Archive for the 'Race Report' Category


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?


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.


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?


Hertford 10k race report


Or what used to be known as The Hertford Charity Run – I have run this race a few times now and I still really enjoy it. It could be the proximity to my house (I walked to the starting line from home – took about 15 minutes). The picturesque, well marshaled route – out along the Cole Green Way and then through a number of small, Hertfordshire villages before rejoining the Cole Green Way to head back to the finish. Or it could be the finish itself – a tough uphill that sees many give up and walk before a big finish right in front of County Hall and the crowd of cheering spectators.

I did get caught up a little at the beginning, positioning myself too far down the field before the start, meaning I had to try and pick my way through the runners on the narrowest and most congested part of the course. So the first mile or so was spent in a bunch of 6-6.30mins/km paced runners when I wanted to be doing 5.30mins/km. Also, I was running in Vibrams along a bridle path so needed to try and keep a little distance between me and the runners in front to ensure I could see enough ground in front of me to avoid landing on any stones of bits of tree branch.

Once out onto the road, the race opened up and the sun/breeze combined to create almost perfect conditions – if a little windy on the exposed sections. Marshaling, as always, was frequent and encouraging with an added water/Jelly Baby station just before 5km.

Because I have run the race before, I am aware of the big hill at the end. Subsequently, I began to slow (not sure if it is consciously or unconsciously) around the 8km mark and a handful of people slowly overtook. I think I have some inbuilt mechanism that tells me to ease up and conserve energy for the hill at the end. Once at the hill, many of my “overtakers” end up just ahead of me and walking up the hill. Some were run/walking. I am always intent on not stopping to walk, although my legs and lungs protest. The encouragement from the crowd and the knowledge that the end is imminent make it bearable but it is still one of the toughest and most satisfying finishes.

My only criticism from a few years back was that the race used to be “approximately 10k”. I am not sure if the organisers have taken heed and tweaked the route to find and extra 500m (the race used to be about 9.5km) or whether my Garmin had mis-measured, but Sunday’s distance showed as 10.11km

Incredibly, this was my first race this year and therefore not as quick as previous years (approx 3 mins slower than last year. Also, I think the combination of mixed training I have been doing (forsaking some runs for longer cycle rides) and getting stuck for the first 1-2kms contributed to the slower time. It’s still a great race though and I’ll be back again next year.


The Berlin Marathon – Race Report

This time last week, I had just completed the 39th Berlin Marathon. My first ever Marathon.

Almost a year ago, Hauling My Carcass beat his existing Half Marathon time and vowed that he would tackle a full marathon within the following year. I wished him well and said I’d come along and cheer him on. And then, over time, I began to wonder how I’d feel watching him finish a marathon whilst I stood on the sidelines. It wasn’t long before I’d decided that I would run the marathon too… we just needed to find one that met our requirements: European if possible, the ability to enter without a ballot and also as far into the future as possible but within 12 calendar months. Ideas were batted back and forth and eventually we settled on Berlin – There were places available and we had both heard good things about the race, so we signed up.

I was still in denial about the race until about May. I had been sent a 16 week training schedule that I could start in June and once it was started, I followed it as closely as I could. Psychologically, if others had used the same schedule successfully, there was no reason why it would not work for me.

The last few weeks before the race flew by – I still did not feel ready, my longest training run had been just under 34kms, I was bored of running to a schedule and checking paces and distances. I honestly didn’t know if I could do it.

Our flight to Berlin was early in the morning. Really early. We left for the airport at a little after 4a.m. Arriving in Berlin, we made our way to the apartment – far nicer than it looked online and well stocked with everything that we might need. Once settled in, it was off to the Expo to collect race numbers, timing chips and instructions. Suddenly, it all seemed very real and I struggled to sleep on Friday night as the thoughts of Sundays race filled my head. Saturday was spent doing as little as possible, we took a walk around Berlin but really just rested. And ate. Ate a lot. Saturday nights sleep was a lot sounder – I had convinced myself it was nothing but a “long run”. I’d decided on a time that I would be happy with, that I would aim to run to that time and to enjoy it as much as possible.

