Category Archives: Race Review

Race Review: Snowdonia Marathon (Marathon Eryri) 2014


This is my second Snowdonia Marathon, having completed the 30th anniversary race in 2012 (Previous Race Review) so I knew that this would be both a tough but amazing race.

Route recorded by my Garmin, image courtesy of Google Earth
Route recorded by my Garmin, image courtesy of Google Earth

My plan had been to try to improve on my previous time (and current marathon PB) and after sporadic training and the drain of running the North Downs Way 50 and Richmond Park Marathon the day after (Race Review) I had been making significant gains in my fitness and overall speed so was looking good for achieving my aim.

That was until around 5 weeks ago where those plans all came crashing down around me, at the start of a run around 400 yards in my right calf went and pretty much from that day to the start line of the marathon I had done no running (the actual total was 2 miles a week after the original injury where it recurred again)

My nice neat pile of kit
My nice neat pile of kit

Some frantic physio booking and praying to anyone that would listen I found myself at the start line of this years Marathon Eryri. I was with Gareth (who I ran the 2012 marathon with) who had also got aim of beating his time and marathon PB. To say I was nervous was an understatement, last time I ran I got 1 mile before my calf went again and there was the fear that I would get no further this time.

The race starts at Llanberis and follows the A4086, through Nant Peris then up Pen-y-Pass. This is a pretty demanding climb and I was worried that the strain of the ascent would cause things to go horribly wrong.

Enhanced image showing the marathon profile
Enhanced image showing the marathon profile

With the count down underway there was nothing for it but to just hope I could make it to 18 miles under the cut off, if I could do this then I should be able to finish even if that meant a death march.  As the race started and we crossed the line I could already feel the lack of running had impacted me more that I had expected. My heart rate had spiked well above what it was in training and for the pace I was running even with the hill was not good. I voiced this concern to Gareth and said that if he wanted to go ahead he should, to his credit he said he would stick with me.

Start line of the race
Start line of the race

About  3 miles in was a water station, however as we arrived it seemed to be having issues as the cups were getting blown everywhere and it didn’t appear to have any water available. This was not a real issue as another water station was a mile or so further away at the top of the climb. Pushing on my heart felt like it was jumping out my throat and my hips and quads were aching already, however my calf seemed to be holding up so I focused on this positive.

After the top of Pen Y Pass it is then a fairly steep descent which allowed me to reduce the effort somewhat and try to bring things back under control. The road then gives way to some trail which was a nice break in the repetitive plod. I was keeping pace with Gareth by the number of walking breaks I was requiring was increasing and I could see that he could go faster. After a quick stop for me to sort a toe out before it blistered around 11 miles in I said to Gareth again that he has to go, I didn’t want to stop him from going for his goal especially after the support he gave at the Richmond Park Marathon.

I was fairly insistent and he agreed to go on ahead and he was pretty quickly gone from my sight. It was just after this that the heavens opened which combined with the increasing pain in my legs lead me to feel quite low. I pushed on though at a more moderate pace interspersed with walking.

One of the reasons I love this race is the locals who come out to support the runners, I remember passing a line of children standing in the pouring rain giving high fives to the runners as they passed. I obliged and it was amazing how that lifted me, I had reached 13 miles and I was damn well going to finish run, walk or crawl.

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The Snowdon Ranger , 18 miles and inside the cut off

From half way to 22 miles it is undulating road, my run/walk strategy had turned into walk/run/hobble but I was still moving forward which was the important thing. The support from the crowds kept me going and I made a point of saying thankyou to everyone who offered their support.

22 miles is where the runners start the climb of Bwlch Y Groes, a climb going from 116 meters to 376 meters in just under 3 miles. I remembered this from last time and it was just as imposing, however here I found myself passing people on the climb. I was walking but walking at a determined pace. It was probably the fact that I knew I would finish the race whatever happened which gave me the extra boost.

The climb is not the hardest part though, the descent that follows is a quad smashing brute dropping all that ascent in about a mile. This was extremely painful and I was a hobbling mess at the bottom.

