Saturday, 24 March 2018

Portobello parkrun and beyond.

 It has been one of those weeks.  Weeks where, no matter what you do, nothing quite works out right.  It involves car crashes and insurance companies, database failures at work (the number of time I have had to re-enter the same data is now beyond funny) all added to the madness of the last week of term, a visit from my father in law and a trip to Edinburgh.

The last of these was definitely something to look forward to, but it was not without stress inducing factors of its own.  Husbando had to be there on Thursday, while I was still at school until Friday lunch time.  He pootled off on an aeroplane on Thursday, I followed by train, having begged a lift from school to the nearest train station, on Friday.  My train was delayed, so I didn't get in until nearly 9pm - just enough time for a quick walk up to see the Castle before bed time!

Scottish parkruns start at 9.30am, not 9am - which meant a little bit of a lie in, although Husbando doesn't do lie ins - he was awake from about 5.30am!  We helped our taxi driver find the Figgate Park, using the map from the very excellent Tourist Tool, and got there, a little later than I'd have liked so missed the first timers' briefing.    We did hear the main run brief, so knew to stay on the paths, stay on the left and to be nice to each other.  I really like that last instruction - we could all do well to follow that one, at parkrun and in every other part of our lives!

Figgate Park looked beautiful in the spring sunshine - it must be gorgeous in the summer.  The course is three laps which are narrow enough for much of the time to see runners running in the opposite direction.  There are plenty of friendly marshals to make sure you don't get lost and to offer encouragement!  It is pretty much flat as a pancake and all on tarmac, with a few bridges to run under and over and lots of twists and turns.  Because of the requirement to stay on the path, it took a bit of time to get over the start line, we'd put ourselves with the 26 min runners even though I didn't think for a minute I'd be able to keep up that pace.  

The field soon started to spread out, I wasn't looking at my watch, just enjoying the run, I wasn't being overtaken too much and seemed to keeping up with all those around me, even passing some people.  Husbando ran with me for just over one and a half laps which was lovely, then we went our separate - not ways - paces!  He, in a mad dash for the finish line, managed to miss the finish funnel totally and run straight past it (there were a lot of people standing around there and it was quite confusing - but really!)  With the support of the RD we got around this, because I pointed out that the person in front of me was a funnel ducker, so Husbando took that token and just had a slower time recorded.  Meanwhile  I was still plodding around.  My 250 shirt got a bit of attention, and a lovely chap started talking to me.  Sadly, since being ill, I can't manage talking and running at the same time (actually - some of you are probably quite happy about that!) and my pace dropped off considerably.  I had to apologise and explain that I wasn't being rude, but I just couldn't keep running and hold a conversation.

212 steps to go!
I plodded on to the end.  I didn't miss the finish funnel and was thrilled to record my fastest time in months and months (25.43), still a long way to go, but I wasn't gasping for breath at the end and my legs weren't threatening to never work again, so it is all good!

We tried to come down here..
After getting our barcodes scanned we decided to head back into Edinburgh, so we asked for directions, which we promptly forgot, and set off.  Our intention was to have a nice gentle run, but with all the stopping for directions and the hills that wasn't really what happened.  You can see a little video if you click this link.  We'd definitely have been better off in trail shoes, and knowing where we were going would have been helpful.   The views were worth the effort though.  212 steps didn't take us anywhere near to the top, but as we'd come so far we had to carry on (and on!)  The steep side we went up was deserted - it was quite a shock to get to the top and see scores of people at the top of Arthur's Seat.  I think we totalled about 7 miles 'running' this morning!  To be fair, the last 4 miles involved quite a lot of walking and clambering up steep bits - it would have been far more sensible to follow a path - and stopping to ask directions, but it was fun and the Sun was shining!
The sensible path down.

Crazy, uneven 'steps!'
Huge thanks to all the volunteers at Portobello parkrun  - a really pretty parkrun and you made us feel very welcome.  Hopefully we will be back again one day.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Hogmoor Inclosure parkrun

I've been to Hogmore Inclosure before for On The Whistle's Batty Bimble, but this morning was the first time I visited to parkrun.  This very new parkrun (second event today) had asked of a low key start, without too many inaugural chasers.  I was happy to oblige, not only because I was busy elsewhere but also because I was slightly scared by the memories of running through snow melt and sandy slurry.  As this morning approached I knew I couldn't wimp out as we had arranged to meet a friend there and I comforted myself that it hadn't snowed recently and that the route wouldn't be exactly the same.

We woke up to snow.  Great.  Too late to change plans so we threw a few extra layers of clothes in the car and off we went.  Parking at the Hogmoor Inclosure is plentiful and we arrived in good time to meet you with our friend and so many other parkrun friends, some of whom I haven't seen for ages!  Lots of hugs all round.  I hope that those new to parkrun make as many friends through their regular Saturday morning run as I have.

