Berlin Marathon 2018. Everything that can go wrong will go wrong if you underestimate that you are still running 42.195 kilometres.
Short version/General info:
Pros: Fantastic fast course, not a lot of sharp bends so you can really go fast. The route goes through some of the most iconic places around Berlin, crosses the Wall, as well, a few times. Plenty of refuelling stations. Very well organized with info arriving on the day at their app. Hundreds of volunteers to help you. Spacious showers and changing rooms afterwards plus the unlimited (non-alcoholic) beer at the finisher’s village. Lots of big names always participate and you can meet them if you like, either at the expo or at the afterparty. The expo is huge and has a lot of things to do and spend money on (not sure this is a positive). Berlin is a lovely city with lots of historical sites to visit, very good food and everything is easily accessible by means of public transport.
Cons: Too expensive (100 euros). Not always suitable if you are aiming for a time because of crowding, however, the roads are wide enough to overtake. Hydration is a problem as they use really wide plastic cups so you practically have to stop running to drink. Timing is done via shoelace chip and not by a chip on the bib. Support is okay throughout and tremendous towards the Brandenburg Gate.
I have to say in advance this is more of a calendar entry on how the race went for me rather than a detailed race report. I decided to put my name in the ballot for the Berlin Marathon sometime last October, having only done one Marathon prior to that (Manchester). I was hyped as I was running the Athens Authentic Marathon 2 weeks after my entry into the ballot and I wanted to make sure that I kept this self-harm addiction (sorry I was meant to say long distance running) going! So, 6 weeks later I got an email saying that I got a starting number for the 45th Berlin Marathon in September 2018.
Now I want to set the scene for what happened in Berlin. Between my signing up and being on the starting line, I ran two more Marathons. One in Athens (3:49) and one in Rotterdam (3:40). Thus, my secret hope and goal had become to aim for a sub 3:35 and a dream goal of sub 3:30.
I decided to follow a harder training schedule this time. I am using Matt Fitzgerald’s 80-20 running book which has proven to be very helpful in setting up a schedule, etc. So, I went with the top level programme this time, considering myself an “experienced marathoner”. That was mistake number one. I should, by no means, be considered an experienced marathoner. This schedule included 3 x 20 milers, and its peak weeks averaged about 70 miles a week. I never managed to completely stick to any of those two parameters. I injured myself twice during my 4-month training period: once something that felt like a stress fracture on my left leg and I was not able to walk properly for a day or two; and, once some really serious shin splints. This resulted in me doing four 16.5 milers and an 18 miler as my longest runs.
The night before the race, I slept really well and I made my call. I was going to try and break 3:30. Go conservatively the first 2-3 miles, follow an 8-minute mile pace until the halfway mark, then go for a 7:55 until the last three miles and then go all out. And that was mistake number two.
Skip to the starting line, in a 40 thousand long crowd of people ready to run the marathon distance. I had stated my only marathon time at the moment of signing up which was a 4:06 in Manchester, which put me in the second to last pen (about halfway through the crowd). I knew if I was going to go for what I was planning I was going to have to overtake a lot of people. Thankfully the roads were wide enough that this did not prove to be a major issue.
We watched the start of the elites through a big TV screen in the middle of the crowd and the roaring screams that came out of everyone when Eliud Kipchoge stepped up gave me goosebumps. Everybody was discussing it, that he was going to do a WR, and somehow, we all felt a part of that.
The gun went, the elites left at 9:15. Our start was at 9:35 so we sat there and watched the first 5k of the elite race, cheering for Eliud. Now mistake number 3 for me was to get overly excited by all of this and decide that somehow, I could smash my own 3:40 PB and celebrate joining the 3:20something club. In terms of nutrition, I had decided I would be doing an SIS gel every 4 miles and water at miles 6-10-15-20-22.5-25.
When the race started, I indeed, went conservatively for the first two miles, doing an 8:34 and an 8:11-minute mile respectively. From then onwards and until mile 14 I started averaging 8:00 (sticking between 8:02 and 7:55). The course is very flat and offered a great chance of sightseeing around Berlin. You pass around the Reichstag Building, where the Soviets declared victory in WW2, you cross the Spree River a few times on several really pretty 19th-century bridges and you get to see parts of the Berlin Wall. If you decide to do this race, look out on the road for diagonal black brick lines (two bricks wide) with the words Berlin Maurer on them. It is where the Berlin Wall used to be. Kind of asks you to ponder along the road how many great things human beings are capable of (like a marathon) and equally how many terrible things we are capable of as well.
Back to the race, at mile 6 (km 10) I decided to have my first water-stop. That is when I realised that water was delivered in plastic cups. This created two problems: a) the cups were too wide to drink water from, so it splashed in your face mostly and b) the route for 200 metres, after the stops, was wet and littered with plastic cups which make for an ideal slippery surface. I didn’t mind too much as I only needed a few sips, but I did not think of how that would affect my later race. When I got thirstier, by mile 10 I had to slow down to a fast walking pace for 10 seconds in order to get the water down. And this is where the problem started to manifest itself. Not noticing this was mistake number 4. A bit later after that, we heard on the speakers the last 30 seconds of the WR attempt. Everybody who was racing started clapping (even the non-German speakers after asking “did he do it” and finding out the answer, was yes and the time was 2:01).
