The Welly Trail race

It was two years ago when members of our club first started talking about organising a trail race at local venue, Castle Ashby.  The idea grew and grew and eventually became a reality.  Then, when places were released towards the end of last year, the event was a complete sell out within three weeks!

Welly Trail races banner

Although I would normally be one of the first to put my name down to help marshal at a club event, I decided that this event was one that I wanted to run and would be a good aim for a first race back following my pregnancy.  (In actual fact I ran two cross-country races first, but of distances of no more than 10k.)  Despite not being able to marshal on the day I helped in other ways before the event by setting up the website with online booking and helping to design the medal.

Of course, trail distances are never actual race distances, and the half marathon that I was entered for was an alleged 14.4 miles – more than a mile further than you expect of a road half!

As always, with Oscar it meant that a great deal of organisation was required in order to be able to get there in the first place.  It was a 9:30am race start which required a 5:30am get up for me in order to then express, feed Oscar, shower, change and have breakfast before heading over to register at the event.  I went for a breakfast porridge and blueberries.  Probably a bit stodgy for my liking had I been planning on running a fast road race, but it was spot on to fill me up ready for the trail race.

My Mum had asked earlier in the week if I planned on ‘racing’ the event.  I hadn’t really thought about it until she asked, but knew that I wanted to run it to the best of my ability on the day.  I always race better on my own than I do in a large group so the intention was not to run with anybody but to just enjoy being out and about in the countryside in the perfect race conditions that we were lucky enough to have last Sunday.

As it was a club event I knew that I would know all the marshals out on the course, which is always a lovely boost.  There were also several of our own out running the event who I saw on the way round.

As always seems to be the way at races, I seemed to manage to get into the background of several other people’s photos!

There was a hen party running the 10k event, and they were all fully dressed for the occasion!

Welly Trail Races - hen party

(Picture credit)

It’s a fast start down the Castle Ashby drive, before we immediately came upon heavily rutted ground alongside a row of trees.  People were still in the process of finding their place in the pack at this point so I did a fair bit of overtaking here.  There were quite a few non-trail runners who perhaps began to realise at this point the enormity of the event they had entered! Welly Trail races - start(Picture credit)

All of the half marathon and 10k runners set off at the same time, with the canicross entries setting off 5 minutes later so as not to trip up runners in the mad dash from the start! I ran an incredibly strong first 10k.  With it being a trail race my intention was to walk the steepest of hills from the beginning just as I would in an ultra so as not to tire myself out.  There were only two or three hills where I felt the need to walk and then, thanks to my long stride, I was still overtaking runners anyway.  There was a stile two miles in, but by the time I arrived at it there were only a couple of runners in front of me, so there wasn’t too much hanging around.  I never run in gloves, but decided to on Sunday, and it was at this point that I threw them to a marshal for me to pick up again later on. Welly Trail races There was a drink station just after the stile where quite a few runners had stopped.  I decided to carry on and make use of the next drink station instead, although regretted this decision not long after!  I had intended on running with my race bag as practise for my upcoming 50 miler but I could not find it anywhere on race morning so ended up going without extra nutrition on the way round.

The 10k was 6.7 miles and I would have finished in about 72 minutes (judging by the 10k runners heading off to the finish as I turned off into the field for a second, different loop).

The second loop was much tougher going, with thicker, more slippery mud and steeper, longer hills.  I stopped for a chat with the marshal on the checkpoint at 8.5 miles and downed a cup of pink liquid after enquiring what it was.  He asked if I was still breastfeeding, to which I replied that I was, and only thought afterwards as I headed off over the next hill that I probably should have paid more attention to what I could and could not take on board as a breastfeeding Mum.  I had a very minimal amount in my cup luckily anyway.

There was another runner from my club not far ahead of me, running with two other local runners who I kept in my eyeline for the next few miles.  They were always just heading round the next bend.  That’s the thing about trail races – you can sometimes go for miles and not see anybody at all – it’s not like a road race!  It doesn’t bother me as long as I know where I am going though and the guys from our club had done a good job of winding red and white tape along the route and adding arrows to the hedgerows at major turns.  At 12.5 miles I could see that Amy (the other runner from my club) had stopped at a crossroads along with four others and was motioning to me that she didn’t know where to go next with her arms in an exaggerated shrug.  I shouted that I didn’t know this section of the route and that if there wasn’t any tape marking to turn then I would presume we kept going.  So they did.

