Saturday 12 December 2020

Cambridgeshire: Bauble Bimble marathon race recap

Today was the last marathon of 2020.  I've managed 23 this year, which isn't bad.  10 of them were actual real races - but this one definitely wins the Best Medal award.  I've never done a Christmas-themed race before so it's nice to get one of those in too.  This was rescheduled from November which is the quickest reschedule ever, but this company (Zig Running) run dozens of races a year.

Here I am at the start.  Note the pink and blue toilets in the background (!)   The race was held at a horse racing track and it was pretty chilly at the beginning but luckily I arrived with only a few minutes to spare so there wasn't too much hanging around.

The race director was a pretty friendly guy - I'd already had a laugh with him about his blue Everton Christmas hat (he reassured me it was actually a Spurs Christmas hat - okay) and the race briefing was a pretty funny affair.  He told us to make sure we exposed ourselves to Graham every lap (Graham was keeping track of how many laps everyone had done as there was no chip timing).  He also highlighted all the people doing the double marathon (there's another tomorrow), pointed out the lady doing her 300th marathon (!) and the people with a film crew as they were training for Marathon des Sables.
Without further ado we set off on the 8 lap course.  It was a pretty cloudy day, drizzling mildly.  Cambridgeshire is generally pretty flat but this course wasn't - there was a walkable hill each lap plus quite a few gentle slopes both up and down.  The views were all much like this:

There was something growing in the fields by the side of the path. Not sure what... possibly cabbage?
By the second loop it was already raining quite heavily.  I got chatting to a nice lady called Jackie from Norfolk, she was an ultra runner and told me a bit about the race I'm doing in Norfolk in May.  I'm signed up for the standard marathon but there's also a 32 mile and a 86 mile - all along the coastal path - apparently it's very beautiful so I'm considering upgrading!  She also told me about another company (Ultra Challenge) who do 60ish km ultras so I'll have a look at that too.  You get the best recommendations from other runners!
Meanwhile, it was still raining...

Towards the end of the fourth loop, I got chatting to these two.  Kerry is running 100 marathons before she's 50 (it was going to be 50 by 50 but she's already smashed that)!  I told them about my challenge and we ran together for a bit. 

I lost them after a while, but they later overtook me again, then I overtook them again.  We must've been quite a similar pace and I got to see them again at the end when we'd all finished.  I told them about my blog and I've looked Kerry's page up on Facebook so if you're reading: hi!

This pile of hay bales was near the beginning of the course, which by now was getting a lot muddier.

But the really muddy section was about a third of the way round.  There had been a post on Facebook saying that the course was muddy and to wear trail shoes - GOOD ADVICE.  I brought these and my white (!) Asics gel nimbus, which would definitely never have been the same again had I worn them today! 

I just jogged through this but I saw plenty of other runners skidding and sliding.  The Marathon des Sable lads did in in road shoes... lol.  You may be hardcore but my advice is the classic Scouting "Be prepared" :)

By lap five I'd given up on the Santa hat as the bobble was dragging me down and was quite grumpy about the weather.  It hadn't been forecast to rain but it was absolutely relentless and all my clothes, trainers and gloves were soaked.  I couldn't stop because it was too cold and there was still more than 15km to go.  It's fair to say I wasn't feeling the love at this point.


Luckily if you just keep going eventually something changes.  By lap 7-ish, the rain had stopped (mostly) and I was feeling much more positive. 
On the final lap I stopped to take some pictures of these crab apples - the stream wasn't here earlier which shows how much rain had fallen during the race!
Here I am coming into the finish line:
And here I am with my medal.  They provided real coffee from a proper machine at the finish line (the first decent cup of coffee I've had since arriving in Cambridgeshire!) and a mince pie.  I had a bit of a sit down and took some photos:
This was the state of my (black!) leggings and trainers at the end.  I was sitting in the barn at this point but as soon as I left to walk to the car I started shivering really badly.  It's a short route to hypothermia being out in December in soaking wet clothes...
One last pic of the lovely medal with the Santa hat on.  I was really happy here!  So glad this race went ahead especially as it looks like my next one is going to be cancelled because of Covid... AGAIN.  Ahhh!
Finished in sub-5 hours which isn't bad considering the hills (446 metres!  Gah!  Definitely not flat!) and the rain and the mud.  Well organised and a fun day out.  Driving home tomorrow in torrential rain is probably going to be less fun but hey ho.  It was worth it!
Also a new record writing my race report on the day of the race (!)

