supposed to run on uneven surfaces or inclines, and the only time I’ve run up hills recently was in Newcastle, so I was quite happy to overcome them – even if my pace was slower than I’d normally like to tackle a hill in!

At the end of the first three miles my watch seemed a little under what was expected, though it could be down to a bad GPS signal as it had taken quite some time to get one at the start (which is odd as usually the 235 gets one within seconds) and kept losing it. This was also the point for the first water station but I ran straight through deciding it was too early to bother. For the fourth mile there was a good portion down hill, a section that has been in the course for the past 2 years at least so this was at least familiar. It was sometime around here that I first saw the race leader heading in the opposite direction – there was then quite a gap until the next runner, though even then the next was a half marathon runner and not a marathoner. This means he’d taken quite an early lead in this race!

I’d say I found the first 4-5 miles challenging, but by 6 I’d briefly settled into a rhythm that kept me going for a little longer as the course entered Wollaton Park – another familiar part of Nottingham. The bit through the park didn’t feel too bad, maybe because it was in the shade, but I did feel like I needed a loo break, but I really didn’t want to have to stop until mile 19 at least! This kept me going, and to be honest I didn’t spot them at mile 6 anyway.

As we left the park, instead of going through the University grounds as it has done in previous years the course then headed back to a junction we’d passed in mile 5 and turned back towards the direction of the embankment. As I approached mile 8 I then passed Nic Roddis heading in the opposite direction so waved as I passed, and was at least glad I’d made it that far without walking. Every thought I had now was about keeping going – I really didn’t want to walk in the first half if I could help it. Over the next few miles there were two hairpin bends where I had to slow to go around them, though I took them wide enough to not need to slow too much. I figured this might at least make up for my watch being off slightly. Shortly after I even saw an athlete dressed as a Stormtrooper, and wearing a dress heading towards mile 4 as I was on my way towards mile 9.

For the remainder of the first half I think it was fairly similar to what it had been in previous years, though I think the marathon course splits away from the half marathoners slightly earlier than it had done previously, but once again mile 13 was just before an alleyway through a housing estate. This entire mile I was on my own for, with only marshals being around to indicate that I was at least going the right way. There was nobody about watching the race – just like last year, but at least this year there were a few supporters in the miles that followed (something which didn’t happen last year).

By mile 13.5 I’d caught up with more runners, but I was starting to struggle to keep running and needed water. Fortunately after walking for what was probably only 10-20 seconds a marshal let me know that there was water in the direction of the drumming. That had suddenly reminded me that unlike previous years there wasn’t really much music on the course!

This time I grabbed some water and tried to drink from it, though no matter how hard I squeezed water just wasn’t coming out! It felt like this was going to be a repeat of last year, but then I spotted another runner drinking from one and they’d held it like a cup and not tipped up. It seemed these water pouches were designed not to leak when upside down which explained why I wasn’t getting any out of, so I turned it around and squeezed – getting a face full of water. Around this time I saw the race leader pass in the opposite direction again – he was just approaching mile 18 as I was coming up to mile 14.

I wanted to keep running until mile 15 after having walked briefly at mile 13.5, but I did succumb to the need to walk just before I reached the mile marker. I then started running again and was fairly determined to run until mile 16, and once I could see the mile marker in the distance, across Colwick Lake I was even more determined. It was a constant struggle to try and get to mile 16, and with probably 0.3 miles to go some cheerleaders started cheering me on and then started shouting “Give me a D, give me an A, give me a V…” though I’d passed them completely before they finished and I knew the mile marker was just coming up. Their cheers and this knowledge made me push harder and I managed to reach it… though I started walking more or less as soon as I crossed it! Though even then the last mile had not been particularly fast at 08:19 minutes.

Miles 17 and 18 passed by with frequent walking breaks but also the hope that I could keep my mile splits to sub-10 if not better. Literally seconds after passing the mile 18 marker though I slipped over on a lucozade bottle I hadn’t spotted until I’d already trodden on it. After the initial discomfort I carried on running up over the bridge that crosses the River Trent. Just as I reached Lady Bay I started to walk yet again, but this point I’d lost track of how much walking I’d done as there’d been so much of it. Another runner insisted I kept on running though I didn’t really want to, I kept going at a slower pace from there, passed the mile 19 marker and into the grounds of Holme Pierrepont water sports centre.

After running alongside the Regatta Lake for a while the route then veered off up a winding hill and onto a gravel path that ran alongside the River Trent. I’m not a fan on gravel paths as I seem to always get some in at least one shoe. Sure enough I did, and I found myself stopping completely at the mile 21 marker to take my shoes off, empty them, and put them back on before continuing off again. The complete stop hadn’t done me any favours though, even if it did mean my feet weren’t in pain anymore I was struggling to get running again. At this point the 3:30 pacer finally overtook me, but I could still see him not too far ahead – enough to catch up with if I could keep going. I’d wanted water at mile 21, but even though I could see they had some water in boxes they were only handing out gels.

By mile 22 I’d lost the pacer completely after having to walk a couple more times, but I saw the Nottingham Forest football ground and with it was a stream of people who had finished the half marathon and were cheering on the marathon runners as they passed. I was really lucky at this point though as walking briefly I was passed by one of the officials on a motorbike who passed me some more water. I didn’t bother trying to get into this and just sunk my teeth into it and guzzled the water like some sort of vampire with a blood bag.

This kept me going for a while, but I started to wonder if I’d taken a wrong turn as there was a split in the path, and I couldn’t see a marshal to know which way to go so took the longer of the two paths – I did then pass what I think was a marshal (though wasn’t in the bright yellow jackets the others had – this was a blue one). When it started to go down an alleyway behind some houses I was sure I’d gone wrong, it just didn’t feel right – I kept slowing down and looking behind me to see if I could see anyone else come this way, but I couldn’t see anyone!

Fortunately after rounding another corner I could then see mile 23 ahead of me – a relief! This was then followed by a few more runners overtaking me as I started to walk again, and I walked quite a bit of this mile alongside the tramline as by this point I was just too tired. I’d not had any jelly babies for the past few miles as I’d started to feel sick after having drunk too much water in one go. A bad mistake and one which caused me to walk the majority of the last two miles – one of which I’m not entirely sure I ran any of.

I think by this point it’d be useful to paraphrase REM’s “Everybody Hurts”:

When you’re sure you’ve had enough
Of this race, well hang on
Don’t let yourself go
‘Cause everybody cries
And everybody hurts sometimes

It had been a tough race, and seeing the bridge to cross the River Trent for the last time was a relief – and around the time I crossed it I finally started to run once more.

