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Wednesday 28 November 2012

Coombe 8 Race Report - Flippers, Free Soup & Bomb Craters

It was the morning after picking up The Mr from his work Christmas Do. I’d finally got him into the car and got us all back home … and now my alarm had gone off. Four hours later.

A month ago, an 8 mile Cross Country race had sounded a wonderful idea. It conjured up ideas of a jolly run in the countryside, rolling pastures and a whisky in the local pub afterwards. At no point, did I stop to consider it might involve 4 hours sleep, 50% of the course underwater and mud up to my eyeballs.

It had rained the night before SO heavily, I actually wrote a note to the organisers checking if it was still on. I was replied to (in the tone of one speaking to a small child or one of limited intelligence) that this was a CROSS COUNTRY race. Nothing short of the organisers closing the grounds of the park would stop this race. Or possibly an earthquake. With extra lava.

Navigating a couple of flooded roads to get to Coombe Abbey
Managed to un-zombie enough to get changed into running gear and after a quick re-change to get the capris on the right way round, I was ready to go. It had been raining very heavily all night, but I wasn’t prepared for the number of roads closed or the amount of floodwater I had to drive through to get to Coombe Abbey. I began to suspect I should have worn my wetsuit.

The marshals were all ready and waiting for the runners to arrive and were handing out free car parking passes which was a nice touch. The car park had a new lake in the middle of it, which I’m sure wasn’t there before. The ducks hadn’t spotted it yet though so there wasn’t the obligatory crowd of toddlers throwing Hovis in.

Here's the car park. Now where shall I leave the car?
Managed to build up the willpower to leave my nice warm car and dash to the building to retrieve my number. It was bright and the sky was periwinkle blue but the wind was very cold. I was asked my name by the lady with the numbers and she checked that I belonged to Northampton & Rugby AC. When I confirmed, there was a bit of a tumbleweed moment. Really lady, you don’t need to give me an evil look. I’m no competition here. Trust me. Look – I’m even wearing ROAD shoes for a cross country. Although judging by the conditions out there I should probably be wearing flippers.

Had a wander across to the crowd of yellow hi-viz jackets to have a look at the course and spot the ‘Start’ sign propped up against a tree. Ah. So it looks like the start is on the grass then. The grass under an inch of water. Thanks, guys. No really. 

The start is under the trees with the sun shining through them.
 About 5 minutes before the start all the runners moved forwards towards the start. Or possibly a couple started a huddle for warmth and we all joined in. The organisers gave out the safety briefing but it was impossible to hear anything over the crowd of 250 runners and the wind. Except the phrase “You’re not supposed to enjoy this, you know…” Well, that’s a nice positive start for my first proper cross country race. Set the tone early on …

I heard the cue to start – an air horn audible even over the wind and the crowd of runners started at a walk and then we all broke into a kind of a sloshy trot over the bumpy ground under an avenue of trees. It was an indicator of what was to come as the grass was already sodden and boggy from the people running in front and it was impossible to move without being splashed and kicked by the runners in front.

As we came towards the end of the avenue, the crowd separated out a bit and we all turned right at the end of the trees, around a marshal and a large tree stump and across a field to a fence with a narrow gate in it. The grass was even more sodden and boggy here and my feet were immediately drenched in icy brown water. We ran across the bottom of the field and around the perimeter following the fence. The grass was wet and under an inch of water in places. I was beginning to regret wearing road shoes … 

Am I allowed to stop running, yet? (Photo by Dave Storer)
I didn’t know have a clue what pace to keep as I’d never run an 8 mile race before ... or a cross country like this. I had decided beforehand to try to keep to about an 8 minute/mile which wouldn’t be particularly quick, but I wasn’t sure how much running on grass would affect the pace. My Garmin was showing about 7:45 m/mile when I finally got around to looking at it which was fine, but the Garmin miles were showing as about a half mile behind the mile markers on the course which was a bit worrying. I had a horrible feeling I would need to catch up that half a mile at some point …

We came right around the field and back the avenue of trees we had started under but going the other side of them and the other direction. Due to the numbers of people and the deep standing water, a few people had to jump the fence and run on the road. Me included. Back over the fence and diagonally towards some straw bales we had to jump onto to clear the fence, across the road and more straw bales. Down the soggy grass avoiding the patches of slippery mud where mole hills had been trodden flat by running feet. Splat! Splash!