Sunday morning, race day. Breakfast was had and HMC and I set off at 7a.m. Getting to the race was fine and you soon realise what a massive event it really is. Baggage storage areas are the size of a small village, there are hundreds of portable toilets with thousands of people queuing. It is so big that after I dumped my bag, I lost HMC and had to make my way to the start alone. I would not see him again until the race was over. Joining the enormous throng at the start (split by expected finish time and whether you have ever run a marathon before – as a first-timer, I was in group H, the last to start). The race has a staggered start – bang on 9a.m. the elites and fast finishers set off…. I crossed the start line half an hour later.

I was conscious of setting off too fast so watched my pace from the outset. I neither wanted to go too fast and run out of steam before the end nor too slow and risk missing my intended time. The race is largely flat and well supported throughout. There are bottle necks where the field slows, but overall you are able to get some space, find your pace and stick to it. Bands and sound systems pepper the route and these, and the support from the crowd, spur you on. I love running in big cities and Berlin gives you plenty to see as you make your way around the 42.2km route. Water stations are frequent and well stocked with water, energy drinks and fruit – pieces of banana piled high on trestle tables, grabbed whilst passing.

I had a minor struggle at about 19kms but hooked onto someone that looked to be running about the pace I needed to be and followed her. Once the half-way point was passed, I felt I settled into my race proper, hitting a good comfortable pace and breaking the rest of the race down into manageable chunks. 8kms from 22 to 30kms. From there, 4kms to the “Inspiration Point” – large digital screen that would display personal messages to you triggered by your timing chip. From there, less that 10km to the finish line. I knew a friend of mine was in Berlin that weekend and she had texted to say that she would be watching from somewhere near the end of the race. At about 37kms, I heard someone call out my name. It was her, and I ran over to give her a quick hug. I thanked her for coming and then dashed off – aware that I was very close achieving my goal time. You cannot under-estimate how much of a boost it is to have someone there to cheer you on. I set off for the finish with renewed spring in my step.

With 2kms to go, I tried to pick up the pace. It was tough, my inner drill sergeant kept me going (It was like having Mr T as a personal trainer… “you didn’t come all this way to WALK!!!”). My Garmin, once it ticks over into hours, no longer shows the seconds, so I knew how long I had to get to the finish, but not exactly how long I had. The final corner brings you onto the approach to the Brandenburg Gate – impressive under any circumstance but even more so after 41kms. I just ran. Passing other runners, I just picked up the pace, desperate to cross the finish line. Although the Brandenburg Gate is the focal point, the finish is a good 200m further on. A glanced at my watch as I went through the gate (some people stopping believing that was the finish) and on to the finish line. I remember crossing the line, hitting the Garmin, shouting loudly (probably containing expletives) and then suddenly feeling very weak and tired. Drained, I sat on the kerb at the side of the road and closed my eyes. One of the medical team came to see if I was OK. I told them I was. I just needed a moment.

I’d wanted 4 and a half hours. I got 4:30:39. That’ll do.


