Breca Swimrun 2016 – Race Report

This is a long post….I’ll try and keep it fun. If you purely want to know about the race, scroll down and look for the header. If you’re interested in the whole experience, start here….

In case this is the first time you’ve read about a Swimrun, here’s the brief.
Swimrun is a race run in pairs across consecutive running and swimming legs, usually held over rugged terrain and in stunning locations. This is a relatively new sport, especially in the UK, but we now have a handful of races to choose from which all pose their own very different challenges.
The race we were doing was Breca Buttermere in the surroundings of the UK’s Lake District, this would be lake swims, trail runs and a hell of a lot of vertical ascent.

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So at 9:30am on Friday morning, I’d done the school run, kissed my wife goodbye and climbed into my teammate Toms car for our romantic weekend break. It took us over 9 hours to drive up to the Lakes, and somehow we hadn’t fallen out with each other yet. We discussed the subtle differences between Bracken, Heather and Ferns. The main difference being we’ve never met anyone called Bracken.
We came off the motorway at Penrith (which I thought was in Scotland) and when we reached Keswick we hit the single track roads for the last 7 or so miles to Buttermere.

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The scenery was absolutely breathtaking, waterfalls, lakes, streams, fells and valleys. Everywhere you looked there was water, you could hear water running at all times, the rocks had water coming out of them, even the grass was crying. Neither of us had brought a coat.

We arrived at the Youth Hostel (YHA Buttermere) and were welcomed by Ben, the race organiser. We checked in to our room and to kill a bit of time had a stroll down to the first Swim transition point. We immediately realised that there were several bottlenecks on the way to the lake, 2 kissing gates and a steep bank to negotiate before entering the water. I dipped my toes in and Tom took the opportunity to work on his stone skimming (lame) – it was chilly to say the least, we re-assured ourselves by imagining how warm it would be the next day.

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We strolled back to the YHA and chatted with some of the other teams, Mike and Niels from the Danish Koge Tri Team 2000 and Richard from Athlone Otters shared our table as we filled up on Pasta, Rice & Chilli. They’d done a Swimrun in Denmark and one in Llanberis respectively. We joked about how flat Denmark was and how big Mikes hands were. The hostel was filled with outdoorsy looking types with down-stuffed jackets, trail shoes and pre-race compression wear. I had skinny jeans on and no coat.

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Next stop was the bio-security checks and registration, this went smoothly, we had all the kit, our shoes were clean, and we were given our race vests and red swimcaps. Very efficient guys – good job.

There was a nervous energy in the hostel already so we decided to stroll down to the pub to watch Wales v Belgium in the Euros and stay relaxed. There were 2 pubs in the village, The Fish Inn and The Bridge. Neither of them were showing the football. In fact, neither of them had a TV. We were told the nearest one would be in Keswick……7 miles away, even if we ran there we’d probably only catch the last 10 minutes, and it was raining, and neither of us had a coat.
So we stayed at The Bridge and sampled the local Beers, Buttermere Blonde, Whistling Pig Pilsner and Mowdy Pale Ale being our favourites.

Here we met Josh and his partner Lottie. Josh would be racing in a mixed team on Saturday and Lottie was there to cheer them on. Me and Josh bonded over our matching Red Bull Steeplechase hoodies whilst Tom looked on enviously despite calling us “Steeplechase Wankers” in his head.

This was a perfect way to keep the pre-race excitement at a manageable level. Its always good to remind yourself that we do this for fun. We’re not professionals, we take well earned holiday from our jobs, never take yourself too seriously.

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With this in mind, we headed back to the hostel and sat outside with a can of beer each. It was 11pm and the fells were still silhouetted against the sky. We could hear the waterfalls and streams and as the temperature started to drop we remembered we didn’t have coats and we should probably head inside and get some sleep.

After a terrible night’s sleep due to the creaking bunk beds that Tom was too tall for, we were greeted in the morning by our room-mates Haemish and Fredrik. Turns out they raced the event last year so we were keen to get some tips. Unfortunately, it also turned out they came last so we decided to ignore all their advice anyway. The fact they’d decided to return to face their demons was a sign that this was going to be a good day.

8:00am: we went downstairs for breakfast, nothing new on raceday is the usual approach isn’t it? Not today, hash browns, sausage, egg and toast please. With a nice steaming hot mug of coffee to wash it down. We still had plenty of time before the 10am race-start and we were going to be out there for a long time, so we thought it best to eat well.

Tom declared “Why stand when you can sit? Why sit when you can lie down?” and with that, we went back to our room for a lie down. People were already milling around in wetsuits with 2 hours to go. Maybe it was like heat acclimatisation?

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9:30am: Time to get our kit on, I stuffed my wetsuit pockets with 6 GU Peanut Butter gels, shoved my sealed bandage up my right sleeve, and pulled my socks up over the cut-off bits of wetsuit legs that I’d saved. Then we sat back on our beds and drank some more electrolyte drinks.

9:50am: Pre-race Gel time. The best gels I’ve ever tasted. If ever there’s a disaster where there’s a food shortage, I’ll happily live on these! We head down the stairs and outside to join the neoprene charged atmosphere outside.

