Beacon Solstice Run 2015

I’ve never done a trail run before, so when I came across the Beacon Solstice Run it interested me. At the point I entered this though I had no other races planned for June – it was much later I decided to do the Two Castles Run and the Rothley 10K in the same week.

For the Two Castles Run it had been a warm morning and I’d twisted my ankle just over half way into the race. I’d been fortunate and this had healed enough by the time of the Rothley 10K race, but again it was hot and humid. This time though my legs were tired, and for both races I walked some of the way, in the case of the latter though I walked quite a bit.

This being a trail run I had no preconception of how this race would go – I had no idea what pace I’d be able to manage it at so had no target other than to complete the race without walking. As I’d walked some of the way in the past 4 races it felt like it was a worthwhile target to set regardless. I hoped that having done a short and slow recovery run the day after the Rothley 10K will have helped some as well.

By the time of the race though I was hungry as once again I’d not actually eaten before heading out. I parked up in the upper car park and spent the next 15 minutes walking along the trail to the start which was in the lower car park. Apparently this was only supposed to be a 10 minute, but considering I was walking at a 14min/mile pace I’m not sure why the organisers thought that. Unless the 10 minutes was just a way of saying it’s a reasonably short walk. It did mean though that I got to see a bit of the course ahead of running it and it gave me an idea of what the surface would be like, and the gradients for some of the hills.

At the registration tent I was surprised to get #1 – I’ve never been the first to register for a race before, and when I registered for this one I assumed entries had been open for quite a while. Comments I got from people was of an expectation that I’d be fast – something which you shouldn’t assume from a race number! Besides, time is relative – Einstein proved that. I knew they were joking, but it did feel like some pressure came with it.

It was getting a little cold standing around with nothing to keep me busy, but after a while someone saw me wearing my blue #UKRunChat tee and came over to say “hi” – it turned out it was @VirtualRunnerUK. It was nice to meet someone else, and it just happened to be the person that runs the virtual run I’d entered a while back.

This event was a bit mixed – at 19:15 the Canicross trail running event started (people running with dogs) and 10 minutes later we set off behind them. To start with the route seemed relative flat, though I think there was a slight incline – eventually though it changed to be a long slow climb up to the top of Beacon Hill before we started to descend again. The descent was long and I found myself going far faster than I’d intended, but I was struggling to slow my legs down once I’d got going. Eventually the trail flattened out as it got deeper into the woodland and I was able to slow down to a pace I was happier with.

This eventually passed near the start again and then went along the trail I’d walked along earlier – this eventually became a long slow hill and I found myself having to walk twice – the one thing I didn’t want to do in this race. I was okay with it though – it was a hilly course and I was still doing better than I thought I would. For another mile I was then able to keep running, but I did walk one last time before running for the remainder. To keep myself going I convinced my mind that I was in a race with the person I could see in front so I made sure I kept the pace up for the entire last mile.

Eventually I overtook this runner and kept going, knowing I’d only got half a mile left to go – I should probably have slowed down at one point though as I reached a tight corner and almost ran straight into the hedgerow as I couldn’t slow down quick enough and was sliding across the ground trying to stop. I quickly got back up to pace though and on the next, final corner I managed to take this at a reasonable pace and then sprinted to the finish line.

I finished this race 20th out of a field of 249 finishers (top 8%, and 11th in my category), with a time of 35:29; so considering the course record at the time was 30:06 I don’t think I did too badly for my first trail run. Although I walked briefly it didn’t bother me as much as this was a difficult course, and I tried to keep the walking to the absolute minimum. The goodie bag was quite packed:

  • Finisher’s medal,
  • 2x large bags of crisps,
  • 2x 500ml bottles of water,
  • a rocky chocolate bar,
  • a bag of Haribo sweets

I think although it’s a very basic event it’s one I’m likely to try again in the future – I had enjoyed racing again.

Rothley 10K 2015

A year ago I did the Rothley 10K for the first time, and it was one of my first 10K races. It was however one which took place at a time when I was having issues with my knees and this race played havoc on them. I decided to enter it again this year, but again knew I wouldn’t be racing at full speed due to it only having a day’s rest since my last race.

On the day of the race I prepared my race kit and took it to work with me – I’d again be going straight from the office so needed to make sure I had everything I would need with me. I left the office later than normal, expecting heavy rush hour traffic though, but still arrived two hours before the race’s start time. So, after parking up I sat down in front of the Royal Oak pub for the next 90 minutes until a friend arrived at the race. Whilst I sat there I realised I was hungry – able to smell the food the people behind me were eating, yet not having eaten myself since a sandwich at lunchtime.

