At Last A (Big) Pilgrimage

It’s been a while………

I’m starting to really enjoy avocado by the way. We were having our first meal out since, well, since who knows when (Feb 2020?) and I elected to have a dish where avocado is listed as an ingredient.

The world might have paused on its axis during the last eighteen months, but my palette has become bang up to date, those recipes in the Saturday Guardian are looking almost accessible!

Why were we eating out? The same reason we were having our first night away from home in eighteen months too – we had gone to run an event. The Big Pilgrimage Marathon, the first appearance on the running calendar of this quirky looking offering from Big Feat Events.

I wore a shirt too. With buttons and everything. We felt so grown up as we ordered our chicken and avocado.

Contemplating avocado

Our Premier Inn sat on an identikit retail and industry park which could have been in any number of towns around the UK. Bloomin’ convenient though – as well as our meal next door in The Beefeater, we visited Decathlon and the MASSIVE Tesco without needing to use the car.. We’re from sleepy Devon see, “ooo shiny things” our gaping, gawping mouths dribbled as we hunted for a pint of milk in a supermarket the size of Paignton.

For our first ‘away’ fixture for 18 months we had been tempted by the promise of historic trails, epic skylines, farmland, beaches and boardwalks, not to mention, woods, forests, an abbey, several churches and a cheeky boat ride. Yes, The Big Pilgrimage sounded right up our street. 

The route follows the first 27/28 ish miles of a recently discovered Pilgrim Trail called The Old Way. Our section started at the site from The Pilgrim Fathers left our shores on The Mayflower (in Southampton) and finished at Fort Nelson, home of The Nelson Monument and The Royal Armouries Museum. Which was handily only ten minutes from the aforementioned Premier Inn. Which was where we were to leave our car. It’s almost as if they’ve planned this stuff.

Nothing wrong with the Premier Inn, but we didn’t have the best night’s sleep…… 

one of us is VERY organised…… (it’s not me)

“WE’VE OVERSLEPT!….. Oh no, it’s 11.30pm”

“THERE’S SOMEBODY IN THE ROOM! WHAT ROOM? WHERE AM I? WE’VE OVERSLEPT…….”

That sort of thing. All feckin’ night.

It was quite a relief when the 4.15 alarm went off.

That’s early! I hear you exclaim. Well, yes it is, but the rather snazzy, leather interiored National Express coach charged with delivering us to Southampton was leaving at 6.15am. And we wanted time for showers, coffee and Weetabix complete with lukewarm milk. 

We gathered our kit. A VERY straight forward process for Nicky as she meticulously laid it out the previous night….. I think I ‘put’ mine out and so, as usual, I left the kit gods to decide whether I had everything I needed. 

En route to the start

As the coach pulled away from Fort Nelson (nr Portsmouth) in the gloomy half light, we hadn’t yet appreciated the panoramic view from here. After finishing some hours later in the sunshine, we were astonished by the vistas on offer. The very bright and cheery Big Feat crew member had ticked our name off the coach list and counted us all aboard. The welcoming and friendly driver hadn’t quite grasped the brief as he asked “What time is your return journey?”. “We’re running back.” His face seemed to ask “Why?”

Visit The Isle Of Wight Festival” screamed the huge posters as we pulled in near the Red Funnel ferry terminal. In the spirit of Rob Deering’s Running Tracks (see my review here), this immediately evoked memories of visiting the festival in 2006. What a weekend – The Prodigy, Foo Fighters, The Kooks, Primal Scream, Lou Read, Maximo Park…..

Registration was a jolly and good humoured affair at the water’s edge. We collected our race numbers complete with our first sticker of the day. Yes, we collected stickers which we then attached to our race numbers. What a great and individual touch – a volunteer in Pilgrim hat, naturally, handed us a bespoke sticker at seven of the notable points along the route. Nice.

The race briefing delivered to the 70 or so marathon runners captured the mood perfectly. Nothing to fear. Keep the water on your right. Look after each other. Don’t fret the ferry crossing………

And we were off, a watery sun soon dispensing with the slightly autumnal chill. 

3 miles of Southampton’s waterside suburbs gave way to greenery at Westwood as we started on the trails proper. Not before we had crossed the impressive bridge over the River Itchen and received a sticker from a young Pilgrim dressed head to toe in Southampton FC gear (getting ready to host Manchester United later in the day I believe). 

