Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Sundowners on the common after training - still at over 30ºC - Lit by fluorescence  

Monday, November 17, 2014

Rodings Rally 2014

The Rodings Rally is an all-night orienteering cum map reading competition that takes place in Epping Forest. The Rally follows a route through the forest along a variety of paths, tracks and trackless scrub, including holly as it turns out. There are ten checkpoints located within the forest with the final checkpoint at High Beach Village Hall with the route covering approximately twelve miles, 'as the crow flies'!

A friend of mine came up with the idea of entering a 4 person team into this as "a bit of a laugh" and not being one to shy away from a bit of a challenge I happily agreed to join in with her and her friend (there would be one random person assigned to the team on the night). Let this be a lesson to you all, when someone invites you to do something like this you should check on their navigational abilities first, it turned out the three girls in my team only had a “limited” knowledge (to put this into perspective one turned up with homemade gingerbread biscuits, in the shape of a compass and professed to know nothing more about compasses past that!).

Anyway after conducting my pre-race briefing to the team on the basics of grid coordinates, bearings, timings, targeting and "sweeping" I felt a bit more positive on our chances, that was until I looked at the blank expressions on their faces; clearly it was going to be a long night...

Our race started at 22:20 with the team receiving details of the ten check points. Each check point had three associated grid references with a cryptic clue to help determine which grid reference was the actual checkpoint. 45 minutes later and Lisa and Jane had plotted the grid references and decided which points were the correct checkpoints and we were off; it was a great effort for novice map readers and, again, I started thinking that we had a reasonable chance of surviving the night in one piece.

The first two checkpoints were located without too much drama with navigation being shared amongst the team under my, rather untrusting, supervision (what can I say, I needed to ensure we made the tea stop at checkpoint 5 by the cut-off time to get a brew!). Special credit goes to Lisa for her bearing into checkpoint 2 that sent us straight into the hidden tent, impressive work.

Checkpoint 3 proved our nemesis, 30 minutes were lost sweeping for the checkpoint as the finer points of sweeping got somewhat lost on the team; even my jovial words of encouragement "stop bl%&dy following me and fan out!" failed to help us, we eventually admitted defeat and move onto checkpoint 4 fearing that the tea stop may pack up before we arrived.

Checkpoints 4 and 5 were located with the minimum of fuss, Lisa proving to be somewhat of a pro with her bearings and Jane happily counting to 62 (i.e. 100 metres) and we were looking like a cohesive well drilled team (going on some of the shouting and arguments we saw with other teams we occasionally came across we clearly seemed to work well with each other!). Most importantly the tea station was located just in time to procure the final hot dogs; together with a warm cup of tea spirits were high and we pushed on to the next checkpoint.

After six hours of stomping around in forest Toffee, a lady who was assigned to our team on the night, started slowing down and her facial expressions started becoming more perplexed as my enthusiasm for a quick 7km loop to reach checkpoint 8 clearly seemed to be somewhat disparate from her own personal aspirations. As a true team we debated the merits of the loop and we agreed to march on, in hindsight this was perhaps a mistake as not only did we fail to find checkpoint 8 we also ran out of time to reach checkpoint 9 before finishing.

This was never going to be about the race result but I think we came 40 odd out of 60 with 7 checkpoints in just over 8 hours, which as a group of predominantly non-orienteers (some may even refer certain team members to be “navigationally challenged”) was a hugely successful result – especially finishing higher than one particularly hyper competitive group! I would thoroughly recommend a Clapham Runners group or two entering next year if there is enough interest, it’s great fun and if you listen to someone who knows what they’re talking about you would have a great chance of completing the course within the 8 hour time limit (I think only 12 teams found all 10 checkpoints so we’d be close to getting a top 10 finish!).

If I find a photo I'll add it to the post, unfortunately action shots of people in a dark forest are somewhat limited in there impact!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Royal Parks Half 2014

I have a new favourite half. The route, the atmosphere, the impeccable organisation, the indescribable sound of 16,000 pairs of trainers setting off and of course that sense of achievement. Why do I run? Days like today.

 Maybe it’s that I’ve lived in London that bit longer. This was my third Royal Parks, but this time, every corner, every turn held a memory - an after work picnic, a first date, a gig. I felt so proud to be running in my home town. There is something magical about running past Big Ben and Parliament, along a traffic-free Thames, through Admiralty Arch, down the Mall, not to mention the parks themselves. On a crisp, sunny, autumnal day, the golden colours of the last seven miles in Hyde Park were simply stunning. I wish I’d had my camera!