Unlike last year’s race, it was warm and humid, so I planned on using a water station when returning to the first hill for the second lap. My goal would be to finish the race without walking, something I’d had to do for the previous 3 races, but ideally if I could, a sub-45 time would be nice too (though I knew there was absolutely zero chance of a PB, but that’d be a goal for another month).

To start with I headed up the first hill maybe a little faster than I should have, and completed the first two miles faster than I have before (in 13:03). If I’d carried on at this pace for another mile I’d have managed a 5K PB – something I wasn’t planning on setting, but alas it was not to be as soon after passing the mile marker I slowed to a walk for the first time this race as I approached the water station. I then started off running again and then managed to run for the majority of the way around to the second lap, but had to walk (twice) up that very first hill of the lap.

Having already had a gulp of water from the previous water station I still went ahead and had some water from this next station, but only drank the smallest of amounts. As this lap continued I eventually lost count of how many times I had to slow down to a walk for 10-20 seconds of walking at a time. Over the course of a mile these soon add up and had made quite a difference to my mile splits. My speed didn’t bother me though, I could have been running slower than I ever have done before and I’d have been okay – just so long as I wasn’t walking. It felt like I couldn’t help it though – my brain was telling me to walk for a while.

By the time I got around to mile 5 I’d lost a lot of time from walking, but I decided with only 1.2 miles left I would not walk again, no matter what speed I dropped down to. After another half mile had passed I started to struggle again, but convinced myself if I could continue pushing just that little bit longer I’d be passed the hill I was on and could start to take it easier going down hill. Thankfully I continued on as I started to go down that last hill I picked up the pace, though did struggle a little after the corner that led on to the last (approximately) 0.3 of a mile. It was a struggle but I kept going and for the last bit I did actually manage to speed up to a sprint to finally finish (though one marshall did raise his hands as if to tell me to slow down).

I finished 62nd with a chip-time time of precisely 44:00, out a field of 532 finishers (in just under the top 12%). It wasn’t a bad time or position really, but I was still very disappointed in myself that for the fourth race in a row I resorted to walking part of it. It felt like I had lost all motivation and couldn’t convince myself that I could still run a whole 10K, even though I have run 22 miles without walking before. With another race on Friday my hope now shifted to managing that race without walking.

As this was the 30th anniversary run it meant that instead of the usual red/maroon coloured t-shirt there was a commemorative purple t-shirt which was actually quite a nice one. For this year the goodie bag also included a commemorative medal in addition to the usual bottle of water. In the 30 years since this race started they have reportedly raised £200K for local charities.

I may try this race again next year as it is a nice course, and there is support along quite a portion of the route – maybe in a year’s time my running will have improved enough to have a proper go at this.

Two Castles Run 2015

This was a race I’d wanted to do the year before, but by the time I’d decided I wanted to do it there were no available places. So, when the the entries opened for 2015 I made sure I didn’t miss out. A friend had done this race a few years previous so it was one I wanted to do also, in part so we could compare times afterwards. However, after 3 weeks of almost zero runs, and going straight into the first week of marathon training (for the Robin Hood Marathon) I knew I wouldn’t be getting a PB but did think it’d be nice to be a little competitive and see if I could beat my friend’s time (yes, I know that makes me a horrible person). I know you’re only ever really racing against yourself, trying to beat your own time, but in my mind it was a way to set a target even if I knew I couldn’t set a PB.

I wasn’t really sure what time I needed to be at Warwick Castle for, some of the different pieces of information seemed to conflict so I decided to be safe and got there for 07:00. I was more or less the first runner to arrive it seemed, but I couldn’t see where the start was. There were signs for the information desk, toilets and the warm-up area but no indication of where to go for the start. Eventually I decided to head in the direction of the warm-up area.

Warwick Castle (pic is from a previous visit)

In the main courtyard of Warwick Castle I heard a runner ask a marshal where they should go for the start line, and they told him not to worry it would be announced during the warm-up. I thought it seemed a bit of an odd thing to do, but I waited also. Time passed and at 08:30 they started the warm-up session – I watched as they did short runs around the courtyard and various stretches until about 08:45. At this point there was a health and safety briefing, but people started making their way to the main entrance – it seemed some people knew where the start line was, but the announcer asked people did not move yet and should make their way over to the start at 08:55.

