A 5.30am start the day before the clocks sprung up, fell over, dropped back, or whatever it is they did, meant hitting the beaches of Paignton, Goodrington, Broadsands and Elberry Cove as the sun burned into the early morning mist.
Picking up the Musgrove Trail for a while after leaving Churston Village, some of my favourite local trails. from the top of the hill the views take in Torbay in one direction and the River Dart the other way.
Past Greenway and down to the boat yard on the creek there before climbing the field on the outskirts of Galmpton. A bit of road from there until you get into Stoke Gabriel.
Picking up Fleet Mill lane towards Totnes where I can never resist running to the end of Long Marsh, particularly early morning, for the jaw dropping view down the river.
From Totnes, picking up the Torbay/Totnes trail, through the traveller’s site which has been there for decades, passing the Mare and Foul Sanctuary and into the shadow of the spooky ruins of Berry Pomeroy Castle.
The trails towards Marldon are fabulous running on soft ground, woodland and fields (with a very slow mile as I tip toed through some young cattle!) before running under the gorgeous underpass to head towards Occombe.
Passing the marathon point of the run in Scadson Woods before popping out on Preston Sea Front then running up through Victoria Park and home.
It’s been a while since the old trio of Nicky, Martin and myself entered a running event and had a gigglesome road trip.
For new boys and girls to the blog, Nicky is my awesome, inspirational, beautiful, relentless, stunning and quite frankly, hot, lady wife.
Martin? Or, as he’s better known, The Silver Fox. Well he’s as good a mate as you could possibly wish for. He’s also Nicky’s training partner as they limber up for one of those MASSIVE triathlons later in the year.
So, if you look back over the last few years of the blog you’ll find plenty of tales of our little gang’s running adventures.
The Tavy 13 half marathon is a community event hosted by Tavistock Athletic Club and this was our third time here. Regular blog readers may remember me taking a tumble here two years ago. (Read about that HERE)
As elite athletes in our prime, all the talk in the car was of fine tuning our nutrition, getting more scientific about running and which particular dynamic stretching routine we should be using as a warm up for a hilly half marathon. Something like that anyway.
Just before the scheduled kick off, we discovered that the race needed to be held back for an hour whilst the roads were cleared of an earlier accident.
Having suffered a little for the lack of toilets, we’d had to rush straight to the start line before discovering the delay. We took full advantage of this extra hour to carry out a thorough warm up and dynamic stretching routine….. Oh hang on, no, what we actually did was have a lovely cup of coffee and a great big slab of banana cake.
The cake sat a tad heavy in the first few miles!
We had our usual debate about where to start (my days of elbowing my way to near the front are long gone). Martin opted for the middle somewhere, whilst Nicky stuck to her preferred tactic of starting right at the back.
This half marathon has 8 solid miles of climbing and descending and climbing again before the flat and downhill charge back to Tavistock.
It is a road event but captures the magic of open moorland and on some of the steep ascents, reminds us ex-smokers what our lungs are for!
With my eyes firmly on future ultra marathons, and Nicky and Martin both in heavy training towards their iron distance triathlons, none of us was predicting we would go as quickly as two years ago.
We were right.
I was more right than them though, adding a full quarter of an hour to my time.
I took my new toy, an action camera, with me and had some fun with (or got on the nerves of) some of the runners around me. I also tried to film the spectacular scenery and some of the dozens of fabulous marshals and volunteers out on the course.
“HI, I’m Kevin from Sky Sports.”
I introduced myself as I filmed runners trotting along with me.
I received, laughter and plenty of self depreciating humour, along with occasional bemusement and grunts. Check out the little video HERE.
A ran my race comfortably hard for those first 8 miles and then upped the effort on the 5 mile flat and downhill run for home. Whilst I may be slower these days, I felt really good throughout the run and am quietly chuffed with how it went.
And I enjoyed every step.
Martin was secretly hoping to run under 2 hours.
Nicky, as she entered the arena to run her final 400 meters shouted something like “Stop feckin’ filming me” as I chased her round the bend. I still managed to capture her sprint finish.
