Thursday 22 March 2012

Big three for March - 3: Hardmoors 55

This is it, an easy week on the running front has brought me to the start line rested and confident. 'The battle would probably all be in my head today',  I thought as the event got underway.

As it turned out I had a great day and banished any tormenting demons along the way. Not as fast a time as previous years as we steadied our pace along the way as Mark wasn't having his best day. But, we both got on with it and Mark got through it - with a few belts of water and ditching of energy drink and was running well again towards the end. 

I just felt pretty good all the way, into Osmotherley only slightly off last years 10-min/mile pace for the first 22m but feeling a lot fresher, through the hills before Kildale in section 2 with energy to spare and I felt I could have run every step from Kildale to the end. Enjoyed it so much we even took a wrong turn at Bloworth crossing to add an extra mile and a half.

The event was good as always. The brilliant Cleveland way route speaks for itself and will offer the same varied and interesting journey for eternity I'd hope. Jon Steele and team handled an increased field despite quite small starting facility at Helmsley and off on time. Marshalls were friendly, obliging and pretty much all went the extra mile to look after us as we tired - at Kildale we were waited on hand and foot as usual. Some of the remote marshalls such as on the rock stack at Wainstones and on top of Roseberry Topping had lugged some drinks and plenty of snacks up to these point - massively appreciated! And even at lower level remote points there was water before needed on what was a not-too-cool-not-too-hot kind of day for March. Seacadets place was also good at end with hot food for a quid, tea and coffee and beer (well actually we brought our own beer, but nobody seemed to mind).

Now I just need to straddle the line between good training and overdoing it now and there's no reason not to have more string days like this in 2012! The next big event is something peculiar called a "Road Marathon", think I've done these before in the dim and distant past and they may have something to do with my preference for the long, slow, off-road and scenic. But I couldn't resist the challenge when laid out in front of me, of the first - for a long time - Hull Marathon.

Thursday 15 March 2012

Big three for March - 2: Wuthering Hike/Haworth Hobble

I still don't know why this event has dual names, both are true enough, but I prefer the Wuthering Hike tag, which usually gets a smile from those knowing of the area when I mention it.

As performances go, not my finest hour, I think I gave up on a fast one early doors. But it's a very nice event, worthy of a mention untarnished by my lacklustre effort. I'm sure somebody out there, who is more organised, will already have an informative and entertaining blog post on it. Here's my highlights and lowlights in 10 bullet points (I'm trying to keep this - reasonably - short):
  1. Things you'll probably only see at this event or in this area #1 - Upon getting to event car park, paid my few quid and was told to "Drive over to the guy in a dress...", who would direct me to park. Must be a "Bronte sister" thing, an amusing start to my race day.
  2. Earlier start than of late for an 8am mass start - up just the wrong side of 5 - **WARNING DON'T READ ON IF YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW ABOUT PRE-RUN BOWEL ACTIVITY** - and out the door too quickly. This had the often experiance effect that I hadn't had that relax time post-breakfast whioch allows bowels to kick in. So I tried to stop at services, some success but not enough. Arrived T-minus 45mins at race start, bit late, loads of people here, long queue for number, seek out toilets - DOH!! Long queue for portaloos. So @ T-minus 8mins to race start made do with a very long pee in a 'quiet' spot around back of race HQ. Which helped a bit by decreasing any bladder pressure on bowel. Does anybody else have issues like this if routine is a bit disturbed?
  3. It a grey and overcast start and a lot of very steady uphill onto the famous moors. No great views of this landscape for now.
  4. Things you'll probably only see at this event or in this area #2 - In Bronte waterfall area Mark - who I ran around with - pointed out that the usual wooden sign posts as well as a few other languages were written in Japanese. Well I never.
  5. CP 1 at the Widdop Reservoir Dam - It was like being at the seaside on a grey winter day. The mist and wind blowing waves into the dam wall from an unknown source creates a strange illusion as we cross the dam.
  6. Behind enemy lines - Much like the Calderdale Hike route of the last few years the route of this event took us into Lancashire, carefully evading border controls obviously. Seemingly not impressed, the route soon takes us back into Gods own county.
  7. Here comes the sun - Soon after long causeway (CP3) as cloud rises and the route drops the sun comes out. Yeh! But it seemed our goose was already cooked today and the late-winter sun's pleasent rays weren't going to help us. Mark had taken a bang on the knee slipping on wet rock and said he wasn't feeling that fresh today anyway, I felt much the same and Simon - who it has to be said was running a bit better than Mark and I - felt much the same as we slowed during the hilly second half.
  8. A string in the tail - Claire warned me about this. I didn't feel great going into the second half and the hills in part 2 weren't going to aid our pace. First a climb to Stoodley pike - a must in this area. Glad of the shot of Jura whisky at the CP before the climb, whisky never tasted so good.
  9. Next climb, Hepstonstall. Apparently the pub there last year was offering impromptu refreshments - not of the alcoholic kind - this year we just climbed up to go down - DOH!
  10. As we found a "just get around" pace once a 6 hour round had slipped away it was back up again on the muddy track to pass Hollin Hall and down to the last CP before the finish. Then a long tarmac road climb to Top O't Stairs.
From here it has a mostly downhill hobble via Penistone hill - of the great Woodentops fell races - back to th start in Haworth - 6:30 - quite a way off Simon and Mark's great PB's on this route (can't help thinking I cursed us). Over stew, Mark and I decided we'd need an easy week before the - significantly longer - Hardmoors 55 next week.