Being good parkrunners, we listened to the first timers' briefing and then to the run director's pre-run brief.  I admit to using my teacher voice in order to ask people to be quiet as there was quite a bit of chatter - sorry if I deafened anyone standing close to me.  I know what it is like to try to talk to a group of people who aren't listening - not fun!

The start of this parkrun is probably the muddiest start to any parkrun I have done.  It is a nice wide start though, so we got off to a speedy, if slidey, start.  The course is two laps with no tarmac at all.  Thankfully the sandy slurry from the Batty Bimble had dried to a good, solid surface, and I managed to keep my feet fairly dry by avoiding some monstrous puddles.  It is all trail, gently undulating, but I suspect that the sand will cause it to be quite challenging in the summer.

Husbando, who had taken an important 'phone call at the start line, caught me up early in the second lap and we ran together for the remainder of the run.  The cold air and the dampness, it was snowing by now, are hard on my poorly chest.  I can talk or run, but not both - so it was nice and easy on his ears today!  Sadly I can't even run that well.

At the end I was so busy admiring the new style finish tokens that I handed my son's barcode to be scanned rather than my own!  Oops!  He was safely tucked up in bed when we left home.  Hopefully the event team can sort this out.  I guess this was always going to happen as I have 7 barcodes in my pocket at anyone time.

Sadly the coffee van wasn't in attendance today, and the weather was so cold I doubt that many people would have hung around (although the marshals may well have appreciated a cup of coffee to warm their hands on), so we didn't hang around at the end.  We will be back though, if only to have a play on the fabulous play equipment.

Huge thanks to all the volunteers, especially those who stood around in the cold today.

Sunday, 11 March 2018

More mud than Bovington! And we got to do it twice!

I'm not sure whose bright idea this weekend was!  Our plans were certainly formulated before I got ill , when the idea of running 22+ miles in one day seemed like child's play.  In the past I have run the 20 mile and the marathon events at Larmer Tree Gardens.  Both these events have beautiful medals, but every time I saw someone showing off their half marathon medal I had been just a tad jealous - it is the nicest of the lot as far as I am concerned.  I'd also heard a rumour that White Star Running are revamping the Larmer medals for next year, so if I wanted to get my hands on a half marathon medal it was now or never.   

And then a Dark Larmer race was announced.  How could I say no?  We'd be down in the area already, we'd had lovely weather for the last few years, so it would be pleasant to spend an afternoon wandering around the gardens and spotting peacocks.  And it was only 8 miles..... We signed up.  

Last weekend brought snow, this weekend was supposed to be mild.  And then to forecast changed to say that it was going to rain.  Lovely.  We decided to take two cars down with us, so that we could have some flexibility.  We had one runner who definitely wanted to come home, one who was uncertain and me.  I was pretty sure I was going to stay.    As I drove down I kept thinking I could see patches of blue sky - but that was just the shading at the top of the windscreen of the car.  It was grey and ever so slightly damp.  I parked the car in a field, worrying a little about the sogginess of the grass as the car next to me slid to a stop next to me.  I collected my race numbers, did a bit of retail therapy - who can resist a bag that says 'I love willies' on it?  

I bumped into a couple of friends running the 10 mile race, saw the start of the dogs' race (you had to have a dog to run with to enter that one) and the 10 mile race, had a cup of tea, avoided the portaloos and waited for the start.  The beginning of the route is different to the marathon, but I swear that Andy has managed to fit all the hills from the marathon into the half!  Pretty soon the weather went from 'threatening to rain' to 'raining!'  The ground was soft anyway from the melting snow, the addition of rain and hundreds of runners made it into a mud bath!  Running downhill was impossible in lots of sections - mincing was the order of the day, and even then I was nearly taken out by a runner who slipped behind me and grabbed me with a flaying arm as he tumbled to the ground!    

I'm still struggling with breathing, especially when the air is cold and damp, so I knew I had to take it easy.  I also knew I had to save something for the last mile - which is all uphill but thankfully on a fairly made up section of track.  I overtook loads of people in this last mile by just plodding along and refusing to walk.  I like to think I managed a sprint finish - but although it was marginally faster than my previous pace I probably looked like a zombie!  
The finish area lacked the atmosphere of previous years.  Strangely, runners and supporters were not hanging around in the rain and wind (such a cold wind that always seemed to be blowing in our faces) to cheer other runners over the line.  I was no exception - I went straight back to the car to change into dry clothes before meeting my friends for some food.  There was no goody bag with this race we got a voucher for food instead.  I had a lovely macaroni cheese.  

In the end, two of us decided to stay for the evening's 'fun!'  We decided we needed to find somewhere we could sit in the warm, get something to eat (if we felt like it) and drink and that had proper toilets.  The nearest McDonalds seemed like the best bet as, even after changing into clean clothes, neither of us looked terribly respectable! The nearest McDs was actually quite a long drive away along Dorset's country lanes but the car was warm and driving is easier than running!

