The Tour of Cambridgeshire

The “UK’s first Gran Fondo” took place on Sunday under the guise of the Tour of Cambridgeshire which started and finished at the Peterborough Arena.

As soon as you think about the description and location of the event you’ll know some key facts about it:

  • There’s loads of riders – around 6000 people entered and they had capacity for 4000 more!
  • Closed roads would offer a completely different riding experience
  • It’s flat – Cambridgeshire isn’t exactly known for it’s climbing
  • So, it’s fast. Very, very, fast
  • There’s a fair few crashes

As soon as I saw it advertised as the first of its kind in the UK, I knew I wanted to have a go and I really enjoyed the event.

A subtle look

A subtle look

At a modest 85 miles, it’s not as intimidating as some rides so you can go in to the event any condition you want, knowing that you’ll get around.  As it turns out, I was feeling pretty good after a week of hard training rides so was looking forward to cranking up the pace around the flat fenlands of Cambridgeshire.

The weather was good to us with clear skies all day and the wind didn’t seem too bad until you faced it head on as it whipped across the pan-flat countryside, but most of the time you were surrounded by riders right across the road so getting some shelter was usually possible.

The course took in a few moderate lumps and bumps in the first third and the final 10 miles, but other than that it was flat all the way around.  The only rises in the road that caused any concern was the odd speed hump that was difficult to spot whilst snuggled in with another 50 lycra clad companions flying along the road!  As we thundered along, the first feed stop came and went at the exit of some airfield-cum-enterprise centre in Alconbury.  I’d picked up a good little group being marshalled by some handy club riders so stuck with them on the exit of the airfield and cruised along together for another 30 miles.

The Lads

The Lads

The sensation of cycling in a big group is both petrifying and exhilarating.  Watching riders two or three places in front of you makes your brain ache after a while, but the benefits in the drag they create is awesome.  I was gently turning the pedals and maintaining an average of 22mph before thinking that I had plenty left in the tank.  As I zoomed to (and then off) the front of the group I soon appreciated the benefits of being in a pack and after 10 minutes of battling the wind on my own, the same group eased past me so I jumped back on the tail and stayed put!

The group was so good that I stayed involved as we passed the second feed station and just about managed on my 2 bottles until the final stop at about 68 miles.  It got harder work for a bit as I cycled solo with my nose in to the wind for a few miles but, sure enough a little group was formed with a few others at about 72 miles.  We worked well together for a few miles, passing a miserable and bloodied (but kind of OK) guy sitting in a bus stop as we enjoyed the freedom of a main road all to ourselves.

One or two people at the start

One or two people at the start

I’d seen the remnants of a few crashes along the way but had been surprised at how few there’d been.  The etiquette of passing on the right had been observed throughout and that discipline had preserved the order of cyclists while it was most fraught in the first 30 miles.  By the time my little “elite” group rolled in to the last 10 miles, the roads felt safe and my focus had changed to how I’d approach the last 5 miles in order to preserve the 22mph average I’d built up.

And then the girl in my elite group clipped the wheel in front of her and she went in to the kind of extreme speed wobble that usually results in a kid coming off down a grassy hill.  But this was more serious and we were doing about 25mph at the time.  She parted company with her bike and landed face down on to the curb, suffering what I’ve since heard described as “facial injuries and a broken collar bone”.  At the time those injuries looked awful and there was a lot of blood, a lot of panic about her condition and a fair degree of confusion – mostly on my behalf when one of the nurses (who’d been riding in a group behind us) shouted at me to clear her airways …. how do you do that????

I’d hit her bike, gone over the handlebars and laid in the road screaming before the initial all-over body pain became more focussed on the impact areas.  Once I saw the state of the girl any concern over my own injuries disappeared and adrenaline took over.  It as only when there was an ambulance on the way and a few medically qualified people were tending to her that I felt people were crowding her, so I hopped back on my bike to finish the ride.  The next 3 miles were OK but when the adrenaline wore off, the pain in my back and ribs slowed me down and the final 5 miles were miserable.

My damaged top

My damaged top

As I half climbed, half fell of my bike at the end, St Johns volunteers in attendance sorted out the bloody bits and led me to an ambulance for a few checks on my breathing.  I cannot speak highly enough of these guys – calm, friendly and professional despite an endless stream of sweaty lycra clad fools like me keeping them busy all day long!!

It was the first event of it kind so there were a few things to improve upon.  The car park closed at 10 so that meant you had to hang around for 2 hours before starting.  The start was inevitably congested so the when the race began at 12, it was 30 minutes before we started pedalling and longer for thousands of others behind us. I’ve already mentioned the speed humps but the main issues with the course was that the long-route was closed earlier than planned. This was justified by the need for emergency services to gain access but received with some disdain by the riders affected by the changes. At the end there was a little confusion about queuing up for goody bags back in the expo hall but no ham done there.

But, putting those little gripes to one side, it was a terrific event.  After 75 miles I was so exhilarated that I started laughing to myself and even the crash can’t quell the excitement I felt at cycling so fast for so long…. I guess the best testament is that I’ve signed up to next years event already.