From there we tackled all sorts of shore line – paths, shingle beaches, compacted mud – and weaved in and out of the industry and piers lining Southampton Water. Before long (7 ½ ish miles) we had reached the beautiful village of Hamble and its much anticipated ferry ride. Three of the Hamble Pink Ferries were shuttling runners over the short crossing and we waited a couple of minutes before enjoying our mini cruise. 

Nicky and I are quite used to trail events having quirky sections and approximate distances and so, as advised in the race briefing, we didn’t fret about the boat ride. A couple of runners were in a quandary about whether to pause their running watches. We just enjoyed the ride and were soon having to propel ourselves using our feet again as we disembarked. 

The Warsash Nature Reserve on the shoreline came next, lush and green and picturesque and still very, very flat! Through miles 9 to 12 we were still following the shore as it again became quite industrial. Nicky and I are used to running relentlessly up-and-down trails at home and the lack of elevation seemed to be tiring our legs in different ways.

As we approached the halfway point the course turned and headed inland. With the beautiful marshes of Titchfield Haven to our right, the runners in the 14 (ish) mile half marathon race were crossing their finishing line as we passed. Always looking to raise a smile, I drew on my footballing glory years and shaped to swerve left into the finishing funnel before side stepping and running straight past – this raised a smile or too and we exchanged some laughs with a couple of spectators enjoying the chilled out atmosphere in the sunshine. We then headed off through the beautiful village of Titchfield itself.

Titchfield Abbey is really quite spectacular and worth the very brief detour to enjoy in its full glory. The trails from this point on were glorious, old railway lines, farmland and woods. At some point during all of this I managed to take a tumble. “No lazy steps” is one of my trail running mantras – a few years ago I did go through a phase of hurling myself to the floor at random times. 

Anyway, on some particularly firm and even ground, I caught my feet in a trailing bramble and down I went.

“Are you ok?”

“Yes”

“Are you sure?”

“Can we talk about something else!”

“Have you hurt your pride……..?”

That might have been as we went through Wickham (around mile 21) now I think about it!

Then The Meon Valley Trail which was busy ish with families enjoying the gorgeous and accessible countryside. This was followed by The Forest Of Bere which preceded the two longest climbs of the day as we began to sense the finish line within our grasp. From mile 23, still in the forest, we had caught a few fellow runners and felt we were really in our stride. Running well and taking walk breaks for difficult terrain or to eat and drink, combined with being in the company of my partner in adventure, my beautiful and inspiring soul mate Nicky, the miles and time simply slid by.

This really is our happy place – running together on the trails, either talking dribble, solving our quandaries from ‘real’ life, or just enjoying each others company in silence as we let the peace of the surroundings seep into us. Before we knew it we were at the ‘200m to go’ sign. A lovely short downhill section on the grass and we held each others hand aloft to celebrate another challenge completed. Of Nicky’s 38 marathons and my 45, 27 have been completed side by side. It is the best feeling.

This route is a belter. The work that has happened, in advance and on the day, in creating it, marking it and marshalling it shines through. The finished product is superb, take a bow Big Feat Events.

Oooo look, a video too:

Country Miles (Dorset Invader Marathon 2018)

 

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Nearly 29 miles of this! Mmmmm Mmmmm (as grandson, Olly, would say)

If you’re looking for the finish line in a trail marathon, you won’t find it at 26.2 miles! Certainly not at the fabulous Dorset Invader. We’ve tackled many White Star Running events and you’re never short changed on distance. More muck for your buck, as it were. I whole heartily approve, we’d soon be moaning if it was short!

In a break from tradition, our wingman, Martin, was chauffer for the day, his new stead a step up in size from our mini. We settled into the Volvo luxury and headed east. Yet again, it was destination Dorset for #TeamBonfield and our sugar fetishist running chum.

As the main man at White Star pointed out in response to a couple of social media grumblings, these wonderful country routes which trail events companies map out for us depend on the good will of the people who own the land we have the pleasure of skipping through.

With farmland being at the mercy of climate and delicate crops needing to be avoided, routes will be varied and negotiated on a race by race basis. This year’s Invader route being quite different to the one we ran two years ago. A clever quirk of this year’s route was the loop which was repeated, the way it was set up, it never felt as if we were running laps.