We got back to Larmer Tree Gardens in good time and were told to park on tarmac this time.  The weather seemed to be more favourable now - the Sun was going down, but we could see it at last!  Off we went, ground that had been muddy in the morning was even more muddy now!  As it got dark a mist rolled it - reflecting light off the beams of our head torches so that it looked like we were running into cotton wool.  We went up some hills, slid down some hills, laughed and joked about the madness that is a White Star event.  At the race briefing, Andy said we looked like 'A shit fetish party!'  Fairy lights, tutus and peacock feathers were everywhere!  The Love Station was much more fun in the dark than it had been in the pissing rain earlier in the day - people had a bit of a break, maybe a small beer to wash down the snacks before heading on out into the mud.  

It was just after the Love Station that I remembered why I don't wear my Salomon SpeedCross trainers very often.  I can't get them to fasten tightly enough around my ankles.  They felt as though they were going to be pulled off by the mud even when I was walking, more mincing through the mud was required to ensure I finished this section without losing a shoe, my dignity or both!

The last two miles were the same as the last two miles of the half.  With the pungent smell of wild garlic in my nostrils I caught up with, and overtook, the same couple I had caught up and overtaken at a similar point in the morning!  The finish was much more lively this time - the weather was better and fairy lights make everything nicer!  I collected my medal and a hug, followed by biscuits and a beer and headed off to the car for the journey home.  

Huge thanks to Andy and all the WSR team for another excellent event.  I hope the marathoners and twenty milers had a great time today too.   

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Batty Bimble

It has been a week of cancelations.  The Bath Half was a casualty of the 'Beast From The East' as were several local races and over 400 parkruns.  I was lucky that Basingstoke parkrun went ahead on a novel route, but I was worried that On The Whistle's Batty Bimble would fall foul of the weather.  I had no knowledge of the route, on Bordon's Hogmore Inclosure - a former tank training ground - so no real idea of how the weather would have affected the ground.  The thaw began yesterday and, by this morning, there was very little snow left.  I nearly didn't make it to the start line as our garden path was covered with a sheet of clear ice!  

Safely at the start line, we looked at the ground.  Mud!  And lots of it.  We collected our race numbers, chatted to people we knew and listened to the race briefing.  I have run a couple of 10 mile runs in the last two weeks, so I was fairly confident that a half marathon would be fine.  Four laps would be child's play.  I had no desire to do any more than that.  Of we set - a downhill start and it was slightly muddy underfoot, but we were soon on a fairly good trail path through the woods - if it was all like this it was going to be easy.  It lasted less than half a mile before reverting to sandy paths covered with a thin layer of rapidly melting snow, a thin layer of rapidly melting snow that I feel I should add was up hill in places!  Not hugely uphill - but with the sand underfoot it was energy sapping work.  

I ran the first lap with a lovely friend - I've run with him at a couple of event, but we were going a little too fast for my recovering body and sub par lungs!  Walking and talking is a huge challenge at the moment, I have to admit that I was quite shocked by how hard I was finding this route.  The Sun tried to shine on our first lap - which was pleasant and resulted in shedding of layers, something to be regretted when the sky clouded over and the wind got up a bit!  The route was 'out and back with a small loop at the end' - which was great because it meant you got to see people several times each lap.  One little lad who was spectating saw me on my 4th lap and shouted 'I've seen you a hundred times!' which made me laugh - sadly the race director wouldn't accept this as evidence of completion of a huge number of laps. 
With the passing of laps, the remaining ice melted more, feet churned up the ground and it was a little like running through a thick, cold soup!  The conditions underfoot were possibly the most challenging I have run through, there were just so many different types of shoe grabbing, slippery, slidey slurry and sand to run though that I felt I was constantly having to concentrate on what I was doing.  There were a few bits of dry sand - but that just stuck to the mud on my shoes and added a bit more mass and removed a bit of grip!    After the first lap I decided to take it easy.  Run a bit, walk a bit, stop for a chat with anyone I fancied a chat with - try and spot some bats (they live in specially constructed structures on the Inclosure) and, er, enjoy the morning!  

The aid station was well stocked and it was pleasing to see so many people bring their own water bottles and cups with them in an effort to reduce the amount of plastic that would need to be disposed of afterwards.  Less pleasing was some of the litter on the route - not from runners, unless they are drinking cans of Stella while running (and in which case it is most unsporting of them not to share) or running with invisible dogs while leaving very visible dog poo bags in the middle of the path.  I didn't see any runner related litter (gels, water bottles etc.) at all.  

I stopped after four laps.  I had plenty of time to carry on and do a few more, but 13.1 miles is my longest run this year so far, and I wanted to stop while I was still, just about, enjoying myself!  I ran up the last slope and rang the bell - almost skidding as I came to a halt. I collected my medal, put on some warm layers and chatted while I waited for my friend to finish.  
Excellent organisation - as ever - from On The Whistle, and a chance to be the first organised even in the Hogmore Inclosure!  I shall look forward to coming back when parkrun starts here (is starts next Saturday, but I won't be able to make it for the first couple of weeks).  It might be drier under foot then too!  
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