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The Fred Whitton Challenge

If you’re a cyclist and haven’t heard about it, stop reading now and forget you ever saw the name of The Fred Whitton Challenge.

Good. So now you’re either a non-cyclist or a rider who has heard about The Fred and decided it’s not for you.  If you are one of the latter, keep it that way!!

The Start

The Start

After last years RAID Pyrenees I fancied a more manageable, marquee, domestic challenge this year so in the winter I got the lads together and entered the “UK’s hardest sportive” in the Lake District. How hard could it be?

Well, I wish I’d really got my head around the answer to that question earlier. How hard? Very.

In a nutshell it is:

112 miles starting at Grasmere in the Lake District
Just under 4000m of climbing (more than any day in the RAID)
Gradient averages of up to 30% and small sections as high as 60%
In the changeable conditions typical of the region

We registered on Saturday so spent the afternoon and evening trying not to enjoy too many local beers  in Hawkshead where we stayed over night.  Planning to start as early as possible we headed back in to Grasmere at 5.30am on Sunday only to find that everyone else had the same idea – so it was nearly 7am before we’d reached the start and finally got away.

The Route and The Profile

The Route and The Profile

The first climbs start after a mile or two and it’s relentless from there on in! The first “foot down” section came at Newland Pass after about 35 miles.  Pushing through on the pedals, my front wheel lifted off the ground, landed at an angle and I headed off the road on to the grass verge. The steepness of the road made it impossible to get going again so I had no choice but to walk until the gradient softened up a bit.

With riders all over the road, some walking, some passing “on the right”, you have to have your wits about you at all times. Especially on the way down: these brutal climbs give you none of the descending rewards you get on bigger mountains.  They’re sharp, steep, winding, narrow roads that were damp and covered with gravel.  Mountain Rescue marshals constantly tell you to slow down and if it was your legs that were hurting on the way up, it’s your hands, shoulders and forearms that ache on the way down as you strive to find the sweetspot on the brakes to keep moving slowly down the hill.

By the time I’d reached the first feed stop I was cold, tired, cramping up and ready to go home.  After getting colder and more miserable we headed off to a climb starting a out 100 yards after the feed station and plodded on in to head winds, cross winds and hills.

Cold Fell is one of the lesser spoken about points of the ride but up the top of the moor (?) the crosswinds were a constant challenge.  On the rare occasions that we were on the flat, the wind would try to whip way the wheels as an ongoing reminder that, no matter how fatigued you felt in body and mind, you have to keep your guard up!

The Finish

The Finis

After some views of Sellafield and the Irish Sea you arrive at the next stop is at 81(ish) miles.   Only after several cups of coffee, a couple of sandwiches and mouthfuls of malt loaf did I feel ready to head off to the toughest section of the ride. We had a good group for 10 miles or so until everything got broken apart by Hardnott Pass.  It really is the beast of the ride over a mile long, averaging 30% gradient and popping up after 94 gruelling miles only the strongest can pedal all the way to the top.

I cramped up after about 300 yards, a woman in front just fell off when her pedals stopped turning and everyone around me was walking – apart from my mate Robbie.  He got halfway up before his back wheel spun out and he had to unclip. Another crappy descent leads straight on to Wrynose Pass which is  25% average for about a mile.  Robbie got up that one, I cramped and walked (as you can tell, there was a pattern going on here).

After those two climbs the countdown to the finish begins and the roads become a little more humane.

The Proof

The Proof

Soon enough the route finds its way back down to Ambleside, along the lakeside and eventually, over 10 hours after starting, back to Grasmere and the finish.

I greeted the finish with a certain numbness.  Pleased it was over, disappointed at how I’d coped with the ride and the conditions and unable to feel any sense of achievement after walking on 3 occasions.  I’m writing this over 48 hours after finishing and I still ache, I’m still tired and I still know that it was the first and last time I’ll be taking on that ridiculous challenge!

Cycling Mallory (and beyond)

It’s been nearly 3 months since I rode my bike outside.

The last ride I did was up to our hotel in Cerbere after crossing the Pyrenees in 99 hours and since then life has been about other things. Spending weekends with the family, doing some running (and injuring myself in the process), cheering on my eldest in her monthly cross-country endeavours, drinking too much and eating badly. The inner confidence I gained from the RAID has all gone and the sentiment of “There’s nothing I can’t do now” has somewhat dissipated and been replaced with “I’m doing nothing now”.

So after 3 short turbo sessions the prospect of doing the Evans Ride It! sportive from Mallory Park on Sunday felt rather daunting. Dragging myself out of bed before the crack of dawn was painful. Finding all my autumn/winter cycling kit had been a challenge and squeezing in to the Lycra again was slightly disconcerting. But it all started to come back to me when I left the house at 7:20 with my lights on to roll through the village to meet my mate Dave.

Ok it was colder and foggier than when I last rode my bike. I’m a fair few pounds heavier and sporting a winter beard but you can’t replace the feeling of rolling on a bike, flicking through the gears and feeling the rush of the breeze over your face as you pick up speed.

The event itself was well managed. We arrived early, signed in first and set off in the first group. By the time we started there was a long old queue for registration but that looked like the only hiccup of the whole event. And you can’t complain too much about that because we all got a free Hi-5 race pack for signing in.

