South Downs Way 50 – part 1

My come-back race following pregnancy was a 50 miler.

That may seem daft, but I needed to set myself a real challenge – something that would be achievable if I was determined enough, yet still challenging.

Yeah, I’ve been to parkrun a handful of times since Oscar was born six months ago, and I did run our club trail half marathon back in February.  But running the trail half was just that – a ‘run’, rather than a race and, knowing so many of the other runners and marshals out on the course meant that I didn’t really push myself the way I usually would in a race environment.

I was watching the weather forecast for several days in the build up to Saturday’s 50 miles.  Somehow I always seem to pick marathons and ultras that fall on ridiculously hot days and the 2017 South Downs Way looked like it wasn’t going to be an exception.

I was traveling down with another runner from my club, – Kev – and in order to arrive in time I needed to be out my door and in my car on the way to his house by 4:10am.  I was convinced that Oscar would wake when my alarm rang at 3:40 but he slept soundly through.  Good job actually, as I barely made it round in time as it was.  When I did finally make it into the car, I got 5 minutes up the road before realising that I had forgotten my trainers!  Quick spin of the car and back down the street I went.  Luckily there isn’t too much traffic in our town at 4am on a Saturday morning!

Kev’s sister who lived nearby was going to drop us down to the start and pick us up again at the finish so that we didn’t have to worry about the logistics of returning home from a point-to-point race.  (We all know how well I manage to organise myself for those!)

I’ve run several ultras now but I think this is the only one I have ever been nervous at before the race began.  I wasn’t nervous about the running – more the ‘mumming’ and the fact that I was still breastfeeding, yet spending the best part of a day (ended up being just short of 24 hours!) away from home.  My handheld pump and two large bottles took up a large portion of my ultra bag meaning that there was no room for the leftovers from the standard pre-race takeaway pizza I’d ordered the night before.

Ultimate Direction running bagIt’s taken me several ultras to get my nutrition right (for me) Not being able to take my salty pizza, not having a bag drop on route to leave any chocolate milk, being unable to use any gels (due to breastfeeding) and without a supply of nuun tablets (they no longer stock in the UK) were all factors leaving me in the unknown for Saturday’s event.

We had our kit checked on arrival.  Centurion had opened up registration the night before to ease the load on the registration desks, and it obviously did the trick, as it never felt over-busy at the race HQ.  After carefully packing and repacking my bag numerous times the day before I was dreading have to unpack it all for somebody to check through again, but the lady on registration only wanted to see that I was carrying two headtorches and a base layer in my bag and didn’t look for any of the other kit.  Several of the items I had initially intended on taking with me on the run had ended up getting downgraded to the drop bag which I left for Centurion to transport to the finish once the race had begun.  This included my suncream – after I had coated (or so I thought) my arms, legs and face.

Expressing was done at the last possible moment and took much longer than I initially thought it would, meaning that the majority of other runners had already headed down to the starting field by the time I emerged from the toilet block.  Along with two others from our club, Kev and I listened to the race briefing whilst the sun felt like it burnt through our clothes.  There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and it was so warm, – it wasn’t even 9am yet!

South Downs Way 50 start

When the race started I presumed the running field would quickly separate and for runners to be very spaced out as I’ve come to expect from ultras.  This wasn’t the case at all though.  There was a narrow exit to the field, so within minutes we were all walking to avoid bottlenecking, and then the track the exit led out onto was narrow, rutted and stony, – causing runners to stay bunched together.  It was probably a good 18-20 miles before there was ever any stretch of the run where I wasn’t within a couple of minutes of another runner.

As it always does, the first mile went by quickly.  I don’t mean to sound like one of those people, but 50 miles doesn’t sound like a long way now.  Having covered the distance before, I have confidence in being able to complete the distance.  With ultra events it becomes so difficult to compare times as course profiles are so varied, and different weather across different years can play such a big part in how well you do on the day.  It means that I find the pressure is much less than over a fast 5k race.

South Downs Way 50 elevation

I walked the uphills, ran the downhills and ran/walked the flat depending on how technical the track was.  My aim in any ultra is just to keep moving.  Another concern for this time round, as I knew I would need to stop at some point in order to express.