The Tavy 13 is quite a big event with nearly 500 finishers this year, yet once out in the countryside, it never feels busy or crowded. There’s a cross section of the running community here, whatever pace you run at there are always a few people around you.
With marshals at every single junction, crossing, and water stations a-plenty, not to mention rescue and medical teams, the runners are so well cared for. Great signage and a fabulous route, we’d all heartily recommend The Tavy 13.
Nicky was right to double check. 3.30am really isn’t early morning, is it? More late night.
Tucked in our rented barn near Hayle, we listened to the rain batter the roof lights. The farm’s wind turbine was getting plenty of encouragement from the brewing storm to provide fuel with. “WHOOSH. WHOOSH.” it rhythmically insisted. The accompanying, constant whine from its motor completed the orchestra.
We did sleep eventually. But 3.30am comes around so quickly.
Shower, muesli and strong coffee and I was ready for battle.
It Takes Two (or three)
My inspiration, my world, my whole reason. That’s Nicky. Regular readers will know that my beautiful, amazing wife truly is the heart and soul of everything I do.
Nicky was ready for battle too. She has left the marathons and ultra marathons alone this year in order to concentrate on her ironman ambitions.
So instead of competing, Nicky was ready for scrambling under electric fences, abandoning the car in random locations and appearing at some of the most remote and inhospitable vantage points on the Tin Coast.
Our intrepid Border Terrier, Charlie, by her side.
And They’re Off
Bys Vyken Events‘ Cousin Jack Ultra (35 miles) set off from The Surf House on The Island, St Ives at 5.30am. A trail of head torches and tail lights snaking across Porthmeor Beach under a cloudless sky. (I know it was a trail of lights as I was right at the back so I could see all of my fellow runners!)
17.5 miles away, Cape Cornwall, in all its raw, bleak, midwinter glory, awaited us.
Our mission was to conquer this most inaccessible, isolated, desolate chunk of the South West Coast Path.
And then turn around. And conquer it all again.
Let There Be Light
A flicker of my head torch, as dawn approached, suggested an equipment failure was imminent. Fellow runner, Martin, magically produced a small hand torch, like pulling a rabbit out of a hat. I was able to return it to him as both the sun and my own torch both came alive.
The weather was remarkably kind to us. Sunshine was short lived and the wind was keen but the threatened storm delayed its arrival to this remarkable place until the event was pretty much over.
Most events, particularly in trail running, and even more particularly in ultra marathon races, have time limits within which us competitors must reach certain points on the course. Primarily for the safety of runners and crew alike, they go a long way to ensuring we prepare as best we can before tackling these challenges.
The first cut off point in The Cousin Jack Ultra was at 9 miles and we had 3 hours in which to get there. Whilst this may seem generous, the terrain can change your day rather quickly.
I was pleased to be over 30 minutes in front of that target by then, but certainly not complacent.
How Hard Can It Be?
The first (and later on, last) section, between St Ives and Zenner is about 7 miles long and probably the most challenging on the course.
Lots of rocks, awkward paths made of boulders (even a boulder beach!), mud, special knee deep cow mud, electric fences, ups, downs and an increasingly enthusiastic headwind (not to mention the first 90 minutes in darkness) all contribute to the challenge.
Yeah, it’s tough. But maaaan-alive, it’s gorgeous.
How Tough? How Gorgeous?
The entire route is trail running heaven. As I mumbled into one of the video moments I recorded during the day, “Until I do a race that’s tougher and more beautiful than this, then THIS is the toughest, most beautiful race I’ve ever done.”
Cornwall. It gets under your skin.
It was an absolute privilege to be running here.
Lest We Forget
I raised a water bottle as I passed Levant mine. 100 years ago a catastrophic man-engine failure at the tin mine here resulted in the deaths of 31 local men. Countless others were injured.
This is poignantly remembered in the engraving on the wonderful medals awarded to finishers of this incredible event.
It was an emotional day. I found myself welling up every time I saw Nicky and Charlie (7 times, you need to come here to see just what an achievement that was!)
