Wednesday, 22 April 2015

First post - and first race review

Welcome to my new blog - this is something I've considered doing for a long time, but have never got round to starting. So now that I've got a toddler, a house that needs lots of work, an ultra-marathon to train for and a hectic job, I figured it was the best time to find yet another distraction!

This first post is a bit of a post-race review of my most recent event - the Hardmoors Wainstones Half Marathon, which took place in North Yorkshire on Sunday April 12th. Apologies that this first post is a bit long; promise later ones will be more brief!
Now, any of you who happened to be in North Yorkshire on that Sunday will no doubt now be thinking "but it was bloody horrible, what were people out doing a half marathon for?!" Well, I can tell you that not only would it have been brutal conditions for completing a road half marathon on Sunday, but it was most definitely brutal up on the tops where we were completing one which included bigger hills than most hikers fancy covering in a full day - and don't get me started on the guys who were running a full marathon in the same conditions!

It's probably best that I start at the beginning; which for this race was back in about December when I entered the race as I knew it would fall at a decent point in my current training plan for the Classic Quarter Ultra Marathon in June. I figured it would be a good opportunity to run a decent distance in an event along with getting some much-needed hills in my legs. "Plus it'll be nice to see a bit of the scenery" I said to my wife... Oh how wrong I was on that front!

My training has been going pretty well, considering all of my other commitments at the moment, having done a 10-miler, 15-miler combo weekend the weekend before, so I was fairly confident I had the distance in my legs - I was just a little concerned about all the hills.

Now I'm not going to lie and say I did lots of prep for this race; I printed the maps out the night before and had a look at them briefly with my Dad (who I'd just spent the day tiling our kitchen with - more good race prep, going up and down stairs to our garage to cut all the tiles!), and then threw them in a plastic bag in case I needed them for navigation during the race (although I was also relying on my mapping app on my phone if I got really stuck).

On the morning of the race I bombed the 120 miles across to Chop Gate - a tiny village in North Yorkshire - and parked up in the field next to the village hall where registration took place. "Nice field" I thought as I got out of my car "but it's on a bit of a slope, I wonder what my car's like on slippery hills." Thinking no more about it, I got registered, had my kit checked (mandatory route map, waterproof, hat and gloves) and then hung around while we waited for the briefing and the off.

The briefing consisted primarily of Jon telling us all not to die anywhere we'd be in the way of other people and to try not to use the toilets part-way round, as these belonged to someone else. This was my first Hardmoors event, so I'm not used to Jon's briefing approach, but it all made sense to me, so was happy to be ready to set off... Until we saw that it had begun to rain in the meantime. "Ah well, that's why I've got my waterproof, a bit of rain never hurt anyone anyway" I thought as we all stood on the start line for the countdown; how wrong I was.

Once we started it was pretty clear that this really was going to be a bit of an endurance race (something you don't normally hear about half marathons!) as we immediately started to very slowly climb the single-track route up the steep hill towards Osmotherly Stones. I was happy though; I'd known it started uphill, and figured once we were at the top, we'd roughly follow a ridge-line around the rest of the route, so we were getting all the climbing out of the way early - naive, or just wishful thinking?!

As we made it to the top of the hill I fell in step alongside a lad running in Vibram FiveFingers. As someone who's got a couple of pairs of these myself and having trained in them a fair amount, it seemed a good starting point for a chat (I should point out now that I'm an ultra-runner who talks as a distraction from the pain; just ask my wife who I annoyed over the walkie-talkie for most of the last day of our Hadrian's Wall Challenge run a few years ago when I was running alone!) 

We struck up a conversation and the next couple of miles flew by as he told me about how he broke his ankle, fibula and tibia when he was in the Paras and now that he's out on civvy street he keeps his running going to keep fit. I was amazed that his recovery was that strong from such a horrific injury that he could skip almost barefoot across the slippery trail in the rain alongside me.

Unfortunately I was soon watching that skipping style from behind, as it was clear that in spite of his comment that he didn't want to go out too hard like he had on his previous Hardmoors outing, he was clearly going out harder than I was. This was fine though, I know that all races are made up of short sections, and if one of them passes in good company, it just all helps towards the finish.