The final part of the route took me along the Victoria Embankment one last time, and this bit was an incredible struggle, but I didn’t want to walk when the finish line was so close. I did walk a couple of steps, but pushed on with running, unwilling to succumb to it. I then crossed over onto the grass and felt my pace start to pick up as people were cheering us on. I then heard my name called out on the speakers as I got near to the commentary box and I switched to a faster paced run to finish. Not the usual sprint finish, but it was enough.

At last this difficult race was over. My sixth marathon, and the 9th time I’ve reached or passed 26.2 miles when running.

Looking at my watch I saw 3:43 – 4 minutes slower than last year. I’d completely failed not only in my original goal (which was to be expected), but even with the adjusted goal I’d set post-injury. I was slower than this time last year, so at this point it wasn’t looking good that I’d be able to meet my Half Marathon and 10K target times in October and November.

No matter how hard I work between now and then I know the next two weeks will be almost throwaway between marathon recovery and being in Arizona (35-45C temperatures). I’m not going to give in though – I’ve got a lot of work to do, and I’ll put in as much work as I can to at least try and meet my times from last year for these upcoming races.

Once the official results were out I found I’d finished with a time of 03:43:42 in position 242 out of 1192 marathon finishers (first 20% approximately). To be honest I’m quite surprised I wasn’t further behind than that, but at least I did it. I guess now I’ll be back next year to have one last attempt at doing a better job of this.

Great North Run 2016

I’ve seen the Great North Run a few times on the television, and a friend has raved about the atmosphere but others have also been cautionary about how crowded it can be and how unlikely I’d be to get a PB there. For me this race wasn’t about trying to PB, it was one I just wanted to enjoy. I’ve known about the Great North Run for a very long time, seeing it for the first time when at school (at the end of the 80s) we were made to watch a TV series called Geordie Racer where one of the story threads through the series was about people running it.

Last year I tried to get in on the ballot and was unsuccessful – this year however I was fortunate enough to get a place.

Since the Brighton Marathon back in April I hadn’t run beyond 10 miles without walking for quite some time, and this was compounded by an injury I sustained whilst walking around in Russia. Just a few weeks before the Great North Run my ankle had finally recovered enough to no longer need the ankle support but I was behind on training for both this and my upcoming marathon. All I could do was hope that in my efforts to recover I’d done enough to get me around the course on the day.

 

Pre-race Day

It’s a long way from Leicester to Newcastle so I didn’t really want to be travelling up on the day, and I thought with a mass participation event like this I might find parking awkward. So, I begrudgingly paid the £103 (return) train ticket fee to get me to Newcastle the day before. It was a sleepness night, but I caught the train at 10:30 and was on my way to the start line of the Great North Run.

I arrived in Newcastle at 13:45 and started the 5k walk to where I’d be staying. It was mostly up hill but as my legs felt a little tight I hoped it’d ease them off. By the time I got there though my feet and calves were aching and I was ready to sit down!

Eventually I found the place – an old, nice looking building to the west of Newcastle. As if happened though it wasn’t as nice inside. The door to my room had a stiff lock and I cut my finger open on the key getting it open. Not too badly though so I got my race kit ready for the next day, and sat down for 20 minutes.

The room had dirty walls, anorexic pillows, a power socket that was hanging off the wall and not easy to safely plug the kettle into. As I later found, the kettle was also falling apart and wouldn’t switch off, which is why it wasn’t plugged in. The cups were dirty too and I had to wash one out before I could use it, but also had to get some milk and teabags from the shops first too. I also later found out that the bathroom didn’t have any towels, and the light didn’t work. Not really worth the £68 for the room.

I took the bus back into Newcastle and spent the next few hours wandering around the quayside and surrounding area, taking the odd photo, and not really doing much. There were a few places, such as the Old Castle which I’d wished I’d got my DSLR on me for, but as I hadn’t I didn’t go inside – it’s be something to do in future if I’m ever in the area again with a camera. I’d covered quite a few miles walking around so I also sat down for a while outside Saint Nicholas’ Cathedral where there was a statue of Queen Victoria. I also saw Gemma Steel presenting trophies to the Junior Great Run winners at the end of the Great City Games, and Laura Muir walked passed me as well.

The afternoon passed quickly and it finished with some spaghetti bolognese at a place near the Tyne Bridge. On the way back to the hotel it got dark, started to spit with rain and I couldn’t find the right bus stop. By the time I found where I should be I’d walked 9 miles and only had 1.5 miles left to get back to the hotel. My feet were dead.

Back at the hotel I tried to find a course elevation map for the race to see what it was like, a bit late I know, and all I could find was a post where the person described the course as “mostly down hill from Newcastle with a bit of a hill at mile 10”. Didn’t sound too bad to me!

I quickly had a cup of tea and after watching some TV I attempted to sleep, though that was interrupted when a neighbour was banging around just after midnight and I never did settle back into sleep.

 

Race Day

The day had at last come, and I was awake long before I needed to be. For a while I spoke to a friend on Twitter, and I predicted my pace for this race would be 07:20 min/mile – almost 25 seconds a mile slower than my PB pace from Leicester. It was nice to be able to chat before the big race, and I think it helped me to forget about how bad the hotel was a little.

It got to 06:45 and I decided to have breakfast – crunchy nut cornflakes and a cup of tea as usual. I was fed up of this hotel, yet I sat around until 08:00 before checking out and coming across a few more runners who had stayed there. The bus to Haymarket Station was only £1.95, so better than walking to the start and it didn’t take too long either. The crowds of runners all heading in the same direction reminded me a lot of Brighton earlier in the year.

After dropping off my bag I made my way to the orange starting zone – just behind zone A and the elites. I’d hoped to see Mo Farrah, but sadly I didn’t. I sat for the next hour in this starting zone, gradually being cooked by the morning sun and listening to the presenters talk to different people taking part – including the impressionist Jon Culshaw. Eventually the warm-up started, which again I didn’t bother with, but I saw it as the right time to turn my running watch on ready for it to get a signal. I was amazed that as with training, it got it’s signal pretty much instantly! The Garmin Forerunner 235 never ceases to amaze me, especially when the 220 frequently took an age to get a signal. Then we were off – running the Great North Run.

To start with the route was down hill with a few slight inclines, and then crosses the Tyne Bridge. The first 5K I covered in 19:37 – one of my faster 5K times and I was instantly concerned I’d started off too fast. It was hot though and by this point I was already wiping sweat from my eyes and forehead. Thankfully though this point also had the first water station!

