stories about my running adventures

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After my unsuccessful attempt at the Grand Union Canal Race at the end of May, I decided that I would try again…

Being the impatient person that I am, luckily for me there was another option meaning I wouldn’t have to wait a whole year.

The Kennet & Avon Canal Race, organised by the same people in the same format, was being run for the first time this year on 28 July 2017.  A little soon, perhaps, for another go at such a huge distance but worth a try, surely.

So, I purchased my one way train ticket to Bristol hoping to cover the 145 miles back to Paddington on foot.

The race started on a Friday at 6 am, so I journeyed down on the Thursday afternoon to register and stay overnight.  Whilst sitting on the train waiting to leave Paddington, I spotted some luggage tags on bags looking very like those I had!! Yes, other mad entrants. Upon leaving the train, I introduced myself and it turned out that 2 of them, Fiona and John, were staying at the same hotel as me.  I had met Fiona briefly before on another crazy event so, when she was told at the hotel reception that she had booked the wrong night and there were no more rooms available, I offered her the sofa bed in my room which she gladly accepted.

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Fiona looking every so slightly mad…

After getting food surplies and going to registration it was off to the pub with some other runners for an early supper – then an early night with the alarm set for 4 am. The race start was under the clock tower at Bristol Temple Meads station, and after a short walk from the hotel and dropping my bags in it wasn’t long until Dick made a short speech and we were on our way.

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Just 20 minutes to go…

With only 76 starters I knew that I would be on my own for a lot of the race but I didn’t have a problem with that and set off at a nice steady pace.

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It was 13 miles to the first checkpoint just before Bath which passed fairly quickly, the weather was cool and it was pretty along the route – all was good.

Leaving CP1, it was 14 miles to CP2 which was an absolutely lovely stretch of running. Heading through Bath, and then on through Bradford on Avon, crossing 2 aqueducts. The sun was shining, although not too warm and I was listening to Eddie Izzard’s life story on my ipod.

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After my downfall on GUCR, i decided to take this one a little steadier.  I reached CP2 at 11.20am which was just 10 mins ahead of my plan but still 1hr and 25 mins ahead of the CP closing.  I had a drink and took some fruit out of my drop bag and cracked on.

It was now over 17 miles to the next CP but I knew we were going to pass Caen Hill Locks and I was looking forward to that.  A couple of other runners, Roz and Kate, caught me and for a good while we were passing each other, breaking up the running with a walk.  By the time we reached the locks at mile 35 the 3 of us pretty much marched up the hill together. Thanks for the company girls.

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Caen Hill Locks..

After that it was a bit of a slog for about 8 miles to reach the CP. but worth it, as there was hot food – soup and potatoes – and I had a sit down to change my socks.  I was determined to look after my feet this time and had spent a lot of time researching blisters and how to try and prevent them.  For me, this meant engo patches in my shoes, taping of all the problem areas with kinetic tape, blister powder and twin skin socks.  And for good measure, I laced my shoes with the ‘heel lock’. It appeared to be working well as my feet felt good, but after only 45 miles my feet, ankles and legs were all aching and tired.  I hoped that the food would give me a lift and set off for CP4 at 60 miles.

I decided that some music may lift my spirits but that just got on my nerves after about half an hour.  I know that there are highs and lows but I couldn’t seem to get the negative thoughts out of my head, and then it started to rain.  On with the rain jacket, but then I was too hot… it’s a good job I was on my own with only myself to moan to!

With about 4 miles to go until the checkpoint Kate came past and urged me to run so that we would reach it by 8pm.  Try as I might I just couldn’t keep even an ultra shuffle going and I watched her disappear into the distance.  Finally, after what felt like an absolute age, I reached the CP at 7.45pm – 45 minutes behind my schedule.  I decided my feet were still good and didn’t need attention, so just had a sit down with a coffee.  Roz arrived not too long after me, she mentioned her hips were painful and thought that she would probably walk most of the way now.  I didn’t know if I could face walking for over 80 miles but there was time if that’s what was needed.

Knowing it would be dark before the next CP at 72.5 miles, I got my head torch out of my drop bag and set off.  It started raining again and as darkness fell there wasn’t a lot to see and everything from the waist down was beginning to ache.  No highs were forthcoming…

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Can you spot the heron?

The maps weren’t really needed on this stretch until coming into Newbury – the first sign of life I’d seen for a good while.  After going through the town, I convinced myself that I had gone the wrong way, although I was on the correct side of the water.  After not coming across the CP, I was doubly convinced that I’d gone the wrong way and turned round to head back to town to see if there was an alternative that I had missed.  I met another runner who was sure we were right so I turned and followed him and loe and behold, just around the corner from where I had turned around, there was the CP.

Already feeling low, this finished me off and so with 74 miles on my watch I decided I’d had enough, my head nor heart were in it and so I told the CP staff I was calling it a day.  I called Geoff to let him know, and so he could come and scoop me up, and then sat down to wait.  Whilst waiting, Fiona came into the CP with none other than the marvellous Mimi Anderson – even the prospect of reversing my decision and going on with them couldn’t motivate me!

Sadly, Fiona didn’t manage to get very much further due to a foot problem, neither did Kate who was at the CP feeling very unwell nor Roz – who also called it a day a bit further along.

In fact, of the 76 starters, there were only 37 finishers.

As I hadn’t reached the CP until 12.30 and they were due to close at 1.15am, Pat ‘Paddy’ Robbins was kind enough to give me a lift to the next CP at Reading, as that didn’t close until 7.30am, and I could wait for Geoff in relative comfort.

And so ended my second attempt at a canal run.  I can’t make excuses, I wasn’t ill or injured but I was extremely fatigued.  Whether that is due to running 100 miles less than 2 months previously and then 100k 2 weeks after that, or just the fact that I am expecting too much of my ‘old’ body.  Whichever it is, I will recover and earn one of those Canal medals….

In the meantime, I have the lovely SVP 100km to run this weekend (Saturday 12 August) and un-finished business at the Centurion A100 in October.

 

 

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New Challenges

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So 2108 is to be a year of new and different challenges for me as well as finishing some ‘unfinished’ business.

