Sunday 7 December 2014

Brecon Winter Trail Marathon

I was back in Brecon for the second year running, last year I took part in the Ultra distance and loved it so much, I decided to come back.
When I told Robbie I was entered, he was none too impressed, given The Spine is less than 6 weeks away now, quite rightly basically telling me that if I want to train well for my main events I need to not be recovering from races all the time. Point taken and ass slapped, I compromised and asked if I could do the 10 miler or marathon distance instead - he said I could do the marathon - yay!

I've recovered well since the Piece of String - rest seems to feature heavily in my training plan - it's funny as before I started training with Robbie, I would feel guilty for taking rest days but having someone tell me when and where to take them takes the guilt away a little. It also seems to make me a bit more consistent as rather than suddenly feel smashed and need to take longer rest periods of do days and days of shitty training, generally because I'm taking rest days where I should, most of my training days are good quality ones - go figure! Don't get me wrong, as he'd tell you, I'm no angel - I miss the odd session or do things I shouldn't but it's a fairly new partnership and I'm trusting his expertise the more I see the results.

I've really been looking forward to this, and had convinced my friend Jonathon to join me - he was going to do the Ultra distance and we'd make a weekend of it. I'd looked at the times from last years winners and made some plans, the course was 2 miles longer this year though which I hadn't factored in, these are the few plans I had in mind:

Plan A - go for the win in time X
Plan B - go for podium in time Y
Plan C - top 5 in Time Z
Plan D - Finish, go home and sulk.

The last two weeks I've been pretty poorly, having caught a pretty bad chill during a cold and horribly wet half marathon, I was off work a few days (being a contractor, this isn't the done thing - you don't work, you don't get paid) subsequently feeling pretty crap for most of the week and not doing any running for 9 days I was approaching the race feeling suddenly unfit and unprepared. My first run back was pretty painful to say the least. My legs felt great but my chest was awful, I got home and coughed up my innards for around an hour. The next day's run, less terrible but I was still feeling under the weather and decided to call it on Friday - if I still felt shit then I shouldn't do it. No point getting sicker.

I felt OK on Friday - my throat was still quite sore and I was coughing up shit still but my legs felt good (which they should with only an hours running in them in the last two weeks) and if nothing else, at least my legs should be fresh, right?

We arrived in Brecon nice and early - too early to register so popped to the pub for a beer. We ambled back, still too early to register but managed to bag a room which we'd booked for the next two nights, so bagsied the best one and went to another pub for another beer. Finally it was 6pm and we could register so back we went to get our maps and numbers then, yep, back to the pub for another beer and some food this time. Early night for a reasonably civilised start the next morning. The ultra was on for a 7:30 start, the marathon and 10 miler at 8am. Delicious Bacon Butty for breakfast, then back to have a lay down for a bit, sort my kit out, wave JZ off, bottle of juice and a banana then off to the start. my throat was more sore than yesterday too so I took a couple of pain killers.

It's a well organised race and it's great that if you're quick you can book accommodation at the race HQ. The course was really well marked and they booked fab weather for the day!

As we headed to the start it was below freezing so I had on gloves, base layer, tshirt and a wind proof. There were lots of people with dogs attached to them - I thought this is cheating somewhat and recalled getting tangled in leads last year so I hoped I could stay ahead of them this time.

Standing around the start I got my usual feeling of not being good enough, not being skinny enough, not looking the part. I shook it off - I know I need to lose a few kilos but it's too late now. I can only do what I can do. I lined up near the front and set off as we were started. The course takes a steady climb for a few km. I've been much more confident on the climbing the last few months so I didn't hesitate in setting off in front. I had several guys in front of me, but I soon realised I was the first girl. A tall hot leggy girl doing the 10 miler shot past - but there was no point trying to keep with her - she was doing a different race.

I maintained a comfortable pace, feeling pretty strong, checking my garmin I saw I was doing between 5 & 5:30 min/km which didn't feel uncomfortable at the moment even on the climb. I knew I shouldn't blow it all up too early so focussed on my breathing and keeping it controlled and pulling back the pace if it felt rushed.