Thursday 22 October 2020

Staffordshire: The Birch Challenge marathon race recap

I had a very good feeling about today's race from the outset.  The style and tone of the emails.  The online race briefing.  The description of the aid station.  The fact that it was the winner of “Best Rated Off-Road event 2019” from RaceCheck.  The fact that I didn't have to wear my vest or worry about GPX because it was loops of a 5k course and the race director was happy for you to just go to your car between laps. So obviously I set up a little aid station in my boot:

Featuring: water, electrolytes, Coke, tea, coffee, cheese sandwiches, pretzels, melon, banana, flapjack, jelly sweets, Dolly mixtures, Mars bar, caffeine bullets (no I did not eat all of that)!

Then on top the weather forecast the night before was A-MA-ZING!

It doesn't get better than that.  And I think I deserve it after my last two races! I was due to start at 8:45 so I got up at 05:30 and drove the 90ish minutes down there.  
Now technically the government Covid advice is to "avoid travel outside Tier 3" however that's advisory rather than legally binding.  Personally I consider being inside my car (on my own) and running in a forest (at least 2m away from others) extremely low risk activities.  I am far more at risk going to work in a hospital than I am doing this.  Plus with the Covid second wave I need to safeguard my mental health, and running races is what I do to keep myself sane.  I know I haven't got Covid because I'm on the Oxford vaccine trial and do a swab test every week, so I felt confident I wasn't putting others at risk.
Covid measures at the race were very strict which is a good thing and meant everyone felt safe.  I told a few people I was from Liverpool and nobody thought I was a reckless Covid-spreader.  Phew.
Here I am before the race started.  The last bit of the drive to Cannock Chase just as dawn broke was exceptionally beautiful and I was so so happy to be there. 
Here's a picture of the start line about 5 minutes before the start.  The race is on Forestry Commission land so had to be limited to 30 people under their rules.

As soon as we set off, it was clear it was going to be a beautiful day.  The official photographer took this one of me just as I started - this was one of those lovely races where all the pics were free - image credit to Nick @nicksphotogallery

At the beginning I thought seeing other runners was going to be short-lived as we'd soon be spread out over the course.  In fact, because the route looped back on itself, by lap 7 I recognised pretty much every other competitor and there was much waving and friendly 'well done's.  The route was really beautiful.  The autumnal colours combined with lakes around every corner, little streams and blue skies meant for a stunning setting.

Every corner I went round had another beautiful view.  This was just after a U turn which I managed to miss on lap 5 because I was talking ... luckily I realised quite quickly as the signage was great.
As I came down the hill towards this lake I was reminded of Rutland Water and some of the lovely lakes there, although the weather today was somewhat nicer than that day - which was only about a year ago... crazy.

The loop was just under 6k, and at around 5k there was a river crossing.  I don't think I've ever done a race before where you had to run over stepping stones?

At the end of the first lap I went to the car and ditched my jacket and gloves and had some water, then headed out for round 2.  Quite quickly I got chatting to Dan and Rob, who are both regular marathon runners.  It transpired they had done the same race yesterday as well.  Both are chasing numbers - Rob told me this was his 72nd marathon and Dan was already well into the hundreds.