The first challenge came this weekend with The Fan Dance, Winter Edition.  If you haven’t heard of it, the event is the original 24km SAS selection route up and over Pen Y Fan in the Brecon Beacons.

http://www.thefandancerace.com/

I don’t recall where I had first seen it advertised but liked the sound of it so signed up.  Geoff, being a little concerned about me being up a mountain in January, asked his nephew to join me.  So I was going to have a nice 28 year old chaperone – although this didn’t strictly turn out to be the case.

As the event was on a Saturday, I took the day off work and journeyed up on the Friday in our trusty camper van finding a campsite just 6 miles up the road.  Registration was held on the Friday evening as well as the Saturday, so I opted to get that out of the way.

There are 2 entry types, Load Bearing or Clean Fatigue.  Load Bearing makes the event nearly authentic (no rifles allowed!!), as participants carry 35lbs in their back packs as well as food and water for the march (for females it’s slightly lower at 25lbs).  I opted for the Clean Fatigue option, however the compulsory kit list was still pretty comprehensive so I had to invest in a larger backpack.  I went for the Raidlight 20l Responsiv pack and must say it was fantastic.  I’m not used to carrying so much but it felt really comfortable and still had room to spare.

The benefit of staying so close to the start was that the alarm did not need to be set ridiculously early , and having registered the night before it was a fairly laid back start to the day.  I was, however, pretty nervous not really knowing what to expect.  I had been keeping a close eye on the weather reports all week, but it didn’t turn out as bad as it could have been.  Yes, it was pretty cold with a fair bit of wind and visibility was not great – and that was only at the bottom, I suspected it would get a bit worse at the top!.

I had decided to layer my clothing, as I get pretty hot when I’m running (well more moving rapidly on this occasion).  I opted for long sleeve base layer, fleece and a windproof/waterproof jacket, which worked a treat, together with long fleece lined leggings with my running skirt for a bit of added bum warmth!  Hat, gloves, buff and double layer socks finished the kit.  With all this lot, compulsory kit and 2 litres of water I did start to feel for the guys with the full 35lbs on their backs – in fact trying to lift Lloyds pack off the ground was hard enough! (Lloyd is a work colleague of mine whom I have talked into doing it too.)

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Rabbit in headlights spring to mind

With a short briefing, which unfortunately I could not hear apart from ‘flags’, we were underway.  It is pretty much straight into a hill and with 1281ft of elevation for the first 2 miles it was a slow start, although I did pass a fair few people going up.  I am more than happy yomping up the hills, and wanted to make up as much time as possible on the ups as I’m rubbish coming down.

I didn’t see much of Tim going up, not sure if he was behind me, but I was pretty sure that he wasn’t going to let me get too far ahead.  Although Tim is a lot younger than me, his preparation had been pretty non existent so there was a ‘small’ chance that I could whoop his arse!! (I think Geoff secretly hoped that I would).

As we reached the summit of Pen Y Fan, the wind really started and the visibility got worse – a real pity as I’m sure the views could have been pretty special.  Luckily, though, the wind was blowing from the side into the mountain.  It was pretty wet and a bit slippy in places on the rocky paths, and muddy on the not so rocky, but my new La Sportiva Akasha shoes were doing a great job.

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The Summit

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Nice View

Once over the summit of Pen Y Fan it’s down Jacobs Ladder which was pretty tough on the quads.  As already mentioned, I’m not so good on the downhills and people seemed to be flying past me but I certainly didn’t want to trip or fall so just kept within my own capabilities. Once it levelled out a bit, I did start a jog of sorts which meant keeping my eyes on the path and concerntrating, so much so that I ended up going the wrong way.

There were flags on the course, as mentioned at the start, however I don’t recall seeing one for a while and after starting to climb another hill (Cribyn it turned out) I began to doubt I was going the right way.  I could hear some voices over to the right in the mist and mention of a right turn…..bugger!  I turned and went back down until I found a path going to the right and hoped that I was now going in the right direction.  After a while, I saw a flag so felt a huge sense of relief.  My main fear had been getting lost on the mountain in the fog.

It was now pretty much downhill to the turnaround point and mostly ‘joggable’ apart from some cows blocking the path.

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Ahem…excuse me…

Coming to around mile 6, the path split again but I couldn’t see a flag.  A couple of guys turned right and so I asked if they knew if that was the correct way, they assured me that both paths lead to the same point but the right one was easier – I’m all for easier so went with them.  As it looped around to the left you could see the others up on the edge of the wood heading in the same direction and it did look like the paths converged.

Looking across to the left I spotted Tim, the first time since the start, so I called out and we joined together for a little trot along for a bit to the turnaround point.  His lack of training was showing a little and I managed to jog a bit ahead and started back before him.  Not long after leaving the turnaround I also saw my colleague Lloyd who was doing brilliantly considering the weight he was carrying.

So half way in 2 hours 2 minutes.

Heading back, I took the ‘correct’ path which included a steep scree slope and water crossing (which I had avoided earlier) but I felt happier knowing I was absolutely going the right way.

Unfortunately, the ‘joggable’ sections were now more uphill so I applied my ultra method of walk/jog/walk until about 10 miles when it started to get a bit steep again!.

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And a bit of ice for good measure…

And then at mile 12 I got to Jacobs Ladder, which if tough going down was SUPER tough going up.  774ft elevation in 1 mile….that hurt!!!!

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Phew….

Once up there though, it was all downhill to the finish – well it should have been! The path split and there were no flags, so I made the decision – not sure why – to turn right…ERROR.  This took me to the peak of Corn Du (although I didn’t know that at the time).At this point I had the bright idea of looking at the route on my garmin to try to ascertain which way was best to go as I really didn’t want to back track.  I set off in the direction indicated to get me back on the path and after scrambling down a few big rocks I was back on course.Hooray…only a couple of downhill miles to do.  Now, having gone the wrong way again, I didn’t have a clue whether Tim was ahead or behind me and guessed I wouldn’t now know until the finish.  Trying to run down the hill was an absolute killer on the quads, but I just wanted to get it done as quickly as possible.  With about 200 metres to go, I heard someone coming up behind at a rapid rate and loe and behold it was TIM!!  Did he wait for me?  Did he heck!!  But only managed about a 30 second victory….