Just before mile 10 I felt my sock rubbing on the heel of my right foot.  At the very last minute, I had decided to run the race in an old pair of road shoes rather than my usual trail shoes.  The thinking behind this was that it hadn’t rained for weeks, so the ground would be hard, and my feet were likely to swell in the heat – with my road shoes offering more comfort and flexibility than the trails do.  I’ve never had an issue with any of my Asics trainers (road or trail) rubbing before, and I think on Saturday the rubbing was probably due to the steep climbs combined with the heat of the day.  When I paused to readjust my sock (initially thinking it had just slipped down below the trainer line) I realised that it had rubbed right through!  The socks I was wearing were fairly thin (so that my feet didn’t sweat too much) and luckily also fairly long, so I folded down the top of the sock over the now-missing sock heel and hoped for the best.  At this point, just over 40 miles still to go did sound like a lot!

In actual fact, the left heel ended up rubbing through entirely as well.  Although I didn’t actually realise this until I made it back to the changing rooms at the end of the race.Holey socks

Kev caught up with me at this point and we ran together for perhaps a mile here before he ran on ahead.  I saw him again leaving the first checkpoint as I arrived but then not again until the finish.

The first checkpoint was at mile 11.  Those first 11 miles flew by, and felt so, so easy.  I knew the first major hill was coming up after that checkpoint.  Initially I had considered stopping to express here, but it was so manic and busy that there was no opportunity for that to happen.  There were people coming in to the checkpoint constantly and it was a flurry of activity.  I snatched a couple of slices of watermelon (so satisfying) and a handful of ready salted crisps to get my salt fix and continued on my way, having to stop for what felt like forever before I was told it was safe enough to cross over the busy main road.  I pulled out the sole mini carton of chocolate milk I’d stashed away in my bag.  I figured it would probably taste pretty horrid later on in the day by the time it had warmed up and so what better time to enjoy it than now?!  I’d already munched through two nakd bars on my way to the first checkpoint.South Downs Way 50 mile 12

There was a photographer nearing the top of the first big climb.

South Downs Way 50 mile 12It was a pretty steep climb – I couldn’t see anyone attempting to run up it although I’m sure some of the front runners must have done!

South Downs Way 50 mile 12

Along the top of this ridge was the only point which I pulled out my phone to take pictures, although I wish I’d taken more on the day.

South Downs Way 50 mile 12You can see how bright the day really was in this photo.  There is literally not a single cloud anywhere in the sky!  I could already feel the tops of my legs starting to burn by now, but there wasn’t anything I could do about it.  The following day it was easy to spot areas I had missed when applying the suncream!

As I hadn’t expressed at checkpoint one, I intended on expressing at checkpoint two (16 miles), and then again later on in the race, but when I reached checkpoint two, it was a very small area with nowhere to get out of the way and go unseen, so I just grabbed a couple of scotch eggs and ran on, thinking that surely there would be a wooded area or secluded spot I could stop at before the next checkpoint at mile 26.

Turns out the South Downs are the most open area of land I have ever come across.  There was nothing but track, grass and the odd gorse bush for miles and miles.  Apart from dozens of families out for a day in the sun that is.  Families who probably wouldn’t appreciate if I sat on the side of the track with a breast pump in hand!

I chatted to several other runners along the way – something I love about the more relaxed nature of trail/ultra running that you just don’t get in road races.  At one point I shouted a runner back from up ahead as he had sped off down the wrong track.  Probably saved him a few miles!

Mile 27 ticked over on my watch before I turned in for checkpoint number three.  This one was held in a barn, and I think I rather surprised the sole female marshal I could find when I stated that I was still breastfeeding, and would really appreciate if I could nip behind the combine harvester in the barn out of the way to express!  Luckily this was fine, and so I grabbed a couple of ham wraps and my recently filled water bottles and lowered myself to the dusty ground behind the machinery.  I quickly called Dan here whilst I expressed to see how he had been getting on with Oscar and to let him know that I was doing fine – much better than expected in fact and I still felt super strong.  Dan told me that he had dressed Oscar suitably for the day and sent a picture.