I am never going to set a world record, but was pleased to stay comfortably around the 10 minute mile mark for most of the race – steady and consistent. That said, I was somewhat embarrassed to be overtaken by a guy carrying a four ft trunk on his back at the 5 mile mark! The course is flat and the occasional uphill slope disappeared quickly – and my goodness those downhills give you a good burst of energy! Unsurprisingly given minimal training, I did slip into the walk-run routine around miles 8-10, but from mile 11 onwards, walking feels like cheating – and I upped my pace for the last km to meet my target time of 2h17 (albeit a moving goalpost!).

Today’s 16,000 runners showed grit and determination, soldiering on despite very painful looking limps, and there were so many personal stories worn on t-shirts. Charity cheering points were electric, and spectators were three deep in places. That moment when we re-entered Hyde Park at mile 6 was unreal. You couldn’t help but smile back at everyone willing you on! I have only ever experienced that kind of warmth and energy at the London Marathon – to be part of that felt truly special.

The race was brilliantly organised – efficient bag drop, ample portaloos (very important), the course stayed wide for the mostpart (although there was some runner congestion – it could be difficult to hit a PB), and the entire route was free from leaves – a remarkable feat! It all made such a difference. The race day festival was well thought through, from the food stalls and Pimms tent, the live choir, the screens dotted around showing runners crossing the finish line, the climbing wall, giant games, as well as the obligatory mass warm up and stretching classes. I’d gone on my own so didn’t hang around, but there was plenty there to keep you busy.

One of the things I love most about race day is that running is a complete equaliser. Where you would usually get funny looks for talking to strangers on the tube, I managed to swap race stories with finishers on the bus and on the train home – and a shout out to Tom and Katie who I met in the loo queue and gave me a cheer at mile 8!

This time round a PB was out of reach, but I’m happy with my best half in four years. Running the Royal Parks Half 2014 was a real pleasure. I am totally inspired to keep running and to keep running in London – oh the lucky ones who get to run the VLM,

Ballot entry for the 2015 race opens in the New Year – do it!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Muddy passions

Well, that’s another pair of trainers and set of kit that'll never grace the streets of London again.

Actually, if the truth be told, although the ‘after’ photograph at the bottom of this post doesn’t really show just how muddy and wet I was at the end of the race (top tip: always wear black), the fact is that the kit didn’t even make it onto the train home from my latest adventure race, and the trainers are really only fit for one more extreme outing before they’ll have to follow suit into the dustbin. 

Yes, if there’s a downside to the likes of Tough Mudder, the Spartan, The Major and The Grizzly, it’s that it’s pretty deathly for your sports kit. But I can live with that because what adventure racing really is is muddy, heart-racing fun.

Honestly, what’s not to love about racing across country in all weathers, at any time of the year, forging through rivers and streams and mud pits, hauling yourself up hillsides and slithering back down them, dashing across waterfalls and crawling through tunnels, as well as taking in a few manmade obstacles along the way (take a look YouTube)?

I know, I know, it sounds crazy, but you have to try it. An adventure race is nothing like anything you’ve probably tried before, and each one is different so, unless you only ever do the same race each year, you’ll never run the same course or put yourself through the same obstacles twice. Admittedly, it’s not for the fainthearted - it’s a whole lot more than a run in the park on a rainy day – but most races offer a choice of distance (5k or 10k) with the tougher obstacles to be found on the longer distance.

You need to be pretty fit too. A penchant for running off-road and doing a good amount of cross-training is ideal as wading through huge pools of thigh-deep mud and pulling one foot after the other out of the energy-sapping, glue-sucking stuff, all the while trying not to lose your shoes or to fall on your face, requires abs of steel(!) and a whole load of grim determination. And that’s just to get yourself through one mud pool.

I tried out a brand new adventure race the other weekend – the Gladiator Games - and as usual, I got very muddy and I got utterly soaked. I also got covered in washing up liquid and pretty scratched and bruised. Less than half a mile into the race, I jumped into a river and waded through water that reached my chest, and a few miles and obstacles later on, I slithered into another backwater – thigh deep this time – and found myself in water as gloopy as liquid chocolate and bulging with submerged logs that only came to light when I bashed my shins on them.