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Not sure Tim deserved that hug…

And so the finish, 4 hours 8 minutes

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A cloth patch and a handshake..

I had had a little wager with Geoff that, if I finished sub 4 hours, he would buy me some walking poles – looks like I’m going to have to buy them!.

Finishing really gave me a sense of achievement.  Ok, I know it was only 15 miles and I wasn’t carrying the full weight but I was out of my comfort zone with the terrain and feel pleased with 10th place out of 27 women and 34th place out of all 69 ‘clean’ entrants.

Quote of the day for me though was as I was coming back up Jacobs Ladder and I passed a young man carrying the full load of 35lbs.  I commented how impressed I was that he could get up there so well with all that weight and his reply…..’yeah, but I’m no where near as old as you’

https://www.strava.com/athletes/10281218/latest-rides/4333175f24f601df271a9781c28f3d63e45bf7c3

 

Grandslamming…..

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This weekend I completed my final event in the Positive Steps Grandslam, the Kings Forest 50km. It was always going to be a tough one coming so soon after the 100 miler (and Snowdonia) and that was added to by succumbing to either a bug or food poisioning in the week.  But first, thoughts of my absolute favourite marathon….

So, was I pushing my luck a bit by running one of the hilliest marathons in the UK just one week after completing 100 miles?

After running Snowdonia Marathon last year, and loving it so much, I made my entry as soon as they opened at midnight on New Year’s Eve.

My #runeveryday in October came to a halt 2 days after completing the A100. I did manage a mile the day after but didn’t see the point – knowing I had Snowdonia a week later –  in completely knackering myself or risking injury so I took it easy leading up to the race.

As I haven’t had a holiday this year, I’d booked a campsite for a few days and so Geoff and I headed off on Friday for our minibreak. Luckily we were in no hurry to get there as it took over 8 hours due to horrendous traffic and we finally arrived in LLanberis at 7pm.  I called into registration to pick up my race number and T shirt and treated myself to a buff and a hoodie…

Onwards then to the campsite, just 3 miles up the road.

As we were so close, on Race morning I didn’t need to leave much before 9.30 as the race didn’t start until 10.30. Llanberis gets really busy so Geoff just dropped me off so there was no stress trying to find somewhere to park. I gave a call to my friend Lousie who I knew was running and met up with her in the toilet queue of all places!! There were another couple of people I knew and I couldn’t believe it when I saw them in the same queue a couple of places up!!  I had met Chris when I ran the Norfolk 100k and his wife, Sam, was running her first marathon so, as I had no idea how I would feel, I suggested I run with them which they were happy with.

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Me, Sam and Chris at the start…

We took a walk to the start and enjoyed the atmosphere before the gun went and we were on our way. The first mile or so is relatively flat but you know that will soon change once you hit The Pen y Pass – but like the majority of people around us – we took it fairly easy and just trotted and yomped our way up admiring the views.  Once you get over that first climb there is some really nice running for the next 8/9 miles starting with a nice downhill.  I remember last year looking over the edge and not being able to see anything through the mist, however this year you could see all the way down the valley and the line of multi coloured vests making their way along the track below.

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First outing of the new shirt….

I was surprised how good I was feeling and slowly pulled away from Chris and Sam, just soaking up the support and enjoying the beautiful scenery. There are a good load of checkpoints on the route so there was plenty of drinks to be had.

Around half way you pass through Bedgelert, where there is a massive amount of clapping and cheering, and proceed to start climbing the second hill of the course. I must confess that I had forgotten about this one and it appeared to go on and on and on and on…..

But again, after that, it’s good running until the final climb at mile 22. Louise, I know, had been ahead of me at the start and it was just before this last climb that I caught up with her.  She had already run the course that morning, in reverse, so had a few more miles in her legs than me.  I continued to yomp up the hill knowing that once at the top there is just a decline to the finish straight.

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Just slide down the hill and you’re done….

It was a little muddy and slippy once starting to descend so, not wanting to risk a fall, I took it steady until there was only tarmac remaining and about half a mile.  There is a long finish straight and a huge amount of support, so it is easy to put in every effort to get to that finish line.  Considering my past efforts, I was very pleased with my time of 5hrs 13mins.  And Louise crossed the line not very far behind me….

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Fallen into the gutter….

So, I then had 2 weeks for a bit of a rest and to focus on my goal of the Grandslam….

I had run the Peddars Way in Jan and the Norfolk 100km in June and this, the Kings Forest 50km, completes the 3 events making up the Grandslam.

The race is 4 laps of forest trail around West Stow Country Park which is about an hour from me. As the race started at 8am, it was a bit of an early start but Geoff was coming to support so I could relax whilst he drove.  I knew there were a good few joggers doing the event as well as some other runners that I know and I had arranged to run, or at least start, with my friend John.

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Runners Shorts….

After a short briefing we were away on time and off on the first lap.  It was a little congested to start with but after a couple of miles it started to thin out and we could get into a bit of a flow.

I’m not overly keen on lapped events but it was a really nice course with some varied terrain, and so it didn’t really feel like you were going round in circles. I love trail running and there were a couple of absolutely lovely sections through the woods so I just focused on getting there each lap.

After the first lap of just under 8 miles, I did really start to feel the fatigue but I tried to chat to John and keep my mind off of it. As I hadn’t managed to eat very much at all in the week leading up to the event and with no appetite on the day I always knew it was going to be a struggle.

After completing the second lap, John started to pull away from me and I knew I had no hope of keeping with him so I resigned myself to just my own company for the next 12 miles or so. Upon nearing the end of lap 3, I heard a voice behind say well done Gin and realised that it was a fellow jogger, Jim, storming home to an absolute fantastic finish of around 4 hrs 25.

Coming into the checkpoint for the final time, I did throw a bit of a ‘diva’ moment when Geoff couldn’t magically produce coke or some other fizzy drink….

And so to the final lap, which was a real mind battle for me. I was so knackered and just wanted to walk but on the flip side didn’t want to take ages to finish so I opted for my favoured ‘ultra shuffle’ and kept focused on that lovely woodland bit about 2.5 miles from the finish…

Around that point I was caught by a lovely couple that I had seen earlier on and had thought were way ahead of me…Lisa and Richard…and between us we cajoled each other to the finish line.

