Monday 30 March 2015

Welsh Trail Series - Round 1 - The Black Mountains - 46km, 1600m ascent/descent

I entered this round at the beginning of the year, it is the full series of the event I did in December.

I love the area, the MCN team put on great, tough and affordable events in a part of the world I love. The distances are always a "guideline" with this one being pegged at "26ish miles" (42km in new money)

This was my first event back after this years' Spine Race (I'm part way through writing that up) and having been injured, I had a couple of weeks full rest, and the residual destruction stayed with me some time. Really I've only felt back to full strength the last few weeks.

Taking this into account, Robbie wasn't all that happy about me taking part in the Marathon and asked if I could be convinced to do the Half Marathon instead I'd also signed up to do the next day! After a discussion, we agreed I'd do the marathon and just go along and cheer the Half Marathon and have an easy run that day.

I'd arranged to pick up my friend Rich en route, this time not dressed like a chicken (a la the Piece of String race). Thursday night, I had an epic 11 hour sleep, and woke up feeling a bit crook. There's been a lot of virus' knocking about at work and I think I'd been contaminated. I spent the day hydrating and drinking lemsip before heading to Wales via Bristol.

We stopped at the White Hart for dinner where I've been a few times -  even if you're not a vegetarian - if ever you're there they do the most amazing Glamorgan Sausages! I'd booked a YHA in Talybont, about 30 minutes from the race start and at £18 a night, which I got a whole room to myself, there were no complaints. That night, for various reasons I had very little sleep. I finally got off to sleep around 4:30am, and woke to my alarm at 5:30. I put off the inevitable for 20 minutes and got my ass up and packed. There were no cooking facilities at the YHA so I had some cold oatsosimple and some paracetamol to get rid of the fuzzy head and scratchy throat I was feeling.

We headed to the race HQ, parked up, collected our numbers etc. Whilst Robbie had told me not to race, to enjoy it and have fun, I couldn't help but set myself some targets, and of course, I wanted to do well.

Some final snacking, and sitting around. Garmin on. I checked my HR, which was bobbing around 110bpm and upto 120 if I stood up! This was slightly alarming as I've been trying to run to HR on my longer runs, and this left me not very far to go! I put it down to excitement, and possibly the slight bug I'd picked up. I'd see how it went, if I worked too hard for too long, then I'd have to seriously consider not completing the full course. The weather forecast was pretty bad, heavy rain forecast between 9am and midday, and gales on the tops. So with about 15km of high ridge running, it was looking like it would be a blustery day!

8am and the clock chimed, signalling the off. I was surprised at the spring in my step as I bounded up the road with the front guys. We were soon on grass and steadily climbing out of  Talgarth. My HR was rocketing, but i put that down to excitement, the hills and the current pace.

I was keen to put some space between myself and the other girls so I kept up with the guys for a little while (not the front guy, he was already 100m away) we gradually climbed, over a couple of stiles, up a rooty piece of single track and onto what was possibly once a lovely gravel track. What it was now was a slimy path of ankle deep mud. I kept running through it, trying not to slip over, over a couple of fallen trees, and continued to climb slightly some more.

About 4km in, I could see a lady closing the gap behind me, and when we hit a grassy stretch of slight descent she pulled away. Another slight climb and we were on a bit of a flat, and Rich appeared to my right. I commented that my HR was going a bit mental. We ran together very briefly before he departed and that was the last I saw of him.

I was running comfortably along, feeling strong, running all the hills, legs not really feeling anything. I was feeding well from the start. The main challenge was the slippery choss under foot. After a while, I was joined by another lady, Kate - who beat me right at the end of the last round. She is a very strong runner and really lovely. We stayed together for some time, we climbed up a steep rocky climb where we met our first big hit of the wind. Fortunately it was behind us, so pushed us up the steep climb, aiding us to break from a hike to a trot now and then. The trail took a hairpin turn and we were face on into the wind. We tried to talk over the wind, but it was futile. Just ahead I could see the first lady and told Kate that she was our marker, the lady in the bright yellow top.

