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.