Tuesday, 26 May 2015

The Ox

This would be the 5th race in the Runfurther series and my 5th race too! I have not yet decided whether or not I can do the Grand Slam. In August will I be around for LTof B or on the continent getting ready for the GRP? In the autumn will we still be here for me to enter Jedburgh or will we be off to New Zealand? and is it worth going to the Isle of man to run 30 miles?
Still for now it is The Ox and back to the Dorset- Wiltshire borders. I say back to because I spent about 4 years in Shaftesbury as a child and so have some fond memories of the area. I have played on Win Green, walked along the drove roads, explored the woods at Tollard Royal, spotted Fovant badges and more.
After our recees earlier in the week I was concerned about how much hard surface there was and the fact I do not own any road shoes and had left my hokas at home. I even spent some time on the pre-race evening wandering around in different shoes trying to decide. There is not all that much tarmac but the lanes are hard and stony.

Very few sections were grass and there was almost no mud. Locals were bemoaning the hills but for those of us from the north it seemed like every hill should be runnable and none were big and steep making it worthy of a walk. We spent the afternoon reading, relaxing and soaking up the sun as we hydrated on Win Green hill.

Mid afternoon we moved round to the event centre at the lodge house to the Rushmoor estate and Tollard Royal golf course.

The camp site was already in full swing and we quickly spotted Andy Splatcher in the field. It was very laid back and we joined him quickly. Once his tent was up Bob, Andy and I went to put up the flags, banners and display boards.

The registration etc was outside and so were our boards so I am glad it was dry. The ground was rock hard from lack of rain and great flints in the chalk soil but we eventually got all the flags up. We met the organiser, handed over Clif bars and registered. It was not long before Dick arrived and also Carmine plus a whole bunch of Mercia/ Newport/ Shropshire runners.

The Dark Ox runners set off on their 6 miles at 8.30pm and many were back well before it was dark? I was concerned that our route had too many options for short cuts but was persuaded that the organiser would have this in hand and anyway we had timing chips on our shoes so surely they would know if corners were cut. The cool eventually drove us indoors and to bed.

Morning dawned with thick mist but gradually this lifted and it seemed it would be warm and sunny. Even though the course was marked out I was glad I knew the route and so could judge how far I had gone and what sections were coming up. As we had made all our RF preparations the night before we seemed to have masses of time to socialise before the 8.30am start. We herded together near the finish for the briefing and then out onto to road to start. A drone flew overhead filming the early stages. I knew it would be fast and flat and I was not proved wrong. After a few hundred metres of road and then track we were off in the woods.
This was actually our recee
I spotted Chris D and Carmine shooting off ahead and on one descent Splatcher came past me for a short while. I spotted Kate and we ran together for a while chatting. After 4 miles we left the woods and climbed to the first drove road where we followed a mixture of tracks and lanes to the next woods.

All was going well but the speed suddenly caused my 'toe problem' to flare. Andy had stormed away leaving Kate and I to wonder what he was on, now I had to let her pull away too.

Then another lady came by. Before 10 miles and in a lovely wood I suddenly found myself on the floor. I guess I tripped. Immediately my whole right arm was sore and there was blood from several cuts around my elbow. Not to worry- you don't run on your arms. Then I tried to stand up. I had hit my head but could not figure out what was wrong at first. My thigh had landed across a big tree root and it had given me a dead leg. For minutes I could not even stand up and for the next 8 miles running was a real trial and not pleasant. I tried not to cry. Other runners were lovely and concerned as always. the one who made the difference was Mercia Jon who made me laugh when he asked 'Is there anything I can do?' When I replied 'No, thanks.' His reply was 'not even a piggy back?' I had to try after that and was so glad of his company. I spent the miles from 10-18 trying to sort myself out and make up all the places I had lost while I lay on the floor or hobbled. Around here the 3rd lady passed me too. Oh well. The strange loop in the middle of the race came and went and I slowly settled into a better pace. I was eating a drinking well and things were improving. I was not looking forward to the big drove road heading west after 21 miles but several things cheered me up. First at the CP I was told I was 3rd lady- surely a mistake, but no, the next CP confirmed it. Second I ran most of it with Jon. He was great company and we chatted and both tried to push the pace and get the miles done. It was a real shame that he started to cramp and I lost his company but this was not before we started to catch up and pass other runners. Finally I took lots of pain relief (something I should have done earlier) and was able to ignore the bumps of my fall.
A shame the runners did not see the Fovant badges
Towards the end of this big track the marathon runners joined us and so there were even more people to try to catch - always a motivator I find. As we left the drove track and descended on softer paths I made up places and started to feel good.
It would have to be a very narrow car
Before the last big climb I took more paracetamol and spotted Splatcher just ahead. He was tiring- not surprising after such a good run of 100 miles at Apocalypse just the week before. I stomped the uphill and overtook him and others. I knew there were only about 4 miles left and some of those were a wonderful grassy ridge that dipped to about 800m shy of the finish hill. A quick check of my watch showed I could easily get under 6 hours so I even managed to run most of the last hill. I crossed the line to find the prize giving underway and no time to go to get the spot prizes.

