The last two weeks have been very much Endurancelife themed. That is the race organisers, Endurancelife. Last weekend I had the Exmoor Coastal Trail Series Ultra.
The weeks running up to this went well training wise. I had knocked out two solid 60-80 km weeks before getting stuck into eight days where I managed to complete over 260 km. It was pretty hard but I felt confident that with the week off after that before Exmoor, I’d be recovered well enough to be competitive. As it happened, my week off of training ended up being a week off of work due to a bad stomache leading to much toilet time! I didn’t even make it into work, spending most of my time either on the loo or in my bed! By Thursday, I was beginning to think that I’d not be able to run on the Saturday. Thankfully I started a slight, slow recovery on the Friday. I had planned to stay at my parents the night before and they were going to give me a lift down to the start in the morning. I had already bought my train tickets so had already decided that I was going to my parents whatever. I’d take my race kit with me so that I could decide at the last minute. My Dad just hapened to be passing through Bristol on the way home during the day so had stopped by my place to give me a lift, saving me the bother of catching the train which was nice. By the time we got home I’d pretty much decided to race. I felt worlds better than I had just 12 hours ago, and infinitely better than I had 24 hours earlier.
With a good sleep, a hearty meal, and plenty of fluids in me I should be good to run!
With the alarm set for 0530, this was set to be a long day for all. I rose and had a now pre-race standard big bowl of porrige and coffee as my parents sorted themselves out.
My last race on this course was two years previously and was the marathon (there was no Ultra option then). I had an awful race for three reasons. I got slightly lost a couple times, I experimented with my pace a bit by going off a little faster than normal. I was destroyed by the 10k point! And my final error was to underestimate the course. This is a tough course that should not be taken lightly.
So with these experiences still pretty fresh in my mind, I felt very much more prepared for the day. Plus the fact that I hadn’t had much experience then either, whereas now I have a fair bit more.
My parents dropped me off at the race HQ. They planned to try and catch me at a few points along the course which is always really good for morale. I signed in and collected my number and dibber. For once I actually had a bit of time to chill out before the start, not my normal manic rush which was a very welcome change! Eventually it was time for the brief. I listened in to check whether there were any diversions etc. I then got in to the start funnel. I wanted to be pretty close to the front so as not to have too many people in front. I dibbed out about 4th.
The weather was perfect. It was clear, slightly fresh and I was dying to get out on to the cliffs for the stunning views that you’re rewarded for after the torturous first climb. I power walked up the hill and steadily took a few people who had gone off pretty hard. Within 15 mins you’re very high up on the cliff, looking a long way down to the blue sea. It’s breath-taking, and inspires you to push on. Within a shortwhile you are heading over moorland before cutting up and over a hill. The weather was warming up and the sweat was starting to flow. I was going to have to keep an eye on my fluids, especially after my week of being ill!
From there on there is a long descent into the HQ area which is the end of the 10k course. The ultra course basically follows the marathon route, which runs over the 10k first. Once you have completed the marathon course you then head back out for a second trip around the 10k course. Most people didn’t seem too happy to be having to do the 10k course twice due to the monster climb, but I was pretty happy about it as it would be cool to have the last 10k of the day fresh in your mind. No suprises.
So, back to my race. As I finished the first 10k I was soon to be caught by a chap called Dave who I’d spoke too at my last Exmoor race. We chatted lots and ended up pushing each other pretty evenly. After a long while of powering up and dropping down the incredibly tough but fun route, I was starting to assess Dave as being the stronger of the two of us. We were in 3rd and 4th place. I’d love to be able to podium and get myself a lovely bronze medal, but I just felt like he was more consistant. I started telling myself it doesn’t matter, especially considering the state I was in just 48hrs previously! We finally turned back on the marathon course and I was still feeling pretty good. There was a large climb which I remembered had some steady downhill after it. I power walked up there and without realising it, I had a slight gap on Dave. He caught me straight back up on the descent, but this showed me that I was stronger on the ups than him. As we approached the final 10k still together, I decided that once we hit the big climb, I would have a good dig and see if I could get me some bronze.