We started off with a lap of the familiar Mallory Park race circuit before heading out to the equally familiar Leicestershire countryside. The weather had been kind to us and the fog lifted early to reveal clear blue skies. Pretty soon we were following the well signed route and warming up nicely.

Dave and I lost our mate Terry after about 20k. He’s done a lot more cycling since the Pyrenees trip and had good legs. I’d already opted to play it safe and cycle with 68 year old Dave so we were pootling along at a steady 14-15 mph when we passed the split for the short route.

With route options of Fun/30/50/70 miles there was plenty for people of all abilities and whilst the roads offered a few leg warming lumps, there was nothing too hard until we reached the short and steep rise of Orton-on-the-Hill. Even that nasty little kicker was done pretty quickly.

As you’d expect from Evans, there was a well equipped little feed stop after about 30 miles where the cake was moist and the water was chilled.

The 50 mile route we selected took in some of the classic Leicestershire sights on quiet country lanes which proved a perfect reintroduction to the bike for me. Soon after we passed Market Bosworth we were joined by one of Daves old cycling buddies so, as they caught up on old times, I decided to clear out the pipes and give it a good blast for the last 6-7 miles.

It was invigorating to know that the ride was nearly over and that I still had some fuel in the tank and I had a good push around the finishing circuit back at Mallory Park. In fact I snuck through the gates and did a second finishing circuit because I saw Dave coming on to the raceway as I neared the end. The track might look flat but there is a testing hill on the approach to the hairpin turn and you know that, at some point on the lap, you’re going to get a headwind too; so it’s never easy around there.

Anyway, with a final roll around the car park to bump the Garmin up to 50 miles it was with great satisfaction that I got off the bike and restarted my love affair with everything cycling related!.

If you’re interested, here is my Strava file of the day.

http://www.strava.com/activities/224973620/embed/a8543810eb8b6b22608c960ee934b8fcf82cf6c0

I’ll be back for the long route next year or maybe sooner if the newly formed venture of Cycling Mallory has anything else up its sleeve for us!

My Brighton Marathon Weekend

After a torrid few days of self doubt, a possible psychosomatic illness and some dreadful nights sleep I ran the Brighton Marathon in 3hours and 35 minutes. And I’m delighted.

The Run Up

We travelled down to Eastbourne on Friday evening to make sure that we were well rested for Sunday,  It was a hell of a journey

Hit the beach before breakfast

Hit the beach before breakfast

through heavy Friday afternoon traffic along the M1 followed by road work ridden delays on the M25 before sitting in the 5 mile queue to the Dartford crossing.  It was gone 8pm by the time that we arrived and a 5 hour journey had not been part of the plan!

We chose to stay on a caravan in Pevensey Bay near Eastbourne along with our friends because it was much more economical than us all renting a house or hotel in Brighton.  It worked out well as we met up on Saturday morning just after I’d taken the girls to the beach and after sorting ourselves out we used the pool and sauna to set us up for the weekend.

Heading in to Brighton to collect my number and race pack was an opportunity to check out the location of the park and ride for the race as well as an excuse to meet up with some more mutual friends and enjoy a long, lazy lunch in the exquisite Regency restaurant.  It’s a place recommended to us years ago and now Mrs G and I make a bee-line to it whenever we’re in the city.  Handily, it was only a few hundred yards along the seafront from the marathon expo.  Unhandily, I’d assumed that the expo was at the start area of Preston Park which was a mile and a half out town.  Mr Tim, my friend who made the Brighton Marathon 10k his first ever road race, accompanied me on the long walk in and out of town before bypassing the expo in preference of meeting up with the group at the restaurant.

I love this restaurant

I love this restaurant

Sticking to the carb-loading plan, I missed out on some of the seafood delights that the others enjoyed (mussels, Lobster Thermidore, fish fingers!?) in favour of the seafood spaghetti.  Of course it was delicious and did the job I needed it today in advance of race day.

After lunch I finally made it to the expo to collect my race pack.  It was a little underwhelming (having only the London Marathon expo to compare it to)  so the allure of the seafront and friends soon drew me out without spending too much time looking around.  Brighton is a fantastic city and the next hour or so of mooching around the Lanes, in and out of shops, just reminded me why Mrs G and I love it so much.  But a reality check sent us back to the caravan to prepare for the big day.

A lemsip and pasta

A lemsip and pasta

Emotions were starting to run high.  Of course, I was raising money in memory of my friend Paul.   His family had joined us on the trip and Sarah popped over in the evening.  We were all in pieces for a little while before spending a lovely hour together,  It was exactly what I needed and refocussed me on my motivation for the challenge coming up.

Packing up the bags on a Saturday night was a bit of a pain in the arse but the plan was to leave early in the morning to hit the park and ride on schedule and have plenty of time to relax at the start.  So after a bit more pasta, a share of a whole chicken (courtesy of Mr Tim), some Lemsip, Manuka honey and a gargle with aspirin, it was time for bed.

I’d been feeling ill for a few days after developing a sore throat on Thursday,  I know I’ll sound soft when I write this, but I felt really fluey over Thursday night and throughout Friday.  Subsequently I got really pissed off!!  Feeling the same on Friday night and throughout Saturday morning had forced me in to action so it felt like the last throw of the dice to dose up before bed.

