Sunday 25 August 2019

Surrey: Woldingham marathon race recap

Lately there's been a lot of changes in my life, so running has been somewhat lower of a priority than usual.  I was feeling a bit nervous about the double marathon I've got looming, as I worried I hadn't been doing enough training, but still wasn't feeling motivated to go and run up hills on my own.  Iz was away over the Bank Holiday so I started googling for marathons.  Lo and behold, I found this one in Surrey, conveniently with a day off work either side, so I decided last minute that I would go and do it.  I arranged to stay with my parents either side to break up the journey.

I drove down to Milton Keynes on Saturday morning (3 hours), then on to Surrey Sunday morning (2.5 hours), then back from Surrey to Milton Keynes Sunday afternoon (2 hours) then back to Liverpool on Monday morning (3.5 hours).  The main thing I've found since I started doing my marathons solo is the driving is a killer.  I am not a great driver, I don't enjoy it, and more than 2 hours is a lot, especially on consecutive days and/or after a marathon.  Yuk.

This marathon also started with my GPS going haywire so I had to pull off the M25 and call my parents for verbal instructions to my destination.  Cue my mum, saying "You need the A22... oh hang on, it says the A25 here... well one of those anyway, going towards Godstone, then you get on Flower Lane, then Quarry Road" whilst I drove round in circles in the countryside panicking with 23 minutes to go before the race started. 

The last time I had such a panicky start was Worcestershire when I lost track of the time and screeched into the car park with minutes to spare! Oh god.  Unfortunately I see more of this in my future...

ANYWAY.  I got there (thanks Mum!) and it was all so low key I even had time for a pre-race photo.  The race started outside a private school which was Very Surrey:

I also spotted someone I knew from London, Sarah, who'd come down to do the half.  She is one of the organisers of Love Trails festival, which I've already signed up for next year.  We had a quick catch up which was lovely - it's always nice to see a friendly face at far away races.

The first mile or two was along the drive leading out of the school.  The runners were still all clustered together and it was clearly going to be a warm day:

The race was two loops of the half marathon course and I knew it was pretty hilly.  I was initially a bit nervous because there was no GPX but as long as I didn't get lost on my first loop, I would be able to follow the trail on my Garmin.  A man in the car park had said he got lost last year a couple of times because the course wasn't very well marked, which made me even more nervous, but I needn't have worried.  There were enough people around on the first loop and the course was better marked than I expected so I didn't get lost after all. Phew!

Due to the lack of GPX, I also didn't know how much elevation there was but I knew it would be 'hilly' which was what I wanted in order to train for Dorset in a couple of weeks.  Lo and behold, there were very quickly a hill:

Followed by another hill:

Followed by another hill!

The middle one might not look that steep but it was certainly a good climb and the views were stunning.  This section was an out-and-back, presumably included to get the race up to the required distance whilst still being a loop overall.  It was great as you see everyone in the race.  Sarah passed me and I think she was second place female, looking strong, and I wondered if she might manage to overtake the other girl as she still had another 6 miles or so to go. She must've been comfortable as she was able to shout 'well done Alice' as she ran past me, what a star!

There was an aid station at the far end of the out-and-back, with some very cheerful volunteers and some very welcome Coke.  I do love a race that provides real Coke!

This was the view as I returned to the second hill, this time descending it:
And this one was taken at the bottom of that hill by the official photographer:
There was a fair amount of tree cover on this race, which was good as I'd forgotten to put any suncream on (in my defence it wasn't very sunny when I left Milton Keynes!)  but it was definitely sunny now. 
There was a long, boring road section towards the end of the first loop, and I could feel a blister starting so I stopped to sort it out.  I sat down on a grass verge and faffed with tape and Compeed for five minutes, which helped a bit.  I was wearing trail shoes but there was a surprisingly large amount of pavement and on a hot day that can cause rubbing/chafing leading to blisters.  Annoying.
I arrived back at the midpoint and briefly saw Sarah wearing her medal (I didn't find out until later that she was first female in the half, in an amazing time of 1:57).  Well done you legend!!

I had brought along some cold salted new potatoes, cooked by my mum yesterday,  and ate them joyfully here:
I then set off for loop number two: more of the same!  Somehow on two loop marathons, I always feel happier at the start of the second loop because I know what I've got to do and I'm almost counting down from this point - each difficult hill is the last time you are going to do that hill, each mile ticked off is closer and closer to finishing.  Psychologically I really like double loops - I enjoyed Shropshire for the same reason.