After a few swigs of water I carried on running but found I was getting too warm and by 4 miles I’d decided not only was I too warm, I’d set off too quickly and I started to walk briefly. I quickly recovered though and after another mile I then managed to miles 6 and 7 without too much walking – it was still there though and was a frequent thing over the coming miles. I’d reached the 10K mark in 42:50 – slightly slower than I would reach that point on a 10 mile training run.

The support on the route was great and I often heard my name being shouted – though it’s possible (and indeed likely) there’d be another David running near me… I had actually noticed one standing immediately behind me in the pens back at the start! It was around this time that I could hear the Red Arrows, but I didn’t see them – they were behind be somewhere, but shortly after I saw them in front – flying in formation, but quite a way in the distance!

Flying free, flying high,

Flashing wings across the sky,

Geordie racer, Geordie racer.

The heat was really getting to me, and a the second water station I actually poured some of the water over my head after drinking some. Around this time was also the first(?) of the run-through showers as well though I decided against these as I figured if my feet got wet then I’d get blisters and that’d be even worse. I walked quite a few times in mile 9 getting my slowest split of 8:47, and another runner slowed down to make sure I was okay and was running backwards until I insisted that he carry on. I was only walking to cool off anyway! I did also wish I’d put my ankle support on, but that was short lived.

After I passed the mile 10 marker I noticed that the long hill I’d read about had started, and it was here that I was passed by the 1:35 pacer, and then shortly after by @1SteveMac who I quickly chatted to. I really tried to run up this hill, but I couldn’t keep it going and ended up walking most of this mile. It was however an incredibly supported part of the route and as we reached mile 12 the sea in South Shields was finally in sight. It was also the start of a very sudden fast descent, one which I found myself accelerating down very quickly and struggled to slow at the bottom – I could understand why the hay bales were there!

This part of the race was familiar to me as it’s always the bit I remember on TV, and I so clearly remembered Mo running this bit last year. I was determined not to walk again, and sure enough from just before starting that descent I didn’t walk again until I’d finished.

Don’t wait, don’t stop,

You’re heading home.

Don’t rest, don’t drop,

You’re heading home.

The last straight was brilliant, lined with screaming crowds and enough space around me to start building up some speed for the finish. I did my 13th mile in 06:50, but 200 metres from the finish, as I’d started to sprint, I had to quickly stop as another runner cut across in front of me. For the second race in a row there was also a runner stopping completely on the finish line as they crossed as well which meant as I sprinted to the finish line I crashed through them. Not very polite of me, but I couldn’t move out of the way or stop quick enough to avoid it.

I finished in position 1,608 out of approximately 57,000 runners (first 3%), with a chip time of 1:36:39 – not my best half marathon, but I was also a little surprised by the time considering how much I’d walked. It was also an average pace that was precisely the same as what I’d said to @miss_gen in the morning as a prediction.

I was however disappointed that I’d walked so often – although I’d been told this wasn’t a PB course and it’d be crowded I think with more training (particularly in the heat) I could have done it. For almost the entire race I had plenty of space to move as well – everyone had spread out before we’d even reached the first tunnel and the inevitable shouts of “oggy oggy oggy” (I still have no idea what that’s all about). All I can do is learn from this and hopefully my next half marathon will be one that will work out much better!

The finish area in South Shields is quite a nice one as it has a constant view of the sea. There’s a large village of stands there selling food, etc. and a decent selection, but it’s quite a walk from there to the baggage busses so by the time I’d got my bag I didn’t really feel like walking back. Instead I headed to the Metro and stopped by a Subway on the way – by the time I got to the metro it was still quiet and for £3.30 I got straight on and headed back to Newcastle for the start of a very long journey home.

At the finish they give you a bottle of water, a finishers medal, and a goodie bag dependent on your t-shirt size containing:

  • A bottle of lucozade,
  • 2 packets of Haribo starmix sweets,
  • Super seeds Rasberry 9 bar,
  • Jointace gel,
  • Sanex for men soap,
  • Nikwax wash-in waterproofing sample,
  • and the usual slew of leaflets.

It’s a race I’m likely to do again, given the chance, and hopefully next time it can be in weather that is a little cooler. It’s a shame though that from the moment I boarded the metro it then took me 6 hours to get home due to delays with the trains, and long waits in between them. It didn’t help either that the one from Newcastle to Derby stopped for 20 minutes to check out a signal which made me miss the train I was supposed to get.

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Cosby Victory Show

Every year at the start of September I see classic aircraft flying over at home, and one year have even seen a simulated bombing run from the Vulcan as well. I’ve been told frequently it’s worth visiting the Cosby Victory Show, and have even been told that they have tanks there as well. Up until now though I’d never been able to make it there. This year however I went there with my Dad as it coincided with his 60th birthday.

The event spans three days – Friday to Sunday though on the Friday it’s apparently mostly school children that visit for classes. On the Saturday and Sunday the schedule various aerial displays and battle re-enactments.

We went on the Sunday afternoon with only four hours of the victory show left (in the morning I’d been out on a 22 mile training run). As we drove through Cosby to get to the show we saw the Trig aerobatic team flying overhead. This team of talented pilots flew their Pitts Special S-1D biplanes in some impressive maneuvers that would have pulled quite a few Gs! Once at the farm where this event takes place it’s then a bit of a drive down a dirt track to the field they use as a car park. Entry for this event was £18 per person.

The first thing we saw when we got into the event was rows of stalls selling World War 2 memorabilia and suchlike. We weren’t particularly interested in this so headed to the far side of the field where they had some WW2-era vehicles parked up that we thought would be worth photographing. They weren’t all military vehicles though, there were also the odd staff vehicle (so the same as what the public would have used), old farm machinery, and traction engines. They weren’t particularly interesting to me, but I figured as they were there it was something to photograph.

Whilst photographing these the next aerial display started and a Buchon buzzed the field alongside us giving us a great opportunity to photograph it close up. This is what I was there for – to photograph action shots of aircraft in flight having simulated dogfights as they would have during the war. This particular aircraft was from the German Luftwaffe and was a Rolls-Royce powered Messerschmitt Bf109. Behind this as part of the same display was a Grace Spitfire ML407 – one of the most iconic aircraft from the war.

Following the old vehicles around at the head of the field we then started to come across reenacters that were either standing around their vehicles, or were part of a diorama-like scene wearing not just British uniforms but also Nazi and US infantry uniforms as well. There were soldiers laying down in dug out trenches with gun placements, others sitting around on trucks and light tanks and it started to feel like we walking around an Allied camp during the war.

From there we headed through a hedgerow to a parked aircraft – a Douglas C.47 Dakota. Unlike everything else we’d seen this far this one they were allowing people onboard (at a price). I didn’t actually bother to board it though as I’d been on similar aircraft whilst overseas. We could also see a few other parked aircraft but didn’t immediately go over to them as we heard the battle re-enactment had started and thought we should make sure we got to see it.