marathon training – week 13 – dunstable 20 mile challenge

I’d had a good week. I’d trained well and ran a fast 8k training run, knocking 4 minutes off the time I had set at the beginning of my marathon training 13 weeks ago. I was set for the Dunstable 20 Mile Challenge that I had entered, along with a friend of mine, in the hope that it would be something a bit different for our final long run before our respective Marathons in 3 weeks time.
There were 2 small flies in the ointment – The first was that we were both out the previous night at the magnificent Africa Express gig in Kings Cross and much of the energy in our legs had been used up by a solid 5 hours of dancing. The second was that temperatures were forecast to be between 25 and 27 degrees on race day. Gulp.
So, with 6 hours sleep in the bank, I arrived in Dunstable and collected my race number and stored my bag at the start. The facilities were exceptional, clean, bright, lovely toilets, helpful organisers. I had printed out the directions that would guide us round the course and the talk on the start line was of getting lost and perhaps accidentally ending up on the Marathon route. There are 3 concurrent races all starting out on the same route – a Half Marathon, the 20 mile Challenge and a Marathon. Competitors quickly chatted and made friends with anyone who was running the same race as them – the thinking being that they could either help each other round or at least recognise someone running the same route to know they were going in the right direction.
So for the first 6-7 miles, everyone runs the same route – out of the park and straight up the downs, the steep, chalky inclines giving way to fantastic views across the countryside as gliders swoop overhead. The 3 routes then split and the fun begins. Instructions are as good as can be expected but much of the time you are following a bridlepath and looking for just a gap in the hedge which signals the next turning. I took the executive decision that it was better to stop and check the instructions frequently and sacrifice some time rather than bowling on and risk going the wrong way, potentially adding miles to the route. There were check in points along the route and also water stops. Every one of the helpers was lovely, asking how we were doing and plying us with water and jelly babies. Parts of the route are really tough – either because of the inclines or because of the ground underfoot – a recently harvested wheatfield on an incline is difficult to traverse in the midday sun, especially if you’re not sure that your are heading in the right direction. From about 7 miles in, we hooked up with a few other runners and decided to work out the route democratically, stopping and deciphering the instructions at each potential intersection. This also helped us grab a moments rest and some respite from the blazing sun.
At about 17 miles, things started to look familiar again and we split off from the others to complete the run. People out for a day on the Downs shouted encouragement and we arrived back at the race HQ after a punishing downhill and a bit of last mile confusion as we headed to the finish.
All the organisers cheered us over the line, we got a celebratory “Buff” emblazoned with the race name and people couldn’t do enough for us. Free tea, coffee, sandwiches and cake had all been laid on for all the participants and there were showers too if we wanted. This has to be one of THE friendliest races: organisers seemed genuinely interested in our thoughts and it was more akin to getting back to a friends house to find that they had made lunch for you rather than arriving at a Race HQ.
It is a tough course (I was more than an hour and 20 mins slower than my previous 32km) and is, at 33.9km / 21 miles, slightly longer than anticipated. From the general air of camaraderie amongst the runners and the attitude of the organisers, it is clear that this is a race for runners organised by runners. Tough… But I wish every race were as well planned and enjoyable – I cannot recommend it highly enough.
So, 21 miles in the blazing heat, across tough terrain is possibly the best bit of last ditch training I could do. If I can do that, another 5 miles with reasonable temperatures in Berlin and a flat course should be do-able.

Soundtrack to this post: Suffer – M.anifest


the loneliness…

It’s not often that I get a sudden urge to run quite a long way. When it rears it’s head, it is such a surprise that I often just blindly follow it’s calling. Which is exactly what happened last Sunday.

On Saturday evening, a glance at the following days weather forecast showed big yellow radiant spheres all around where I live and this prompted the thought of getting out for a long run. So when Sunday morning brightness shone through my curtains, it was an easy decision to make. I had a loosely planned route in my head which was to encompass a little loop of my locale before heading off along the Cole Green Way. I’d been told that there was an underpass at some point that would allow me to get to the neighbouring town without getting mowed down trying to navigate a particularly busy section of dual carriageway.

Off I ventured, heading through familiar territory before looping back and taking the Cole Green Way as far as I could. There is indeed an underpass and it is quite a contrast to enter the underpass, leave the tree lined avenue of the previous few miles and emerge the other side on an exposed tarmac path flanked with freshly planted small trees at shoulder height. From here, a run into the town centre before heading back out the other side to close the loop and tackle the home stretch. At 20kms, I suddenly began to feel tired. Until this point I was feeling positively spritely but a combination of hills and a lack of footpath made me tire quickly. I was having to run right on the edge of the tarmac on a country road as cars whipped past inches from my elbow. My tired feet were beginning to go numb as every detail of the ruined edge of tarmac was felt through the sole of the Vibrams.