More beautiful views (these were taken from the top of the first hill - it was much quieter on the second loop as all the half marathoners had finished):
  Running down the hill to the friendly aid station:
At the aid station, I got chatting to a tall guy about how warm/challenging today was and he mentioned he'd recently been running in Scotland (where it'd been cold) and was going to Croatia for a marathon in a couple of weeks.  When I caught up with him, I asked about this and it turned out he's running the Istrian Wine Marathon (like Medoc).  On further questionning, he was going with David Hellard (of Caffeine Bullet/Bad Boy Running podcast fame) - I knew about this trip as I'm on the mailing list but as I only did Medoc last year it was a bit early for another wine marathon.  I said so and the man - Brent  - told me he'd done Medoc multiple times.  We continued to chat on and off - sometimes getting ahead or behind of each other and then catching up again over the next five miles. 

As we reached the bottom of the penultimate hill, we came across some slower runners who were just starting up the hill towards the aid station.  A couple of women and then a man, all struggling with the lack of water available.  The day was boiling hot by this time - I had refilled my water at the aid station and was carrying a litre in my bottles, but less experienced runners perhaps expected more water stations and were struggling.  Later I saw a man being sick in the woods, saying he couldn't keep water onboard even though he was dehydrated - he was resting in the hope of feeling better.  There was a water drop point in the woods, but when I arrived there was very little left - I fear it would have run out before the last runners arrived.  I did notify the next aid station about these things but I am not sure they were rectified - note to race directors - if you run races in summer this is the number one thing you have to get right! 

On a lighter note, during one of the middle sections, I saw this sign:
I stopped to take a photo because it really amused me.  How very Surrey!  In Liverpool I feel sure that sign would've just said "NO BIKES".  On closer examination, it even has a Latin phrase on the sign under the crest (!) :
Frangas non electes

I looked it up and it means "Unbowed, Unbroken".  Hahahaha.  You're not in Liverpool any more, Dorothy!  Shortly after this I got talking to a girl who was complaining about the hill, saying it was the hardest hill EVER, an opinion which I absolutely knew to be untrue, and I was backed up by another runner who could also guarantee she'd done worse ones.  I did my usual spiel about how you should try to be grateful for the hills, because at least you can walk them, and they're making you a better runner, and that this hill will make future hills easier, and wouldn't a race with no hills be really boring?  She was unconvinced, I think...

The final Surreyesque part of this race went via a rather lovely golf course:
Before the final long road section back to the school.  By this time I was hot, bored, and fed up, the race had already gone over marathon distance (grrr) and my blisters were hurting:

But it was not much further now, and I triumphantly crossed the finish line in just under six hours:

A lovely volunteer gave me a medal (after telling me they thought they'd run out of medals but luckily found another box - I didn't comment but I definitely would've had something to say if there'd been no medal at the end!!!)

I sat down, drank a ridiculous amount of water - I think I had about 3.5 litres today including a litre of electrolytes.  Garmin said the AVERAGE temp was 30 and the max was 35 - ouch!   Hot races don't bother me as much as they used to but my foot was in a state:

and I was knackered! 

I picked up my goody bag - they had run out of t-shirts in both small AND medium so I didn't bother taking one as it woudn't fit me anyway.  This is also bad as I was nowhere near last - I was 34th out of 64 marathon runners.  

Note to Race directors - PLEASE ask people what size they are when they sign up.  Also please give the option of declining a t-shirt to save on waste - I would've just said no and that would've meant one less t-shirt ending up in landfill.

I walked back to my car (in most scenic race car park ever?) and dumped all my stuff, got changed in a very public place (!) and drove back to Milton Keynes - traffic was thankfully very kind so I got back in record time.
Beastly hills - turned out to be 1000m ascent, definitely decent practice for Dorset!  Legs were sore for a few days after...
Another interesting factoid from the stats was that although my second lap was slower by 26 minutes, I still improved my overall position by 11 places i.e. I overtook 11 marathon runners who had been ahead of me after one lap.  Perhaps obvious, but as I probably do more marathons than most people I think my endurance is slightly above average so I tend to be less tired towards the end.

Saturday 3 August 2019

Lancashire: Scorcher marathon (Day 9) race recap

Today I was meant to be in Somerset running the Mendip Marauder trail ultra (with 4100 feet of ascent).  Unfortunately it was cancelled at the last minute, resulting a desperate search for an alternative race.  Step up the Scorcher 10 in 10, a flat road marathon just outside Preston featuring six 4.37 mile laps of quiet country roads.  Almost the complete opposite of the race I had planned, but on the same day, significantly closer and still had places on Friday.  I was in.

This is the first race I've ever completed solo and unsupported.  I went back and checked...  I have never ever finished a race without someone waiting for me.  Until now.  Go me...

