Monday, 17 August 2015

Spitfire Scramble Ultra run

Spitfire Scramble 2015

15/08/2015 - The week started brilliantly as I'd taken the Monday and the Tuesday off work to go cycling. Monday the weather forecast said rain so I decided to go for a run instead. Backpack on I set off in the morning, running off into the waiting countryside. After a couple of hours I stopped for a packed lunch before running another hour and stopping at a country pub for a pint. After that I had a nice kip in a farmers field, as you do, and after started the journey home. The weather was actually nice so I could have cycled but still it was lovely to get out. Next day the forecast was lovely and with the sun shining I went on a 60 mile bimble around Cambridgeshire stopping at the Wimpole Estate for a packed lunch. I found loads of new and beautiful routes and some lovely countryside. A perfect day.

A gurning man lunching at the Wimpole Estate
So I'd had a lovely start to the week and just three days of work before my biggest race of the year, the Spitfire Scramble, a 24 hour trail ultra run held at the Hornchurch Country Park. Leaving work as soon as possible on the Friday I headed off to Hornchurch, got a little caught up in the M25 traffic but still managed to arrive just after 5pm. Set up the tent and got settled just as the rain came belting down.

All rather damp on arrival
Still I was dry and with the kettle on I could not have felt better, though I did a little later after a beer and a couple of glasses of Thunder toffee vodka.

Tea made

I cooked myself up a lovely dinner and with that gone, and a couple of drinks down me it was getting dark and there was not much to do so I settled in to my sleeping bag and read for a while before having an early night. I did not stir again until 07:30 in the morning which was nice. Cooked up a cracking fried breakfast and took a walk over to the section of the campsite I knew there would be some friends camping. Sure enough there they were and it was lovely to see them and chat for a while (Pete, Jo and Neil it was a pleasure). They were there competing in the team event for the second year so were quite relaxed about the whole thing. I wish I had more time to spend with them as other than chatting on the Interweb I'm lucky to see them once a year, in fact Neil I was meeting in person for the first time. We wished each other the all the best and I went back to my tent to prepare for the start. As is the nature of these things the start came round very quickly and not wishing to make the mistakes of the past I put myself right at the back on the starting group. At a similar event last year I'd gone off like a loon and really suffered for it later in the race. So the countdown began, reached zero and we were off, me very very slowly.

At the start I'm second from last.
First lap was definitely going to be a lap of discovery as I had no idea what to expect though I'd read it was reasonably flat and a real mix of surfaces. I was actually finding it hard to keep it slow, the plan had been to run slow and steady and walk up any hills but I found myself running everything and constantly having to check my pace. I was actually surprised how nice the views were being so close to Romford/Ilford, sure there was the occasional geeza sitting on a park bench with a few cans of cheap beer, his bull terrier at his feet while on the phone to "mate", but that just added a touch of urban colour to proceedings. The first part of the route goes through more open fields with expansive views and ends running through some lovely woodland, my favorite bit. I think that I finished in about 1:13 ish which meant I my pacing about right. I popped over to my tent for a water bottle refill, a glass of fruit smoothie, my new best friend in the race nutrition stakes, and set off again. Second lap was pretty much a carbon copy of the first but I stopped a little longer for a toilet break and to add in a couple of tiny scotch eggs and a toffee yum yum into the nutritional cocktail. After five laps I took time out for a meal before heading off out.

At the marathon point - yay!!

By lap 7 it was getting dark so the headtorch had to go on. The place looked quite different in the dark and at one point I took a wrong turn but fortunately I realised pretty quickly and turned round. There is something quite haunting about sitting on a dark hill in the countryside, alone, removing a stone that had got into my shoe and looking down at the bright lights of London - should have taken a picture.

By the end of lap 8 I needed a break so I decided to take time out to have a snooze. So I set my alarm for 90 minutes sleep and went to bed. 90 minutes later I'm awake and pulling myself out of a lovely warm sleeping bag to take my now aching body outside in the cold to run again. Not an easy thing to do. Still I managed it and off I went out into the cold dark night like a hero, a grumbling stinky hero. As it turned out the rest did me the world of good and lap nine, though it will show as the slowest on my timing sheet because of the sleeping was probably the fastest lap I did on the day. I went round the course route feeling great. I reached the 50 mile mark during this lap, a major milestone for me as I set it as the minimum target for the weekend.

50 Miles, bloody cold but actually happy (no really)
At the end of the lap I went through the process that had worked so well for me, refill water bottles, drink some fruit smoothie, eat a toffee yum yum and a couple of tiny scotch eggs. If running 50 miles was my base target then doing ten laps was my pre-race goal and as soon as I started I knew I'd do it. I came in at the end, cheered on by my mates who gave me great support and decided sod it I'll do another lap. So after the usual drink refill etc and a toilet break I headed out for lap 11 and my next milestone and one I was not expecting to get today, 100 kilometers. I got round and crossed the finish line to applause from other runners waiting for their team members and called it a day. I had enough time to go out again but I'd already achieved more than I'd thought I would so opted for a bacon and egg roll instead.