Race Day

The frantic packing continued after the best nights sleep I’d had for a few days.  My sore throat felt better and I finally felt energised and up for it!  We had a quick breakfast, chucked the kids and Mr Tim in the car and made the journey back to Brighton.  The queue of cars for the park and ride was horrendous and it took us nearly half an hour to get in to the Moulescoombe campus of the university that was being used for the runners.  Perhaps a little more organisation here would have gone down well as we were left very tight for time after the queueing and directed to an alternative car park anyway (for which there was no queue!)

Mr Tim and I jumped on the bus to the start while Mrs G and the girls headed in to town.  Another 15 minutes later we arrived at Preston Park.  Tim was running the 10k race so when he saw the queue for the toilet he legged it and I didn’t see him again until I finished my race.

Keeping it together for the camera

Keeping it together for the camera

I was still in functional mode.  Knowing the drill at these events keeps me calm so I patiently queued up for the toilet.  It was a ridiculous length of queue – probably 20 minutes – so time was tight after I’d “been”.  Making contact with my brother-in-law and sister on the way to drop off my bag made my chest pound.  I could feel the emotion rising but still had to function to get my kit on and drop in my bag.  People were already accumulated at the start area whilst I was still applying vaseline and deciding on whether or not to wear a t-shirt under my running vest!

Eventually I handed my bag in and turned to meet my family. And immediately I was in tears!

Matt, my brother-in-law has trained pretty much from scratch to do this marathon.  He’s lost over 2 stones and must have learnt a lot about himself and his limits during his journey.  I have been immensely proud of his commitment and was desperate to see him at the start to give him a hug and wish him luck.  Plus the added emotion from my motivation for running and the ever present inspiration of my Dad’s marathon endeavours, I was failing to fight back the tears and barely holding back from sobbing as I made my way to meet them.

I managed kisses and cuddles with my niece and nephews and certainly couldn’t speak after hugging and kissing my sister but just managed to say the word “proud” when I hugged Matt!!  After pulling it together for a couple of photos, we set off to our start points.  By now all of my pre-race actions had been completed which meant I completely relaxed.  Normally that’s a good thing, but on Sunday that meant my emotions totally spilled out. I literally sobbed my way to my start enclosure and could barely

Broken

Broken

see my laces when I realised I’d not tied them up! All the training, all the sponsorship, all the support and kindness from everyone since November, all the early mornings, all the hours away from the kids, all the frozen peas on my shins, all the built up intensity of wanting to do this thing the right way for my mate and my Dad.  They all spilled out of my eyes as I stood there alone surrounded by 10,000 other runners.

The Race

Everyone cheered as the gun fired to start the race.  Actually it could have been a gun, or a horn, or cannons – I don’t know as I was tying my laces at the back of my enclosure!  It took about 4 minutes to get across the line after a couple of stops and starts of running.  I missed the high-five with Paula Ratcliffe because I was starting my Runkeeper and forgetting to start my stopwatch but then after just a few yards we came to a grinding halt as we approached a hairpin turn just a hundred yards or so in to the race.  Soon after that we stopped again as the route narrowed on account of several parked cars on the side of the street.  This all frustrated me a little as it’s not like they didn’t expect 10,000 people to be running along there was it?  The result was a near 10 minute mile.

But weirdly (and I’m blaming the adrenaline) I was sweating heavily in my t-shirt and vest so was a little concerned at judging the weather badly.  I decided to reserve judgement on my choice of clothing until I hit the seafront where most of the miles were to be run.  Then I got focussed on my running.

During loads of my Sunday runs with Jim and Leanne we have started off with a really steady first mile or two so I felt confident that I knew what to do.  I didn’t panic about being 2 minutes behind my aspirational pace after a mile – I just weaved my way through the people in front of me and settled in to a tempo I was comfortable with.  The first few miles of any big race are slightly zig-zaggy and it’s a little annoying but a great way of making sure that you don’t set off too fast.

I was beginning to find a bit of space when I saw my Mum for the first time at about 3 miles.  It was a nice surprise to see her there and a good early boost as the route weaved around the city centre.  The course looped back on itself a few times which meant we got the welcome distraction of people running in the opposite direction to ourselves – people watching at speed.  I loved it and took the opportunity to keep and eye out for Matt and his mate Chrissy who had started a little behind me.

I always say that you shouldn’t try anything new on race day.  So why would a race choose “race day” to be the day when they

The water was this kind of affair

The water was this kind of affair

introduce water in bags to runners who haven’t used them before?  The water came in an oblong bag with a little tag at the top and a guy at the water station shouting squeeze it and suck it (??!!).  After a couple of squirts hit the back of my throat and made me choke I had a rethink and squeezed a little harder.  That resulted in the bag exploding and spraying all over me, my face, my clothes and the runners around me!!  As the race went on i just about worked out how to drink without choking but it was a challenge throughout the day.

When we looped back towards the seafront I saw Matt and Chrissy for the first time.  They were about a hundred yards away on the other side of the road and it took a couple of hearty yells before Matt looked around and we greeted each other with a few fist pumps.  I loved seeing him.  He seemed to be going well and I got a massive boost.

