Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Autumn Running - I Love It!

As our permanent move across the Pond gets closer, things are starting to get sorted much more quickly than anticipated, and although my training had been going well, it has inevitably suffered somewhat the past couple of weeks. A trip to Canada for a “meet and greet, look and see” visit a week or so ago, and then the strike of the dreaded lurgy resulting in a chest infection and snotty nose, has meant that it’s been a bit of struggle to get any decent running in at all.

Our trip to Canada was amazing and we felt so at home for the few days we were over there that it certainly felt like we are doing the right thing. I even managed to get out for a few runs whilst over there and unlike some places in good old Blighty, I didn’t feel out of place or experience any heckling or abuse whatsoever.

Just before heading back to the UK, I came down with a really bad chest which made the 8 ½ hour flight back home even more uncomfortable. I missed a few days running, and when I did get out for a run, my breathing was appalling.

But being a runner makes you do stupid things, so when my good friend Julia Race asked if I fancied a run at the weekend, I suggested that we run the Flying Fox 10 mile road race. I had no intention of racing it, so offered to keep Julia company and just have a leisurely jog round.

Race day came, and it was a beautiful autumn morning – clear blue skies, gorgeous sunshine, and barely a breath of wind. I was actually looking forward to the run, especially with it being on country lanes, but Julia was actually quite nervous with not racing for ages, plus she was also suffering with a chest infection.

It was a good crowd that turned up for the race, and I didn’t realise how many fantastic people I actually know on the local racing scene. It was great to see everybody with not doing so many local races this year, but also a little saddening as I knew that this would likely be the last road race I do in the UK for a while and I wouldn’t have the pleasure of racing against these folks next year.

The race route is more undulating than hilly, and Julia and I had a good natter on the way round, although at half way we were both struggling with our breathing which soon shut us up. I was feeling quite good otherwise, and it was such a shame that I couldn’t have raced properly. We were knocking out 8 minute miles which is somewhat slower than what I’m used to, but it was great to be able to have a chat with the other runners around us and have a bit of banter – something that isn’t quite as common at the front end of the field!

Too busy nattering rather than racing!
We finished in a little under 82 minutes, the run made more worthwhile for Julia as she got a bottle of wine as a spot prize which certainly went down well!

Talking about runners doing crazy things, I had a text off another good friend on Monday, asking if I fancied doing a night time run around Hanchurch Woods. This time it was Kate Bailey – a superb Moorlands runner who has had great success on the fells and trails, and who I got to know much better when she ran for England at the Commonwealth Trail Championships in Anglesey back in September.

We met at 6.15pm at the woodcutters lodge and not surprisingly it was dark – not just dark, but pitch black. No street lights, no lights from nearby houses, no moonlight – nothing. We had our head torches, but even they didn’t seem quite bright enough for us to find our way.

I know Hanchurch Woods like the back of my hand when it’s day light, but running in the dark adds a different perspective to things. The fact that I can’t see a damn thing in the dark at the best of times didn’t bode well and I guessed that at some point in the next hour or so, I was going to find myself tumbling to the ground like a sack of spuds.

We decided to follow the perimeter of the woods as we knew this was approximately 6 miles of undulating trails, and as Kate had to head off for a meeting afterwards, we were on a time limit.

The woods were deserted except for the wildlife, and whilst we didn’t actually see anything roaming around, we heard the odd crack of a twig and birds flapping about in the trees. It was weird running along with just the shadow of a head torch, and it made it difficult spotting tree roots and stumps in the dark. It was also muddy underfoot in places so it was quite heavy going. We certainly found ourselves ankle deep in mud a few times, although I did find myself covered from head to toe in mud having fallen over a tree stump, gashing my hand in the process.

I absolutely loved the run, and it was great to be in such pleasant company once again for a thoroughly enjoyable run on the trails in the dark. It certainly beat running around the City streets again where I’m usually deafened by the noise of the traffic and then have to do battle with cars when trying to cross a road. Hopefully we’ll get more of our moonlight runs in before I leave the UK – maybe I’ll organise a midnight run around Hanchurch for my leaving do, followed by a few tinnies in a tent somewhere!

So what’s next on the agenda? I’ve got a few cross country races coming up, plus a couple of fell races, and I’m also hoping to do the local Apedale 10k Multi-Terrain race and the Roaches Christmas Cracker. I love this time of year, and love being in the outdoors, so am really looking forward to the next few weeks, regardless of how the training goes.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Mud, Mud, Glorious Mud...!!

What a difference a couple of weeks can make. At the end of September, I had what can only be described as a very poor run at the Commonwealth Trail Champs and in hindsight, it is easy for me personally to see why it happened. I certainly won’t bore anybody with the details, but putting it simply, it was the wrong race at the wrong time.

A day or so after the race, we had the news that we had been waiting for for the past 10 years or so – Andy had been offered a job over in Calgary, and our lifetime dream of escaping from the UK was about to come true. Thoughts of a fresh start in a new country, with the fresh air and mountain trails just an hour or so drive from our new home, released a new positivity in me with regards to my running.

Two weeks after the trail race, and it was the first race in the North Staffs Cross County League. Despite not having trained specifically for short races and having a distinct lack of speed in the legs, I was now looking forward to the race, and I knew that whilst I certainly wouldn’t win it, I would have a good run. It was also my first proper race as one of the “Pink Ladies” of the Staffordshire Moorlands and I desperately wanted to run well for team.

I’d never done the Winsford course before and when I arrived, it certainly didn’t look like a “proper” cross country course. It was extremely flat and signs of anything resembling mud were scarce - straight away I could see that it would be a fast race more suitable to those that do regular speed work!  

In all fairness, I didn’t do too bad and finished 14th in around about 21 minutes – an average pace of just under 6.30 miling which is something I hadn’t done for ages. I felt strong all the way round and knew that with some decent speed sessions over the next few weeks, I might actually get back some of the strength and pace I had a couple of years ago.

The Moorlands ladies did extremely well and finished 2nd team on the day, just 9 points behind my old club Trentham which will certainly make things more interesting in the team competition over the next few races.

For somebody that used to dislike hills and mud, I was somewhat disappointed at how easy the course was at Winsford, so when a friend of mine asked if I fancied a fell race the following day, there was no hesitation in saying yes. This would guarantee hills, it was likely to be muddy, and it also meant that I would be able to say I had finally done a proper FRA graded fell race – after all, that’s why I joined the Moorlands!

The Windgather Fell Race is approximately 13 ½ miles with climbs of just over 2,000 feet. It starts in Buxton, and whilst it says that navigation skills are required, I was lucky in that I know the area very well, with the course skirting the Goyt Valley and taking in Pyms Chair and Shining Tor. What I wasn’t used to was carrying my own kit – a whistle, a map, and waterproof/windproof body cover – but then I guess with all the road running over the years, I was turning into a wimpy road runner! These days though, I prefer more of a challenge, something to take me out of my comfort zone, and once again I was extremely excited about the race.

