Based at the football and cricket club grounds there are marvellous facilities – plenty of loos, pre-match coffee and even a rather cute Serbian rescue dog to pet in the club house.
Having played a touch of local football myself back in the days when I could still climb out of bed without sounding like a meccano toy creaking into action, I always enjoy a look at these grass routes style grounds. No poncy millionaires having their Aston Martins parked by a valet here.
We parked the trusty Mini, enjoyed some of the afore mentioned, bargain priced coffee, attempted to off load some festive fare from our tum tums, reluctantly shed some warm layers then joined the other 200 or so rather athletic looking chaps and chappesses in the half mile trot to the start line.
In previous years I’ve lined myself near the front of the narrow path in the hope of a fast start. Regular readers may recall how this tactic resulted in me enjoying the sensation of having people stream past me as my wobbly legs declined to accept that I was capable of the crazy pace my brain was asking them to run.
Not this year. Oh no. This year, Nicky insisted on being left at the back as we had a ‘who can predict the least speedy time’ dual. We were both to be pleasantly surprised.
The race started with a whistle. Just like a good old footy match. Having elbowed my way backwards rather than forwards I found myself running at a pace that felt right. Again, those that have read race reports before will remember this is a most unusual development. I’m normally gasping and looking around as lithe young whippets glide past me by the end of the first mile.
So as the first 10 minutes or so of ‘comfortably hard’ running brought us to THE HILL, I felt good. No really. I felt good.
I overtook some people going up the hill. Yup, I overtook them. As in, halfway into a race I felt strong enough to run past people. I learned this from Nicky. Regulars will know how I dote on this awesome lady, and starting easy is one of the million amazing life skills I’ve learned since we first held hands that balmy September evening….. AAhhhh
So I pushed on. Another skill I’m enjoying is keeping information on my watch to a minimum. I don’t know how fast I’m running, so I don’t worry about how fast I’m running. Funny that.
The hill to the finish is still there, yet it didn’t feel bad today and I ran past the football pitch, over the speed bumps and to the line. Happy. Spent, naturally, but happily spent.
Quick fumble with the watch revealed I’d ran within a minute of last year’s time. Not only had I enjoyed this run more than in previous years, mainly due to me not attempting to emulate Eliod Kipchoge in the first mile, but I’d also ran a time beyond my expectations.
Having predicted that I would run about 10 minutes slower than this I started to realise that it was highly likely that Nicky was also ‘sandbagging’ and would be along sooner rather than later.
Rushing back to the car, a quick removal of the sweaty layer before collecting Nicky’s Team Keywood top to match mine, some chocolate brownie money and our bobble hats I hot footed it back to the finish line. I removed my phone ready for pictures and tried to nonchalantly appear as if I’d been there for ages.
Sure enough Nicky appeared, blasting down the finishing straight exhibiting a skill I haven’t yet mastered – THE SPRINT FINISH! Big smiles, big hugs and some watch fumbling to reveal she was 30 seconds quicker than last year. Blimey. We’re fitter than we thought.
Slick organisation, an absolutely gorgeous route for a ‘road’ event – lots of paths and hard trails, plentiful and cheerful marshals, cheap snacks and drinks, loads of parking and a vibe to suit any athlete – there were some pretty hot times up the front – what a lovely way to start the year.
A lovely way to start the year indeed. 2018 had some amazing moments but they will always be overshadowed by pain and grief that blighted our family.
2019 is going to be like this. Taking our endurance challenges seriously enough but remembering to enjoy and treasure every moment along the way. The journey and the process are where the real fun is. Outcomes will be what they are and we have set ourselves some toughies this year, but as long as we have fun along the way, we’ll be ok.
In our seaside town, sometimes with a reputation for not keeping up with the times, one of them there new fangled 24 hour gyms (Anytime Fitness) appeared. Well, it didn’t suddenly land in a haze of shimmering light like a tardis, it more steadily evolved from a bit of an historic public house over quite a few months.
And long before the doors opened to Anytime Fitness, one of the personal trainers, Lewis Keywood, whilst awaiting the facilities to be ready, decided to start a running group. Initially organised under the umbrella of the gym, but establishing itself quite quickly to be a stand alone group.