9:55am: Nervous faces all around. Everyone’s cracking jokes. Tom’s psyching the opposition out by doing swim-warm-ups. There’s music playing. Swim hats are making everyone look surprised.

9:59am: We didn’t want to get stuck in the bottlenecks in the first 600m run so we’d lined up at the front. People were eyeing us up. We probably looked serious. Guns’n’Roses came on over the loudspeakers.

10:00am

THE RACE

As Axl Rose’s voice screamed out “Welcome To the Jungle…” Ben opened the gate and we were off, athletes at the back were all a bit bemused as they were busy dancing but the sentiment wasn’t lost on us at the front.

START

We kept up with the other teams along the metalled road before a sharp turn took us through a series of gates and towards the first lake. We jumped a fence next to one gate, adrenaline surging and impatience getting the better of us.
600m down to the first shoreline swim along Buttermere and we were well placed going into the water. Unfortunately, the water was bloody freezing and it completely took my breath away. I splashed water over my face but as I submerged myself I could feel my body going into panic mode. I kept my head up for a few strokes whilst the water got inside my wetsuit and helped to insulate me and I finally got into an uncomfortable rhythm. The field wasn’t well balanced at this point and there were some strong swimmers surging through the water with hand paddles. Tom kept catching the wake of other swimmers and would fly off leaving me in no-mans land, I was having to work really hard to try and get close. We quickly learned that the swim sections were going to be more about keeping me on Toms toes, rather than trying to latch onto teams with hand-paddles.
The water was crystal clear, it was like an underwater scene from a film.

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We climbed out after 600m and started running, I think we picked up a couple of places but we kept ourselves in check, reminding ourselves that this was going to be a long day. The 2nd swim was on us, this time across Crummock Water, the wind had picked up quite strongly and the water was actually quite choppy. Tom sighted us upwind slightly so we could get an easier swim in to the shore. I took a few mouthfuls of water when I got hit by the swells but it was so clean you could swallow it without adverse effects. Halfway across the lake, we found ourselves scrabbling over some rocks with some bemusement, it must have looked like we were walking on water from the waters edge!
This was another 600m swim and by the end of it I was starting to worry that I wasn’t strong enough in the water to complete the course. Enough with the negative thoughts though, they would return later but this was too early in the day. We hauled ourselves up the shore, swimming right up until we were less than knee deep, no point dragging legs through deep water.

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Next stage was a 5.7k run with just shy of 200m climb. We were reduced to walking quite quickly, hands pushing off knees, calf muscles on fire. The hill turned into a rocky staircase hewn out of the mountain itself and we dragged ourselves up, pausing only to see the lake we’d just swam in far below us and a steady stream of swimmers still making their way across.
We reached the summit and took a slight wrong turn which meant scrambling over some rocks to get back on track, sheer drops down to our right kept us focussed as we got ourselves back on safer ground. Tom saw someone go head-first over a ridge further ahead, scrabbling on the rocks with terror in her eyes as her hand-paddles slid over the surface. Someone grabbed her by the legs and pulled her back up. A quick lesson there in concentration and course respect, we need to be careful.

With each run section, any climbing would mean an equal descent to get back to the water. I overcooked it twice on this descent much to Tom’s amusement.  The first time in slow motion, clipping an earth mound with my foot and then my ankle before crashing down into the Bracken. The second time, the trail took a turn and I didn’t, within an instant I was on the floor. Tom was in bits.

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Without further incidents we made it down to the first checkpoint and we entered the 3rd swim. This was one of the two longest 1k efforts. Tom made a terrible entry into the water and ended up falling backwards over a submerged rock. This played into our hands though as it meant we latched onto a group. We stayed with them making great progress through the water until the guy Tom was drafting got dropped. In an effort to pull us back to the group I couldn’t handle the pace so we resigned ourselves to finishing this swim on our own. This was my favourite swim section, crystal clear again, several degrees warmer than Lake Buttermere and one of the big ones over before I’d even got chance to think about it too much. We got quite confused at one point as a torrential downpour came out of nowhere. Breathe to the left and it was fine, 3 strokes later, breathe to the right and it was Armageddon. Fortunately, it was over almost as quickly as it had started.

SWIM

Great support getting out of the swim section again, in fact, all around the course there were walkers, hikers, helpers, locals and they all gave encouragement. We must have surprised a few of them running round in wetsuits though! Proper food at the checkpoints too, cake, maltloaf, crisps. I stuck to a routine of water, coke, banana, then leave with a few jelly babies.

The longest run of the course (12.8k) was fairly easy, a bit of up, a bit of down and a couple of tricky navigational patches but we kept it ticking over nicely. We both run lots of trails so it was perfect for us.

By the time we got back down to the next swim, it was pretty rough weather again. There was a bit of chop on Crummock Water and the swim exit 800m away looked a long way off.
This was a tough swim, in my head I thought it was one of the 1k swims which didn’t help. One of the kayakers asked if we were OK at one point, probably because Tom had to keep stopping to let me get back on his feet. I was starting to wonder how bad the weather would have to get before they started thinking about cutting the course short.

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Once we got out here we were into a series of short runs and short swims which everyone had been looking forward to.  2.1 run, 0.4 swim, 1.2 run and as we came off the path to enter the 6th swim (0.5k) Tom got trapped hip deep in a bog. This time it was my turn to laugh as a marshall came over to help us get him out with his shoes still on his feet. At least we were still in good spirits!

