Sunday, 4 October 2020

Isle of Wight: Isle of Wight marathon race recap

After yesterday's 50k trail race, I allowed myself a bit of a lie-in before today's marathon.  The race was fortunately not due to start until 11.30am - I think this is because Mainlanders need time to catch the ferry over, if they didn't come the night before.  Incidentally you get a 50% discount off the ferry if you enter the race, which was actually very generous as the ferry was quite expensive - so thank you WightLink!

I'd made arrangements to start at 11am, as there was a slightly earlier start for people who thought they would take longer than 5 hours 15 minutes, but no longer than 6 hours, which was the cutoff.  Normally I can run a  road marathon like this a lot faster than that, but after yesterday, I didn't want to take any chances.  

My legs were stiff but not too bad so after some breakfast we headed off to the race start.  The race had lots of very strict rules including that spectators weren't permitted at the start or finish so I had to ditch Ian outside the venue.  Ian was not impressed... his assessment of the IoW is that they are all, "Brexit-loving Tory-voting miserable boring bastards"... No comment!

I left it until the last possible minute to go in and after about 2 minutes of huddling under an awning we were called to the start line by the race director shouting "will the slow group please follow me" - charming.  I overheard a girl say "Will the substandard runners please follow me" in quite a sarcastic voice.

The weather forecast was equally as grim as yesterday, only now with strong winds as well.  It was cold and raining from the very start and pretty much stayed that way all day.

The race director came over to the start and started making random announcements.  He was going on about keeping 2m apart and about marshalls and things, but I didn't care because I was freezing and just wanted to get going.  After five minutes, we were allowed to get started, and one row at a time set off around the field.

Not long after leaving race HQ I took this picture because I could see the sea!  Little did I know that I would barely see it again for the rest of the race.

 The race soon left Cowes and headed out onto the "quieter roads on the Western side of the island" according to the race blurb.  Only the roads weren't that quiet.  Maybe because of Covid, or maybe because of the rain, but everyone and their dog seemed to be out.  For reasons I will never understand, we were instructed to keep left at all times, in direct breach of the Highway Code.  This led to some terrifying overtaking manuevres:

And some pretty hairy left turns where I had to run almost on the central line and pray that no cars came speeding round the bend not expecting me to be in the middle of the road - eek.

The other added element of "excitement" was that this race had an 'extra' cutoff of 3 hours 15minutes at 15 miles.  I would only just have made that yesterday and that was making me twitchy, so I set myself the target of making the cutoff and worry about the rest later.  I also made a deal with myself that I would walk ALL the hills as I needed to conserve my legs for when the going got tough.  The other advantage of the never-ending rain was that I got cold if I stopped, so I ran almost continuously all day.

This picture was taken at around 8k, when the frontrunners overtook me (they are just ahead of that red car) - they had managed to catch up their 30 minute headstart already.  Most of the people in this race seemed to be very serious road runners - not my usual environment I have to say.  Lots of people in shorts and vests despite the conditions.  The winner finished in 2 hours 28 minutes which is pretty serious if you ask me.

Within the first 10k, my phone was already playing up.  Wet fingers, wet screen, wet clothes.  Pictures are blurry and not long after became completely impossible.  Which was a big shame because somewhere around 10k I saw a lady cheering and clapping the runners from the gate outside her house... whilst dressed in a wetsuit, snorkel and flippers.  Honestly it was hilarious, I really wish I'd taken a photo!

Over the course of this race, I saw more roadside stands than I have in any other race I've run.  I started to wish I'd brought a rucksack!  The list, not exclusive, included: apples, honey, eggs, logs, carrots, beetroots, plants, manure, kindling, pumpkins.

Ian, meanwhile, was driving round the island trying to find me.  Here's a picture he took of me.  