I normally have something left in the tank for a ‘sprint’ finish but this time I had nothing, I think a couple of people passed me at the end but I had nothing to respond with. I saw Gareth and he managed to get a photo of me as I passed

Finishing the race, getting passed in the process
Finishing the race, getting passed in the process

I crossed the line in 05:06:02, about 25 minutes slower than my PB but I had made it. I met up with Gareth and he told me that he had set a new PB (Read his blog on the race here)

To anyone who may read this who is wanting a marathon distance event to run then you couldn’t ask for a better event, the support from the crowds, the organisation, views and challenge of the climbs and descents set it apart from the rest. I am a trail runner and don’t generally do road events, but this is one that I will always make an exception for.

I will be doing it again next year, I want to run it at peak fitness and see what I can do, I urge you when it becomes available to sign up to do the same.

A selecton of images from the weekend:

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Race(s) Review: Centurion Running North Downs Way 50 and Richmond Park Marathon


Normally I wouldn’t combine two race write ups but this is a rather unique case.

Last year I signed up again for the NDW50 after my DNF on the NDW100. I wanted to get more runs under my belt with a view to entering the 100 in 2015. A while after entering the 50, Gareth (who I run a lot with) emailed me a link to the Richmond Park Marathon

Looking at the details it looked a good one to do, one problem though, it was the day after the 50. Most people would probably say “sod that” but inevitably my ego drove me to think “why not, it will be good training”

Fast forward and I was standing at the start of the NDW50 waiting for the off

Waiting for the off
Waiting for the off
NORTH DOWNS WAY 50, 17th May 2014

I won’t go into too much detail about the race its self, suffice to say its a 50 mile point to point from Farnham to Knockholt Pound across the North Downs. If you want more detail on I have a previous post from 2012 on the run: Ultraplodder Blog North Downs Way 50 2012 or visit the Centurion running homepage: Centurion Running

I always like the start of these events, you can feel the anticipation and nerves all around you. I had a stretch goal of 11 hours and a plan B of 11:30 (10 mins slower than my PB) and at the start was reasonably confident that I would be able to achieve at least plan B, I was wrong.

The race started and we were all off, the start is pretty flat when comparing it to the rest of the North Downs and its a good opportunity to ease into things and keep the pace reasonable before hitting some of the more challenging sections. The first 6 or so miles to Aid Station I felt fine, it was getting warm but it was manageable. It was after leaving this that the voice started, a hell of a lot earlier than usual.

In anything that pushes you towards your physical limits there will come a point where a voice in your head will start to tell you all sorts of negative things, normally this doesn’t happen until later on, usually half way.

The heat was really starting to drain me, it still being early in the day this was worrying me. I felt like I was struggling to take on enough fluids and salts (I spent most of the day feeling sick) and the other thought was “you have to run a marathon tomorrow”. I had failed at the 100 and the thought of failing this was a big worry for me.

I was lucky to have Gareth crewing for me and meeting him at aid 2 cheered me up a bit, as did the coconut water he carried. Once I was off again the negative thoughts started to creep in again.

I tried to suppress these as much as possible but it was turning into a drag and I could already see plan A and plan B slipping away with me just hoping for a finish within the cut off. I forget where but I met up with Garry who I ran a large proportion of the NDW100 with last year. He was running with a friend, Karen, who was doing her first ultra and the chat lifted my spirits. They were progressing well and tried to keep the pace with them but I felt myself slipping behind.

Rather than make a song and dance about it I let them carry on ahead (sorry both if I didn’t say goodbye, I just didn’t want you to feel obliged to hang around) and got my head down to plod forward. This mental struggle continued through Box Hill, Reigate and Caterham (a good proportion of the race!). Each time I would reach an aid station or a meeting point with Gareth, have some more food and water and carry on. I started to feel more positive from Caterham to Botley Hill, despite my slow pace I had enough time left that I was fairly certain that I would at least finish under the cut off.

Selfie
Selfie

Botley Hill to the finish at Knockholt Pound my feelings would range, I missed a turning which was a set back and several fields had rather a lot of cows who seemed to be intent on blocking my way. Also, for those who have done the race before or know the route, this section seems to take forever and is really mentally draining. Each gate you pass through you hope for the road which will lead to the finish and instead you are presented with another field, it can be quite demoralising.

I did finish however and made it within the cut-off, my time being 12:41:59, pretty much at the back of the fields and widely off my targets but crossing that line was just the best feeling.

