Tuesday, 27 July 2010

The Seaview 17

My friend Dave posted an announcement on our club discussion board describing a great trail race in Devon - the Seaview 17 - 17 miles if you can fly, 20.5 if you're on foot.  The race description included helpful tips like:

Take some sustenance and a deep breath here as looming above you is the long climb to Selworthy Beacon which will take every ache in your body and double it.
So, what's not to like?  Normally, I would jump at a chance to test myself against a tough course in a beautiful part of the country.  But, right now I'm deep in training for a fast run in the Amsterdam Marathon, so I've got to spend a few Sunday mornings on the roads, getting used to maintaining a steady pace.  So, I left the web page open to return to after a little more thought. 

After a little more thought, I declined the offer and continued to plan my race-pace training run.  But, the best laid plans of mice and men are often over-ruled by our nearest and dearest.  I had forgotten to close web page, and Nic saw the race description.  Nic loves the North Devon coastline, and we haven't been down there for a few years.  So, with only a little effort, she convinced me to go and enjoy the trail, taking a fairly relaxed pace, and move my race-pace run to the next weekend.

We found a nice campground in Exmoor National Park, about 30 minutes from the race HQ for Saturday night.  Since I've never been camping before (shocking! I blame the parents...), it was a bit of an adventure.  After joining the queues on the motorway (first weekend of the school holidays), we enjoyed a tranquil evening and a fabulous meal at The Royal Oak in Winsford. 

The intrepid campers prepare for a peaceful night at Halse Farm Campsite.
On Sunday, we got up, packed up the dewey tent, and headed to Minehead - just in time for me to collect my race number and jump on the bus to the starting point, near Lynton.  As we headed into the hills, low, concerned voices began to ask, "how will we see the trail, much less the markers?!"

This may be The Blue Ball Inn near the start.  It'ss hard to say, as I was a full 30 feet away...
You see, it can be a bit misty on Exmoor.  So, although it wasn't too cold, it was touch-and-go whether the cloud we were in would burn off or turn to rain.  Having nearly frozen on the South Coast, I decided to be cautious and chose the short sleeves instead of the vest.  After all, this would be a nice easy run.

Where's the sea view?

At the horn, we quickly trotted 10 metres and then waited for everyone to join the single-file track.  Those with ambition, like Dave, sprinted off down the trail.  The rest of us filtered in and went at whatever pace the person in front could manage.  So, I had a slow and easy 3 miles of warm-up, passing where there was space and jogging along where there wasn't.  I didn't feel any need to hurry, since I hadn't run 20 miles since the 3 Forts in May.  I knew there would be time and space to tire myself out later on.  During much of this time, I was actually happy to have a mist to keep me from enjoying the views.  At times the track was quite technical, so a glance at a stunning sea view might have quickly turned into a snail's-eye view of the trail-side bushes (some of them a fair way below the trail). 

At about 5 miles, the mist rose just enough to confirm that I did have the sea on the correct side. The course rose and fell enjoyably, with a nice steep track down to Portlock, the lowest point on the race.  We joined the pebble beach/sea-wall for a short distance and then passed through the fields to the foot of Selworthy Beacon.

The rather large pebbles at Portlock
The pebble beach looked much worse than it felt, but I wouldn't have wanted to run it in a hurry!

The long, slow, hot, slow climb (slow) up Selworthy Beacon
I'd spent a bit of race-prep time looking at the big climb on the topographic map, so I knew it would be evil.  Preparation is one thing, but execution is another...  I kept my heart rate down as I hiked up the hill, so I wasn't exhausted at the top.  Unfortunately, my calves were in rebellion - they didn't get much of a break even though the heart and lungs did.  So, with 5-6 miles left to go, I shuffled along the top of the ridge until the legs started to relax enough to break back into a run.  Any pretence of speed was killed by the hill, but I still hoped to pick up some pace on the descent into Minehead. 

As I headed down the final hill, I realized the switch-backs would be too short to allow any good running and eased down to the beachfront.  I checked my Garmin and was relieved to note that I only had a mile or so left.  As I approached the finish, I heard Dave cheering me on.  I checked his result (8th!).  He had done well, but added a little extra with a wrong turn.  I misunderstood, and thought the course was longer than expected, and my heart sank.  I only had enough oomph left for another few hundred yards, not another mile!  I struggled through the chewed-up ground near the cricket club, rounded the fence, and ran in the final 200 yards to the finish.  I was spent! 

A shower, followed by fish & chips on the seafront, helped revive me enough to decide that, on balance, this was a good race.  The organization was great.  The route was a mental and physical challenge, and the finish in the cricket club featured some nice tea and cakes.  What more could a runner want for a nice day out at the seaside?

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Short and to the Point - Man vs Bicycle

On my recent holiday to the Georgia Appalachians, I had the opportunity to properly test my hypothesis that a cyclist climbing a mountain on the handy switchback roads is not going to reach the top as quickly as a runner on a slightly straighter trail.  The venue was Brasstown Bald - Georgia's highest peak.

For a few years, my dad has forged an annual battle with the Bald.  He spends a week or so getting used to the mountains and then does a one-man time trial from the base of the climb to the scenic car park below the observation area (2.4 miles, 1890ft).  Last year, Nic and I joined him on his attack - we hiked the nearby trail that tops out on a minor peak and then descends to the car park (1.9 miles).  All the way up, I thought, "this is nearly runnable".  Especially for the gentle drop from the peak to the end.  So, this year, I challenged Dad to a race, fairly sure that it would be close enough for some good family rivalry - he's been in top form in his racing, and I've never been running stronger.  After a good deal of needle, and the promise to Nic that I wouldn't race back down the fairly treacherous slope afterwards, we set out on the challenge.

Although the distances are different, the challenge is pretty equal.  The trail is shorter, but includes some stretches that run between 30% and 50% grade climbs.  The road is longer, and requires pushing a bike, but is steadier with gradients generally ranging between 10-16%, with a short evil stretch of 24%.  Given all that, I figured the winner would be the one in better shape for his sport.

The race started, and within seconds I was already above Dad and his road.  From then on, I was never at a lower elevation than the road.  The first quarter mile was about as horrible as I remembered it, but manageable.  Then, a short runnable ascent followed by a steep, tight switchback.  My heart rate topped out in the low 170s (about 10bpm lower than I'd expected), and I could tell it wasn't going to get any better.  Occasional 5-10 second stops for recovery became necessary, and I had to give up all hope of running.  The steep part was lasting a lot longer than I'd remembered.  I looked at my watch and took my phone out to send Dad a message - I wasn't injured, just very slow.  I knew at 25 minutes that I wasn't going to beat him, and that he'd have a bit of a wait on his hands.  Finally, after around 1.5 miles, I peaked and was able to hit the fun gentle descent.  I was sure it would be more of the route!  Anyway, I took a couple of mind-clearing breaths and hit my pace.  Then, I hit a root, followed by the ground.  I minor fall, except that I'd already landed on the same bits earlier in the week on a short trail run.  I quickly washed the mud out of the re-opened wounds and raced on.  I wasn't about to let an evil ascent and a little fall ruin the fun of this fabulous drop from the peak.  I reached the car park in just under 37 minutes, 4 minutes behind Dad and about 8 minutes behind what I'd thought possible (bad trail memory, for sure!).

Still, I'd say my hypothesis is still correct.  A trail runner in the same relative form as my dad has at the moment would probably nip in before him.  This trail runner, though, was totally outclassed!  Hats off!