Warwick Castle (pic is from a previous visit)

By about 08:50 it seemed a lot of people were still moving despite the announcements still continuing so I decided I’d move with the crowd towards the start. The main entrance though is quite a bottleneck and by the time I got to the starting pens the race had already started and I was somewhere behind where the 45min pen was located. If I’d been wanting a PB then I’d have wanted to have started towards the front of that pen ideally. It was a little annoying though that because of the announcements and lack of direction that I’d missed the start.

The route goes out of Warwick Castle’s grounds and through the town before going out into the countryside. After the first couple of kilometres the spectator support died off until around the 5K mark – just over a kilometre after the first water station. I did notice there were a few water stations on this course, though as is fairly usual for me, I didn’t bother. After the 5K mark the spectators were sporadic until we reached Leek Wootton – from there until the finish we then had people out watching the race.

I was amazed at how tough the hills felt – I’d not thought about not having done any hills for well over a month and was finding them to be hard work in the heat of the sun. Very soon after the 6K marker we went around a bend and I stood in what I thought was a puddle, but turned out to be a pothole filled with water. This twisted my ankle and I started to fall forward (the lady running just behind me let out a short scream at this point!). I’m not entirely sure what happened, I thought I was about to face plant into the tarmac but it seems my other leg managed to stop me from going over. A thank you to the marshals on that corner that stayed quiet and looked at me as though I was crazy – I’m fairly certain I’m not that crazy.

For the next kilometre I was sort of half limping, and also trying not to slow down. By the 7K marker I wasn’t really feeling the discomfort any more and was able to run normally and started to return to a normal pace. When I saw the 9K marker I walked for about 10 seconds – my feet were starting to feel uncomfortable from the soggy socks following the pothole. I just wanted to try and adjust my socks a little, thinking for some bizarre reason that may help. I then carried on running, through the car park of Kenilworth Castle, around the hairpin bend (not good for twisted ankles), and then along the path up to the entrance to the castle.

As I saw the entrance to the castle approach I started to sprint, getting up to a fairly reasonable pace, and stopped as I crossed the entrance. However it turned out that was not the finish – just around the bend, about 100 metres away was the actual finish line. Unsure I could run around the corner after having stopped, I went at a half jogging / half walking pace up to the corner and then just gently jogged to the finish line to complete the race.

Looking at my watch for what was probably only the third time in the race I noticed I’d finished with a time of 42:33. It wasn’t an amazing time, and was quite a way from being a PB – but that was okay, it was never meant to be. It was just a race I wanted to do, and to enjoy. I think it was a tough one to try and enjoy though with the way it went, but I was happy to get the medal at the end of it. The goodie bag for this race consisted of:

  • Finisher’s medal
  • Finisher’s tee
  • 330ml bottle of water
  • Many leaflets

You could say it’s not the most amazing of goodie bags, but despite it’s flaws, it was a nice race and quite scenic. Whether I’d try this one again I’m not really sure, but I think it would be nice to attempt this one again with legs that are more prepared, and the knowledge of the route and how the start works.

After the race they then ran coaches back to the start which would leave as each one filled up with enough people. It took a while to get back to Warwick due to the road closures, but it was really good to have this free service available! I’d been tempted to run back, but with my next race only two days away I eventually decided it’d be a bad idea and took a coach ride.

My official chip time was 42:33 (for once exactly the same as my watch time!) in position 200 out of 3835 finishers (approximately top 5%). The gun time does actually show how far back I was at the start. Another statistics they provide – I finished 10th in my category of 227 runners. It does leave me with a few “what-ifs” going around my head, but I know not to dwell on them.

#ukrunchat Eastbourne Weekend

The first #ukrunchat training weekend was done at Anglesey but I never attended it. I was unsure about whether it was something I’d get “along with”. I thought I wasn’t a serious enough runner, I usually feel socially awkward and uncomfortable (anyone who’s met me will agree how difficult I can be), and I wasn’t sure how easy it would be to fit in with the others there. My doubts got the better of me and I never went. Looking and hearing about the weekend I did think that it sounded quite fun, and maybe me not being a serious runner wouldn’t matter too much.

I’d then heard that there was going to be another one in the Lakes, and I started to reconsider, but it clashed with the London Marathon. So when the Eastbourne #ukrunchat weekend was announced I started to really consider whether it was something I could do. It took me weeks of deliberation, in part due to it’s proximity to my Mexico trip, and in part I thought I just wouldn’t fit in. Eventually I decided I should go – after all, I knew one friend would be there so hopefully if I didn’t pester her too much I’d at least have someone to talk to every now and then if it turned out everyone there hated me.

Friday – Travelling to Eastbourne!