Oscar in his Ultra runner in training vestWith expressing and repacking my bag again afterwards I was in the back of the barn for a total of 25 minutes.  It felt like forever, and my legs agreed when I tried to get up.  I never sit down in races, especially not for that long!  One leg began to cramp, and then the other one joined in as I writhed to the opposite side.  Not an enjoyable experience!  I lay back down and fully stretched before using the combine harvester to pull myself up.  Oh, so classy!

Mile splits (up to mile 27): 12:38, 14:06, 11:03, 11:18, 12:16, 15:11, 10:48, 11:06, 10:47, 12:09, 10:29, 15:35, 17:49, 12:46, 12:38, 14:46, 10:32, 18:57, 13:18, 16:44, 14:40, 14:22, 13:59, 14:31, 13:05, 11:05, 15:23

…I had intended on writing this recap in just one post, but as I’m at a 2000 word count already, with still so much to say, why break a tradition?!  I’ll split this post into two!…

Three events in one weekend

This weekend was a busy one. For the first time since the start of the year I didn’t spend my Thursday and Friday in Norfolk with Oscar at my parents’ house. Instead, Dan joined Oscar and I for Saturday and Sunday so that we could celebrate my Mum’s 70th birthday back in Norfolk with my family.
We met up with my Mum, along with my Dad and brother at Saturday lunchtime for a lovely meal at The Hare Arms in Stow Bardolph.

I had a gorgeous vegetarian halloumi burger with fudge cake for dessert.

Halloumi burger from The Hare Arms(Best picture I could manage whilst trying to stop a five month old pulling the lettuce from my burger bun!)

The pub part of the building was fairly busy, but we were placed in the back room with just one other young family. It had a more restauranty feel in this room and Oscar really found his voice chatting and squealing with his Nanny, Grandad and Uncle Mark. There were several peacocks in the grounds of the pub and Oscar enjoyed watching them shake their feathers through the giant windows on either side of the room we were in.

Before we headed over for the meal on Saturday lunchtime I made it over to the Racecourse in Northampton for my 74th parkrun. My friend Lindsay had a baby last July. I’d helped her get into running a couple of years ago and it was great to see her progress from somebody who struggled to get round the 5k at all, to somebody who ran 10k non-stop and who achieved her first sub 30 minute 5k parkrun! She had initially been signed up to run the Milton Keynes half marathon last Autumn before finding out that she was pregnant and deciding not to continue her training through her pregnancy. Since Stanley has arrived though she has once again begun the couch to 5k program and has begun to fit in jogging with him in a buggy on the school run now that he is a little older.
So when Lindsay said that she was able to make parkrun at the weekend I offered to run with her. Initially she told me she aimed to achieve a sub 38 minute parkrun, but when I arrived she had changed her mind and said that she would be happy with anything under 40 minutes.

She smashed that time goal. AND she chatted the whole way round, so I know she’s capable of much more now!
I knew that we would roughly have to stick to 12ish minute miles to achieve Lindsay’s initial goal of under 38 minutes, and was prepared for her to walk large sections of the course, but she didn’t take a walk break until we came to the hill for the second time (at 2.2 miles) and only took three small walk breaks in total, with her pacing staying so consistent!
Mile 1: 10:51
Mile 2: 10:43
Mile 3: 10:54
Nubbin: 9:54 pace
She was pretty chuffed to finish with an official time of 33:25!  (And rightly so!)  You can read her recap on her blog.

Garmin time: 33:37
Official time: 33:30
Position: 408/542 (Just seven short of the attendance record and Northampton had problems with lots of people ducking out before the finish this week, so I’m sure they would have smashed it otherwise!)
Gender position: 134/228
Age category position: 19/29

Busy at Northampton parkrunThis is me trying to show how busy it was at parkrun, but it’s not a very good shot.  It was pretty rammed out there again this week though!