Starting on the road, the first section was very fast, so much so that it took me a little by surprise, and I ended up quite near the back. A bottle neck at the first stile though meant I gained ground, and once I’d hopped over, the climbing started across quite a boggy and rutted field. The weather was somewhat deceiving as it was quite murky and damp but very warm and I found myself heating up quickly. Underfoot, it was slippery mud or very rocky and I found myself slipping and sliding all over the place, and a couple of times almost toppled over but just about managed to keep my balance before I embarrassed myself. I was loving it! I wasn’t particularly fast – the terrain didn’t allow for that – but the whole experience of running wild and free across the open moor was most exhilarating and I loved it. I lacked the technique of the accustomed fell runners around me, but I was holding my own and wasn’t doing too bad.

Having headed around the reservoirs, we then started the climb up over the ridge towards Pyms Chair and Shining Tor. It was quite exposed heading up over the ridge, and the wind was certainly gusting and blowing us all over the place. I usually hate running in the wind, but because times didn’t matter today and I wasn’t obsessed with chasing a PB, I enjoyed the additional effort needed to battle against it. Even the climb wasn’t bothering me, and surprisingly I was overtaking people on the way up.

On reaching the top, the descent down from Shining Tor is quite steep and due to the wet weather, the rocks were slippery and it was impossible to just go for it. Add to that the extremely muddy and boggy sections, and it certainly was just a case of trying to stay upright. It was at this point that I found out I was 7th lady – I was well pleased and determined to stay focused and hold on to my position.
Finishing Windgather Fell Race

A further climb with about 2-3 miles to go brought a small river flowing down the path, the mist was closing in as the rain started to fall quite heavily, and we were still taking a battering from the strong winds. However, I was feeling great and was thoroughly enjoying myself, it was the best I’ve felt in a very long time and I was smiling like a village idiot.

Summiting the hill and heading off into the valley below, I could see the finish line about half a mile away in the field. I overtook a few chaps in the last mile or so, and with about 400 metres to go, I decided to try and catch a man just ahead of me. He turned to see who it was chasing him down, and clearly not wanting some bint beating him, he picked up the pace too – not easy when trying to run through mud. He pipped me to the post, but I’ll have him next time!

I did indeed finish 7th lady in a time of 2 hours 10 mins – a time  good enough to have placed me in the top 3 in previous years, but even so I was happy with the result. I’d like to say a huge thanks to Gareth Briggs for inviting me along – you certainly do choose them! – and thanks also to the other couple of Moorlands guys whose names I’ve forgotten yet again, but you made me feel part of the green and gold team.

So what’s next then? With our plans for emigrating moving along at a rapid pace, I’m taking each day as it comes with my running. At the moment I’m trying to keep mileage low and tempo high, to hopefully regain some speed. I’ve also done hill rep sessions for the past two weeks in the hope that they will improve my strength, and for the first time in a few months, I’m looking forward to the races that I hope to do, emigration plans permitting. One thing I'm certain about though is that Del is on her way back, so watch out ;-)

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Covered in bees.....well, sand anyway!

It’s been a week since I did the Commonwealth Ultra Trail Championships, and now that it’s been and gone, it feels like it was a bit of an anti-climax. I was expecting far more from the event yet I can’t really put my finger on why I feel a bit indifferent about things.

I’d been focused on the Commonwealths since May time, having decided to concentrate on the trails rather than the 100km on the road, and whilst training had been going well, I’ve had a lot on my mind for the past month or so, and I genuinely feel that this had a huge impact on my performance. Add to that a Mediterranean Cruise (where I did put on a little bit of weight – the deserts were divine!), and the fact that I was so busy trying to reassure others about how well they would run, when I stood on the start line last Sunday, I really hadn’t had the opportunity to think about how I would tackle the race!

If you delete my race result, the weekend really was a great success, and I was proud to be a part of it. Watching the 24 hour race was truly amazing, and I’m in complete awe of those athletes that do such events. It was great to witness the amazing Lizzy Hawker setting a new World Best Record for 24 hours and winning the race overall, but it was also great to watch so many familiar faces giving it their all – John Pares who won the men’s title, Jen Salter and Emily Gelder, Matt Giles and Sharon Gayter, Heather Foundling-Hawker, and of course all the other new friends that I made over the weekend.

Unfortunately we missed the mountain races, but it was a clean sweep for the English team, with the other home countries not doing so bad either, and it put the pressure on trail running teams to maintain the standard for England.

Sunday morning dawned, race day, and yet I felt no nerves, no pressure, nothing. I ate my breakfast without any problems, and even managed a couple of rounds of toast – something that is completely unheard of when I have a big race. The rest of the team were quite nervous, and yet I was quite relaxed and still felt nothing. Even driving to the start, I was more excited about running on the trails and having that solitude more so than the competition I would be facing, and I just couldn’t seem to get my head into what I was about to do.

Arriving at the start in Newborough Forest on Anglesey, the surroundings were absolutely beautiful – inviting woodland trails alongside open sandy beaches, and across the sea in the distance, the mountains of the Snowdonia National Park. The location couldn’t have been more perfect, and even the cloudy weather and brisk wind couldn’t dampen things. I just wanted to explore the area, but of course I was here to do a job – to run for England and do my best for the team.

Due to high tide, the race started quite late for an ultra and at 10.45am, a clutch of countries from all over the Commonwealth toed the start line. I had a look around, expecting in excess of a hundred athletes to be standing there, but the field looked much smaller than what the start list had indicated, and I felt a sense of disappointment.

Unlike the majority of the England team, I hadn’t had the opportunity to reccie the course in advance, so was at a disadvantage to some degree about what to expect. I’d heard so many things – steep sandy climbs, a tough course across the beach with a mixture of wet sand and sand dunes, a stretch across the headland that was really exposed – but then I’d also heard that it wasn’t that hilly and that most of it was runable. I just figured that being a 5 lap course of around 55km, I’d soon find out what the course was like and would soon get used to it!

England Ladies Trail Team plus Allen Smalls
 The start was fast, which surprised me somewhat given that I’d heard it was tough course. I started more cautiously as I didn’t want to burn myself out on the first lap, but with such a fast start, it wasn’t long before I was at the rear of the field with just five or so people behind me. I suppose I should have tried to keep in contact with the lead runners, but in all honesty I really couldn’t be bothered, and realised that I was in no mood for a race today, and in fact, was in no mood for anything.