I ran through a hail of giant beach balls, was pelted by tennis balls, and spooked by zombies. I had to charge across clearings guarded by gladiators wielding rugby tackle bags and was given a fireman’s lift by another of their cohort before I finally crawled through a foam-filled tunnel and made it back up the hill to cross the finish line – with a huge smile on my face.

Better still, by my racewatch, I’d completed the 10k (more like 13k once you take all the obstacles into account) in 74 minutes and still felt fresh (ahem) as a daisy. Clapham Runners, BMF and BMF running club, I thank you, as all that training is clearly paying off!

Of course, I'm sure there’ll probably come a time when the thought of doing another adventure race will pall and it’ll just be roads and tracks for me but until then, I’ll keep on doing it the muddy way. So roll on 2015 and the next raft of muddy races.

Monday, November 25, 2013

ING New York City Marathon 2013

2013 has been another year of international marathon achievements by Clapham Runners, including in London, Nepal, Rome, Hamburg, Norway, Amsterdam et al.  Two teams of five also ran in a Thames marathon River Relay.

On 3rd Nov it was my turn to have a crack at one in New York, which I was fortunate enough to get an invite to via work in ING's 11th and last year as main sponsor.

Before taking the train down to NYC, Annie and I spent a couple of days getting to know Boston. This also saw the start of my carb-loading (not too tricky in the US!..) and coincided with the Red Sox winning baseball's "World" Series on home turf. The whole city was abuzz with this - even dressing a large statue in support of their bearded team!

We were staying just around the corner from the permanent yellow Boston marathon finishing line, which was poignant to see after April's atrocity. "Boston Strong" logos were very much in evidence reflecting the city's defiance, solidarity and caring.  Blue ribbons and other tributes honouring the Boston victims were also worn by many of the NYC marathoners.

We also came across the Tortoise and Hare sculpture which pays permanent tribute to Boston Marathon runners of all ilks and which obviously now carries more weight.

My expectations for the NYC race fluctuated during my 3 month training build up with a couple of annoying injury disruptionsI somehow managed to average close to my training target of 50km/week, albeit without as many long runs as I'd planned.  I therefore still had some hope of getting close to my goal of 3½ hrs (ie 5 mins/km).  

With just over 50,000 participants and heightened post-Boston security the logistics were immense.  After a 6.15 a.m. rendez-vous I joined other ING runners in a large police escorted fleet of coaches for the 1.5hr trip to the Staten Island start.  A pretty awesome spectacle it was too; the mass of runners assembled on the edge of the giant Verrazano-Narrows double-decked suspension bridge with the likes of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” blaring out to add to the air of anticipation just before the off.

It was a chilly morning with a brisk northerly wind, so after the early start I was relieved to be in the first of the four waves of starters.  We set off at 9.40 on both decks of the bridge and the views across to the Manhattan skyline did not disappoint.  This was the steepest section of the course with mile 1 being all uphill to the top of the bridge!  However, with fresh legs and the excitement of the occasion the incline wasn’t overly noticeable, enticing most of us probably to go off a little too fast… 
The course takes in all five NYC boroughs, and the second was a long stretch north through the cosmopolitan neighbourhoods of Brooklyn where the crowds were out in force.  This time I ran with my name on my shirt and it was great to be spurred on with frequent shouts of “Stevoooo” or “Let’s go Stevo” and even “Stevo, let’s go baby!”

My loyal support crew joined the ING cheering point at c.13 miles just over the bridge into Queens - I still can't believe she managed to get good shots of both the eventual winners but missed spotting me!...
I managed to keep up a fairly consistent pace in the first half, mainly in the 4:40’s per km, and went through ½ way in 1:39:30.

Next on through Queens and then.... another big bridge – the iconic Queensboro Bridge.  This was the start of the business end of the race - at c.25km it was a long punishing climb, evidenced by my slowest km split (6:15!).  I really had to dig in to maintain some rythm up this imposing spectator-less metal brute.  The end of the incline was a big relief and as we approached the bridge exit the first sight of and roar from the Manhattan crowd provided a real boost. 
Their enthusiastic and colourful support continued as we headed north from 17 to 20 miles straight up First Avenue.  This stretch was quite surreal with the skyscrapers, cheering crowds, colourful bands, NYPD officers, etc giving me a fleeting vision of being on a film set!  Keeping up a decent pace was now becoming increasingly challenging and repeating this year's mantra of "relax the shoulders, maintain your form" didn't seem to prevent increasing numbers overtaking me...