With the forthcoming storms holding off until after we’d finished, there was only a wild wind to contend with. So much of this gorgeous route was on trails through woodland and alongside tall hedgerows that we were only intermittently exposed to the howling breeze.

“Are you two going to do ANY running?” Martin briefly turned to ask. The three of us started together, Martin speeding off as we, at best, sauntered up the first field. There’s plenty of time, we assured him, fully intending to use it.

dsc_12174040429068873134989.jpgA big centurion, and indeed a little centurion, both on horseback, ceremoniously set us on our way for this Roman themed event.

About 250 runners were soon spread out as the course picked its way through the fields and tracks of the host farm. After a couple of miles (bearing in mind, my memory is rarely chronological and certainly not detailed) we reached the one road crossing in the event. It was expertly and safely manned by a team of marshals, with clear and precise instructions as to how and when to cross.

Oh, and some 6 hours later, when we were on our way to the finish, the same crew were still there, still cheerful and still as attentive. A massive thank you to them and all of the fabulous volunteers, marshals and aid station crews on the day. Above and beyond as ever.

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Martin, on his way to 3rd in his age group, despite starting with us!!!

After the road crossing, we started to make progress as we warmed to the task. Nicky is a serial start-at-the-backer, much to Martin’s chagrin. His argument is that if you start behind somebody who is going to run at exactly the same pace as you throughout the event, you will end up behind them by the amount of head start you gave them. My argument is: SO?

Nicky’s thinking is a tad more considered. If she starts too far forward in the pack, then runners covering the ground quickly will be scuttling past. Potentially demoralising.

We always say, as runners disappear away from us early in the race, if they are that much quicker than us, then we won’t see them again and good luck to them. If they are a similar pace to us then they may be setting off too quickly and we’ll catch them later on anyway.

BUT, we won’t have had a stream of faster runners whizzing past us.

It didn’t do us any harm, despite starting with a saunter up the hill, behind everyone, there were over 100 behind us 28 miles later. Actually, it didn’t do Martin any harm either, he finished an hour in front of us and third in his age category. And we ALL got stonking great medals at the end, regardless of where we finished.

There was a quite flat and runnable 2 mile section along the old Somerset and Dorset Railway which is quite unusual for a White Star event and some of this featured twice. A cracking section to tick a few miles off and fascinating to run through what used to be stations.

If you enjoy running on corn fields, gravel tracks, wooded trails, quiet lanes, old railway lines, farmyards, bridleways and like a good few hills, then this is definitely for you.

We took the whole thing VERY seriously….

Well, we’re off to Cornwall for my favourite ever event in just over a week. The R.A.T. festival of coastal trail running (read all about last year HERE). With this in mind, completing a lovely long trail marathon has given us both a confidence boost about our fitness as we start to, er, ‘taper’……..

You can check out our Dorset Invader performance on Strava HERE.

So much to say, so little time…. stay tuned and keep on keeping on folks…..

(No) Jacket Required

Sporting a shiny new MOT certificate the trusty Micra bumped across the field to be directed into a lovely parking space by the familiar face of Jamie.

Jamie has featured in this blog on numerous occasions as he tends to be omnipresent in the local trail running community.

And here he was, at the crack of dawn marshalling the car park for Pure Trail’s Race The Tide.

Good job he was. “Take your kit for inspection at the registration tent Kev”

Ahhh. I immediately remembered NOT packing my running jacket…..

 

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Sharing a coffee with Jamie

So, as I collected my race number and tucked Jamie’s jacket into my running pack after he had saved the day, the sun was already beating ahead of the 8am start. Hopefully I won’t be needing it I mused as I poured myself a coffee from my flask and humbly offered Jamie a cup as a thoroughly inedaquate thank you.

There was a healthy looking gathering of far better organised athletes than I mulling around the start line as I sauntered into the pack.

It’s not the same on the start line without Nicky, I can’t lie. I absolutely love running and enjoy many a solo hour on the trails but there’s nothing quite like lining up with my beautiful lady wife for these scenic trail events.

In the circumstances, Nicky on a powerful recovery from a calf injury and focusing on her Half Iron Distance triathlon in a months time, she was happy to be tackling the 16 mile version whilst I faced the full blown 29.