Setting off across the beach for the first time, I was too distracted by the surroundings and whilst it was heavy going running through the sand, I didn’t really notice as I absorbed the views. I’d heard some people saying they hated the section around the headline, but I found it quite dramatic with rocky cliffs and the waves crashing against them. Even the sand dunes were enjoyable and not as hard as I had anticipated, and it wasn’t long before we hit the woodland trails.

Running through the woods, the tracks were still on the sandy side to start with but soon became carpeted in pine needles and resembled the woods back home where I’ve had many enjoyable runs.

Having passed the first feed station and had the usual encouragement from Andy Smith, I started to struggle with my breathing and wondered whether it was a result of the cold I had been trying to fight off all week (my Andy had been quite poorly leading up to the race, and we’d slept in separate rooms to avoid the lurgy!)  By now, I had been passed by a couple of ladies, and I really was at the back of the field. I started to feel quite drained, and then the negative thoughts started which caused me to slow down, and eventually stop completely. I remember sitting on a log in complete isolation feeling completely useless, telling myself I shouldn’t be there, and convincing myself that I needed to drop out of the race as I really wasn’t going to achieve anything. I’ve read so many blogs recently for some far better runners than myself that have DNF’d for one reason or another, and I began to think there was no shame in dropping out if the heart and soul aren’t in the race.

I passed the second feed station, and all the emotion I had been trying to contain suddenly came out. Karen Rushton and her chap Peter are absolute stars and they managed to convince me to keep going. I didn’t want to, but they said all the right things. Although  my mind still wasn’t on the job, physically I was fine and I’d always said that unless it was physical, I wouldn’t drop out of a race.

So on I went, back out across the beach for the second lap. The race continued in a similar format – I got slower, motivation was dwindling the further I went, and I really was just going through the motions. I had encouragement off people but it really didn’t have any impact on how I ran - I just felt extremely negative and lacking in confidence.

The beach section, and in no mood for racing!
By about lap 3, I’d been lapped by the leading men and that really did crush me – I was now 6 miles behind the leaders! – and shortly afterwards, the English chaps came past me. It was so great to see them, and having urged them on, I actually felt more reassured for some reason as I watched them disappear into the distance.

Things weren’t getting any better, and as I was half way round my 4th lap, I was lapped by Emma who was leading the ladies race.   A pat on the back and a “hang in there Del” worked wonders, as I knew that although I wasn’t needed on the team, I didn’t really want to let them down.

At last I started my final lap. The wind had gone incredibly strong by now making the beach section extremely tough. There was sand absolutely everywhere – in my eyes, up my nose, in my ears, in my mouth – it really was uncomfortable, but as the skies clouded over and a few spots of rain started to fall, I started to feel much much better and started to get a spring in my step. I LOVE running in the rain, and even Andy Smith commented on how I’d picked up the pace, probably as a result of the falling rain, and it was only then that I felt like I wanted the race to go on forever.

It was a lonely run coming up to the finish line. All the spectators had gone, the organisers had started to pack away the finish gantry and taped off areas, and even the coaches had moved down to the finish line. It looked like everybody had gone home and completely forgotten that there were still a couple of people out there running. AS I crossed the finish line, there was no well done or congratulations, there were no hugs and tears of joy off me or anybody else, in fact I didn’t even know I’d finished until I said to somebody packing away the tape “Is that it? Is that the finish line?” and he answered yes.

True to her word, Karen and Pete, and their young son Sam were still at the finish along with my Andy and the boys (Wilson and Sam). It was so nice to see them as they really were the only ones left, but had waited for over 5 hours for me to finish.

The good news is that the ladies trail team won team gold, with Emma winning the individual race (told her she would!), whilst the men’s team finished in silver medal position. I was so pleased for them, but personally I was disappointed - I really shouldn’t have kept going as I felt like I had humiliated myself once again with such a poor performance.

Post race party and some of the medal winning England Team - thankfully I  was able to keep smiling!

So now it’s all over, I can honestly say I’m relieved it’s done. I’ve had my confidence knocked again, but I like to think that I’m realistic about how things are going and genuinely think that whilst training had gone well, I don’t feel that it prepared me well enough and gave me the confidence I needed to do well in the race. I also know that I have too many distractions at the moment with lots of planning for the inevitable changes ahead over the coming months, which might explain why my running has for the first time in a long time taken a back seat.

For now though, cross country season starts next week, and I’m also planning my first proper fell race. I’m also going to revisit my training and change things a little, and I know that come the new year, I can refocus again. Things will have settled down by then, and I can start afresh with things – and maybe some of those long distant victories and racing confidence will return!

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Cruising Along....but will it last?

I'm ashamed to say that the title of this particular entry really is quite poor, but couldn't really think of anything else for this brief update.

I've just got back from a 2 week Mediterranean Cruise, and with the Commonwealth Trail Championships just a mere 5 days away, I'm a little concerned that maybe I shouldn't have enjoyed the food on board quite as much as I did!

The good news is that I kept the training up whilst on board ship, although running on a treadmill in rough (ish) seas was certainly a challenge, and the thought of doing a long run of more than 10 miles really would have driven me loopy. So in the past 3 weeks, the furthest I have ran is just over 13 miles - and I've got to do 30+ on Sunday. I have struggled a little these past few days, and I'm a little concerned that yet again, everything will go pear shaped at the weekend, and I'm going to come away bitterly disappointed. However, it may be my last chance to represent my country for a while as plans for our emigration become full steam ahead over the coming months.

Whatever happens at the Commonwealths, one thing I will be certain of is that I will have given things my best shot, and that's all I can ever do - let's just hope it's enough!

Sunday, 21 August 2011

It's been a damn fine week (I think!)

It’s been a pretty good week this week, with 2 team victories for the Moorlands ladies and lots of excellent performances by friends both locally and abroad.

It was the Vets Cross Country Race on Wednesday evening, and  being the first time I had done this race, I really didn’t know what to expect. It was also going to be my first race for Staffordshire Moorlands and so I didn’t want to embarrass myself by having a really crap run.

The event, organised by Cheadle Running Club, is pretty low key and starts from the cricket club at Oakamoor. The ladies’ 4 ¼ mile route is pretty flat and follows the old railway track to The Ramblers Retreat before heading up into the woods and then back down again and along the track back to the cricket club.

I was a little nervous for a couple of reasons – namely it would be the first time I would meet a lot of the Moorlands team, and secondly, I hadn’t done a race of less that 27 miles since doing the London Marathon back in April! How I would cope with the shorter distance and faster pace, I had no idea.

As it turned out, I needn’t have worried. The Moorlands guys and gals are just like all those other runners I’ve met on my travels – extremely friendly, very encouraging, enjoy their chosen sport, and have great team spirit.