A knackered me with my lovely new medal

After getting rather messy with runny egg from the breakfast roll I went over to check my confirmed laps just to be sure I'd not miscounted and sure enough there it was, 11 laps. That's 65 miles or 105 kilometers in new money. I was officially very pleased.

So would I do this event again. Quite simply yes. It was well organised, the marshaling was great as they both informed and encouraged us runners round. One took my name as I passed and cheered me by name every time I passed by him after that. The location is also much prettier than I'd expected, and relatively easy for me to get to, the M25 willing. Also it's a good and mostly flat route though you need to be used to running on multiple surfaces as it switches from grass to tarmac to gravel, to mud to soft woodland trails. I'd say that this event is actually hardest on the feet and mine were no exception. So if you want to try a fun, friendly, well organised 24 hour running event near London then this is the one for you. Oh yes and the t-shirt was one of the very best I've ever got and the medal is cracking, though my daughter's trying to steal it off me as she wants it. \Lastly because you get actual Spitfires doing flyby's, bloody Spitfires - bloody brilliant.

UPDATE: Results have been published as I was 13th in the male solo category and, if I can add up which is debateable, it seems 18th overall - very very pleased.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Nottingham Cycle Live

21/06/2015 - One week after the Blenheim Triathlon and I'm booked to do a 50 mile ride at the Nottingham Cycle Live event. I'd persuaded a good friend, James, to come along and keep me company. He's only recently got into cycling so I guessed 50 miles might be a bit daunting for him but knowing James I was also confident that he could do it without issue. So I softened him up a bit by letting him know that I'd be round his house to pick him up at 06:00 am. I was half expecting "what! you're bloody joking!" but disappointingly he was absolutely fine about the early start.

As it turned out due to a rather busy weekend involving a lot of driving and a works party it was me that would struggle with the early start. Anyway four thirty in the morning my alarm went off and like a insomniac dogger I sneaked out of the bedroom trying not to wake up my wife, slip into my Lycra and head out to the car. The bike already stowed away in the car and, as I'd had it serviced that week, I was hoping it would do me better than it did at Blenheim. I'd dropped it off, slightly embarrassed to be handing in my little old Carrera in sight of all the lovely carbon beauties in the shop. My mate asked what was involved in the "basic" service I was having done, "Urinate on it I suspect" was my initial response, followed by "I paid for something to be done, what that something was, whether it needed doing or was actually done I don't know. Same thing I've had to do for everything I've ever got serviced in my entire life". So in other words I was just having to trust it was going to be sorted. Service completed I picked it up and tried the "that's not my bike!" line. They asked what my one was and I panicked, could not remember an expensive name, so blurted "one of those expensive carbon ones". They reckon I might have got away with it had I been better prepared.

Where were we, oh yes, driving to pick up my mate. Well that went fine, but when I got there it was clear he was a tad under the weather. He'd not been feeling well and had been debating whether or not to even do the ride as recently as the night before. Still he was keen to go but worried that he might have to bail out or even not start but was determined at the very least to be there. So we put his bike into the car next to mine a set of for Nottingham.


When got there without issue, got parked, hit the toilets, twice, went back to the car, got out the bikes and got ourselves ready for the 09:00 am start.

Preparing for the start.
It's always surprising to me that no matter how early you get to these things the start comes around so quickly. It seemed like we'd only been there a matter of minutes before we were waiting to start. Still there was time enough for James to marvel at just how well prepared I was and how professionally I treated the whole thing, from the snickers bars in my pockets to my grossly under inflated tyres. Apparently a tiny portable emergency tyre pump does not count as a "proper" tyre pump, "That cost me a tenner!" I cried indignantly. James showed his amateur status by turning up on a much nicer bike than mine, smart Cannondale cycle gear, tyres pumped to the max and gels and bananas filling his pockets - sad really.

You should play your favorite love song at this point.
Called to the start line we trundled over and excitedly got ready to set off. As this was a cycle event rather than a race with possible distances of 25, 50 and 100 miles available there was a real mix of bikes and obvious abilities. From the iron calved, carbon investing fitties to the steel buying, basket fitting chubsters - I fitted somewhere in the middle, though rather closer to chubster than I'd have liked.

Behind us
Me and James
In front of us.