We battled our way up to the top of the climb and hit the bogs of eternal stench. We were on high ground, with gales, and now sleet trying to keep our balance through the ankle deep bogs, the wind buffetting us around, we could barely see the shapes of people ahead in the cloud. This section seemed to go on for ages, Kate was struggling to get her coat out from her bag so I helped her out and ran on, I glanced back to make sure she was still coming and not gone off course.  The rolling ridgeline over slabs that had kindly been laid to stop you falling neck deep in the bogs. The wind was crazy strong up here, blowing us sideways and forcing me to push my full weight against it at an angle to avoid getting blown off the ridge. We ran on and after a few km started to lose altitude. Coming up to half way I checked my watch - I was bang on where I wanted to be timewise and this gave me a warm feeling of accomplishment. I was still feeling great at this point. Kate started to pull away, but I could still see her. We had a good long descent down to the valley to the half way checkpoint (which actually ended up to be 26km not their suggested 14miles) I was descending well until we came a particularly shitty section. I'm notoriously bad at descending, this part was tricky steep rock, coated in slimy mud, grass  patches with skid marks where people ahead had already slipped. I picked myself down, hating myself for the embarrassment I was causing. One guy came flying past. I was getting towards the bottom after a painfully slow hike down, and a girl overtook me. Shit! i thought as I kissed goodbye to a podium chance. I ran on as the descent took a less technical feel and rolled into the next Check point and put in a bit of a chase to catch her up.

I was closing the gap on the next climb, up we went again...  but whatever happened in the next 10km isn't pretty. As my wheels fell off, she disappeared into the distance. I was struggling with energy, my glutes were tight, I was feeling the previous 3 hours running at 85% HR. I decided to have a break, hiked it out as best I could, trotted where I could. We were on another shitty ridge. With the weather battering me from the side. It was here, I wanted to stop. If there was a road to bail out at, I was going to take it.Thinking back, I had a similar feeling at the same point of the last race. I think perhaps i need to eat more in the middle sections.

The rain was soaking me, the wind was making my fingers go dead. I'm sure the views were fantastic, but I couldn't see through the cloud. I was soon greeted by another girl, we ran along together for a few km, I tried to keep ahead, but I kept having to drop to a walk in the crazy winds. We were signed down towards the reservoir where it was more sheltered from the weather. But the descent was pure shit. How I didn't break an ankle amazes me.

Along the reservoir was rocky trail, puddles full of frog spawn, a few mountain bikers coming in the other direction. I decided whilst I was feeling shit, I'd get my map out and practice a bit of the navigation I'd learnt with Joe Faulkner on a Nav/Dragons back training day the week before. This i found useful, I could read the contours, count off feature, tick off streams. I hiked my way along, feeding myself out of the bad patch, reading the map, I could see it was about 3km to the final check point, then a final 5km descent to the finish.

After a fun descent down to the last checkpoint, I was finally feeling strong again. I was running on through the fields thinking I could make up some time back on the final leg. Only to find myself dropping into a riverside singletrack, again I am certain in the summer this is amazing. Here it was a mudslide. To be fair passing by a fantastic waterfall, I was in awe, and semi laughing to myself at the pure shit I was trying to run through. Knowing it was only a little way more to go, I pushed on through the choss. The final km was on tarmac and into the finish chute where I finished 5th lady. I need to work on the mid sections of these, and try and up my game for the next round.

Kate and Rich were there at the finish, some high fives and chatting. Kate said "I thought you said that girl in yellow was just ahead, I caught up and it was a bloke!"
"Ha  - did you not see her put on a black jacket in the rain?"

In summary - this round was much harder than I expected. Harder than the last round no doubt but I'm happy with how I ran in the first 30km.

Looking forward to round 2 back in Brecon this time. Sorry - no pics, my phone wouldn't take any in the rain!

Tuesday 10 February 2015


I'm writing this, not knowing if I'm going to make it.... it's the first race I've approached feeling truly out of my depth - in all respects!

Well, as always this started out as me looking on the net for something massive/stupid/crazy to enter. I happened upon it towards the end of last year and I made a sort of decision that if there were any spaces left at the end of January I would enter.

January came and went, and I totally forgot and got caught up in new jobs, dabbling in adventure racing and enjoying weekend binge drinking.

I don't know what brought me back to this, but I think maybe around April/May time I stumbled across it again - I think maybe because a friend was doing an ultra marathon in Exmoor by the same organisers. I had half thought about doing the ultra - but given i'd not run more than 10 miles in the last 6 months that was dumb, plus I'd told myself I wouldn't do anything big this year until I'd lost weight (I'm fatter than I've ever been currently!)