I arrived on time (rare!) and registered.  Whilst I'm filling in my medical form, the volunteer asks the guy behind me for his name... it's Charlie Sharpe!  Charlie is well-known to me via GB Ultras and I hope to go on one of his coached running holidays next year.  We had a nice chat - he was doing the half having done 100k last weekend. 

Here's the start line... this is the entire marathon field! I love these small local races - they're always so friendly.  The vibe reminded me of Worcestershire, West Yorkshire, Shropshire...
I got chatting to a nice lady called Glenis as we set off and we ran the first lap together.  Unbelievably she's running 31 marathons in 31 days!  Most of these she's just quietly getting on with by herself, whilst still going to work, how awesome is that.  I found her Justgiving page and have sponsored her as this is super impressive - not sure I could do that. Amazing.  

As we approached the end of the first lap, we were overtaken by Charlie (who started 10 minutes later than us) and went on to win the half marathon in 1 hour 26 minutes (and that's doing it as a recovery race)!  As he disappeared up the road, I commented that his pace was significantly faster than my 5k pace.  

Next on the amazing list was a young lady called Hils who is running the 10 marathons in 10 days.  She'd started early this morning to avoid the worst of the afternoon heat.  I realised when I saw her that I'd met her before - at Hubble Bubble marathon in Leeds last year - and when I re-read through my race report I discovered she was 77 and had run 64 marathons and was hoping to get to 100 before she was 80.  Well she's run at least 73 now - probably more - and it's her 78th birthday tomorrow.  Totally inspiring.  

The majority of the race looked like this:
 and each section you saw six times.  I actually quite like looped races, as it feels like you're ticking off the miles each time you pass HQ.  Here I am, still looking quite fresh (this must have been early on!) as it later got really very warm.  Garmin says the high was 31 degrees which is entirely believable.  Yet again I didn't wear suncream so have probably topped up my vitamin D levels a bit!
 More views from the race.  There were quite a few stinky cow fields en route.  I kept seeing those little floaty white plant seed pods (I googled - they're called cypselae) and trying to grab them so I could make a wish.  Easier said than done whilst running!
There were a few people doing the 9th of the 10 in 10 marathons today, and the race director announced them all at the start.  This dude was one of them, noticeable due to his "52 in 52 finisher" t-shirt meaning he has already done some epic stuff.  Here he is, disappearing into the distance after LAPPING me on a hill despite having run 8 marathons already this week. Christ on a bike.
Towards the end of this lap, I spotted a clump of wispy cypselae floating in front of me and managed to grab them.  Realising I'd captured the motherload, I quickly made five wishes.  It was interesting to notice what my brain came up with given five seconds to make that decision...

The route today was essentially a square and one of the corners was at this pub.  Initially this wasn't a problem as it was closed, but on laps 5 and 6 it was open.  I promised myself on lap 5 that I'd stop for a Coke on lap 6 as it was getting really warm by that point.  I powered through lap 5 on Kendal mint cake, a paracetamol and a caffeine bullet, but by lap 6 this was a welcome sight:
I ran in, to the surprise of the bar staff and locals, ordered a pint of Coke with lots of ice, then downed it.  I pressed the cold glass against my cheeks (heavenly!) and tipped the ice into my hat.  I felt a huge burst of energy that saw me through the rest of the race.

As you cross the motorway,  you can see the festival site on the other side of the road in the distance (click on the photo to make it bigger) - it looks closer than it is!  Just after this on my last loop I caught up with another runner called Natalie.  She was struggling a bit so I scooped her up and we ran the last kilometre or so together. 
As we approached the finish line, to my delight we passed Hils again.  I shouted that we would wait to clap her in at the finish.  A few minutes later we crossed the line together.  Natalie's husband was waiting along with their gorgeous dog, who licked the salt off my legs whilst we posed for a photo!

One of the utterly brilliant things about this race is that there was free ice cream or ice lollies at the end, I have never seen this before at any race ever and it was so so welcome.  The race director said it had been very popular - I got the impression he'd bought an ice cream van for the benefit of his race entrants.  Honestly the whole day was full of lovely people.
Within a minute, Hils came across the finish line and I got this lovely photo of her with one of the volunteers.  I sincerely hope I'm still running marathons at her age.  I meet a lot of older people through my work and I can honestly say I've never met any like her!
Lots of the finished racers were sitting around chilling at the end and one of them kindly took this picture of me before I hopped back in my car and drove myself home.  
Not a bad day's work!  The day certainly lived up to its Scorcher name.  Another county ticked off and kept my legs ticking over - I can't imagine I would have run a marathon if I'd stayed at home so definitely a good call.  I can definitely recommend this company (called Time2Run events) - really friendly and well-organised.