After a few miles, we descended down an icy rocky trail, descending is my biggest issue at the moment - I'm a pussy. I've got no confidence on where my feet are landing at pace so I backed right off the pace. Before long another girl came past me. Shit! I got to the bottom in one piece and we started to climb again. I worked my way back up the 100feet she'd pulled away and was back with her. At this point we hit a check point, where the 10 milers would peel off and we'd head off up Tor y Foel and the summit at 550m. It wasn't too horrific at this early stage and I tried to maintain a steady jog. I stopped to hike for a couple of minutes, which allowed the girl to slip back in front. Along with another lady who'd gained on me significantly on the decent. She powered on past  and started to put in a bit of a gap. I stuck with the girl from before.
The hill was slippery with ice in paces so foot holds weren't perfect and I've recently found that I'm not a very fast walker (something else I need to practice before The Spine) so to walk fast was actually more effort than to jog really steady so I tried to stick with that tact. When it got really steep I did have to walk (slowly to keep my HR sensible) I reached the summit right behind the girl and looked around me, the morning was beautiful. The Sun was shining brightly to our right, and the icy ground was shining back up at me. I was pretty happy right now! The hill climbed with a couple of false summits and trail which was fab underfoot aside from the frost.

The first big descent was super slippery, there was trail which was threatening to kill me on every tentative step and a slightly grassier path to the right. I took the latter where I could and slowly jogged down being careful not to die - watching the girl gradually get away, and the lead lady gradually become a dot in the distance - that was the last I would see of her! From here we started overtaking the ultra runners - it was  a good feeling to be doing so, so early in the race.

Another lady drew up to me, and flew past me on the descent. "For fuck's sake Anna! Stop being a pussy" I said to myself.

As the hill came to lower ground it was a shallower descent and less slippery so I picked up the pace a little. We hit a bit of tarmac briefly. I could see both the two fast descenders just in front of me. Soon we were once more climbing, and I was back on them. If they hiked, I'd make sure I kept jogging and stayed on them. Again we descended, again they got away.

The race took on this format for most of the way. I was working hard on the climbs to make back the distance I lost on the descents. Around half way I started to bonk and managed to source a gel from a check point, I'd wished I'd brought more paracetamol as my chest and throat were a bit grim.

The route was brilliant, it went through lovely flowing trails, great climbs that made me feel strong, a few bits of woodland, some pretty boggy sections, as well as finding myself trapped in some thorn bushes. At one point the three of us all missed a sign post as we were all too busy looking down at the slippery rocks, we corrected ourselves and went back the way we'd come. Back up another climb. Walking this time as my calves were burning a bit. An ultra guy who we were passing said we were 1st, 2nd and 3rd females. I corrected him and said no we're 2nd, 3rd and 4th. This surprised one of the girls and she seemed to take fuel from this and started to put distance between us. I was pissing quite frequently today, I'd counted 4 already. Must be well hydrated I guess but the last couple of multi stage races, that's meant I've got a kidney infection, but this isn't a long effort so I should be fine!

She was never more than about 100m ahead at this point and the other lady just a few meters in front. I wanted to keep her in front of me so I could keep an eye on her, rather than wait for her to fly past me again. At 18 miles the route split again and the ultra guys went left and we carried on up a fire road. The fire road soon became a sticky track damaged by the recent deforestation.

The next 9 or 10k was fairly uneventful, not very technical, just fairly sticky underfoot. I was still just behind lady number 3, number 2 had now disappeared. I was still in a chance for a podium. and looking at my watch, I wasn't far off my plan A time. The track descended slightly so I opened up my hips a bit to extend the pace and close the gap some more. I was now within talking distance of her and she put the pace in a little too on the descent. I saw we were about to climb a little, so waited for that to close the gap again. Back within a few meters, we hit the final check point. It was a couple of miles gradual descent now down a rocky river bed type trail. I overtook a guy who was picking his way down, and still not able to get any closer to her.

I checked my watch, and we'd done the marathon distance already and happy that I was Plan A time + 5 minutes.... we were close to the start which I foolishly thought was very close to the end. I reached the two marshals there who said it's another couple of miles along the canal to the finish. The flat terrain, really fucked up my stride, I needed a piss and I was totally out of water.