Then over another bridge into the Bronx where we turned west at the north end of the course before crossing back over the Harlem River into Manhattan and a left turn into Fifth Avenue.  This was the long home straight towards Central Park which couldn't appear soon enough!  With my pace having dropped to over 5 min/km I was now in survival mode and pushing hard to stop it slowing further.  We entered Central Park half way down before looping around the southern end - most of which is a bit of a blur - to the relief of the finish line.

I crossed the line in 3:31:58 feeling wobbly and in dire need of sustenance – which took an age to come by along the walk of at least another mile while being processed!...  Annie’s quest to see me had again been thwarted – with (understandably) overzealous security denying her et al access to their booked seats in the finish line grandstand.

This was 3 mins outside my PB of a year ago in Dublin and just outside my target.  Nevertheless, overall I felt pretty pleased given my build up, those bridges, headwinds, etc.  Having said that, I came away, like many marathoners I suspect, thinking that I still have potential to do a little bit better….  So whilst in those last few miles I was convincing myself that this was the last time I’d ever be putting myself through such madness, after a while I do admit that thoughts of having a stab at another one have been creeping in….

The theme of missing each other continued as Annie and I both waited in the cold at different meet and greet points for seemingly an eternity!  Those sexy ING orange gloves came in handy though… and hence the finisher pic having to wait until we were eventually reunited back at our hotel!

“Marathon Monday” was a beautiful crisp clear day for wandering in Central Park to reflect on the experience and for the obligatory medal engraving and shopping.  

Overall a fab event that I was privileged to get to experience and would thoroughly recommend – tricky to get places though, unless I guess you work for the new title sponsor Tata Consultancy Services…

New York, New York, so good they named it twice!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Club run: Get your Santa on!


Hi guys, few of us were chatting last night and thought it would be great if we all did the Santa run as a club, so get your entries in at:

Sat 7th Dec
10am start

See you there!!


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Run in the Dark

OK so compared to the Himalayas, Battersea Park is perhaps not so impressive and, compared to the marathons and ultras that others have been doing, 5km definitely isn't. However, no-one has written anything on here for absolutely ages and this event was quite good fun.

I spotted the poster for The Run in the Dark on the way to the track last week and it sounded quite interesting and fun. There were both 10km and 5km races, and there were races being run simultaneously in Belfast, Dublin, Cork and Manchester. As the name suggests, the race was after dark and everyone in the race was given a flashy red LED armband.

For all the multiple venues etc it wasn't all that slick in terms of set up. As a late register-er I had to pick up my pack on the day and when I did they'd run out of safety pins. Quite a few people had to run with their numbers in their pockets (not ideal when the chip is attached to the number). Luckily, I did have safety pins (uncharacteristically organised for me). It was also a bit late starting, which given it was so cold wasn't brilliant. Presumably this also slightly did for the simultaneousness of the races in different cities, unless everyone set off late. However, once we got going it was actually quite a nice event.

I'm not sure why it was so enjoyable. I run in the dark quite a lot at this time of year (admittedly not usually in the park except on the track). However, there was something rather lovely about the stream of LED flashes. It felt a bit like a fastish moving procession and a little bit partyish. Also, there is something to be said about running a race on really familiar ground. It felt very much like home turf and I gave myself a little cheer every time I went past the track. Also because I was only doing the 5km, and because it in loops, I didn't feel like I was running near the back, which can sometimes be a thing for a slow runner like me. The flip side of the loop set up is that I definitely got lapped. Ah well.
I hadn't been able to check my time as I was going round (too dark), but as I got to the end I was a little disappointed with the time my stopwatch was saying. I was also a bit surprised because it did all feel like it was an ok run for me. However, I noticed a few 5k people looking at phones and plotting distances. Also they'd changed the route from last year and it did, on looking at the website, look a bit like they'd extended it, which seemed a bit odd. I've plotted the route on gmaps and I do think there was about an extra 1/2km or so. If I'm right, then my time wasn't as rubbish as I'd first thought (probably actually about average for me - I'd like to go faster - perhaps I should actually do some parkruns).

So all in all an enjoyable event on home turf. It was fun, which was what appealed when I spotted the poster and so I got what I signed up for. However, it is one to take a GPS to if you are interested in times/distance, as well as possibly layers for the wait at the start and definitely some safety pins.