Advertising came via word of mouth and social media, the numbers swelled quickly with an unlikely alliance of souls from all walks of life rapidly became a close knit unit. Our ages ranging from early twenties to those, like my wonderful lady wife, Nicky, and myself in our, ahem, fifties – there’s always plenty of witty but respectful banter.
Lewis’ strength and conditioning experience is combined with his passion for running to give every session a feeling of being worked, and worked hard, but with a nod to keeping fit and strong too.
So what is it that attracts this bunch, most of whom were strangers to each other before the group started back in April, to pitching up on a cold wet Monday evening? I went nosing into other peoples’ lives to find out.
For me personally, I’ve become so used to training on my own or with Nicky that I think I speak for us both in that we’d become ‘outsiders‘, doing all our training early mornings as it fitted better with our lifestyles. But when we heard about the group we decided to pitch up and give it a whirl.
Lewis made a quiet introduction and we lined up alongside the youngsters, feeling awkward (pretty standard for us) and heading off for some running and drills in the evening sun. One new recruit admitted that she’d done a few drive by’s before having a word with herself and taking the plunge.
To cut a long story short (and to focus on the matter in hand), as a pretty torrid summer for Nicky and I became Autumn, we were able to start joining the group more regularly for their Monday night work out.
So who are these Keywood Runners?
There’s Vicky who believes she has ‘gone beyond what I thought was possible‘ as she continues to improve her fitness and distance, casually wiping 30 minutes off her half marathon time.
Then there’s Corinna, also in her late 30s, she hadn’t run for over 6 years, she’d always felt a traditional running club would feel intimidating. Corinna works around a medical condition and feels this group is the incentive she needs to keep on winning that battle. Squeezing 2 runs and a pilates class into a hectic family life she says ‘I always feel great when I’ve completed a run….. And sometimes we get treats!‘
Amy, who gets a bus to training and Parkrun
We all love a Parkrun
Freddy – our permanent smile!
I think the picture of our permanently smiling Freddie at her last 10k – from having been a complete beginner – sums us up perfectly.
It is true about the treats, the afore mentioned Vicky often appears with home made cake and brownies after training. She has also been appointed ‘HR’ by the group as she relentlessly organises the group’s kit, social media, race entries, Parkrun volunteering duties, breakfast….etc…..etc. Oh, and she is a busy wife and Mum too.
For some this is the only chance they get to exercise each week, for others it has sparked a love of running and the group can now be found in healthy numbers at local events.
There’s a bond among the group. Jill, like us in her 50s, came along not knowing anyone ‘The group spurs me on, I’ve made so many good friends, EVERYONE supports everyone.’
And they do – The group start together and finish together, Lewis ensuring each runner is supported. there are ultra marathon runners and complete beginners, but there is never a sense of anyone being ‘better’ than anybody else.
Sonia, 42, hadn’t run before joining the group and didn’t think she’d be good enough, she saw the group advertised and went along, like most of the others, not knowing anyone. She’s since ran many events and completed an impromptu marathon, supporting a charity run. ‘We have a laugh and support each other. We’re achieving so much and Monday evening has become the highlight of my week.‘
Sonia isn’t the only one to use the word ‘misfits‘, or to suggest that without the group, our paths simply wouldn’t have crossed.
It really feels like a group of people who didn’t belong, but now do. Aside from Nicky and myself there are 3 other couples, one of which came about as a result of Zak and Becky meeting at the group.
Tracey, in her 40’s, finds the group shares a passion, shares banter, shares laughs and finds it refreshing that there isn’t room for bitchiness or back stabbing. She is on an incredible journey, accelerated by the group. Running is for her, and for so many of us, a therapy, it’s our time. She’s glad she didn’t keep on driving by that first night!
We are all grateful to Lewis for starting the group. He’s a quiet, shy soul and has a heartbreaking tale. His own running challenges are in aid of the incredible charity, Tommy’s and he is not the only member of the group to have suffered this way. Read all about his journey HERE.
Zak, at 25 one of the younger members of the group, has found love, found motivation and friendships and, like everybody I’ve spoken to is particularly taken by the lack of judgement among the group.
Like many of us, Zak has found ‘himself’ as much as finding each other.