I had a minor huff as I saw the lady opening up the gap. Fuck it.

I stopped on the side to piss again, and jogged it in steadily to the end, I finished in 4th place about 30 seconds behind number 3 in the end, and was 3rd open female, so not too shabby. Plus I got inside my Plan B time, even with the extra mileage!

I enjoyed some of the amazing food that was being made (half a brownie and a welsh Tartiflette), had a shower, and a nap then headed back down to wait for JZ to come back in. After he'd returned, showered, we headed back to the pub for a celebratory couple of beers and some chips and back for another semi early night.

I didn't get any pics out on the course today as I was kinda busy trying to win ;-)

Couple of days rest now, before getting serious for The Spine!

Monday 3 November 2014

Bit of an update.......and The Piece of String Race

I can't believe it's a year since I posted on here. I think part of that is that everyone is blogging these days  and I'm not sure if people are that interested in the shenanigans I get up to, or if indeed they ever were! Also, the events I've been doing have been a bit long and I can't really be arsed to write about them.

I've had a pretty awesome year so far (it's only November) having completed The Fellsman, AAUT (5 day Stage Race in Spain), Snowdon Race and most recently the incredible Grand 2 Grand. As well as that I've enjoyed amazing trips running in Switzerland, Transylvania and lots of places around the UK. There have been a couple of DNFs in there too, which I'll gloss over!

Here's some snaps....

AAUT - about 40 degrees - Awesome "Holiday"

Running around Zermatt

Dicking around in the Bucegi Mountains

En Route to top 20 place in G2G

Running through Slot Canyons - G2G

I've also invested in a Coach since around July time. I was losing my mojo a bit and not improving, so with the help of Robbie Britton, I've got a more consistent training structure and am now seeing improvements. I struggle with being told what to do, so I'm quite surprised that I've taken to this so well - Robbie might disagree and I can almost hear him sigh with some of the comments I send back in my training log, but I'm sure I warned him I'm a bit of a joker.

Swennyway, here I am wanting to share this weekends adventure - The Piece of String Race. I had seen this event a year or so ago and thought it'd be a fun challenge to go for. I missed the entry deadline for last year so made sure I was there ready to enter this year.

The clue is kind of in the name but here's the info from the website

As you can see - there are no details of distance, time, elevation, location or anything remotely useful in training for such an event. What could be easier!? So when the entries opened I dutifully sent in my entry email with the subject "Piece of Piss Race" - I hoped this cheeky subject would help me with my selection - or lure the race directors to try and prove me wrong or as it turned out, punish me.

I'd forgotten about the PoP race for a while until an email popped into my inbox in early August informing me that I'd been unlucky with my entry and had been accepted to take part. The only instructions provided were on mandatory kit, where to be and when and that no further email follow up would be provided.

I forgot about the PoP again for a while whilst I gallivanted around the Utah and Arizona Desert and ran around the mountains with bears in Transylvania. With 4 weeks between G2G and PoP and the assumption that it would be a 100+ mile race (worst case scenario) there wasn't heaps of time to recover and then get ready for another potentially tough event, throw in The OMM the week before and you've got yourself an interesting taper.

The OMM done, it was all about recovery for Saturday's start. I'd been hoping for something hilly and traily as I've been running well on the trails lately and have been working fairly hard on the hills, a long flat canal run or treadmill run would be my worst case.

Wednesday I went to bed with dreadful cold, full of fever and and sore throat and aches everywhere. I dosed up on lemons and lemsip and woke up Thursday not feeling much better. I continued to drink all the hot lemon I could and all the drugs I could find. By Friday I was feeling a little better, sore throat and snot stage now, and was thinking that if I felt like this in the morning I wouldn't be starting the race. That night, I went off to a Halloween party and managed not to drink ALL the booze, and was in bed by 1am.

My alarm went off at 6am. I checked my snifflometer. Not 100% but I could give it a crack, worst case I could do a few hours running and call it a long run..... so I made some bacon butties for the journey and packed the last of the kit I'd need for the race.