Throughout May I was doing a running challenge for charidee - I had to run 5k everyday in May - sounds easy? you'd think. But I don't like to do things by halves and my aim was to do as many as I could - generally I was doing about 8k each day, and a weekend long one. But I also cycle a minimum of 30 miles a day commuting, so many of these runs were what multi sports folk call brick sessions. By the end of the month my running mojo was back - it had been missing for a couple of years. The last day of the challenge was poignant in a few ways, it was the last day, and two days prior an old friend sadly passed away being treated for a rare cancer at the hospital the challenge was raising money for. He'd also generously sponsored £50 - calling it "an investment"  so I decided to up the challenge and do my normal bike commute on foot - 15 miles each way - before and after work. Pretty hilly too! That done, I felt like I had a bit of decent fitness in the tank so started thinking seriously about entering the race. I hadn't swam in 6 months and that was only a pool paddle, so I did a trip to the lake and limped round a lap.

Oh you're probably wondering what the hell this race is?

It's this:

a 2.4 mile sea swim
a 102 mile off road cycle along the whole of the South Downs Way (through the night)
a 28 mile trail marathon

The event starts at Eastbourne seafront and ends in Salisbury and is to be completed in 24 hours.

What the fuck am I doing?

Rewind  3 years to the event which marked the end of triathlon for me.

I thought I'd written this, but I've just come across this in my drafts whilst I'm thinking about what to write about this year's Spine race and thought I'd finish this off. It won't take long!

I'll keep it brief if I can.

The race had to be renamed at the last minute due to copyright laws from Marvel, so it became X-24 or something, because we had 24 hours to complete the race.

My first ever sea swim didn't look like it was going to be fun. With 10 foot swells forecast for the 7pm start. The weather was sunny but really windy, with the forecast looking pretty grim from about 8pm. There weren't many other women racing and I as usual, felt really out of place, too fat (proven further by the fact that I had to borrow Doug's wetsuit because mine was too small)

I'd had my bike resprayed fairly recently and serviced so didn't feel the need to test anything out. My kit bag was ready, with snacks, spares, clothes. In transition a change of clothes and various bag to shove stuff in. I don't remember too much detail as it was so long ago. So let's get on with the race and the bits I can remember.

We got shuttled down to the start on the seafront train, which was a pretty novel way to start the race. We then had a send off by some pretty awesome morris dancers.

The Race Director. gave us a final briefing, also telling us that the course had been changed. Much to my glee the swim course was being cut short, due to the now even bigger swells. I was so happy!

My happiness was to be short lived as we were told to go. The pebbles really hurt my feet as I teetered down to the water. I hobbled across the stones, and waddled into the water. It was bloody cold.

Everyone else was already in the water, either elegantly dolphin diving into the waves, or swimming away from me as I tried to breast stroke out to sea.

I finally got out of my depth enough to need to swim rather than wade. Pretty quickly, I found myself at the back, whilst the dolphins dived away into the surf. The current was terrific, throwing me around. I tried to breath bilaterally, only to find everytime I breathed left I got a face full of the huge waves, which were now crashing over me whilst I flailed hopelessly. I tried to breath just to my right but found myself careering off course. I couldn't get any rhythm. I was getting frustrated. I hated this. I was terrified. Were there sharks? What if I drowned out here? Was the last thing I heard really gothic morris dancers?

The only way I could stay afloat was to do a painfully slow breast stroke, I could see the pier which we had to swim to, way off in the distance. It couldn't really be that far since the swim was now only going to be a mile long!

I realised soon that I wasn't alone. To my left, I had a guy on a paddle board, waiting for me to submerge once more, to not reappear, so he could fish me out and get himself back for dinner at a reasonable hour.

He asked if I was OK. I spluttered "no, not really. This is shit" as another wave hit me in the face and he disappeared behind it briefly.

The next 800 meters or so, continued like this, slow breast stroke, getting dunked, getting lifted 10 feet up as the waves swelled, getting dropped back down. Was it possible to get seasick when swimming? I was beginning to think so. That and the diesel taste of the sea water.

Finally the marshal next to me told me to hang a right and head back to shore. I thanked him for his company, and bid him farewell. A couple of hundred meters away I could see the Race Director waving. How was I so far out? I don't remember swimming that far out. I could see the only person left in front of me, a speck in the distance dragging himself out of the water.