People have shared some extremely personal information with me in order to write this blog post and I was going to flood it with gushing words and revealing quotes.
BUT, actually, I feel the whole group will forgive me for speaking on their behalf and not share such intimate details but I think it is a measure of the group’s trust as a unit that we all feel we can be honest and revealing with each other.
I am privileged to call Lewis a friend and honoured that he’s invited me to help him with the training.
I invited comments about Lewis himself and he’d be mightily embarrassed if he ever read them. Everybody agrees that he knows when to push and when to back off, he revels in everybody and every achievement, he has a way of making the sessions about us all.
‘He’s a legend’, ‘Always willing to help’, ‘The most genuine chap’, ‘He wants everybody to believe in themselves’, ‘An inspiring role model’.
Lewis is attempting to run 2000 miles this year as part of his Tommy’s challenge and I’ve had the pleasure of doing quite a bit of running with him. I’ve been able to show off the wonderful run routes we’re blessed with around here.
He also tackled a 24 hour non-stop challenge which he finished by completing our local Parkrun. The members of our running gang rallied round and he didn’t go without company for the whole 24 hours (and 101 miles!).
Those that know me are aware that I normally run in a group of either ONE or TWO with my only running partners being my wonderful lady wife Nicky, or our intrepid Border Terrier, Charlie, so it has been a leap of faith for me too, but one I’m so happy I took.
I think we’re suited to each other as Lewis is the first person I’ve met who looks just as awkward as me in a running piccie!
We ventured deep into the South Hams on Saturday afternoon to tackle Pure Trails’ twilight adventure event, Race The Light. The forecast wild weather earlier in the day duly arrived.
We know it rained hard in the morning. We volunteered at Parkrun. The Torbay Velopark Parkrun attendees are a hardy bunch, usually numbering around 250. Well 103 braved the apocalyptic deluge and our lovely run group at Keywood Running pitched in with 10 of the volunteers for the day. We were ready for our hearty breakfast afterwards.
Arriving home, my beautiful wife, Nicky, and I de-robed from our soaking gear and built a roaring fire. As we steamed and warmed, the thought of venturing out again for another soaking was becoming less and less inviting.
After our good friend and blog regular, Martin (The Silver Fox, not ‘a’ silver fox, but THE Silver Fox), arrived to collect us, we duly goaded each other until we climbed into the rather clean interior of his foxmobile and headed for mudsville.
Nicky and I were both thinking we’d be trashing the plush leather seats after the forthcoming mud bath.
We weren’t wrong.
As one of the marshals, Iain, later commented on social media ‘It’s a great day when runners, marshalls and everyone can pull together… magic to see you all’
He was stood in the raging River Erme as we crossed it in the light on the way out. He was still stood in it some hour and a half later as we made our way back across in the dark. It did feel like such a team effort – there were race winners but the afternoon and evening were about so much more than that.
We’d felt the same at Parkrun that morning – as we handed the finish tokens to the drenched runners there was a real sense of having survived together. Our Monday run group had pulled together to help swell the volunteer numbers. (Expect a big blog soon all about Keywood Running, ’tis a fine thing.)
Yes Saturday was about everything that’s GOOD in running…. in life in fact. Such a warm feeling when we’re all looking out for each other.
The race directors at Pure Trail, Steve and Mark, seek out something different with all of their events and this really was different. A combination of the morning’s rainfall making its way down from the hills and moors and a wild wind holding the tide up meant the water, which should have been a trickle, was quite forceful.
People stuck together and toughed it out before enjoying a beautiful woodland out and back course alongside the estuary. The speedy boys and girls made it back before serious darkness fell whilst some of us got our money’s worth……..
And then we toughed out the crossing back across and trudged up the hill to the finish.
I guess the crew were there for some time after we had headed home for the final of Strictly in the dark, wind and rain dismantling the course. We are truly grateful to all of them – it was a fine day in the local running community.
Do check out Pure Trail‘s events, they never disappoint.
And if you enjoy the blog, have a delve through previous posts, particularly from the sister event Race The Tide.
Thank you to anyone who has made it to the end of the blog and thank you to all you for your patience in waiting these last few months for this post.
2019 begins with fresh starts, fresh challenges and a chance to recover from the grief of 2018. I know I occasionally over step the mark with how ‘personal’ I make the blog but I do wear my heart on the page……..