 Unfortunately another rule in the race briefing was: 

There is a UK Athletics rule that forbids external assistance so I'm asking you not to have supporters handing you drinks etc. as this is perceived as an advantage (we're also dissuading supporters from attending and given the extra restrictions recently in place we should keep any on course to a minimum).

This seems completely ridiculous to me.  I've run a lot of marathons and even the three World Majors I've done didn't enforce this.  Yesterday Ian literally provided me with a full change of clothes halfway round.  I was so disbelieving of this that I actually went to UKA and looked it up.  Sadly, that rule does exist, though just about all races turn a blind eye.  Ian's role was therefore limited to words of support and friendly waves.  Once or twice, he pretended to kiss me but instead stuffed jelly sweets into my mouth at the last second.  UP YOUR BUM stupid rules!

At some point around 11 miles or so, the route headed out along a narrow path.  There was sea on the right and a kind of marshland on the left.  At this point, the wind and rain really picked up, and thrashed across the path, buffeting runners around.

I was being overtaken by lots of people along this section.  I remember one girl went past, then stopped and screamed back at her teammate, "GET A MOVE ON!!" and then kept running.  I wondered if her team mate found that motivational.  He stumbled past me a few minutes later, in a shirt that matched hers. I felt quite sorry for him really! 

Time passed quickly and I was easily going to make the cutoff, but I refused to take my foot off the pedal until I got there.  I stopped to take a picture, which proved difficult even with a tissue to dry the rain, but as you can see I got there with 30 minutes to spare.  This left me 3 hours 15 minutes to do 11 miles, which I could probably do even if I walked most of it, so I could breathe a sigh of relief at this point.  I rewarded myself by permitting myself to stop for a wee which I'd wanted to do for the last hour.

The next time I saw Ian, he had brought me a bottle of Coke.  I wanted the Coke very very badly, but I also didn't want to get disqualified, so I pretended to stretch/waited for runners to go round the corner/Ian attempted to blockade the view while I sneakily huffed down Coke half crouched against the car.  I felt like a drug addict or an alcoholic.  Great!  

It did the job though and powered me through the next few miles.  I stopped to take this picture at one of the aid stations.  I need to mention that there were soooo many marshalls at this race and they were without exception really friendly and encouraging.  The weather was so horrifically awful and you get really cold marshalling because you don't have the benefit of running to keep warm.  These ladies were both a bit older than me but so so kind and friendly, clapping everyone, handing out water, smiling.  They were touched I thanked them so profusely, but they were the real stars of the show.  In fact there were lots of people who'd come out, huddled under doorways and umbrellas to clap the runners.  I was genuinely surprised and touched.  So that was nice.  The other runners on the other hand, barely said two words to me all race.  This was a race where I was very glad to have my headphones.

What was less nice was that the only thing they had at all the aid stations was water.  I do appreciate Covid yadda yadda but I also  know it doesn't have to be like this as only yesterday they had bananas, boxes of Celebrations, packets of crisps, ziplock bags filled with sweets...  Even providing gels would have been OK.  The only race I've ever done which offered this little was Windermere and I moaned about that at the time.  I just think that if you are running a race which requires intake of carbohydrates to complete it, suitable carbohydrates ought to be provided, for safety reasons if nothing else.  But what do I know.... I'm just a dietitian! Ahhhh! 

Here are a couple more pics Ian took of me running through a river/in the rain:

And here's one where I've stopped for illicit Coke and hence look quite happy, if a little damp:

If by now you're thinking: this is getting boring, just endless boring wet roads, you're starting to feel how I felt.  My parents had said they would phone me at 4 hours, I had spent ages looking forward to this but then they couldn't hear me very well because the phone reception was a bit rubbish so I only spoke to them for a few minutes.