By now I was 5 miles in and shortly arrived at the seafront.  As we hit the road and headed out towards the marina I told myself that now was the time to concentrate on my running, keep a steady pace and bring the average pace back in to 8 minute miles.  The road widened a little, I took a few sips from the Gatorade station after 10k and felt fantastic as I continued to pass people on the way out of town.  At about 7 miles we saw the lead cars coming back in to town.  The elite men had covered about 11 miles by that point and they all glided past as if they were taking part in a different sport.  It was the last time I saw any of the elite runners other than in photographs!

After passing the marina and turning off the seafront the road narrowed and once again I found myself slowing and weaving through other runners until we had looped back on to the main road and headed back towards Brighton.  The lumps and bumps in the coast road didn’t make any difference to me and I felt great as I kept a steady pace going.  Watching the runners still heading out of town was good fun.  I shouted encouragement to as many of the other Mind runners as I could without getting out of puff and I got super excited to see Matt and Chrissy again.  Greeting him with an over-loud shout and another Andy Murray style fist pump, I felt like a kid seeing their best friend.  It gave me so much energy that I bounced back in to town.

The pier is an iconic landmark in Brighton and forms an important milestone for the marathon as it signifies that you’re close to

The Pier

The Pier

halfway around the course.  It’s also a great place for spectators and supporters to cheer people along.  The support on the side of the roads had been really good so far but coming back in to the city the supporters went to another level.  I loved the fact that people   were calling my name because I’d got it ironed on to my vest, but it was a real surprise to hear screams and cheers for Uncle Simon just after the pier! I looked across the road and on the promenade side of the barriers were Mum, Joe, my sister and the kids excitedly cheering me on.  Wow – another big boost and really unexpected so it felt like a bonus.  I waved and gave the thumbs up to show I was feeling good and bounced on up the road.

At 14 miles I’d expected to see Mrs G, Sarah and everyone so when they appeared just before the 14 mile marker I was a little surprised and under prepared.  The only thing I thought to do was to give a high five and I gave Mark’s hand such a slap that my own hand stung for a mile! That’s the sort of support that I love.  It reminds me that they’ve supported me for months just to get to the start line and so I feel a responsibility to repay them by doing a good run that they can be proud of.  So I put my game face on, moved in to the middle of the road to avoid distractions from other cheering supporters, got my head down and kept going at my steady pace.

I’d gradually bought my average pace down to about 8:12 after the first slow miles so I knew my tempo was still good.  There was no sign of the shin splint pain I’d had for so long during my training and I could only feel a little tightness in one calf and one quad.  So I told myself that I was feeling better than I had at this distance on any training run as we once again peeled off the seafront for our little detour around Hove.

I was starting to get hungry so was glad to see the High-5 gels being handed out after 15 miles.  I grabbed two and had one immediately, making a plan to have another in 3 miles time and, if possible, another after a further 3 miles.  We looped up and around before turning back the way we’d came.  I think it was at about 18 miles that we turned back towards the seafront and I heard the cries and cheers from my family once again.  They were on the opposite side of the road so in the glimpses we got of each other I tried to show how well I felt – excitedly giving the thumbs up and waving at them.  I knew the toughest miles were still to come but I was delighted to have covered 18 miles with an average of 8:06 per mile.  My plan (which I was making up on the road) involved maintaining the pace  and then kicking on with all I’d got after 22 miles, depending on how I felt.

The long road to-and-from Shoreham Power station (from ianvisits.co.uk)

The long road to-and-from Shoreham Power station (from ianvisits.co.uk)

After another couple of miles I was conscious that my average pace had stopped coming down and as I turned off towards the power station I knew I was at the business end of the race.  Coming up to 21 miles the smell of fish was over whelming, the road became desolate, the wind was in our faces and the support dried up.  It started to get tougher but I consoled myself with knowing that after one more turn we’d be heading back on the home straight.  I just hadn’t grasped the concept of how far that home straight would be!

It was at about 22 miles that I got the warning signs that I was starting to struggle.  I knew my pace was slowing but that was to be expected.  My quads now both ached and one calf was very tight. But the real signals came from the inability to ingest anything!  I’d taken my last gel between 21 & 22 and water had been in plentiful supply but each sip of water was beginning to make me feel sick.  Coming up to 23 miles and looking forward to getting back on to the seafront promenade I could feel vomit rising and had the unpleasant sensation of swallowing down a bit of sick rather than letting it all come up.

I realised that this stage of the race was about mind over matter so recalled a text I’d got from my other brother-in-law the day before.  He told me that Paul would be with me all the way round.  He was right but I’d chosen not to play that card to myself until I needed to.  At 23 miles I needed every piece of help I could get so I drew on all the reserves that my friends and family had built up for me over the last 6 months.