Looking forward to writing about my amazing, inspiring, determined and beautiful lady wife and our adventures together throughout the coming year.
Nicky and I shared an early morning run this week. Nothing unusual in that, I hear you whisper. Well, it’s the longest run we’ve done together for weeks, nay months. Our lives have changed dramatically recently and a terrible sadness clouds us. We’ve really tried to keep training, to keep trying to ‘enjoy’ these endurance sports that are such big parts of our life.
I feel the events of the last couple of months are too raw and too personal to be discussed here. The end of the journey for Nicky’s dad came early last week and our world is simply poorer. The struggle for him is over.
So. Nicky and I shared an early morning run this week. Soul mates. Doing what we do best.
I have a tendency to name my runs on Strava and, having paused to enjoy the amazing sunrise on the horizon, we decided to dedicate the run to Frank. Shine on Frank, shine on.
RIP Frank Dudley 1938 – 2018
This blog has become very much part of our journey. Whilst our running adventures, and those of Nicky’s swims and triathlons form the bulk of the content, if you fancy a delve in the 100+ posts you’ll find poetry, short stories, essays and life’s challenges chronicled.
And long may it continue.
The story of me cancelling my entry to Stevenage Marathon in order to join Nicky at The Eden Project Marathon is part of blog folklore now. Why Stevenage indeed! Nicky rolled her eyes that day and I soon found that chasing numbers on the watch, whilst still part of what I do, cannot compete with the adventure and beauty of 28 mile hilly trail marathon. Well Nicky is finding her special adventure finding google app is working at full capacity again…………
Watch this space………… (Spoiler: we both need to be training……..A LOT)
I feel the blog needed to move through this time in our lives but couldn’t do so without paying tribute to Nicky’s dad. Life will never be the same again for us after this journey, but we will not stop…………
Whilst I’m sure the development has caused consternation in many quarters, the new houses overlooking the river in Totnes have a feature which has added more traffic free moments to one of my favourite runs. Paradise Walk in Totnes connects the green lanes from Aish to the Long Marsh and Quayside in the town. Nice.
It comes at a price though. It so many ways.
At least the developers haven’t put a huge 40ft long sign in the hillside…….. er…….
Regular blog followers will know that life has been, and continues to be, beyond challenging and relentlessly and unthinkingly sad this year. Sometimes priorities change. The blog has slipped down the pecking order in recent months, as has writing in general. As has running. We’ve missed so many events which we’d entered this year.
I shan’t be blogging about our personal life at this torrid time. BUT, determined not to drop the blog, I felt a little running update was in order. In a vote as to whether or not to leave or remain the world of blogging, I went with REMAIN 😉
So. To the commit blog followers, thank you for standing by patiently! To new readers, errr, WELCOME, please check out previous posts, there are many tales from the world of challenges and adventures I share with my truly wonderful lady wife, Nicky….. (spoiler alert, you WILL find me gushing relentlessly about how this incredible person is my COMPLETE WORLD!)
Also spoiler alert, I ain’t no WordPress pro, guv, so please excuse any layout amateurishness….
Determined to arrive at next year’s BIG CHALLENGE in the best possible shape, I have kept up getting out for a few hours each week for a challenging longish run.
Early last Saturday, with daylight a fair way off and the rains falling, I set out to tackle the afore mentioned route. After a wonderful summer of sunshine and running in vests and 4am daylight, I’ve actually found it comforting to start laying out some kit the night before a big run. Well, these days this IS a big run. With over 20 miles and plenty of off roady, hilly stuff I knew I’d be out a while….. beany, cap, 2 buffs, running back pack, drinks bottles, oat bars, shot blocks, headtorch, base layer, t shirt, jacket……….
Straight down to the beach, passing a guy doing the walk of shame in the pouring rain, dressed in a teddy bear onesie. Past the people who’ve been camping under the pier for weeks, around the harbour and over the headland before heading inland. I really am enjoying getting back to running into the headtorch beam.
Through the lanes towards Stoke Gabriel, trying not to be spooked by sudden rustling of wildlife almost certainly being spooked by me. The rain had intensified by then but daylight was coming. There are so many little lanes and tracks to chose and I took a minor detour as some young cattle were less than impressed that the footpath goes straight across their early morning graze!