Along the way we stopped for the odd photograph as we passed more reenacters, but eventually we got there. It was crowded and blatantly obvious that to get a good view we should have arrived there earlier. It was difficult initially to see what was going on – between the crowds of people in front of us, and smoke rising from the battlefield we could only see the Axis forces, but even they were obscured.

As the battle raged on we were able to move forward a bit and I could finally start to take some closer photographs of the battle. We could see Allied forces were advancing on the German position and had some armour moving with them. The Germans had their strongpoint on their side though, and some heavy weaponry.

There was a lot going on at the same time, in one area you could watch infantry trading shots, and the occasional casualty, whereas on the other side you could see tanks growing ever closer as German infantry attempted to use machine guns against them. You could almost consider this to be like a real battle, filled with confusion, though in this case they had spectators.

The noise was incredible – the sounds of bullets being fired, and shouts from the infantry on both sides. The smell of cordite lingered in the air, as smoke from the bullets spread and hid some of the soldiers from view. An onlooker could be fooled into thinking this was a real battle, but looking closely you could see some of them were smiling, they were having fun. Although they were demonstrating what a battle could be like, this was not one – there was no danger, no life or death choices for them to make in a heartbeat – just the need to put on a good show.

Eventually the Allied forces broken the German strongpoint and either captured or “killed” each of them. There was even one moment where a captured officer tried to escape and was shot in the back. It was quite a sight to watch this battle unfold before our eyes.

Watching the battle reminded me of HBO’s “Band of Brothers” – a miniseries that started with their training for Operation Overlord (the 101st Airborne drop behind enemy lines the night before the D-Day landings), and progressed passed this to Eindhoven, The Battle of the Bulge, and beyond. This battle specifically reminded me of the depiction of Easy Company’s march on Carentan.

With the battle over we left the field and headed back to where we’d left off before this detour. Along this part of the field there were more “scenes” of war such as a group of German officers sitting in the ruins of a café. It reminded me of something I’d seen before, possibly a photograph – so I took my own photograph of them sitting there. There was also a half track we passed, a field hospital where they were dressing “wounds”, and the tanks leaving the battlefield also passed us here.

We didn’t stick around though, we headed into the forest…

As we entered the forest the loud speakers in the field started to play the main title theme from Band of Brothers – perfect timing in my opinion. This area had been sprayed white to make it look like winter, and I think was supposed to represent the Battle of the Bulge. Here there were scattered fox holes, and soldiers in white ponchos. There was also an area made to look like it was where soldiers had fallen in battle.

We left the forest in time to see the more aircraft flying over as we also tried to photograph the tanks now that they were approachable on the field. The remainder of this field we covered quite quickly and soon moved on to the aircraft walk (back near the parked Dakota) where we could get close to where some of the aircraft from earlier displays were parked.

I think most of my attention was on the aircraft flying over which eventually became a reenactment of the Battle of Britain feature a Hawker Hurricane and a Spitfire. It was getting quite late in the day by this point and we knew there wasn’t much time left. I made sure I’d photographed each of the planes that was on the land and tried periodically to photograph those that were flying over head. We even saw a couple take off whilst we were there as they’d use a relatively flat piece of the field as a makeshift runway.

In the distance though we could see them preparing the B-17 Flying Fortress “Sally B” for take-off. This is the big finale for the airshow but we didn’t have time to stick around waiting for it so instead headed back to the car. The road out of the show takes you past the end of the runway, and we unexpectedly had to stop and wait just before the end of this so that the B-17 could take off.

By pure chance we were in the perfect place to see it as it hurtled down the runway towards us and eventually took off as I was frantically taking photographs of it. It flew overhead and disappeared briefly, but we were done and left – even though we could still see the B-17 flying around.

It was a fun afternoon and one I would recommend to anyone.

Bassingham Bash 2016

From the start I wasn’t sure whether or not to enter this one – not only would it be my second ever 5 mile race it would also be the afternoon before a 20 mile training run ready for my next marathon. Racing in the afternoon isn’t something I’ve done often either as I don’t really run that well in the afternoons.

By this time two months had passed since my ankle injury in Moscow and it had improved considerably. Not only had I been trying to let my ankle recover, I’d also been trying to build back up to where I was before the injury and trying to get some longer miles in before September. Though I found it hard work to get any decent miles in, especially without walking – that is until the weekend before this race when I managed to do 11 miles without walking. The days in between however I struggled to run more than just a couple of miles without needing to walk – hopefully due to the heat.

If I wanted to run 20 miles the day after this race then I’d need to seriously question what sort of pace I would go for. When running I tend to not be particularly sensible, but I needed to think about the long game here – this wasn’t to be my target race. Thinking about why I was doing this race – when I entered it I’d thought that this one might be a bit of fun. So with that in mind, by the time race day came around I was convinced that instead of going for a flat out sub 7:00 min/mile race, I’d take it leisurely and go for somewhere between 07:30 and 08:00 min/mile.

For the first time ever I was going to a race with family – my Dad drove me to Bassingham and then whilst I picked up my race number he went off to have lunch and find landscapes to photograph. It was nice to catch up with a few people I’ve seen at races before and have talked to on Twitter, and then we all headed over to the start. As I wasn’t going to go all out for this one I decided to start at the back and just see where I’d end up.

Bassingham Bash 2016 route

After about 10 minutes the race started on time and the crowd of runners started to head off. As this wasn’t a chip timed race I hoped I’d be able to start my watch at the right time but wasn’t entirely sure where the start line was until I saw some flour marking the spot.

For the first mile the course loops around the village and crosses the start line for a second time. I took this easy, but because I’d started at the back I overtook quite a few people. I decided this was okay and I should just carry on running at whatever pace felt easy. By the time the first mile marker appeared the village had now been left behind us and the course was heading out into the countryside for a bigger loop.

Over the next couple of miles I felt it get warmer and warmer, and I think because of this it actually made the strong force of the wind (seriously, we’re talking about 40mph here) a little more welcome than it would normally be. In some places the wind really did make a difference to pace, but I wasn’t bothered by it – I was here to have fun and enjoy the scenery of rural Lincolnshire. I was having fun and glad to have entered the race.

At mile 3 there was a water station so I decided I may as well have a bit of water. I grabbed the cup and squeezed it closed, successfully avoiding spilling any – took a quick sip and discarded it. By this point every step was heading back towards the village and eventually I started to recognise some of the road from having been down it in the car earlier. It also occurred to me at this point that whilst I’d overtaken a number of people on my journey from the back of the pack, I hadn’t yet been overtaken by anyone. It made me wonder if I was going too fast, but rather than look at my watch I decided to just stay at a pace that felt easy – let my legs decide what’s right.