The straw bales were fun ... the first time! (Photo by Dave Storer)
Through the bog which was usually a flat patch of grass and we arrived by the path where Three Year Old and I usually feed the ducks. However, there were no ducks … and more worrying there was no sign of the little bridge. It was completely underwater – only the concrete rails were showing.  

A lone duck returns once the horde of lunatic cross country runners have vanished ...
I followed the pack splashing through it up to about mid calf and thoroughly drenching my shoes. At least the water was washing the mud and layer of leaves off … I may be soaking wet but I’m sparkly clean! In a muddy brown river water kind of a way…

Turned left through the water and up onto the arched bridge which usually goes over a tinkling stream, today turned into a raging torrent of brown water sweeping branches and leaves downstream. 
Running wellies are the way forward! (Photo by Dave Storer)
Up and into the woods, brown slippery leaves and treacherous mud underfoot, splashing through puddles and trying not to slip. Following the person in front and trying to pick people off one at a time. Down a steep hill and back up again …  trying to keep momentum going so you didn’t slide back down to the bottom of the hill again. 

Over a green grassy area in single file, the land around the path bumpy and ridged. Slippery, wet grass, the thump of feet and the panting of the other runners.

Through the trees, trying to pick your steps through the puddles while keeping the same pace. Splash!

It looks so peaceful and un-boggy from here ...
Under the trees, leaving footprints in the mud, pumping arms. The water in your shoes unnoticed now. Over a bridge and a stream which I remembered as peaceful and tranquil, now turned into a racing, splashing flood of water. Turning a sharp corner and through deep puddles. No energy to waste jumping puddles. Back round to the flooded bridge again and over the sodden grass, now thick and muddy and boggy.

Up past the start again and again the jumps over the straw bales ... no longer fun ... now just exhausting...

Up to the tree trunk and the marshal shouting encouragement. Round to the right... again and follow the path down to the bottom of the field and following the long train of runners into the distance. Picking people off more slowly. A chap in front keeps walking, then picking up the pace. I’m getting closer. My next target.

Round a marshal and he shouts that I am 15th woman. Out of a crowded field of club runners and for my first long cross country run, I am happy with that. Just need to maintain it ... I look ahead but there are no women visible to pick off.

Legs aren’t working so well now and the slippery mud and sliding grass take a lot of effort to move over. No-one is passing me – we’re all struggling with our own run. I keep telling myself that this is my first time at this distance and I need to run my own race. Stop trying to chase people. But this is how I keep myself going on a run. Pick the next target. Just get past that person... and that one. Mile 6 sign ... past it and that means only a mile (plus not quite another mile) to go.

Round to the bottom of the field and around a large circular hole in the ground – a bomb crater left over from the war. Following the striped tape around the edges and then down into the crater and back up the other side trying to keep momentum.

Back onto the grass and following the path left by muddy running feet, splash! Through the mud. Splash! Through the puddles. Overtaken by a woman in pink, the first woman to overtake me although I know there are others in front of me. Keeping her in sight, but my pace is slowing from the effort to stop my feet sinking and sliding into the mud. Why didn’t I add the spikes to my shoes today? Splash! Slide!

Past the Mile 7 sign... thankful for this as it means only a mile to go, but I’m worried that my Garmin is only clocking 6.5 miles. Look ahead across the field to the spread out line of runners in front.

Another crater, this time skirting the edge as the bottom is full of water, the sides treacherous and slippery. A man in front of me slips towards the edge and the woman in pink cries out as she nearly falls backwards trying to scramble out. I take big steps out, walking rather than running and still maintain speed and keep up with these too.

Lines of runners criss-cross the field and I can see the avenue of trees which marked the start ... and the finish. Just focus on those. Coming up to the narrow gate, I am overtaken by a woman in a Hatton Darts teeshirt. I keep her in my sights and stay about 10 metres behind. My legs do not want to move faster but as we pass into the avenue of trees with the finish funnel – unseen – somewhere into the distance I urge them to go faster. I slowly make up distance on the woman in front. As I draw up to her right shoulder she sees my shadow mirroring hers and she ups her pace. There is no way to honestly call this a sprint finish, it is a very, very slow version of one. I push my legs into a parody of one – I feel as though I am running through treacle - and draw past and into the finish funnel.