The countdown began, 5 4 3 2 1 and we're off, then we're not, then we are again, then we're not, the we are. Finally we're actually riding. The weather was just about perfect. The sun was out but it was reasonably cool and apart from a bit of wind towards the end it remained glorious. After a short ride though Nottingham cities roads we were into the countryside. I was pleasantly surprise not only by just how pretty it was but how light the traffic was. There was still the odd idiot that seemed to feel they owned the road and would decide to fly past the cyclists horn blaring to scream their outrage for being slightly inconvenienced on their not doubt deeply important journey. They were normally met with a seemingly choreographed raising of the middle fingers of the numerous cyclist. In general though the traffic was light and well behaved.

Worried about James and conscious of how ill he'd been feeling I didn't want to push it out on the bike.We had had a talk about it and agreed to just take it easy and enjoy the ride, that I was very happy to just cruise along and that we would ride at whatever pace James felt comfortable with. Chatting away, me nagging his ears off as is my want, we progressed happily along. Just before 25 miles James asked if I minded if we stopped for a break so that he could stretch his legs. So at the 25 mile marker we pulled over. I felt we'd been plodding along at about 12 or 13 miles an hour, but when James checked our average pace was a surprising 16 mph. After about 5 minutes, stretched and refueled we set off again. Over the next 25 miles, mile by mile, James started to tire. I'd check he was OK, by this time I think I was the only one talking to any extent, he'd say yes and I'd wonder if we were getting close to having to stop when he'd come flying past, chasing down someone who'd gone past us.

I could see the last five miles were tough for James especially as it seemed the steepest and longest hills had all been placed in that five miles. Eventually we were back into Nottingham city, pass the football ground and across the finish line. We found a free patch of grass and relaxed, 52.4 miles completed. James lay down while I went for a beer. We sat a chatted for a while before grabbing a bite to eat and getting the car home. I'd had a brilliant day, the ride was fantastic, the weather just about right and the company great. Looking at James it knew he'd had a good day too and I was so impressed that he'd completed the whole thing feeling nowhere near 100 percent. In fact looking how fresh he still looked I reckon fully fit the 100 miler would not have been beyond him.

James - Just leave me here for a while.
Beer o'clock
As we were putting the bikes back into the car James noticed that I'd not tightened up the front break when I'd put the wheel on that morning, oops. I did wonder why the front break had felt a bit spongy and the back was sooo much better. That aside the good new was the service I'd had done proved to be well worth it, none of the gear issues I'd had at Blenheim. The gears clicked into place without a fault during the entire 52.4 miles and the bike felt if anything better than when I'd first bought it. Thank you Kinetic Cycles of Hitchin -

So great day and I'd do it or something like it again like a shot. In fact next year I'm going to do a few. Thanks to James for being amazing, making me laugh and keeping me company (no easy feat to do without getting all stabby).

My medal

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

The Blenheim Triathlon 

14/06/15 - Been a little lazy since the Manchester marathon so the Blenheim triathlon was a good way to kick me back into training. My wife offered to come along to support so what was a trip there on race day became a weekend in a lovely 5* spa hotel, not that I'm complaining. So after work on the Friday we set off to the Old Swan and Minster Mill Hotel in Minster Lovell in the Cotswolds where we were watched as we parked the car by Parker the cat. He watched us park then came over for stroke and to do his job of welcoming new guests to the hotel.

Parker the cat

Having a sleep after a busy day
We got settled into our room that had a lovely conservatory at the front and a small garden at the rear then went for a meal.
Morning coffee.
Next day we went for a walk, I got us a little lost, we got very wet but managed to find a really nice pub for a beer..... or two.

Having got back to the hotel soaked we dried out, had a massage and cracked open a bottle of Processco. Which was nice. So suitably refreshed I was up early for the race on Sunday. Nice full breakfast, car loaded and we were off. To be honest I was not looking forward so much to this race. I'd done very little swimming since last year and not as much cycling as I'd have liked. Also I'd decided that this was my last triathlon as I was not doing the swim training and was a bit fed up with the faffing about on race day. Still I was there and I'd paid for it. I got set-up in transition chatted a short while with a mate whose wife, Sam, was competing and also in my race wave before I walked round to the swim start. In the water and before I know it we're off. The swim was OK, I placed myself outside the group so that I could have a clear swim and I pretty much did. It seemed a lot further that last year and the swim from the last buoy to the exit definitely felt a lot further than last year. Reading some posts on Facebook it seems many people were saying the same thing and people with GPS were recording distances of 840 to 860 meters. This would explain why I was 2 minutes slower (that and my lack of training).

Swim stage complete, off to T1, Sam chasing my tail.
Came out of the swim was powering (stumbling) up the hill when I hear "Stuart!" and look behind to see Sam just behind me. I wave and storm (stumble) on. I hit transition determined to do better than the woeful 6 minutes 48 seconds it took me to complete T1 last year. 6 minutes and 48 seconds later I exit T1 and mount my bike. 

Very very fast ..... honest.
I set off and immediately have issues with the gears. The derailleur must have been misaligned or something, like I have a clue, as the chain would slip, gear would jump etc. Bloody annoying but hey ho I was quick on the downhills (small and heavy wins downhill).