Through the hamlet of Aish and onto the green lanes towards Totnes. Despite the daylight I think the weather may have put off any early morning dog walkers meaning I had some lovely extended solitude until I arrived in Totnes.
The new path through the housing development is a welcome addition to this route and I added a further little loop to enjoy the river.
The route back towards Torbay takes in further green lanes, trails, paths, lots of lovely woodland and plenty of little ups and downs. After reaching Marldon, there are trails through Shorton Valley bringing me out withing a mile of home. This really is a fine route. In light of the state of the world around us, both our little world and the great big world, it is quite literally a breath (several in fact) of fresh air.
Anyone who is local or finds themselves in the area looking for some trail running – check out the route HERE.
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.
A 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.
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…..
Well, an email plopped into my inbox. “THREE WEEKS TO GO!” Blimey, it’s here already. The (in)famous lime green vest will be handed to me at some point in the evening of Friday 11th August.
What is this nonsense of which you speak? I hear you gasp. Well, those of you that are regular consumers of this world of wonky wittering may well be aware that I’m a bit of a fanboy when it comes to the Roseland August Trail (R.A.T.) festival of trail running on the fabulous Roseland Peninsular in Cornwall.
Having ran the 32 mile Black Rat for the last 3 years with Nicky (who also ran the Red Rat, 20 miles, 4 years ago), I have taken the plunge and am tackling The Plague, an out and back version of the Black Rat. Yup, starting at 5 minutes past midnight on Saturday 12th August, a couple of hundred of us will step into the Cornish darkness and attempt to get to St Anthony’s Head and then back to Porthpean before they bring the curtain down on this fabulous event.
The furthest I’ve ever been in one go was The Gower 50 (Read all about that HERE – be warned, may feature fooked ankle pictures!) and I’ve not ran through the night before. I may not have done all of the miles I’d hoped for in this build up and I may not be the weight I’d hoped to get down to, blah, blah, blah, sandbagging, woe is me, blah, blah…
Here’s the thing guys and girls, I’m going to pull that lime green vest on and set off and give it everything I’ve got. And THAT will be enough for me to be proud, proud to be on the start line and proud to be taking on a CHALLENGE. If it was guaranteed I could ‘complete’ it, it wouldn’t be a challenge.
So, the mojo socks are being readied and they’ll be pulled RIGHT UP, I’ve oiled the zip of my mansuit so that too will be TO THE TOP……….
I’m going to run the runny bits, walk the hills and steps and try and enjoy every single moment of it.
Nicky will be getting off the coach at the St Anthony’s Head Black Rat start line and setting off at 8.30am. If my night has gone well I’ll have already turned by then and be heading East again. I have until 9am to make that turn, but if I’m close to that at halfway, I could well be struggling to make the following cut offs. And if that’s the case then so be it.
Check out the route HERE. There are A LOT of steps. And I’ll doing the all up and down (hopefully). See last year’s blog for how Nicky told everyone who’d listen that this was her last year on these steps…….
Mudcrew also stage the epic Arc Of Attrition on a bleak winter’s weekend every year. Nicky and I witnessed some of this incredible event when we were in Cornwall on holiday when this blog was in its early days – I mentioned how I’d never considered running 100 miles on a coast path, in winter. Nor indeed tow a caravan – Check out that bizarre wordery HERE.
You’re not going to believe this, BUT anyone who successfully completes all 100 quad busting kilometers of The Plague gets presented with a scroll inviting them to take up a guaranteed place in the following year’s Arc Of Attrition………..
Anyway, I ran 4 miles on the coast path with Charlie this morning, so I’d say I’m pretty much ready!
When is blogger not a blogger? A runner not a runner? A writer not a writer?
I’ve been soul searching about questions of my ‘identity’ for the last few weeks. With the positivity I’ve been encouraged to nurture I’ve concluded that, as long as I’m returning to any of these, that’s enough to still ‘be’.
I’m still a blogger (phew, I hear you all gasp). There’s always something in my head which will end up in the blog sooner or later.