Finally finished ... triumphantly holding my cup of free soup
I stop running, but keep walking otherwise I will start feeling sick. I walk around to the brick building and smell a delicious food smell and spot a sign. “Free soup for runners.” Free soup? That cheers me up immediately. Free food GOOD. They even let me into the café without insisting on me being hosed down EVEN though I looked I’d been tarred and feathered with mud and leaves. GOOD café.

I enjoy running cross country on my training runs. But this was brutal. The flooding and the slippery mud made this a tough run for me. But the feeling of satisfaction after completing it lasted all day. 

Hmmm ... I wonder where the socks ended ...
However, it did give me an idea. Running wellies. I think if these haven’t been invented they really should be. I would DEFINITELY invest in a pair of those bad boys. Anyone fancy inventing some? Give me 5% royalties and I will be able to give up the office job and live a life of luxury relying on the Cross Country runners to keep me in lattes and hobnobs. 

The Coombe 8 - organised by Sphinx AC 

Running Faster by Not Running ... And Dancing in Front of the TV

I’ve got no more races planned this year. None at all. I keep thinking I should open up Running Diary or have a look in the back of Runner’s World magazine to book some in. But something is stopping me ...

I think it’s the freedom.

It’s liberating. I’m running for fun. If it’s wet and cold outside, I can do something else like an aerobics DVD with Three Year Old in front of the TV. I tell her it’s dancing and let her wear her party dress and we have a great time. The cat thinks we’re both completely mental but she doesn’t say anything out loud so we let her watch.

This week instead of running I went to the gym and did strength classes instead. I’ve done Legs, Bums and Tums and a class called On The Ball. It’s an attempt to get more core strength and to do something about my spaghetti arms. I’ve been meaning to do these classes for ages but I haven’t liked to sacrifice the time I usually use for running. It’s been fun. Not quite the same as running in the cold air and getting the Runners High but it’s been fun.

After a week of just gym classes and no running, I decided to have a go at the local parkrun. I felt strong throughout and comfortable and knocked 22 seconds off of my previous 5km best time.

I think this week’s rest from running has done me good. But a part of me can’t help thinking maybe if I don’t EVER run again, except parkruns, I could knock off 5 more minutes from my 5km time? However, I strongly suspect this may be crooked thinking and my innate laziness kicking in.

Tuesday 27 November 2012

Goodbye Smallest Toenail ...

Goodbye smallest toenail. But don’t be lonely. I strongly suspect that 2nd smallest and middle toenail will be joining you soon.

You will be missed, but I draw comfort from the fact that it is November, that I need not show my (disfigured) pinkies on the beach any time soon. 

Toenails about to flee the foot ...
However, I do hope that this isn’t the start of a lemming-like dash for freedom by my toenails. You survived 2 half marathons and a marathon and countless other smaller races. However, I do a parkrun and a cross country race on the same weekend and it’s like the start of a mass exodus.

Please don’t go. I’ll miss you.

Friday 23 November 2012

Runner's World Asics Target 26.2 2013

14th November

Just got a call from Lucy at Runner’s World. I’d like it to be noted that I didn’t wee in excitement (although it was a close thing). I’d entered the Asics 26.2 Competition which offers the chance to be trained and entered for the Paris marathon and Lucy was calling to check my availability for the bootcamp date!

I confirmed that I was available for the dates she’d advised and that was that!

I’m now trying desperately to remember whether she said I was actually shortlisted for the bootcamp or whether she was just checking availability for the bootcamp. My memory goes from chicken to goldfish when I’m nervous or excited about something.

I’m now checking my emails every 5 minutes (who am I kidding ... every 2 minutes) to see whether a confirmation email has come through.

It hasn’t ... yet.






15th November

Still haven’t had an email asking me to go to bootcamp. Does this mean they don’t want me? (Quietly sobs)

Lots of posts on the forum thread saying that they’ve had phone calls and one or two saying they’ve received an email requesting their attendance ... maybe they called EVERYONE? (sobs more loudly)

Back to checking emiails (iclduing spam folder) every 2 minutes.






Still no bloody email. People have been talking on the Runner’s World forum thread about how they’ve already received their emails.  Looks like I’m out of luck this year then….

Rechecks emails. Sulks.

16th November

D-Day. The final opportunity.

I checked my emails upon awakening and approximately every couple of minutes since then. And the spam folder.

The phone battery has already died once due to the amount of email checking. Commit to only checking phone if I hear new email noise.