I think it was around 4.5 miles into the run we were back into the village and this is when I saw my Dad standing on the side of the pavement and taking photographs! This was the first time in three years of running that a family member has watched me run – and getting a few photos at the same time was brilliant.

About a minute later I crossed the start line for the third time and was soon directed through a gate onto the playing field for the finish. I couldn’t see the finish though so was unsure when to allow myself a bit of speed. Eventually though as I got around a corner I saw a sign about 20 metres away that said “FINISH” so quickly tried to get up to sprinting speed, but failed to get up to speed before I finished. As I finished though the person who finished before me stopped moving completely the second he crossed the finish and I ran into the side of him – unable to stop quick enough.

I stopped my watch and looked at the time – 34:03. Oops! Taking into account this was my watch time, and not the gun time – that was a little faster than I’d intended as my aim had been to run around 40 minutes, but the odd thing is that it never felt like I’d pushed myself that hard during the run – it felt easy. Easy enough in fact that I hadn’t felt the need to walk which when pushing hard I’d often feel like I want to. It was a nice enough race for me to instantly have decided that I’ll be back next year to race it properly, and with an actual goal time in mind.

At the finish for this race you’re handed a bottle of water, and then if you head into the hall you’re given a mug saying “Bassingham Bash 2016” and a slice of some really nice cake!

When the official results were released my official time was 34:14 (so took around 11 seconds to cross the start line) in position 46 out of 192 finishers (first 24%).

Leicester’s Big 10K 2016

After failing to get the PB I wanted in Nottingham I decided to enter Leicester’s Big 10K again thinking that would be another good chance. I was wrong though – following my ankle injury whilst in Moscow I failed to do the Two Castles Run I’d entered for when I returned, and even by the time I did the #ukrunchat Shrewsbury Half Marathon my ankle had not healed. So just like last time I’d ran it, I would be running this one whilst recovering from an injury and off the back of a lot of missed training. Just over a week before the race I had it checked out and was told it’d take a couple more months of healing before it was right, and I should be careful when running on it.

By race day I had lost any confidence of being capable of attempting a PB – instead I decided I should just run and see what happens. Which in all honesty is all you can ever do, even if you set a target. I was no longer going to set a target but figured that a sub-45 would be nice.

On the day of the race I’d still got blisters from where my ankle support had been running during training runs over the past week, but I had at least managed a sub-7min/mile paced 5.5 mile run a few days before in the summer heat. When I first got there they hadn’t set up the start line so I wandered around for a while and eventually came across a couple of friends who I stood talking to until it was time for the race start. Unlike other races where the start is prompt, they waited for those in the queue for the 6 portaloos to make their way over to the line before starting.

As the race started I ran at a pace that didn’t feel too bad, but was slower than I’d have been doing had I been planning on a PB. It was a relatively traffic-free run, and as I knew about the congestion at an archway the last time I did it I tried to time myself to reach it without having to stop. After the first mile I was 10 seconds down on what I’d have wanted for sub-40, but felt that it wasn’t too bad – I knew I wasn’t going to PB and I just needed to see what my ankle would allow. Moments later I passed a friend who was there to support her sister, and was there cheering us all on.

Half a mile later the route then left the park for the first time, and the full force of the sun was beating down on the runners. It was hot, and it felt like it was getting hotter. It didn’t take long before I felt that I needed to walk to cool down, and to wipe the sweat from my eyes (I’d forgotten my #ukrunchat buff I’d normally use for this). I kept going though and almost made it to 2.5 miles before walking – the first of many times. At 2.5 miles the route went down hill back into the park, passed the water station (which I walked through and poured water over my head), across the car park and down some steps to the canal.

I’d forgotten about the canal path. When I went to have my ankle looked at I was told I could carry on running on it as long as I was careful and kept to flat surfaces. The canal path was anything but flat and it felt like it wasn’t doing my ankle any good. Apparently the race this year was in July as the council was supposed to be working on the canal path in April when it otherwise would have been. It seemed they hadn’t actually done anything though and I found this time I needed to ease off to take some of the stress away from my ankle.

The route passed the start-line and also where we’d all be finishing later, but kept on running straight passed it and this time took a different route through the park until once again we left it and went around the outside as before. By this time I’d had enough – the heat, my ankle, and lack of training was really showing and I’d walked far too much of the course. I figured though if I could run as much of the last two miles as I could then perhaps I could get a sub-45 time which would at least be better than last time, when I ran with a bad knee.

It was hard work and I pushed on as often as I could, but the walking breaks still felt like a necessity. I do at least manage to run down the hill and through to the canal and along some of it this time however, though I couldn’t run the full section of the course along the canal without needing to walk. Back in the park one last time I saw the “400 metres” to go sign and started to pick up speed, but then slowed again to a walk. I could see the finish – it wasn’t that far away really, so I started running again and once hitting the grassy surface I picked up speed for the final 200 metres. I decided to push a little harder for this and was up to 4:16min/mile by the time I crossed the line. Moments after they made an announcement that they needed paramedics at the finish line for a runner that had come in just after me.

I finished with an official time of 44:02 in position 44 out of 457 (putting me in the first 10% of finishers). Considering how bad it had felt I guess that wasn’t too bad, though had I not injured myself in Russia I think it could have gone better. As unfortunate as it was, I guess we all have races like this and I just had to do the best I felt I could do on the day. Just that best happened to be slower than my run a few days before.

This being my first race (and second run) with my new Garmin Forerunner 235 it also happened to be a useful chance to see what sort of extra stats it could produce. Although on Friday’s run I got a VO2 max score of 54, today’s race had been 53 – so not too big a difference. Also, although it didn’t feel like I’d worked that hard, the heart rate monitor indicated I’d averaged 171bpm (about 130 higher than my average resting heart rate) – so again was interesting to see how much it increased, and an indication that I was actually working fairly hard.

I know from this race I’ve got a lot of work to do to get back up to the speed I was before my ankle injury, and I’ve still got more time before it will have fully healed. My next race is now Bassingham Bash in August so I’m hopeful I’ll have recovered and improved enough by then to get a time I can be a little happier with.

UKRunChat Shrewsbury Half Marathon 2016

My original plan upon returning from my trans-Siberian adventure was to run a 10K and then do the Shrewsbury Half Marathon. I didn’t really know what to expect from this race; but after missing Coventry Half due to illness, and barely having recovered enough to run the Milton Keynes Half,  this one would be my first proper Half Marathon of the year.