Running towards the finish line Photo Credit: Jon Lavis
Running towards the finish line
Photo Credit: Jon Lavis

As usual the organisers had put together another brilliant event and the volunteers who manned the aid stations made it all the better, their enthusiasm and willingness to help is what can make the difference between someone giving into the desire to quit or pushing forwards.

I didn’t have time to reflect on the day, I had to focus on getting as much food and rest as possible for the following days challenge.

Richmond Park Marathon, 18th May 2014

Sore, that’s how I felt as I got out of bed that morning. I had been luck on the 50 in that I had no blisters on my feet and chaffing around ‘sensitive’ areas was minimal (although still noticeable!). I had already prepped my gear so it was a case of getting up and getting dressed. Gareth was running the marathon as well and he picked me up around 7am.

After sorting ourselves out at the race start and waiting for 09:30 for things to kick-off it had become very apparent that today was going to be warmer than yesterday, something which I really wasn’t happy about. I had used bottles in my Inov8 race vest on the 50 but for the marathon had switched to the bladder, which had 2 litres of electrolytes in it. This combined with the aid stations was hopefully enough to see me through and prevent any dehydration issues.

Another day another start line
Another day another start line

The race started Gareth and I had set off together, the pace was slow and running was something which my legs were very much telling me not to do. I can’t remember where I first said it but I told Gareth it was ok if he wanted to shoot off ahead, he was after all going much slower than he would be able to on his own. To his credit he said he would stick with me and even when we had to adopt a run/walk strategy very early on.

The Richmond Park Marathon route was split into a 12 mile twisting lap around the park followed by two 7.1 mile laps. There were several aid station points dotted around the course and as per previous day the enthusiasm of the volunteers was fantastic. Also, they were bordering on Ultra style aid stations, with Flapjacks, Banana’s, Jelly Babies and Apples to name a few so that really helped perk me up.

On the first 12 miles the section from mile 9 to 12 was really quite tough, it was along the middle of the park and was feeling the full brunt of the sun, with little to no shade. It was here that I really started to doubt by ability to continue, my legs were dead and each burst of effort to run was becoming harder and harder to maintain. Gareth continued to motivate and pace (drag) me along and we had a quick pit stop at his car to grab some fluids and then crossed the 12 mile mark.

Mentally this was a big plus, effectively half way. There was still plenty of time within the 6.5 hour cut off and although we were moving slowly, it wasn’t terrible. The first 7.1 mile lap around the park was better but still a struggle, everything was telling me to stop. We continued, passing aid stations and me grabbing an apple whenever I could (I couldn’t get enough of them!)

As we approached the end of the first lap you had straight on for the second lap and a turn right for start/finish. The crowds were cheering as other runners were coming to the end of their marathon, Gareth and I carried on straight much to our amusement.

It was the last lap where Gareth and I agreed he would run off ahead. There was plenty of time for me to finish at the pace I was going and mentally I was in a good place. There was part of me that wanted to run alone as well, I wanted to just put some music on and take myself away from the pain and exhaustion.

This was probably the most emotionally varied 7.1 miles of my life, one minute I was ready to collapse and the next I was holding back tears of joy. I distinctly remember crossing mile 24 and realising that finishing was a certainty, it was then that I almost burst into tears. This happened again at 25 and 26, with the last 200 yards being a long drag over the line.

Gareth was at the end waiting and I think I was a bit delirious as I couldn’t really make any decisions on anything (other than I wanted to sit down for a bit) so Gareth sorted me out some food and drink.

It was a long day and I finished in 05:45, the race itself was so well organised and the volunteers who worked the aid stations and marshalled were all brilliant, I would absolutely do this race again (maybe not with 50 miles the day before though).

Two days, Two medals
Two days, Two medals
Event Summary

North Downs Way 50

Centurion events are always amazingly well organised and this year was no exception, the aid stations were well stocked with fantastic volunteers manning them and the medical support on the day was fantastic (I didn’t have to use it but witnessed it being used). If you are planning a 50 or 100 mile Ultra  into Ultra running a Centurion event is one of the best.