As usual, we compared races.  It turned out they knew lots of the characters from my other race reports - Lucas the chip shop dude from Seven Deadly Sins, Tim the jogler from Rutland marathon.  Dan had run Escape from Meriden (chained edition!) and told me some hilarious stories including being stopped by the police. I told him the dreaded swamp story from Convergence.  A lap passed without me noticing.  We saw another runner in a New Forest marathon t-shirt and told them about the signs and the Garmin stand and the parking.  I wondered if the other dude had hated it as much as me but reflected that if I said anything, he'd probably say, "Oh that's my favourite race and I've run it 10 times".  Dan said, "Or he might says, "I'm the race director"..." which made me laugh.  The furnace of faux pas beckons...

We talked about Covid.  Rob said he thought it was better now because people could be quite disgusting what with all the snot rockets and spitting.  Dan said,  mock-horrified, "You didn't have to tell everyone though"!  I laughed.  We walked up the hills.  We talked about other races I could potentially do in the Midlands. and Rob mentioned Big Bear Events do races in Leicestershire and Warwickshire also.  Another 5k went by.  The official photographer took this - check out that great social distancing ;-)

At the aid station I had my first mince pie of the year.

Somewhere on the next lap I lost Rob and Dan.  I put my headphones on and just trundled round, chatting to people occasionally and just enjoying the beautiful scenery.  As usual I had made little to no effort to find out anything about the course so the several hills had come as a surprise.  Pictured here they don't look too bad but there was 800m ascent overall!
At the end of lap 5 there was a minor medical emergency - a guy came into the aid station bleeding.  The race director got him a bandage but didn't have anything to clean the wound so I went and found him some wipes and Savlon from my first aid kit in the car.  He was fine, just a bit shaken up.  I think he must've had a fall on the muddy bit near the end.  Most of the course was alright but there were just a few bits where it'd got wet and churned up by bikes.
On the sixth lap I veered off course to try to find somewhere to go to the loo.  As I stepped into the more densely wooded forest, I was surprised to see a lone female walker coming the other way.  I said, "Oh, hello... just looking for the Ladies," and she said, "that's where I've just been!"  We both laughed and once she'd headed out of the woods I used the really quite lavish loo:

Afterwards I ran down the hill and passed her.  She turned and smiled, and maybe I imagined it but we had a bit of a shared "girl power" moment, both of us being single women doing our fitness thing, and she called out, "Have a nice day!" and I said, "You too!" and we both smiled.  It put me in a good mood for the rest of the lap. 

A few more photos from later in the day when the sun came out again:

Having a super-happy moment in the sunshine on lap 6!  Earlier at the aid station I'd overheard a girl say, "I can't think of anywhere I'd rather be than here, doing this, today" and that totally sums up the feeling.  I'd got a 'free' day off work (made up of all the unplanned overtime I've done lately), I was out in beautiful woods, doing a marathon that counts towards my challenge, feeling great and the sun was shining.  Epic.
The lake view was even more stunning than earlier so I took another picture and then spotted this gorgeous tree at the far end so took a pic of that too.
I got to the end and picked up my medal, beer and flapjack.  I've stopped drinking again so I daresay Mattgreen will get to drink this beer at Christmas.  I'd forgotten, but when I signed up you could opt out of a medal and goody bag in exchange for planting a tree.  I obviously couldn't do that (I need the medal to make it count for the challenge and who turns down flapjack?). But there was a sign on the table saying I'd paid extra to plant a tree as well.  I had totally forgotten this but it was a nice bonus at the end.

A day later I got an email from Trees Not Tees regarding my tree (!) which is now planted somewhere near Glasgow.  I generally am strongly in favour of trees instead of t-shirts and also instead of medals in any race shorter than a marathon.  I definitely think being given the option is a good idea.  I hope more races start doing this in future, especially large races where there's a lot of waste.

I wanted a finish line photo but couldn't get the angle right for a selfie so the kind man at the aid station put gloves on so he could take this for me with my phone.  I bought a reusable race cup as they had some nice ones and waited to watch Dan and Rob finish. 

Sadly just before I left I checked my email and got a notification that my next marathon (meant to be on Sunday) had just been cancelled due to Covid.  Arrrggghh!