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A mixture of pain and relief…

After receiving my lovely glass tankard from Kevin, I had to have a bit of a sit down…but the fizzy drink I so craved earlier magically appeared and made me feel oodles better….

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With race organiser Kevin Marshall

And so, that brings my major achievements for the year to an end on a positive note. After a couple of disappointments earlier on, I feel I have re-grouped well and managed to learn some very valuable lessons.

With only one other marathon booked for this year, on 17 December, I am going to have a bit of rest and recovery for the remainder of 2017.

Well, I have entered the The XNRG Santa Virtual Ultra Challenge (SVUC) just to ensure that I don’t have too much rest!!!

Plans are already made for the most of 2018, with a return to the GUCR to finish ‘un-finished’ business, a new 6 day self-supported adventure from Scotland to Wales and celebrating my 100th marathon at……Snowdonia…..of course !!!!

And be warned……I got a go pro for my birthday so there could be video logs as well…….

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After pulling from this event last year at 37.5 miles, I was determined to have another go and so put my name down as soon as entries opened in December.

This year has not been the best for me, in terms of finishes, so I was even more determined to get this one done.

Leaving work a little earlier on the Friday afternoon, Geoff and I journeyed down in the Camper Van to a site just 7 miles up the road from the start. This would mean that I could get a good kip and a little bit of a lay in.  Arriving in the dark, we made the mistake of parking on a grassy area and when trying to put the van onto the levelling chocks realised that we were going to get stuck!  Not something we wanted to have to deal with, particularly in the morning, so had a wander around the camp site and luckily found a chap with a 4WD who towed us out.  This resulted in my having to prepare supper at 10 pm and going to bed on a full stomach – a little stressed – but luckily I did manage to sleep ok.

The morning dawned bright and we arrived in Goring with plenty of time to spare. I got registered and had a brief chat with a couple of people I knew then went back to chill in the van for a bit (well to use the facilities really!!).

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Smiles at the start

After a briefing from James in the village hall, it was a short walk down to the start on the Thames Path. A little delay, and we were underway at 10.04 am.  With around 240 runners starting on a pretty narrow path there is not a lot of running initially, just a case of waiting for the field to thin out to get into any kind of rhythm but really it helps to keep you at a steady pace and so I had no complaints.  Some of the path was a bit muddy in places so I was slipping a good bit in my Innov8 Race Ultra’s, but again I didn’t worry – it stopped me going too fast and there was still a way to go!.

It was only 6.5 miles to the first CP at Wallingford, and with the sun shining, it was all most agreeable. A quick pit stop and on my way again to the first turnaround point at Little Wittenham, passing the lead runners coming back already!  I had a loose time plan of 5 hrs for the first leg, slowing to 6 then 7 then 8 for the last, so reaching the first turnaround in 2:13, I was pretty much on target.  I didn’t feel like I was pushing it and after a brief stop to fill my bottles, I took a couple of sandwiches and was on my way back.  Returning along the same stretch has positives and negatives, but I was enjoying myself and all felt good.

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I arrived back in Goring in a time of 4:51, and after a change of socks and some light refreshment, I headed out onto the second leg. This section was along The Ridgeway, and having recced it as well as running it last year I knew what to expect.  There were certainly a few more ups and downs but the path is beautiful, there is a lot of woodland and really not a lot to dislike.  I knew it would start to get dark on this section, and I had decided that once I passed the point I dropped last year I would reward myself with a bit of Les Mis. There was not long to go to the first CP at 4 miles, but after that it was a bit of a slog to the turnaround point.  Although my feet were in pretty good shape, I did kick a tree root particularly hard so my big toe was throbbing a bit!  Luckily, the predicted rain did not really materialise and although the wind had picked up it was pretty sheltered along the path.

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It was great to see so many other runners coming back along the path, and I was already beginning to sound like a bit of a recording of ‘well done’..

So, having turned around at Swyncombe to head back and with a massive hill to climb, I decided now was the time for my treat! Out came the ipod, in went the earphones, and flat went the battery!!  It seemed that somehow it had been playing for the entire time in my pocket for about 7 ½ hours!!  BUM!!!   Into the darkness with no company…

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Thumbs up…..pic by Stuart March

It was a little eirie along the Grim’s Ditch in the dark, and despite trying my hardest to ensure I lifted my feet over every tree root I still managed to kick the same big toe around a dozen times!! And I’m amazed I didn’t land flat on my face the amount of times I tripped up. Despite all this though, I was still enjoying myself.

I did have a little ‘low’ point when I reached the CP at North Stoke, and had to have a bit of a sit down. I knew I wasn’t eating enough, but there was really nothing I fancied.  I had some hot coffee which perked me up and knowing there was only 4 miles back to ‘base’ I cracked on and arrived at Goring in 11 hrs 4 mins (so still just on target).

I had really been looking forward to this point, not just because I was half way but also because I was meeting the first of my buddy runners – Dean Davis – and knew I wouldn’t be on my own anymore. In most long events, it is allowed to have a buddy runner (or pacer) but it is not something I have done before.  Geoff had been worried about me running through the night previously so he was very happy when I mentioned I would have some company.

I knew it would be exposed and windy on the next section of the Ridgeway so I decided to change my shorts for leggings and put on a fresh long sleeved top. My feet were feeling ok – apart from my big toe – so decided to leave them alone (much to Geoff’s dismay).  I also managed to get a bit of hot soup down before heading back out into the night.

I will say it was fantastic to have some company and we were chatting and playing word games which really helped to keep my mind occupied. The wind was really strong and there was a lot of hiking up hills – I had warned Dean that there may not be a great deal of running and luckily he had plenty of layers on to keep warm.

The first CP on this leg is over 8 miles and it felt like it would never arrive. With the wind full in our faces, I was beginning to lose my Good Humour and if I had been on my own it would have been very difficult to push on.  Finally, there were some lights ahead and there is the darkness was a little oasis of warmth.  I climbed into the back of the trailer and sat to drink a hot coffee.  I still couldn’t face food and so we didn’t stay too long and hiked on to the turnaround point.  We just kept reminding ourselves how great it was going to be once we turned around, tail wind AND down hill!!!