I had planned on going fairly easy at the parkrun so that I could run the Magic Mile afterwards. One of my aims this year is to run Magic Mile on the first Saturday of each month as often as possible so that I can see how my speed returns post pregnancy. I ran my first MM back in December, and annoyingly had to miss February’s event as Dan and I were away, so this was the third time of running it.
December (Month 1): 8:57
January (Month 2): 8:26
March (Month 3): 8:09

48 seconds off my mile time over three months! :)

Unfortunately there were a few problems with the timing at the event this month – I believe somebody called through to the timer’s phone mid-run! So we had to submit any Garmin times we had along with our names and positions at the finish. I submitted 8:09 before remembering that I had fumbled with my watch and not been able to stop it immediately after crossing the line, so I was probably a few seconds faster than that in reality.
It was a little frustrating as I had secretly hoped that my mile time would start with a 7, but it wasn’t meant to be obviously! Although I was so close. Fingers crossed for a 7:xx time in April!
There was still the tree across the path from Storm Doris which we had to avoid (although the majority of the smaller branches had been removed since the previous week by this point). My Garmin actually reads that I ran 1.03 miles (every 0.01 of a mile counts on a mile distance!) at an average pace of 7:55, so according to my Garmin I ran a sub 8 minute mile! :)
It’s weird, because you expect running fast to hurt but in actual fact I found it very easy to distract myself for those eight minutes and just concentrate on continuing to turn my legs over as fast as I could. It never actually ‘hurt’ as such and I felt that my legs were going at their top speed on the day which was rather satisfying!

I was exhausted on Saturday evening and left Oscar with Dan to put to bed after he had finishing watching Match of the Day.  Oscar had other ideas though.  Having been rather excited at seeing family all day, he was now overtired and not ready for bed!  I took over from Dan and got him down a little after midnight, before being woken not long after 4am the following morning!  Luckily, my Dad was up and offered to take over from me.  I gratefully accepted the offer and quickly headed back to bed for another hour or so before he could change his mind!

Dad and OscarDad apparently introduced Oscar to Peppa Pig and when I came down for the second time that morning they were both drifting in and out of sleep on the chair in the lounge!

Part of the reason I had been so eager to hand Oscar over and return to bed was that I was due to run the Hunny Bell cross-country that morning – only a few miles from where my parents live.  I’d seen the race advertised the previous year but had been a few months pregnant at the time, so decided not to enter.  I was really looking forward to it this year though, and it promised to be a muddy one!

Crazy hair on the way to the Hunny Bell cross-country #hbxc17I’m so looking forward to getting my club vest out for a few more events this year!

It was a lovely morning as I arrived at Hunworth village hall.  I’d arrived rather early (9:30ish for a 10:30am start).  I’m used to knowing loads of people at local events, and it felt rather bizarre to be stood alone sheltering under the overhang of the hall roof as the wind started to pick up.  I found somebody in the same situation as me though and we soon struck up a conversation, as I find is so easy to do with other runners.  A little later on we added two others to our loner-crowd too!

In actual fact I did end up knowing three others at the event – all people I knew through my Mum – and I happened to bump into them all before the race began.

Not knowing many people at the event has it’s good and bad points and I was looking forward to a pressure-free run without having to worry about where I placed in comparison to others.  I’d roughly estimated that it would take me about 50 minutes to finish the hilly 5ish mile course (Somewhere I read it was 4.7 miles, somewhere else said 5 and another place said 5.1, so I wasn’t really sure how far we’d be running in total!)  Both my parents, Dan and Oscar were hoping to come and see me finish.

I was a little concerned that the ground would be rough going, as the car park field at the event had been rutty with large tufts of long grass which overhung the tufts and made it difficult to judge where to place your feet.  Luckily though, the ground was very good out on the course.Hunny Bell cross-country race(Picture from the Hunny Bell XC Facebook page)

We started with a steep grassy uphill which soon wound round back down and through into woodland.  It was narrow in places but I think there was only one real point where there was a bottleneck on the course.  Coming out of the far end of the woodland involved a climb down some steep, uneven steps, which those infront of me chose to walk.  I imagine that the front runners had ran down them and I was glad that the decision had been made for me that I was to walk, as there was no getting past the runners ahead anyway.