Following a bit of a warm up, the race commenced at 7pm and within the first 100 yards, my legs and lungs were wondering what the bloody hell was happening – after all, it’s been a while since they’ve had to cope with sub 6.30 pace! With the ladies and gents starting together, it was a quick start but it wasn’t too long before we’d all settled into our rhythm and started to relax. In the ladies race, new team mate Kerry was off to a flying start, whilst Ruth and potential new Moorlands recruit wasn’t too far behind in 2nd. I was lying in 3rd, and it remained that way for the duration of the race which I have to say I was pretty chuffed with.

Going through the first mile, I was feeling quite strong and pretty good, and was extremely surprised to see my mile split was 6.21 – what the…???!!! The second mile was a little slower as we headed up a gentle incline through the woods and things got a little muddy underfoot. Thankfully, the last couple of miles saw my legs pick up the pace again, with a couple more sub 6.30 miles, and I eventually finished the race in 28.25 – an average of about 6.40 – not mega fast, but for me I was so pleased that I had managed to keep that sort of pace going. The strength from all the long runs was certainly there, but maybe there’s room for improvement on the old breathing and VO2 max work!

Moorlands ladies and gents did really well to win both the male and female team event, so all in all, it was a great introduction to the new club!

So onto Sunday, when really I should have done the Belper Rugby Rover 30km trail race, but opted for the Leek Half Marathon instead as I felt like I needed a good blow out on the roads for a change. In addition to this, Leek was also organised by Staffs Moorlands AC and was hosting the BMAF Half Marathon Championships.

I felt a little more awkward turning up today, mainly because I felt quite exposed to so many local runners who are used to seeing me in a Trentham vest, and yet there I was, proudly wearing my new gold and green colours of the Moorlands.

I didn’t really know what to expect today. I haven’t done a half marathon in a very long time, and with Leek being one of the hilliest halves around, I knew it was going to be challenging. Add to that the lack of road running over the past 3-4 months, it really could have gone either way!

I guess I started the race quite cautiously as I didn’t know what pace to do. I was hoping to run close to 1.30 (my best on the course is 1.27 about 5 years ago when I was much fitter), but as soon as we hit the first hill, although I felt relatively relaxed, it also felt like I was running on empty. Loads of people were already overtaking me, but I was determined not to panic as we had only just gone through the first couple of miles, and whilst I knew there was a hell of a lot of uphill still to go, I figured that maybe I would catch some folks again later on.

I had no idea where I was in the ladies race, but thought I was about 10th.  A lot of the familiar faces of the local ladies had already pulled away and had put a considerable distance between me and them, so I decided to just run my own race and just try to keep the pace going as best as possible which given the hills and the increasing heat, was going to be a little difficult.

It was so different running today. Wearing the new top, I had so many people shouting me on, people I don’t even know yet but obviously they recognised the vest and gave me some desperately needed encouragement. It was also lovely to have some company in the form of Sue Street from Tipton – we weren’t exactly running together, but our pace was very similar and we kept overtaking eachother from time to time, and offering our support to eachother.

The route at the foot of the Roaches was really fabulous today, with fantastic views over Meerbrook and the beautiful Staffordshire countryside beyond. I was still trying to work hard, but couldn’t help but admire the views before the steep decent back down to Meerbrook.

I’m actually a better downhill runner, and it was at this point that I overtook several of the runners that had come flying past me at the start. It gave me a bit of confidence going past them, but also made me realise how tired I actually felt today for whatever reason. Suzie and I were still close together, and we noticed a few ladies ahead of us and gave chase to see if we could catch them, both of us succeeding and moving us up a couple of positions overall.

The finish to the Leek Half Marathon is cruel, with a climb back up to Brough Park. There was absolutely no way I could muster a sprint finish even if I’d wanted to, and yet I did manage to pass another lady as I crawled my way up. I was nowhere near 90 minutes, but actually finished in 1.35 – much slower than I wanted, but considering how I’d felt, I couldn’t really be disappointed. I heard that Amy Green, the course record holder (1.23) had finished 4 minutes outside of her course record, whilst the 5th placed lady had only just dipped under 90 mins. Putting things into perspective, I think everybody’s times were down today and so I had no right to be disappointed! In addition, I’d actually won the silver medal in the V35 category of the British Masters Half Marathon Championships, whilst the winning ladies team was once again the Moorlands.

So all in all, I certainly can’t grumble about the past few days and am now looking forward to my holiday in a couple of weeks followed by the Commonwealth Trail Running Championships which is something that I probably feel more comfortable about competing in at the moment.

Before I finish, I should also mention some of the other fantastic performances from friends both locally and abroad this weekend. Huge congratulations to Michelle Buckle and Mandy Vernon for winning GOLD in the BMAF championships in their respective age groups, to Paul Gibbings and Rob Tabbanor for winning silver in the BMAF champs, Kerry Marchant for winning the vets cross country earlier in the week and for such a great run at Leek today (despite not having done the training!), Christine Holmes for her first race win at Winsford 10k, Sarah Johnson and Louise Blizzard for their excellent performances at the Birchfield 10k, Ellie Greenwood for her victory and new course record in the Edmonton Marathon, and finally Emma Gooderham on her World Championship win in the 50k over in Holland in a new world age group best of 3 hours 17 mins – fantastic performances by some fantastic people – well done to all of you and it certainly is a pleasure knowing you all J

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Dovedale Dipper

I thought that running was meant to be an easy sport, but it’s been a funny old weekend full of highs and lows and I’m beginning to think that it would be much easier to be a couch potato!

It all started last Thursday, when after weeks of iffing and areing, I finally made the decision to resign from Trentham and to join Staffordshire Moorlands AC. This wasn’t a snap decision, but is something that I have been thinking about for a while now, but I’ve been so loyal to the Green Army and been honoured to be a part of that team, that writing out my resignation was extremely difficult. Even when I was handing it over, I broke down and cried, feeling absolutely terrible and convinced I was letting so many people down. However, my head eventually overruled my heart, and with me wanting to focus more on fell and trail running, and more of the long distance races, it became clear that I would have more opportunities by moving clubs. It didn’t make things any easier and it was difficult knowing how to break the news to everybody – I don’t like the attention, and didn’t feel it appropriate to make a grand announcement as I really would have felt like an idiot. I figured the best way was to go quietly, so having mentioned it to a couple of people, off I went, and let the runners’ grapevine run its course.

So it was that on Sunday morning, I turned up at Hartington for my third attempt at the Dovedale Dipper and my first race as a Staffordshire Moorlands runner. The Dipper is a 27 mile hilly off-roader organised by the Matlock Rotary Club. My best time on the course was 3.57 last year and given all the other stuff I have been doing of late, I just wanted to get close to 4 hours again. It was weird not wearing my Trentham vest and I felt like I was betraying my old club mates, but I had to focus on performing well for my new club now. I was somewhat reassured by the presence of fellow Moorlands athlete and friend Gareth Briggs, who was also running the Dipper despite having problems with his Achilles.

