Gatliff 50km marathon Race Report

"Jerry you won't believe this but drink bottle has frozen, it tastes just like a raspberry slush puppie"

These were my exact words as I left the first checkpoint on Sunday during the Gatliff 50km marathon event. I was pre-warned about this event to not under estimate it or be fooled by the race title. This event is primarily setup for walkers by the LDWA with distances of 50km, 35km and 20km. Every year it has been held there are usually a lot of changes to the course and this year was no exception.

I haven't been running many long runs since Grimsthorpe in the summer and this was certainly going to be a good test of my base fitness, test my sense of direction (of which I have many issues) and hang out with a few running buddies I haven't seen a few months.

As soon as I got out of bed at 5.15am I knew it was going to be a very cold day but how cold exactly remained unanswered, well until I opened the front door. I crept downstairs to prepare a bagel with jam and a coffee to get some fuel on board. Around 1/2 hour later I got dressed into my kit that I prepared the night before and opened the front door. Oh my god! It was freezing. I opened the back door to the car and loaded up my change of clothes and shoes. I checked the digital thermometer in the car and it read -6C/21F. I left around 6.15am by the time I scraped the ice of the windscreen.

The journey to Edenbridge, Kent was pretty quick and once parked up I phoned Jerry and I walked to the Rugby club where the start and finish were. I met Jerry and George inside the main hall, paid my race entry and registered my details for the 50km event. I picked up the route directions and we headed quickly out the door at 7.20am.

The first 2-3 miles were relatively flat however it was very noticeable how rough conditions would be underfoot in exposed areas as we traversed the first fields. It was frozen solid like concrete and with the very uneven surfaces you would need to dance across the terrain in order not to twist an ankle. The terrain changed quite rapidly as we reached the first hills around 200ft although not a great deal of climb the cold air and cold winds were making things a little tougher than in training. We decided early on that we weren't going to run hills as this was a training run so we would power walk up them because after all we were not going to push things today.

As the route progressed we lost ourselves a couple of times due to how we interpreted the directions. Still it made things fun in my opinion especially as the landscape was so beautiful to look at both.  The frosting made everything look like it was coated in sugar. Time seemed to quickly dissipate despite everything around us seemingly standing still, before long we had reached the first checkpoint. One problem however was that they had didn't have any water due to the supply being completely frozen solid. I decided it was time to eat 1/2 a 9bar that I had brought along with my raspberry powerade. I tried drinking from my water bottle but no liquid was coming out. It had completely frozen in my holster. When I finally took the cap off it was like a slush puppie that my kids drink in the summer (ok and me sometimes too). I didn't feel that thirsty however I knew that if I didn't drink much I would still dehydrate despite the low temperatures.

What I didn't know at the time until Jerry told me was that we were entering "Winnie the Pooh" country in Ashdown Forest. George said to watch out for Pooh Bridge although unfortunately no pictures of it. We constantly referred to the directions as the landscape changed to woodland which made faint paths tricky to spot. We got chatting to a walker who offered some sound advice "Follow the yellow arrows". So we decided to pick up the pace and shot down a lovely looking trail, unfortunately it was the wrong one!! We headed back about 500-600m before we come to the point where we should have gone. Where the hell was these yellow arrows!! Once we headed down into the gully it was then we saw the arrows..Weald Way..Doh!!

We started to head into the Wealds of Kent and it was great to get some single track running in with sharp twists and turns, short sharp inclines and some fast descents. This is the type of terrain I love the most when I head out to run. I let gravity take me down the descents as we headed deeper into the rabbit hole of the race. The terrain suddenly changed to concrete and roads which was a shame but again I didn't want to be spoilt to much with woodland trails as I might not of wanted to come out!! We soon hit Checkpoint 2 and I topped up my water bottle with some blackcurrant squash and ate the rest of my 9bar. We then consulted the directions and it was clear at this point we were heading to the highest point which was over 600ft. We set off at an easy pace and felt very good after all I wanted to experience things fully rather than just get to the end of this one. I don't get many opportunities to do this type of event (although I think that will change)

I felt pretty good and the miles ticked by despite losing some time earlier with regard to not following directions correctly however we knew that we were now heading north due to the bearings pointing that way. We could see that we had a 1500m stretch along a disused railway line. We met up with a couple of other runners who were unsure whether we were on the right track so to speak. I looked at the directions as we settled into a steady rhythm and could see that the next checkpoint was the lunch stop. Personally I wasn't that fussed about the food however I was looking forward to a cup of tea or two on this cold day. We stopped at the checkpoint and I ate 1/2 9bar again and some chocolate Swiss roll and two cups of tea and topped up my water bottle. It really did feel good to have a hot drink. We only stopped for about 5-10 minutes and on we went. If I sat down I would have been in there for ages...