If I’m blogger, I’m writing, no? That makes me still a writer then. BUT there is sooooo much more to me as a writer now. Since becoming a member of Writers’ HQ I feel I have started to belong.
Whilst, as yet, I haven’t bitten off huge chunks of their plethora of course material, I have been breaking crumbs off the corners and nibbling on them.
I’ve particularly enjoyed the short fiction exercises, blogs and course content. Many an idea has become the start of something tangible – a challenge, a character, a scene, a quandary – I’m in the habit of scribbling all these thoughts and ideas into either my trusty notebook or a clever app thingy whenever they materialise.
So, at some point in the future, you can look forward to tense friendships lived in a dream state through old postcards, eyes with tiny but endlessly deep black pupils, lucky Blu Tak, an unlikely apocalypse and much much more.
The novel is still flickering too (one of the short stories is rapidly becoming ‘long’ too) and I’m still tinkering, reassured by professionals of this craft the first draft is ‘supposed to be shite’.
So, yup, whilst I’m not doing much in the way of ACTUAL WRITING, I am very much still a feckin’ writer.
Well, 4 weeks today we’re planning a boat trip from Mevagissey to Fowey. I’ll either be celebrating having completed The Plague the previous day, nursing battered legs and eating ALL the food…. Or I’ll be recounting heroic tales of how and why I didn’t complete the whole 100km. One. Hundred. Kilometres.
Nicky, and blog regular Martin are both doing the 50km again and another friend, Jan, doing the 11 mile version. This will be my 3rd visit, and Nicky’s 4th, to this, my favourite EVER event. Read about how much I enjoyed it last year HERE (and also about how Nicky was ‘retiring’ from ultra marathons!)
I’ve managed some running lately, hitting the trails for a few 3,4 even 5 hour runs these last few weeks, squeezing in other runs where I can.
I promise you (and myself) this: with everything I’ve got I’ll be on that start line at 5 minutes past midnight as Friday becomes Saturday (12th August), hopefully skipping through the finish line sometime later on Saturday afternoon.
Right now, as I sit in the garden writing this, the reason I might just make it (to the start AND finish lines) is lying on the rug next to me ploughing through a Charlie Resnick thriller, commenting on how novels written of their era can become dated – 2018 thrillers don’t tend to feature cassette tapes or searches for telephone boxes.
My beautiful wife, Nicky, and I embarked on 20 mile training jaunts around the tracks, lanes and trails of South Devon this morning. This afternoon we are treating ourselves to rummaging through The Observer, racing through the afore mentioned Resnick thriller (by John Harvey), dipping in and out of The People (a Seline Todd political history) and DOING SOME ACTUAL WRITING!
Nicky (how, just HOW did I get to be this lucky, every single day I wake up to find out my heart has won the lottery!), my soul mate, my team mate, my lover, my best friend and my constant inspiration, has quietly, determinedly, carefully and lovingly nursed my tired body and soul through this last month to get us to right here. Right now.
Identity? Well, the most wonderful role I’ve ever had in my life is being one half of the magic that is ‘US’. Everything else only works BECAUSE of that.
In an attempt to be relentlessly positive, this blog post comes to you without any ‘there’s no time’ or ‘I’m too tired’
I guess life can sometimes be defined by confidence.
Well after absolutely loving the AONB North Devon Half Marathon both Nicky and Myself are a little bit happier with our fitness and prospects at the RAT trail running festival where Nicky is running the Black Rat (32 miles) for the 4th year running. She’s a veteran of the event having completed the Red Rat (20 miles) the year before that. Me? I’ve gone for THE PLAGUE, a 64 mile night epic challenge.
Anyway, back to North Devon where several hundred intrepid trail runners assembled in the gathering heat and set out for either the 13.1 miles that we did or, leaving 15 minutes before us, the full 26.2.
Neither of us had ever been to Woolacombe. In the glorious sunshine, this town was radiant, the colours of 800 or so runners adding to the kaleidoscope.
As we made our way along the spectacular coastline, both of us lapping up the scenery, it felt like running through an oil painting.
The event is the showpiece of North Devon Hospice and truly is up there with some of the best trail races we’ve done.
We saw dozens of marshals and water station volunteers, every single one friendly and bright as they directed us on our way.