Pretty soon, I was convinced I could see a UFO up ahead in the darkness or was it just my delirium after nearly 15 hours on my feet? Neither…it was the CP at Chain Hill.  A fantastic array of fairy lights and music – but I’m sorry to say that I really couldn’t enjoy it.  I felt pretty rubbish, the back of my neck was killing me – I think because I was tensing against the wind, and I still couldn’t face eating anything.

I sat in a chair and started to drift off before telling Dean to get me out of there!! Which he was happy to do.  We started to head back down the hill with the wind behind us….Bliss!!

There was only 4 miles back to the CP at Bury Downs before that final 8 mile slog back to Goring. I did my very best to break into an ultra shuffle but it never lasted very long – I was too worried about kicking my already very sore toe on a rock or worse still tripping up.  It was going to be a long 3 or 4 hrs!!

When we arrived at Bury Downs, I felt so bad that I decided I really needed to try and eat something, and after half a sandwich and a couple of pieces of Banana and yet another coffee I felt ready to continue. As we left, we realised that the head torches coming up the path were only 10 minutes away from the CP closing, so we encouraged them to try and move as quick as possible.

We had one slight question on navigation along this stretch but it was soon remedied and after what seemed like an absolute age we were coming back into Goring arriving at 4.30am. I was now half an hour over my ideal but I didn’t really care as I still had 9.5 hrs for a pit stop and the final 26 miles. Also, I was meeting my second buddy, Lisa Dalton, to see me through to the finish.

As I knew it would get light and hopefully warmer before the finish I decided to change back into shorts. Again, to Geoff’s dismay, I decided to leave my feet as they really were holding up well.  I managed to get a cup a soup down me and filled my bottle with Ginger Beer (another little treat) and off we went.

Like the last leg, this one was new to me but I was confident with navigation. It was all brilliantly marked and I had the course on my Garmin plus there was only a couple of hours until daylight.  Like the last leg, having the company is a real mental boost, despite feeling tired, sore, grumpy and sick!  I had also warned Lisa that I didn’t think there would be much running involved but luckily she was wrapped up warm!!

The first 4 odd miles to the checkpoint at Whitchurch were a bit of a dark blur, the best bit being the re-occurrence of the word game.  Working through the alphabet, you have to come up with a good long word – and I must say that Lisa was pretty awesome at it!! Then we decided to make up words…the only rules were that they had to sound like they could be a real word…we were still doing this when we came upon a very tired runner (Julian?) who we got to join in…it appeared to perk him up although I think he thought we were both absolutely bonkers!!

There was then a long 8.5 miles to the final turnaround at Reading and I would say that this was the most difficult bit for me.  Although dawn was breaking and it was lovely along the Thames, I was feeling really crap.  The lack of food was taking it’s toll big time and all I wanted to do was lay down….even when I started to hurl, there was just nothing to come out. The CP was just never arriving, I started to ask the runners coming back how far? how far? and it was 2/3 miles, a couple of miles, not very far, just over the bridge…..and finally there were those steps to climb!!!!

It was awfully hot in the CP so it would have been so easy to sit and fall asleep, so after a quick visit to the loo, grabbing a couple of bags of crisps and filling a bag with some goodies, we heading out for the FINAL 13 miles…..

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Really????

I had now become a bit of a recording of ‘well done’…there were still a few runners coming past but everybody else seemed to get it as well, joggers, dog walkers, cyclists – everybody got a well done, I couldn’t seem to stop myself saying it!!! I’m not sure what people thought…..

I was beginning to feel a bit frustrated as well, the path was so runnable and all I could manage was my little skip along – my ultra pace consists of mainly a fast walk with a few little skips every 10 or so steps – I did try a couple of full on stumble alongs but it really didn’t last long!!

Arriving at the penultimate CP again in Whitchurch was fantastic!! There were only 4 miles to the finish…nothing would stop me now…another coffee and it was on to get the job done!!

And get the job done I did…even managing to ‘jog’ the final 100 metres or so…..I’d also managed to just about to hang on to my plan of 5/6/7/8 and with pit stops finished in 26 hrs 45 mins and 51 secs.

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A mixture of pain and elation…

I can’t say how happy and relived I was. I’d like to think that I could have done it on my own but having the company of Dean and Lisa made it one hell of a lot easier….and more enjoyable.

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Bad Hair???    Who cares…..

And not only was I celebrating finally getting that Finish but, also, Geoff and I were celebrating our first anniversary of being together.  There is no doubt in my mind that he has been a massive contributing factor in my achieving this.  His support, dedication and belief in me is never ending.

I am so lucky to have such amazing people in my life…

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It’s now Wednesday and I’m sorry to say that my #runeveryday streak in October came to an end yesterday.  I did manage to hobble a mile on Monday but my swollen feet just wouldn’t fit in my running shoes yesterday….and besides, I need to rest up so I can go and run my absolute favourite marathon on Saturday…….

Snowdon here I come…….

 

 

 

 

 

All smiles last year before it all went wrong...

All smiles last year before it all went wrong…..

With my 2nd attempt at the Centurion Autumn 100 only 5 days away I thought I would ramble a little about some lessons learned this year.

Since my last post after the SVP100km, I have re-focused a little more on my running.

After two failed attempts at long distances this year (the GUCR and the KACR) and an un-appreciated attempt at supporting a friend on her first 100km race, I feel that I have much more experience to apply to my running and am going into this event much better prepared.

For some mad reason, I decided to sign up to #runeveryday in October even though I knew I had 4 marathons and a 100 mile race booked. The month started with the Stour Valley Special on 1 October – I had missed the summer version and didn’t have my 4th year medal – so I was grateful to Kevin for putting on the extra event so I could remedy that.  It was a very small field, and so it felt like I was running on my own, but I absolutely loved it and managed my best time of the 4 SVM’s I have done.

 

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So, the month started well. After a week of short runs it was off to Barrow for one of their Autumn Marathons. The Clover course is one of my favourites, however it was being run the opposite way to usual so that could be interesting.  Again I was running on my own, and with no agenda I just enjoyed the beautiful Suffolk Scenery and it felt like running an entirely different race.  Everything felt good and I came home in the quickest time of any of my Barrow Marathons (and I have done 27 of them) and, in fact, the 2nd quickest marathon I have ever run.

