Friday 13 May 2011

Endurancelife CTS Final - "The Edge"

At last, the final marathon of my eight-month challenge has come and gone.  Endurancelife called their final race of the series "The Edge".  Did it takes us to the edge of a cliff, the edge of our wits, or perhaps just the edge of reason?  I'm not sure, but it certainly took me to the edge of my limits.

The location for this grand final was the Flete Estate in South Devon.  The estate takes in the entire Erme Estuary, and is an all-round beautiful area.  It's also quite hilly (no surprise, really).  Not big, long, eye-watering hills.  Just short, very steep, break your rhythm and leave you a bit wobbly hills.  When we arrived at race HQ on Friday to set up our tent, James Heraty from Endurancelife greeted us with, "I've only got two words for you: Beacon Hill!".  Of course, the route map was being held back in surprise until race day, so I had no idea what to expect.  Once the tent was up, though, we pulled out the OS map and found it.  It looked manageable at 100m of climb, except that it was in less than 200m of distance.  Still, it was only one hill, and short enough to grunt your way up.

With the knowledge that James's famous hill was nothing worse than some of my normal training runs (turns out it was a bit tougher than that), I waited impatiently for the unveiling of the route.  We went for a short walk, found the finish route straight up the hill from the Erme, and sat to watch our fellow campers put up their tents.  Our new tent-neighbour Lucy provided a bit of entertainment with an enormous tent by arriving just as the rain started.  Eventually, a few of us realized that she was never going to put it up with the increasing deluge and helped to make it as water-tight as possible (turns out we failed and she had to bail out parts of it in the morning).

Following a wet Friday night's camping, Saturday dawned sunny-ish and warm and great for trail racing.  Due to the tides, we had a late start.  For the first time in a while, I had a leisurely start to race day.  With plenty of time due to the late start and overnight within 100m of the start, I was feeling relatively chilled.  Finally, the route map was revealed, and I saw the maximum height of 350m and relaxed.  As CTS races go, this one was going to be reasonably flat.

Off and running for the last time this series.

A downhill start got things off at a good pace, and I was ticking along very nicely.  I knew my heart rate was too high, and tried to ease back to let it drop.  But, with little rolling hills to keep the rate up, it was a few miles before I managed to keep consistently in the mid-to-low 150s.

Nice scenery to help the early miles tick over.
A nice jaunt along the beach to help get the blood moving.

Beacon Hill turned out to be steeper than I'd expected, but a fast hike got it out of the way without too much fuss.  Of course, when I tried to run again at the top, my legs were like jelly - perhaps I hiked up it a bit too fast!

Is that Beacon Hill?
Here comes Beacon Hill
See, it's not that big!

At this stage, I realized from chatting with the runners around me that I might be in for a tough race.  With a smaller field than usual, I had fewer slower runners in front of me to block me on the narrow bits and help me keep from going out too fast.  At 5 miles, I was running with the women's leaders.  I normally come in a bit behind the 3rd woman, but I was up with the winner of the last race.  Still, with the steep downhills from 5-9 miles, I managed to keep in touch even though I was consciously easing back away from such exhalted company.  I know my place (and pace), and it should have been further back in the field!

Hmm. Those ladies are a bit too fast for me.  How'd that happen?
Efford House in the backdrop at the checkpoint

From 9-14 miles the course was essentially flat through the Estate's woodland paths.  I tried to get some pictures of the rhododendrons and bluebells, but only got green blur as I passed.  I gently eased back away from the sharp end of the race and made a serious effort to allow some recovery before the hilly second half came upon me.  The effort wasn't enough.  At 14 miles, I trudged up the hill from the estuary and woodlands and just kept feeling less energetic with each step.  All of the niggles I'd picked up in Sussex and Exmoor started to show up.  I could tell that the legs were willing, but not at a particularly challenging pace.  By 15 miles, at the course high point, I had to have a long walk to eat and wait for the energy to rebuild.

At least when you're walking you can take pictures of the pretty flowers...

Some downhills helped get my legs moving again until we reached the beach at Bigbury-on-Sea.  With the tides out, we were able to run the beach around the point instead of up and over it.

I wasn't particularly relishing more sandy beach after the early races, but the sand was generally firm and good for running.  I started to feel a bit more energetic again and got back down to 8-minute miling along the beach. 

Hurrah, firm sand and fast (or less slow) running!

Then came the nasty five miles of short-sharp hills to the finish.  Each hill was only 70-100m high, but they were on 1:4 to 1:8 gradients - not what you need to climb after 21 miles.  Fortunately, the downhills were similarly graded, so I was able to keep up a reasonable average pace.

Now that is a hill.  The path zig-zags up it, because it's just too steep for a straight-on assault.

Eventually, I got to the "One mile to go!" sign (lying by about .7 miles) and knew there was only the river crossing and short hill up from the bank left between me and a well-earned beer.  The river crossing was energizing - the tide was out, so the water that remained was only about a foot deep, and a few steps wide in three or four channels.  Splashing through the cold, clear water felt wonderful on my tired feet.  Then I climbed up the road and prepared for one last push to the finish.  Then the marshal said "turn right".  At some point between the start and reaching this point, the course had been re-routed off this little section of road and back up the path we started on - that nice long downhill start.  With an extra half mile of technical trail before the interminable hill to the finish (well, that's how it felt, in spite of being entirely runnable without 27 miles in the legs), my remaining energy dropped away like a stone and I plodded away until the final trot to the line.

All in all, the race itself was very hard.  I spent the last half of it feeling like I was dragging myself along, even though I was keeping on roughly the same average speed as the previous race.  My poor pace control at the start meant I suffered for longer than usual - entirely my own fault.  But, as long as there were hills around, I knew I wasn't going to struggle any more than anyone else - a strange comfort.  It was probably one more marathon than was sensible, so now it's time to relax and recover.

The CTS series was a fantastic challenge, and I hope I can get my head around it as a whole event.  Having made it to the end, I'm actually tired enough to have found myself happy today that I've got a 9-day no-run period in my training schedule.  It's been a while since I last looked at a rest period with anything other than frustration, so I guess I'd better enjoy it!

Support crew Nic, who did 4 of the halfs this series.  Thank you!


  1. Hiya! I got the tent up eventually (on saturday morning!!!!) I think we all had a fab weekend - I loved the atmosphese and the whole environment.
    You will have to come out with the Malvern Joggers one weekend!!!

  2. With any luck, Lucy, I might make one of your midweek races.