I caught them at the top of the hill as they realised that if we continued they would be running back into the field we had initially come out of, and we hadn’t seen any other half marathon runners heading back in that direction on our way in.  Amy, along with two guys attempted to bring up the course map on their phones whilst I headed back down the hill with another lady to check out the other options at the crossroads.  There was no tape marking any turn-off from the track so after a bit of debate we headed back up the hill to join the others once more who were still undecided as to which direction we should be going in.  There was tape just before the crossroads so we didn’t feel as though we had gone off course.  Annoyingly as I had ended up not taking my bag I hadn’t brought my phone along so couldn’t ring for help with directions.  About 10 minutes later a large group of about 8-9 others joined us, many of whom were from our running club.  One of them decided to give Gary, the Race Director a call and he directed us back up the hill the way we had initially come from and across a grassy field towards a stile.  It looks like somebody had moved the tape into the wrong place on the course!

In total I think we lost about 20 minutes of time with faffing and I ended up with 15.8 miles on my Garmin by the end of the course instead of the 14.4 miles that the course was advertised as.

Welly Trail races - finish

I had company for the final few miles of the course now though as by this point there was a massive group of us, although we had managed to space out a fair bit again by the time we reached the finish.

Welly Trail races - finishAs fast as the start had been – heading down the Castle Ashby drive – the finish was slow, as we had to run back up the drive on tired legs!  I made it though and was handed my medal, a cup of water and a raffle ticket to exchange for a jacket potato and hot drink in the cafe.  I needed that hot drink!

Welly Trail Race medal

Distance: 15.81m
Garmin time: 3h 17m 20s
Official time: 3h 17m 20s
Position: 65/81

My legs were a little stiff at the finish and so I managed to convince Laura (who had been marshaling) to order my jacket potato and drink whilst I found us some seats.  Here I spotted Katie and Lorraine who had also just finished so we had a quick chat whilst warming our insides with hot food!

I was really looking forward to feeding Oscar (was in desperate need by this point!), having a long warm bath and chilling out with my little family in the afternoon, but Dan was feeling poorly so handed Oscar over as soon as I walked in the door and headed off to bed.  I was still covered in mud and had to make do with sitting on the floor for the next few hours until Dan began to feel better!

I did finally manage a quick shower though and threw my compression socks on to ease my legs a little.

Compression socksMy legs felt fine the following morning and were still feeling strong when I headed out for 6.5 easy road miles later on the Monday evening.

I was not quick by any means on Sunday, but I was most definitely strong and following my Monday evening run I am finally feeling really confident about the upcoming 50 mile ultra.  I know there are people who think I am probably a little silly/crazy for entering the SDW50 in April but I am really looking forward to it.  I am incredibly stubborn and I know that I am still capable of completing that distance over that terrain.  If I end up having to DNF it will be due to Oscar/feeding logistics rather than my ability to complete the race.

Do you wear compression socks following tough runs?
Have you ever gotten lost during a race before?
Does your club put on any races?

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Mud, glorious mud and lots of wool

I managed to get out with my Garmin strapped firmly on several times last week.  Always a challenge when there’s a baby involved!  I’m trying to increase my running frequency over the next couple of weeks.  I have an ultra coming up in April which presents enough challenges now that I’m a Mum without worrying that my mileage has been much lower than pre-pregnancy.

Monday was my first run of the week.  I usually get up early on a Monday morning and run before Dan heads off to work but I had already arranged to head over for the Monday evening group club run last week instead.  It’s the first time that I had run out with the group on a Monday night.  Before Oscar, Dan and I always used to head over to our local pub quiz on a Monday night, but we can no longer attend that now that O is here.

It absolutely tipped it down on Monday and at one point we were showered with freezing cold hail too.  I hate the feeling of hail hitting your face and your face being sent into completely numb shock!  I should have woken up early and got my run in first thing perhaps after all!  We didn’t bother with a cool down upon reaching our cars – it was quick goodbyes and car heaters turned up full blast for all before I drove quickly home for a nice warm bath and my tea.