Out of this swim and it was on to the last big one. The series of short swims/runs had brought my core temp right down. I hit a low point and I mentioned to Tom that I was really starting to feel the cold. He told me I wasn’t, that it was probably just my body crossing over to fat burning after using all its carb stores. He tried to cheer me up by singing “A message to you, Rudy” but changing Rudy to Marchy. It nearly worked. This was almost fun.

As we were about to enter the last big swim the marshalls were asking me if I was OK, they said I looked cold. Tom meanwhile was playing with a dog. We were told to sight off the big white building above the shore. The Daelgarth hotel. This seemed fine to me, it was big so it looked close. Tom realised that I was being tricked by the whole perspective/far away thing but thought it best to let me believe it was quite a short swim.

As we entered the water, one of the dogs came with us, I was tempted to give it my race vest and run round to meet them on the other side. I asked Tom to keep it as slow as he could and that if I wasn’t tapping his feet he was going too quick.

During this swim, I took a breath to the left and I’m convinced that I saw an Osprey swoop down to catch a fish about 50m away from us. It was a fleeting glance, and I was concentrating on staying as close to Tom as possible so I might have imagined it.

We made it to the other side, Toms swimming had been straight as an arrow again, as it had been all day and we walked up the shore. I felt bad for holding us up in the swims. Every time Tom took a stroke, he moved 2 meters ahead, it was unreal.

There was a check point here, the final one before the climb up Dale Head to the infamous Honister Pass. I tried to drink some coke, I tried to eat some cake, I tried to eat some jelly babies and I tried to eat a piece of Kendal mint cake. I say tried a lot here as my body wasn’t working. I was Hypothermic. I started violently shaking and I couldn’t move my jaw properly. Tom saw how bad I was and admits he was pretty concerned at this point. We started walking towards the Dale Head climb and took on another GU gel. Someone passed us at this point and said to their team-mate “‘kin hell, that guy’s blue!!”

The sun came out a little bit which I was hugely grateful for, and the trail was getting steeper by the second. My core temperature started coming up and I was feeling much better, we gel’d up again and used the fence posts to pull ourselves up the climb.

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The view back down to Lake Buttermere was stunning, and as the climb started to level out a bit we could see that we were only half way up. The winds started picking up as we got closer to the ridge, it was a struggle to stay on your feet at times and as we got closer to the top the sky started to fall on us.

We’d formed a little group with some teams from in front and behind us at this point and it was reassuring to know there were other people around. Visibility had dropped to less than 10m and we were being whipped with hailstones. It must have been at least 10° colder up here. We’d already put our swim hats back on for warmth and we were really concentrating on locating the arrow markers. The briefing had said that if we were likely to get lost on course, it would be here.

After a couple of false summits, we reached the Cairn that had been mentioned in the safety briefing and we knew we had to head south from there down to the quarry. A steep descent followed, sometimes runnable, sometimes not. Technical in places and at other times, just easier to rest your quads and walk.

We spotted a tent at the bottom and the marshals were waving madly at us, this was the final checkpoint I think. Tom was ready to power through, he’d had enough calories and just needed some water. I grabbed a banana and we left at a run as a French team arrived.

We had made good ground on this section, it was hard work, and scary in places. The weather had thrown everything at us but we knew that it was all downhill to the end now. The next 4 or 5k were along a Tarmac road,  the Honister Pass. Amazing on a bike I’d imagine, but hard on the quads at this moment in time.

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Cars along here were all waving and cheering, even rattling cowbells for us. We were sure that the French team were going to come past us any minute now but they never did. This was a 10k section and it must have taken us 90 minutes at least. I was actually looking forward to getting back in the water!

We hit the final swim, 400m. Tom sighting it perfectly, me struggling on behind. I wasn’t able to even kick slightly any more. Relying on my feeble arms and shoulders to produce all my power. As I approached the final landing bay my body had nothing left. Tom waded back into the water and we showed the marshals and spectators exactly what the Swimrun team ethic is all about.

1.8km left to run. And that would be it. All over. I felt sad! I can’t remember if it was raining. We didn’t have coats. We were grinning like idiots. The final trail run alongside Buttemere was beautiful. It felt like we were flying, In fact, Tom was. He tried to style it out with a commando roll and he still thinks it looked cool.

The path entered a rocky tunnel, it was pitch black and we were shouting and whooping. There was a troll in there, facing the wall and swaying. I was terrified. It was like that bit in that Will Smith film, I Am Legend. (Turns out it was just an old man with his wife and we must have scared the shit out of him as we steamed through shouting our heads off)

A moment later we were rounding the final corner, the Youth hostel was in sight. The Breca flags that marked the finish line were flapping in the wind and cheers went up as we came into the driveway. We gave each other Bro-hugs and Ben came over with beers for us!

Seven hours and eight minutes it had taken us. And we finished in 15th place.

NMB

Post race

We hung around outside to cheer in the next couple of teams before heading in to get warm and dry. We still didn’t have coats.

I was shaking again and desperately needed some proper clothes on. We hung up our wetsuits and shoes in the drying room and hit the showers and free massage tables.