I worked hard but within myself to the very top. I didn’t look back at all. He didn’t sound far behind at all. Once I reached the top, I kept the pressure on and didn’t turn around till just before I turned a corner. He was a fair way behind which really suprised me! I must carry on now. The worst is done. All I had to do was hold on for around 8k. Was there anyone else behind? I hadn’t seen anyone there for a long time, so I guessed not. As I went over the top of the final hill before dropping down, I had a little peek behind. I couldn’t see a soul, and I could see a fair distance. All I had to do was some half decent descending to get my bronze. Within 20 minutes I was back in the HQ area and saw my parents there cheering me on. I crossed the line in just 5hrs 22mins. I couldn’t believe what a good race I had seeing as I had been ill all week! It made absolutely no sense, but I didn’t care! I was well chuffed. I relaxed on the grass with my parents and waited to see Dave in. He came in around 15 mins later. Shortly after he had arrived, we had the medal ceremony. I picked up my bronze medal with a big grin on my face. I now had three medals from Endurancelife and every one of them is bronze. I think I need some different coloured medals now! What a slacker!
I now had a week of total recovery before my next race which is the Trailblaze on the South Devon Coast Path which I was very excited about.
Trailblaze is not a race in the normal format. It too is staged by Endurancelife.
To describe this, I have copied some gumph from the site:
Trailblaze is a brand-new concept designed to test your limits and fire your spirit. This hand-picked portfolio of tough endurance challenges consists of a selection of stunning trails which pass through some of the world’s most demanding and inspiring landscapes.
The trails differ greatly, but the challenge is always the same; travel as far as you can under your own steam in one complete attempt.
As well as earning rewards for reaching important milestones, known as ‘hotspots’, there are some amazing prizes up for grabs. The further you make it, the better the prizes get, and the greater your chances of winning.
The question is:- How far can you go?
So, to record your attempt, which can be ran at any time you choose, each hot-spot is a a timing point that you would push your electronic tag which was posted to you into. The idea being that you get as far as you can in one hit. I think this is a fantastic idea. For me it’s great because it’ll provide that little extra motivation to travel out to some of these amazing trails all over the country.
Good Friday was the opening day of the whole project and I wanted to complete the entire South Devon coast path course in one go. This meant travelling from Dartmouth to Plymouth which totalled 89km. It also meant I would have to cross four estuaries. I did a little research and calculated that to make the ferry crossings, I’d need to start at 0400! I contacted Endurancelife to check that the first point wasn’t indoors and whether they had any tips with regards to the crossings. They responded with an offer I couldn’t refuse. If I started at 1100 so as to start with other people and with the press present, then they would support me which would include paddling me across the estuaries in a canoe! Perfect. I had to take advantage of this.
Seeing as I wasn’t starting at the crack of dawn, this meant that I could catch a train down to Totnes in the morning, where I was picked up by James from Endurancelife. We popped back to the Endurancelife office quickly before making our way to the hotel in Dartmouth which was where the opening ceremony and brief would be held. I was interviewed about what makes me tick, then had quite a while before the off. Slowly but surely the crowd grew. I popped into the hotel to grab a coffee and keep warm. My parents walked in then, which was really cool. They said they’d be down, and would attempt to follow me which could be pretty challenging considering it was a bank holiday. My No1 supporters!
After a few talks which I mostly couldn’t hear, everyone shuffled outside to gather around the first hotspot. There was a couple who were potentially going the whole distance and a chap called Tobias Mews who may also go for it. Tobias had recently returned from a blinding race at the Marathon Des Sables, finishing as the top Brit. No mean feat for sure! I dibbed out first, followed by Tobias, and we instantly started chatting. We had just had the most pathetic of rain showers, but otherwise the weather looked perfect with a little bit of haze hanging around which would hopefully stay to provide some protection throughout the day from the sun. Tobias was a really interesting guy, but he was blasting away too fast for me, so I held back a bit thinking about the day ahead. When I arived at the 10k point, Tobias was there waiting. He started running again and said he’d run with me till the 22k point before finishing. This was excellent news. The company would be great, and he would keep an eye on my pace. We chatted the whole way to Start Point, which is where he would stop. I said my goodbyes and ran off along the most beautiful coast path with lots of wild flowers out and the sun shining down on me. It was just me and the trail now. I had been going about 2hrs now and was just starting to fall into a decent, comfortable pace. There was a long way to go, and it was heating up. I would have to keep reminding myself to drink regularly, as I would lose a whole load of fluids over the day. As I bounced around from rock to rock on some of the more technical of the singletrack, I could feel that grin stretching across my face. This is what I loved!