I arrived in Wendover in time for a quick briefing - "you'll be heading west along the Ridgeway" - Yay! This is one of my favourite trails in the south as it runs close to where I grew up. "it'll take no more than 2 hours to get to X and a further 2 hours to get to Y" implying we were off for a long jaunt.

My friend Rich was taking part too, dressed as a Chicken - natch.


We gathered outside and James said "go on then" so off we went, following Claire out who was leading us to the Ridgeway.

I felt a little bit sickly but my legs were feeling pretty good and settled into a fairly decent pace. (Not knowing whether to pace for a 100m sprint or a 100 miler is tricky!) Soon on the Ridgeway and onto a gentle climb, I was near the front and enjoying a lovely sunny morning. A couple of miles into the run rose a large monument, I could see that the lead guy had stopped there and there was Nici with a clip board.

I instantly thought this is the finish, at the same instant Sam did and we both put in a bit of a sprint to the top - just in case! We reached the top and Nici told us to wait there until everyone else arrived, and there had been a 25 minute cut off to get to there. Already some of the back runners were going to be close to this.

When we were all gathered, we were instructed to run back down the way we came and the cut off was 15 minutes. So off we ran back down the hill, through the gate we were marshalled left down a gully of leaves and mud and roots. We gently ran down here for 500m or so until we came to James who turned us round the corner and sent us up a massive hill.

The first part of the hill was fairly runnable, some people were walking fairly soon but I picked a marker that I'd get to before I walked - at the point where it got very steep and more fell running terrain. Slippery muddy grass. I laughed to myself as I heaved myself to the top. As the gradient lessened I jogged it out over the top and I could see the monument where Nici had been again another 100m to the top and she took our times and numbers.

I knew what was happening here. Hill Reps. Excellent. In total we did 8 reps each loop was a little under a mile. I was enjoying it to be honest and feeling pretty strong. A year ago, I'd have been missing the cut offs and walking the easiest of gradients. Nici once more sent us back down the hill and said we had 16 mins this time.

We got to the gate and were met by a marshal who sent us back to Wendover to the start we'd left a couple of hours earlier. Nicely warmed up from the hill training session I ran briskly back to the Hall and got back in 2nd place. (not that this counted)

We took the opportunity to reload our snacks, water bottles and I necked a couple of lemsip to keep the snot at bay, whilst awaiting our next instructions.  These came in the same form as the last set - head west on the Ridgeway, it's 13:00 you can go anytime from now. So off I went trying to keep pace with David, Brian and Sam. Not far behind were Richard, Antonio and I think Adam. Once more I could see the Coombe Hill up ahead, I tried to see if I could spot Nici up there waiting to give us more hill reps - they wouldn't be that mean surely!!? I got over the brow and started descending the other side. Stopped for a slash and to put some music on, went for a drink to find that I'd not my lid down properly so half of the contents was on the inside of my bag. Rich et al appeared as I set off once more, I was keen to catch up with the others. I was loving the trail, feeling strong running the hills and bounding down the other side, a few were a bit steeper so had a little walk and sent some text feedback to a couple of friends.

The weather was fantastic and I was really enjoying myself, I was running well and feeling positive I think this was probably against the rules! I was soon out of water and stopped briefly at a water trough to see if there was a way of getting clean water from the tap- there wasn't but I could see that unless I wanted a dose of dysentary I'd best go thirsty a little longer. I was met at a gate by Claire and instructed to take the next right off the Ridgeway, running down the hill I was soon met by the front runners heading back my way. Then a further couple of minutes I stumbled across James and Nici with her clipboard and some water. I refilled, had a quick progress update, instructions to go back the 10 miles we'd come  back to Wendover - ha! Also, I was told not to tell the others. So off I went back the way I'd come.

I gradually passed the rest of the field heading my way over the next few miles, last to pass was Rich, who'd finally got out of his chicken costume but had picked up an injury and was limping along. (Sadly he had to stop at the next CP)

I was still running strong but beginning to feel a little sleepy so I decided that I'd nip in to tescos to grab some coke as it was pretty close to the CP (if indeed that was where we were really going!?) It was starting to get dark in the woods and I could hear owls hooting and I'm pretty sure I could see bears in the shadows, so I got my headtorch out, which actually didnt help as it was that awkward darkness that a light doesn't make any better, so I carried on at a quicker pace to escape the bears. I eventually popped out into the town and ran on to tescos where I had to wait for 10 minutes to be served my 12 pack of coke. I ran the rest of the way to the CP with the coke on my head trying not to fizz it up too much. Rolled into the CP after a little over 50k.