We swapped stories with other teams as we waited for dinner, still cheering finishers in from the dining room. Everyone was buzzing about how much fun they’d had, no one asked about times, it wasn’t important. We cracked on with the beers and devoured the Sausage and mash when it came out. The crumble and custard for pudding was most welcome too.

The biggest cheer of the day came when the final team crossed the line almost 11 hours after the start. That’s a long time to be out on that course and I know I couldn’t have kept up that effort for that long. Chapeau! The kitchen had kept back some plates of food for them when they arrived too, nice touch and desperately needed, they didn’t even remove their wetsuits!

After dinner we went to the pub again to reflect on an amazing event. Spectacular scenery. Great encouragement and support. Well organised and really looked after in the water. Without a doubt, the best event I’ve ever done.

The thing that really made it special, was that you had a teammate all the way through it. Someone to encourage you when you felt low. Someone to help you up when you fall. An extra pair of eyes to make sure we both took everything in from the experience. And someone to distract the marshals whilst their teammate tries to stop looking so dead.

US

I experienced amazing highs during the race, and at other times felt terrible, but never once wanted to pull out. I’ve never run that far before, and never swam that far either. I verged on cramps in every muscle from the hips downwards at some point in the race but somehow pulled through it.

And now, sitting in my living room 3 nights later writing this, my legs still feel battered but I’m still buzzing. In fact, I’m still wearing my Breca finishers T shirt. I’m already hoping we can do it again next year, and that we can take a crew of club mates with us.

Thank you Breca Swimrun for this race, it’s a truly wonderful thing.

if you’ve read this far, thanks, I urge you to sign up next year, it’s incredible. Let me know if you’re tempted.

If you have any questions, fire away and I’ll do my best to help.

Thanks go to:

Ben de Rivaz for setting up this event.

Bens family and friends for their involvement in making it work.

All the marshals, water safety kayaks, aid stations and list-tickers and everyone who kept us safe.

All the supporters, and hikers who gave us encouragement. Special mention to our new friend Lottie from the pub here!

Everyone at YHA Buttermere who made our stay simple and comfortable.

Linnea at Gococo socks for the best socks in the world

Want to read more reviews from Breca Swimrun?

https://glenntait.co.uk
http://thetriathletesguidetothegalaxy.blogspot.co.uk
http://www.jonathanalbon.com
http://www.greenlightpt.co.uk

 

XZC

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TRE

 

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Race Report – Three Forts Half Marathon

The Three Forts Half Marathon

Pre-race

I arrived at Hill Barn Playing fields after my normal Sunday morning 0-5k group run. This served as a nice warm-up without taxing the legs too much, although I probably wouldn’t do it if was a serious target race.
The sun was shining and it was warm enough to strip down to race kit nice and early. I went through my normal warm-up routine and enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere around the start-line.
An old family friend of mine, Andy (Wiggy) had come down from the Midlands to run the full, his first marathon and I found him looking nervous amongst the 700 or so people milling around. I reminded him of a 3k fun-run we’d done together, we must have only been about 6 years old. Our Dad’s then went on to do the 5 or 10k race afterwards but we weren’t allowed to do that one. Wiggy didn’t remember any of this and I don’t think it helped settle his nerves!

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Me, Sim and Dom

At 10am the full marathoners were off and the number of people in the field was reduced by half. I had a pre-race chat with Simone and Dom from my Tri Club (Tuff Fitty) and Simon, my wingman from ShoreFit run club. We were all in high spirits and really looking forward to having a nice run on the South Downs.
As we posed for a Tuff Fitty team photo, we suddenly heard the Town Crier ringing his bell and shouting GO! – for a moment we thought we’d missed the start of our race but he was only setting off the Cani-X runners! Phew!

With a few minutes to go, I made my way to the front row of the start line and got ready to go.

Mile 1-2
Another ring of the Town Criers bell and we were off, I found myself part of a group of 4 runners as we made the first climb up Cissbury Ring. 500ft of ascent later and we’d already put quite a gap on the next group.
We rounded the top and went full throttle into the chalky descent around the back. I’d opted for my retired Adidas Adios 2’s for this race as they’ve got nothing left in them for the roads but I thought they’d be OK on dry trails. Some of the chalk paths were baked as hard as concrete and I was kind of wishing I’d gone for something with a bit more cushioning left in them.
I grabbed a cup of water at the first aid station and failed miserably at getting any more than 2 drops into my mouth.

Mile 3
This section is normally pretty quick, I should be going at sub-7min pace along here quite comfortably……only I’m not. The guys in front of me are moving away and I’ve got a crippling pain trying to fold me in half.
I thought it was a stitch at the time, and I blamed/cursed those water drops a few moments earlier. With hindsight, I recognise that the effort I’d put in going up and down the first hill had given me abdominal cramps, it was nothing to do with the water and it wasn’t a stitch. I slowed my pace and as I tried to get control of my body again I was caught by the next group of runners.

Mile 4-7
Uphill…..Uphill…..then a bit more Uphill. Another 500ft upwards. Resulting in fine views from Chanctonbury Ring of both the North and South Downs. Managed to negotiate a couple of cattle grids at the top by running straight over them rather than waste time with the National Trust gates. One of the few benefits of size 12 running shoes.