My water problems happened again in mile 15 which was basically the final nail in the coffin. After that followed an 8:27, an 8:52, an 8:47 and an 8:40 mile which was basically a first mini-wall. If I had the option to drink water from a Camelbak or a bottle at that time I think I would have saved it a bit. However, once again at mile 20, I had to stop and drink and then get going again.
And that is where it happened. In my first marathon, I remember hitting the wall mentally and slowing down to 10-minute miles between miles 18 and 24. However, it was just mental. What I felt this time was nothing like it. This time it was physical. I started getting stomach cramps, which made it impossible to get the gels down (my body got them back out again) and started heading towards collapsing. The last six miles of this race was the toughest thing I have ever ran physically and mentally. I could feel my body giving up, my stride was now a hobble and the pain in my stomach almost brought me to tears.
Up to mile 25, I managed to keep at least jogging, stopping for water when necessary. I did that because I had decided that even if it meant collapsing at the finish line, I would not forgive myself for going above 4 hours.
Knowing my walking pace is around 16 minutes per mile and when I started flailing around and getting blurry vision at mile 25, I decided I was going to start walking. It was the most dreadful feeling in a race ever. I felt I had let myself down, I had let my Club down, the people who came to cheer for me, everyone was going to be disappointed at what I was doing (not gonna pretend I did not get a bit emotional that few minutes).
But suddenly at km 41, I could hear a roar from the distance and I knew the Brandenburg Gate was approaching. Let me just say that finishing under that, is an amazing feeling. Finishing under that when 2 hours ago Eliud Kipchoge has done 2:01:39 is even more amazing. I realised suddenly I was running on that man’s footsteps. I was in the same course that the greatest road runner of our time had just smashed a WR by a whole minute and brought the dream of a sub-2-hour marathon ever closer. That picked me up even more. What gave me the final push was actually seeing the Brandenburg Gate in the distance and hearing a roaring crowd boosting me on. A really nice touch by the organisers at this point was that they had a guy with a microphone reading people’s names from their name tags and especially people who were obviously struggling (uhm, me). 10 meters before the gate I saw my girlfriend with her brother and her best friend cheering for me. I had told them to not come with the crowds just in case something went awfully wrong, but seeing them literally gave me the strength to go and run another 10 miles (okay maybe 3). So I went and gave her a hug and a kiss. They drove 8 hours in the middle of the night on Friday from the Netherlands to Berlin to see me run for 10 seconds in front of them so I felt this was the least I could do. Past the gate and then through the finish line in 3:54:55. My 5k splits until 40 km were: 25:49, 24:47, 25:19, 25:13, 25:46, 27:03, 29:03, 33:42 and the last 2.2 km were done in 18:18.
That is the magnitude of how slow I got towards the end.
However, although I had gone through hell and back in the last few kilometres, I finished quite happy.
I had been reminded that there is a reason it is considered an unforgiving distance and that it is no easy task what you are called to do when you line up at the start. I had run on the footsteps of a world record, I can say I was in that course. And instead of all of this making me sad, it made me humbled. Also, even if the race went really, really bad for me I still want to go and do it again. Just to prove that having learned my lesson, I will not underestimate the distance again and I will learn to plan ahead (and actually read the website for once and check if they do water bottles or cups).
The Great North Run – And The Benefit of Hindsight
Hindsight is a wonderful thing don’t you think? And it was with the benefit of hindsight – I realised quite quickly, yesterday actually – that thinking of running the GNR was extreme folly! Let’s look at the facts – I hadn’t done a serious race since 2017, the Coniston 14 in March. Since then I did the Beer Belly run, a fun run in Consett – 5K of fancy dress mayhem on August Bank Holiday 2017, and a couple of park runs this year. I had to defer my GNR number for last year. So there I was in the late spring this year, my knees had at last started behaving themselves, so I thought, hey, I’ll start training for the GNR. After all I would have paid over £100 for the same number.
So around 2 months of training commenced, basically starting from scratch. My longest run (last weekend) was 9 miles on the Waskerley Way, painfully slow. But I thought, what the Hell, I’ll get round. The plan was to start very slow, and to walk up the hills. Or to do Allan Seheult’s run 5mins walk 2mins plan. I had serious doubts all last week but I thought – what’s the worst that could happen … another black eye?? After all, it was plastered all over the walls of Howtown Outdoor Ed Centre when I was a young teacher “A quitter never wins; a winner never quits”. So no quitter, I thought just do it.
Sunday dawned and I pitched up for the bus. Arriving at the start there was the usual stampede for the toilet cubicles (with many repeat visits!). At first the weather was uncertain – rain or sun? Or both, as it turned out. Eventually, I went to my number area (green) and my ‘pen’ group (i). Kay Cairns was there along with a few new Striders. It was a long wait with rain, then sun, then more rain … and the Red Arrows. It took around 35 minutes of walking to cross the start line, mostly walking. And then we were off. I didn’t even start my watch but I realised pretty quickly that my ‘start slow’ plan wasn’t working. On the Tyne Bridge I spotted that my number/pen group were following the pace flags for 2h25 and 2h 35 – surprisingly close to each other. I was thinking about 3hours (pathetic I know!) but realistic. So I slowed down and after the Tyne Bridge walked up to the Felling Bypass. By then, Mo would approaching the last mile and a sub hour victory!