With Nicky, along with fellow Half competitors Martin & Abi, plus our ever present supporter, Gloria, arriving some time later, I wasn’t my most organised self, in fact, without Nicky guiding me, I did well to be dressed, and was still mentally checking I’d got everything I wanted to take in my running pack as we set off into the Flete Estate.

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I was sure it said ‘fast and flat’ on the flyer….

I’d been originally training for a 60 mile event this weekend, as regular blog readers will know, so the theory was I should be ‘comfortable’ with the prospect of tackling half the distance….

Having enjoyed the Half Marathon last year (check out the blog HERE), I was looking forward to once again enjoying the runnable trails through the Estate alongside the River Erme. Once over the upstream bridge, the route winds its way back towards the sea before the marathon route splits off and heads off towards the River Avon.

Running through woodland, river trails, farmland, footpaths and quiet lanes, this really is trail runners heaven. And the best was yet to come.

Regular readers will know, I am rubbish at recalling accurate mile by mile, blow by blow accounts of my runs, so forgive me if I ramble randomly…..

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Nobody was going hungry or thirsty!

So heading towards the sea again, running periodically with some great company – Gus, David and Rebecca, we caught up with two more runners. Luke and Adam, both regulars on the trail running scene, who appeared to be wading into the sea!! They believed they had already reached the point at which they should be ‘racing the tide’ and had taken on the fast moving current.

 

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Luke survived his ‘extra’ water crossing

 

They decided to backtrack and helpfully gestured us to not take the same path as them, which meant we momentarily snuck past them as they squelched across the sand. There was much hilarity and banter as we crossed the sand and headed for Burgh Island. The Island is accessible without getting your feet wet at low tide and we got bemused, even admiring glances, from day trippers as we climbed up for our loop of the island.

 

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I don’t know WHY we run here

This is truly a breath taking area of natural beauty and it was a treat to be enjoying it all in such glorious weather. Off the beach, we came to one of the fabulous aid stations. Further adding to the lovely family atmosphere generated by Pure Trail events, this food market of a checkpoint was manned by the parents of one of the Pure Trail’s event organisers. I managed to get a picture of Steve’s Mum and Dad which, in the case of his Mum, is quite a rarity.

So, fuelled again by coke, water melon and Jaffa cakes, I set off to enjoy the coast path between Bigbury and the actual ‘Race The Tide’ crossing at Mothercombe.

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Gus mulling over the selection of food on other!

Gus and I had barely started saying “So, poles, do they really help……” when Luke deftly produced his and sped past us up the next grassy hill!

We reached the crossing of the Erme with plenty of time to spare before the incoming tide arrived and we ventured onto the next section of glorious coastline. The route is so beautiful, demanding for sure, but stunning, that as we turned back in land after about 23 miles, I started to feel a twinge of sadness that we’d reached the final 10km….

Every aid station we passed was stuffed with such a wonderful array of goodies, it would be easy to pile weight on DURING the run. The watermelon though, wow, how utterly refreshing was that!

Turning back along the Erme Estuary for the final trudge back up to the finish line, I had a wave of pride at my performance. Not because of the time I’d taken, or the position I’d finished, but because I seem to be getting so much better at judging my effort level to get maximum pleasure out of my time out on the course.

*NOTE FROM NICKY – He’s also under strict instructions not to end up in the medic’s tent like after his Eden Marathon ‘efforts’!

And what a course.

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Thank you to the organisers for this picture, I almost look like an afferlete!

Due to the way the different distances of the day’s races were timed, I managed to cross the line about a minute before, our great friend, Martin, a regular feature in this blog. He hadn’t been with us last year and I just knew he was going to be waxing lyrical, in his sexy brummie twang, about how gorgeous the route is. And he was, he also loved it

Another great friend, Gloria, had enjoyed a lovely walk and paddle in the Erme before setting herself in prime position for finish line photos.

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Nicky & Abi – wearing the smiles of a happy run

Before long Abi, another great friend, fresh from her marathon debut in London, and Nicky, were giggling their way through a mock sprint finish to the line. They had nattered and munched and selfied their way around the beautiful route and Abi declared it her new favourite race!

The School House Café literally next door to the event field, was our destination for mammoth cakes and happy musings of a wonderful day.