We had to track back some way down the railway track again and as we were about to cross a stile we came across a guy who was holding his head and the back of his neck. He did look a bit worse for wear and with the very cold conditions it was best that he return to the checkpoint. We flagged down some walkers who were heading that way and asked whether they could take him there to ensure he got medical attention. It reminded me of how easy it is to take a fall and end up like that especially due to the challenging conditions. You never know when your number come in and I hope he is doing ok and that my number never comes around.

We pushed onward feeling strong chatting away and focused a great deal on the directions so as to not make a mistake. I was quite pleased with myself that I had become accustomed to the directions and feel more confident for future events. The terrain had changed so much during the run that you had to employ a whole host of skills to ensure you continued moving forward, it wasn't just a case of run and follow the arrows. We reached Checkpoint 4 and had a cup of tea and ate the last of my 9bar (do love the pumpkin flavour). I felt pretty good and put this down to getting my sound hydration and eating right. However I didn't fill my water bottle this time before heading out the checkpoint door.

As we entered the last 15km I was wondering how long we had been on our feet as to be frank I hadn't really looked at my watch since we started, it stated around 6hrs. Time had gone quick. Just as we reached the marathon point Jerry had a small celebration as he reached 2,000 miles for the year. I started to have a rough moment and felt quite thirsty. I reached for my water bottle but it was empty. I knew the last checkpoint was only 2 miles away so I pressed on with the others, I have been in this position before and its a case of managing the feeling knowing that it will pass. It wasn't a catastrophic mistake as the checkpoints were not far apart but it reminded me of the importance of maintaining 100% concentration on things such as this otherwise in future races I will pay for it.

We reached the last checkpoint (in a Sawmill) and I immediately wanted a hot drink and some lemon squash to quench the thirst. We didn't stop long as it was only 6.2km back to the finish line. As we headed out the door along the road there was great view of the North Downs. For me it's always a privilege to see this as I am so used to living in a very flat area of the country in Essex. In the last mile or so we sighted the Rugby club and I felt so good that I decided to stretch the legs out and sprinted (felt like I was) across the field to the club house. Sorry Jerry and George I couldn't resist it.

I went through the doors and collected my finishers certificate. We had held back and it wasn't a competitive time (finishing in 7hrs39 mins) but it was a great training run with similar minded individuals and a good experience to take forward for the next adventure.

When Less is more

This afternoon I found out that the car I have owned for the last 2 years requires fixing due to oil leaking into the coolant tank. It will cost in the region of £300 to get fixed and to be honest my first thoughts were one of panic especially as Christmas is around the corner and I do not like spending this money on this type of thing as I have already replaced most of the engine and it's components over the past 12 months totalling a small fortune. Now I could question why does life throw these curve balls at me especially as my state of mind contrasted so differently from this morning.

At 7am  this morning I was pumping my arms and legs in order to complete my quality 5 mile Hill reps session. Usually I make these sessions progressively tougher each time by either increasing the mileage or switching from going up hard and jogging down to going up jogging and running down hard. As I was breathing heavily towards the top of the hill and my rhythm breaking down I was focused on doing one thing, getting up to the top and taking in the view. I have done this countless times and as I start to jog back down the hill and my heart rate / breathing recovers I am still amazed how good I feel and how simple life seems in moments like this.

By nature I am an optimistic person and I don't tend to focus on problems, only on finding a solution to the problem. It was during my trip home from work this evening when I was thinking about how to solve this car problem that I had a moment of clarity that made me look assess other areas of my life and how they make me feel. I and others have heard it a million times the over used phrase "Less is more". This phrase has been used / misused by so many people but if you stop and think how can this apply to my life it actually makes you take stock of where you are in your life and what is important to you. Often in our incredibly busy and connected world we live in we don't spend enough time thinking and appreciating what is actually going right in our lives and focus on only what we don't have or want to have. Now I am not saying that I don't need a Car, House, TV etc however it got me thinking about all the other things I have and what is really necessary to live a life that I enjoy and appreciate each day.

For me like most people I want to be there for family and friends, this is the most important thing to me. The act of putting my shorts and t-shirt on and going running is now such a part of me that I cannot function without this act considering it always helps clear my mind and allow me to focus on one thing often resulting in a calming effect. I love travelling to new places and enjoying the job I do. I always try to find a balance with these things and often I am happy with the results.

Sometimes however the periphery things in life like my car today touch a nerve because it  can interfere with the things I determine important in my life e.g. taking my children out for the day, travelling to places, travelling to races etc and due to today's events perhaps it's time to look at my belief system and really apply it to my daily life starting with the things I don't need and that could interfere with the things I hold dear. By removing them or minimizing the impact they have on the important things, the less there is to worry about and therefore less problems, hassle etc. Now I am not saying this is the magic bullet to living a more fulfilling life but at the end of the day if the things that make me happy are the only things required to live a happy life.