Somewhere around 23 miles there was a long, steepish downhill section and I suddenly had a second wind.  I overtook the people who'd just overtaken me and flew down this hill, they must have wondered what had got into me.  I've always been good at downhill running and I sailed down this hill, Ian caught me just as I got to the bottom.
Because the Isle of Wight was the same day as the Virtual London marathon, I saw quite a few people wearing two bibs.  I knew you could enter the VLM for £20 even if you didn't have a place originally, but I didn't because it seemed like cheating to get two medals for the same 26.2 miles!  Also the VLM was a virtual race, hence most people running it by definition wouldn't have had support/aid stations/etc therefore having those things also seems like cheating.  I'm surprised the race director didn't ban it as this to me is far worse than being given the odd jelly baby.  But whatever! 
At mile 24 there is a gigantic hill that goes on for a mile.  I walked up it, which I didn't mind at all.  At the top, there was a couple holding a a motivational sign and a box of orange slices.  The man was wearing a Vegan Runners top and offered me one.  I hesitated... the girl said helpfully, "Don't worry, we've washed them!" and I said, "It's not that ..." and explained about the pre-race rules email.  She said cheerfully, "We won't tell anyone!" so I took one and it was delicious.  I quickly ate it and then kept running before anybody saw me and reported me to the powers that be.

Finally I shuffle-ran along the last mile and here's a pic of me turning the corner into the finish, taken by Ian from inside the car as he wasn't allowed in. 

I had to take my own finish picture because of this, but when I got my phone out of my vest I was treated to this lovely screen:

So I stood off to one side, waiting 3 minutes, when I saw the race director.  I thanked him for letting me start at 11am (even though I actually finished in 5 hours 9 minutes so technically was a bit too quick for the "slow" group).  I said, "so you'll be sending the medals out in the post, yeah?" in reference to a line in the pre-race email which said:

Medals will be awarded to all finishers – these will be posted out to avoid contact on the day.

The race director said, "Oh no, they're over there, just pick one up".  He gestured to a table on the left.  I am pretty much 100% certain I would've walked straight past that table and would still be waiting for my medal in the post if my phone hadn't stopped working, especially as we were also asked to leave the finish area as quickly as possible.  

I got my medal. It was made of wood (not sure what I think of that).  I took a selfie:

Then I left.  Ian was waiting outside.  I got in the car, sat on a towel and went back to the hotel.  I took a pic with both my medals - my hair and all my clothes were soaked like I'd just got out of the shower.
Then I actually had a shower and sat in bed scoffing pasta that Ian had bought for me.  This is the extremely un-glamorous side of running two races in a weekend:

We went out for dinner to a very average pub, where they accidentally gave Ian alcoholic beer when he'd asked for non-alcoholic.  There were lots of roadworks.  It continued to rain.  Ian remained deeply sceptical of the Isle of Wight in general.  The next morning we got up early and caught the 9am ferry.  It was a calm and serene morning as we sailed away and commenced the 6 and a half hour drive back to Liverpool.  Many, many thanks due to the ever-patient Ian for doing so much driving this weekend.  Definitely couldn't have pulled this one off without him!

Saturday, 3 October 2020

Buckinghamshire: Chiltern Ridge Ultra Trail 50k race recap

This was my first official race after a very long enforced break (7 months!) thanks to Covid-19.  Since my last official race I've run 12 solo marathons just to keep my hand in, but I was definitely ready to earn some new medals.

I saw a link to this race on Facebook a few months ago and thought it looked like a nice day out. It was designed to be Covid-friendly and promised a refund if cancelled.  I knew when I booked it that it was the same weekend as the Isle of Wight marathon, but given IoW was a large road race, I pretty much assumed it would be cancelled.  Spoiler: it wasn't.