So far so good. It was warming up and I got to Heworth ok with the run/walk plan. It was when I got to Whitemare Pool that things began to unravel. I was hot and I was starting to feel achy. I thought it was the beginning of cramp. Very soon just about everything below the waist began to tighten up and ache. By then I was walking. I trotted into a St John’s Ambulance tent and explained that I thought I was cramping up and could I have a painkiller? “Oh no” they said, “ We couldn’t possibly give you Ibuprofen!”. “To protect my kidneys?” I asked. (You see I do listen Paul Evans!!). “That’s right”, they said. So they applied something topically to my legs and lower back. I have no idea what it was, there was no smell and it could well have been a placebo, but it did seem to work, for a short while. They also gave me an electrolyte drink and sent me on my way. By the time I got to the John Reid Road and around 8 miles I was struggling. My legs really hurt and running was just so painful. So walking and the odd period of jogging ensued for the rest of the way. I’d had lots of spectators shouting encouragement and calling out my name. And around 9 miles I heard “Pam Kirkup, Elvet Striders, what are you doing back here? Get a bloody move on”! I have no idea who it was but it was both flattering and encouraging but also a little bit disheartening. I knew I could do much better. By the time I got to 10 miles I began to think ‘no this is not cramp it’s just extreme muscle fatigue’. I kind of imagined my legs screaming out at me “No! Enough already! What are you playing at? We’re not prepared for this”. And if muscles could speak they would have been right. My training had been minimal and I just didn’t have the stamina or the endurance to get around without causing this level of pain and discomfort.
When I got to the horrible hill at mile 11 I looked around me and thought, ‘Yes I’ve found my level’. Nobody was running – young, old, slim, overweight – everyone was walking. And then we got to the Elvis Impersonator at the top of the hill. I didn’t actually see him but the song ‘King Creole’ was belting out. The last time I ran the GNR his song was ‘The Wonder of You’ which, in my case, would have been somewhat ironic this year!
I had hoped to run down the hill to Marsden and along the last mile to the finish but by then my legs had seriously gone. I managed a few hundred yards but then I realised I was wobbling so much that walking was the best I could do. I did think they might give way but I got to the finish and then lurched off to the baggage bus for my stuff.
I got to the pub after a very slow walk – mainly the crowds –to Bents Park and then up the hill to the Look Out. I’m not a beer drinker but I have to say, the restorative powers of a pint of lager are amazing. By the time we left the leg wobble had gone and the pain was receding.
Positives – at least I finished even though it was tempting to jump on one of the hoppers taking struggling runners to the finish; I managed to avoid the burly nutters and thugs so wasn’t pushed over and no black eye; I have recovered quite quickly – no pain today; and it hasn’t put me off. It’s just made me realise I have to do much more consistent training for such a race. Maybe I should do a few 10Ks and build up. From nothing to a half marathon like the GNR is probably foolish – with the benefit of hindsight!
Vale of York Half Marathon was my first race at this distance back in 2015 and I loved the event, so wanted to pay it another visit. It’s based out of the aero club near Sherburn-in-Elmet (between Leeds and Selby), so it’s a bit of a drive to get to (about 1 hour 30 minutes from Durham), but not outrageous for a half marathon. I’d arranged to give a lift to David Browbank and Georgie Hebdon, partly to be a bit greener and partly to have company on the drive. It was a smooth journey down the A1 as one might expect for early on a Sunday morning, only punctuated by the seemingly never-ending road works in two places. Sherburn in Elmet is only 10 minutes or so off the A1, so really easy to get to.
We knew that the road to the car park was also part of the race route and the access was being closed at 9am, so setting off at 6:40am to get there just after 8am seemed like enough contingency for any travel problems; it was plenty. As we arrived, we chuckled at the apparently over-zealous marshalling in the car park as we headed over to the portaloos and registration (in that order, got to get your priorities straight). We were early enough that both queues were limited and the loos were still in a decent state, so there was an added benefit to being early.
For some reason, the aero club seemed to be a centre for the local wasp population, so once the car park entrance was closed and the announcement went up to head over to the start we trotted over to shake them off and made use of the runway for the rest of our warm-up. Conditions were cloudy and reasonably mild (mid to high teens celsius) but breezy; looking back, we had much better overall conditions than the Great North Run competitors were “enjoying” that morning. The start was scheduled for 9:30am but was delayed for about 10 minutes for people arriving late at the start. After a couple of short announcements, we were off.
The course was slightly modified for this year but started in a similar way to my previous experience – we went most of the length of the runway and looped back before following the aero club roads out onto the surrounding lanes. I set off at 8 minute mile pace as that was my plan and what I intended to hold for the first half of the race. Once I’d settled into my pace, I switched to keeping tabs on my heart rate, since I know from experience how best to manage my effort through the race.
One of the big attractions of the course is that it’s almost completely flat. There’s one rise in the form of a bridge over the railway line which we reached just after 3 miles and appears again on the return. I eased off the pace coming up the slope and picked up a little coming down the other side before settling back into my pace.
The camber of the roads is, shall we say, interesting. In places they’re pretty flat, in others they distinctly roll off to one side or another, so at times I had to pick my line carefully to avoid running across the slope. The beauty of the smaller field (limit of 2,000) meant that after the first couple of miles it was possible to pick whatever line I wanted.