Check for new emails.

Spot an email with running in title and nearly have heart attack. Damn you Women’s Running newsletter.

Recharge phone again. Decide to tidy house and go into town to stay busy so I can’t check emails all the time.

An email from Runner’s World has arrived ... heart stopped again … another BLOODY NEWSLETTER! Are they deliberately trying to keep us in suspense?!


An email has arrived….

“Runner’s World Target 26.2 Bootcamp”. Fingers unable to open it as trembling two much.

(After phone has been dropped twice, I manage to open the email)

“…Thank you for your application to the Runner’s World ASICS Target 26.2 project. W’re very happy to inform you that you have been selected for out Bootcamp Selection Day in Birmingham on Friday 30th November – congratulations!”

Bloody hell. No really. BLOODY HELL. I’m in!! I’m bloody in.

The first step towards being a part of the Runner's World ASICS 26.2 Target!

Thursday 22 November 2012

Biting the Dreadmill Bullet

I’ve done it. I’ve finally bitten the bullet and ordered a treadmill. Not one of those swanky gym ones with televisions and little key slots and all that. One from ebay. For £50. Apparently I have to hold it shut with a cable tie. But it works.

Photos courtesy of
I’d decided it was time to look into indoor running. I LOVE running outdoors and treadmills – or dreadmills – just can’t really compare. The problem wasn’t the rain or the mud or the alsations, it was fitting the time in for running. Either myself or The Mister is running around ... not doing running ...  and if he isn’t in the house keeping an eye on The Three Year Old then I need to be. I can’t go swanning off for a run when she’s there. And she can’t keep up if I take her with me. She only has short, podgy, lovely Three Year Old Legs, there’s plenty of time for running in straight lines when she’s older.

I’m hoping that with a treadmill I can get some running in after The Three Year Old is asleep. The garage is next to the house and I’ve got a video monitor I can Big Brother at her from. I wouldn’t be wasting precious time with her when she’s awake going for a run instead I’d be able to do it when she’s asleep. And I wouldn’t be going out with my hi-viz and headtorch on at midnight, like I’ve had to do several times recently.

My midnight running is like a reverse Cinderella. I get home, all smart in my work gear, get changed into running kit, go out for a run and return soaking wet with muddy feet and hair like I’ve been dragged through a hedge. At least if I’m running indoors I can avoid scaring people.

Wednesday 21 November 2012

Bouncing on Balls Not ALWAYS Fun

Was on the waiting list for a gym class but went along anyway in hope ... and they let me in. I had my most pathetic puppy-dog face on so maybe they felt sorry for me. Or there was a free space. Either way I was glad to be there. I could do with some relaxation.

It was called ‘On the Ball’ and was a class bouncing on one of those nice big bouncy balls. It sounded relaxing. It sounded fun. It sounded just what I needed after a hard day running around after a three year old.

Needless to say, it was NOT a class bouncing on one of those nice big bouncy balls. It was a class which made me use weights. On a stick! A class which made me tie my legs together with a bit of rubber band and do thigh presses! It was not bouncing around on a ball in a nice fun way. It was using a ball to do weightlifting! And using a ball to do crunches!  There was no bouncing at all.

Yes. It was a good workout. And yes, I do think it probably did me some good. But it wasn’t relaxing.  I reckoned after all that craziness I was owed a glass of wine.

Unfortunately, it was a 2 for 1 workout. It makes you work hard and it stops you drinking alcohol.  

After all those weights, my arms were shaking too much to lift the bottle of wine. And I didn’t have a straw long enough to reach the bottom.

Lesson of the Day: Read class descriptions.

Photo courtesy of

Tuesday 20 November 2012

Not Taking the Zombies Out for a Run ...

I’d done a Legs, Bums & Tums class which I normally breeze through, but a combination of a psychotic instructor (she looked very meek, mild and old lady-ish before she started screaming like a drill sergeant) and 250 metre intervals at the track the other day meant that I had been walking like a particularly bandy-legged cowboy. And I thought a nice slow run might shift some of the stiffness.

Decided to try a route through the centre of Rugby called Central Walk. As it was nice weather I thought I’d run the first four miles at a nice, steady pace then let the Zombies (Zombies, Run!) out for a run on the way home. Put a bit of extra green in their cheeks. However, it soon became apparent that there was a touch too much mud around to let the Zombies out...