However, whilst in Moscow I managed to slip on some stairs at a metro station and twisted my ankle – something that resulted in a loud cracking sound. In the first instant I thought I’d broken something, and could barely walk on it for the next couple of days whilst still trying to hobble around Moscow to not miss out on the sights. The day I did it however it had swollen so much it looked more like an elephants leg than the ankle of a human, and the following day it started to show signs of bad bruising. The photos I took of it really didn’t show how much it had actually swollen and bruised though.

With how difficult it was to walk on it initially I knew I couldn’t run on it and didn’t get to run again that week. This didn’t help when over the previous several weeks I’d only done 5K runs (and the odd 10K). In fact, the last time I’d seen 13.11 miles on my running watch was during the Brighton Marathon in April. Training hadn’t gone well, and whilst on holiday I’d dropped from my usual minimum of 4 runs a week to have only run 3 times in 16 days.

By the time I should have been doing the Two Castles Run I hadn’t run for almost two weeks, so attempted a short 2.5 mile run instead; but found between the humidity, and the discomfort from my ankle it didn’t go well. I had one week to go until I’d be racing Shrewsbury and was still incredibly under-prepared and unsure if I could still run. I had just one week to heal and to try and prepare myself for a longer run. To make the most of this healing time I chose to not run again until race day, even though I was eager to try.

 

Friday

It got to the Friday before the race, and my ankle still didn’t feel right, but after work I drove to Shrewsbury anyway as it had been arranged as a #ukrunchat weekend. The day passed reasonably quickly and just after 16:00 I was on my way. It took 2hrs20 to get to the YHA Bridges hostel, and had a tingly foot for the last hour. The hostel was formerly a school house until there weren’t enough children for it to be used as one; eventually in 1931 it became a youth hostel and is now one of the oldest in the country.

When I got there I didn’t think there was anyone there to start with, but then came across Nicola (@addingvalue2u) showing @jen_f16 around and was shown to where I’d be sleeping. There are a few rooms there, and us guys got the room named “Long Mynd” which is named after the nearby hills.

The Long Mynd room

By 19:30 the rest (almost) of those who would be staying this first evening had arrived, and we had a three course meal consisting of minestrone soup, sausage casserole, and sponge cake with blackberries. Amazingly this only cost £12.50, and whilst there also paid for the next day’s food as well. Once we’d all done the washing up we then headed down the road to the pub where they had Wi-Fi. Since the area had no mobile phone signal this was our only link to the outside world. We sat inside and talked whilst outside they had something called a Sineater festival going on which was playing some “music” that sounded more like feedback from a microphone. This was there way of celebrating the summer solstice.

By 23:00 we’d all headed back to the hostel, and I went straight to bed whilst the others sat up and talked in the dining room for some time after.

 

Saturday

It was a very sleepless night, but I got up a little after 07:00 to some light drizzle. After a light breakfast (crunchy nut cornflakes and a banana for me) we headed out for a morning walk.

The path we took was off road and muddy, and due to the mist and rain we couldn’t see much other than sheep – but apparently over Long Mynd it’s possible to see views across the valley to Wales. Not this day though. We walked for around 2 hours and covered 7.5km and my ankle handled it more or less okay. It was a little questionable though when I stood on the side of an embankment photographing a derelict building and slipped in the mud on the same ankle. Fortunately it seems I was lucky and between the ankle support, walking socks, and walking shoes it cushioned it pretty well.

Back at the hostel we had a second breakfast – bacon cobs (or rolls depending upon the part of the country you’re from) and tea. It might sound like we were being Hobbits (see Lords of the Rings), but I think technically it was more of a brunch/lunch thing really. After that we sat around talking until 13:00 when we headed out to the Shrewsbury showground for an afternoon of talks.

With the roads closed in Shrewsbury for a carnival from 13:30 we had to take a diversion which meant we couldn’t get to the talks until 14:15. After a couple of hours hearing about various running related topics, we headed back to the hostel for the remainder of the day – having gained a few extra people along the way. For the next few hours I sat in the hostel’s garden with the others, and even had a go on the swing in the garden.

For the evening meal it was a vegetable soup, lasagna with chips, and for dessert it was an apple and rhubarb crumble with custard. Once everyone had eaten and the washing up done, we headed over to the pub again to spend the remainder of the evening. This time we were outside and got to hear some of the “music” from the Sineater festival a little closer than previously. It was a good evening, and I really enjoyed it. I was also amazed by the size of a Wolfhound – I’m pretty sure it had been crossed with a horse.

With a race the next day, most of us headed back to the hostel just before 22:00 so we could get some rest for an early start.

 

Sunday

I had been awake for some time when I got up at 05:40. Some of the others were already up too as some were going to be marshalling the Shrewsbury Half Marathon and so needed to be there before the runners. I always have crunchy nut cornflakes before a race, and today was no exception. Once I’d eaten and was all packed I headed over to the West Midlands Showground in Shrewsbury where the race village was located. I was almost 2 hours early, but it was one last chance to talk to others before the race – and there were plenty of #ukrunchat people to talk to!

Knowing I wouldn’t be able to manage what I normally would due to both lack of running and my ankle I decided to go for the sub-1hr45 pen. I did think this was a bit optimistic but figured that people starting there would be going about the same pace as what I’d be starting at, even though I knew at some point I would be walking.

To start with I headed off at a pace that felt okay, which I knew earlier in the year I’d have been able to do as a relaxed pace, and one which it felt like my ankle could for the time being cope with. This first bit went from the showground headed south through the town and passed the castle. The support was great and everyone was getting cheers as they passed. Around this time I said “hi” to @1SteveMac and @runginger. I’d not gone far and had already seen some familiar faces!

After we crossed the River Severn we started to encounter more hills and I soon found that my ankle was no so good at the up-hill sections – it wasn’t bending the right way without it causing discomfort. Going downhill on the other hand was okay so I came up with a strategy to not push too hard up the hills and to instead walk the majority of them.

Although I’d hoped I’d have been able to run at least half the race before giving in to my ankle I did start to walk to get up a hill just before mile 4. At this point one runner ran passed calling me a disgrace for walking before I’d even made it half way. Obviously he didn’t know I was injured, but it felt a little unfair for some random person to judge.

Once we got to the farthest point in Kingsland we then looped back and the majority of that back to bridge was down hill, though still found the need to walk occasionally to try and let me ankle recover. During the frequent walking breaks that followed the rest of the runners that passed me were encouraging and acted the way most runners do – proving that although there was one idiot, the rest were good people.

On this loop back to the bridge I passed and high-fived @DouglasKurt and then @FiaCarter, and waved to @jen_f16 – I don’t think I’ve ever recognised so many people in one race before!