The land has a magic to it, as I passed these almost mythical places; Zennor, Pendeen, Gurnard’s Head, Cape Cornwall, I could feel the history.
This coast has become synonymous with epic trail running, certainly in the small world I operate in, and to be here, becoming a tiny part of that history, felt so special.
Dot To Dot
As a self confessed dot watching addict (many events fit participants with trackers in order to see their location on an online map), following the trackers of runners at these types of events, it was great to actually be one of the ‘dots’ this time around.
Suck It Up Princess
Flu (and I mean actual flu, not the ‘manflu’) had wiped out two weeks of running (and anything else) and I only passed my self-imposed fitness test two days before the race. I certainly wasn’t oozing confidence at the start line. Prior to the flu, I had prepared well, so I was hoping this fitness was still in me.
Turning back at Cape Cornwall and looking back at the first few headlands to be negotiated again, I took a deep breath…… I noticed the organisers’ sign: “Suck It Up Princess, You’re Only Halfway”
I was feeling a bit weak, my thighs already objecting to the relentless ups and downs, but I was loving every step. Every single step of the way.
I sucked in that bracing Atlantic wind (thankfully now at my back), zipped up my man suit and set off for St Ives.
She’s Got My Back
Nicky and Charlie met me again as I left Cape Cornwall, at Pendeen Watch, then in a random location far from anywhere, before scrambling to Gurnard’s Head, Zenner and finally at the finish.
I may have been exhausted but my wonderful lady wife and cheeky chappie Charlie deserve so much credit for what I achieved.
Crossing the finish line, I couldn’t wait to hold Nicky and tell her just how incredible she had been and how much we shared that proud moment.
Did Someone Say ‘Steps’?
After following my footsteps back to St Ives, perhaps not quite as quickly as on the way out, I did try and save a little energy for the last half mile.
I knew what was coming. A leg burning trudge across Porthmeor beach followed by the climb up The Island’s steps to The Surf House.
Cruel. But fitting.
Such a perfect, iconic location to finish this tremendous day.
Bys Vyken Events Put On Quite A Show
A small, homely feel to race HQ and all the pre-event information gave way to an epic feel to the actual race. All race communication was brutally honest, tongue-in-cheek and absolutely comprehensive.
The Race Director, David, and his fantastic crew managed what looked like a logistic headache (there were three race distances on offer, the 35 mile Ultra Marathon , The 17.5 mile Classic Jack and a Little Jack 7 mile) and the whole event started as planned and felt as well managed as any ‘bigger’ event I’ve done.
There were enough course markings, but not too many. Well placed and thought out aid stations were manned by exceptionally knowledgeable and supportive crew. Similarly the marshal points were enough but not overkill.
I felt trusted to have prepared properly and to give the course the respect it so dramatically commands. But, I also felt protected and at no point did I feel I was facing the challenge alone.
And It’s Goodbye From Him
I only fell over once! I only (briefly) went the wrong way once. I was still running (using the term loosely) across the beach after 35 miles before hauling my sagging legs and beaming smile up those final steps.
Beating the time limit by just over 2 hours too. I’m rather proud of myself I hope you don’t mind me saying.
What Will I Take From The Cousin Jack Ultra?
A stunning medal, a handshake from the welcoming Race Director, a hot pasty and a heart full of memories.
But nothing will top the moment of cresting yet another rocky headland somewhere on the way back to see Nicky and Charlie awaiting me. In the middle of nowhere. Car abandoned, they’d crawled under an electric fence and made their way through the wilderness to the coast path.
Why my writing and running careers are more Grendel than Blitkreig Bop.
“Listen to me, just hear me out. If I could have your attention.” Fish whispered at the start of the nearly 9 minutes of Vigil In The Wilderness Of Mirrors.
Led Zeppelin’s Kahmir, Pink Floyd’s Welcome To The Machine, Rush’s Subdivisions….. They all start minimal, teasing, suggesting, gently finding a path. Showing hope and promise before building, rising, becoming powerful. A lost art in the mainstream but still an art to behold.