 Kate was nowhere to be seen and I was shocked to see the 'young' lady be given first place? But I had been told I was 3rd so how could this be? Surely Kate and the asian looking girl were 1st and second. I hoped neither had pulled out injured. It seems the younger girl had 'got lost', wasted lots of time, cut out a chunk to make up for the lost miles, told a CP she would run a few extra so her garmin showed the correct amount and so had run across the line as first. I could not see how anybody could get lost on such a well marked course and could not believe she did not confess at the prize giving. She had cut out several miles and not been through at least two CPs. I complained to the RO and he gave me 3rd prize of a framed certificate and a flagon of cider.

 I then found Kate and he promised to sort it out and give her 1st. Tonight the results show Kate 1st, the others 2nd and 3rd and me 4th. The 'cheat' now has a time including seconds but I have no idea how it was arrived at as the timing chip would show her to be first.

 It is a shame this took the edge of the event for me and others. There is so much about the event that is really good and the marshalls were great. Chris D is not in the results at all yet and all the Mercia/Shropshire crowd were moaning about aspects of the organisation. Hard to believe the RO paid for timing chips but only used them once, at the finish and at no point had marshalls taking numbers out on the course. It would be a good safety measure and could prevent short cutting. Bob was also mad that they ran out of water and would not get more 'because there were not many runners left now'. He paid the same entry fee and needed the water just as much. We did get a rather large medal and interesting T shirt but I think I prefer a meal as we cross the line. The golf club let us use their showers and so I got to wash off the blood and wash my hair again! We had a great evening sat in the field chatting away before we camped again ready for the long drive home on Monday. Bob has now done 4 races in the series and I will have good points from the race. Need to get ordering the RF reward for 4 races gear!

A fortnight in the South West

It hardly seemed worth driving back to Lancashire after Marlborough, especially as I was keen to return to Wellington to see mum and then The Ox was near Shaftesbury only a fortnight later. Instead we visited mum on Mon and Tuesday before heading off to wild camp in the van.

Tuesday afternoon and evening saw us in a favourite spot on the Quantocks.

There really should be an ultra here. I ran just for the joy of it for about two hours; no idea how far or how fast as that was not the point. I put in descents and climbs at random as I fancied as the run progressed. I saw ponies, sheep, rabbits and deer and then that evening an amazing sunset.
Wednesday we parked on North Hill above Minehead.

 On the way up we met a magnificent stag stood in the middle of the road. We ran to Porlock using the hilltop path before a laze on the beach and returning by the SW coast path.

The weather was gorgeous but there were not many tourists about. Bob collected the van and I ran down the quay-side in Minehead and in doing so found where all the tourists were (Prom, Butlins and McD). I covered about 24km.
We drove further into Exmoor and parked at Webbers Post. The lane was only just wide enough for the van and it was a blessing we did not meet any cars on that section of the journey. It rained for ages in the morning but by the afternoon it had almost stopped and we got out to run.

We ran in a loop to take in Dunkery Beacon and then Bob returned by a similar route to the van and I extended my run further west.

 I had an interesting time being chased my a dog and almost bitten, meeting a herd of deer as the crossed a very minor road metres ahead of me and then helping a guy get his car off the mud and onto the road again. I ran about 26km some of it not very fast but I enjoyed exploring and the views, plus it was nice to revisit places I had been to as a child.

At the GL3D Shane had very kindly given Bob a copy of Wild Running to give to me as a birthday present. It was a fortnight early but we used it to get ideas for another run.