By the time I got to mile 7 the ankle support was starting to have a detrimental effect. It was making my foot warmer and was causing it to sweat, which in turn caused blisters where the support was rubbing against my foot. This further discomfort caused the walking breaks to become more frequent. As my watch rolled around to one hour into the run I’d just reached the 8 mile marker – 2 miles less than I would normally have wanted to be at by this point. Even though I went into the race not knowing if I’d even get more than a few miles into it without needing to pull out, I did feel a little disappointed by this, but then I was also pleased that I’d still managed to get as far as 8 miles (even if that did involve a lot of walking).

Not long after this I saw @runginger again as he passed me, and a few miles later I saw @1SteveMac pass me as well. I’d hoped after this, as I passed mile 10 that I’d be able to run the last 3 miles without stopping. I couldn’t though – the blisters were getting more uncomfortable and were getting to the point where they were worse than the ankle. Even at mile 12 I though I could run the last mile, but couldn’t do that either. After half a mile the course went off road and onto a gravel path – the worst thing my blisters and ankle could imagine.

I tried to run as often as I could, but it was extremely infrequent. Eventually I saw the “mile 13” marker and started to run – determined that no matter how uncomfortable it was I would run this last bit as fast as I could manage. As it turned out wanting to minimise the time I was on my feet for sped me up quite a bit and I’d just reached 4min/mile pace as I crossed the finish.

It was a nice course, and very well organised, but it was a race I was glad to be over. Somehow though I still managed to finish with a time of 1:44:12 in position 263 of 1339 finishers (first 19.6%). It was also good to see a friendly face at the finish as @Sherieamore1 and the other #UKRunChat ambassadors were keeping everything organised at the finish and were doing a good job of making sure the finish was not overcrowded as some races I’ve seen previously.

To start with you’re handed a water bottle and a goodie bag that included:

  • finisher’s medal,
  • a packet of salt & vinegar crisps,
  • jelly tots,
  • strawberry SiS REGO rapid recovery,
  • £5 off at Chiquitos,
  • a copy of the June/July issue RunABC Midlands,
  • two sachets of Truestart Performance Coffee.

They then followed this up with handing over some Sun Pat peanut butter, and a finishers technical tee! I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a great selection in a goodie bag at the end of a race. Throughout the race they’d been taking photos as well and these were automatically posted to Facebook not long after crossing the finish line – for FREE!

The event was very well organised and had the feeling of a big event, in a good way that is. The route was well marked, supported, and marshalled and had a good variety of scenery whilst managing to provide some challenges (at least to an injured runner anyway). It’s a race I’m very likely to do again, but without the ankle injury hopefully.

A massive thank you to @Howard50at50 for organising the weekend before the race, and to @iRunJoe and co. for the race itself – it was an enjoyable one!

Russia Day 16 – Moscow to Birmingham

It was an early start – the earliest one of the trip. As our flight was at 06:05 we needed to be on the road by 03:00. The hotel did however provide a packed lunch for us to take with us for breakfast, though it was still quite an early one.

As is usual for Russian airports we had to have our bags x-rayed on entering the airport, and then after clearing passport control having hand luggage scanned a second time. The whole process wasn’t that slow as fortunately there weren’t many people about – it looked like they’d have struggled with the numbers we get through some UK international airports, though in fact they actually have several different ones depending on where your flight is going.

Whilst waiting for the gate to open for boarding I sat and had the breakfast I’d been provided with – croissant with a jar of jam and marmalade, an apple, and a ham and cheese sandwich. There was also a salmon sandwich, but not liking salmon I discarded it. To kill a little more time I also bought a Matroyshoka doll for 2800 roubles.

The plane to Frankfurt, the first of two flights, began boarding at 05:40 and only took 20 minutes before we left the gate. During the flight they served breakfast; I went for the waffles with morello cherries – an unusually good breakfast for a flight.

It took a while to get to the gate for my next flight once landed in Frankfurt – I had to take the monorail to a different set of gates and then go through security again. This time they got me to take my cameras out of my backpack and put them in their own tray, my laptop out of it’s case and in a different tray with my Kindle and iPhone, my backpack in another tray, and then the rest of my belongings in another. It seemed crazy! To make this take even longer they then did an explosives test on my backpack, though I guess with almost 4 hours to spare I did have time to waste.

At last though, I was ready for the flight home – the trans-Siberian adventure was over.

Russia Day 15 – Novodevichy Convent

Once again the Metropol hotel was able to amaze me. At breakfast we were greeted by a waitress who after seeing we were British even switched to using perfect English and even a fairly British sounding accent, and led us to a table. I quickly noticed that the breakfast hall was incredibly well decorated with a very high glass roof which helped to amplify the sound of the lady playing the harp on the stage. Live harp music is not something you see at every breakfast! The food and drink at breakfast was also an incredibly good selection.

The original plan was that we’d be picked up at 10:00 to be taken to the Novodevichy Convent, though we asked the guide if we could first visit Lenin’s Mausoleum. Fortunately he agreed to this and by 10:00 we were queueing to get through the security into Red Square. To enter the mausoleum there was then a second security check and once you’ve entered the building you’re not allowed to talk – not that it stopped a bunch of Chinese tourists from doing so. It’s weird seeing the body of Lenin – it’s preserved so incredibly well as a result of the embalming process that with the texture of the skin he looked like a wax model.

We were then driven to the Novodevichy Convent, another UNESCO World Heritage site, where we spent the next hour walking around the grounds and going inside the two churches there. To take photographs here we each had to pay 100 roubles – which wasn’t bad really.

Apparently one of the towers there which is under restoration has been so for some time due to a fire that broke out during the previous restoration work. Most of the buildings there were ordered by Sofia Alexeyevna, but begun construction under the reign of Prince Vasili III, the Grand Prince of Moscow. The buildings are in the Muscovite Baroque style which is common to many buildings in the area.

Adjacent to the convent is the Necropolis of the Novodevichy Convent, which is also known as the “heroes cemetery”. Despite the entrance only being around the corner, at best 200-300 metres, the guide insisted we drive there. We spent about 40 minutes in this cemetery being shown some of it’s more famous residents such as Boris Yeltsin, and Anton Chekov.

It was wandering around these tombs where I got the impression that our guide, Vlad, was a strong supporter of Communism. The reason for this is when we encountered the grave of Mikhail Gorbachev’s wife he commented that Gorbachev should not be buried in Russia as “he is a traitor”.

For those that don’t know, the reasoning behind this is that it was Gorbachev was the last leader of the Soviet Union and was responsible for making the government more open and restructuring it (referred to as perestroika) which eventually led to it’s dissolution in 1991.