Central Walk footpath running underneath one of the old railway bridges
It was a cool day and there was still frost on the hedges and banks at 2pm but the ground was fairly dry... until I got to the halfway point of the Central Walk. There was water, mud and floating bits of debris for extra boggy attractiveness. I had two options. Try and Jesus the water or try the floating footpath that someone had helpfully improvised using a railway sleeper and assorted logs and bits of crap that had been lying around.

Everywhere I run there is MUD!
 I took the impromptu footpath and hopped from bit of wood to piece of crap to railway sleeper and managed to keep my feet dry.

I’d taken the dog alarm for once. I very rarely have any problems with dogs. I’m pretty confident and if they run alongside me, I encourage them along so it turns into a game of ‘Run With Me’ rather than ‘Chase and Maul the Runner’. Sometime you just have feelings about things so I took it along. As it happened, I didn’t have any problems with dogs at all. The Central Walk is a popular dog walking route but all the canines I saw were well behaved and on leads. So I ended up trying the alarm out on a seagull (indifferent) and a cat (unimpressed) instead.

Thurr's burrds in thum 'edges!
I got to the top of the walk and decided to run up to the road at the top so it made it into an 8 mile round trip. I passed a group (a herd? a gallop?) of horses and a few cyclists who all greeted me and there were a few cars out but they were considerate and gave me a wide berth. It was a nice, peaceful lane and when I reached the top and the main road I turned around and went back down the hill again.

But ... in front of me, a little way in the distance, was a nice big hill. It couldn’t be more than a mile and a half away surely? I’m sure I saw a footpath sign near it once. Maybe I could just have a look … just a quick look …  

Ooh! A hill in the distance...
 I ran back down the hill – a bit quicker now I had a destination - and over a small bridge. The trees and fields were very pretty and there were sheep in the fields nearby. It was all very still and quiet. There was a flutter in the hedge and a thrush was on the verge with its wings spread out. I bent down to look at it wondering if it had been hit by a car. It looked back at me and opened its beak. A moment later it fluttered back into the hedge.

More hills ... but quite flat ones. Hillocks possibly.
Rounded a bend in the lane and got to the foot of the hill with the footpath sign. It was very enticing, but just too muddy. I might have considered it if I were wearing running wellies (if anyone steals this idea I’ll have 5% royalties please!) but it was just too damp for the trusty Asics 2160s.

I followed the lane round hoping to spot another new footpath sign and wondering where I would eventually end up. It was winding and bordered by hedges which occasionally gave a view across the patchwork fields. I crossed a bridge over a large road and then again over a canal bridge. The canal was serene and still like a picture. 

Came up to a steep humpbacked bridge and crossed over … doing a quick U-turn when I spotted some steps leading down beside it … Ooh another canal! The canal isn’t far from my house so did a quick check on Google Maps to check it was a.) the right canal and b.) the right direction and ran down to explore the new path. I was very well behaved and sent a text saying I had had a change of route and was on the way back … started to take a picture of a pretty bridge and the phone battery died. Bother. So I can’t use “stopping to take a photo” as an excuse to stop and have a breather when I got tired, bored or wanted to scout for a possible wee location any more this run then. 

For some reason running alone without a phone worries me a bit. Not sure why. I always wear a running belt on long runs and I’m well aware that this isn’t the best look for anyone not trying to be a middle-aged American tourist but I like having my phone to hand. I can take pictures, check maps and – shock horror – even make a call if I decide to. Besides it’s a hefty phone in a giant toddler-proof case so it could be quite handy as a weapon should the need arise. For instance in beating slavering Runner-Mauling dogs to death. Or beating off (in a violent rather than sexual way of course) amorous Chihuahuas. Either.  

Canal path was muddy and a bit dismal. It had all been beautiful earlier but the sun was lower in the sky and the light was beginning to turn grey and dusky. The path was muddy and the grass was damp but all of a sudden there was a flash of blue over the canal. A bright blue, like a jewel or a light. I strained my eyes trying to work out what it was.

It stopped on the bank and as I got closer I realised what it was. A kingfisher. I’ve never seen one before except in pictures and it was just as bright and as beautiful as in a book. It was a bird so bright and beautiful I could hardly believe it was native to England. Don’t get me wrong, I love England and am proud to be English. But our birds are brown … and black … and grey. Boring colours.