After the railway bridge, there was a stretch through Bishop Woods, which was also where the first water station was set up. The road continued along to a crossroads shortly after 5 miles where a left turn started the loop of the lollipop-shaped course. Just after taking the turn I started on my fuelling – jelly babies – which I know I benefit from and have tried in training before. I find them less uncomfortable on my stomach than gels.
I’ve heard people describe the course as dull, but I think the area’s very attractive, with lots of open countryside, occasional housing and some variety to the views. A lot of the people who live in the area come out to watch the race and support the runners, some at junctions & turns, some at the ends of their drives. It’s a welcome boost all round the course.
Just after the second water station, about halfway round the loop, I started to pick up the pace a little – about 7:50 per mile, sticking to the plan – which lasted until about the end of mile 8, when the wheels started to come off. My legs were numb and I had to ease my pace off to around 8:20 per mile just to keep my heart rate in check; I knew that if I tried to push on at the pace I wanted I would blow up way before the finish, and I had a feeling that breeze was going to play a bigger part towards the end. I gritted my teeth and concentrated on plugging on, keeping my heart rate progression where I wanted it. Over the next 3 miles or so, I managed to keep up at between 8:10 and 8:20 pace, ignoring the last water station in the woods and measuring my effort over the bridge – easing on the climb and accelerating downhill again.
That breeze I mentioned had mostly been at our backs, cross-winds or sheltered in places by the wood or the hedges. As we turned back along Bishopdyke Road, just after 11 miles, it was full in our faces and a fair bit stronger than it had been on the way out. There was still two miles to go, no prospect of shelter from the wind and dead legs. This was purgatory. Even turning a 90 degree left turn towards the aero club at 12 miles didn’t seem to help. Nothing for it but to focus on trying to keep form and cadence, dig deeper and just get to the finish. It was great to get shout outs from faster Striders who’d already finished, like Chris Callan, and other Strider supporters on the run in. From my previous running of the course, I knew where the finish was so I was able to time my final effort. I hadn’t used any of my fast-twitch fibres up to that point, so managed a respectable kick over the last hundred metres or so, but that was my lot. I left everything out on the course and that’s all I could ask of myself.
If I’d managed to pull off what I’d intended in my planning, I would have achieved a PB compared to Sunderland 2017. As it was, I came in 2 minutes slower at 1:46:55 (chip time), but beating my previous time on this course by 3 minutes. I could try to blame the wind, but I reckon it only took about 40 seconds out of me over those last two miles. The truth is that my training wasn’t enough to support my aspiration. The important thing is I’m going to take the experience and see how I can adapt my training to achieve it next time.
Georgie was already back (a long time before me!) and David was right behind me – I was still trying to stand upright without feeling like I was going to fall over when he emerged from the goody-bag distribution. Some of the other Striders arrived too, including Simon, Stephen J & Vics and Steph. We had a chat about the race and watched the prize-giving, proudly cheering Stephen collect his prize for 3rd male. By this point, we’d cooled down and agreed it would be a good idea to be ready to escape the car park once they re-opened it. We knew the access was being shared with the race route, so might need to be patient.
From where we sat in the exit queue, we couldn’t see what was happening but the shouty marshals who were there when we arrived were curiously absent. Eventually there were signs of movement but mostly behind us rather than ahead as people bolted for a different exit. We eventually decided that was the better option and joined them. Once we were out, it was a smooth run back home.
The following day there was an email from the organisers which explained what had happened and why the start and parking arrangements were different to previous years. In short, they’d been denied access to a piece of land they had previously used and the aero club had stepped in at the last minute, which allowed the race to go ahead. The exit arrangements were always going to be a challenge, but were compounded by someone ignoring the road closure and then getting their car & trailer stuck in the entrance gate. The organisers have promised to learn from this year’s arrangements and improve them for future years, and I’m fully confident that they will.
Apart from the parking problems, which for us were only a minor niggle, the only downside with hindsight was that none of us thought to organise a Striders group photo before the start. I’ve tracked down some excellent photos from John Ashton, amongst which I humbly submit my own Race Face and Flying Feet nomination for this year.
I’m told the course has a lot in common with the Brass Monkey – mostly flat, one bridge, a loop to turn, a common start & finish. Perhaps with the right adjustments to my training over the next few months, that might be where I could try again to recover those lost minutes. Before I get carried away I’ll see if I can get an entry first!
Trails and Tribulations – How to be a Very Amateur Athlete
Since joining Striders 3 years ago and getting in to this running lark, I have often questioned my self as to whether I am an athlete or not.
I am often the recipient of letters and emails from various sporting organisations addressed to ‘Dear athlete’, and note on race applications and results lists, that athletes are participating in the same event as my self. But the fact is I just don’t see myself as one of the tribe.
A definition I have found describes an athlete as:
A person who is proficient in sports and other forms of physical exercise
However, my experiences this year whilst preparing for and taking part in races hardly demonstrates proficiency in sport, and in reality is more like a long list of complete cock-ups. Having said that, I think with the Vale of York Half Marathon, I am starting to crack it and may be on my way the being a proper athlete. I will now try and explain:
For me, an athlete must have a six pack, muscles in the right places, a square jaw and absence of numerous chins, look the part with all the right gear, and demonstrate excellence in their chosen sport. This goes back to my youth when sporting athletic hero’s looked the part and delivered. People like Brendan Foster, Linford Christie, Sally Gunnell, Kelly Holmes and Alf Tupper were in their prime, and achieving sporting greatness, and are the role models on which I measure what an athlete should be.