The run itself starts in the village of Hartington and takes in some of the gorgeous scenery of the limestone valleys of the Peak District. Heading out of the village, the route takes runners across the fields to the Tissington Trail, before turning off towards Longnor. From here it heads across the valley towards Reveridge, before the steep long climb up Ecton Hill that overlooks the Manifold Valley. Then it’s down and back up again over the hills towards Wetton followed by yet more climbs over to Castern near to Dovedale, and more ups and downs across the trails towards Mill Dale and straight up the valley following the River Dove to Wolfscote Dale and Beresford Dale. The last mile of the run is cruel with a steep climb up the lanes overlooking Hartington, before a fast finish back to the village hall.

This year, the weather was spot on – dry and cool, although there was a brisk breeze blowing. There didn’t seem to be as many runners as in previous years, and following a 10am start, Gareth and I found ourselves leading with nobody really pushing to challenge us. We ran together for the first mile or two, wondering where everybody was, and then a couple of chaps caught us up and that was Gareth’s cue to pull away and go for the win.

For me, I just settled in behind the men. There are no marshals for the event although there are sporadic markers as well as 8 checkpoints that have to be visited in order. There isn’t really any navigation but it does help to know where you are going, and having done the race before, I was pretty familiar with the route. I sensed that the 2 guys hadn’t done the run before and noticed their hesitation at certain points, so for the first 12 miles or so, I would go past them with knowing the route only to be overtaken by them again as soon as a hill appeared.

I was feeling pretty relaxed and actually quite good, and although the hills were hurting somewhat, I was really enjoying the run. I overheard one of the guys saying that he had done the 24 hour Thunder Run last year with a team of 5 from Colchester, and I seemed to remember speaking to Allen Smalls about the Thunder Run who had told me a similar story. It turned out that the chaps I was running with, who were both very friendly and chatty, had done a fair bit of ultra running themselves and knew many of the “ultra gang” that do crazy distances on the trails at home and abroad – Jez Bragg, Matt Giles, Allen Smalls, Brian Cole, and Jen Salter to name just a few. It was so nice to have some company for once and a bit of a chat to take my mind off things, and even better that I was running with people who shared a passion for long distance, off-road running (I later found out that they were Sean Ketteridge and Ian Corless – nice to meet you both!)

From then on, we ended up running pretty much together, although I tended to spend more time scoffing cakes and biscuits and drinking gallons of squash at the checkpoints than they did, which allowed them to open up a gap over me at times.

By now we were overtaking quite a lot of the walkers who had set off an hour or so before us, and they offered words of encouragement as we passed. The Dovedale Dipper really does have a great atmosphere, and it always makes me appreciate how lucky we are having such beautiful countryside so close to home.

The time went very quickly, and before I knew it, we had reached Mill Dale and had just 4 miles or so to the finish. I was hoping to run close to 4 hours again, and with about half an hour to go and knowing that there was a sting in the tale towards the end of the run, I knew I wouldn’t beat my time from last year. It didn’t really matter though as I really was having a great time and was under no pressure whatsoever.

The run along the valley towards Wolfscote Dale is pretty flat, so we found ourselves picking up the pace. The most frustrating thing was the sections of gravel that was quite rough underfoot, whilst some of the Sunday walkers seemed completely oblivious of us trying to get past them on some of the narrower parts of the path.

As we approached the caves at the top end of the valley, I knew there was only about a mile or so to go to the finish so I focused on trying to get up the nasty hill to join the lanes back to Hartington. Thankfully, this year we didn’t have to cross the farmer’s field that normally saps the energy due to the freshly mowed grass and the incline, and on joining the lanes, it was mostly downhill to the finish.

I was still running with Sean and Ian, and by now another chap had joined us although he was now ahead, but as we hit Hall Bank that goes past the old chapel in the village and back down to the village hall, the cheeky monkeys pulled away from me, and left me to finish 1st lady and 5th overall. Clearly there was a bit of male pride at stake (!), but in all fairness, Ian and Sean did wait for me on the hills and if it was a proper race, I’m pretty sure they would have been miles ahead of me anyway. We were all awarded the same finishing time of 4.02, marginally slower than my time last year, but I was still happy.

My mum and nephew George were both waiting for me by the church with Sam and Wilson, and once I had checked in at the finish and grabbed a cup of tea and a tasty jacket potato, I went outside to join them. Gareth was with them, and we already knew that he had won the men’s race and considering he’s been struggling with an Achilles problem for a while now, it was a credit that he finished the run at all, and in a respectable time of 3.46.

Following the presentation of our winners trophies (which thankfully I didn’t drop and smash this time!), it was time to head home. It had been a lovely day and thoroughly enjoyable, and with being in the company of ultra runners with a similar outlook on things, it made me realise how much I love my running, and how much I am looking forward to representing the Staffordshire Moorlands AC on the trails and mountains over the coming months.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Mountains and Mole Hills

Things over the past few weeks have been pretty hectic to say the least, and in the words of Cindy from Scary Movie, “It’s been a while!” since I’ve had the opportunity to actually sit down and reflect on things.

It seems like a lifetime ago now that I flew out to Galway for the World Trail Championships, where I donned my GB vest for the first time in nearly 3 years. Thinking back, that was a fantastic weekend, and once again I met some great people and made new friends from the ultra running world in the form of  Stuart, Craig and Andrew, as well as seeing the more familiar faces of Allen, Julian, Karen, Lucy and last but not least Heather.

GB Team minus Andy Smith and Julian Rendall
The race itself was certainly not what many of us were expecting, and with living in Stoke, no amount of running could have prepared me for what we encountered over in Galway. Heavy rain in the preceding days meant a last minute change to the course on safety grounds, and what a course it was! Two summits of two mountains, totalling something like 7000 feet over a 70km course – add to that open moors, forest trails, and almost waist deep Irish bog - to say the course was challenging was an understatement.

Within the first few miles, I had already found myself walking up the steeper parts of Diamond Hill, but things were about to get tougher. Parts of the course were extremely boggy, and despite my attempts to avoid the deeper bits, I found myself sprawled out  on the ground, or having my leg sucked down on at least 5 occasions. If the energy sapping bog wasn’t enough, the ascent up Benbaun Mountain – the highest point in County Galway – almost finished me off.