The kingfisher disappeared and I ran on up the canal path trying not to lose a shoe to the black mud that seemed to be the main part of the bank. The few boats that were moored all seemed to have delicious food smells coming from them and I realised I’d missed lunch exploring the paths. I don’t do Missing Food so I put a bit of extra speed on. 

Got home and used Going Exploring as an excuse to make the most enormous tea I could manage. With banana pancakes on the side. Naturally.

Saturday 17 November 2012

Running at the Gym and Being Followed by Farts ...

I’ve managed to land a gym membership this month and it’s a bit of a treat. I tend to do all of my running outdoors, mainly on trails or pavements so I’m quite looking forward to being able to run in the warm and dry.

Trails are fine in the summer ...

I must remember NOT to do what I did last time though, and bend down on the treadmill to tie my shoelace before stopping the machine. I flew backwards nearly giving the chap on the machine behind me a bum surprise.
I’m really looking forward to it! I’ll be warm, it’ll be air-conditioned, there will be a cafe I can stop at for a coffee afterwards and a jacuzzi I can laze around and relax in. Plus if I need a loo stop, there will be toilets nearby. No more having to carry toilet roll on long runs. Or looking out for a clump of shrubs with suitable ‘bushy’ branches!

But ... one of my pet hates at races is that I always end up standing next to a stinky person. They’ve blatantly just climbed out of bed and dragged their running gear on and come to the race. In that situation, it’s a benefit as it means I start the race extra fast to run away from them. But what if they’re running next to me on the treadmill?

Or worse ... what if I fart? I won’t be able to run away from it - no matter how fast I set the treadmill. And people will KNOW that it’s me. And they’ll look. And gag.

At the gym, I do love that it won’t matter whether it is dark outside. No matter what, I will not have hi-viz gear flapping around my arms and I won’t leave the gym with the round circle on my forehead that means I’ve had to wear my headtorch at some point in the previous 3 hours. On one of my night races I even had a blister on my nose where the headtorch kept slipping down and was bouncing off of the top of my nose. It wasn’t a good look. Blisters are bad enough on your feet but I looked a right tit with one on my face. Looked like an advertisement for Lepers R Us.

But … the gym will have opening hours. It drives me mad when I’ve been busy all day then have to rush to get to the gym because they close stupidly early at weekends. There was an advertising campaign for one of the big sports companies where they said the “Roads always open.” It’s true (except on the M1 …when I’m running late. Was stuck on there for 6 hours once. Bloody M1) And they’re free. (Except the M6 toll … although I don’t think they charge runners.) I just have to get kitted up and I’m good to go. No payments required, I don’t have to get on the road - or off it - at a certain time and I don’t have to try and get one of those stupid card passes to work to use it.

Also, I don’t care what anyone says. If someone gets on the treadmill next to me, it’s a race. And they know it. I either have to be going faster than them or stay on for longer than them. One day an ultra runner will climb onto the treadmill next to me and that’ll be it. They’ll be carving “She started throwing up and wet herself but she still wouldn’t stop” on my gravestone.

You know what? I’m going to enjoy this month at the gym. I’ll be warm. I’ll have dry feet (bliss!) and I won’t need to fear blisters developing on my face. But I’ll be looking forward to going back to running outside. There will be dogs (including that slavering Alsation a couple of weeks ago), there will be rain and cold and mud. But … there will also be pubs, interesting things to look and trees … and best of all I’ll be able to run away from farts.

Wednesday 14 November 2012

Walking on Water Doesn't Work Unless You're Jesus

A perfect Autumn day. Bright blue sky like a forget-me-not, but with a coolness to remind you that it was November. It always confuses me what to wear in this weather. Do I freeze for the first 3 miles without a jacket or take a jacket and end up running the last ¾ of the run with the running top tied around my waist and flapping away like a skirt as I run? Decided on the flappy skirt look. I hate being cold.

Flooding in a field just outside Kempsford
The Mr accompanied me for the first 15 minutes on a ‘No Garmin’ run as he’d forgotten his 305 and thought he’d do a gentle half hour run. As I had company and I was running in lanes not pavements, I didn’t put an audiobook on like I normally would for a long run. The first thing I noticed were the birds – so noisy! I kept expecting a pig in a glass house. Also I really noticed the thump, thump of the Mr’s footsteps, he sounds so heavy from the way he runs. He can’t be running badly as I can’t remember him ever picking up an injury in the 10 years or so he’s been running, but he sounds as though he’s trying to drill his way through the road using his Asics.