I conversely don’t fit in to that mould.
Firstly, my body has a bit of wear and tear, consisting of a series of sporting and work related injuries, held together primarily by scar tissue and lumpy bits. Getting out of bed in a morning, any form of sudden movement, or just walking the short distance from the bed to the loo, is always accompanied by a soft ‘Oooooh’ or “Argghhhhh’ as I manage the aches and pains and delicately try to get things moving. Once I get going, I’m fine, but the getting going gets harder with age.
Secondly, my list of athletic achievements remains short. Admittedly, I was a joint winner at the Maltby Church School wheelbarrow race (1973). I competed in the Inter-house schools cross country (1981), finishing around the back of the field limping in and ending up in hospital having 3 stitches after falling over in the mud at Roche Abbey. I completed the Raby 10k and was awarded a prize, but could not collect it as it was for 3rd finisher in the W60 section having taken a hand me down entry off a friend. I was 32 at the time.
Quite simply, I could not see myself as either athletic or an athlete.
However, things changed a little at the beginning of the year when I retired from work. With more time to focus on training I vowed to improve my running and compete more effectively in races, working to more of my strengths to help improve my fitness.
With very dodgy knees, which are painful in a morning and after longer distance runs, I simply could not risk increasing running mileage. Therefore in addition to the usual weekly runs, I focused on working very hard in spinning classes, 2 sometimes 3 times a week, and cycling in general. This helped me enormously, both aerobically and strength wise, and helped feed my competitive urge when I started to see some improvements.
A failure on my part was not to have a training plan as such. In my mind, if I worked harder, then there should be some improvement. However, as a training aid I have bought a Garmin Run / cycle / swim watch, which I have to admit is brilliant. Apart from trying to run a route, which writes my name on the Garmin Mapping Package, the advantages of the Garmin are many fold. I now know what different running paces feel like rather than second guessing, I can see performance improvement in the stats, I can see what times mates have run and rub it in that they should be faster than me by virtue of age.
In December last year, with little specific training I completed a half marathon for the first time in around 25 years in Sunderland. It killed me, and post race I could hardly walk around, with stiff legs, hips and other bits. However, I had set a marker PB, which I vowed to beat when I next competed in a similar race at some point in 2018, and the VOY Half Marathon was my target.
In the meantime, I had to do more races leading up to VOY to iron out how to do it properly, with out messing up. With that in mind, I have learnt some interesting lessons through competition:
1) Pre Race Food
Running magazines, wise wisdom and other top tips seem to advise that Carb loading is a good idea the night before a race, with a nice pasta dish being a meal of choice.
That’s all well and good, but I have a great recipe for a Chilli and baked bean sausage casserole, which I made the night before the Trail Outlaws Penshaw Monument half Marathon. As hills were expected in this race, I washed the meal down with a bottle of Wainwrights Beer.
The problems started at about 3am with some stomach gurgling.
Having taken appropriate measures I was ok until the moment 20 minutes before the race when I had a distinct need to complete a 100m dash to the toilets. I was pre prepared having taken a role of Andrex™ Best from home, but the main issues was not my ablutions, but the fact I fell off the toilet as the screws holding it to the floor came away and tipped me off. Unbeknown to me, the plumbing from the cistern was now detached, from the toilet, so when I flushed the loo, 10 gallons of water flooded the men’s toilet block. I managed to do some plumbing repairs,, but the cubicle was a mess. I’m sorry if this affected anyone at the time, but I did report it, and it wasn’t my fault, but it was a lesson learned, make sure you eat the right food before a race.
2) Pre Race Ablutions (and Post race ablutions)
The motto is be prepared, and go regularly so that the system is clear.
I thought it was clear on the Gateshead trail 10K at Blaydon, but about a quarter of the way around I had that stomach gurgling again. Whether this was pre race nerves affecting my system or what I’m not sure. The effect was that as the race went on I was running with very tense muscles, and was very close to making a dash to some tree cover to seek relief. Counting down the last kilometres was desperate. However, I eventually managed to get over the line, grabbed my medal and continued at 4-minute mile pace to the toilet cubicles.
That was another lesson learned on my way to being an athlete.
This is a real problem for me. Not the fact that I need to take water on board, but how to take water on board at water stations. Race organisers seem to think up different innovative ways to soak me rather than feed water in.
a) Paper cup – Water split all over the place and trying to drink whilst on the move always ends up with water splashing dribbling down the side of my face
b) Water Bottles – Always seem too big, can’t find the opening and I have to tilt my head back, missing my mouth and again dribbling water all over the place
c) Water pouches – As used at the Durham 10k. This was a real hard one to master, as I simply could not get the water out whilst running, so gave the damn thing a really good squeeze, resulting in a jet of water in the face and up my nose, missing my mouth completely.
My agreed approach now is that I simply don’t care, and as long as I take water on board, I’m happy.
4) Jelly Babies and other race nutrients
Race organisers like to give out nutritional treats at feeding stations, particularly Jelly babies, which in the right circumstances are great.
