Monday, 20 May 2013

Tewkesbury Half Marathon - A different kind of running goal

Yesterday I had a nice run out at the Tewkesbury Half Marathon.  My friend Tim has been targeting this race for about a year, probably from about 3 minutes after he finished last year's edition.  Originally, he was going to finally crack the 1:30 - something we've both been circling around for far too long.  Then, in December, he was diagnosed with cancer.  Within a few days, he had changed his goal to getting through the treatment and then the race.  Not long after that, I changed my goal for the weekend (usually spent playing at the Hilly 100 relay) to be making sure that if Tim got to the start line that he made it to the finish line.  His attitude to getting to Tewkesbury on race day has been amazing, but he has a weak spot at races of going out faster than he should, and I knew that as much as anything else on race day, he would need someone else's pace strategy if he was going to get around.  I never doubted that Tim would make it to the start line but I wasn't so sure he would be able to make the finish line without some company.  With some great care and a dose of good fortune, he got the all clear a few weeks ago and has been ramping up the training steadily ever since.

Pre-race was a pretty good atmosphere.  Plenty of club members turned out to support Tim.  Most would be racing as normal and then cheering him in at the end.  Others were going to run with him for a while and then see how things went (some would speed up, others would slow down).  My official job, reinforced by instruction from Tim's wife, Mandy, was to make sure that Tim finished in a fit state to enjoy the rest of his day.  My unofficial job, reinforced by the knowledge that Tim is a stubborn so-and-so and deeply competitive, was to make sure that Tim finished in a state only just fit enough to enjoy his party, and just exhausted enough to know that he'd actually raced as well as his body would let him.

The man of the hour surrounded by friendly support. (courtesy of Steve Sandalls)
The race started easily enough.  We headed for the back third of the pack to make sure there were plenty of obstacles to keep us from rushing off the line.  The hundreds of runners in front of us kept things nice and tidy for the early miles.  Tim and I were joined by Sue, Caz, Katy, and Chris, which made for a nice sociable start.  I spent a lot of time looking at my Garmin to make sure we kept down to 8:30 miles or slower, and Tim spent a lot of time looking for Mandy and their son Ben, who were waiting along the route to cheer him on.

I'll be honest, I don't much like the Tewkesbury race, and would never have entered in normal circumstances.  So, I'm pretty sure I groused a bit for the first mile or two as we made our way up the non-descript main road towards the motorway.  Once we got out of town, I lightened up as we continued to play the "slow down, there's a long way to go yet" game.  Caz and Katy eased off the pace a bit, and I made an innocuous comment about the weather that inadvertently triggered a short burst of speed.

Have you ever accidentally caused a fellow runner to engage in a monologue about something really quite dull and pointless (i.e. something not related to running, food, running, beer, or running)?  Well, at around 10K we got to hear all about how Kit Marlow wrote most of Shakespeare and how the Titanic didn't sink.  Personally, Marlow and Shakespeare are rather long dead, so I'm pretty convinced that it doesn't really matter to either of them who gets the credit / blame for creating Romeo, Othello, and Bottom.  As for ship conspiracies, they happened in the water, and I'm not a big fan of water, so I'll steer clear, thank you very much.  Anyway, you get the picture.  Tim and I gently increased the speed until we could return to our own very enlightening conversation (it may have been about running, or possibly beer, who knows?) - it was the only time all morning that I didn't tell him to slow down!  We lost Chris at this point, and I wondered if perhaps she now had a new friend to chat with.

The sun continued to shine, Tim unsurprisingly started to tire, and I continued to yap inanely as we made our way to the finish line.  We sent Sue on her way to chase down a negative split and a PB.  With the benefit of a steady first half, she nailed it.  Having done very little training during his convalescence, Tim held the 8:30 pace remarkably well until 10mi, where the course's only uphill comes to play.  We eased off for the final 3 miles, with a few short walking breaks to keep things under control.  It was interesting to watch Tim manage his resources.  Under normal circumstances, he would have been willing and able to dig in and keep close to that 8:30 pace in spite of the pain and fatigue, and I would have been quite happy to push him through the barriers.  For this one race, though, the time was secondary. This race marked his return to running as a healthy man, and doing unnecessary damage just to go slightly less slowly would have lessened the achievement. So, we ran, walked, jogged, and chatted as we pushed just enough to cross the line with the right level of exhaustion.

