Sunday, 17 May 2015

Flitch Way Marathon

A lovely sunny run along a disused railway today.

It was back to the Discovery Centre at Great Notley Country Park, where I had been last weekend with Claire and Arthur.  This is a wonderful place for toddlers to play.

We set off at 10am with a quick wiggle over the A120 to get onto the Flitch Way.  Navigation was straightforward.  Head west along the Flitch Way, then through Great Dunmow, then back onto the Flitch Way.  At 13.1 miles, turn around and return the same way.

I soon settled in to 10th place out of 50 starters.  There was a group right in front of me that I'd like to have run with, and could have, but they were just a few seconds per kilometre faster than my target pace so I held back.  I maintained 5 minutes per kilometre for the first half, despite the hills and the heat from the sun.  The hills were a surprise given I was running along a disused railway!

The leader passed me only about 2km from the turnaround.  Still 10th at halfway I didn't expect to catch anyone else now as everyone had settled into a steady pace.  I waved at the outbound runners as I returned.  It didn't seem long before all 50 had passed, maybe 8km, and I was on my own again.  My heart rate had been nice and low for the first hour, but was now hovering around 165 and I couldn't seem to budge it, even if I slowed down.

This section was tough.  My legs were tired, the sun was out and the long, long hills were sapping at my energy.  I relaxed on the downhills and just kept steady jogging on the uphills.  Back under the A120 at Great Dunmow and a short walk on an uphill I was running again and passed one of the early leaders at about 33km.  He was walking as I flew past into 9th.  At the final water station I was surprised to pass the halfway leader who was injured.  8th.  The lead woman was in sight up ahead for a long time and she must have got lost as she appeared behind me and then passed me.

35km to 37km was all uphill and this was starting to break me.  All I could do was keep a slow, steady pace.  After that it was much flatter to the finish and my motivation increased again as I passed another runner reduced to a walk.  7th.  Past the busy cafe on the old railway platform and just a little further on the Flitch Way, then the turn off with 1.3km to go back to the park.  I passed another guy reduced to walking, leaving me in 6th, then realised the lead woman had disappeared.  She had got lost again and I was now in 5th.

Before the start I had joked to Claire that the organiser would make us run up the hill at the finish line to the bird monument on top.  No joke as that's exactly what he did.  We had to touch the monument to finish, after staggering up the hill hands on knees.

That was a thoroughly enjoyable race today.  I love these niche marathons on scenic trails.  Good support at the water stations and from a handful of others on the route.  And a nice t-shirt and medal at the finish.  I felt good today, despite the heat, finishing in 3:39:58.  I suspect the 10km league race on Wednesday night had left some fatigue in my legs and that I could have gone faster without it.  Now it really is time for a rest - no marathons next weekend and time to focus on Race To The Stones training.

Here is the route on Strava.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Christian Aid Walk: last to start, first to finish!

The Christian Aid Walk is a sponsored walk which is also open to runners.  Marathon distance of course, and this has to be one of my all time favourite marathons.

Given the range of walking and running speeds, walkers could set off from 8am and I set off last at 10am, at the same time as the course sweeper.  All the other runners had set off early.  The first few miles from Ware were kind of strange - I was running on my own, yet had marshals to direct me at every junction!  I recognised Chapmore End from the Fairlands Valley Challenge, but this route was otherwise new territory for me.  The solo run continued for about an hour until I eventually caught up with some walkers.

I passed through checkpoint one at High Cross, stopping only long enough to have my route card stamped and refill my bottle.  My pace was slower than recent weeks, but I was happy enough with that.  This marathon was just meant to be a nice run in the country.  And it certainly turned out to be that.

The sun was in and out, it was cool to mild - good running conditions, but with a bit of a headwind in the second half.  Checkpoint two at Standon arrived quickly.  Again I didn't hang about, and had was now passing many walkers and a few runners.  Section three to Widford was equally pleasant, passing through lovely bluebell woods and alongside  the River Ash.  There were fewer walkers about now and only the odd runner.  After Widford I caught up with a runner who had set off at 9:30am and we ran together - he didn't seem too keen on navigating himself and we were about the same pace.  From around the 30km point the marshals were only just getting into position and the signs being put out, and soon after there were no marshals at all!

I had been feeling good all the way round and, after a 1:56 first half, was very keen to finish in under 4 hours, which didn't feel like too much of an effort at this stage.  Navigation was straightforward on the way to the final checkpoint at Stanstead Abbotts.  The checkpoint was barely open when we arrived but we got our cards signed anyway.  I didn't want to hang about now, and didn't bother refilling my bottle for the last 5km along the River Lee towpath.  I left the other runner behind and sped up to be sure my sub-4 was safe.  The towpath was nice enough, but I was now focused on maintaining a quick pace with tired legs.  No sign of cramp this week which had plagued me in the last three road marathons.

Through Ware and back onto the towpath for the final short section, which seemed to go on forever.  Still, a it was a good job that I had picked up the pace because I finished in 3:58:15, my fourth sub-4 marathon in four weeks.  I was also the first to arrive at the finish!

This was an exceptionally well supported event.  I was just a bit quick for the marshals in the later stages, but that wasn't a problem at all.  I'd recommend this marathon to anyway for the support and the scenic course which turned out to be reasonably flat for a trail marathon, with just the slightest of gently rolling hills.

Here is the route on Strava of my 81st marathon: