Archive for May, 2013

29
May
13

hatfield broad oak 10k race review

 

Bank Holiday Monday and an unusually warm and sunny morning. Hatfield Broad Oak is a few miles from Stansted Airport but the sleepy, villagey feel and the lack of plane noise makes this feel more rural. The race is timed to coincide with the local Flower Show so there are stalls in the church grounds, a hog roast outside the pub and what seems like the entire occupancy of the village out on the streets to enjoy the sunshine and the events.

 

Runners mingle with locals prior to the race, the race HQ is buzzing and with 5 minutes to go, everyone gets themselves to the start. Bang on time the race starts and we are off through the village, the streets lined on both sides with cheering crowds filling the pavements. The village is soon left behind and the field thins out as we make our way along country roads and through the beautiful Essex countryside. The course for the first 4k is mostly flat with a few gentle undulations. Just before 5k, the route heads back towards the village and dips down. We see the front runners coming back the other way and then veer right and head off up a long slow incline between kilometres 6 and 7. So we know what lies ahead of us…

 

A water stop at 5km and then we too are on the route back out of the village and up the slope. It is tougher than it appears, partly because it is now very warm and partly because it is what the have been referring to in the Giro D’Italia as a “false flat” – it is a continual gentle upward slope which flattens out periodically before slowly, almost imperceptibly rising upwards again. At about 8km, I am gritting my teeth and hoping that the end will come soon. I start mentally ticking off the distance… 2kms to go, 1500 metres to go…

 

At 9km, the course plays it’s nastiest trick of all and suddenly steepens. This is made worse by signs at 200m intervals telling you that it is 800m to go, then 600m to go. But those 200m increments seem to be very slow in coming. With 200m to go, you still cannot see the finish and it is only with 100m left that you reach the brow of the hill, see the crowd and the finish and have a 100m sprint on wobbly legs to the line.

 

Orange slices and water after the finish line and then a slow queue for the (admittedly very nice) red race technical t-shirt and to have timing chips removed.

Post race, I bought myself a slice of home made cake from inside race HQ before accompanying SonNumberOne and SonNumberTwo on the free kids Fun Run. A mile run around the village on streets closed to traffic.

Al in all a very nice day. A great, friendly event, a scenic route and good support from the locals who all came out to cheer us on

 

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16
May
13

maas half marathon race review

The previous day, when we’d collected our race numbers, I’d tentatively asked if there was anywhere we could store 4 bags each whilst the race was on. I explained that we had cycled to Vise and had all our bags with us. I feared the worst – I have run races in the UK with no baggage storage at all (yes, Rat Race, I am talking about you) so felt asking to stow 4 bags was pushing it. I was told it was not a problem and we could put all our luggage in the baggage room on race day.

The organisation surrounding the event was phenomenal, there were a number of races all starting at intervals – a full marathon, a kids race, a 9.1km (??? no, me neither) and the Half Marathon we were taking part in. Race HQ was easily navigated and the staff spoke English. Toilets were plentiful with little or no queuing and the whole event was expertly managed. What seemed like the whole town were out on the streets to cheer us on and at 11am we set off with a 1km lap around the town before heading off out towards and along the banks of the river Maas. Marshalling was frequent and good, support at the inhabited sections of the route was loud and positive. It drizzled a bit and there were headwinds alongside the river but this is a fabulous race. I was running in my Vibrams and even a couple of kilometres of cobbles couldn’t dampen my spirit. Water stations with drinks, slices of orange, halves of bananas and slices of cake are at 5k intervals around the route and the support for the final 2k was fabulous. Cheering spectators, a sound system, drummers, everyone there encouraging and willing you on, lifting you through the final stretch.

I wasn’t sure how I’d fare in a Half Marathon after almost 400km of cycling but I came in 2:02:20. Delighted with the time, I met up with HMC who had finished a couple of minutes earlier and headed to Race HQ. There, we were given goody bags, a race branded back pack, a long sleeve technical t-shirt, water, apples, a couple of candle holders (?!) and the usual leaflets and bumph that fills post race goody bags. Most amazingly, the organisers had laid on a free buffet for all competitors with cheese rolls, cake, fruit, water… as much as you wanted. This was a complete eye opener for me especially as the race entry was only 10 Euros. So, if a race in a medium size town in Belgium can do all this and also get all the other race facilities and organisation so right for 10 Euros, why are there far worse races here with £40+ entry fees?

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And so with a successful trip and a phenomenal Half Marathon completed, all that remained was to get ourselves home. A quick scrub up, the ceremonial binning of the Vibram 5 Fingers that had seen better days, and we were loading our bags back onto the bikes for what was to be our final leg of the journey. 21km cycle into Liege, a train from Liege to Brussels, Eurostar from Brussles to St Pancras and then the final train home. I was back in time for the 10 o’ clock news.

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The whole experience was great and the memories will stay with me a very long time. The Jack Wolfskin waterproof and HMC’s GPS mapping were both worth their weight in gold and made the trip far slicker and more comfortable. HMC made a great companion and his time and effort in the bulk of the organisation and booking of the trip is enormously appreciated (you can read his version of events here). Everyone who we met in Holland and Belgium were lovely and couldn’t do enough for us and the race itself was up there with the best of them.

I went with the expectation of an enjoyable trip and another Half Marathon notched up but returned with so much more. So how do we top this for next year?

15
May
13

maas half marathon – how we got there

This had been 2 years in the making and when it eventually happened it was well worth the wait. Tuesday and at 1pm we met at Liverpool St station. Myself, Hauling My Carcass and 2 home made single speed bikes laden 6 days worth of luggage. We got the train to Colchester and then cycled the remaining 30ish kilometres to Harwich. We arrived early, killing time in a pub near the dock, eating, drinking and catching up.

We stocked up on some bits for “breakfast” at the supermarket and then went to the Ferry terminal to wait. I was surprised by the number of other cyclists waiting to board and, although promised that we would board first, we stood in the dark and the cold and were eventually boarded last. Bikes are wheeled on board and then hung by the handlebars in purpose built racks. We found our cabin, which was decidedly plush with some bunks, an en-suite and a massive porthole looking out over the sea. This was the bit that I was least looking forward to – I get terribly seasick but I have to say the crossing was fabulous. Very smooth and quiet and if you did not look out of the porthole, you would not have known you were moving. A quick drink and then I went straight to sleep. I awoke to the tannoy informing us that we would be disembarking in one hour.

In the Hook of Holland, HMC turned on his GPS and we were off, following the route that he had diligently mapped over the preceeding months. I have to say that having the GPS made this trip very easy. So easy in fact, that after an hour in, we decided to take a detour into Rotterdam to see the suspension bridge. Both HMC and I had agreed that this wasn’t just to be a “heads down and get to our destination” trip and that we should stop where and when we pleased to take in some of the places we passed through. A second breakfast of coffee and cake in Rotterdam and we were off for what was to be probably one of the toughest parts of the journey.

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The weather closed in, rain showers and wind and we soon realised that we were hungry and in the middle of Holland with nowhere to stop and eat. At this point I was thankful for the Jack Wolfskin jacket that I had brought with me – it kept out both the wet and the wind and I would continue to use it throughout the 6 days – it became my warm, dry place that I could shelter from the elements whilst still eating up the miles on the bike. A snack bar was found that sold water, Coke, rolls, chips, crisps and chocolate. We basically ordered 2 of everything from the menu and set about re-fuelling. And it was fabulous. We finished up and set off on the final leg to our first destination – a B&B nestled amongst the flat farmlands of Holland. The reception couldn’t have been warmer, the owner even taking pity on us and offering to get us a Chinese take away to save us having to cycle somewhere to eat. Despite asking for vegetarian, I seemed to get food that contained meat, albeit only a little, so HMC feasted and I had some rice and a bit of soup. The breakfast that was laid on for us the following morning more than made up for it with eggs, rolls, home-made jam, yoghurt drink and coffee.

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Day 2 and we set off through the pancake flat farmland on roads and cycle paths so smooth that it felt like you could go for miles without even pedalling. I noticed that there seemed to be a lot of people out and about – we passed a few cycle races and we found out that today was a national holiday in Belgium. Highlight of the day was the stretch alongside the Albert Canal – a perfectly smooth, perfectly flat and perfectly straight cycle path alongside a large man made estuary. Whipping past tankers and enormous canal boats, and with no traffic to concentrate on, we chatted as we tore up the miles. Again, HMC had done us proud, for when we arrived at the accommodation for the night, it was a massive “loft apartment” above a tavern in the middle of a forest. We were warmly greeted by the owners and promptly offered bottles of Coke (“You guys have cycled a pretty long way, I’ll get you some Coca-Cola” is one of the nicest phrases you can here after a day of cycling in the sunshine). We had to find a shop that was open to get something for dinner (pasta, as it turned out), and then settled down with our food to watch highlights of the Giro D’Italia before getting to bed before the 3rd and final full day of cycling.

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Day 3 and we wanted to get a good portion of the days distance done in the morning. Today was the first day that we really had to spend any amount of time cycling on actual roads. We also encountered our first real hills of the trip. Up until now, they had been little more than inclines. A stop for lunch after 60km meant that we had roughly 30k to complete in the afternoon. Once again, the Jack Wolfskin came into it’s own, keeping the wind off whilst sat at the side of the road in a deserted Belgian village feasting on rolls stuffed with houmous, cheese and crisps. This is not my preferred meal of choice but it contains enough carbs to keep you going all day and, after 60 kilometres in the saddle, tastes fantastic.

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The last 30km were probably the hardest of the whole trip – hilly terrain and then hitting Vise in rush hour was a real culture shock. We were back on actual roads and all of a sudden dealing with traffic. Lots of traffic. The final hill to our destination (approx 1km up followed by 1km down) was a killer when laden with luggage and trying to negotiate traffic jams but we made it. We checked in and then went in search of food. Unfortunately, the nearest restaurants were back in Vise so for each evening meal, we had to tackle the 1k up / 1k down hill that sat between us and the town. Saturday was to be our rest day before the Maas Half Marathon on Sunday and was spent getting our race packs from Race HQ, a little excursion on the bikes cut short by a torrential downpour and then an afternoon of watching the Giro. Finally, a cycle into Vise with pizza for dinner because tomorrow was race day…

TO BE CONTINUED…




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