Starting off as a nice little mountain trail, we then encountered even more bog as we started the climb, and the higher we got, the steeper the mountainside, so much so that eventually I was crawling on hands and knees, dragging myself up and clinging for dear life onto tufts of grass which weren’t really that secure due to the boggy ground. I remember getting to the top and being filled with relief, and jokingly saying to some marshals “I hope you aren’t going to make us come up HERE again!” and them saying quite seriously “Oh yes, you’ve got to come back up!” They weren’t lying, and on the way back up, having covered in excess of 30 miles of trails by now, the old legs were burning like crazy and I knew that the second decent was going to hurt.

Having made the summit of Benbaun for a second time, I now had to negotiate the way back down to the forest below. This side was far steeper, and I was conscious that my legs really had had it, and now they had to support me down what could only be described as a cliff face except it was grassy rather than rocky. It certainly wasn’t runnable, and with just wearing trail shoes and shorts and vest, I realised how stupid this was. I’m no mountain goat, and with the tiredness setting in, I got quite emotional and just froze on the way back down, starting to cry like a baby and thinking of Andy and my animals back home. Pulling myself together, I realised there was nothing they could do, so I came down on my bum and found myself sliding down the hillside, clawing once again at tufts of grass to slow myself down and stopping me from just tumbling down out of control.

Thankfully I got down safely with no cuts or bruises, although some of the runners on the day did fracture bones amongst other things. It was a welcome sight to see Andy Smith at one of the checkpoints – an absolute star who is so patient and understands the needs of us ultra runners so much. He offered some words of encouragement, and off I went with about 10km still to go.

The last few miles were really tough. I had been running without a watch for pretty much all of the race, but knew that it must be about 9 hours already that I had been out. I was hungry, I was desperately thirsty despite having stopped to drink from the mountain streams on numerous occasions, and I was sun burnt. There were very few people around by now and even the marshals had disappeared which meant me taking a wrong turn twice in the last 5km.

Del and Heather at the finish
Approaching the finish in Letterfrack, I got all emotional again. I’m certainly no mountain runner, but I had made it and I had finished, and not only that, I was the second British lady to finish. Ok, it had taken me a shocking 9 hours 38 minutes to do 70km, but what a flaming brilliant experience! It was great to see Anne at the finish, another member of the GB Management Team, and I think she too was relieved that I had got back safely. Lucy had had a brilliant run to finish 3rd, whilst the British men had all had excellent runs. Heather finished about an hour behind me, but unfortunately Karen had decided to withdraw from the race just before the turnaround point – a wise decision given that she would be representing GB again at the beginning of September, this time at the World 100km.

All in all, a great experience, and although it was tough, I would love to go and do it all again as this time, I would know what to expect.

It took a while to recover from the race in Ireland and it was 2 weeks before I finally got out for a proper run again. I had aches and pains in my legs for about a week, and it caused great amusement for the folks at work, watching me hobbling up and down the stairs, and struggling to carry all the drinks when it was my turn to make the tea.

Having spent a little time in the mountains, it whetted my appetite to get out and do even more mountain walking, and so a couple of weeks later, my dad and I headed off up the Lake District with young Wilson for a few days backpacking.

I hadn’t been backpacking for about 20 years but the excitement started to kick in when I was struggling to get everything in my rucksack the night before we left.

The plan was to head off up the Old Man of Coniston, head towards Mosedale, and camp at the foot of Bowfell. The second day, we would head up to Esk Hause and Scafell Pike, back down through the Langdale valley followed by another wild night of camping around Tilberthwaite, before heading back to Coniston.

Things as ever didn’t go to plan, and as we struggled with our weighty rucksacks up the Old Man, glorious warm sunshine turned to heavy torrential rain, and the mountains were covered in cloud. We hovered in the valley for near on an hour, iffing and areing about what to do, but in the end we bit the bullet and carried on. Thankfully the cloud cleared, and as we summited The Old Man, we could make out the peaks in the distance that we needed to head towards.

Dad had been brilliant. He’s now 63, has smoked since he was about 18, and whilst he still cycles to work everyday, he’s not as fit or strong as he used to be. He got cramp, he struggled with the weight of his rucksack, he needed a ciggy every couple of hours, and yet he never complained.

We already knew that we wouldn’t make it to our desired destination tonight, so opted to head down the valley towards Wrynose and Hardknot Pass, and as soon as we found some running water and a small flat area to camp on, we would stop.

By now, it was 8pm and we hadn’t found anywhere. Cloud was moving in again, so we needed to head further down before dark. Luckily, we eventually found a flowing mountain stream, and whilst the ground was somewhat rutted, boggy and on a slight slope, it was an ideal spot to set up camp.

Wilson loved it, and that wild dog side of him came out as we set up camp. As night started to draw in, the cloud cleared, and we could see Scafell across the valley, and the forests at the foot of Harter Fell in the other direction. With no light pollution, we grew accustomed to the dark and it seemed to stay lighter much later. It wasn’t until turned 11pm that we finally headed off to bed, with just the mountains and a few sheep for company.

Our wild campsite at about 9pm

The following morning, it had started raining again, so after a breakfast of porridge and dry bread, washed down with a cup of tea and an ovaltine, we waited for the weather to clear. Dad’s legs were stiff from the walk yesterday, so we reassessed our plans, and decided that we would head for Tilberthwaite today and camp in the woods there instead later this evening.

Progress was slow once we had packed up and started on our way. The mountainside was wet and boggy, so we had to keep finding alternative routes, and then once we hit the valley bottom, we had the climb to the top of Wrynose to contend with. The weather by now had actually warmed up considerably, and despite filling our bottles up with stream water, it wasn’t enough and we were absolutely parched. I’d actually been eating as much food as possible, as I figured that it would lighten the load in my rucksack, but dad never really eats much, and I had a sense that not only was he dehydrated, he was also lacking energy from lack of food.

Despite this though, spirits were still high. Wilson was still thoroughly enjoying his adventure, and we took tons of photographs of the beautiful Lakeland scenery.

We eventually reached Little Langdale, and I remembered this section of the road from when I did the Langdale Marathon a couple of years ago (a brilliant 2 lap race by the way for anybody that ever fancies doing it – very hilly, but very scenic). We knew there was a pub ahead, and figured that a nice cold pint would hit the spot and make us feel tons better. We went one better than that – not only did we have a pint, we completely splashed out and had gorgeous fish and chips too! Sitting in the beer garden, having finished our grub, both dad and I had this moment of dread when we realised that we now had to get our rucksacks back on in front of everybody else in the beer garden, knowing full well that it was likely we would topple over with the weight! Trying to act all cool and calm, we both turned a grimace into a smile and pretended all was well!