I thought of my memories of my friend and times we’d competed sportingly against each other on the golf course.  I drew strength from the sound of his laugh.  I knew that my run would result in a time that I’d be proud of as long as I kept going.  And I wanted to do a time to be proud of because it’s only then that I allow myself to accept the pride from other people.  I wanted to do a time that I knew my Dad would have been proud of.  I recalled messages from friends on my Just Giving pages and I recalled donations from

West Pier

West Pier

people I didn’t know.  I kept going because I wanted to see my kids and knew they were waiting somewhere towards the finish.  I wanted to keep going to show Mrs G that the hard work and sacrifice was worthwhile.

The old burnt remains of West Pier seemed miles away and didn’t appear to be getting any closer.  The beach huts on my left hand side seemed to be never ending.  These last miles were the hardest of the race.  I stopped drinking because I knew that the wheels would seriously come off the wagon if I was properly sick.  Telling myself that even if I slowed to 9 minute miles I’d still break 3:45 I kept plodding on.

I was driven to keep going because i wanted to get to my family to get that bit of support I needed.  They delivered it – as they do every time – and I got the boost I needed.  Stopping for kisses and cuddles was not an option because I knew that the moment I stopped there was no chance of running again so I waved and soaked up their love to help me keep going.

I see my family at 24 miles

I see my family at 24 miles

The physical and mental exhaustion was becoming overwhelming and I began to struggle to calculate my pace and likely finish time.  I realigned my targets to finishing under 4 hours and as close to 3:45 as possible, reassuring myself that it was still a good time and I’d done as well as I could.  A final boost came as I passed my sister and everyone again with a mile to go.  But then I knew I was on my own.

The support from the crowds was phenomenal but I felt overwhelmed and would have given anything for 10 seconds of quiet to get my malfunctioning head together.  The road continued in front of me but the piers slowly crept up and eventually I passed them to see a “400m to go” sign.  The noise was deafening and I responded by plodding on at the same steady pace.  When I could finally focus on the next sign I was encouraged that it said “200m to go”.  As I looked at the clock I was amazed to see that it had just clicked over 3hrs 39 minutes (it had been too loud to hear my Runkeeper announcements for a couple of miles) so I gave it everything to reach the finish line inside 3:40.

I did it.  When I remembered to turn Runkeeper off it said 3.36 and a few seconds but my chip time was 3:35. I am so proud!

Heading to the finish

Heading to the finish

Finish Line and Onwards

Staggering through the finish funnel.  Being propped up whilst bowing my head to collect a medal.  Walking past the water and bananas.  Shielding my eyes from all the foil blankets because they made me feel like I was going to pass out. Collecting a t-shirt and a bag.  Having my picture taken giving a thumbs up and a smile.  These things are all a vivid blur.

Being called over by a girl wielding my kit bag and wondering how I missed the big lorry I was looking for.  Getting changed underneath the arches of the road I had run along a few hours before.  My feet cramping as I took off my trainers and my back cramping when I put on a t-shirt.  I know I did this things but in a haze of exhaustion.

Being completely changed and nibbling a banana, sipping a little water, I began to get back to a normal state of consciousness. I followed my fellow finishers out of the funnel and started my way back towards the course to see my wife, my children and Sarah.  I was desperate to get back there to see Matt pass through but had lost any awareness of time.  How long had I been finished?  How long had Matt been running?  How long before I got up the road to see Clare?

And then the tears came.

I couldn’t control it.  I don’t cry much.  I mean, I’m not a cryer.  But I couldn’t stop as I hobbled through the crowds to see the people I love.  I saw the Mind tent and peeking in noticed there were some crisps on the table so went in to ask if it was OK to grab a pack.  As I was generously thanked for my efforts and offered hot & cold drinks, cakes, snacks, sandwiches and a massage I tried to thank the lady and the Mind team for their generosity but just broke down in tears saying I just want to see my wife!

Sobbing in to my packet of McCoys I nibbled a few crisps, sipped a bit of water and limped on towards the pier and the final mile of the course.

I think it must be something to do with the security of the environment at the start and finish that allows me to just let go of things.  By the time I entered the jostling of the spectators and battled against the tide of people trying to get to the family meeting area I was once again focussed on the next thing I needed to do … find my family.  I saw my sister and Mum making their way towards the finishing straight to support Matt in his final few steps and then continued to find Clare and the kids.

Matt, a proud finisher of the Brighton Marathon 2014

Matt, a proud finisher of the Brighton Marathon 2014

By the time we met up, my little supporting team had split a bit so it was Clare and the kids that gave me a hug amongst a million passing pedestrians so we decided to stay put to give Matt some extra support rather than joining up with my sister.  I know I loved having the two groups of family around the course and hoped he would get a double boost for getting two big cheers!

My sister had said that Matt was at 23.7 miles according to his Runkeeper app so we expected him to pass by shortly.  But after 45 minutes or so he hadn’t come past so I began to get worried.  I told the others to stay put whilst I walked up the road to make sure that he’d not got in any trouble in the final mile.  After 50 yards of staggering up the road I could see him coming down – still accompanied by Chrissy.  Adrenaline took over again, and rushing to the side I gave him a massive cheer and shouted some words at him.  He was clearly in a lot of pain but was still going and we knew he was going to finish his first marathon – a massive, life changing achievement that only a small fraction of the population will ever do.