 

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Barrow No. 27

 

So, we are into the 3rd week of my #runeveryday challenge and so far it has been a very good and positive thing.  It seems to suit me, running every day but for less distance.

So, focusing on the 100 miler. The biggest thing I need to get right is my feet.  My failure at the GUCR was definitely due to my lack of feet preparation and maintenance.  Prior to this race I had only ever run 100km and my feet had always been ok, if a little sore, but nothing I couldn’t put up with for 14 odd hours.  Even after 18 hrs up and down around Snowdonia on all kinds of mixed terrain, they were not that bad.

So, I didn’t pay the necessary attention to preparing my feet and not dealing with hot spots when they started and then ignoring the blisters when they started. This resulted in an extreme amount of pain and my dropping from the race after 100 miles.

I did better at the KACR, and although my feet were sore after 74 miles this wasn’t the reason for dropping. I had a low point just before reaching a checkpoint and instead of working through it, I just ‘gave up’.

But on both of these occasions, the decision to drop was mine and mine alone and this is how it should be. Trying to run somebody else’s race just doesn’t work.  Sure, it’s great to have some company and support but, on the reverse, it can be difficult to maintain a pace that you’re not comfortable with – be it slower or faster.  So, although I will be happy to continue to support friends running, I will not sacrifice my race for somebody else.

I’ve also learned that you get much better results when you’re not half a stone heavier than you’re comfortable with. A little too much alcohol and sweet treats meant that I was a little ‘soft’ around the middle and carrying those extra pounds really makes a difference.  So, since early September, I have abstained from the ‘sauce’ and eaten a lot more fruit and I really believe that this has helped with my improved performance.

So, all in all, I am in a good place with my running and feel positive going into this event. Having started last year, I’m familiar with it and I think that could help.  It’s an easy event in that there are 4 ‘legs’ all starting and finishing at a central hub where you have access to a drop bag.  Also, I will have company from 2 good friends, for the last 50 miles, 50 to 75 because this will be during the night and Geoff worries about me and the last 25 so that I can’t get away with just ‘giving up’!!!

So, I’ll stop waffling now and sincerely hope the next post I write will include a picture of my finisher’s buckle.

In the word’s of Karl ‘Speedgoat’  Meltzer ‘’100 miles, it’s really not that far’’

Bring it on…………………..I know I can do it!!

 

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SVP 100km – 2017

I ran this event in 2015 and vowed to return.

In 2016 I volunteered, sweeping the second half of the course, and earned myself a free place.  Also, a very good friend of mine, Sam Cooper, was running this as her very first 100km so I decided that I would support her.

As regular readers of my blog will know I have been running a lot of long events recently, so I was going into this pretty tired but confident that I could make the distance so I had no agenda other than to cross the finish line with Sam.  In fact, if it hadn’t been for her I would probably have had a lie in!

The event starts in Newmarket, about 45 minutes from home, so it is not too much of an early start.  I sorted everything the night before – which is very rare for me – and got an early night setting the alarm for 4.45am.

When the alarm went off, I had a moment before it dawned that I had to run 63 miles that day and I did sort of feel that I would rather have rolled over and gone back to sleep but – as they say – no rest for the wicked.

Geoff had offered to take some pictures of the runners as well as supporting me so I knew I have a lift home and didn’t have to worry about logistics, like you have to sometimes on a point to point.

Arriving at the memorial hall in Newmarket, I met with 9 other Sudbury Joggers towing the line as well as plenty of other runners that I know so lots of friendly faces.  I did smart a little at one comment of – are you going to finish this time?.  OK, yes I didn’t finish the GUCR or the KACR and yes I probably have been over doing the long events….but I know I have learned valuable lessons.

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Getting ready for the off

So at about 6.50am we left the hall to walk up to the start line.  After a short briefing, we were on our way.  The first mile or so is a bit tedious along the main road but once you turn off onto the Devils Dyke, the terrain becomes more like what you are going to encounter for most of the day.  I felt that we were taking it very steady and once you are on the dyke you are pretty much single file anyway.

The plan was to just focus on each checkpoint and there were 12 miles to the first one in Great Thurlow.  The majority of the route was trail, there were a few puddles around but it was all pretty easy going underfoot.  I was thinking that I didn’t remember there being so many ‘inclines’ but perhaps that was just the tiredness in my legs.  Also, worryingly my feet was still a bit sore from the KACR, but it was only 63 miles and I had painkillers.

We reached CP1 in 2hrs 18mins, I thought at a reasonably steady pace but Sam would have liked to be a little more steady I feel.  However, I knew that we would slow a lot later, so wanted to get some time in the bank.  Geoff was at the first CP taking some pictures, and after looking at the table I couldn’t see anything savoury on offer so asked for my bag which I had asked him to bring to each CP.  Unfortunately, as he was focused on the pictures and taking care of the 2 dogs, he had forgotten to bring it.  My initial action was to grump and stomp off….and had to wait until I next saw him to apologise.!

So on to CP2 at Clare Country Park, 11 miles on.  The weather, I thought, was kind however I was just really hot and couldn’t seem to regulate my temperature.  Perhaps its just because I’m a menopausal old lady (sorry guys)…and that could explain the grumpiness…….

I tried to keep the pace steady around the 11/12 min mark which is slow for me, this early on, so I was tending to get ahead a little but I made sure that I was always in sight and regularly walked so that Sam could catch up.  Also, I wanted to try and keep plenty of time in the bank for the later stages.  I was a little worried that Sam didn’t appear to be enjoying herself as much as I thought she might and in hindsight I guess it was because she was running harder than she wanted to.  But I reminded her that there are peaks and troughs, highs and lows and didn’t mention that I felt dead on my very sore feet!

 

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Knowing the CP is just around the corner

We arrived at CP2, 23 miles, in 4hrs 45mins so we were well ahead of cut offs.  The offerings at this CP, and all subsequent CPs, were fantastic so I feasted on mini sausages and water melon – yes, at the same time.  There was great support from fellow joggers so whilst Sam changed her socks and shoes I had a quick chat but did gently encourage her to not get too comfy.