Wednesday was the club trail run and we covered a further six miles across muddy fields and footpaths.  I’m feeling so strong on the Wednesday night trail runs just lately and it has really boosted my confidence to be running so far towards the front of the group of runners that I run out with.  My core strength has improved loads from carrying Oscar regularly during the day and I swear this is why my trail running has improved so much.  I would say that across trail I am definitely running back where I was pre-pregnancy, perhaps even stronger now.  (Good job my upcoming ultra will be run over trail!)

Saturday it was time for parkrun.  Annoyingly I managed to leave my breast pump at my parents’ house the day before so had to bring Oscar along, despite Dan offering to have him for the morning.

It was raining slightly, and there was even a bit of snow at one point, so I wrapped him up well with lots of layers, two blankets and a rain cover.  He was definitely very snuggly under all that lot and loved watching the other runners go by!

Going to parkrun with Oscar in the pramGarmin time: 45:08
Official time: 
Gender position: 
Age category position: 

Quick side note to say that the blanket pictured above is the second one my friend Hollie has crocheted for Oscar.  Isn’t she super talented?!  I would love to be able to make something like this!  I did recently knit a monkey for a friend’s new baby, but I’ve never managed to master crochet or clothes.

Oliver's knitted monkey

There’s something special I think about receiving hand made gifts.  All the time and effort that went into creating them and the thought that goes along with it too.  Jane sent Oscar a lovely set of booties and a hat that she had made when he was first born in our club’s green colour.  When he gets a little bigger he will be fully decked out in WDAC green with his knitted items along with the mini club vest he was given from a friend.

Oscar's knitted hat and booties

On Sunday there was a six mile trail run organised.  I knew that if I got up early enough I would be able to feed Oscar twice before leaving, park a little way away at the local Tescos, run to the meeting point and then get in an extra couple of miles around the park before meeting up with the others.  5:30am alarm set for a 9am meet up!  I don’t think I’ll be accidentally leaving my pump at my parents’ house again!

There had been a lot of rain around these parts last week and it was fairly muddy once I hit the park.  Stupidly, I picked some of the muddiest trails for my warm-up run too.  It was down one of these muddy trails that I felt my foot slide out from under me and in slow-motion saw my right leg go down into a large muddy puddle!  Somehow I managed to keep my left leg standing so I never fully went in, but my right leg was absolutely covered!  Usually if you don’t pussy-foot around the edge of puddles and run straight through you miss the slippery mud, but on Sunday the bottom of the puddles seemed to be just as treacherous.

Muddy trail run legsAt least it was during my solo warm-up run when I fell so no-one was around to see me go down.  No hiding from it though with all that mud on my leg advertising my fall! One of the other ladies slipped over later too so it wasn’t just me.

I had to nip into Tesco for a few bits after my run so mooched around the aisles with my mud covered leg on show.  It wasn’t until I got home that I also had flecks of mud across my face – even covering my lips and eyelid!  Nobody stopped and stared at me anyway!

Annoyingly, despite feeling fine after the fall and for the remainder of my 10ish mile run my right thigh has felt rather bruised yesterday and today.  Going downstairs has been a little uncomfortable and it really doesn’t help that Oscar has been insisting on practising standing on the top of my legs this week!  Two days of rest and I’ll see how I am tomorrow evening at the trail run again.

As well as managing to fit several runs in last week, I also headed out on lots of walks with Oscar in the baby carrier.  I was gifted the We Made Me Pao Papoose 3-in-1 Front and Back Baby Carrier* from my work colleagues when I headed off on maternity leave in the Autumn and it has really come in so handy.  Once you know how to get it on and how to strap Oscar safely in, it’s so much quicker and easier than lugging a pram around.  It also means that we are able to go offroad without the worry about whether or not a buggy will fit down little tracks or if there will be any stiles to cross!

Walking with Oscar in the baby carrier

I’m really hoping that Oscar will grow up as an outdoorsy-child and not one obsessed with computer games or watching YouTube on the iPad.  Dan and I aren’t big television watchers.  I never have been really – always having preferred to be outside and doing something rather than sat down stationary in front of the box.  I hope I’m setting a good example to him with everything that I do.  I can only try my best, right?

Did you have an active childhood?
Do you mind going shopping in your running gear?

Fitting in running alongside a baby

Oscar turned four months old at the end of January.