Asked how much I enjoyed it, I declared it to be, out of all the events I’ve ever tackled WITHOUT Nicky by my side, it is my absolute favourite. Pure Trail give their events that feeling of being involved in something quite epic, whilst keeping the atmosphere of hanging out with your mates and family. The route was well thought out and maximised this incredible location, the marshals and organisers were all smiles and supportive, with so many experienced trail and ultra runners on the ‘staff’ for the day, the participants were more than safe and catered for.

I was sooooo busy enjoying the views I forgot to take much in the way of photographs but hope I’ve captured the flavour of a wonderful day.

FOOTNOTE – After 107 blog posts, you’d think I’d start to understand WordPress a bit better. apologies for some of the picture captions!

 

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FOOTNOTE 2 – my quads were loving this today!!!!

 

Take me instead

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Despite the cross of hope on each leg, it wasn’t to be

There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for my beautiful lady…..

I would definitely take Nicky’s injury off her, if I magically could, and stop running myself if it meant she could toe the start line in South Africa in 2 weeks’ time.

Regular readers may well remember my first 50 ultra back in October. They should do, I banged on about it enough! (my Gower 50 blog HERE)

Well I turned my ankle quite dramatically in that race and had a little bit of time off running.

Whilst it was massively frustrating, and it did seem the world and his wife were suddenly out pounding the pavements whilst I was unable, it was so much easier than how frustrated I am now Nicky is out of action.

I have solemnly promised that I will be on that 2 Oceans start line and be giving it my all.

On behalf of both of us.

Despite Sam the physio’s finest efforts Nicky’s troublesome calf just won’t let her play. So (probably wisely) she has turned her attention to being super fit for her half ironman debut in June.

Beware the Ides of March. Well for many years I haven’t been a March fan. 9 years ago my sister, Karen, got to her 44th birthday but 7 days later finally succcombed to the myriad of cancers that her final years were dominated by.

So yeah, odd one is March.

It’s all a matter of perspective, I guess.

I ended up running alongside a chap last week, whilst on my own long run, who was training for a spring marathon. Initially he was going to be attempting his debut 26.2 effort alongside his wife but circumstances have taken over somewhat. His wife is extremely poorly and does not have a great prognosis. He is determined to complete the run for both of them…

He implored my to do the same with 2 Oceans. Whilst we are fortunate to be currently blessed with good health, it is true that none of us know when these opportunities might come our way again.

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The moment Nicky handed me her list of possible adventures!

There is, I have to admit, a bit of a guilt thing banging around inside my head. About 9 months ago, Nicky put me on the spot and asked, out of all the trips we’ve looked at (and we do spend a LOT of time saying “ooo look, an endurance challenge, in an unusual location…”) which would be your ‘dream’ trip. Such a difficult question, but the imagery I’ve seen from the 2 Oceans Marathon has always been a temptress for me and that we could throw our resources at it makes me feel a very lucky boy.

And, I am.

But it’s going to be a tough morning when I walk into that starting pen without Nicky………. For both of us.

I’m not really one for “I’m running for Aubrey”, or “running for Martians” but in this instance, I’m happy to be on duty for those who aren’t able to be.

On a more positive and typically determined note, Nicky’s decision has meant more accelerated and intense treatment on her calf has been possible and she is busy planning her post holiday training, along with a full A4 page of possible future adventures……..

There’s a trip of a lifetime to look forward to and some big decisions about our life too, so onwards and upwards……

Me? Well, I went for a tired but consistent 10 miles this morning and have my head well and truly focussed on building up my preparation for the T60. There’s still places, check it out HERE.

Whilst our Sunday run was curtailed rather upsettingly, I managed 24 miles on Saturday. It was hard work, but I’m hoping that, come race day(s), not having spent 8 hours on a concrete breaker the previous day will help me feel fresher!

For a nose at what passes as training, my Strava training is HERE

Keep on keeping on people…….

The Reggae Marathon (paradise found)

“Brexit! Yeah Mon, Brexit. HA HA ”

We had a lot of shouts from spectators and fellow runners. Wearing Union Flag vests, it seems, attracts a lot of cheers and banter….

“God bless the Queen” “Ingerland” “Go Great Britain” “Do you guys speak English?” even “Go Canada”!