All morning the weather had been toasty warm, but just as we were leaving the cemetery there were a few spots of rain, hinting at the weather which was to come. Back at the hotel, having made a few phone calls during the course of the morning, our guide estimated that we’d be picked up at around 02:30 though wasn’t totally sure as he’d been given the incorrect flight information by Audley Travel to start with (allegedly).

We then set back out, during a thunderstorm to get lunch. I decided to have a club sandwich, which would then turn out to be my last proper meal in Russia. By the time we left the rain had more or less stopped and it was only a short walk to the metro station.

For the afternoon we’d decided to visit the Tsaritsyno museum and park which was located quite a way out of town. It took over 30 minutes by metro to get there, but was very easy to find the entrance to.

These grounds were originally owned by Tsaritsa Irina, sister of Tsar Boris Godunov, but later was taken over by Catherine the Great. If the weather had been better I think we could have spent quite a bit of time there due to it’s great scenery and the number of different buildings that were there. We were however on a schedule and the weather wasn’t great either.

We did however do a reasonable amount of walking, despite my swollen ankle, and managed to see most of the buildings there – though buildings such as the great palace were only from the outside.

Finding our way to the metro station at the opposite end of the park wasn’t too difficult and we were back at the hotel before 18:00. To finish the trip we went back over to Burgermeister where we’d had lunch and had a dessert – I went for their strawberry cheesecake which was amongst the best I’d had on this trip.

Our time in Russia had now come to an end and in a matter of hours we’d be heading to the airport to begin our journeys home.

Russia Day 14 – Back in Moscow

The flight to Moscow wasn’t a particularly early one, though we were told to get there 3 hours before the flight, despite it technically being a domestic flight. As we checked out of the hotel they gave us the packed-breakfast we’d asked for and it was pretty much the same as the one we’d had from them a few days previous.

As expected, we arrived at the airport too early to check-in so had to wait around for 40 minutes until we could. When I entered I had to empty part of my suitcase as they thought that my shower gel and electric toothbrush together looked a bit suspicious. The business class line was really slow though as it was taking them on average around 10 minutes to process each person. When I got to the front the lady behind the desk pointed at the business class sign and said this is for business class customers only – which I was! I guess they don’t expect someone in shorts.

Getting through security was then pretty quick and we had about an hour to wait until boarding would begin. Unlike the previous business class flight we didn’t get a separate vehicle for transferring us to the aircraft. Once it left the gate it then taxied down the runway before turning around at the end at taking off – something you wouldn’t see at busier airports as they need to clear the runway as quickly as possible. Once again we got a meal on the flight with proper cutlery and some fairly “posh” food.

We landed in Moscow at 12:50 local time, but it still took 20 minutes for us to collect our luggage, which was followed with a 1hr15 drive to the city where we then encountered a 45 minute queue to get passed the Kremlin. Apparently the traffic was due to a VIP arrival which was holding up traffic due to closed roads.

The Metropol hotel is where we’d be staying the next couple of nights and looks incredibly decorative inside – it has even had famous guests such as Steven Seagal, Sylvester Stallone, and the late Michael Jackson. I didn’t stay long though and soon headed out in search of the Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics.

I’d got my phone giving me rough directions to the best metro station to get and we made good progress there, even though it was raining. This however soon had a disastrous consequences – going down the stairs in the metro station I slipped and twisted my ankle with a loud clicking sound. At first I was concerned I’d broken it, but after the initial shock I was able to limp to the underground carriage with some effort. The metro ticket only cost 50 roubles per trip so was far cheaper than travelling in the UK and the trains are more frequent too. It then took around 15 minutes to reach the stop we needed and headed out into what was now sunshine.

The Space Museum was really easy to find – as we walked out of the metro station the other end we could see a large memorial to the Russian Space Program. Around the back of this was the entrance to the museum. On my way to the entrance though I tried tightening my shoelaces, thinking it might give my ankle more support, but this back-fired when the laces snapped. When I eventually limped to the entrance it cost 250 roubles to enter, and then another 230 roubles to be allowed photography (without flash).

Even with me hobbling around on my bad ankle we got halfway around the museum pretty quickly and then paused to have some lunch in the cafe there. I went for a double hamburger, which was incredibly greasy and took around 25 minutes to arrive – so couldn’t really count it as fast food though. It felt like the cafe was there to cater for Americans based on the decor and the contents of the menu.

The things to see in the museum were a mixture of genuine and mock-ups, though not all the mock-ups were 1:1 scale. It was definitely worth seeing, and worth the 250 roubles to enter (and the 230 roubles to take photos). In the first room it reminded me a little of the entrance to the Johnson Space Center – it has a large focal point to the room and is then surrounded by smaller exhibits, which in this case includes a Vostok descent capsule.

By the time we left the museum it was almost 16:30 which meant we could potentially get back across town on the metro before their rush hour. Sure enough we made it and walked almost all the way back to the hotel. To rest my ankle a little I sat outside the hotel whilst my friend rushed back in to get a different lens for his camera before we then headed over to Saint Basil’s cathedral.

The entrance for Saint Basil’s Cathedral was 350 roubles, though there wasn’t a massive amount to see inside. Once you’ve seen so many Russian Orthodox churches I feel the interiors start to feel pretty similar – if we hadn’t seen the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood in Saint Petersburg first then I might have been more impressed by the interior. The exterior though is still impressive, and is an iconic part of Moscow’s Red Square.

When visiting the cathedral and red square we had to go through a security check upon entering due to there being a large market on – this did make it more difficult to get exterior photos of the cathedral but after completely circling the building I think we took sufficient photos. As we’d now left the restricted part of Red Square we decided to have a look around the GUM to see why it had been recommended to us.

This time upon visiting GUM we didn’t need to have our bags searched – we were just waved on through. We soon realised though that there wasn’t much in there other than expensive shops. I’m not particularly keen on spending ages looking at shops, and even less so with a bad ankle that was starting to feel swollen so after about 20-30 minutes of wandering around we eventually left.

Not long after leaving GUM I spotted a souvenir shop so we headed over to have a look – I bought a model of Saint Basil’s Cathedral and a decorated egg for a total of 3000 roubles. I considered getting one of the famous Matryoshka dolls as well but these were considerably more expensive and would be at least 4000 roubles by itself.

Not far from that main shopping area we found a small restaurant down the alleyway that led to Revolution Square. The service there was incredibly slow though, and my friend’s meal was delivered cold. I went for breaded pork, which with the tip only came to 700 roubles.

Once back at the hotel I found my ankle had swollen to at least three times it’s normal size so was glad that I could finally rest it after an eventful day.