Mile 8-10
Downhill, in varying degrees. Culminating in a quad-smashing 12% descent. All this sounds wonderful, and it was a great opportunity to get my breath back a bit, but it destroyed my legs just before I hit one of the hardest climbs of the race.

Miles 11-13.1
I was passed here by numerous runners, I muttered a “well-done” and felt like an extra weight had been added to my legs with each one that went by. The last climb up Cissbury ring reduced me to walking, although it was probably more efficient than my running at that point.

The bit that I had been dreading the most was the final downhill section. Its a single track chalk trail that I always avoid in training. Its rutted with a deep uneven groove where the rain drains away and you have to zigzag down it, leaping over the chasm, praying that you don’t turn an ankle. A chap in a yellow vest flew past me with the ease of a mountain goat, I honestly don’t know how he could be so sure-footed here, fair play.

I finally emerged onto the playing field where it all began, ankles intact, and mustered up the strongest finish I could manage. I heard my name being called by the commentator. I could see literally 10’s of people clapping and cheering. I crossed the line in 1:42:24. Not bad. (The winners time was 1:27:xx for an indication of how tough the course is – his marathon PB is 2:46)

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Post Race

The mayor put a medal around my neck and I promptly fell over. The medal wasn’t heavy, it wasn’t like an anvil, I just couldn’t stand up anymore.
I looked over at the massage tent and decided to crawl over and get a post-event rub down whilst there was no queue.
My wife and son came and found me on the table, and then we all went and cheered on some of the finishers until the boy got restless.

Reflections

I wanted to see what my limitations were with this race and to try and get in amongst the leaders. I very quickly found out that I need to do more hill-work, and perhaps some more core-work if I want to put myself near the front here.
I’ll definitely be back to race this one next year and aiming to better my 18th position.
Out of my pre-race goals (see here) I missed both A (Top 3) and B (Top 10), but pleased to not come away injured which was my C goal, should probably make this a general life goal.
I had slight tingling in my feet at the end which I’m attributing to my shoe choice, simply not enough cushioning for hard packed descents. Grip wasn’t an issue though and it was nice to give them a farewell race.

Final word

A great race over a beautiful challenging course, with cheerful marshals, well stocked aid stations and excellent post-race facilities. With under 1000 runners across the 2 events, the organisers still lay on free (charitable donation) massage and all the cakes/pastries you can eat as well as a finishers medal. We were blessed with fine weather this year which made it all the more enjoyable.

Highly Recommended!

medal

Race Report: Splash Point 5k – 18:11

tuffteam
failing to put my arms in the air

Mile 1:
The starter got us underway with an underwhelming “3,2,1…go” and I flew off along the seafront in a desperate bid not to be trampled by all the quicker runners behind me. But where were they all? I had 2 guys in front of me, and my trackmate (wingman) Andy on my right shoulder, matching me stride for stride.
I became aware of another guys footsteps with us, his cadence was quicker and it was putting me off, I zoned out and focussed on my footsteps and breathing.
Split Time: 5:35 (a 1mile PB – Ha! Try holding on to that, muppet)

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No 384 – centre screen, almost false starting.

Mile 2:
Still feeling very comfortable, the 2 guys in front weren’t going anwhere, Andy and Quickfeet were still on my shoulder. I was still wondering where everyone was. Approaching the turnaround point I nearly got taken out by a radio-controlled car, it stopped me from eyeballing the 2 guys ahead as they came back the other way which was a shame. I came to a standstill as I hit the turnaround and launched into the headwind. I was surprised to see that my group had 30m or so on the next runner. I still didn’t know who Quickfeet was but he was hiding right behind me, and I could hear that Andy was starting to struggle. My pace was starting to drop in the wind and I hit Mile 2 in 5:50.

Mile 3.1:
The reassuring presence of my wingman suddenly disappeared as the wind took its toll. And suddenly, Quickfeet came by me, I slotted in straight behind him and took some shelter. He was really strong into the wind and I lasted about a minute before he dropped me. (In hindsight, I should have stayed with him as he never got further than 30m ahead, once he’d made the gap it was too hard to reel it in). And that was pretty much it, a hard slog into a 16mph headwind with no-one for company.
Split: 6:17 + 0:28s

 

The Verdict

A MASSIVE NEW PB: 18:11 – thats an 82s improvement and 4th place Overall. I’m over the moon but also cursing that wind.

1st place for the both the Mens and Womens Team race too. Result.

running
bringing it home in a solitary 4th place

The Hangover 5

The second year running that I’ve done this race and it’s the perfect way to start the new year, embracing the cold, the mud and the puddles together with 500 other runners nursing hangovers or still actually pissed from last nights parties.
No such thing holding me back this year though. (Unlike last year when I was still struggling with walking when the gun went off man shouted go.) Its’s the first race in the West Sussex Fun Run League and so attracts a nice mix of competitive and funrunners.

Tuff Fitty Team pic – From Left to Right in order of most pissed.