Now the waves were behind me, I hoped I could just surf my way back in. Boy, was I wrong. The tide was now pulling me out! The swim time has been carefully planned to coincide with tide times. Given I'd taken so long now, the tide was now against me. I was swimming with all my might and seemingly getting nowhere. The paddle boarder appeared next to me again. "are you OK?"
"no I whimpered. I can't get back"
"Do you want to stop?"
"No. I'm nearly there"
The lad, coached me back to shore, counting my strokes, telling me when to push hard against the current.

Finally, I could almost see the bottom. I was nearly there. The organiser was cheering me out of the water. I found my feet and stood up.

I fell straight over. My legs were not working.

The terror that had filled me for the last 40 odd minutes, had left me wasted. The pebbles weren't helping me either. The RD helped me out, and got  me back on my feet. I hobbled my way to the promenade so happy to be out of that damn water! I didn't care that I now had a 2km run back to transition in a wetsuit. I was looking forward to a night on my beloved mountain bike.

I ran on taking off my wetsuit as I went. I actually overtook the man who got out of the sea in front of me.

I reached transition to find my bike was one of the only three left. The man I'd over taken and another woman just getting changed to go out on the bike.

I was inside the cut off (thanks to the shortened run!) a quick change, a bite to eat and I set off on my way towards the South Down way. It was beginning to get dusky already and my friend Martin Pounder and the boys from The Big Adventure store had fixed me up with some shit hot exposure lights so I was good to go for the whole night!

I rode on upto the SDW and there was a short sharp climb. I dropped the front gear onto the middle ring, to find it not wanting to shift. "Shit!" I muttered as I hit the hill in a big gear, ground to a halt ad had to push up to the top. Past a marshal. Embarrassing start.

The few miles went by nicely, the ground was in good condition, pretty dry, not dusty  and I was enjoying the time on my own in the darkening night. The first check point wasn't for 30 miles so I had a good few hours riding to go before I reached there.

Before long, the weather which was promised arrived. I put on my waterproof jacket. The rain came down. The rain came down hard. It continued for several hours. My jacket lost it's waterproofness. I was getting quite cold but continued to pedal on. I hadn't seen anyone for hours. I realised after a few miles, I'd not seen a marker for a while either. Shit.

This event, was before I learned how to read (and carry) maps, how to use GPS and what kit I should carry. I back tracked the way I'd come, and I got back to a familiar place but still could see no signs. It was still pissing down.

There was nothing else for it. I picked up my phone and ran (not my daddy) the Race Director, my phone was a fancy touchscreen. Not inside a waterproof case. Therefore, the screen was covered in water and I couldn't dial any numbers. I was shivering and tried to dry off the phone. Eventually I dried the phone off enough to make the call - the RD picked up and asked where I was. I tried to explain. I explained very badly.

He told me that it sounded like the sweepers had gone through and taken away the signage whilst I was off course. He would try and get them to turn back and find me. but I needed to keep warm and carry on to see if I could reach the checkpoint.

I wasn't really sure if I was going the right way. But some sort of gut feeling told me I was right. After another hour, I reached the Check point. It was 2am, I was cold wet and unable to carry on, having missed the cut off (and come in behind the sweepers!)

I was given a foil blanket a dry coat and a hot cup of chocolate before being piled into a car with a few other casualties who'd stopped there.

Unfortunately due to the car not being full, and not being quick enough to be in the front drop out car, we had to wait for a full load before being relayed back to the finish somewhere near Winchester. So we spent a few hours at the next Check point, watching people come in, coated in chalk from the wet trail, some covered in cuts where they'd come off on the ice like chalk.

Eventually we found our way back where I was able to get a beer (not that I deserved it), had a snooze and waited for my kit to make it's way back before I could go home with my tail between my legs never to talk about the horror of the night ever again. (Or so I thought)

It's a shame I was so unprepared for this, in hindsight, knowing what I know now about kit, and preparation and maps I was a fool to even give it a go. Swimming talent or lack thereof aside, I was punching way above my weight. Whilst on paper it looks like an amazing event, it was way too hard for me at that point in my life, and it resulted in me never taking part in a triathlon again, and not so far having the desire too.

It was a shame, I didn't get to the run as that's the bit I was most looking forward to.

As it happened, only a handful of people got to the finish, the ones I saw come in were pretty destroyed.

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