At the end, Tim insisted I finish next to him or in front of him.  He knew full well that I would quietly drop behind him in the final yards, and let me know that wasn't going to happen. So, we made our way across the line side by side as family and friends cheered him on.  He needed a good sit down in the shade for a bit, but wasn't so tired that he couldn't worry about some of the club who were still out suffering on the course (and later at the finish), so it seems we judged the effort about right.  For my part, I'd had a good run out with a friend and managed help him achieve his worst ever half marathon time (1:55).  Maybe next year we'll manage to pace each other to that sub 1:30.  If we do, I can guarantee it still won't touch the satisfaction of yesterday's race.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Halifax Bluebell 10mi - Nic's take on this little bonus race

For the first time in quite a while, I raced with Nic instead of heading off on my own.  Rather than guess what was on her mind while I incessantly "encouraged" her around the delightful paths of Halifax, I asked her to do a bit of blogging herself.  Sadly, I was enjoying running without a pack so much that I forgot to bring a camera - so you'll just have to believe that the weather was great and the views were most pleasant indeed.  The race was really well supported, and Stainland Lions RC did a fantastic job and the bluebells turned out in force. Nic's race report is below.

We spent the week following Kurt’s Hoka Highland Fling in the north east of Scotland, hanging out with my family, eating, drinking, and doing lots of running.  I was particularly keen to get a few miles in, as I will be running the Endure 24 challenge in just a few weeks.  How on earth I am going to be able to run for 24 hours, I really have no idea, but I’m guessing building up my mileage will help!  I had some very pleasant runs on the beautiful, unspoilt beaches that the south-west of Scotland and Moray coast have to offer.  The longest run of my week was a 20 miler along the Speyside way, from Aberlour to Spey Bay in Moray.  The route was initially a nice flat footpath alongside the beautiful Spey, then a lovely long climb to about half way up Ben Aigen, with some stunning views down into the Spey Valley and fabulous forestry commission trails.  The rest was an unremarkable, fairly flat mixture of road and trail up to Spey Bay, which is a pretty little village with another beautiful beach.

Looking down on the Spey from Ben Aigen

I really enjoyed getting to run in different places.  I get to train in some lovely countryside, but I find that running new routes really helps me to find my running mojo when I’m getting a bit tired.  So, when we were trying to decide where to break the long journey home, from Elgin to Evesham, we decided to look for a race, thus giving us the opportunity to see a new place and run a new route.  Initially, I was going to run and Kurt was going to support from the sidelines, but he can’t resist a race and the Bluebell 10 in Halifax sounded like a good one.

We arrived in Halifax, West Yorkshire on Saturday evening, somewhat weary after a 7 hour drive and a rather heavy night out with my sister and her hubby the night before.  Frankly, I was tired, hungover and just wanted to go home.  However, we had already paid for the hotel.  We got cleaned up, and set about finding food.  We struck gold with our restaurant choice – Julio’s Italian was fantastic!  We went to bed shattered but looking forward to the day ahead.  But by Sunday morning, I was feeling really quite homesick.  I was fed up of travelling – 1300 miles of driving and 4 different beds had me yearning for home.  I asked Kurt could we just ditch the race and go straight home.  I really couldn’t be bothered with the stress of racing.  He said ‘yes dear’ or words to that effect…. So I pulled myself together and didn’t let the demons get me!  The sun was shining and, well, I am Scottish and we had already paid the entry fee.