And anyway, I had another distraction to concentrate on now; the weather. It had already taken a turn for the worse, with the wind having picked up dramatically and the rain now lashing across the path. It was also at about this point that I realised that maybe my OMM Kamleika jacket would've been a better call than my New Balance Shadow jacket - which I later found out is only rated as water-resistant and wind proof. But to be honest, it didn't bother me that much, I was moving enough to keep warm and my legs felt good. I took on board the first of my salt capsules which I was trying to see if they might hold off the dreaded cramps, had a few sips of water, an energy chew and dug in against the conditions.

Brutal wind, rain and hail on the up-hills and ridges

Over the next couple of miles, I found myself playing the typical leapfrog game with a few other runners, as we each either sped up or slowed down on our relative strengths and weaknesses of up-hills, down-hills and relative flats. I was always keen to pass an inane comment of some description ("nice November day they chose for this April race", "how stupid do I look wearing my buff like this?" or similar) and I was really pleased to find that almost without fail, the others seemed just as keen to chat as I was.

As we continued, towards around the six to seven mile mark, the weather got quite seriously worse. Whenever we were up high on the ridge, the wind was absolutely battering across our path, blasting a combination of enormous rain drops and tiny, sharp little ice-balls straight across us and threatening to blow us over one or two precipitous drops.

Strangely though, it was at about this point, just as I was heading up yet another enormous climb, that I realised just how good I was feeling. I mean, the weather was ridiculous, the up-hills were steep, the down-hills were soaking wet, slippery and very technical and I could wring the water out of my gloves just by clenching my fingers, but I actually felt really good. My legs felt strong, my kit was holding up well, my shoes were coping with the wet conditions and I was starting to pass people. That was what really made me realise how good I was feeling; suddenly I was only passing people, nobody seemed to be leapfrogging back past me anymore - even my friend in the FiveFingers got reeled in at about this point, so I knew I was doing ok.

Yes, I really did look silly with my buff up like that, but at least some of my skin remained attached to my face, rather than being blasted off by the hail!
This continued for a couple of miles until I caught up with a couple of guys who were on the full marathon route. The three of us ran together and joked about the conditions for about half a mile as we headed into a head wind and discussed how long it would be until we managed to make it off the ridge. I was glad to know that I'd be dropping down considerably earlier than the poor two lads I was running with and after a short time running together, I once again felt that I was running slightly stronger than expected and so I decided to take advantage of it and slowly worked my way ahead.

For once, I was really enjoying running on my own; it wasn't about it being me against my body, me against other runners, or even me against the course; this was entirely about me against the elements, and the best way for me to beat them was to go quicker and get down quicker, so I pushed on again.

Miles 10-12 went well, with me literally laughing whenever yet another hill came along, the conditions had gone from the ridiculous to the downright crazy, but now I knew how close I was to the finish and I knew I'd beat the weather and the course.

However, as I made it to the top of the last climb, the route levelled out and I saw the drop in the distance, I caught up with someone who wasn't in quite such a positive place as me. I ran alongside the guy who was walking a little. As I passed him slowly, I asked how his day was going and rather than getting the normal "oh brilliant mate, loving this weather" or similar, I heard "not all that good to be honest" so I immediately slowed down and asked him what was up. It turned out he was struggling a little and was feeling a bit dizzy. I asked if he'd been taking on enough fluids, to which he said he had, and that he had more with him. So I asked if he'd got anything with sugar in it. He mentioned that he had some jelly babies, so I told him to get some of them inside him as quickly as possible to see if the energy boost and a bit of a kick to his blood-sugar would help. Once I'd seen that he had got them out and was about to eat them he told me to get going and that he'd see me at the bottom. As I was about to argue I looked up and saw the marshall's jacket marking the point at which the path turned right to drop down the side of the valley towards the finish and so I told him how close it was and that once he got there he was as good as home.

I felt guilty about leaving him, but I justified it to myself that the only way I was keeping warm in my shorts and not-totally-waterproof jacket was by keeping moving. I'm not sure I'd do the same again, but the closeness of the marshall reassured me.