Oscar is four months old

Man, that went fast!  Yet, at the same time, it strangely feels like he has always been here and I couldn’t imagine life without him now.

From the very beginning I was adamant that I was going to keep my own identity and not just become known as ‘Oscar’s Mum’.  Ask anyone to describe me and I’m pretty sure that somewhere in their description the words ‘runner’ and ‘teacher’ will feature.  I didn’t want to lose those parts of me when Dan and I decided to have children – especially not the runner part.

Fitting in runs has been tougher than I first thought it would be.  Luckily Dan has been very supportive and welcomed having Oscar so that I was able to run from very early on.  Unfortunately the new job Dan started after Christmas means that he is no longer back in time for me to make running club on a Tuesday or Thursday training night, but I can still make the informal Monday road and Wednesday trail club runs which don’t start until the slightly later time of 7pm.

Before Oscar, all I needed to do was throw my clothes on and nip out of the door but now there’s so much more to think about before heading out for each run.  I will never take being able to run for granted now, for sure.

Breastfeeding is the biggest issue.  I have to schedule Oscar’s feeds throughout the day so that it falls just right in that I can feed him before I leave.  Mess the feeding schedule up and it could all go to pot.

Sleep is another issue.  Since December I’ve been getting some early morning runs in before Oscar wakes up.  If I set my alarm for 4:45am I can usually express, throw some clothes on and head out for three or four miles before he wakes.  It can be a proper challenge though…Let my alarm ring for too long and he wakes.  If this is the case, sometimes I can feed him and put him back down again, but he doesn’t normally drift back off unless he can hear me breathing in the bed beside him.  If I lie down in the bed with the lights out to encourage him to return to sleep, I often then end up falling asleep myself.  Game over!

There have been a few times where I’ve gotten out the door only to realise I’m not wearing my heart rate monitor/Garmin/headband.  By this point I’m not turning around and risking opening the bedroom door again so the run goes without data/unrecorded/my head gets cold!

At the start of each week I’ve written a set of if-all-goes-OK runs in my training calendar.  The aim is to get out for at least three – hopefully four – of these runs each week.  I usually schedule five or six in order to hit this target!  I’m also back on the 10,000 steps a day train.  I just feel so much better in myself on days I move around more and I think it’s much better for Oscar to get outside at some point every day.

2017 running calendar

I’ve had to improvise when it comes to my training plan a couple of times.  Dan was late home from work on trail run night the other week and then Oscar didn’t settle on his return.  My ‘7 mile trail run with friends’ became ‘5x solo 1mile loops around the estate I live on’, so that I was near to hand if Dan needed me.  I guess that sort of run could be good for me mentally as it was rather dull and I had to power through at one point.  In a weird sort of way I actually enjoyed it.  It was nice knowing that if I wasn’t feeling it I was only ever 4 minutes away from my front door.
I have a feeling that some of my long runs are going to turn into mile loops from my front door so that I can be around if Oscar wakes up or Dan needs me.  They’re not ideal runs, and I do miss running with other people on these occasions but miles are miles at the end of the day and there is a fifty mile race fast coming up on my calendar which requires my mileage to start increasing!

The last couple of weekends have been rather manic which has made fitting runs in even more challenging.  As neither of my parents are very well at the moment I’ve made the decision to return for a visit back to Norfolk every Thursday and Friday for the remainder of my maternity leave.  A couple of weekends back we stayed in Wolverhampton for Dan’s Nan’s 90th birthday and this past weekend was once again in Wolverhampton for two 30th birthdays, having been out in Northampton for a 40th birthday the night before.  This really is the year of the big birthday!

Oscar’s head control is so much better than it was.  The guidelines for taking a baby out in a running buggy all suggest six months and full head control.  He’s getting stronger every week.  He’s not yet fully rolled over, but come very close from going back to front on more than one occasion when lying on his changing mat.  He definitely needs to remain within arm’s reach now!

It will make things infinitely easier to fit runs in once Oscar can go in a buggy as I will be able to run during the day.  Oh, daylight runs, how I have missed you!  I feel like I am forever running in the dark at the moment.  And there’s no point in me weather watching, as even the heaviest of rainfalls doesn’t stop me if that hits my time to run!