Hunny Bell cross-country race

(Picture from the Hunny Bell XC Facebook page)

The course was one small lap and one large lap.  As we returned towards the end of the mini lap we had to climb high to the top of a hill where there was a water station before running right back down again to the bottom and starting lap number two.

The second lap headed out on a narrow track where I did get stuck behind one lady for a little while before the path widened and I was able to overtake.  There was a also a long, steep hill which seemed to go on forever alongside the edge of a field.  There ended up only being one really muddy section out on the course and this was at this point.  I could see runners up ahead tiptoeing around a large muddy section but I just splashed straight through the middle when I reached it! 😉

The end of the second lap was the same as the first.  Although I couldn’t see the finish as I ran up the hill, I could definitely hear it and there was a woman not too far in front me.

Hunny Bell XC finishI opened up my stride and aimed to pass her, before realising that there was a really sharp and muddy corner about 100 metres before the finish!  I scaled back my stride slightly as I’d taken the corner too tight to continue at the pace I was running at.  The woman just pipped me over the line, but we had a good sprint finish for it!

Hunny Bell XC finish

It started raining literally as I crossed the finish line.  Dan had stayed in the car with Oscar but both my parents had come to see me finish which was nice as they don’t often get to see me race.

Hunny Bell XC finish

My official time was 47:54 and I came 202/310.  55/114 Senior Female.

We were chip timed for the race (hence why my left shoe is untied in these two photos!)  I’m not entirely sure there was a need for chip timing though, as the race ended up being 4.65 miles so not a ‘real’ distance and it appears to only be a gun to chip time anyway, rather than chip to chip time, so it would still have made a difference how long it took me to get over the start line.Hunny Bell XC finishIt was a great race though.  Beautiful course, friendly marshals and superb organisation.  Already penciled in for next year! 😉

What do you call your Grandparents? Do you call both sets by the same name?
Have you witnessed runners ducking out of the funnel at the finish before?
Do you make conversation with runners you don’t know at events?
Do your parents watch you race?

A week of good intentions

I had such a great week of running the week before last, and then this last week all my running plans went to pot!

After the trail race on Sunday I was straight back out again with strong legs for 6.5 road miles on Monday night.  A good start to the week at least!

Tuesday was always going to be a rest day.

Wednesday was supposed to be the club trail run, but Oscar hadn’t settled at all during the entire day and I had gotten nothing done.  I really just needed to hand him over to Dan as soon as Dan walked through the door home from work so that I could catch up on life admin and cleaning, so that is what I did.  I must admit, the driving rain and wind screaming outside our porch door really didn’t make me regret my choice that evening!

Thursday was Storm Doris day.  Dan had to work late and I really didn’t fancy tackling Storm Doris in the pitch black hours after Oscar had gone to bed.  Oscar also finally spent his first night in his own bedroom, so I kind of needed to be at hand in case he didn’t agree with us that he was ready!

Friday – Dan and I were taking Oscar to meet up with some of Dan’s work colleagues at Nandos in Cambridge.Top Gun Top Son - Dan with OscarI did melt a little taking this photo on the night.  A few people pointed out that I should have a ‘Top Wife’ t-shirt to go along with the theme, but I think there’s probably a fine line between ‘cute’ and ‘loser!  Haha!
The plan was for me to run on our return from Nandos, whilst Dan watched Oscar along with the football on TV.  An accident on the A14 meant miles of tailbacks and not returning home until gone 9pm with a then-grumpy husband though as he had missed most of the football!  By the time Oscar was fed and changed I was too exhausted to even consider going out, especially knowing that I had to get up early to make parkrun the following day.  An early night for me!