I prepared for the race by having a mega-stressful week at work - my boss was off, we were already carrying a vacancy, the caseload has gone a bit mad because of Covid 2 - The Return Of Covid. Much overtime and working outside my comfort zone followed.  I did no running all week because I was exhausted.  The day before the race I got up at 4:30am to pack and then lead Project Awesome before going into work for a few hours.  Ian picked me up from work and we drove through the pouring rain to Wendover.  The weather forecast was truly grim:

On the drive down, my brain provided me with reasons not to take part.  "It's more important that I finish the Isle of Wight.  Running is meant to be fun, what's fun about running through mud and rain for hours?  You've had a hard week, you could just have a nice lazy day in bed and then go and do Isle of Wight.  This is going to be really grim, are you sure you've done enough training?  You've not done hills for ages.  There's a weather warning for floods you know".... and on and on and on.  I told Ian he just had to get me to the start line in my kit no matter what, and I would take care of the rest.

The next morning I felt quite a bit more cheerful, though annoyingly my legs felt slightly sore from overdoing the squats at Project Awesome - oops.  My mum sent me a message that made it sound like I was going to a funeral rather than enjoying my hobby:

After a slightly stressful attempt to drive down a single track lane to find the place, we arrived at the start.  To my surprise it wasn't actually currently raining (though it had rained all yesterday and overnight) but was just really misty instead.  That tiny light in the photo is the huge bright light outside race registration, shown in the next pic, which was only about 100m away.

Registration was in a tent, everyone had to put a mask on to go in and collect their number and a race wristband.  You also had to put a mask on at all the aid stations.   There was a staggered start spread over 45 minutes.

This was the queue to start, with runners setting off every 20 seconds to aid social distancing.  I was having Garmin problems as the start and finish were right on top of each other so it kept completing the course before I even began!  I started at around 8:30am as I was mindful we were booked on the Isle of Wight ferry at 7:30pm so it would be helpful if I could finish in less than 7 hours. 
Ian took this slightly eerie pic of me setting off alone into the mist:

The race was proper trail right from the very start.  I knew a lot of it was in woodland which I was trusting would help minimise the effect of the rain.  It sort of did and sort of didn't.  This picture was taken near the start by the race photographer and I love how atmospheric it is!

The rain started within half an hour of setting off and didn't stop for hours.

For the first few miles, I was being overtaken approximately every 20 seconds by all the runners behind me.  I walked every hill, and tried not to worry about what anyone else was doing, reminding myself that they probably didn't have another race tomorrow.  Around about 7km in, I got into a rhythm and started to feel OK.  I realised that if this was one of my multi-days, I'd be quite happy just pootling along through the woods on my own and that I should really try and make the best of it as there's not many trails like this in Liverpool.  I got to a place with a bench and a viewpoint, though sadly I think the mist took away from it slightly:
The race goes through Tring and first passes over a busy road and then past Tring station, where you had to be lucky to avoid getting a free shower from the cars passing by:
I had cunningly put my phone in its waterproof case prior to this race (this was an exceptionally good plan, as was wearing waterproof socks (Sealskinz) without which the whole day would've been a much grimmer experience).  Nevertheless, by the time I got to the chalky hills up to Ivinghoe Beacon, my phone was dying a death.  My hands were wet, the screen was wet, all my clothes were wet so I had no dry surfaces to dry anything on.  I couldn't swipe, it couldn't recognise my face, I couldn't click on the photo button.  Much swearing ensued.  Eventually I managed to get it to take these pics, just as I came out onto the open tops, with the wind whipping across at 45mph and the rain lashing down:
The hills were steep and there were quite a few of them.  People were coming back in the opposite direction thick and fast by now.  They'd already been to the turnaround point and were on their way back.  One of them warned me to be careful of the chalky slopes because they were very slippery.
When I finally got to the top I spent several minutes wrangling with my phone and some tissues so I could take a picture at Ivinghoe Beacon.  Visibility was terrible and the wind was truly horrific so I didn't hang around.  In the back of my mind I was still thinking about finishing in time for the ferry crossing, and also I started getting cold the minute I stopped so I decided to just crack on.