I arrived just in time for a team photo but not quite in time for a decent warm up. In fact, by the time I arrived, the unprecedentedly large turnout meant they’d run out of numbers, mine, 535,  was handwritten on torn off notepaper! I took my jacket off and stashed it at the last possible minute and lined up on the front row. Confident? Me?  Not really, but I know how congested the climb gets and I wanted good position. If you get caught too far back it’s impossible to pass and it slows to a walk on the steepest section. Continue reading “The Hangover 5”

2016 Challenge Race

This year my big race was London Marathon, I trained hard for it over the winter, set a new PB and even managed to get my face on the TV highlights.

The year before it was The Red Bull Steeplechase which was absolutely brilliant, a knockout fell race up in the Peak District.

Both these races took a lot of logistical preparation to even get to the start line, a very understanding supportive wife and a fantastic little boy who always goes to bed early enough to enable me to train whilst he’s asleep.

Next year I had my eye on loads of big races but I needed to whittle it down to 1. Thats the agreement I’ve come to with my wife. More than that takes away too much from our time as a family and just isn’t fair in terms of cost. Local races are OK every now and then, usually pretty cheap, done and dusted by mid-morning, family can come to cheer and High-5, and the little one gets to see his Dad & other people doing physical exercise as a normal thing.

So what are my options for 2016. And which one have I chosen?

Well, I was one of those lucky buggers who had a London Marathon YES Magazine drop through my letterbox for the 24th of April! So I’m off to London again right? Well…..erm No. I can’t do it. Since I entered the ballot I signed up on a Sports Massage course, and raceday clashes with the final weekend of the course. At least the decision was made for me with that one.

What about Ironman? Somehow, I had it in my head that I could do an Ironman next year. And after looking at options, I decided on Ironman Wales. Its in September so that would give me the nicest part of the year to do the long bikes and long runs required without having to go out in howling wind and rain on dark evenings. And the bike course looks really challenging too, with a climb that would look at home in the mountain stages of the TdF. Except I don’t really like riding my bike, I mean….I ride to work and back 15 minutes each way every day which is fine apart from the normal struggle with traffic, and I occasionally do 15-17 mile lunchbreak rides, ending up back in the office sweating and hungry. But the thought of sitting in the saddle for 5-6 hours whilst thinking about the marathon run still to come is something I’m still not ready for.
I’m going to have to become much better friends with my bike before that happens.

So what else is there, Man vs Horse? Yep, thats on my bucket list but not quite the challenge I’m looking for. A 50, or a 100 mile Ultra? No chance, not after my recent experience. I’ve learnt that I like to have other people around me, not necessarily to talk to, but just to take my mind of the hard work, and my first experience of Ultra running was quite lonely. I’m not ready for the psychological challenge of that.

A half Ironman then? A natural progression up through the endurance events. Maybe, but not as my main event, maybe I could fit a local non-branded long distance Tri in later in the year, I think the distance would suit me but I want something a bit different.

This year I spotted a handful of SwimRun races making their debuts in the UK, I would have loved to have done one of those but the logistical nightmare of getting up to Loch Ness from the South Coast made it a no go. So imagine my delight when Breca SwimRun was announced in the Lake District.

38 kilometres of running, 6 kilometres of swimming. split between 9 runs and 8 swims. Run in your wetsuit, swim in your shoes. Oh, and 1900m elevation.

SWIMRUNSCENE

The only problem was that you need to enter in teams of two, which meant finding some other loony who was up for a challenge. Some other loony who would be a similar pace to me would be ideal as the rules say you need to stay within 10 metres of each other. Some other loony who didn’t mind trekking however many hundred miles it is to Lake Buttermere (Its 380) to go and do this daft race.

That other loony…..is Tom. I didn’t even need to try and persuade him, he posted a link to the race on facebook asking if anyone was up for it! This was meant to be. I run at the track regularly with Tom and he’s a good target man for me, I know he’s a bit quicker than I am, especially when peaking for a race but I’m getting closer to him all the time. This is the same Tom i just managed to edge out in the Cross-country race last weekend actually so we’re pretty well matched on the run.
In the water he’s like a bloody fish though. I have no idea how I’m going to hang on to him in the swim sections. I should be able to get a big benefit from drafting him through the water but we’ll have to train together a lot to get the pace right on the swim otherwise he’ll leave me for dead in the shallows!

SWIM

So there’s going to be a lot of running over the South Downs over the winter and I’m probably going to do the 3 Forts Marathon as a training run with Tom. That should be good prep for the terrain as well as giving us chance to race long together.

I’ve got loads to work out between now and then. Fundamentals like which wetsuit am I going to get? Do I just cut a wetsuit at the knees and elbows and hope it doesn’t chafe too much. Or do I go specific and get something like the HUUB Amphibia or personal preference, the Zone3 Evolution.

Zone3 Evolution SwimRun Wetsuit
Zone3 Evolution SwimRun Wetsuit

And then there’s the question of shoes. Do I remove them for the swim and tow them along in a drybag? Or stuff them inside the suit? Or drill holes in the bottom for drainage and just swim in them?
And then there’s paddles and pull buoys, from what I’ve heard, if you’re not wearing paddles, you’ve got no chance of being competitive. My shoulders aren’t ready for that at the moment so there’e a lot of swimming to do over the winter. Expect to see me at club sessions with my shoes on as I experiment!