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Carl & Geoff – The Support Team

The next section of 10 miles to the CP at Long Melford are particularly nice, passing through Cavendish and Glemsford.  Geoff was out on course taking some pictures and Sam’s hubby Carl was supporting, all was good but Sam still didn’t seem to be feeling the love.

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Running through Cavendish

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Passing Kentwell Hall

 

Coming into Long Melford, we were told that Carl was going to the shop to get some ice lollies and as we ran down the high street I saw him ahead of me coming out of the shop but he took off like a rocket so we were going to have to wait until we got to the checkpoint for refreshment.  CP3 was being manned by Sudbury Joggers, and as it is on the Cricket Pitch there is always fantastic support there.  The array of fruit on offer was awesome so I had my fill (I love fruit on long runs) but I still managed to find room for the ice lollie.

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Sam even got a massage!!

Leaving the CP we knew that there would be even more support from the Joggers at the Mill Hotel, Sudbury.  It has become a bit of a tradition for club members to meet there on race day, so much so that runners wonder whether it is an official CP.  It’s just about 3 miles to there so broke up the 11 miles to CP4.  A very quick pit stop and a small sip of cider and we were on our way again.

Leaving Sudbury there are a couple of sharp hills and fatigue was setting in.  The pace was slowing and I was beginning to get a bit concerned about the cut offs.  Whenever there was a flat stretch or down hill I encouraged a bit of ultra shuffling but I could tell from her body language that Sam was not feeling great.

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Henny Church….still smiling – just!

A couple of miles outside of Bures we were caught by a guy wearing a SVP yellow crew shirt, and he informed us that he was a sweeper.  Not great news, but we were still within the cutoffs.  I walked with him for a bit chatting, and learnt that he was the ‘early’ sweeper and he was carrying on to Nayland for himself.  The later sweepers hadn’t caught us….yet.

Turning back to Sam, I could tell that this had knocked her confidence and she started to doubt herself.  I had a few words…..

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Coming into Bures

Checking my watch as we came into Bures, CP4, we were still ahead of the cutoff but it didn’t leave a lot of time to dally.  Once again, there was support from fellow joggers which lifted Sam’s spirits and after a bit of a sit down, a couple of salty potatoes (heaven!!!!) we were on our way again with about 10 minutes to spare.

Sam left with a spring in her step and I had to put in a real effort to keep up with her for the next mile, as she lives close to this section I was hoping that it would lift her spirits a bit.  Not long after that we came across the runner in front of us, waiting for a bit of company.  He had decided he had had enough and was just planning on getting to Nayland, so we all carried on together.  We had left the sweepers at the CP at Bures, but the last runner had dropped there so they caught us with a couple of miles to go to CP5. It was becoming increasingly clear that we were not going to make the cut off unless we managed a couple of 12 minute miles, and none of us could see that happening as much as the sweepers were great and encouraging.

It was then just a painful walk to Nayland, arriving at 7.27 pm – 22 minutes after the cutoff and game over but 50 miles covered which is a personal achievement for Sam.

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A welcome sit down

So a dnf for me, but this event wasn’t about me.  I so wanted to support Sam and help her achieve her goal and, in a way, I feel that I let her down.

But, like I have this year, I’m sure that she will learn from this and that 100km medal will soon be hers….

 

 

 

Norfolk 100km

I had entered this event months ago as part of the positive steps ‘grand slam’. I had completed the first of the three events in January this year – The Peddars Way, 48 miles from Knettisham Heath to Holme next the sea, this would be the 2nd followed by a little 50k around the kings forest in November.

The timing wasn’t brilliant, just 2 weeks after my attempt at the Grand Union canal race but with a fairly generous cut off of 16 hrs I thought I would give it a go.

The original plan, when I booked it, was to stay overnight at the finish location – Sheringham – and catch the organised bus to the start – Castle Acre – in the morning. But, the desision in the end was to drive up the morning of the race and then drive home after. So alarm set for 3.30am to leave at 4.30am for the 2 hour drive.

Arriving at the start location around 6.30am it was great to see a fair few familiar faces and with only 30 minutes to the start there was just enough time to get registered, collect my t shirt and have a quick loo stop. Then it was a brief briefing from Kevin, race director, and we were on our way.

I had a loose plan of trying to get half way in about 6 hrs so that I knew I had plenty of time to get finished if I had to slow a lot. My feet had not really healed properly from the GUCR but Geoff had got me some blister powder and twin skin socks and I taped over the worse of the blisters, but resigned myself to the fact that my feet would hurt.

The first 20 odd miles is along the Peddars Way so I was familiar with that. It was cool and even a little drizzly to start with so the first 2 or 3 hours I felt pretty comfortable. The first checkpoint at 9 miles came along fairly quickly and I just had a refill of my bottles and a swig of coke and was on my way.
After another 5 or 6 more miles I started to feel a bit tired.  As I’d only had a couple of slices of toast for breakfast about 5 hrs previously I thought I better eat something. I looked in my backpack for my goody stash of cheese, crackers and nuts only to find it wasn’t there!! I tried to think what had happened to it and remembered that when I had come back from the loo Geoff had already put my kit bag away and passed me my bag pack….so, it must have been in my kit bag still. As Geoff was out in the van following the race I tried to call him to see if he could meet me to give me it…but I couldn’t get through – probably a good thing as I guess I would have been a bit grumpy.  The next checkpoint was about 22 miles so I’d just have to wait until then. Luckily, however, Geoff was waiting around 20 miles in …. so I managed to grab my cheese and crackers which gave me a boost.

Arriving at CP 2 around 11.15am my 6 hr plan for the first half was looking hopeful. From Holme you then joined the Norfolk Coastal path. I had been looking forward to reaching the coast and there were some nice wooden boardwalks to run on which were pretty easy on the legs…and sore feet.

After the long slog of 13 miles between cp1 and 2 there was only around 6 miles to cp3 at Titchwell. It was on this stretch that I got chatting to a guy from Southend Flyers called Chris – who was to become one third of the orange amigos….the other third was to be Trev, a fellow jogger, who had got a little lost when we caught him up. The three of us pretty much stuck together for the rest of the day.

Coming into cp3, I was greeted with a ‘hello gin’ from the volunteer who turned out to be a fellow runner I had met doing the heritage coast marathon a few weeks ago. It’s always nice to see a familiar and friendly face, and he told me he would see me again at the cp at Cley – 53 miles. I sincerely hoped that would be the case.