Richmond Park Marathon

A great marathon and definitely one to do again, well organised and great aid stations with great volunteers cheering you on, again medical support on the day was excellent. The goody bag at the end was a nice touch, with T-Shirt, medal and a mug (which is now sitting on my desk at work). For another perspective on the Richmond Park Marathon Gareth has written a blog on his experiences over the weekend: Gareth Davies PT

Reflection

The two days were hard, that’s a given, but they were harder than they should have been. This is in part due to the warm conditions and the lack of opportunity to acclimatise, but the real reason is I didn’t train enough and didn’t train smart. My longest run up to that day was about 19 miles which simply isn’t enough, I think to an extent I was complacent given that I had run the distance before and didn’t appreciate how I would be affected.

I am still deciding my future plans but suffice to say it will be something of a reset and back to basics, rebuilding my running form and core strength, then building the distance back up. The next Ultra I do I want to feel ready as I have been asking myself, ‘if I can do that on little training, what can I do when properly prepared?’

Race Review: Avalanche Events Winter Fan Dance


On January 18th 2014 I and two other guys (Gareth and Simon) partook in one of the most gruelling challenges that I have done to date.

The Fan Dance

If you haven’t heard of the Fan Dance I think the best way of summing it up is the description taken from the Avalanche Events website: thefandancerace.com

This infamous route has long been a part of SAS (Special Air Service) and SBS (Special Boat Service) Selection and is considered the yardstick of a candidate’s potential to perform well on Test Week and ultimately pass the Special Forces Selection programme.

Starting at the Storey Arm’s car park, the race goes straight up to the summit checkpoint of Pen Y Fan and, after descending ‘Jacob’s Ladder’, continues along an undulating stone vehicle track (the ‘Roman Road’) to the second checkpoint which also serves as a tea stop and turnaround point. Then, taking the route in reverse, racers climb back up “The Fan” via Jacob’s ladder and pass through the summit checkpoint a second time before legging their way back down to the finish at the Storey Arm’s car park.

Quite an appealing description and the opportunity to even have a small taste of what is involved in selection was something not to be missed, I am pleased to say that the day didn’t disappoint.

Registration

Arriving at the Storey Arms for race registration (after a quick breakfast on the go) we collected our race number and map. It appeared that due to the severity of the weather the route had been amended slightly so we missed out Corn Du. Clearly although it was grim down at the base of the mountain the conditions were far worse up top.

As we were doing the load bearing event (for authenticity) we had to go and get our rucksack’s weighed to make sure that we met the minimum required weight. I had weighed it the night before and was certain that it was above but I was a little nervous that for whatever reason it would be under and I really didn’t fancy trying to get more weight in. As it was my bag was  44lb (19 kg) so 10lb over the necessary weight. I was told I could drop some weight out but I really didn’t want to mess with my pack so just stuck with it.

The Race
A more detailed hill profile
The Hill Profile

After the race briefing, which being at the back we didn’t hear much (other than the word treacherous, that got through) we set off. I and Gareth had opted to start out with poles, I previously had severely sprained my ankle and it now is pretty weak and over the rough terrain with the added weight I didn’t want to risk a repeat of it.

The first two miles is pretty much all up and the weather was already making it tough going, the rain had started and the wind was picking up. We had already done part of the route on a training run but the conditions were far better, so although we knew what we were in for we weren’t prepared for how different the mountain was going to treat us.

I had decided to try to record as much of the event as I could on my GoPro and managed to capture a clip of us as we were just about to summit Pen Y Fan, at this point we had already taken the alternate route cutting out Corn Du and had been shielded from the full strength of the wind up to this point.

From the top of Pen Y Fan to Windy Gap (how appropriate), the wind was  totally unrelenting and was c. Checking in at the RV1 we then headed down the Roman road. It was a gentle descent so we tried to pick up the pace, me folding my poles up. About 100 yards later I had twisted my right ankle so the poles came back out and the pace slowed again. The rain continued and although my torso was remaining dry everything else was soaked through.

Getting to RV2 it was an opportunity for a quick loo break and then back off the way we had come. Starting up again it became I had pushed my GoreTex boots to the limit and they had let in water, the problem is that once its in there is nowhere for it to go so I had to resign myself to the fact that I would be walking in a permanent puddle for the 7 miles back.

Coming back up the Roman Road with its gradual incline wasn’t too taxing but the mood was low. The weather was taking its toll more than the terrain, there was no respite from the wind and rain and this was causing us to really start feeling the cold.

Checking in at RV3 at Windy Gap before the start of the climb up Jacobs Ladder any plans for a quick time were out the window and it was about getting back safely and in one piece.