I'd set myself a few mini goals for this event:

1) to be the first lady finisher of this event
2) Get a sub 12hr 50 mile section
3) if it goes to 100 miles - sub 24

With that in mind, I was keen to crack on, so I took a few minutes to change tops, put on an extra layer, down some coke and refill snacks and water. Not that I'd been eating a lot. Drew gave me a map andtook me out to show me the entrance to the Grand Union Canal, where we were to head to Berkhampstead (approx 12 miles away) I started running and quickly realised I'd forgotten my water bottle so ran back for it, Steve was just being set off. I ran back and quickly overtook Steve and was pretty surprised with my pace, knocking out 12km/h - OK so it was flat but still I'd got over a marathon in my legs by now. I could still see monsters in the bushes waiting to push me into the canal so I kept the pace up, as long as I could outrun the rapists and murderers I'd be OK, right? I was enjoying the pace and the firework displays I passed en route and was soon at a tricky junction at a pumping station, consulted my map and it wasn't any clearer, I took a right down a lovely looking trail and after about 500m I couldn't see the canal. It didn't seem right, so I turned back round and went back to the pumping station, took a different right and still wasn't on a canal, but I was heading generally north so it felt right. I found myself next to some reservoir which once more felt wrong, I got onto the road nearby and switched my phone off airplane mode and found a text from James E telling us to go careful at the junction as it goes underground for a couple of miles - I didn't believe this, I thought it was a prank. I called James and asked for advice on where I was and how to get back on track as the map wasn't really helping me. It turned out I'd gone too far west but would eventually pop out on the same canal just a mile too far to the west - what's an extra bit of distance hey!?

Finally back on the correct route I came across Steve who I'd overtaken an hour earlier and a marshall with some water. This wasn't Berkhampstead.

The next instruction was to get back on the Ridgeway and head back to, yep - you guessed it - Wendover! Funny buggers. :)

I was told that I had now dropped from 3rd to 5th place having overtaken Steve once more - a bit miffed at my cock up, and having been told the others were only 5 minutes ahead, I set off about trying to catch them. I had a few minute walk when I got back in the woods, sent some progress updates back home before setting off again. Loving the trail again I was pretty happy right now. I'm not sure at which point I went wrong again, but there were some posts which looked like they had acorns cut into them (the national trail signs that we were following) - it later transpired that these are in fact foot prints not the acorn signs! I followed the wrong signs for a couple of miles before popping out by a spiral bridge.

Time to consult the map. I ran the wrong way for a bit further before sitting down and working out my location. Unfortunately the garmin I'd borrowed, I didnt know how to find my co-ordinates. After looking in the wrong part of the map for 5 minutes, I realised that actually I was to the East of Wendover - what a muppet. I figured if I just picked up a West-ish bearing for a bit I'd hit some sort of trail.

It worked and I hit a trail - it wasn't the right one but it got me on to a road where I could try and get  my bearings and myself back on track. As I switched my phone back on, James rang me, asking if I was OK - "no, i'm pretty lost" - "yep, we thought so"
James confirmed the road I was on, would lead me back to the Ridgeway in about a mile so I set back off at a grumpy walk. I was a bit annoyed at my navigation as it's something I do try to practice, but haven't done any night nav for a while. I had something to eat - some beef jerky that wasn't a very nice brand so I spat it out and had some cheese and nuts instead.

I text James to see what time the cut off was for the next CP, about 21:20 I received a reply - 22:00. I looked at the map, I was a good 5k out still, I better run! I ran into the CP with 5 minutes to spare and asked do I have to be out by 22:00 - yep. Ace.

A bit of faffing, a bit of grub and a take out can of coke and I was back out the door after receiving the next set of instructions "follow this road, up this hill, blah blah, it'll be clear what you have to do when you get there" uh oh!