Personally, I bite the heads off and chew them, but the dilemma is how many do you take from the box,? And can you select the red berry ones, and ditch the green ones without losing time?
At a Trail Outlaws race I just grabbed a handful as I passed the feeding station, but had too many to eat at once with out feeling sick. Rather than chucking to them away, I decided to keep a few back, only for them to create a horrible sweaty and sticky goo in my hand.
Is it race etiquette to grab a handful, or just take a few selected ones to nibble at?
I have not worked this one out yet, so it’s work in progress..
5) Race Strategy
I’m always being given helpful advice on race strategy. Whether that relates to the pace for the race, (start out slower and finish faster; start out faster and finish slower; just hang in there for grim death), or make sure you get near the front at the start.
The reality is that I fail on race strategy on the day, other than by adopting an approach that I must beat Runner X to the finish line. Runner X being a friend from the dark side, otherwise known as Durham City Harriers.
So far it’s 2 all on the races we have caught up with each other, with me taking the 10k races, and him the half marathons. I tend to start fast and gain a lead, then he gets me as a die close to the finish line
I need some coaching on race strategy.
This is a completely new concept to participation in sport, both in training and at events.
It never ceases to amaze me that so many photo opportunities exist. The only problem I have, is that I have a great face for radio.
From photos I’ve seen, I seem to manage to pull a tremendous gurning race face, look like a burglars bull dog chewing a wasp, or generally look half dead, even when I’m stationary and not even started the run.
Once I’m up and running, strategically placed photographers always manage to capture me looking as if I’m in the mid throws of collapse, or dealing with trapped wind.
A recent article in Runners World stressed the virtues and benefits of running with a smile, and the evidence of this is everywhere in photos of others, happily running with a happy carefree smile and striking new PBs.
I’m just going to have to smile more when running in order to achieve my goals.
With these observations in mind, I made my way to Sherburn In Elmet for the VOY, with a view of trying to get a new PB for the distance.
On arrival, the first thing to notice at the race start, was the total absence of Crocodiles, Father Christmases, Dinosaurs, Hen & Stag parties and runners carry fridges on their backs.
What was obvious was the number of club runners sporting their club vests. A smattering of north eastern clubs were represented, but I guess the GNR drew in many from our region. However, the race was dominated by clubs from Yorkshire, such as Steel City Striders, Grimthorpe Harriers, and Royston Vasey ACC. With the promise of a flat fast paced course, the race had clearly attracted many runners intent on going for a good time or PB.
Getting to the start was simple. The only local celebrity available to start the race was the Mayor of Selby, who thanked everyone for coming and set off the race with his air horn.
I’m pleased to say the execution of my plans went well:-
1) Pre race food
Pasta, and no negative after effects.
2) Pre Race Ablutions
Got to the start in good time, and completed without issue.
No problems, I just saved the hassle by pouring it over my head.
4) Jelly Babies
5) Race Strategy
Got near the front at the start.
I went out far too fast, died at 8 miles as I turned in to the wind, but managed to keep things going and got over the line in a new PB.
Runner X got to the finish line 11 seconds ahead of me after a last ditch overtake, and that’s not got to happen next time.
Having said that I had the moral victory as he is 10 years younger than me, but I wasn’t able to articulate that well to him after the race, plus he wasn’t listening.
Smiled all the way around, with evidence from the event photo gallery.
Its fair to say that I have learnt my lessons, shown improvement and despite several previous mishaps, have become a little more proficient in this chosen sport. If that makes me an athlete, then I am a happy runner, and role on the XC season.
A small group of Striders (Paul, Geoff, Mike and myself, with Mum (Jan) supporting) headed over to Sedbergh for this GP race. The forecast was for rain/drizzle, with very poor visibility. I hadn’t run this before, so I’d recced the route a couple of times in similar conditions, and had my checkpoint split times and bearings prepared so I didn’t have to think too hard mid-race.
After the usual pre-race warning about kit, compass and a cut-off time at check 3, we were off. The race has a gruelling start climbing up to Arant Haw (check 1), and to spice things up the cloud base was very low – at times reducing visibility to a few yards (except for the finish, I think we only emerged from it once).
After check 1, a lot more climbing, descending….repeat. The last few miles is a glorious descent from the Calf (via the ‘bump’ that is Winder) which in good visibility is fabulous running. In the race, I was just focussed on staying on the grassy path in this section, aware of wraith-like runners around me in the mist.
I felt like I executed my race plan well – I used my bearings, checked my map, stuck to the route (from what I could tell) and finished just within planned time. It was great to see Mum at checks 1 and 5, peering through the mist looking out for us all – and joking aside, the mist was so dense we really could hear her before we saw her, chatting to the hardy souls at the checkpoints.
Paul had a great run – as well as his fitness, I think his experience of the course showed. Despite the three of them sprinting away from me at the start, Mike then caught and passed me at check 2, and Geoff caught and passed me twice (yes, twice) at check 2 and check 5. It seems they both ‘strayed’ from the optimum race route and I suspect ran more miles than the race advertises! Perhaps at 57p/mile they didn’t think they were getting VFM. Different conditions on the day and this would be an entirely different race. As well as a number of DNF, there were a few tumbles – with poor Mike cracking his ribs (and then having to drive us home too….thank you, get well soon!)