 Further west along the Exmoor coast beyond Lynton etc is the Heddon Valley.

 The book suggested a 6 mile route using the coast path and a green lane that contours above it called the Carriage way.  It was warm and sunny despite the cool wind. After our fun on narrow lanes we parked above Woody Bay instead and so added a bit. The Hunters Inn in Heddon Valley looked wonderful but we were on a mission. Having got their in no time we extended the run out onto the common land and coast to the west. I ran even further west over three deserted tops before dropping to the best bit of the coast path and meeting Bob near Heddon mouth.

 On the way back I ran down to Woody Bay and then suffered a really stiff climb back up to the van. Probably about 25km all told.

Next stop was Meldon just beyond Okehampton. The car park near the dam was deserted and the toilets were open. What a wonderful place to spend the night.

 Again Wild Running got us started on a route and we modified it. We did our own ten tors (it's an annual challenge put on by the army).

 After the two highest tors of Yes Tor and High Willhays were added 8 more. Most of the running was superb but we did have one section of pathless Bob that reminded me of the OMM a few years ago.

We played on the rocks on the way but it was too windy to sunbathe, we caught the sun without realising until later.

 Almost 30km.
A drive via Tavistock for milk and an ice cream saw us spending the evening right on the edge of the moor. It was a glorious evening and the wind dropped and the sky got even more blue. I couldn't resist and went to explore the nearest tor.

 Arriving at the trig point in under half an hour I then decided to take in the next three as a little circuit.

Each tor was unique; the first had the trig point and was surrounded by weird grassy lumps, the second had an army mast, the third had very impressive stacks of rock and the last was inhabited by loads of Dartmoor ponies and their foals.

Bob did this run the next morning before we moved to Princetown. Another glorious day but still the cool wind. Again we extended the suggested route and explored.

 About 20km. It was good to spend the late afternoon and evening with my brother and his family. We had a lovely meal and I begged a shower so I could wash my hair!

Time to return towards mum. We had a rather disturbed night as our lane was the diversion for a closed road but never-mind. For me it was another day of memories as we parked on Budleigh Common just north of Exmouth which is where I did my teaching practice.
Dartmoor flog (not wet enough for bog)
The very slight drizzle soon stopped and we explored the common and some lovely beech woods. We then did get a little lost on some lanes but put it right before heading back through more woods. I decided I wanted to run faster and that map memory would see me back to the van. I gave Bob the map and set off. I did get back but only after a loop west to Lympstone and a bit of re-location.

After two days with mum we headed off for an easy walk at Cerne Abbas and the famous giant before driving further east to Shaftesbury ready to recee The Ox.

We stocked up with food and I enjoyed seeing the town I had lived in for a few years as a child.

Sadly the tourist office had shut at 4 so we bought two OS maps instead and sat on Win Green hill studying them that evening. This was one of our families favourite play places for several years and it felt special to be back there.

On Wednesday we receed The Ox- not all of it but a good 24 miles or so.

Parts were in beautiful woods and full or wild garlic but the section along the northern Ox drove road seemed to stretch forever and it felt like far too much was on either tarmac or very hard surfaces.

 I was a bit despondent as I had anticipated grassy drove roads with great views not what felt like a disused rail-track with big hedges blocking the view. I shot ahead and gained enough time to explore the Fovant badges that would be just off our route.

On Thursday we jogged through to the start area and receed the first 6 and last 5 miles with a linking bit in between. This was better with wonderful woods and parkland on the Rushmoor estate and then a more interesting section of drove road and softer paths as well. Perhaps it would not be so bad after all.

We knew we needed a rest but could not sit and do nothing so on Friday we had two shorter walks and managed to include 3 ancient hill forts of varying ages. Probably only about 14km in total but very pleasant.  The next day we had an even shorter explore of the Rushmoor estate from Win Green down to Tollard Royal and then over to Berwick St John and back. It was getting warmer and the wind was dropping. Already a wonderful fortnight of almost perfect weather; lots of sun, very little rain and a cool wind. We alos discovered the delights of McD smoothies in our quest for free wifi!

Monday, 25 May 2015

The Marlborough Downs Challenge

Marlborough Downs Challenge- the first race in our long trip to the south and south-west.