But “Brexit”!!! It appears our country’s decisions are the subject of much mirth even this far from home.

Anyway.

Here I am feeling like my heart has won the lottery, lying on the beach in paradise with the most beautiful astonishing lady in the whole wide world.

I’ve said it before, but every single day I feel truly blessed.

The Reggae Marathon. The pressure of representing Team GB lessened as we realised the number of British competitors milling around at the start was swelling.

Team GB discuss tactics

Gravitating towards each other, we exchanged greetings and soaked up the bubbling atmosphere. The sweet smell of weed drifting across the runners with the deep reggae bass.

With the 10k, Half Marathon & Marathon there were 2000 runners ready at 5am for the best running party.

All three races go off at 5.15, the torch lit road guiding the runners into Negril town where the bemused but encouraging locals lined the streets despite the early hour.

Apologies here….. We bumped into so many lovely people and even had shout outs for the blog at the pasta party. This was not just the UK runners either. The Dutch and French contingent it turned out are blog readers!

Some of Team GB

We cheered and high fived runners from Poland, Switzerland, Germany, France, Spain, Holland, The USA, Canada and, of course, the beautiful island of Jamaica.

So, “hi” to (and this is a far from exhaustive list) Darragh, Rachel, Sue, Gary, Elise, Cédric, Adele, Samira, Pieter, Don, Tracey and the boys from the resort shouting “GO BOSS” from the window of their bus to work.

HOT!!

Grandson Ollie could have commentated here – one of his first words was “HOT” as he was warned clear of mugs of tea etc.

After turning in Negril and heading back past the start & finish area, the route headed out past our hotel. Which we did four times!

Our goals were simple: have fun and try to finish. The build up to this holiday has been rather demanding and family illnesses and caring issues, for a while, looked like jeopardising the trip.

So lining up at the start line felt like an achievement and a massive relief. Not as much of a relief as the timely positioning of a (already well used!) portaloo at about 5 miles…….

After the 1300 or so 10k runners had peeled off to turn for home, that left us running with the Half Marathoners heading back towards home.

You don’t like reggae?? Probably not the marathon for you, these guys were everywhere

The Half was won in 1h15 and a lovely chap staying at our hotel, Steve, came 5th in 1h25. Of course they were too quick to enjoy what we were going to be treated to……….. It was going to get really HOT!!!

We got to the half way point, where the field was packed with partying finishers from the shorter races, in just under 2h 30m. With the temperature rapidly rising and the sun getting higher in the sky……..

HOT!!!

As the 2nd half started the frequency of seeing other runners diminished but that only made those of us still out there even more determined to high five and cajole each other, shouting determinedly our encouragement.

HOT!! the roads were lonely and exposed making the last hour quite brutal. Nicky was starting to wilt as I tried to help by running with my shadow cast over her.

We repeatedly crossed the road in search of shade and were more than ‘quite’ relieved to see the mile 26 sign and run in our traditional hand holding style!

I truly AM blessed.

“Made it!!!”

2 years ago when we were here the finish area was pretty much packed up by the time we arrived. It was no different this year, the stage and p.a. had already been dismantled as had the bar etc. Luckily we had preempted this and frozen a couple of bottles of coke and put them in our drop bag.

Nectar!

This event gets listed by many in those ‘must do’ lists. It’s easy to see why….

Like Seaton on Grizzly day, the whole town chips in. The main road is closed all morning (apart from a free shuttle bus service which crawls up and down all day). The early morning, torch lit start is quite magical. The sounds, sights and colours (especially in the first half) are quite magnificent and the atmosphere amongst the runners is special and really heart warming.

The route is repetitive and tedious, especially noticeable as it gets hotter. BUT we just focussed on the amazing place we’re in and had (and are having) an absolute BALL!

Will we be back?

To Jamaica? Undoubtedly

To Negril? Almost certainly

To do the marathon???…….

Maybe the 10k………

5h12m47s

So two years ago we completed the Reggae Marathon in 5h12m47s…. Competition time…… How long will we take on Saturday when hopefully it’s not quite as warm as today!!! A lovely 5k beach run this morning whilst Nicky swam. Were an active bunch here in the Athletes’ Village! So post in the comments a guess at how quickly we’ll go on Saturday – first (and only) prize us, er, er….. A MENTION IN THE BLOG!!! Guesses on here on on my Facebook page. Three Little Birds courtesy of these cool guys Jogging in the early morning sun Art? “Ya Mon…. Boat trip today??” Nicky will be looking to gate crash international group photos this year too!