Left the Mr at the bend in the road and I carried on over the river towards Castle Eaton until I got to a footpath. I’ve always liked the look of the footpath on the right just before the bridge. It always looks a bit hidden and interesting and I’ve never driven past it without wondering where it went. 

Interesting looking footpath
I went though the gate and down the steps to the trail below. A bit damp underfoot ... very damp underfoot ... And I got to the field which was a sodden mess of water. And sunk. Great. There was a tennis ball in the midst of a big puddle. Looked a bit as though it was there to tempt particularly suicidal dogs. Like a doughnut left just out of arms reach. 

Yep. That's a ball in the middle of the water.
Ran through Castle Eaton and stopped briefly at the Red Lion pub to see whether they were open. I’d only gone about 2 miles but I had wet feet and a diet coke would have cheered me up. Irritatingly, (or possibly luckily) it wasn’t quite noon so it wasn’t open and I didn’t want to wait around for 5 minutes in the cold outside the pub.

Came out the other side of the village and turned left onto a small lane leading to the Thames Path. It was a small, narrow road bordered by trees with vivid orange leaves. The leaves were in a carpet across the road, so I’d be able to hear my footsteps one moment and not the next. Ahead of me as I came round a corner was a family dressed warmly in their Autumn coats and gloves. With the 2 kids and dog and the leaves underfoot and the sun shining through the trees they looked like a picture of a family in a clothing catalogue. All rosy cheeks and cheery smiles. And here was me spoiling it all by puffing and panting round the corner in my running gear sounding like a prank caller with a love of lycra. 

Gorgeous lane to run through!
 Suddenly, I was out from under the trees and onto a quiet road. I was running alone enjoying the silence and suddenly out from the hedgerow in front of me came a large fox. More brown than red. He paused when he saw me to consider whether I was a threat, then he quickly moved across the road and into the field. There was no sign of him in the field when I came level to the gateway.

Up to a signpost which pointed me past a house up into their garden and onto a grassy farm track. The grass was sodden from the rain last night and the track was wet underfoot. I followed it through the field, hopping from tyre-rut to tyre-rut to try to keep my feet dry. Passed a couple walking a black and white Springer Spaniel who was full of Springer enthusiasm and wanted to run with me.

Past a gate which led into a copse of trees with bright red berries onto the river bank. Tempting, but a path for another time ...

I came to a junction in the track. Onwards through a gap in the hedge or following the tyre ruts round to the right and where I could see houses in the distance? There wasn’t a signpost or marker to show either way. The river would stay on my left if I carried on through the gap in the hedge and as I was following the Thames Path, I decided it would make sense to stay with the river.

A gate at the end and out on a narrow road by a bridge. I looked to my left and saw the village in the distance. I was only about a mile down the road from my starting point. I’d definitely taken the long – and interesting – route today. I ran away from the village, down the quiet road, keeping in to the right, out of the way of mad Sunday drivers on a mission towards their Sunday roasts.

These might take some cleaning ...
The road bends sharply to the right, but it’s actually a crossroads and I followed the Thames Path sign and took the left fork down a narrow tree-lined track towards a farm. The track was very wet and muddy but the farmer had thoughtfully put down straw which had formed a sort of mushy bridge over some of the mud. It also meant that the straw ‘buttressed’ the mud so my shoes quickly became Mud Super-Shoes and weighed a ton. It was probably quite an effective cross training workout having weighted shoes, but I ended up doing a lot of walking on verges and hopping from dry patch to dry patch over muddy oceans. Probably looked like a complete lunatic. 

Haven't you heard of mud runs?
A gateway up ahead and a patch of dry track which turned a corner by a clump of trees. I came round the corner and startled 4 or 5 partridges which flew up into the sky noisily, their wings whirring. Then like a round of applause another partridge shot skyward from the bank by my ankles. 

Wade, squelch, splat ...
It was very muddy. I waded onwards in the hope that the track would get better up ahead and I would be able to run again. I wasn’t able to run even if I didn’t mind getting covered in mud as the path was so rutted and slippery, my legs would be spinning like a cartoon character. I paused by a barred track to see whether it was another footpath and as I looked, a stag ran across the clearing with high antlers. I noticed the deer prints in the mud now. Lots of them.