They must have been wilting in the heat but this didn’t curb their enthusiasm. They had some belting views to enjoy and at least 2 of the numerous water stops were in quite incredible locations. One on the beach at Croyde and one quite literally in the middle of a herd of cows.
The finish area is fabulous too, so many marshals and volunteers, a PA system calling every single name as they cross the line and a cream tea for every single runner in both distances.
Anyway, I was thinking about the concept of banking training miles, trying to deposit enough in the bank so that when you ask your body to write a cheque on race day, it doesn’t bounce!
Well, with the Roseland August Trail fast approaching, this great day out on the North Devon Coast has definitely put some pennies in the ratty bank!
For new readers, brace yourselves, you are about to be subjected to a barrage of me eulogising about my quite amazing lady wife. Our lives of challenges and adventures brought us, last weekend, into the gorgeous Cotswolds for the culmination of Nicky’s determined training for this, her first middle distance (half Ironman) triathlon.
Training had been stalled by a calf injury (which also scuppered her 2 Oceans ambitions – read about that HERE). Having had some excellent therapy and trained hard and around the problem, she arrived at the Cotswold 113 in as good a shape as circumstances could possibly have allowed.
So, with our great friend Martin tucked safely in the back of the mini and their trusty steeds securely on the roof, we hit the road.
Glorious sunshine greeted us as we arrived for registration and the detailed race briefing on Saturday. There are a number of lakes at the race location and lots of great facilities for water sports enthusiasts, adrenaline junkies, kids and adults alike. There was a super friendly, slightly nervous buzz about the place as we enjoyed the warmth and sauntered around the registration area.
113 Events are a fabulous organisation. It would be easy to focus on the two ‘main’ guys from the organisers, and I will in fact do that, but every single one of the marshals, volunteers, police officers, water safety crew, motorcycle outriders, aid station teams and, of course, athletes, made this quite an incredible weekend.
So, the ‘main’ men – Graeme, the dry witted, unflappable, composer of emails, organiser and administrator of an extraordinarily personal registration process. Graeme actually suggested any of the thousand or so entrants that may be passing his door in the preceding week could call in to his house and register over a cuppa! He must keep a healthy stock of PG Tips.
Then there’s ‘loud’ Dave. Chief shouter of encouragement, instructions and banter. His booming voice echoing across the lake on Sunday morning as he stood waist deep in water hauling the swimmers up the steps is definitely one of my favourite memories.
The Saturday briefing was delivered twice and was invaluable for Nicky and Martin. Informative, informed, light-hearted, yet serious when it needed to be, those that managed to get there will have had their fears allayed and doubts answered. Graeme used a mic and P.A. speaker.
We decided to drive the bike course, a 28 mile loop (which would be ridden twice on race day), taking in the ‘hills’ which, living in Devon, didn’t present any fears for Nicky and Martin.
I’m acutely aware that I’m starting to get a bit ‘this happened, then this happened….’ soooooooo
I had Sunday morning all planned for my (spreading) stomach. All its ins and outs were to happen in a carefully planned and controlled manner. We’d met our friends Mac and Valerie who were due in the water at 6.10am, 10 minutes after the first wave which included my two eager athletes. With the swim start waves due to take an hour to get everybody in the water, I was going to use the lull in toilet queues to take care of the, er, ‘out’.
The ‘in’? A bacon and egg bap with my name on it which I would munch as I sauntered across to watch the swim exit.
It didn’t happen like that. We arrived lakeside about 4.30am to a thick mist. We couldn’t see the buoys and quite clearly there wasn’t going to be a 6am start.
By 6.30 my tummy’s ‘out’ had started to become urgent……… I simply had to join the increasingly nervous (and chilly) neoprene clad masses in the queue to poo.
The fog cleared and at 7.30 precisely the first wave took the plunge.
A lump in my throat, as pride, love, nerves and trepidation engulfed me. The woman I adore, the woman who inspires me, drives me and makes every moment precious, ploughed across the lake. Unperturbed by the mass of big strong guys crashing their twirling arms through the water, my petite heroine was getting stuck right in.
47 minutes later I watched her hold her ground as a couple of guys’ pincer movement failed to edge her out of the steps at swim exit. A big strong hoick from (loud) Dave and his fellow crew and off she padded towards her bike.