In a couple of minutes I'd reached the marshall myself and promptly turned right, heading onto the narrow path leading down the side of the valley. Dropping off the ridge and out of the wind was an amazing feeling and I have to admit I got a bit giddy as I started racing down the narrow, deep track with its high grassy banks, trying to catch the last three runners I could see ahead of me before the finish. Needless to say, I soon regretted my giddiness as my right foot caught a thick tussock of grass and I found myself heading downwards in a slightly more direct route to the ground than I was aiming for! Fortunately it was only a fairly minor slip, and barring a bit of a scrape to my shins from a rock or two and a couple of bumps that I was sure would make impressive bruises later, all was well, so I carried on.

Enjoying the down-hills!
Racing down the hill, I managed to catch the last runners I could see ahead of me and hared through William Beck Farm and down the track on my way down towards the finish. Having averaged around 11 minutes per mile up to this point, I suddenly found myself doing under 7-minutes for the final mile... I mean, obviously the hill helped, but I think the sheer joy of how good I was feeling and how much less windy it was were really powering me along.

As I ran through the final field (where the cars were parked) towards the finish line the rain was still pelting down, but I didn't care and almost sprinted towards the village hall to finish in a time of 2:32:36 - officially my slowest ever half marathon, but also not only my hilliest, but the one in the most brutal conditions!

As soon as I'd signed in and picked up my finishers medal and t-shirt, I headed to my car to grab my recovery shake and towel - fully intending to join the other finishers in the village hall. Unfortunately, my body decided otherwise once it had slid into the passenger seat of my gloriously dry car interior, and instead I found myself sat there drinking my recovery shake, eating my sandwich and watching the other runners coming in, running past my car as they headed for the finish.

I can't describe how happy I was to see the guy I'd seen struggling a little and feeling dizzy up on the ridge as he jogged past my car, looking fairly strong. I hope he managed to enjoy his last mile or so, but to be honest I couldn't get out to ask him, because that would have meant opening my car door, and the heater was finally making my fingers feel good again by this point!

After about fifteen minutes of slowly recovering, getting myself changed and getting some food in me, I decided it was time to make the 120 mile journey home to be jumped on by my toddler and help my dad with the last of the kitchen tiling. I got in the driver's seat and looked up towards the exit from the car park field, where I saw quite an impressive spectacle; a very large white Lexus wheel-spinning away as it tried desperately to get out of the field. "Ah," I thought "that's always the disadvantage of heavy rear-wheel-drive cars. Lucky I'm in a light, front-wheel-drive car with a puny Diesel engine." You'd have thought I'd have learned about feeling smug by this point, but it would seem not!

Long story short, it took 25 minutes for me to make it the 75 yards to and out of the exit from the field. During that time I did about three laps of the field looking for momentum to get up to the exit (90% of which were spent wheel-spinning), got out to help push the Lexus out (cue large sprays of mud up my freshly donned clean, dry clothes and shoes) and desperately tried to learn from the various mistakes and failures of everyone else trying the same things!

Having eventually got out, I had the 2-hour drive home to think about the race. What were my conclusions?
Well, it was brilliant... The marshalls, checkpoint volunteers and fellow runners were all friendly, the route was challenging, but enjoyable and well marked, the scenery that I saw was beautiful (admittedly all of that was within about 5 yards of my face due to the visibility!) and I genuinely felt good the whole way around.

Race Summary:
Distance covered: 13.54 miles
Elevation gain: 2,508 feet (though it felt double that!)
Gun time: 2:32:55
Watch time: 2:32:36
Overall position: 23rd
Category position: 7th
Garmin link:

Nutrition taken in (reviews to follow in later blog entries):
3 x SaltStick caps
1/2 packet Powerbar Cola Chews
1/2 packet Clif chews
2 Haribo sweets
Around 500ml water

Kit worn (reviews to follow in later blog entries):
Shoes: Brooks Cascadia 9
Socks: More Mile London
Shorts: Salomon S-Lab Exo Compression Wings Twinskin
Top: Compressport Trail Running Top
Jacket: New Balance Shadow
Race Vest: Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra set
Hat: Adidas running cap
Buff: Original Runners Buff
Gloves: Ronhill Switch Running Gloves


  1. Well done for starting your blog and interesting article! Very useful information for fellow runners who hasnt run a marathon but wants to know what's going on. Good luck!

  2. Nice use of the pictures, I have tweeted your blog to 2,500 followers