I finished work at 15:00 and headed straight from the office to the motorway to begin my journey down to Eastbourne. This was slow. Very slow. There had been an accident somewhere on the M25 (which is a notoriously bad motorway anyway) and this meant it took around 4hrs30 to do a 3hr20 journey.

Once there it then took about 15 minutes to find somewhere to park, but once I had I joined the #ukrunchat group in The Lamb. Whilst there I’d ordered a steak and ale pie that came with mashed potatoes and vegetables – it seemed like pretty good quality food. I think they made a great choice of where we should meet up, and it was nice to start getting to know people there early too.

By 10pm we were driving to the hostel and the whole group (or most of it) sat around talking for quite some time.

Saturday – Parkrun!

I got up at 07:00 and had some crunchy nut cornflakes for breakfast – a fairly typical breakfast for me, so good to keep some consistency when about to do a day of running. There was a good choice and amount to choose from though – various fruit, and other cereal such as weetabix and some sort of fruity cereal.

Some of the group decided to run from the Eastbourne YHA to the parkrun – a distance of about 4 miles, but instead I opted to get a lift to parkrun about 30 minutes later. Unfortunately I somehow managed to miss the #ukrunchat group photo before the parkrun but I was there for the one afterwards.

The Eastbourne parkrun starts on the grass and fairly early on it loops around passed the start again. The sub-21 minute and sub-20 minute pacers were running more or less together for the first half a mile and had started off at a 5:50min/mile pace. At this sort of pace, if they maintained it, they’d definitely both be sub-20, though quite considerably.
In the first mile one of the local runners (from the same club that had provided the pacers) ran straight into the back of me and just kept on going without even acknowledging he’d done it. It wasn’t a narrow part either, and it wasn’t exactly crowded either.

The temperature was already quite high, despite it being early morning and this was making maintaining any sort of pace hard work. I’d gone into this parkrun with no real plan – I’d just see how I felt at the start and would go with it. I finished the first mile in 6:34, not too bad, so I decided I’d see if I could maintain that pace for at least another mile. In the second half of the mile the sub-21 pacer had dropped to approximately a 6:40min/mile pace so was more realistic. It felt like maybe if I stayed determined I could keep up with the pacer. My legs felt fine, but I felt very warm so was unsure how long I could keep the pace up for at this temperature.

Eventually we got to around 2.5 miles and I decided to finally overtake the pacer and started to hold at an increased pace. As I rounded one corner I could see the finish alongside me, but had already heard that the route goes passed the finish and loops around from the other side. As we looped around I took the chance to overtake a few more runners and then once I could see the finish again I started to speed up. Checking my watch afterwards I noticed it read 20:23 – a new 5K PB!

The official time for the parkrun was 20:24 so not that different, and is still fairly pleasing. It’s nice to have run as part of a team in a new (quite scenic) location, and to have PB’d so soon after a long rest from running. Once I received the parkrun email I found out that I was actually the 12th male and overall finisher out of a field of 233 runners (so more or less top 5%). To make me even happier it turned out I also placed 4th in my category (SM30-34).

After the parkrun we then split into groups – some went back to the YHA in the car whilst the rest decided to run. The pace was slower than I’ve managed before (I have real difficulties going any slower than 9min/mile as it feels like I start to trip over my own feet – I can imagine some people might hate me for that), but it was nice to have a gentle run with the chance to talk to others from #ukrunchat. Eventually though we got to a point where 10 mile runners went one way, and those of us doing 6.5 miles went the other way.

Eastbourne Pier

For the 6.5 mile route we eventually got to the coast and ran along the promenade. For the first part of this I’d stayed with the other 6.5 mile runners, but eventually decided that I needed to be a bit anti-social and go off on my own for a while (I did apologise to them later for having done this). From about mile 3 I ran passed the pier, the bandstand, and the old RNLI place. After this I then used Google Maps on my phone to help me find my way back to the hostel as I ran. The last part of the route was on quite a steep hill which was incredibly hard work to run up!

Back at the hostel we sat around in the sun for a while and then once the 10 mile runners returned we then had some bacon rolls (being from Leicester, I’d call them cobs!) for lunch (though there were also vege sausages for the vegetarians amongst us). After a short break a yoga instructor turned up. This is something I’d never done before so was quite open to seeing what it was like. I imagined it would be about flexibility and might help with running, so sounded like a great way to complement the morning’s activities.