Despite the worries and apprehensions I currently have about this event, I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited when booking a race. The Steeplechase was good, but I think this is going to be even better. I hope the SwimRun genre takes off in the UK, the number of races has doubled between 2015 and 2016 and there’s at least one that’s a bit more accessible to newcomers, a short-course distance at Loch Ness.
I’ll try and keep my blog updated with my journey to the start line so people can learn from my mistakes in future.

If anyone’s got any SwimRun tips for a first-timer, I’d love to read them.

Goodwood 2015

I’d been looking forward to Goodwood this year, especially as my last race (an attempt at the Downslink Ultra) resulted in a DNF when I pulled out at 21 miles.

Goodwood is the first Sussex XC League race of the winter and is a 2 lap undulating course through the woods of the Goodwood estate. Its billed as 5 miles but I think it comes out at just over 4 and a half – leading to some rather flattering times. I came into this race feeling well trained but unable to shake a hamstring problem in my left leg – the same problem which caused my DNF 3 weeks prior.

After meeting my teammates in Tuff City I had a gentle jog of the top field followed by a thorough warm-up whilst the girls races were on. The ground seemed pretty firm, no mud to be seen but soft enough to warrant my Inov-8 X-Talons.

teamtuff

The clock ticked over to 2:30 and we made our way to the start line, as we got into position I spotted a chap from Worthing Striders who ALWAYS beats me by a couple of places, “you’re my target” I told him. He looked at me, totally bemused, he has no idea of the mental torment he’s caused me over the past year or so, this time, I was determined to beat him if nothing else. I found out his name (Andy), and lined up directly in front of him to hamper his start. It was either that or trip him from behind.

The gun went off, the watches went beep, and the thunder of feet across the turf sounded like The Grand National on TV. I did my best to relax and not get caught up in the mad rush to the first corner like I usually do. I heard my team-mate James chuckling away as I passed him just before the corner, he’d realised at this point that he’d been less in control of his start than he’d planned and something was definitely awry if he was ahead of me & Tom!

lap1

Andy from Striders eased past me as we dropped into the woods but I stuck to my race plan, of taking the first lap steady and trying to do even or even negative splits. Teammate Tom had moved about 50m ahead and I knew he had a similar plan to me, I was also concious that Tom is much quicker than me so if I was reeling him in, I was probably doing it wrong. So I reigned it in a bit on the flat sections, kept my cadence up and my breathing easy, said thank you to the fellow Tuffs cheering us on from the sidelines. I’d noticed that I was catching Tom on the uphill sections and as I went through the halfway point I drew level with him, we had a quick chat, he was feeling good on the downhills so we ran together for a while at a good pace. As the course dropped into the woods again we overtook people for fun, flanking them on both sides and reducing them to tears (I imagine). I started to gain a few meters as I’d seen my nemesis Andy further ahead and I felt now was a good time to make my move. I tried my best to make it seem like i was barely breathing hard as I went past him and if I’m honest, I felt really good. This was going to plan.

I approached a sharp right which then goes into a steep drop, the fastest point of the course, quite technical and requires quick feet. A Phoenix runner in front of me came to what felt like a complete standstill, I nearly flattened him! I danced round, almost into the trees and managed to squeeze past without shoving him to the ground – downhill running is a real skill, and he either didn’t have it or he was using that section to catch his breath.

lap2

I pushed on and had a strong 4th mile, this was mostly uphill and I opened up 30-40m on Tom at this point, the Phoenix runner I’d gone past a few minutes earlier was clearly better going up as he came back past me with half a mile to go. I hung onto his tail, knowing I’d catch him on the quicker parts of the run-in, I heard some words of encouragement from Phil B on the sidelines and gritted my teeth for the finish. Phoenix and I battled over the last few hundred meters, surging past each other until I finally nailed it on the sprint finish. Turned out this guy was at least 15 years older than me so I can’t call it my proudest moment but I’m pleased to have gone quicker again in my 3rd outing at Goodwood.

My finish time was 31:13 and i finished in 77th place. Almost 30 places higher and 2 minutes quicker than last time. The winner was Chris Zablocki, a 2:18 marathoner who completed the course in 24:00 exactly. This was a new course record and is truly mindblowing speed for a middle of the pack racer like myself.

Finally, Andy from Worthing Striders – if you ever read this, I apologise, its nothing personal, lets race it out again sometime!

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Brooks Sussex XC League – Race 1: Goodwood

Back to Sussex and its time for the Brooks Sussex Cross Country League. The first fixture was on Sunday at Goodwood racecourse. This is my favourite of the four races as it takes in some nice woodland tracks rather than just skirting around fields.

As always, when the gun went, everyone flew off the line in the manner of Usain Bolt. Myself included. This meant that I had a cracking first mile and then faded badly. However, I did manage to achieve the honour of first Tuff home which was cool. And I also set a new PB, smashing almost 2 minutes off my time from 2 years ago, finishing in 32:58.

The quality of the field in these races is impressive; I averaged 7:13 per mile and only finished in 104th place. I’ve got work to do to keep up with some of these guys.

The X-Talons were brilliant for this race, definitely better than my New Balance would have been, and just as good as a spike.

Red Bull Steeplechase 2014

WOW!

Without a doubt – the best (and hardest) race I have ever been a part of.

It’s taken 2 weeks for my legs to forgive me, and I only managed 12 miles of it.