Seeing him a few minutes after he finished I knew he was as overwhelmed as I had been.  Watching him being reunited with his kids  was a touching moment.  They’re proud of their Dad already, but one day they’ll be inspired by him.  Maybe that inspiration will result in them buying a pair of running shoes, getting fit and raising a massive amount of money for charity – making their own kids proud along the way.

Hugging him, knowing that we shared in a special achievement was an unforgettable moment for me and one that will always stay with me.

Matt raised over £1400 for The Maypole Project and I am stunned that I raised a humbling £1771 for Mind.  That sort of money is overwhelming and I hope both charities help people to enjoy longer, healthier and happier lives.

Bad Santa: An Ultra Fail by Ultramarathon

On Sunday I took part in a half marathon at the lovely setting of Stanwick Lakes in Northamptonshire and it was the worst event I have ever participated in.

A lovely setting for a winter run

A lovely setting for a winter run

The event was billed as a 5k, 10k and half marathon Santa Run event.  Half marathons are thin on the ground in December but the distance fitted well with my marathon training so I’d entered the race after checking that it was OK to do it in normal running gear (didn’t fancy 13 miles with one of those beards on!).  You go in to these events knowing that there will be a mixture of abilities and motivations but these usually iron themselves out after the first mile of the race, so I was quite excited to set off on my first race since entering the marathon.

However when the race was due to start, my excitement waned pretty quickly and the frustrations began.  The race was late starting because arrows had been removed.  The organisers knew this was going to happen because they stated that it had happened in previous events and emailed asking for more volunteers to marshal the event a few days earlier.  For the £19 entrance fee, I expect there to be sufficient marshals to ensure that the race is not delayed because of a simple issue such as this.

We eventually started over 20 minutes late but the course was flat and pleasantly tracked the lakes along cinder paths.  It was a two lap “out-and-back” course and drinks stations were supposed to be at the turn around point and then half way.  However the only drinks station was on the start/finish line which meant we were provided only one drink for the entire race!  Isn’t that irresponsible in a half marathon?  It became more ridiculous the drink station was located on the finish line (where there was completely no filtering or organisation) so it was entirely surrounded by 5k & 10k runners who had finished.  This meant I had to stop ask people to excuse me before being able to get to the drinks. losing both time and momentum.

Throughout the course there was no distance marking or visible timing at any stage (which I regard as lazy as well as amateurish).  When I completed the first lap in 38 minutes I started to suspect that there may be issues with the distance of the race.  

I would have been delighted with my time of 1:23 to complete the half marathon because it would have been a PB by 15 minutes!  But the race was over 2 miles short of a half marathon.  Isn’t that simply unforgivable?  You accept that some events may be short or long by a couple of hundred yards, but over 2 miles short is plain incompetence.  It is not a half marathon and shouldn’t be advertised as such!!

So, I spent £19 to do an 11 mile run supported by one or two marshals and supplied with half a cup of water.  I claimed my medal for the kids but others were refusing them on account of feeling cheated out of running a half marathon.  I can’t anticipate that the race will be in existence in future years, but it is organised by an outfit called Ultramarathon and their other events are found on the website http://www.ultramarathon.org.uk/santa.html.  I’ve been in contact to give feedback but as yet have heard nothing in response, suffice to say that I’ll not be taking part in any more of their events and I’d urge everyone else to give them a wide berth too!
The kids will love this big adventure playground

The kids will love this big adventure playground

On a positive note, I am delighted to have discovered Stanwick Lakes. It looks ideal place to go with the kids on the bikes when the weather picks up a bit.  When they’re done with cycling on the flat paths, the little ones would also enjoy an hour on the huge adventure playground that looks like it caters for all ages.  There’s a well equipped shop and cafe that is ideal for a warming soup or cuppa and in the summer I expect we’ll be back to enjoy a day out.

The Big E.ON Run, for the NSPCC

It’s not often that your big corporate employer does something that you and you’re family can get involved in.  So this weekends Big E.ON Run for the NSPCC was a good thing for them to do.imaging.ashx

The event was held at Holme Pierrepont, the National Watersports Centre near Nottingham, and consisted of a 10k race, a 5k race and a 5k family walk.  The NSPCC is E.ON’s Charity of the Year so all fundraising went to help the cause that all parents can relate to.

Holme Pierrepont consists of multiple watersports facilities, but the run took in two circuits of the 2000m long rowing lake.  This meant the route was flat but exposed.  It makes me wonder if I’d exchange undulation for wind?

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Having given an estimated time of 45 minutes on my entry form, for the first time ever, I was classed as “elite” amongst the 500 strong field of runners and walkers.  Mrs G and the girls took their place amongst the friends and walkers whilst I stood 3 people back from the front.  

The start was quick (my legs and lungs told me that) and it was difficult to gauge the right pace.  

One of the things I try to do on race days is to stick close to somebody with a Garmin and a club vest to make sure that I’m with a person who appears to know what they’re doing!  My hope is that I run along with an athlete looking for an even paced race and then avoid any “boom and bust” mistakes.  So the fella with a Garmin and a club vest was an ideal companion for the first 2k with the wind behind us.