This is without doubt one of the toughest races I have done up to now – brutal climbs, steep (some un-runnable) descents, sections with no ‘escape route’, ankle-straining gradient on what look like flatter sections, and pathless wilderness between checks 3 and 4. Not to mention the weather conditions. For me, this was much harder than Swaledale or the Yomp – I’m not used to so much climbing, and I know I need to get stronger on the hills.
The pluses – all of the above 🙂! And a well organised race, the beauty of the Howgills (weather permitting), and plenty of friendly, like-minded folks to enjoy it with. Oh, and hot showers at the end at the People’s Hall – what more do you need?
Despite it being tough (or because it was?)….I loved it. Even when my legs were screaming at me to stop. Fabulous race and strongly recommended.
If you are thinking about giving this one a go, I suggest do your homework, test yourself (legs and navigation), recce, recce, recce, and be prepared for anything the weather can throw at you.
So the previous Saturday I’d timed out at Borrowdale Fell Race. On Tuesday, after a few days of rest (I was on holiday after all) and cursing my:
a) navigation mistake; and,
b) my climbing ability,
I decided to go out for a run-up and down Skiddaw – as you do.
On Wednesday evening, after a day exploring Ambleside and Grasmere, I dropped my wife and daughter off at the Kings Head Inn at Thirlspot and headed back to Steel Head Farm for the Steel Fell Race.
This is a tough little 3-mile race which takes you up to the summit of Steel Fell turn around and run back to the finish. I parked up, registered, then went back to the car to get changed. It was then that I realised I’d forgotten my Striders vest, and more importantly, my fell shoes!
If there’s a race where you need grip, this is it. I had my Adidas Kanidia’s which have a fairly aggressive sole but nothing in the way of the Walshes or Inov-8’s. And I had a tech t-shirt but, as you can imagine, I looked a bit like a fish out of water surrounded, once again, by the fell running skeletons of the Lake District’s clubs.
This is a peculiar race. There’s no entry fee, no kit check and there are no prizes, but it’s seriously competitive with just over 100 runners taking part. On the stroke of 7:30 pm, we were off, up the path for a gentle warm-up run before turning sharply onto the slopes of Steel Fell.
Once more my I found myself head down, hands on knees marching upwards. This time though, I was holding my place, breathing well and seemingly feeling good, but 1.5 miles of solid climbing takes its time.
Eventually, the climb starts to shallow a little but as I look up, I see the first placed runner, Keswick’s Carl Bell, making his way back down. He’s phenomenally quick. I look at my watch which confirms this. I’ve been climbing for over 12 minutes; he’s on his way back down. This is why he was one of Killian Jornet’s pacers for his record-breaking Bob Graham Round, although he narrowly missed out on a win at Borrowdale Fell Race, being beaten, by only 5 seconds, in a sprint finish from a rejuvenated Ricky Lightfoot.
Anyway, back to my race, and with the vertical now shallow enough to stand up straight and run, I made my way to the summit turn-around point. I managed to grab a few places from those that were still recovering from the climb whilst trying not to get in the way of the returning front-runners.
Once at the summit, it was all-systems-go to get back to the finish as quickly as possible. The runoff across the plateau is just shy of half a mile, climb a fence then onto the steep slope back to the finish field. It is here that makes or breaks the race, and my usual confidence and exuberance on the downhills was gone with the worry of the grip of my replacement shoes.
A heavy downpour earlier in the day had made the slopes greasy, so I was worried that if I let fly, I’d end up coming down in a very unconventional manner but one that’s not uncommon – on my arse!
Normally, I’d take places on a downhill, but today I was losing them which was really annoying but I kept going as fast as I could and eventually reached the gate to the road for the final few hundred metres of running to the finish. With legs of jelly, I put in everything I had to hold my place and not get caught in the final straight.
I finished in 87th place, in 34:20mins, just shy of a minute slower than last year but feeling much better and considering my exertions the previous days, I was very happy with that time. Looking at my Strava data I was also surprised to find that I’d actually descended faster than the previous year despite the lack of proper footwear, so I just need to work on getting up the hills faster and I’ll probably become a better fell runner.
I never really got into running to be fast or win races – I’m far too slow for that. What I do love is an adventure which is why I very rarely venture out onto the roads. I love the trails and the freedom you have to explore and go at your own pace and often your own way. But it’s this freedom to choose your own way that got me into a bit of a pickle within the last few miles of Borrowdale Fell Race.
Borrowdale is one of the classic long Lake District fell races and the race that inspired me to take up fell and trail running. In the start field just off the main road in the village of Rosthwaite deep in the Borrowdale valley, I stood waiting patiently for the start of the race. Around me, as per usual, are the skeleton-like bodies of the local fell runners. There’s also the stars of the genre gathered – Ricky Lightfoot, Carl Bell, Nicky Spinks and Jasmine Paris to name but a few.
The route is approximately 17 miles and totals around 2000 metres of climbing across some of England’s roughest terrain and its highest peak, Scafell Pike. With kit checked, the 250 plus runners shuffled forward, and following a short word from the race director, we were off.
I took up my place towards the back of the field, keen to take it easy along the valley and through the farms before the tough climbs begin. The field stretched out before me in a long line, the front runners making the most of the shallow incline and single-track to make progress on the rest of the pack.