I arrived in Castleton just before 8am, there was frost in the fields and a thick fog in the Hope Valley. I was starting to think I’d brought the wrong kit with me as I only had shorts & a vest. I could see huge green/brown mounds obstructing the horizon ahead of me, and I burst out laughing, on my own. These were real hills. Not like the ones we have in the south. These were the kind of hills you climb, not walk. The realization of what today was going to involve hit me and I knew I was out of my depth here.

I went and signed in and took a walk up the first hill towards Mam Tor – a sign here told me the name Mam Tor means The Problem. (The Problem being its too bloody steep!)

I went through a few warm up drills to loosen my legs up a bit and went and joined the rest of the runners at the start line.

start

The lovely chap with the moustache and the pistol got us underway and off we went. After about 400m of a gradual incline we headed off road and up Mam Tor. This was the part I’d been dreading – half a mile of bear-crawling up a mountain. It didn’t disappoint either. Every time I looked up it looked like we were still to come to the steepest bit. My Inov-8 Xtalon 212’s were brilliant here, not a single slip, they bit into the ground which was a mix of wet grass, loose earth and deep bracken. Worth every penny.

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The air was filled with panting, swearing and heavy breathing and somewhere in the distance I heard the gun go off again which meant the womens race had started.

I arrived at the top and immediately got into a stride, choosing the grass over the wet stone path along the ridge. I was pleased with myself, I thought I’d conquered the hardest part of the course and that from here on in it was going to be easy…..how wrong could I have been.

It was up here somewhere that there was a Brass Band playing, I think they were at the top of another climb that it was impossible to run up, it had stone stairs carved into it that sapped the energy from your legs as you pushed yourself up each giant step.

Somewhere else on the course a lone bugler played the theme from Rocky to help get you across the difficult terrain.

After 4 miles, the first scoreboard appeared. I felt like I’d covered at least twice that distance already but I was happy  to see I was in 126th position. This meant that barring disaster I should make it through the 1st checkpoint in Bamford easily.

Shortly after this the course dropped into the woods and we ran along some of the most beautiful single track trails I’ve ever come across. Concentration was absolutely key, as some of the footing was pretty technical. Loose rocks and uneven ground on fast descents meant that I was pleased to get to the bottom in one piece sometimes.

Red Bull Steeplechase 2014.
That’s me on the left – the scenery was stunning

As we approached Bamford we came alongside Ladybower reservoir which was spectacular, and it made for some particularly interesting running as we crossed narrow bridges and hopped over huge stepping stones.

A mile or so later and I was sailing through the first checkpoint, my eyes tend to water a bit when running so I’m not sure what position I went through in. I saw a drinks station and grabbed a water and a 50/50 redbull/water. This may have been a mistake as I got quite a nasty stitch about 10 minutes after and had to ease right off for a few minutes.

I’d heard that the first stage was by far the hardest and was looking forward to some relief in stage 2. However, the first half was all uphill (and we’re talking between 10 & 30% here) and my lack of training in the last few weeks was beginning to show.

The scoreboard came up and I was in 136th position, with only 125 to get through at the next cutoff in Hope. As I rounded a corner I could see about 20 runners within catching distance going up the next hill and I started to count back thinking I could pick them off.

As we got to the top of the hill I could see the next 2 miles down into Hope, descending down a rocky single track pathway, along a field and a short road but all downhill.

I got through the technical bit just fine, even picked a couple of runners off here, but the downhill got steeper and steeper and my quads got more and more upset with me. At this point I knew I was going no further. My legs were screaming at me to stop and as we hit the road, a marshall told us to keep off the verges and stay on the road. All I wanted to do was run on soft grass, the studs on my shoes were hurting my feet, my quads were on fire and the verge was just sitting there looking all soft and inviting.

definitely not me! eventual race winner Andy Greenleaf here in 2nd place.
definitely not me! eventual race winner Andy Greenleaf here in 2nd place.

I walked a few steps and someone came past me with words of encouragement which was enough to pick me back up. A few minutes later there were spectators cheering us on so I knew we were closing in on the checkpoint. We ran down a couple of streets I nthe village of Hope before bounding up a couple of steps behind a café and under the Red Bull inflatable. The counter was stuck on 126 and there were a few people sat down looking exhausted. I was directed over to the goody bags where I threw on my Hoody and downed some Red Bull.

I was absolutely spent, I could not have run another step. No other race has ever left me feeling like this physically. But boy had I enjoyed it.

We boarded the coach that was waiting for us and made the short drive back to Castleton where a Hero’s lunch was waiting for us at The Castle pub. All the Hog Roast you could eat, all the burgers you could eat, and all the beer/lager/cider you could drink. (Unfortunately I was driving)

But before I made it there I was joined by the man I’d raised money to say thank you to. Ray and part of his family (Caroline, Lucy & Sean) had made the trip up from Birmingham with bottles of fizz, they’d just missed me at the start, but had seen us going up Mam Tor. Then they’d hung around the finish waiting for me to get back. We shared a drink and a chat until I felt human again.

So all in all, I made it through 12 hideously enjoyable miles and raised £1150.01 for cancer research. Not bad.

I hear its not coming back for 2015 but I’ll definitely be back for it in 2016, better trained and aiming for Edale.

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