THIS JUST IN….

Shock news coming in from Team GB in the Athletes’ Village…..

The runners have been seen….. EXERCISING!

In Negril preparing for Saturday’s Reggae Marathon, the British contingent started the day by not bothering with their planned early morning beach jog.

What a beautiful Jamaican morning

And they weren’t quite as sharp as yesterday claiming their beach spot. Concerns and rumours were abound as one of them only had TWO courses at breakfast.

Then the pair were seen to take to the water and swim. I mean really swim, several times up and down parallel to the beach in the lush warm waters.

This happened during despite yesterday’s HORRENDOUS (well, it did hurt at the time) jellyfish sting.

Tean GB. Teak tough and taking it all very, very seriously.

In other news, Negril is still, indeed, paradise.

Number collecting tomorrow and a blog competition to look out for……

3 days and counting………

Not a bad spot for a bit of scribbling

Day 1: The Athletes’ Village

This beard thing.

Oh, and the new glasses. Strutting around thinking I’m cool. Like Elvis Costello.

Secretly knowing I’m gorky. Like Mr Bean.

One of us has lost a toe nail!

Team GB arrived here in Negril after 20 hours of travel, happy to have landed in paradise but rather fatigued.

And never mind Elvis Costello and Mr Bean. The locals seem to think I’m Mr Spliffy…….

As the coach driver pulled my cases from the under belly of his vehicle, he leaned in to me and whispered “You smoke weed? It’s good!?”. Couldn’t he see I’m an elite athlete in town to represent my country?

We awoke this morning, on this lush and majestic island, to pouring rain. I mean tropically heaving down…..

Nicky using the hydrotherapy pool.

A hearty breakfast. Does EVERY international athlete give the all inclusive breakfast a 3 course kicking? Never mind carb loading, we’ve taken the science out of it…..

It’s now simply called LOADING!!

We left breakfast as the emptied heavens took a breather to reload and massaged our athletes’ feet in the warm Caribbean Sea.

“Smoke?” enquired a suitably languid beach trader. We politely declined.

We sauntered towards our chosen berth on the glorious sand, passing another trader, casually dragging his feet along the water’s edge.

“Ya man…..?” As his hands mimicked the action of partaking of the leaf on offer and his eyes demonstrated the effects …….

No thank you, old chap, but please accept our thanks for considering us in your plans.

Beach traders here – just a gentle “no thanks” and you get a Marley salute and a “respect” and left in peace.

Any way 5 days until we pull on the Team GB vests and tackle the Reggae Marathon.Reggae Marathon.

No nerves yet………

We’ve been selected……

I say ‘selected’ to wear the Team GB vests…..

We got our places by, er, paying for them on the internet. The vests? Yup, also off the internet, but still…..

We were last in Team GB almost exactly two years ago when we did our first international race together.

We enjoyed it so much, we decided to go back…..

After squirrelling away our pocket money we took the plunge and are off to the sunny Carribbean in the hope of winning the Vet 50 married couple from Britain prize at The Reggae Marathon (I’m completely sure such a prize exists!)

On the face of it a dull course, two out and backs, each done twice, AND passing our hotel FOUR times. BUT the location is, well……….

Watch this space…..

10 Idiot Lessons For Your First Marathon

The magazine informing expectant hopefuls of their 2018 London Marathon fate dropped on a few hundred thousand doormats a couple of weeks ago.

Were you one of the lucky ones? And will it be your first marathon. Well, looking back to my first, in Paris in 2008, I can give you some valuable tips as to how to get it horribly wrong. From experience……