25.5kms run and my longest distance ever. I did feel very, tired when I arrived home but it was bolstered by the sense of satisfaction at completing my longest run. It dawned on me that the route would have been much kinder if it were run in the opposite direction – fresh feet on the road edge to begin with and then a (mostly) gentle downhill.

All of which has no doubt helped today when I ran the Wheathampstead 10k. I have written about this race before (here, here and here) and so will not bore you with the details but SonNumberOne ran a great 2k (about 4 mins faster than last year) and SonNumberTwo managed to get a couple of minutes off of his time before I set off on my own 10k. The course seemed a little more congested this year and it was difficult to pick my way past at some points. The queues at the stairs and the kissing gates seemed a little slower than usual and, as I was feeling quite fresh, I was finding this a little frustrating. Apart from that, a very nice off road race. Hilly and challenging but with a good atmosphere. 54.14 this year – a couple of minutes slower than last year but think the hold-ups accounted for a good portion of that.

The question is… do I squeeze in one last Half Marathon in St Albans before my Berlin Training Regime starts. I think I’ll sleep on it…

Soundtrack to this post: Mugstar – Sunburnt Impedance Machine


Marlow Duathlon – Race Report

“It’s a lot of hard work for a commemorative race t-shirt, isn’t it”. This pearl of wisdom was uttered to me by a fellow competitor as we rounded a corner 2kms from the finish line of the Marlow Duathlon. We’d already completed a 7km run and a 25km cycle and were almost at the end of the second 7km run.

Months ago I had the idea that I’d like to attempt a duathlon… It made sense, see, because I like to run and I like to cycle. And as I do most of my running in Vibrams and most of my cycling on my singlespeed, it also seemed like a good idea to do a vibram / singlespeed duathlon. At the time I applied for the race, it still seemed like a good idea although standing by a cricket pavillion at 7.30am on a lovely, bright Sunday morning wearing funny shoes and holding a steel framed bike with only one gear I felt a bit of a tit. Especially as everyone else seemed to have beautiful bicycles with many gears costing many hundreds of pounds and be warming up / psyching up and taking the whole thing very seriously. I was relieved that Hauling My Carcass had agreed to take part as well so at least there would be 2 of us riding wholly inappropriate bikes.

The other thing that had unnerved me somewhat was the list of rules and regulations that had arrived a week prior to the event. Bar ends must be plugged, handlebars must be of a certain style, you must not remove your bike from transition unless you have fastened your helmet… the list seemed to go on and on and I was sure that I would be disqualified for some accidental infraction. Being used to running races where you just basically turn up and run around for a bit, it all seemed a little daunting. Fortunately all my fears were unfounded as the race organisers and the marshals were all lovely, helpful, friendly individuals who got everything underway and kept us safe and on course for the duration.

The course sets off from the cricket pavillion and heads out in a big loop along some wooded paths, following the river before coiling round back towards where we started. It was advertised as 7km but my Garmin reading a touch over 7.5kms for the route as the measurement for the final “kilometre” was of questionable accuracy. The slipperyness underfoot at the start and end of this stretch caught me out. I’d planned a fast final km on each of the running sections but instead had to slow down as the Vibrams gave me absolutely no grip on the muddy surface. Now the tricky bit, into transition, off with the silly shoes, on with the helmet (BEFORE unracking the bike) on with the Camelbak and then walk the bike out of transition. Once out of transition, you are able to mount the bike and take off… to be met immediately with a steep 2km incline which saps the legs and the spirit. I got some shouted encouragement from other riders for attempting the ascent on a single speed as they zipped past on their geared machines. Once at the top, it takes a few moments to get the breath back and then it’s a lovely, undulating 25km ride along country lanes in the morning sun. I was feeling good so pushed hard and felt a slight sense of satisfaction when actually managing to overtake anyone on a geared bike. Back into transition for the final run but a struggle to get the, now wet, Vibrams back on lost me about 45 seconds. Then, back out to run the same 7(ish) km course we ran earlier but in the opposite direction. The first couple of kilometres are tough with the legs shot from the ride but the rhythm soon comes back and psychologically you know that the hard work is done and you just have to maintain and finish. I crossed the line in 2:24 and was delighted! The course was 1.4kms longer (40.4kms in total) than the planned 39km total and I’d estimated before the race that I could finish between 2:20 and 2:25. On the Garmin, I noted that I passed the 39km mark at 2:19 so had come in slightly quicker than I’d hoped.