It was slow going up, the wind had gone from behind us to a cross wind. Simon had a settle to score with Jacobs Ladder so had picked up his pace and Gareth and I were a short distance behind. On several occasions on the way up Gareth’s poles were getting caught in the rocks, the last one causing the pole to extend past its lock and getting stuck (and therefore unusable)

We paused while Gareth attempted to fix it but he wasn’t having any joy, the cold was making things very tough and I think it was affecting us more than we realised. After another failed attempt he threw it to the ground in frustration and said to leave it. I decided to have a go at sorting it as he had only bought them a couple of days before.

It was while I was messing around with the pole (and eventually fixing) that Gareth said he was getting really cold and needed to put a warmer jacket on. This was quite a task as the cold had meant our hands were barely functioning so it was a team effort to get his bag off and jacket on. He later said that he had stopped shivering at this point which is not a good sign, if he hadn’t of packed that extra jacket things could have gone south very quickly.

Photo's taken by Gareth, still smiling
Photo’s taken by Gareth, we are all still smiling

Once he was sorted we set off again, this was a good thing as the cold had started to get to me, I could no longer feel my hands at all and I could see frost forming on the outside of my gloves.

We were moving comparatively slow but as it has been in other hilly events in the past the hills are a strength and we were still catching and passing others, usually with one of us checking if the person we were passing was ok.

Getting up over Jacob’s Ladder was a big milestone, as it was (nearly) all downhill from there onwards Meeting up with Simon we headed down Pen Y Fan battling on. My feet were now starting to really feel soggy and I was getting worried that when I took my boots off I would be presented with something horrific, but I had to put that to the back of my mind and press on. Gareth had started to get warmer as we lost altitude and the wind had eased off so spirits were starting to lift.

The pace was steady as we continued towards the red phone box with each step bringing us a little closer. Crossing that line and receiving the finishers patch I felt a great sense of achievement, it had been a war of attrition and we had succeeded.

The Fan Dance in 13 minutes

I have tried to edit the video footage down into one video, the batteries on my GoPro didn’t last as long as I would have liked due to the cold so I have some bits missing but you should be able to get a feel for it here

Update: There appears to be an issue with the end of the video and some of the cuts, I will try and upload a fixed version soon

Would I Do it Again?

I have to, I need snow!

In all seriousness I probably will do, we are already thinking of doing the summer Fan Dance, albeit clean fatigue and I would like to experience a winter ‘dance’ with snow if possible. Avalanche Events offered up a really good experience, great organisation and authenticity. The Fan Dance has a huge amount of mythos surrounding it and to capture a small element of the experience is something very special indeed.

I would definitely recommend this to anyone who is looking for a challenge and experience, summer or winter, clean fatigue or loaded, either way you are in for a treat!

The finishers badge has been added to my more precious memoroabiliea
The finishers badge has been added to my more precious memorabilia

A summary of the Fan Dance detailing time, distance and hill profile

Race Review: Trail Marathon Wales 2013


This was a race which wasn’t a race, I was going into this one having not run more than 4 miles in the last six weeks due to spraining my ankle at the beginning of May.

Set in Coed Y Brenin Forest Park it is one of the most spectacular runs I have done, hence why this is my second year participating.

A Google Earth Image giving an idea of the terrain
A Google Earth Image giving an idea of the terrain
The route from above with the hill profile
The route from above with the hill profile
Another take on the hill profile along with my pacing
Another take on the hill profile along with my pacing

Last year when I took part it was my first official marathon and I wanted to do my best, setting (a then) PB for a marathon distance race. Although I didn’t blaze along last year I did push myself as best I could, missing much of the views due to my head being down and me focusing on the next step and I knew that this year would be different.

This year was about getting round the course, using the opportunity to get back running, testing some kit and mentally checking if the NDW100 is still on the cards.

Waking up on the Saturday morning (we had stayed locally at the same place as last year, Heulwen Guest House which is a fantastic place to stay by the way) the forecast was for rain, not just drizzle but full on heavy rain.  This didn’t bother me a great deal as I was basically equipped for an Ultra so had everything I could need for any weather conditions.

Kit ready for the morning
Kit ready for the morning

The reason I had so much stuff was because not being able to run at any great pace I took the decision to treat the marathon as a training run, enjoying the views and experience as much as possible. With this in my head, it made the fact that I would struggle on the uneven terrain easier to deal with.