I found myself following some glowsticks, tempted to pinch one for a night rave, i decided against it in case I got in trouble. I popped out on a track to see David looking utterly miserable and a table with Nikki and Rich looking a little bit evil. All they needed was a cat to stroke making "muhahahah" noises. I took my headphones out of my phone and put my music on blaring, from my pocket like my own personal mobile disco - something told me I'd need it.

I already knew in my gut what we were about to face - more hill reps! Fuck yeah! With 85k in my legs I wasn't relishing this. I followed David up and he'd made some unhappy comments about this being inspired by the Berkley Marathon, and that the first bit wasn't even the worst of it. He was on his 3rd loop - Ouch.

The first bit wasn't the worst of it, no, but it wasn't runnable. It was a hard hike up, but at least it was on firmish ground. The odd slippery bit but generally fine. I reached some evil masterminds en route, Drew I believe sent me further up the hill and said to follow the glow sticks left. When I got to the top, I was relieved at a nice flat bit that I could run. After a few hundred meters I was greeting by a shape jumping out of the shadows - no it wasn't a rapist, it was just Chris Mills, apparently rolling in Badger shit. We had a quick chat, he took an unflattering pic of me and promptly sent me down a cliff. I was stil having fun but I hate descending steep hills.

This was one ridiculous. The soil was soft and skiddy, the leaves and roots made it even harder to get traction. Fortunately there were trees to career into to use as a break when you found yourself dangerously out of control.

After picking my way down I was back on a lovely lovely flat section once more, I could see a headlight in the distance and there was James Adams, waiting to send me to hell! What we didn't know was that there was a twitter vote going on, deciding who should get a trick (hell) loop and who should get a treat (heaven) loop, heaven being a flat run back to Rich and Nikki hell being, well.... hellish! I told James on the second loop that it was a piece of piss. This did me no favours and I was promptly punished (actually I was punished for tweeting - what else am I going to do walking slowly up a ski jump?)

Reaching the top of "Hoka Hell"
I was sent up a giant hill that I wouldn't even have ridden down in my mountain biking days. It was hands and feet to the floor, pulling myself up through the mud and leaves, grabbing trees for anchorage. I couldn't see the top, just the little flashes of glow sticks. After what must about been 10 miles (Possibly a slight exaggeration) of climbing I could hear evil laughter and see head torches, but I still wasn't at the top, the last bit was the worst, feet sliding back nails filling with mud. I dragged myself over the top, to the sound of Pharell singing "Happy" - irony at it's finest - and greeted the evil marshals with big grins and ran back down the first hill I'd come up. Back to Nikki and Rich.

This routine went on no less than 5 times! Although I did get a heaven loop which was AMAZING! By the fifth, I was feeling that I was beginning to break, with a whimper I left Rich and Nikki once more and miserably went up the hill once more. The flat bit was again a relief, the downhill again a bastard. I rolled back into Nikki and Rich to be told there was good news and bad news:
Good news - that was the last rep, Bad news, I'm going back to Wendover to find out what is next.

"What else can they throw at us?" I said, I wasn't sure I had much more in me, but a can of coke and a few minutes sit down would set me up for some more I'm sure. I gave Nikki and Rich a big sweaty hug and jogged back down to Wendover hall. Greeted by Nici and James and a few other faces I faceplanted the floor and vaguely heard Nici say "Anna, you've finished"

"Yay!" I was so happy! I was the first and only lady to ever finish this event (ok, it's not comparable to previous years), I'd actually done a sub 11hr 50, the sub 24hr 100 can wait. The final distance was just under 60 miles and 2900m ascent. Although I think a few of those were unnecessary miles as others only clocked 55 miles.

Nici drove me back to London and I was back clean and happy with a glass of bubbly by 4am.

What an incredible adventure. It was amazing seeing the support on social media and from my friends. I better do some Nav practice before The Spine I guess!

Thanks Centurion - it wasn't a total piece of piss ;-) but I had an absolute blast! :)


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This latest blog will be hopefully following my transwales experience. Enjoy with me :-)