He was an even more welcome companion to follow when we turned on to the other shore and began running back in to the wind.  It was really blustery and when the rain started at about 3k it was heavy and stinging in nature. Fortunately, my recent memories of running in the same conditions whilst in the Peak District strengthened my resolve and actually encouraged me to push on.

After one lap, I’d passed under the finish line in about 21 minutes and pondered the prospect of having set off too fast after-all! The rain had stopped and the wind had eased (which was not good news because it was now blowing in to my back) so I settled in to a steady tempo, eagerly keeping my eyes open to see how well Mrs G and the girls were getting on.

It wasn’t long before I could see them in front of me.  They’d not even covered 2k when I “lapped them” and my suspicions of the impact of the weather were confirmed when Mrs G called out “I’m soaked and I’m moaning … A LOT” as I ran passed clapping and cheering them on!  The quick high-five with both girls and seeing family and friends was a little boost that ensured I carried on the same pace for another kilometre or so.

Turning back in to the wind, tucking in behind Mr Garmin again, the end of the lake looked miles away.  As my legs grew heavy, the concept of tempo running reverted to plodding and I just about managed to stay in contact with my little group before rounding the final turns on to the finish straight.

Normally I’ve got a bit of a kick in me for the final 100 yards, but I was shattered and a minor increase of pace was the best I could muster.  Crossing the line in 42:15 I was surprised to see a PB (by 1:15) on my watch before congratulating Mr Garmin who immediately declared the course too short, showing me the 6.06miles registered on his watch.

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After dodging my friend Suzanne who was threatening a video camera and microphone, I quickly reclaimed my bag and got some warm kit on to wait the girls finishing.  They must have been so cold as they started running with 100m to go after about an hour’s walking! I nearly clattered into a couple of people having a sprint for the line.

Anyway, we all got medals, we all got hot drinks and eventually we all got hot dogs before driving home.sprint finish as I crossed the course to run the last 50m alongside them – it makes me so proud to see the kids joining in with things like this that I got a bit of tunnel vision!!

It was good to catch up with friends and colleagues at the event.  I hope they do it next year and I hope we’ve helped some less fortunate kids get slightly better lives.

Anyone ready for next years Standalone?

There we have it.  For another year the Standalone 10k is done and dusted.  It was another amazing family day out, as always it was a superb event and even the weather was brilliant!

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The Family Day

This is the most important aspect of the race for me.  My girls look forward to the day, so we started celebrations early.   On the way to Standalone Farm, we belted out a few classics in the car.  Mrs G and the kids joined in with my energising renditions of Gold by Spandau Ballet, Fire by Kasabian and the Rocky sound track classics Eye of the Tiger and Gonna Fly Now.

Every year, my family turns out and supports the race and the runners.

Step-father, mother-in-law, and Mum

Step-father, mother-in-law, and Mum

By the time we arrived, my cousin Linda was at the farm with her kids, and pretty soon we were joined by my Mum, step-father, sister, mother and father in-law, brother-in-laws (x2), an abundance of nieces & nephews and a handful of great friends.  After the race we were joined by my Nan and enjoyed a meal for 20 in a local pub.

This years race was even more special to my family than normal because my sisters husband Matt completed his first road race.  It’s an emotional day for me and my family anyway and when Matt came around the corner on to the finishing straight, half of us were in tears because we were so proud of him.

The main race is followed by a 2km fun run for all the kids.  Most of ours ran in the 6-10 age group and I shepherded my eldest, my Godson and my nephew around.  It was hilarious! We started with the plan of running together until the sprint finish but things got tricky when my nephews shoe came off (twice).  Then they were running in zig-zags all over the path.  Then we got split up when my Godson made his run for home about half way around.  We all made it in the end, and even managed to finish in front of the lady running it in Ugg boots and jeans whilst carrying her handbag and a Bob the Builder rucksack!  I probably had it easy though; Mrs G ran with my God-Daughter and my youngest who insisted on sitting on her shoulders the whole way round (until collecting her medal at the end)

The Event

I can’t believe that, from it’s humble beginnings as the Novatek 10k in the 80’s, the race my Dad built now has a capacity of 1400 runners.  It felt bigger this year but maybe that was because I started with Matt, and my friends Jim & Leanne at the 55 minutes (target finish time) section.  That was a good move because it kept my pace steady at the start whilst picking my way through runners.  Of course there was one person walking in the first 600 yards, but that is the only tiny niggle I could come up with for the whole event.  The course remains undulating but reasonably fast and the field is made up of a good range of experienced club athletes and people like us – which means that everyone feels at home!

The sun came out around the 6k mark and for a moment I was worried that my decision to not take a drink was going to backfire when I could feel the temperature beginning to rise.  But the small pockets of shade helped me through the final 3k and I maintained my pace to finish under my target time of 45 minutes … so I was happy.

Here comes Matt

Here comes Matt

After collecting my fetching blue t-shirt I quickly made it back to cheer on our other runners.  I missed Jim who was just after me at 48 minutes, managed to catch Leanne’s sprint for the finish and was delighted to be able to celebrate Matt’s arrival well inside his target time of an hour.

Once again, the North Herts Road Runners have delivered an outstanding day.  Everyone who came with us had a great day out and I can guarantee that we’ll all be back next year to keep supporting the event that has become so important to me.

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