At the start line I was full of anticipation, Gareth had just left as he wasn’t due to start the half for another 30 minutes or so. With a gunshot the run started.

The runners gather for the start
The runners gather for the start

The first couple of miles is a gradual uphill so there is no real time to warm up and ease your legs into it, I have to say I felt this. My legs were tight and my ankle was letting me know it still wasn’t fully healed, happily though things level out (as much as they can) from 2-4 miles until the first big climb.

At mile 4 there is a climb, starting at about 800ft elevation and peaking a couple of miles later at 1,160ft. As this was the first proper walking hill (for me anyway) this was a good test of how cycling has helped, as ascending I felt strong and passed other people who were feeling the gradient. This changed as soon as we hit the descent and I realised the real impact of my injury, I couldn’t run steep downhills at all.

And now we go downhill
And now we go downhill

Mile 6 to about mile 7 you lose the height gained and quickly have another climb just before  mile 8. Climbing back up to about 1,120ft from mile 8 to 10 it’s all downhill, ending up at 480ft elevation and straight into another climb to get back all that hight over the next 4 miles, peaking at around 1,345ft.

Heading on up into the trees
Heading on up into the trees

The trend continued, feeling strong on the hills and gaining places back only to lose them on the downhills, particularly the technical trails. I would give way to people coming down and let them pass as I knew that I would just hold them up and I didn’t want to ruin anyones race.

Can't argue with the views, my Camera doesn't do it justice
Can’t argue with the views, my Camera doesn’t do it justice

I have to say that from about mile 14 onwards I was starting to get very tired and the thought did pop into my head saying “You should have dropped to the half” but I was here now so had to plod on (didn’t want to prove Gareth right anyway!)

This is pretty steep, both the marathon runners and half marathon runners had to tackle this beast
This is pretty steep, both the marathon runners and half marathon runners had to tackle this beast

I eventually crossed the line in 05:53:05 which is 30 minutes slower than last year (albeit the route is different) but I have to say overall I enjoyed it a lot more, partially because it meant more to actually finish but also I just enjoyed myself. Yes it was hard and more training prior to the run would have made it a bit more comfortable towards the end but I stopped to take photos when I wanted, took in the views and chatted to other runners and overall just absorbed the experience a whole lot more.

Just stopping to take a photo and absorb the beauty of the surroundings
Just stopping to take a photo and absorb the beauty of the surroundings
Another shot of the surroundings
Another shot of the surroundings
Should I sign up for this race?

If you are reading this and asking this question then I can whole heartedly say “yes you should”, be it the half or the full marathon you need to have done this at least once, the views alone make it worth it.

The organisation is very good, aid stations well stocked, marshalls encouraging and to top it off the goody bag is really good as well (Salomon Trail Access socks, T-Shirt, Magazine, Energy Bar, plus a water bottle at the end and an awesome finishers coaster).

The welcome sight of the aid station, gels, water, isotonic drink and jelly babies are the order of the day
The welcome sight of the aid station, gels, water, Isotonic drink and jelly babies are the order of the day

Matt Ward and his team have put on another fantastic event which I can only see getting better and better, the dates for 2014 are already out and we have already emailed Heulwen Guest House to book our accomodation, that’s how much I love this event!

Me plodding along. Photo taken by sportspicturescymru
Me plodding along. Photo taken by sportspicturescymru
Links

www.trailmarathonwales.com

www.sportpicturescymru.co.uk

www.forestry.gov.uk/coedybrenin

www.heulwen.co.uk

garethdaviespt.com/2013/06/24/trail-marathon-wales-2013

Race Review: Grim Original 2012


Cold

That is the one word I would use to describe Saturdays race, the Grim Original 2012. This was my third Grim, having done the (delayed) 2010 and 2011 events and comparing those vs. 2012 I have to say that this was the ‘Grimmest’.

The Course

Unchanged from the previous years the course so a good opportunity to try to improve on last years time (Update: Had a tweet from the organisers saying that this years route was tweaked slightly and that they do this every year), the course consists of an 8 mileish route around an army vehicle testing track so the terrain is pretty extreme in places.