  1. 2017-04-02 15.31.42SHOE CHOICE – particularly important this. Is the specific model you’re training in repeatedly giving you blisters on any run over half an hour? Are they banging into your toes as your feet get hotter and hotter? Do you find your feet throbbing, and the material above the little toes is actually tearing? If you can answer yes to all of these, and you’d really like to have the same experience as me…. then BUY ANOTHER PAIR THE SAME. Yup, and then race the marathon in them. Worked for me. My mate, who had travelled to Paris to support me, nearly fainted when I peeled my sock off afterwards. Nice. A fist sized blister, covering the entire arch of my foot had burst and rubbed and was a (literal) bloody mess!
  2. runner in leggingsWEAR THICK LEGGINGS – This is particularly important if it’s warm, raining, or you are (like me) a prolific perspiring machine. What you must NOT do, is heed the warnings from last time you wore these leggings. When it rained. Hard. And you were quite literally holding them up by the time you finished that 10k. So in Paris – my inner thighs looked like they’d been caressed by an industrial sander!
  3. training planTRAINING GUIDE – Again, some key points here……. I decided to pick an arbitrary time to pretend I was capable of running. I then worked out how many minutes per mile this equated to and then hardly ever ran a mile that quickly in training. Oh, and only get to 20 miles once in the build up – and be a cramped up, shuffling mess by the end of that run. BUT, don’t let that stop you still believing you can hit that goal time come race day.
  4. Sweaty runnerGO TO A HOT COUNTRY – This is optional, obviously time and budgetary constraints wouldn’t normally allow this but I found 10 days averaging 34 degrees with 100% humidity particularly crucial to depleting me about a month out.
  5. map of parisFIND SUITABLE ACCOMODATION – Paris is great for this, I reckon I walked about 8 miles to and from the Expo on Marathon Eve, and then probably 4 on the morning. Combining this with the training guide above is fabulous for that crucial pre-fatigue needed for the race.
  6. NUTRITION – I went for taking gels, you know, the thick and sickly sweet gunk in those foil tubes. I didn’t do what I did with my shoes though, I went for a different brand to any I’d tried before, with spectacular results……
  7. pace bandsFIND AN OFFICIAL PACER – he or she might be carrying a flag with your target time on. If you ignore them and decide, 30 minutes before the race, that you’ve become Mo Farah then push through the crowds to stand behind a pacer going 30 seconds per mile faster than your (already hopelessly optimistic) target.
  8. sprinterKEEP PUSHING AS HARD AS YOU CAN – Especially in those early miles, your mind, body and soul are going to really thank you for it later on……. I went through half way bang on my target pace, blowing really hard and having to dig deep already. Really deep.
  9. runner falling overSTAY ON YOUR FEET – Now, regular readers will be more than aware that I’m shuffling back from injury right now (Read all about why HERE) and probably not surprised to find a bit of a tumbling history…… Yup, went to ground TWICE in Paris. The first time I ran into one of those tall kerbs that separate the bus lanes from the road. The second time I glanced up at a stunning building, didn’t notice that everyone had slowed in front……. (I was REALLY popular amongst my fellow runners after the second one as took out about a dozen people!).
  10. runners huggingEMBRACE THE SUPPORT OF OTHERS – Or, as I did, grumpily ignore them, obsessed with having ‘failed’ at my pointless time goal (in the words of that great cannon-straddling, hair flicking goddess of ROCK… “If I could turn back time…..”) Actually, I was staggering so much in mile 25, a guy jogged alongside me and encouraged “At least you’re going to finish…….” He was right of course and being extremely kind and generous. I, unfortunately, was neither.

My life was very different back in April 2008. The Paris Marathon was an obsession with time. My personal life was in a dark and dangerous, lonely place. My lovely sister was still with us, but terribly and chronically ill and I was making too many poor choices.

I’m (the more I look back) extremely proud of all my running achievements and that first marathon taught me so much. Not JUST about running. But, yes, a LOT about running. A running coach, friend and supporter (Eddie) offered me two key pieces of advice as the marathon day neared – firstly that you can’t really train or prepare for a marathon until you’ve ran one, and secondly that the ridiculous long baggy football shorts I regularly sported were acting as a parachute!!

In later years, when I trained for a while in Eddies group, he also (famously) described me as running like “a drunk man herding cats”… I’m not sure it was a compliment……

Anyway, to anyone building up to their first marathon – seriously now – go and enjoy it, be as fast as you feel like being on the day and take pleasure in every step.

I’ve managed to reach 35 marathons (and longer) now, many of them in muddy countryside or hilly moors, mostly alongside my amazing running partner (who I’m also so so lucky to be able to call my wife) and I genuinely try and treasure every moment of them. The full list HERE.

Keep on keeping on people, let’s not let THEM grind us down…….