We headed outside to a flat area above the YHC and we all laid out yoga matts. For the first half there were a lot of stretches – a lot of which reminded me to a degree of the warm-ups we used to do for Judo, though with a large degree of “showiness” (the best word I could think of to describe it) thrown in. It felt like this type of yoga was a little pretentious, and maybe not for me. I stuck it out though as opinions can easily change. This eventually moved indoors to a “meditation” session where everyone had to start chanting. I think if anyone had walked in at that point they may have thought that #ukrunchat was some odd cult that had invaded for the weekend. Not far off I guess! I joke, maybe.

After the yoga was over we then had the #ukrunchat bake off. For this I was one of the three judges so got to try all of the cakes, but had to be very judgemental about them. Usually I just eat cake and enjoy it, but as part of the judging we decided to judge them on their appearance, and to very carefully taste each one. We judged each cake on both of these criteria and scored each out of 5 for a total score out of 10. The Canadian “Nanimos” (one of the vegan choices) won the bake-off, with #ukrunchat themed cup cakes coming a close second, and then the truffles and Pims sponge cake coming in joint third. All the cakes were great and tasted so good, so a massive well done to all that took part!

After the bake-off there was then more time sitting around before we went down to the nearby park for Annabeth’s (@glittermousie) session on being mindful about running (be sure to check out her blog post too!). For this we warmed up a little first and then took a few gentle runs around the park. For each lap we had to think about something different – the number of times our left foot strikes the floor, the number of steps we take on average between breaths, how any pains or niggles feel, what we can hear whilst running, and what we can smell whilst running.

This session then ended with a gentle cool down before heading back to the YHA. I enjoyed this session far more than the yoga – what I took from this session is that when running it doesn’t matter what you think about, but it’s good to give your brain a task to do. It helps you to be mindful of what your body is telling you too.

There was then lasagna and salad which we all sat down in the main hall to eat, and then later there was a short talk on the use of balance boards and the chance to try them out. The importance of these are that they can help to strengthen the muscles in your feet and can help with the arches.

The rest of the evening was spent talking in the main hall until everyone, one by one, turned in for the night.

Sunday – On the Downs

Today was to be a 6 mile run, so we got up at 6:45 and went for breakfast. Once again I went for crunchy nut cornflakes and tea, but this time decided to also have a banana. Sometimes it’s good to have that little extra fuel before a run.

The weather seemed a little cooler than the day before, but I decided that shorts and t-shirt would still be warm enough. I’m glad I stuck with that decision as by the time we were outside the temperature was comfortable. If I’d ran at my normal pace I’d probably have sweated quite a bit! To start with I ran towards the front of the pack as we went up the hill and stayed near the front as we passed the golf course also. I didn’t want to go full speed as I wanted to enjoy the scenery as much as I could – I even stopped to take photographs every now and then.

Running on the South Downs

After about a mile I noticed my friend had been struggling – I think the combination of her giving blood recently and her ankle injury weren’t the best combination and she’d fallen back a little. At this point I decided that no matter who was at the back of our group I’d be behind them to make sure that if anything happened they’d have someone there. As it was my friend at the back for a portion of this it made it easier for me to stay back – I couldn’t bear to see anything happen to her, and wanted to make sure she’d be okay. She did a great job though – it was a difficult run in the sun, on an uneven surface with many declines and inclines that can’t have been easy on the ankle, but she managed to complete the whole run. I didn’t want to say anything, but I couldn’t have been more pleased for her.

Fairly early on in the run we also passed another running group that I think were called “Run Wednesdays” – they’d seen us at the parkrun the day before (and I’m sure I remember seeing someone from their club there too).

Once back at the hostel we then had a sausage roll (again with a vegetarian option available where needed), and then prepared ourselves to get out of the hostel for 10:00. We did leave a little after this though as it took some time for us all to pack our things and get ready. It was then nice to go down to the seafront for a while and to enjoy the pier and the sea before heading home from an action-packed weekend.

It was a fantastic weekend and well organised by Howard Chambers (@Howard50at50). There was a rough outline of what we could do each day, but nothing was strict – we did what we could, when we could. Everyone could do the runs at whatever pace they wanted and they did a good job of accommodating everyone. It was great to see so many “strangers” (even though a lot of us had spoken on Twitter previously) working together, talking about common interests and just having a great time. Even though I held back considerably on interacting with people I did have a great time and I was so glad that I went. Every person I spoke to was incredibly kind and I thought they were all great. I don’t think I’ll ever have doubts about going to one of these weekends again, and it’s likely I’d go again! I also encourage everyone to try one! I think we all left there with new thoughts about running, inspiration, and new friends.