We set off for Tilberthwaite, the plan being to either camp in the woods, or to head up to Weatherlam, where there was supposed to be some very good areas for wild camping. It was again getting late, and despite the food and beer, dad was still struggling somewhat and was wobbling all over the place. As we found the mountain path that we thought we needed, it became clear that it was actually the path on the opposite side of the river that we needed, and we were amongst slate mines with no water nearby, and certainly nowhere safe or suitable to set up camp.

Disappointingly, we had to make a decision to head back to Coniston, having only had one night out on the fells. It meant another couple of hours walking, but it was the only thing we could do given the circumstances.

We didn’t arrive back there until turned 11pm – it was dark, and we were intending to stay on Coniston Hall Campsite before heading back home in the morning. However, given the noise coming off the campsite and having been spoilt the night before by being miles away from anybody with complete silence, we didn’t fancy mixing with the crowds. Camping wild is special, and we would have preferred that rather than putting up with all those people and the noise.

We headed home instead, but I have to say that, whilst I love my cosy little backpackers tent and absolutely loved snuggling up to Wilson in my sleeping bag, it’s always nice to get home to the creature comforts, which I always appreciate far more having roughed it in the wilds, even if only for one night.

And so comes the final instalment of my recent adventures – The Adidas 24 Hour Thunder Run. I’ve wanted to do this event for the past couple of years but have never managed to get a team together and haven’t been confident enough or crazy enough to tackle it solo. However, this year I finally got the opportunity to take part, and with a team of 8 from Trentham, it was another recipe for a brilliant weekend of camping!

The Thunder Run is a 24 hour relay that starts 12 noon Saturday and finishes 12 noon Sunday. The course is approximately 10km, and is all off road through woods and fields. The rules are that unless doing it solo, there must be a member of the team on the course at all times – including the night time when those woods certainly get dark!

The team consisted of myself, Rob, Deb, Dan, Lee, Jill, Ken and Kerry, a good mix of experienced runners and those that had only been running for a couple of years. Ken had kindly done some maths and worked out the approximate time of day that we would all be running, based on our average 10km time. On that basis, it meant that we would all be running every 6 hours or so and clocking about 28 laps in total, with my schedule being approximately 1pm, 7pm, 1am, and 7am.

The TR24 Green Army of Trentham
The atmosphere at the Thunder Run really was amazing, and it was just like a huge runners’ festival with tents and people all over the place having loads of fun. The only difference was that instead of mud, we had scorching hot weather with absolutely no breeze, with very little shade away from the burning sun.

My first lap went ok, setting off steady without going mad but at a decent enough pace to keep sub 45’s going each lap. I hadn’t had the opportunity to reccie the course before hand, so didn’t really know what to expect, but within about 200 yards of the start the first climb started – a sharp climb up through the woods up to the 1km marker, before it flattened out a little and became more undulating. The heat really was intense and there was no air movement at all, and it was a relief when I had completed the field sections that were quite exposed, and entered the much cooler woods.

I completed my first lap in about 43.30 and although I felt ok, I also felt the effects of the heat, and all I wanted to do was drink a gallon of ice cold water, and hide in the shade. A few of us felt a little off that afternoon, probably from the sun and the heat, but just a few hours later, we were off again for our second laps.

For me, now I knew what to expect, I was able to relax a little and on finishing, my time was once again around about 43.30 – clearly being an ultra runner helps to keep consistent pacing going!

By now it was late evening, and dusk was setting in. I managed to have some grub before settling down in my tent for a bit of kip, although I knew that come midnight, I would be woken up ready for my third lap – this time in the dark.

My night vision is terrible – even with the millions of carrots I’ve eaten over the years, and despite eating spinach in an attempt to look like Popeye and improve my eyesight, I really do struggle in the dark. And yet at about half past midnight on Saturday night/Sunday morning, I started my third lap of the Thunder Run with just a head torch to help me get round. This was the part I was most looking forward to as running off-road in the dark is a lot different than running in the dark in the city where street lights guide the way.

The first section up the sharp hill seemed to go on forever in the dark. It was so quiet with very few other runners around me, and all I could hear was my own breathing, and my feet scrunching at the gravel and dirt on the path. Up ahead I could make out some movement, and shortly afterwards, I overtook a group of runners who had resorted to walking in the darkness.

It really was a great experience, and despite my concerns about my ability to see, I somehow managed to get round and ran with confidence, somehow avoiding collisions with tree roots or other runners and managing to stay on my feet. Surprising I ran just 2 minutes slower that my day light time.

Back at the tent, I jumped straight into bed and drifted off to sleep for the first time since the previous morning, but by 4am, I was wide awake again, starving hungry and in desperate need of a cup of tea. I made myself a bowl of porridge, and before I knew it, it was time to go again for my 4th lap of the course.

This was the hardest lap for me, probably due to lack of sleep, dehydration and hunger. I didn’t feel motivated for it in the slightest and had that awful Groundhog Day feeling of “here we go again”. Arriving in the change over area whilst waiting for Rob to hand over the batton, everybody else looked in the same boat – bleary eyed and absolutely shattered, and yet spirits were still high and there was some quiet chatter whilst we all waited for our team mates to come round.

My Garmin battery had by now conked out, so I had no idea how fast I was running on this lap, but having found out that we were lying in 12th position, and that we might actually squeeze in 30 laps as a team rather than the anticipated 28, I felt like I just had to go for it and set off at the fastest pace I could given the circumstances. I was overtaking loads of people by now, many of whom were walking, but I was determined not to walk even when the hills appeared, and just focused on getting to the finish.

Approaching the 7km mark, a lady jumped out of the bushes and whilst I thought “I know her!” it didn’t actually register that it was Kerry until she spoke. The team wanted to know if I wanted to just carry on and do a 5th lap straight after this one, or whether I wanted a break and go later on in the morning. I was in desperate need of a drink and thought it would be a bad idea to continue, especially as I’d gone off and a faster pace, but on approaching the 9km marker, I wondered whether I should just get it all out of the way and carry on, then I could just relax and chill out for the remainder of the event. I decided to wait, and on coming to the end of the lap, I handed over to Debbie having just ran around 46 mins.

By now, the sun was once again staring to break through the cloud, and yet again the temperature was rising. Rob had now finished his part in the relay, so too had Debbie, Lee and Dan. I’d said that I would do a 5th lap, and so was waiting for Ken to come through this time. With about an hour to go before the end of the relay, the campsite was buzzing, with teams desperately trying to get in as many laps as possible. We were still 12th, and getting a full 30 laps in, or just over 180 miles between us, seemed even more likely.

The last lap for me really was hard. Sleep deprivation, the heat, hunger and thirst made it tough, add to that the inclines and the twisting and turning through the woods, and it nearly did finish me off. But then I thought of the team and what we had achieved, and I thought about finishing and being able to relax, and it spurred me on to the finish, before handing over to Jill for our final lap of the event.