When I arrived at my next hotspot at Prawle Point, I looked at my wrist where my dibber should have been and saw that it was missing! It must have dropped off after Start Point. Damn, what do I do? Well, I’m certainly not turning back as it could be miles away, so I’ll just take a note of the time and tell the crew when I arrive at Salcombe. I arrived feeling pretty good at Salcombe in 3:43. I told the guys about losing my dibber and my time at the last hotspot. They noted this down and gave me a new dibber to carry on with. My parents were there too. I drank a load of water and then rushed down to the ferry and boarded one straight away with my parents and made the short journey to the other side, where I hastily said goodbye to my folks and hopped off and headed off again through Portlemouth. It was really warm now, so I kept forcing fluid down, though I already had a very thick layer of salt on my skin! Within half an hour I was back out on the cliffs. Next crossing was at Bantham in 18k. This time I would need the canoe to get over.
I was tiring, but nothing unusual for this stage of a run. Now nutrition and fluids would be paramount to my success. It is also when tou are this tired that your judgment becomes pretty poor. Just as I was approaching Bantham, I saw my parents again. I stopped for a moment and chatted a bit and drank a whole bottle of Lucozade and put another fresh one in my bag, then I was off. These little meetings really help when things are tough. They take your mind off the strain just for a little while. After 5:53 I was at Bantham. Things felt ok. I followed one of the guys down to where they had the canoe waiting, was shown what route I needed to take once I was on the mud banks on the other side, the go in the two seater canoe, and was paddled across. This was lovely and relaxing. I dragged my hands in the lovely cool water. Within minutes though I was climbing out at the other side and making my way across the mud flats then taking a very steep hill back up to the cliff.
My next crossing was just in 10k. I was certainly feeling it a bit now. I was very tired. In 7:33 I came down a lovely bit of woodland trail to Wonwell Beach, where one of the guys was waiting a little bit up the trail for me. When I reached him he jogged along with me and said that they were having a barbecue. My hunger for proper food must have shone through as he then said that I could have something if I wanted. The barby was set up with loads of delicious looking sausages and meat cooking on it. They promptly served up a wicked hotdog which I wolfed down. I then just had to have a burger too as they looked soooo good! This I ate as I was led down to the canoe. As I was again paddled across, I ate my burger. Yum!
The next and final crossing was Noss Mayo in 15k. I pushed on a little harder feeling a little revitalised after my impromptu barbecue. I was getting closer and closer to Plymouth. It felt good.
After nine and a half hours of running, I had reached Noss Mayo. This time I was taken straight across and I was going to have a couple buddy runners with me for the final 11k. This was ace news as even though I felt pretty good for the last section, I knew that I was fading. Not only that, but the light was fading too! It was a bit of a struggle as I came closer to the end. I found that I was having to walk some pretty pathetic ascents. Never mind, it was nearly over. Within a short while we got our first glimpse of Plymouths lights. I hadn’t seen my parents for a few hours, and seeing as they had a pretty long drive to get home, wasn’t expecting to see them, but as I attempted a sprint over the final 100 metres, and finally dibbed in, they were there! How great to have my parents there and the really fantastic Endurancelife team, who I wouldn’t have been able to go so quick without. My finishing time was 11hr 11mins. Incidentally, my birthday in on the 11th day of the 11th month making my lucky number, 11! Spooky ay?
So, the last two weeks have been really succesful, and hugely enjoyable and rewarding. I just can’t wait to get stuck into my next Trailblaze. I’m feeling pretty strong, and I’m recovering fast. My feet don’t seem to be giving me as much pain as they were. Things are looking good.
This weekend I have the Highland Fling, which is a 53 miler on the West Highland Way in Scotland. I’ve never done this one before and I’m really looking forward to it. If all goes well, I could be up for a half decent time I reckon.
After that, there are around three weeks before I set off to Birmingham to tackle the monstrous Grand Union Canal Race. All 145 miles of it. I’m determined to have a half decent showing there to give me a mental boost for Spartathlon later this year.
Anyway, I think that’s just about enough of that. I’ll post again soon to report on the Fling.