Tuesday 13 March 2012

Big three for March - 1: Golden Fleece Circuit

All is going well so far this year. Having completed two good months training with just a few LDWA challenge events in the mix it's now time for the switch up with back to back weekend events over marathon length.
  1. Golden Fleece Circuit - 26.5m
  2. Wuthering Hike - 32m
  3. Hardmoors 55
The first of these events was the Saturday before last. I entered this new event organised to commemorate a local man and an opportunity to run an LWDA challenge-style event on my doorstep. But having done it I've realised its the first step back up to longer distances and days out. My legs also confirmed that on Saturday!

There was a really good turnout for a supposed 26.5m event from South Cave despite a grey, overcast sort of day. We'd be out through local villages and parkland into the agricultural rolling hills of the East Yorkshire Wolds. Returning to face its toughest hills in the closing 3 miles. The 'supposed' comment comes on the back of me plotting the route and finding it to be at least 27m on the map - maybe 26.5m was a string measurement - which usually means more when on my feet. Anyway, no complaints here about a bit of extra mileage, all a bonus to me.

I set off out with Mark, a conservative start worked well to have a catch up and for me to digest the last of breakfast. Over field edge tracks to Everthorpe - a little hamlet which unfortunately shares its name with a nearby prison - and then to North Cave. Here we emerged into the car park where there is a Rudolph's Romp refreshments checkpoint. For some reason I had it in my head there would be one here today, but consulting the map set me straight. No issues, I don't particularly like to eat so soon into a run.

Over the road and through Hotham Hall park, a good tarmacced track and continuing along fairly flat land meant we could keep up a better than usual pace for an LDWA challenge. Hotham village offered first refreshments, a nice piece of shortbread and off along field edge tracks into the woods paralleling the Rudolph's Romp route still. This then changed as we turned right after a short while following a long straight track-cum-road to North Newbald, through and round two of refreshments. A water top up was appreciated as despite the dreich conditions it was fairly close so I'd sweated a fair bit.

A typical Wolds dale on a somewhat sunnier, summer day
 The flatness of the course can best be summed up when I tell you the first walked climb came after this checkpoint as we scaled to a small hill brow and round the field edge to then drop down into what Mark and I agreed was a typical, if small, Wolds dale with its typical, almost geometric cut out of rounded hills above.

A good steady climb followed, we passed a few other runners and I felt like we were going quite strongly, though I could tell the distance already covered quite fast could make the latter miles of thism one quite tough.

Through another checkpoint at and it was now around a few field edges to eventually join a track into Bishop Burton. This was a section I'd covered once in a longer training run before, so I shouldn't have got lost and didn't.... really. Mark and I simply got carried away with good pace and followed several runners in front on auto-pilot, I soon realised something wasn't right. I knew we wereen't far off right so consulted the map and found we'd turned left rather than right a few hundred yards back, following a better track which then curled round to parallel the correct route anyway. Our navigation check meant that the runners ahead were now too far off to call back, so we continued parallel and then cut right along a field edge track edeging two small plantations to pop back on the course for the addition of no more than half a mile - definately going over 27m today now!

It seems that Mark and I and the guys in front who were now probably heading to the north of Bishop Burton rather than south for a ~2m extension, weren't the only ones adding distance today. I was quite suprised to see Jon Steele and Dave Cremins pass along the road in front of us shortly before where the track hit it. mark and I had thought they'd have galloped off well into the distance by now, but it seemed some degree of detour had allowed us to nearly catch up.

We mad good progress south along the undulating road before hitting field edge paths again into Walkington and the next CP. More confusion reined in Walkington with people seemingly not knowing the right (or best) way through the village. I steered us in the right direction, picking up another who seemed unsure along the way. On heading out of the village, Jon and Dave appeared from a side track now just behind us, local knowledge was serving me well now. In fact, at around this time I told Mark I knew the rest of the route like the back of my hand and that he could shoot me if we went wrong from here on in. I think this was well received news, as he offered a response suggesting he was not worried and didn't have a gun on him anyway.