Not that I’ve anything against a quick fire American Idiot or Wreckin’ Bar. They just don’t represent the road my writing and running are taking.
As the years have gone on, I’ve nibbled away at being a writer. This blog, in fact, and the wonderful feedback I get from it, has pushed me forward so much. And being lucky enough to have the support of someone who says “Why not?” instead of “Why?”!
My running, started with a desire to be fit, then to run a half marathon.
Here I am 12 years later, feeling like I’ve ALWAYS been a runner. Bit by bit, mile by mile, my endurance has grown.
How did it start?
Running: A desire to be a non-smoker – a few out of breath strides.
Writing: Home made comics, football and music reviews.
Where are you now?
Running: I’ve ran 43 marathons (or longer), I run 50+ miles a week. I do some coaching and help run a group.
Writing: I’m officially a paid writer, my novel is well under way, THIS blog, managing 2 other blogs, just agreed a campaign with a lady attempting JOGLE.
How long has this taken?
Running: 12 years so far
Writing: Since I first held a pen. Nearly 50 years.
Where are you going?
Running: This year I have a 100km, a 100mile and a 24 hour event.
Writing: My goal is to gradually reduce my ‘day job’ hours until I am full time. I’d like my first draft of the novel finished this year.
I ran a mile the day after giving up smoking (14th January 2007). It took me about 20 minutes. It wasn’t pretty but it was everything I had.
I’d been lucky enough to be a teenager in a sport mad house during the 1980s. I witnessed (on a colour telly no less) the great races between Steve Cram, Steve Ovett and everybody’s favourite posh boy, Sebastian Coe. All three still feature in the all time 25 fastest times by men over the distance.
It inspired me. But not right away…….. 20 years of fags, booze and a shocking lifestyle later, I was setting my 20 minute mile.
When I joined forces with Lewis Keywood to help him with his wonderful run group Keywood Running (see THIS blog post to read all about us), we brain stormed some ideas to inspire the group.
I’m fascinated by the mile as distance to run. We tend to talk about our runs in miles (rather than kilometers) – miles ran and minutes per mile. The process of running a single mile, particularly if you attempt it as fast as possible, is a challenge of both speed and endurance for the body. The mile requires a steely grit to convince yourself to keep going.
“It’s a long way to sprint!” quipped one of our runners the other night.
He’s not wrong.
Since 1970 it has been the only IAAF world record officially recognised over an imperial distance. Whilst it hasn’t featured in the Olympics, there many highly prestigious runs and races over the distance.
The Oslo Dream Mile, The Fifth Avenue Mile and the Westminster Mile all spring to mind.
There’s even The Christmas Day Mile – my beautiful lady wife and I head to the sea front for a flat out timed mile early on the big day before gearing up for an eating marathon.
Whether you’re chasing Mo Farah, or chasing my famous 20 minutes, it is a magical distance.
Well there’s a new magical event to add to that list.
In our New Years’ brainstorming session, we came up with this:
Time our runners over a measured mile. Once they’d recovered, ask them to predict what time they’ll run in 6 months time. Simples
We set the date. We printed some numbers. We did social media (oh yes, we are SO down with the kids). We ignored the rain. We set them on their way. We, er, ‘encouraged’ a couple of cars to “WAIT!”.
We timed all the runners.
My own inspiration comes from my amazing, determined and quite beautiful lady wife, Nicky. Having ridden a 6 hour hilly ride the previous day she was quite happy to don her bobble hat and record the results. Don’t worry though, she’s a steely girl and plans to time a mile another time.
With ‘the boss’, Lewis (Keywood – hence the group’s name) charging around encouraging the runners and several injured and ailing members turning up to shout support, there was a fun, excited atmosphere on the night.
It seemed that everyone who ran gave their all and were keen to predict faster times for the summer. A seemingly simple idea which has captured the imagination.
Lewis and I completed our miles straight afterwards. We love a challenge too. I hope the runners were encouraged by their coaches sinking to the floor at the finish line.
You’re new to running races. You’re stood on the start line at your debut event. You nervously look around at the whipper snappers in their team vests and sparkly running shoes and start to question why you’re there.