Finally, after about half a mile of wading, I got onto grass tracks again. The fields either side of the tracks were flooded with standing water, but the centre was raised slightly higher so I could run. 

Nice dry path ...

That would be the footpath sign on the left then ...
 The path must have dipped slightly as it entered a gap in the hedge and the whole pathway was completely flooded. There wasn't even a way to hold onto the hedge and edge my way round on the bank. I walked up my side of the field looking for a gap in the hedgerow but nothing except solid bushes and thorns. Retraced my steps on the grass track in the centre of the field and managed a jump across to the other side of the pathway but the water seemed even deeper on this side. I again walked the side of the field but even if I’d got through the hedge, there was a flooded ditch barring my way. I got back to the track again and tested its depth with a stick. It was deep. However there was probably only about 25ft of the path underwater.  

I took a deep breath. And a run up. Jumped. And sank. I floundered around and dragged myself onto the bank again.

There was nothing else for it. I turned around.

I may be wet. Very wet. But at least the trainers were free of mud now. 


Fell over in the mud. Mud everywhere. Oh well. At least my top doesn't have mud on it. Oh. It does? Sent a text to The Mr saying I was on my way home. And telling him I may need to use the garden hose. On myself.

Saw a couple of hikers on their way through and warned them that the Thames Path was flooded. Had a nice chat but the hikers reckoned they could make it through. Their little ankle walking boots and fluorescent gloves must endow them with watery super powers that mere runners don’t possess.

Dragged myself home with squelchy sound effects and leaving a trail of wet footprints. The three year-old greeted me at the door and looked me up and down. 

“Fell in mud AGAIN, mummy?”

Saturday 10 November 2012

Born to Run ... Without Getting Lost

I’m listening to Born To Run again as an audiobook on my iPod. It’s great to listen to while running as it’s an interesting subject and without fail it makes me run quicker on my training runs. Unfortunately only while I’m listening though – it’s not a long-term strategy!

I don’t know whether it’s the author’s descriptions of the races, that make you feel as though you’re competing with the Tarahumara and the American Ultra Runners or whether it’s just the topic making you aware of your running style but I always end up running about 30 seconds a mile quicker on training runs while listening to it. Shame it’s not a tactic that would work in a race!

There’s something tempting about the thought of running an Ultra. Maybe I just don’t like my toenails that much, but the thought of starting slowly and just running for hours, for as long as I can, sounds like something I’d like to do. 

I hit a point a couple of months ago when I didn’t seem to have enough time to run as I wanted so I booked a day of work just to run. To enjoy the freedom of not having to dash home within the time I’d been allocated for training and without the need to get back within my lunch hour. It sounded like bliss just to run ... and run ... and run.

Near the start of my route
The light in the tunnel isn't the end ... it's a canal boat!

It was at the end of August and the weather was hot. It was beautiful – that kind of summer day where you have to wear sunglasses or squint your eyes almost shut. I slathered myself with suncream and packed a running belt with a £20 note and a phone.

I’d decided to run along the canal path as even I wouldn’t be able to get lost on a path with a hedge on one side and a canal on the other. Also and just as importantly there would be pubs every couple of miles. So I could stop for water and food as and when I needed them and wouldn’t need to carry much.

It was amazing. It felt like complete freedom. I walked when the path was too overgrown and stopped to chat to people and ran when I felt like running and walked when I wanted to walk. There were no time limits or paces that I felt I should stick to and I stopped when I wanted. I had a brief break at a pub when I stopped for a baguette and chips for lunch and a tall glass of coke with ice and after I’d finished I got back on the canal path and carried on to see what was around the next bend of the winding route. 

I carried on running on the canal path until I got to the bridge over a road next a white pub and then turned around and ran back to a canal side shop where I stopped for an ice lolly. Which I ate slowly and with maximum enjoyment. Nothing quite beats an ice lolly on a hot day when you’ve been running. I chatted to the family sitting on the bench next to me as we all sat down watching the barges move slowly through the locks and enjoyed our ice lollies. 

I covered nearly 30 miles that day, but every step was different and every mile was enjoyed. I had no blisters, aches or chafing and I just took it slowly. There was no Evil Sarah sitting on my shoulder saying “you should be going faster” or “you need to go further”. It was lovely.

29.27 miles
5hrs 10 minutes