Before long the route takes a sudden and sharp turn beyond a gate which is, once again, being held open by fell running legend and Borrowdale resident, Billy Bland. From here it’s a head down, hands on knees march up the incredibly steep slope to the first peak and checkpoint at BessyBoot.
I take my time as my biggest weakness is climbing; I just haven’t got the lungs for it. But this is a race and there’s a balance to be had between taking your time and beating the cut-offs which are strictly enforced.
Although my progress is slow, I’m still moving well but I’ve lost a lot of ground on other runners who I’ve come to recognise in these races. The summit of BessyBoot seems to take an age to reach, but once there I check-in then make my way off to try and catch up some of the ground lost on the climb.
The next section is a roller coaster of ups and downs. It’s surprisingly boggy in parts given how dry it’s been but nothing like in previous years where there was a real danger of being sucked in up to your waist. The route skirts around the back of Rosthwaite Fell and under the peak of Glaramara, the steep slopes of Stonethwaite Fell add to the jeopardy of a misplaced step to my left.
I’d forgotten just how long and tough this section can be, my breathing is heavy and legs are working hard to keep up any kind of pace. The sun is beating down but over to the north across the summits of the Gables, there’s a thick mist hanging ominously.
Soon, I reach the col around Allen Crag and pick up the path to the second checkpoint at Esk Hause. From here you join the hoards of walkers making their way to the summit of Scafell Pike. But fell running is about efficiency and direct lines so the most direct route took me off the well-worn path and straight up across more rocky ground that cuts out a more commonly used path from Great End to Broad Crag.
The previous weekend I’d been here supporting a Bob Graham round. The weather was foul and with almost no visibility and winds that forced us to stop and sit for moments, it had been a tough slog. Today was the total opposite, with blue skies, warm temperatures and good visibility all around.
I made the most of this and was happy to be making my way over the boulder field towards Scafell. There’s a steep drop then a solid climb to the summit but I was moving well and was relieved to finally reach the summit checkpoint which was teaming with walkers. There were glorious views to be had but that mist still hung ominously over the Gables. From here the real fun part of the race begins – the direct drop down the scree slope to the Corridor route.
As fun as it is, it’s still incredibly tough and quite dangerous, not so much to me, but to those below and the danger of dislodging rocks that could roll down onto them. Once at the bottom, I took the time to empty my shoes which had filled with stones on the descent. Whilst doing so, I was struck with cramp in my right calf trying to get my shoe back on. This was not good and set me back a little.
Once I’d recovered I began my quest to get to the next checkpoint at Styhead Tarn as quickly as possible. Here is the first point where you can be timed out. The problem with this one is that you’re still at around 500 metres above sea level and around 2 miles of rough ground from the nearest road so it’s not a good place to be dragged off the course.
Taking the runners line off the Corridor route, I eventually made it to the checkpoint, grabbed a few jelly babies form the marshal and set off for the steep and unrelenting climb to the summit of Great Gable. I was still moving well but fully aware that I was pressed for time.
I was now in the cloud that had been hanging over the Gables for most of the day. It was cold and damp and a stark contrast to the warmth and sun I’d enjoyed in the start of the race. Once again my weakness in climbing was laid bare as runners around me started to pull away but I knew that if I just kept going I’d be ok.
Eventually, after what seemed an age, I reached the summit and the checkpoint, dibbed my dabber and made off. The mist was thick and visibility was very low. My glasses were covered in dew which made seeing quite difficult. I was on my own now, I couldn’t see anyone else, runners or walkers, but knew where I was heading, down and back up Windy Gap and skirting below Green Gable and on towards Brandreth. From here it’s across open ground to Grey Knotts to cut through for a direct descent to Honister Slate mine.
Sounds easy, it is easy, but the thick mist and my increasing fatigue played a trick on me and instead of taking the path that would have led to the right of Grey Knott, I took the line that swung me out left. As I ran I got the feeling something wasn’t right. I stopped and checked the map but because of the lack of visibility, I was unsure as to exactly where I was so I pressed on.
Descending out of the mist it became apparent I was on the wrong side of the peak. I’d gone too far to turn back and knew that I had to keep moving forward as I was now seriously under pressure to reach the last checkpoint before the cut-off.
Cursing my mistake, I made the descent off the high ground down the grassy slopes. To my left, there was the path that led back down to the slate mine, but I choose to keep moving right and try and get back on to the more direct line that I should have been on. Eventually, I made it back on track but knew that I was probably too late to continue beyond the checkpoint.
Once at Honister, I marched up to the marshal who informed me that my race was over. I’d missed the cut-off by 5 minutes. I was gutted but not surprised. I’d been running tight to the cut-offs and my navigation mistake cost me what time I did have. After around five minutes I was given a lift back to the finish where I handing in my race number and dibber.
I’ve never been timed out in a race before so it was a strange feeling but one that I have to accept. Had it not been for that simple mistake I’d have gotten around, probably last, but finished none the less. But this is why I love the trails, there’s a sense of adventure and jeopardy. Part of the race was bathed in sunshine and glorious views, the other half thick mist and cold temperatures. I’ll be back next year with the aim of being more competitive – but then again, I said that that last time I ran this race and ended up doing worse!