You have what we writers call ‘imposter syndrome’
If you run, you ARE A RUNNER
(I know the CAPITALS are shouty, but I wanted to SHOUT IT)
The second in my “Yup, that happened to me too” series of running blogs, here’s a summary of MY first race.
After battling through being a newcomer to running (see last week’s blog), I took the plunge and entered my first 10k race.
I chose a low key village race, in another county, hoping that I’d be completely anonymous.
That part of my day was a success. Nobody knew me there.
Actually my goal for the day was to finish all 10 kilometres. Also a success.
And I learned so, so much from the mistakes I made on that first race and I hope I’ve never stopped learning since.
It poured down during that March morning. I wore baggy cotton jogging bottoms, I must have doubled in weight as the race went on.
AND finished holding my trousers up.
So, looking back, did I belong? Hell Yeah!
Sporting chaffing which brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it now, bleeding nipples, blisters and black toe nails, I was utterly spent as I crawled across the finish line.
The event was a fund raiser for the primary school where the race was based.
In lashing rain, a child shouted “You did it!” and waited for me to bow my head before hanging a medal around my neck.
For any new runners reading this, please be assured that we’ve all asked this question.
Back at the start of my own wonderful running journey I didn’t have the confidence I might mistakenly display these days.
Having started to help out at the wonderful Keywood Runners (see this blog), I am now having the pleasure of helping runners who are at the beginning of their own journeys.
Well, when I first started I wasn’t in the rather wonderful place I am now in life (see pretty much any other blog post to see how I embarrass my beautiful, amazing, inspirational lady wife, Nicky, by telling the whole wide world just how I feel about her!) and I didn’t really know anybody that ran.
I just put some old trainers on and went running. It wasn’t pretty. Some say it still isn’t. One well respected local running coach once described me as ‘running like a drunk man herding cats’!
I used to go out late at night. In dark clothes. Puffing and panting around the streets. Several times in those first few weeks I was asked if I was alright by concerned late night dog walkers. 25 years of smoking took some time to cough up!
But it started to come together, a mile of non-stop running, then half an hour, 3 miles….. and so it went on. I was starting to enjoy running. If you’re reading this and aren’t sure, trust me, it gets easier. (And please get in touch with Keywood Runners for advice and group hugs)
It was then that I asked the question “It’s a WHAT run!?” after reading my first generic training program in a running magazine. You know the sort of thing Monday – rest Tuesday – 5 miles steady Wednesday 3 miles recovery run
I could not for the life of me imagine a world where the words ‘recovery’ and ‘run’ could be used in the same sentence. I was quite into running by then and even had my eyes on a 10k race (which is another story!). But every single run felt like I was at my maximum. I couldn’t picture there being any other type of run.
And then there’s ‘easy’ runs. EASY!! Were these people pulling my doo dah?
Here I am 12 years later (pretty much to the day) and I can honestly assure all you new runners it IS possible to enjoy running!
I wish they’d been Keywood Runners when I started, I might have learned a bit quicker that varying pace and distance would help me develop into a stronger runner.
5 TIPS FOR A NEW RUNNER
Find A Fun And Friendly Group – there are lots of lovely groups and clubs as well as our own gang at Keywood Runners
Take Regular Walk Breaks – Don’t run until you are gasping, even if this means running for 20 seconds and then walking for a minute. Before you know it those 20 seconds will become 30, 40, a minute….
Don’t Try And Run Every Day – As your muscles, joints, ligaments and tendons get used to the new form of exercise, give them time to heal between runs. They WILL get stronger but avoid over straining, any injury would be demoralising.
Wear some well fitting, comfortable kit and running shoes – most running shops will do a running gait analysis. Poorly fitting kit could result in unfortunate chaffing. I learnt this the hard way.
PARKRUN- Find your local Parkrun, a free weekly timed 5km run/walk. Not a race just a run with a smile on your face. A great way to build up your running without the potentially intimidating atmosphere of a race.
As for those ‘recovery’ and ‘easy’ runs? We’ll talk about them next time……