The only weather which does stop me completely in my tracks is ice first thing in the morning.  I’m not going to risk breaking my leg for three measly stupid-o’clock-in-the-morning miles.

How do you make sure you fit in your runs during the week?
Do you manage many daylight runs this time of year?

No Magic Mile this month

The last two months I have been able to get out to the Magic Mile following the parkrun at Northampton.  It was great to see the improvement I had made between December and January, where I knocked 31 seconds from my mile time.

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to make the Magic Mile this month.  Dan and I were Birmingham-bound for two friends’ birthdays at the weekend and needed to be in Birmingham by 12:30.  I could just about make the slightly-closer Kettering parkrun if I headed straight home to shower and change afterwards, but I definitely would not have had time to head to Northampton and run the Magic Mile, which doesn’t take place until 10am.

Anyway, I was looking forward to running another parkrun without baby in tow.  The last time I ran the parkrun in Kettering I had been almost 39 weeks pregnant and it had been the first event held at that park.  I was curious to see what my body was capable of now, but knew that basically, I only had to beat 33m 15s in order to get a course PB.  Pretty much guaranteed!

It was rather cold when I woke up on Saturday morning.  Although, as always I dressed in a t-shirt and shorts and whacked the heating up full blast for the drive over.  I did worry briefly that perhaps the event would be cancelled due to the ice like it had been last month when I had tried to make it over.  But the barrier into the car park lifted as I arrived and a whole stream of cars followed me in to the grounds.

I briefly chatted to one of the marshals whose daughter also goes to Oscar’s swimming class and then the Race Director stepped up to give us our briefing and count us down for the run…

WAIT!  We have pacers!…”

False start!  He pointed out the two pacers that would be out on the run that morning and then we had a second, more successful count down to the start!

To be honest I went into the parkrun a little too relaxed.  I was cocky and thought I’d be able to easily hit a time somewhere in the region of 27 minutes on Saturday.  Whereas in reality I had felt rather light-headed for most of the Friday morning and I hadn’t gotten much sleep that night either.  Laying in until nearly 8am meant I then hadn’t had time for breakfast, and having stayed out late at a 40th birthday party the night before with just two sandwich triangles for my dinner wasn’t the best of plans.  Within minutes my heart rate was showing as in the 180s.  (I usually try to run a parkrun at 170bpm and it usually takes me about a mile before I come close to hitting that bpm).

Kettering parkrun heart rateThis was whilst running downhill as well, so I knew I needed to pull things back.

When my watch flashed up with 8m 36s as my first mile time split I knew I wasn’t running very well as it felt like I had been running much faster than that.

The course was much more ‘off-road’ than I remembered from having run it back in September.  Back then it was at the end of a hot Summer and I guess now we are mid-Winter and have had a fair amount of drizzle over recent weeks.

Kettering parkrun in the mud

(Image from the Kettering parkrun page)

I really don’t remember all that dirty, muddy track ever being there before.  Should have worn my trail shoes!

The Kettering parkrun course is run over two and a bit laps, and you cross the pontoon bridge twice.  I skidded as I leapt onto it for the first lap and almost went down, deciding at that point that I would be better to take little steps and sacrifice a few seconds of my time, but remain upright!

I was fairly confident that I was on track enough to still course-PB and so, in the interests of keeping my heart rate low I decided to walk up the slight hill after the muddy, grassy bank.  The woman at the top looked at me walking amongst all the runners and told me that I still had to do the distance again yet.  I felt like shouting out “I had a Caesarean 18 weeks ago!” but resisted.

Lap two was just as muddy, just as slippery on the bridge and just as cold.

Me running at Kettering parkrun

(Image from the Kettering parkrun page)

I think this picture captures just how much my legs were not impressed at the decision to wear shorts that morning!

Once you’re on the final bit-lap though, it’s pretty much all downhill to the finish, as my splits indicate…

Mile 1: 8:36
Mile 2: 9:26
Mile 3: 9:56
Nubbin (0.13m): 6:13 pace

A perfect example of rubbish pacing!

Garmin time: 28:49
Official time: 
Gender position: 
Age category position: 

Somehow I still managed to come in the top half of the results table despite my poor run and even came first in my age category(!)

Are you still wearing shorts for workouts at this time of year?
Any courses to mention with a great downhill finish?