The MDC was returning to the Runfurther series after an absence of several n the race before and so there was excitement about a new event, new terrain and with new people. A detailed written description and the promise of some way-marking signs we were keen to recee at least some of the route. Once the official cut-off time for the first nine miles was shortened Bob was even keener to see just how much of a challenge this might be. Arriving on Friday afternoon allowed us time to find CP1 and plan our exploration. West Woods were awash with blue bells.

 They were truly spectacular and we found they do have some fame. We set off on the next 7 miles and although it was muddy on some woodland paths after the heavy rain the downlands were dry and wonderfully runnable. 

The Wansdyke especially had lovely sweeping grassy paths From CP3 we did not really have a plan but we now knew that we would be able to rely on the written descriptions and although the cut off might be tight for Bob it was doable. 

We decided on a route back using lanes and paths between the ridge and the river Kennet. Part way back it started raining and this then got heavier. Bob was tired and the day-light was fading. I pushed the pace a bit anxious that we did not arrive back on the maze of woodland paths in the dark. The cloud meant an earl dusk but we were back at the van before 8pm and settled for a late meal. On Saturday we walked and jogged the last 4 miles and the first two miles with a break in Marlborough where we bought a pie each in the market and sat in the sun. A brief stroll in the woods that afternoon showed that the paths were drying out nicely in the wind.

Race day saw us up early as usual and off to meet the ROs.
Nick Ham photo

As we handed over Clif Bars and prizes Nick arrived and we put up all the flags and banners together.

 By 8am we were organised and relaxed enough to mingle and chat. It was pleasing to see so many 'locals' reading the RF notice-boards and also to see some RF regulars like Martin T, Dave and Kayleigh R and David W had made the quite long journey south.
Photo Nick Ham
By 8.45 we had been herded across the road and into the grounds of Marlborough College for the start. Although the terrain was undulating I was fearful that it was flat enough to be very runnable and fast.

I was correct. CP1 arrived in a flash and suddenly we were in the blue bell woods with the day rapidly heating up.

It felt good to be clear about the way especially when a couple of faster runners overtook me at CP2 having been awol. The pace across the grassy Wansdyke was fierce and I tried to get a compromise of not letting the gap get too big and yet not going so fast that i would blow up later. Between CP3 and 4 I caught up with a guy I knew from the OMM and stuck with him all the way to Devizes and along the canal section.  This made it more pleasant and forced me to run faster than I might have done if I had been on my own. Many of the runners were usually road and marathon runners. It was a shock for those of used to FRA rules to see them in shorts and T shirts carrying nothing more than a water bottle. The next section was hilly and somewhere I dropped my OMM friend. There were some dry stony tracks that started to torture my feet but the views were superb and different to what I am used to.
Thanks again Nick

Running up to Chernill Down and the monument I spotted a White Horse and suddenly realised that I had been here as a child. More ridge path and tracks took us towards Avebury. Here I caught other runners and managed to grab a refreshing cup of tea. There was little time to admire the standing stones and the crowds of tourists were something of a shock as we emerged through the church lych-gate onto the main street. 
On race day we had no time to admire the stones
They were though very supportive and the lines of them and runners we were catching up on the shorter 20 mile route motivated me to run up the big track out of Avebury and towards the Ridgeway. 
Taken a few days later- being tourists
I steadily pulled away from those I had been running with, knew I was third later and tried to catch those up ahead. The last 4 miles were almost flat but I was beat. The early pace had taken it's toll.  I could see Henry less than 100mahead but could not close the gap. The 2nd lady runner was only 100m or so ahead of that but it might as well have been a mile. I did try but there was nothing left in the tank until the final sprint. I crossed the line in 5 hours 16 and about 10 seconds behind Henry. We were presented with a beautiful hand crafted mug that was full of a welcome cold drink. It was only a short stagger to the leisure centre where a lovely meal and even more lovely showers were available. A trophy and bottle of Proseco were my reward for a hard run.

 Plus good points in the RF series. Once recovered I spent a couple of hours explaining RF, recruiting new members, announcing spot prizes and drinking tea. By 5.30 all runners had returned and we had collected together all the RF paraphanalia ready to transport to The Ox in a fortnights time. We thanked the ROs, collected the excess of macaroni cheese and went in search of a quiet spot to park the van for the night. It had been a great day out and a well organised event. I am sure we will return.