On the way back I discovered there were only 5 people behind me.  One of them was a girl with an injured knee who I'd overtaken some 30 minutes ago, she told me she was just hoping to make the cutoff.  This reassured me that I would make it as she seemed to know what she was doing.  I had skipped the first check point and all I'd eaten was a sausage roll that Ian gave me.  All my food was in a dry bag inside my sodden vest but I forced myself to make the effort to open it and retrieve my Dolly Mixtures.  These sustained me all the way to the next checkpoint at 24k, the half way point.  There are no photos because the rain was just too heavy.  I saw another bloke slip over and I helped him up and rescued his hand sanitiser from where it had slid down a bank and we ran together for a little while.  The rain, the narrow trail, the low number of participants (105 in the ultra) and the staggered start didn't lend itself to finding people who were a similar pace as me to run with so I ran the vast majority of this race alone.

At 24km, after a field of bulls (!) I came to the second checkpoint.  Ian was waiting there for me and I stopped for at least 10 minutes to try to sort myself out.  I huddled under a sloping roof next to a wheelie bin, where I stripped off my waterproof trousers, jacket and t-shirt and changed into dry ones.  I drank tea from a flask Ian had brought.  I ate a whole flapjack.  Ian reported he had found somewhere in Beaconsfield that could sell me a cable for my bone conduction headphones so I put them on.  I took 2 paracetamol, scanned my wristband and took some chocolates and headed out for the second half.

I took this pic to show how phenomenally well signposted this race was.  I don't think I've ever done a race that was better.  There was red tape (to the left of the picture) and signs at every possible turning, and often "wrong way" signs - which twice saved me from heading off in the wrong direction.  There was a GPX, updated with the covid-changed route, which was accurate, and marshalls at key turnings.  Even the graphic design on the pre-race info was on point.  There was a pre-race briefing on Youtube which was succinct and clear and spectators were made welcome throughout. Results went up the same day.  I couldn't recommend Runaway Adventures any more highly!  Massive thanks due to the team who de-flagged the course after - that must've been quite a job.

The mud and water however - I failed to take pictures of the worst of it due to phone issues, this is just a mild taster.  Suffice to say all of my kit needs a good wash....
As the race continued, I gradually overtook people.  I was quite enjoying myself now - getting from 25k to 30k was quick and easy and I always feel races are easier once you're past that point.  The rain had eased off and eventually stopped completely and I could even see some bits of the countryside.

I think this might be the view from that viewpoint that was all mist earlier:

There was one more checkpoint at 38km outside a pub.  Ian was there and had brought me Coke which I drank enthusiastically.  I swiped my wristband and set off to get this done. My legs were really sore at this point - definitely not used to those hills. I remember chatting to someone who told me the race had been postponed from May, which I hadn't realised.

I can't really remember the last few miles of the race.   There was nobody around.  I just plodded on.

Finally arrived back onto the field.  Other competitors who were getting into their cars stopped to clap, the race volunteers clapped, Ian took photos.  The race director himself gave me my medal (still wrapped in plastic) and I thanked him profusely for a lovely race.  I finished in 6:56 - pretty much dead on my estimate.  Looking at the results afterwards there were at least 12 people behind me plus all the people who didn't finish, so as usual my ability to maintain a (slow but steady) pace for hours served me well.
Ian took this lovely photo of me and then I went and stood behind those toilets in the background and stripped off all my wet kit for the second time today.  I put on some warm clothes and went to get a cup of tea and a pizza from the local vans that were on the field - both of which were amazing.
We managed to get the car out of the mud-infested field without getting stuck (unlike some people) though the car got pretty muddy during the experience...
Ian then kindly drove for several hours down to Portsmouth.  We got there early so I hobbled around Gunwharf Quays food establishments wearing my medal and begging them to let us in (everywhere was fully booked).  Eventually Cafe Rouge took pity on us and I got a hot sandwich before getting on the ferry.  Finally arrived at the guest house on the Isle of Wight at about 22:00 and finally got a shower slightly after.  It had been a loooooong day.  Now to do it all again tomorrow (!)