After the race, it was nice that a few other competitors and marshals stopped to talk and ask what it was like competing on a singlespeed. Overall there was a sense of camaraderie and friendliness that is not found at many races. It is a lot of hard work for a t-shirt. But it was a good day. And it is quite a nice t-shirt.

Soundtrack to this post: Equations Of Eternity – Baron Samedi


dark and cold – a grim night terror review

I set off in the car for this race with a little trepidation. For a week or so people had been warning of heavy snow and all reliable sources pointed to it arriving in Aldershot by 6pm. As I left the motorway at the Aldershot exit around 4.30pm, the first few tentative, tiny flakes began to fall. I met up with Hauling My Carcass and we agreed that this was, without a doubt, the most ridiculous thing we have agreed to do to date… and there have been a few ridiculous things. Some very ridiculous.
Once we had collected our timing chips from the happy and efficient people in charge of timing chip dispensing, we sat in the car with the heater going and sighed and shook our collective heads at the absurdity of it all. It was minus something or other on the thermometer and we were about to run around an Army Vehicle Testing Track in the dark. Ironically, on the drive through Aldershot to the event, I saw a lone soldier pounding the streets in boots, combats and a khaki t-shirt… “poor bastard”, I thought, “he’s probably annoyed a superior and this is his punishment”. And yet I was about to undertake something similar, for fun. What is wrong with me???
When we could not sit in the warm (and in denial) for any longer we ventured out and joined the other be-headtorched runners for the start. We were told that the route had been amended as the large puddles were covered in four inch thick ice that, even if it were broken with a sledgehammer would be impassable because it “would cut you to ribbons”. And on that cheery note we were sent running off into the night.
Anyone who has run the Grim Original would recognise parts of the course although it takes on a very different appearance in the dark and covered with a dusting of snow. Everyone seemed in good spirits as we picked our way round 2 laps of the course. Personally I had a couple of (self inflicted) issues – namely, the day before the race, my new superbright headtorch went “pop” whilst on a final pre-race charge. Never one to miss an opportunity to bastardise something when just buying a replacement would be far more sensible, I took a high power hand torch and gaffer taped it to the existing headtorch’s head band. Obviously, during the race it rattled around on top of my head, dimmed sporadically and gave intermittent light as the contacts inside made and broke the circuit in time with my feet pounding the icy surface. Secondly, I dug out an old pair of running shoes in which to tackle the frozen ground…Another schoolboy error as I have been doing almost all my running in VFF’s and, without wishing to sound like this, I now find it really hard work to run in regular running shoes both because of the additional weight and the way they contort my feet whilst running.
Those minor niggles aside, the event itself was great – plenty of parking, friendly and efficient staff looking after bags, timing chips etc. Plenty of good natured marshalls who stood in the freezing cold to make sure we were all safe and who offered well needed words of encouragement all evening. The route was just challenging enough and the organisers decision to shorten the route for safety reasons (it ended up as just over 10.6kms) was a sound one. The course is a good mixture of forest path, technical and rutted tracks and sandy climbs and descents. Add in the odd strobe light and loudspeakers around the course intermittently blasting out heavy breathing and blood curdling screams and you have a fun and challenging evenings running.
Apparently, there was an after race party, but the ever deepening snow meant that many, like myself, chose to forego post-race festivities and aim to get home before the roads became a slushy, icy mess.
I would definitely do it again… a Spring/Summer one would be great. It could start later, go the full distance and incorporate some of the mud an puddles we all love.

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