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.