I’m so very glad I decided to run.  As soon as we arrived at race HQ, and were in amongst the crowd of friendly organisers and runners, I felt right at home and very happy to be exploring a new part of the country.  I don’t think I’ve ever set foot in West Yorkshire before.  Unfortunately, we were a little pushed for time and I ended up spending most of my usual warm up time in the queue for the loo.  This was nice in a way, as I got to chat to one of the runners whose club puts on the race – Stainland Lions.  She reassured me that I was unlikely to drown at the river crossing at the finish!

As a result of my lack of warm up, the steep uphill in the first half-mile was a bit of a killer.  I’d run 46 miles in the last week, more than ever before, and I felt all of them in that first ascent!  The downhill came soon enough, through lovely woodland trails.  But I made the mistake of insisting we start at the back, so getting past all the runners who insisted on pussy-footing the ascent was something of a challenge.  I am pretty ok at running downhills, so the frustration was huge!  Kurt had decided to run with me for this race, partly as a recovery for him and partly so he could pace me to a better time and push me harder than I would normally push myself.  He was much better than me at bounding down the hills and passing the slower runners, but I did manage to pass lots of people by the bottom.  After the descent we joined canal towpaths for a couple of miles.  Kurt really pushed me on the flats, making me work hard and get thoroughly out of breath.  I really hated him at the time, but it was all for my own good and I knew I’d be grateful in the end.

After the flat canal towpath, at about four miles, came the infamous Trooper Lane up to the top of Beacon Hill:  570ft of climb in half a mile, up steep cobbles.  I managed to run about half of it, tapping out a rhythm while Kurt nagged and encouraged.  There was quite a lot of crowd support up the hill, which was great – everyone was in excellent spirits.  The views from the top were spectacular, looking across Halifax and the beautiful Yorkshire fells.  The next few miles were pretty hilly, with no more big climbs but lots of short, sharp climbs and even shorter (it seemed) downhills.  It was all on nice, firm trails with some very pretty views.  Kurt continued to push me, constantly telling me how well I was doing and telling me off whenever I tried to sandbag.  On the uphills, he pushed the right buttons to get me to pass people – he really knows how to tap into my competitive side.  Even though I felt like I was working really hard, I very much enjoyed the views and the friendly encouragement of the marshals.  After a week of very chilly weather in Scotland, it was also delightful to feel the sun on my skin.  I did manage to fall flat on my face at one point, running along a woodland trail where there was a thick carpet of leaves on the ground, my foot caught on a tree root and I went flying.  I’m sure it was a pretty spectacular fall downhill – I slid quite nicely on my most padded area (chest) and avoided injury, aside from a nice bruise on my knee.  Of course, I swore loudly, then picked myself up, dusted myself off and kept going.  The bluebells were in their full glory in the last stretch of woodland trail – so pretty!

The final mile was back on the flat towpath, and I was a bit fed up by then.  Kurt had been shouting in my ear for far too long, and I’d had enough.  But then came the river crossing!  Oh what fun!  Health And Safety meant that a temporary handrail had been assembled to help us down the riverbank, and a rope was in place to help us cross.  The marshal at the riverbank was quite concerned that Kurt was going to try to pass me, shouting several times:  ‘Take care, no overtaking!’ to which Kurt replied ‘I’m not allowed to overtake her, she’s my wife!’  Lots of giggles ensued, as we splashed our way across the river.  Being a shade under 5ft tall, I was a little concerned prior to the race, but I only went about thigh-deep.  The water felt fabulous and it was a great way to end a race, with the finish less than 100m away.  The crowds at the end were loud and full of cheer.  We both finished with big smiles on our faces.

Normally, I would not race a trail race.  I’m quite happy to race on the roads, and hang out at the back enjoying the trails.  If I’d been running alone, I think this race would have been no different.  But Kurt made me push myself and I’m glad he did, because this was my quickest ever trail race.  It was not an easy course – there were lots of steep hills and tricky descents.  I finished feeling very tired but on a big high, and very glad I ‘opened up my can of toughen-up’ and got myself to the start line.