Saturday – I finally managed to get a run in!  I was Oscar-free for parkrun this week so got up a little earlier and arrived at the Racecourse in Northampton with plenty of time to park (or to manage to grab the last parking space at 8:10am!) so that I could fit a few warm-up miles in to start with.  I ended up just short of 3 miles run at sub 10mm pace in the end.
I decided not to run around the park for my warm-up miles as I’ve run around the park so many times for parkrun before.  Instead, I headed off out of the far end of the park and planned to just keep turning left until I ended up back where I started.  After twenty minutes though and with me still unable to recognise any of the streets I was running down, I started to get a bit of a panic on!  As I was sporting my bright red ’50 parkruns’ t-shirt it was clear that I was out to run parkrun that morning – so if I was heading in completely the opposite direction I would have looked a bit of a wally!  Luckily I finally stumbled upon The Good Loaf and found my way back from there.  Sometimes it pays to know all the bakeries in town! 😉
There were several branches and large twigs strewn across the paths of the parkrun in places and one (fairly) large tree lay completely across the path at one point early on in the run.  I had been aware of this before rocking up to parkrun that morning as Dan had spotted it on his Facebook feed the previous evening.  The tree was runnable round, but it didn’t make for a fast course on Saturday.  This was partly what made my mind up to get some extra miles in beforehand and then take the parkrun itself fairly steadily.
So I ran round and chatted with Laura for a fairly easy 32 minutes and 7 seconds instead.

Northampton parkrun tree(Picture from the Northampton parkrun Facebook page)

Garmin time: 32:07
Official time: 
32:07
Position: 
391/549
Gender position: 
115/222
Age category position: 
26/38

Laura and I both commented on how busy the course had felt the whole way round and we only just managed to cross the finish line before the end of the funnel queue spilled out past the line.  It was another new attendance record at Northampton this week with 549 runners!
That was parkrun number 73 for me.  No bakery afterwards this week as Laura and I were meeting our friend Steph at Beckworth Emporium for cake later on after showers instead.

Berry pavlova from Beckworth Emporium

And what a cake it was!  Berry pavlova?…Yum!

Sunday – I felt rather guilty asking Dan if I could head out for an organised long run two Sundays in a row, but he did say I could!  Running from home never takes so long or is as faffy so I don’t feel quite as guilty on those days, but I much prefer running with others at the weekend.  Organised runs or races mean I end up being away for a lot longer and I need to be a little more choosy about which events/social occasions I attend now that we have Oscar to look after.
On Sunday our club trail run was headed round the course route from the half marathon we had run the previous week.  The dozen or so of us ran the two loops of the course in the opposite order though – running the 8 mile loop first, followed by the shorter 6 mile loop.  The idea was to double check that no rubbish had been left behind from the race and also clarify the route where several of us had gone wrong the week before.
I had intended on running wearing my running bag the week before (The Ultimate Direction PB vest) so that I could get used to running with it ready for my upcoming ultra and also check that it still fit over my boobs since having a baby!  Annoyingly, having not needed to wear it for the best part of a year I couldn’t put my hands on it come race morning, so had to go without.  I did manage to find it for my long run on Sunday though.


I replaced the water in the bottles and discovered two naked bars, a running cap and an emergency £5 in various pockets of the vest!  Gotta love finding emergency cash in places you’d forgotten you ever stored it!
I found running with the bag so much tougher than I remembered.  Obviously it should be tougher carrying extra weight and it was a fairly warm day on Sunday too.  I could still easily run the 14.8 miles we covered, but it wasn’t at the pace I would have run at usually.
We did manage to establish that we had gone wrong on the course the previous week though – not that someone had moved the tape as previously reported.

Where we went wrong on the Welly trail half marathon courseIt’s kind of hard to describe but using the map above to help I’ll give it a go!  Last week we came in from the right hand side of that map (the red line).  We headed right, along the outside of one of the field boundaries and all the way back up the hill towards the way we had come in.  Here (marked by a blue star above) there were a couple of pieces of red and white tape marking the course on our right so we were convinced that we were following the correct path.  We went up and back down that hill two more times before heading back out of the field to the bottom left on the map above following somebody’s instructions over the phone.  What we actually should have done on the day is followed the dark green line along the left hand side of the field, heading down the hill, with the tape on our left hand side guiding us out the other way!  Great way of adding extra race miles in though!  Whoops!

Were any of your running routes affected by Storm Doris/Ewan?

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?