This of course influences my approach to running. Although when I think about it the only thing I would love to change in my running is being able to get in a car that doesn't go wrong and travel to great locations in a convenient fashion in order to pump those arms and legs and just take in the view.

Billericay Striders 10k Race Report

A 10k race..did I read this right..yes you did.

This is a local race some 30 minutes drive from where I live and is organised by the Billericay Striders running club. When a couple of running friends asked me if I was interested in signing up for this I didn't give it a second thought and sent off my entry with thought that I could set a decent 10k PB to build upon. Something I had failed to do officially since taking up running back in 2008.

Before the day of the race I didn't give it a thought to look at the course profile or read reviews of the race from last year. I had assumed it would be a flat course and that a sub 45 minutes was possible despite my lack of fast sessions recently in training.

I woke up well rested on the morning of the race at 6.30am, had my usual breakfast of porridge, banana and half a bagel with orange juice and a tea before getting my kit together. As always a good tip is to prepare your race kit the night so that you don't have to think about where you left this shirt or socks etc. The race was scheduled for 9.45am so my friends picked me up around 8.30am in order to get there slightly early to avoid car parking issues and have time to warm up. It was very chilly on the day of the race therefore I didn't want to run in a vest so I chose a technical t-shirt I frequently use in training and a thin pair of gloves to keep the hands warm as I always seem to have cold hands.

When we arrived at the venue we quickly found the race HQ (which was inside the Leisure center a few yards from the start) to ensure that we kept warm until a few minutes before the race. There were several hundred people taking part of all abilities, local running clubs and there was a very friendly and vibrant atmosphere. Amid all the organised chaos I dropped my bag in the main hall and headed out 20 minutes before the start for a 10 minute warm up (accelerating towards the end) stretch to ensure the legs were flush with warm blood. It was very cold at this point so I decided the gloves would be staying on for the race.

The race announcer called everyone to the start line to line up in four waves based on your expected finishing time to ensure that the fastest runners lined up at the front and the rest of the field lining up where they feel that can finish. I lined up in the middle of the pack around the 45-50 minute finishers expecting people not to race off in front of me. I was aiming for an average 7:15 minute mile pace to achieve my goal and was determined that I could hold that for most of the race before seeing what was left in the tank for the last 2km.

The race started..FAST! As I pushed off a lot of people surged past me. I didn't want to go off too quickly otherwise I would pay dearly in the last third of the race. However I decided to get away quickish but being mindful of my pace which was around 6:40 minute miles at this point for the first couple of hundred meters before suddenly hitting a hill. I hadn't expected this but powered up it none the less. It took around 30 seconds to get to the top of it before yet another hill . Again I responded and kept my cadence high and reduced my stride to work hard getting to the top of it but I was starting to think there was a pattern here.

My watch beeped after the first mile, I checked my pace and saw 7:34 flash up. I wasn't unhappy with that as the hills took some of the speed out of my legs but I would be playing serious catchup to balance out that slowish first mile. With the downhills I was able to pick up the pace a bit but then would hit another couple of inclines which were slowly rising gradients. In a way I would of preferred very steep gradients so that they wouldn't hit the leg speed as much as it was. Maintaining a consistent pace was tough going.

By the end of Mile 2 (avg 7:21) I was feeling sufficiently warm and the sun was shining gloriously as we went up yet another progressive hill. I actually didn't expect it to be as warm as it was. I took my gloves off as they just weren't needed as my hands were sweaty and I started to regret not running in a vest. As the watch went off again at Mile 3 (7:37) I noticed a sign stating that the drinks station was up ahead so as I ran through it and I grabbed a cup of what looked like water as I did have a dry throat and gulped it down before continuing to run on. As the liquid hit the back of my throat I began to choke really badly and couldn't catch my breath and had to stop immediately. Given that I am asthmatic I always take precautionary measures to ensure my breathing is steady. This completely ruined my rhythm and pace for the run.

I finished in 47:58.

I placed 212 place out of 616 runners which was disappointing however I had survived the battle. Just after I collected my race memento I met my friend at the who had raced off ahead of me to finish in a good time of 41 minutes. As we waited for his wife to finish (she did so in 59 minutes) we talked about future race plans. The first thing to him was "I want some more of this fast stuff, lets find another one". Not that I am retiring from ultras or anything however I really enjoyed the experience and took a lot of food for thought away after the race.

I learned some valuable lessons that day that upon reflection are silly mistakes to make e.g. not checking the weather forecast, hydrating properly pre race, not checking the course profile or comments. Performing well in any event in my opinion comes down to many factors but for me the two most important factors I consider critical for success are

Preparation for the event (appropriate training, gear to wear, hydration etc, review the course)
Knowing exactly what I am going to do on the start line (pace judgement)

Personally I enjoyed the experience and will be looking to take part in other shorter races moving forward. It did inject some much needed variety into my schedule and it is providing me more goals to work on for the future.

Happy Running.