My day had started with a 3am alarm. Nicky got out of the water at 8.17 and I STILL hadn’t had my bacon and egg…….. Anyway, I was looking out for 4 people in the mass (880ish started) and Nicky, Martin and Ian (Mac) were all in transition together meaning I got a few piccies. And as they left, Val arrived. I safely watched them all out on to the bike course.
Then I had my bacon and egg…..
I figured I had about an hour and half before any of them would complete the first lap so I chose one of the many empty blue chairs around one of the food stalls and got my book out.
What am I reading? I hear you yawn. Well, I’m reading On Writing by Stephen King. Regular readers, in fact anybody that’s reading this seeing as I’m, er, writing it, might know I do enjoy scribbling a few words. I’ve had a rocky time with writing lately. I’d signed up to do a high profile brand’s ‘creative writing’ course only to find that their mission statements to be all about loving money rather than loving writing. So back it went.
I’ve since signed up for membership to Writers HQ. With their far more earthy approach and mottos such as “Stop f**cking about and start writing” and the simple “Write what you love” I reckon it was allllll meant to be.
Anyway, I’ve also been ploughing through Stephen King’s memoir of the craft.
“Excuse me is anyone sitting in this…?” (blue chair with no occupant.)
“No, I have no friends, take them all if you like”
Two cups of coffee a BACON AND EGG bap and a few chapters later I packed up my troubles in my old kit bag. Well, my book in my draw stringed bag anyway.
We had driven around the potentially difficult corner (a VERY sharp right turn) which ends lap one, quite a few times on Saturday. It is a VERY sharp corner and comes after 28 miles. Martin was struggling to understand the junction, so we went back AGAIN and walked him through it. Nope, he really didn’t see how it would work….
….. I chose this spot to watch the end of the first lap. Mac, flew through almost immediately, going really strong in his bright and easy to spot Torbay Tri racing kit.
I’ll take this opportunity to big-up 113 Events AGAIN! This potential pinch point on the course had had all the hedges and verges trimmed to increase visibility, there were massive signs specific to this junction, marshals on both sides of the approach yelling “sharp right turn”. A further marshal stood in the middle of the road, blocking the straight on option and another on the inside. All the gravel had been swept off the road.
I have, over the last 10 years entered dozens and dozens of running events, most of them incredibly well organised, but I honestly do not think I have attended such a ‘no stone unturned’, athlete centred event as this and its ‘SOLD OUT’ sign will appear even earlier next year as athletes’ word of mouth advertising spirals. I’ve heard that a high profile triathlon of similar distance taking place on the same weekend still had the ‘VACANCIES’ sign up.
I eagerly awaited Martin’s arrival…….
He waved enthusiastically and took the corner with ease.
Unlike about 20 or so guys who, heads down and focused, had to over run the corner and then turn back, most of whom took the cheers of the massed spectators in good humour.
As did the guy who tumbled over his bike as he entered transition at the end of his ride.
Mac and Martin safely negotiated themselves onto the run and then my excitement levels and bursting pride started reaching fever pitch as Nicky came steaming back into transition.
She calmly handed me her cycling top as she headed out for the first of her 3 run laps.
For the next 2 and a bit hours I charged around various points around the lakes and surrounding lanes to give as many cheers as I possibly could.
I was humbled by the sheer determination on show from everyone and with the competitors names printed on their numbers I was able to personalise my relentless encouragement.
Mac was fading the final lap, hardly surprising as he’d absolutely smashed the thing out of the park. Martin seemed knackered but in control and Valerie judged her efforts all the way to the finish.
As for Nicky……… As I’ve said many many times (and will say many many more times) she is a wonderful lady, a fabulous role model to all of us. Takes what she’s got, works as hard as she possibly can to turn that into the best version of herself through grit, determination, relentlessness and a refusal to accept that she “can’t”.
Three years ago Nicky was unable to swim 33 meters without pausing. On Sunday she completed 1.2 miles in the water and the total of 70.3 miles in under 7 hours and did so with a bounce and a sparkle and a smile.
The announcer yelled “… and from Paignton in Devon it’s NICKY BONFIELD…” as Nicky eschewed her normal self consciousness and threw her exhausted arms in the air.