The penultimate descent, To lovely Woo Dale, on a Sunnier day
More Wolds undulations and Skidby came and went, taking us to the often painful stretch of track which is Riplingham road. Straight ahead for the best part of two miles all the while slightly uphill. We were both glad when we joined an adjacent track climbing away over a hill to the main road. At this point its fair to say we were feeling the miles, going on for 25m now, but at least we were holding our own in what was now a well spaced field. With one exception we didn't see any other runners in the last hour, a reflection of what the length and navigation of the route was doing to quite a decent sized field - for an LDWA challenge anyway.

We got to the last CP - at a pig farm. At the recent Filey Flyer we'd had a CP in a barn next to munching cows, there appears to be a theme here.... what next? The CP lady and girls were very enthusiastic, which is also true of all volunteers today and generally in these events. From here it has up and over a small hill to the "muddy cross roads" - a local tag for this somewhat muddy, dale bottom, confluence of tracks.

The final and toughest hill of the day (taken on a sunnier day)
With a right turn we were on the Wolds way and heading on a very steady uphill to tackle the final few and hilliest miles of the day. Rain broke out from the otherwise non-offensive drizzle and murk for the first time, but lasted almost no time as we pushed ourselves up the path, road and track to the top of Spout Hill near Brantingham. Coming down Spout hill, on a clear day gives you arguably the best view of the area as you look down over flat lands north and south of the humber and into South Yorkshire. Part way down we switched off the tarmacced drive onto a fenced path which runs down through pasture to meet the road at Brantinghams pretty church. Up the road and it was time for two short but steep climbs - pictured above. Firstly up and down into romantically named Woo Dale. Then on up the initially steep walk to top of Mt. Airey.

Looking back down this hill as we disappeared into trees we were quite surprised to see somebody at the bottom of the hill. We were finishing ok despite the mid-run pace, but these guys were obviously very strong. This made us pick up our pace a little towards the top of the hill and put a spring in our step as we rounded the farm, followed the drive sweeping downhill and then cut off onto the downhill path into South Cave. I kept having a look back during the final mile towards the finish, but we'd done enough to hold our hard earned place in the field.

So lots of quite fast pace for trail and the calves felt this over the next few days. But next up, my first attempt at the slightly longer - 32m - Haworth Hobble/Wuthering Hike over in Bronte Country.

Friday 2 March 2012

That worrying too good feeling

He's really lost it now, your probably thinking when reading this post title. But, if you think about what I'm about to say, this may actually be something we all have mild fear of occasionally..... or maybe I'm just a weird, half-glass-full-but-slightly-paranoid crank, you decide.

Going back to late January I didn't seem to have got that surge in training I've experianced the last few years. The road miles weren't visiting sub 8-min/mile pace without considerate effort, whereas last year I ran a half-marathon PB in mid-Feb. I had to think back awhile to my last promising sign. Much-like last year I'd been out injured late summer to early autumn, though not for as long as the previous year - this seems to be my body "giving in" after 10 months hard running. I'd done a few ok longer trail runs at the slow pace expected of such runs, but when I looked for signs of speed they weren't there.

A month post-injury I'd put in a very steady, by my standards, cross country, my slowest winter league 3m road race in years followed a month later. I figured that I'm often sluggish this time of year as I've missed a bit of training, so I'd get better indication in January, by which time I'm usually hovering around a PB in these short league races. Week after week I was running slowly, heavily and lots of other negative descriptions on Thursday night hard training runs with the club.

Just when I thought I was doing something wrong, things started happening again. I'm not quite sure what fixed me, maybe the mileage rising taking my fitness up a level. But every type of run got easier and faster and just recently I've been going great guns again. Good speed in the Thursday fast sessions on reps and especially tempo runs. My Tuesday hilly-trail run sessions have also been getting better and better, the last one hitting 11 local (ableit small) hills in 11 miles executed at good pace.

So now the paranoia kicks in, when I'm running well I can never see the line I shouldn't cross. While the goings good I want to keep going - hence the worrying too good feeling. Will it be speed or distance that eventually breaks me. How many fast runs is too many, how many ultra distance trails is going to be too many? Everybody has a number - much like I hear a local Super league team coach knows how many "big hits" his big guys can take before they need some time off the field. Experiance gives me hints, but nothing conclusive and it seems a certainty that just when you think your about to smash that PB, or flatten that hilly trail, well... actually the wheels might be about to fall off.... or might not, it might happen next week, next month,....... but it usually does! Best to try my best to delay it then.

Knowing that I first broke in April last year and never really fully was fixed until I broke again and hard more time off in September. And I broke even earlier the year and for longer in August. I've allowed for that this year, moderating my training mileage expectations against ambitions, setting myself a lower monthly miles target and taking more consideration of the type of miles I do (more event-specific quality). I've got nearly every run planned March to September now - routine and planning works well for me.

I guess I shouldn't worry yet, have faith, its only February, I've just got to moderate the harder runs a bit. Then hopefully I won't break until September!