The sun had now come out and the temperature was rising. It looked like it was going to turn into a hot day.

I hadn’t put any sun cream on at the start, nor had I put my visor on so would make sure I took care of that as soon as possible. As luck would have it, Sarah – the tonic of ‘Gin and Tonic’ and Geoff were on the route around mile 29 so I managed to get some sun cream from Sarah as i couldn’t find mine nor locate my visor. Thinking about it i concluded that they were both still on the bed at home along with my gaiters which I hadn’t been able to locate earlier. Note to self….don’t forget important things!!!!

The next cp was around the 36 mile mark and with a cutoff of 3pm. But I didn’t see that would be too much of an issue. I have covered the first 30 miles in around 5hrs 50 so my loose plan was a little tighter….

After a couple of miles, coming into Brancaster Staithe there was an ice cream van on the quay….luckily I carry some money so was able to enjoy an ice lolly. I was so interested on the lolly that I preceeded to wander aimlessly around the quay side….closely followed by Chris and Trev…

Finally we managed to work out where we had gone wrong and get back on the path. Again there were some nice wooden boardwalks along this section so I was able to trot along for a bit.

Coming into cp4 I had about 50 minutes on the cutoff so felt comfortable knowing I had 8 hours to complete a marathon distance. After a pit stop for mostly fruit – I was on my way ready for the beach section. Kevin had told us about a diversion on the beach at Holkham to avoid the coastal path but I think I was on the beach a lot longer than I needed to be, however it meant I missed out the sand dunes…

Some of the sand was packed and easy to jog along but there was also a lot of fine stuff. Without my gaiters and with a hole in my shoe there was soon a lot of sand rubbing my already sore toes. There seemed little point, until getting off the beach, in emptying my shoes so it was just a case of ‘keeping good humour’….this was helped by seeing what I thought was a naked man walking towards me.  Turned out he was…!!!!! Not the prettiest sight as most nudists tend to be old and wrinkly….as was this one.

Finally, after what felt like an age, i got off the beach and into Wells. I had phoned Geoff to ask where he was so knew he was going to meet me with fresh socks and shoes. I did throw a ‘small’ diva moment when he suggested I walk over to the van – which was all of  200 metres away – but I plonked my arse down and told him to go get them…..sorry Geoff and the other excellent supporters for having to witness my stroppiness.  Sarah applied more suncream to my arms and face but I had already told her not to worry about my legs – what a Muppet!!!

Chris and Trev patiently waited whilst I got my feet washed and re-powered. Then on with fresh socks and bigger shoes which helped a lot.

It was busy with tourists through Wells, crabbing, eating fish and chips and icecreams and sitting enjoying the sun. What they thought of our motley crew I chuckle to think.

Heading back out onto the coastal path I was really starting to feel the heat. I wet my buff and drapped it round the back of my neck but there wasn’t a lot I could do about the backs of my legs which were becoming increasingly salmon pink – if only I’d let Sarah put a bit of cream on them.  It was just a case of head down and get to the nice checkpoint at 46 miles.  By the time I got there, I was seriously over heating but thankfully a lovely supporter gave me an extra buff which Geoff doused in water and I placed on my head.  That helped a bit and with some strawberries and coke it was onwards to the final checkpoint at Cley.

For a fair while you could see Blakeney in the distance but it seemed an age before finaly getting there.  I’ve been to Blakeney many a time and have walked the path from there to Cley so I knew it well.  It was very runnable and Chris and I did our best to shuffle along a bit.  If it seemed to take a long time to get to Blakeney it took an eternity to reach Cley but reach it we did eventually.  Luckily, as I was familiar with this bit I knew exactly where the path went, Chris being with me was ok but Trev had dropped back a little and he didn’t appear to be following us…we could see that even if he carried on the road he would rejoin the path so we carried on.  Chris’ wife had been out meeting him on the course and we saw her here again – he had been telling me about the plan for her to run her first marathon at Snowdon this year so I had a little chat with her about that.

Arriving at the cp, there was some comments that the cut off was 7.45pm which with only around 10 miles to go and deadline 11pm seemed a little harsh.  I arrived at 7.37pm so was ok and was told by Peter all was fine to go on.  Geoff had got some more fresh fruit and I stuffed my face full of it.  Due to the heat, other than drinking that was all I was managed to eat but thankfully I didn’t appear to be having any ill effects from it.

The next 3 or 4 miles were the most brutal and arduous of the entire day.  With very sore feet, having to tackle miles of pebble beach is definitely a mental test.  Geoff walked along with me for about a mile which was nice, but then I have to stop to get the stones out of my shoes and the other two orange amigos started to vanish into the distance.  Luckily we hit a bit of grassy stuff and I could trot to catch them up.  Back together again.

It was really just a case of walking now, willing the end of the pebbles to arrive.  It did eventually with a nice couple of hills into Sheringham and the sounds of a Saturday night.  People in the pubs and music playing.  We jogged along the prom, looking forward to the final climb up Beeston Hill (Bump).  It was just starting to get dark now, and the moon looked fantastic from up on the hill.  Coming down the other side we were met by the race director Kevin, who preceeded to run us into the finish.  Asking how far it was he replied only 1/2 a mile….but when we started to go ‘up’ I did mutter a bit…perhaps…but was promptly told to stop complaining….!!!

And, finally, the finish was in sight…just a jog across the cricket field and over the timing mat.  15hrs 17mins….not a very impressive time but well within the cut off of 16 hrs.  More important was the fact that I finished…after my DNF at the GUCR I was just very relieved to do that….

Chris had completed his further distance ever and Trev was not too far behind to complete his grand slam.

It was a very tough day at the office.  Of the 62 starters 15 dropped out which is 24% drop out and given the heat and terrain I was proud to get that medal.

And now just the matter of a 2 hour drive home…not sure how I managed to stay awake, just glad I wasn’t driving.

Arriving home, getting showered and getting a bowl of soup down, we finally got into bed around 2am – a mere 22.5 hrs after getting up…

Oh…and did I mention the sunburnt legs??? No? – well I have very sore sunburnt legs.

Another lesson learned…

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