Seeing Jill bringing home the anchor leg and exceeding our original target brought a tear to the eyes and a sense of immense pride in the team. We certainly aren’t an elite team, and yet we had done absolutely brilliantly to maintain our 12th position out of 147 mixed 8 teams, and finished 19th overall. It was an emotional moment, and one that will stick with all of us for quite some time. Collecting our finishers’ medals, and taking tons of photos, we could all go home with a sense of satisfaction.

TR24 Post Race - and what a BRILLIANT effort by an EXCELLENT team!
Some members of the team have written impressive reports about the weekend that capture the spirit of the event and the emotions we as a team experienced far better than I’ve done here. But what I will say is that we pulled together as a team, we worked together as a team, and we succeeded as a team – there was no angst, there was no tension, and as a result we got through it. We’re already talking about next year’s event, but to give somebody else the opportunity to be on the team, I think I might just go solo next year to see how far I can go, unless I can find some other crazy person who would like to work as a pair.

And so having been on a high from all the activity over the past few weeks, the excitement continues with a third attempt at the Dovedale Dipper on Sunday, and then the Leek Half Marathon and BMAF Half Marathon Championships in a couple of weeks. Following that Andy and I will be having a well earned break sailing around the Med before heading back home for the Commonwealth Trail Running Championships in September. It really is true when they say there’s no rest for the wicked!! 

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Challenges Ahead.....

This time next week it will all be over and I will have competed in my 4th ultra distance World Championship race for Great Britain. Even now it still feels a little unreal. Four years ago I’d only ever dreamt of competing for my country, and although the past couple of years have been full of ups and downs, I don’t regret any of it.

Last Thursday the new GB kit arrived and that same sense of excitement and anticipation took hold, not only about the actual running, but also about meeting up with old friends from the ultra running world and making new ones. I’ve had the privilege of meeting so many inspirational ultra distance athletes since I started running “Beyond the Marathon” myself, some of whom have gone on to achieve some exceptional accolades and undertaken some extreme challenges.

For me, next weekend at the World Trail Running Championships will be another personal challenge. Although I’ve dabbled in trail running overseas in the past – the 78km Swiss Alpine Mountain Marathon and the World Trail Running Championships (50 miles) over in Texas back in 2007 both spring to mind – I have always considered road running to be my strength. However, I’m now finding myself drawn to the trails and having the urge to do longer and more difficult races that will test my limits and take me out of my comfort zone.

I’m really looking forward to the race next Saturday and want to run well, not only for the GB team, but also to give me the confidence to try different things. Next weekend is just the start, and then after that, who knows?! Trentham have entered a team for the 24 hour Thunder Run at the end of July which, whilst a team effort, will also be a test of mental and physical strength, running through the night in a 24 hour relay. Maybe I’ll attempt the Bob Graham Round, or maybe I will finally get round to running the 100 mile Staffordshire Way in 24 hours, but one thing is for certain -  if this is the start of my midlife crisis, then I’m happy to face it head on and see where it takes me.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Shugborough Relays

Wednesday was one of those days where I’d been feeling really grumpy, so much so that I wasn’t really in the mood for the annual Shugborough Relays. The weather had been rubbish with heavy rain on and off all day, and then a few people had rubbed me up the wrong way and all I wanted was a nice relaxing evening in front of the TV cuddled up with my two dogs. The problem was that I had said I would organise the ladies teams for the relays, and having already got 8 ladies who had committed themselves to racing, I really didn’t want to let them down.

I turned up at Shugborough still feeling a little moody, but the sun was now shining and with the usual hustle and bustle of races, I started to feel a little bit more cheerful. Unfortunately, some of our Trentham ladies were unable to run due to illness or injury, but we’d had a couple of last minute volunteers in the form of Kerry and Lynne which meant that we could still field two teams. Rose had turned up but was still quite poorly and having tried a warm up, there was no way that she would be able to run and do herself justice, so in the end she made the sensible decision not to race. Now down to just 7 runners, we needed somebody to run 2 legs and having rallied round to find a volunteer, it was Jo Donnelly who saved the day, agreeing to run the first and last leg on the open team and then the vets team respectively.

With relays, it really does come down to a team effort, but individually you still want to do your damned hardest so as not to let the team down. Having not really been in the mood for the relays, I anticipated quite a slow leg for me, and with Jo starting on the opening leg and bringing us home in second place behind Newcastle, I knew I wouldn’t catch their second runner but wanted to give Chris and Deb every opportunity to catch them on the final 2 legs.

The course is approximately 2 miles long, mostly off-road and is actually quite nice to run on when feeling fit and healthy. My best time on the course is around about 11.30 which I ran a few years ago now, but this year I struggled a little and found the hill at the start quite tough. Although feeling quite strong, I felt slow and it took me 12.43 to do the 2 mile multi-terrain circuit – way off my best for previous years at this event.

With Chris on leg 3, she had an excellent run and gained some ground on Newcastle, being no more than 50 yards behind when handing over to Deb on the final leg, still in 2nd place but with a greater chance of catching the leading team.

Deb had an absolute stormer on the final leg. She had managed to overtake Newcastle and with just ¾ mile still to go, had a 20 metre lead. Newcastle looked strong, so did Deb, and it was going to be a close call as to who would cross the line first. With just a lap of the field to do and some very loud vocal support from Team Trentham dotted around the course and urging Deb on, she managed to hold off the challenge of Newcastle and brought Trentham ladies home victorious once again.

Meanwhile, the Trentham Ladies Veteran Team – consisting of Lynne, Becky, Kerry and Jo – were still holding their own, and whilst we had no idea of how they were doing in the veteran competition, we thought that maybe they had a chance of winning too. It was only during the presentation that we found out the result and were pleasantly surprised that Trentham ladies had indeed once again won both the open team event AND the veteran team event, despite not necessarily having our fastest runners out on the night.

It was a fantastic evening, made all the more the better in that all the ladies that had turned up and ran came away with a nice little trophy, some of which perhaps wouldn’t normally have had the opportunity of being on the winning team, but it shows the strength, depth and quality of the ladies at Trentham.

The men didn’t do too bad either, managing to field 4 teams and all having great runs to give Trentham the best chance of getting a top position. It was the ultra vets with a combined age of 240 years that finished the highest team in their category with a superb 2nd on the night, whilst the men’s open team had the youngest team member with 12 year old Harry running their final leg and having an outstanding run. All the gents gave us ladies such fantastic support which was very much appreciated, and with such team spirit it makes events like the Shugborough Relays so much more fun when being a member of Trentham.

From me personally, well done Team Trentham – you all did fantastic – and here’s to more success for both the ladies and gents of Trentham Running Club.

Some of the Green Army at Shugborough Relays

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