Grim 2012 Route (Image from Google Earth)
Grim 2012 Route (Image from Google Earth)
Race Day

With a  10:30 race start it I managed to get a reasonable lay in, getting up at 07:30 to be picked up by Kev at 08:00. Having received the updated driving instructions from the race organises we went off and had a pretty painless journey there, arriving at about 09:00. We parked up in what I believe was the overflow car park, which meant a reasonable walk to the actual race start and getting out of the car, even in my fleece I was struck by how chilly it was, which didn’t bode well for the actual race.

We headed to the race start line to see if we could spot Gareth and Matt, who had ended up parking in the main car park. Finding them sitting in Gareth’s car keeping warm, we sat joined them briefly before heading out to grab a couple toasties from one of the on-site vendors to warm us up and fuel our race. We then had to head back to Kev’s car to get changed, donned our bin liners to keep warm(ish) and headed back to wait for the race start.

Standing around waiting for the off, the bin liner doing a reasonable job keeping the worse of the chill off, I was contemplating how it all started at this event two years ago. A random suggestion by Gareth suggestion that the Grim “would be a laugh” and two years later I have run three marathons, one ultra and have signed up for one marathon and two ultras in 2013 already, funny how things go. The Grim Original will always hold a special place in my heart because of this, however standing in the cold I couldn’t help thinking “I would rather be in bed”.

The atmosphere helped lift me away from those thoughts, with a group (2922 participants) warm up to get the blood flowing and spirits lifted when the countdown finally ended and the bugle signalled to go I was back in the mind-set of trying to beat last years’ time. We had managed to get ourselves towards the front for the start, as last year we were at the back and it took a lot of effort and time to overtake people and while I am not a contender for a high placing finish, I was sure that I would be in the top 3rd at least.

The route hadn’t changed from last year so in my mind I had a fair idea of what lay ahead, but hitting the first ‘puddle’ (I will call them puddles, but imagine something the size of a large pond) was like a sledgehammer, my lower body didn’t know what hit it. The cold was something else, my muscles just seized up and my feet went completely numb, if this was a sign of things to come it was going to be hard going.

I was pacing well despite the fact I couldn’t feel my feet, however every time I started to get some feeling back I would run through another ‘puddle’ and lose all sensation again. Although I was happy with my pace after the first puddle I also started to get a niggle in my right Achilles tendon, a feeling if tightness with each and every stride. This pain didn’t subside and continued for the whole race, with a brief respite when crossing the ‘puddles’ as the cold numbed everything again.

There are several places on the course where the crowds gather, several particularly large ‘puddles’ and muddy sections, but the main place to get a real view of the Grim is the section where you have to traverse a mud pit and go under a cargo net.

Having to slow right down for the cargo net, with the thick mud sucking at my feet was a welcome break, it helped me stretch out my Achilles a bit but also the mud was a lot warmer than the water so my legs were getting some heat back into them, albeit briefly.

The mud was a lot warmer than the water
The mud was a lot warmer than the water

After getting covered in mud, it wasn’t long before I was covered in water again and clean (to a degree). I carried on, pushing past the pain in my ankle driven my the fact that I was looking good to hit a PB and beat last years time, by mile 7 I was just over the hour mark and knowing the last section I maintained the effort.

Crossing the line, as in any race, is always a mix of emotions. I had beaten my time and was very pleased, but I was so cold the focus was on getting out of the wet gear and getting warm. I met up with Kev who had finished about a minute and a half before me and we waited for Matt and Gareth to cross the line. Once they were back Kev and I headed to the car to get changed and get warm.

Last years results
Last years results
A better time on last year
A better time on last year, although slight variance on the distance. Average pace was the main thing.
Again next year?

Initially I was thinking no, not because I don’t rate the event, being my third time I think you could say that it’s a firm favourite, but I was considering what other races are during the same period.

Sitting here now though, how could I not partake in the race that started it all, I am building up a nice collection of Grim race numbers now, that and the fact that my wife is going to run in next years race has cemented the fact that I will be doing this again next December, sun, rain or snow.

Is it for me?

If you are reading this, thinking about entering a running event you cannot go wrong with the Grim, be it in Aldershot or the one up north. They are great events and all abilities enter, it is very much a “have a go, have a laugh” event and a great one at that.

Head over to http://www.grimchallenge.co.uk like them on Facebook or follow on Twitter to get a heads up when you can sign up, I will see you there.