Struggling with the gears.
Finished my 3 laps feeling OK and I was out on the track for the last 5.8k run. I decided just to enjoy this last bit and not to push too hard. The weather was lovely and the views stunning so it was easy to enjoy the run.
Up the hill
 Two laps done and a sprint to the finish, a drink, a bite to eat and the chance to buy some merchandise.

Winner - probably.
Had a great day, it's a great event and though I'll not do it again for a while it as good fun.

My medal
Just the Spitfire Scramble to train for in August, and I really have to step up the training and a 1/2 marathon back at Blenheim Palace in October and that's it for the year. I need to start planning next years events :)

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

ASICS Manchester Marathon

22/04/2015 - 2015 is the year I turned 50 and to celebrate my wife and I decided to start the year by buggering off on a cruise around the Caribbean in February. So we flew over to Miami and after a night in a hotel board the Carnival Cruise ship Freedom. Setting off we watched the sun set over the ocean while downing a few cocktails.

I had planned to start the year training for the ASICS Greater Manchester marathon which was scheduled in mid-April but I had cracked a tooth at Christmas and it had caused an infected jaw. Several weeks of antibiotics and an extraction two days before traveling to the USA had meant I'd not run pretty much at all in January. Once on board the ship I made use of the gym and the running track to do at least a few 5k's and one 10k while I was at sea. It helped that I got to swim a bit at some of the island visits. St Kitts was my favourite and we've decided to try and see if we can holiday there next year.

On the Beach - St Kitts

St Kitts - lovely.

We had a lovely time though all the food and drink was not helping with my training or weight. It was my birthday while on board and the chap who looked after our room decorated it and I got a lovely birthday cake. I've had worse birthdays.

So back home an I decide I really need to up the mileage and start doing some much bigger runs at the weekends. First one a 16 miler, then a 19.5 miler, slow but they felt good. I never managed more than a 20 mile run but I was please enough considering the fact the the jaw infection had stopped me running at all in January. I had time for a bit more fun before the marathon so my wife and I went to see Paloma Faith at the O2 in London. An amazing show. Not content with that a few days later we met with some great friends and we went back to London for a cracking meal Babylon, rooftop garden restaurant in Kensington.


After a couple of glasses of bubbly and a lovely dinner we headed over to Brixton to see Sam Smith in concert at the Brixton Academy. Another amazing night of music to cap an amazing day.

Sam Smith - best seats :)
So all the fun aside it was time to have a crack at the ASICS Greater Manchester Marathon, which was to be a bit of a warm up for the Spitfire Scramble Ultra I'll be running in August. I traveled up to Manchester the night before to stay with my brother and his lovely family. I was very well fed and watered and even got a lift to the race and back after - thanks bruv and thanks to Andrea his understanding wife who's going to be doing a half marathon herself this year.

I got into Manchester and the race village nice and early and was very pleased to have met a few of my friends from my favourite Internet group (you know who you are). We had a chat then moved to the start line. I was going to be the slowest of the lot so hands shaken I waved them off as they headed towards the sharp end of the race.

It was not long before the race started and 10 minutes later I crossed the start line and the race started for real. Just over a mile in and I see a familiar face. Another of my Internet buds was just ahead running her first ever marathon. We had a chat and wished each other the best and as we had different pace strategies we head apart.

After a few miles I got chatting to a chap called John who was running at my pace and good company. Turns out he'll be doing his 100th marathon this year, wow. We kept each other company until I think about mile 14 ish which meant the time flew by and I was feeling great and felt I could up my pace a bit.

Me and John.
I was actually hopeful that I'd do a much better time than I'd hoped as my only objective other than finishing was to get under 5 hours, 4 hours 35 was perhaps possible? Well no, not today. By mile 20 I started to feel it, having not run greater than 20 miles in training was biting me on the arse. I pushed on but I could feel my earlier energy dropping. By mile 23 the 4:45 pacer had caught me. I stayed on his should for a mile but eventually, on a small hill, dropped back. Last mile and I made the mistake of walking a bit, which lead to walking a bit more. Kicking myself up the arse I got running again and turning the corner and into the home straight I pushed through the pain and sprinted home. Crossing the line was bloody amazing.

I'd try to duck under the 5 hours on the clock but I missed it by 3 seconds though my chip time was 4 hours and 50 minutes, a PB by 25 minutes so very happy despite the last couple of miles. My new friend John finished just behind me in 4 hours 57 minutes. I was met by my brother who laughed as I staggered back to his car and he drove me back to his house where my car waited. A four hour drive home and I was knackered but happy.

Loved the Manchester Marathon and I am very tempted to do it again, though I also fancy another crack at London. Next race though is the Blenheim Triathlon in June then the Spitfire Scramble in August.