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Saturday 28 December 2013

12 Miles of Christmas: 2 Mulled Wines, 9 Santas and 5 Pubs

The cars were all honking their horns and as I ran past, a woman wound down her car window and shouted at me. I adjusted my hat. And beard. And ran on to a chorus of car horns.

I was running with Warwick Rocks a friendly, informal running club in Warwick and I was one of nine Santas running from Warwick to Leamington to Leek Wootton to Kenilworth and back to Warwick. And we were stopping at 5 pubs for a mulled wine in each. Wine and Running. Two of the great pleasures. AND whilst wearing a Santa Suit.

Route and Pub List thanks to Jodie

I'd expected running to become more difficult with each pub and subsequent mulled wine, but I hadn't banked on struggling to get to the first pub …

I'd used my satellite navigation to reliably direct me plenty of times in the past and had no reason to suspect it had been at the Christmas brandy today. I'd typed in “Market Square, Warwick” and driving past the signs to Warwick, I had no misgivings, confidently expecting it to direct me capably and correctly to the the the Market Square in Warwick.

However after several mies of country lane and ending up in a tiny village, my satnav announced that I was at my destination. I looked around. I was in a small village, dressed in a santa outfit, with the locals looking at me suspiciously. This was definitely not Warwick. Royston Vasey possibly. Not Warwick.

I double-checked the satnav. Yep the satnav confidently told me. This is DEFINITELY Market Square, Warwick. Yet the lack of castle, pubs and LIFE begged to differ. I quickly looked up the address of the Rose & Crown and actually typed in the postcode. 11 miles away. I delivered my opinion of it in very unSanta-like language and turned the car around.

A hastily typed tweet to the organiser @jacklinstead read “Running 6 mums late.” Luckily he deciphered it as lateness rather than multiple maternal deaths.

Clear roads and little traffic meant that I arrived at the pub only 10 minutes late. My beard hastily dragged on and my hat jammed on over my eyes and there was a stressed – and rather effeminate - Santa pegging it down the lanes of Warwick in a mad search for the Rose & Crown. It must have looked rather as if having lost my reindeer and sleigh, I was in dire need of a brandy.

Bedraggled Sarah-Santa

Finally arrived at pub, my beautiful white beard looking rather bedraggled, to find 7 other Santas waiting for me. The 8th Santa, Jo had been similarly misled by the satnav which must have been sharing the brandy with mine. I had arrived. The first pub: The Rose & Crown. A friendly and welcoming pub, it had recently been in the Top Ten Pub awards and also won Best Pub in the UK previously. Despite being dressed in a combination of Santa and neon, we were given a friendly reception and friendly smiles from the staff and locals.

We all started off – a ho of Santas running through the streets of Warwick in the search for a pub. A good run, in fancy dress, to a pub. It was a win whichever way you looked at it. We passed a group of children on horseback dressed as elves, mini-Santas and wearing reindeer hats. It was a relief to see other seasonal lunatics in Warwick. If any Scrooges appeared we'd send them after the kids first.

Jo and Jack

The next pub on the list was the Star and Garter. Tucked away in Warwick, we came in through the doors in a rush of Christmas, to find Santa hats on every table and a jazz band playing. My intentions were to have a soft drink in every pub but the thought of mulled cider – which smelled AMAZING – and which was served in an old fashioned dimpled half pint mug was too much to resist. The pub was lovely, old fashioned enough to feel like a proper pub but modern enough to welcome children.

The next section was a run to Anchor Inn in Leek Wootton, a 3.7 mile run through the countryside. There was a section along the main road, dull and dirty, but unexpectedly this was one of the most fun parts! Cars beeped as they passed us, children waved; thrilled to se a horde of Santas charging through the countryside. The fact that we were on a mission to find our third pub and more mulled wine wasn't disclosed. A woman wound down her car window as we passed and her shout of ”Meeeeerrrrryy Chrrriiiisssstmas!!” followed us as we ran on.

(L-R) Brian, Jo, Jack, Tanya, Jo, Jodie, Chris

This section of the run took in some very pretty sections of the Warwickshire countryside. A river, shaded by tall, ancient trees which were leafless in the winter sunshine. The road wound and we passed cottages tucked away, pretty and secluded, the Christmas trees visible through their windows. Most cars that passed us on the lanes were thrilled to see us as we passed, our red and white hats with their bobbles bouncing merrily, in rhythm with our pace. We were passed by a Scrooge or two in their cars who were NOT impressed to find us cluttering up their lanes but apart from the muttered unseasonal grumble and attempt to drown the Santas in puddle-splash they restrained themselves. However, our spirits were kept high by Jo who ran while singing Christmas songs which we joined in with like a group of seasonal Forrest Gumps.

The Anchor, Leek Wootton

The Anchor was at the top of a hill in Leek Wootton. Boasting such seasonal ales as ReinBeer, we were the first customers through the door although we were soon followed by others, dressed in their sunday best coming for a roast dinner while carefully avoiding the stinky runners. We retired to the bar and agreed that the food smelled amazing but we decided it probably wasn't a good idea to stop for a roast dinner only 6 miles into a run. Roast dinners halfway through would lead to slower running, toilet stops and possibly soiled lycra.

The Almanack, Kenilworth

After only 1.7 miles, we were in Kenilworth and had arrived at our next pub: The Almanack.  This was a modern pub in the centre of Kenilworth with big squashy sofas, large enough for a sleighful of Santas. Sitting in the sunshine coming through the large windows, I was nice and comfortable. Well … apart from the itchy beard. Our only complaint was lack of mull. They hadn't yet put on the mulled wine or cider so we were mull-less. However a nice glass of Aspalls cider made up for it.

Jo, Tanya, Jo

Sarah, Jodie

Running along the streets of Kenilworth, we were surrounded by the locals doing their Christmas shopping. Anyone would think they hadn't seen multiple Father Christmas's running-like-they-stole-something through their town before. The best reaction was from a man sitting in a supermarket window. He stared open mouthed as I passed, my white beard streaming in the wind. He looked as though he had finally realised that Santa was real and that what had been told to him in the playground as a 10year old by his classmates was lies. A Santa-based moment of epiphany.

As we ran back towards Warwick, we passed a runner going the other way. Unlike the usual runner -shared greeting, he stared down as he ran, not making eye contact. Strange. Until Chris suggested he might have considered the sight of 9 Santas streaming towards him a hallucination brought on by a gel overdose or too many miles run. Poor lad. If anyone finds someone dressed in running gear in the Kenilworth area, rocking and gibbering about not sitting on Santa's lap because he couldn't catch him then, pat him on the back and take him home.

The Saxon Mill, Warwick

It was now just 3 miles to the Saxon Mill in Guy's Cliffe. This pub is a former mill about a mile outside Warwick. It's a beautiful and ancient looking building which is welcoming and comfortable inside. The bar staff were friendly and helpful despite there being 9 Santas all in varying states of drink-decisiveness and stinkiness after the 10 miles of running. Drinks obtained, Tanya found some comfy chairs for us all in a cosy corner and we sat. Bliss.

Brian, Jo, Tanya, Jo, Jodie, Jack

Chris, Mike, Brian

We had been rejoined by Mike, who having had to dash off to take a driving lesson had missed a pub. We decided this just wasn't on and insisted on him having an additional mulled wine to catch up. Mike – sensibly – declined although Chris who had managed a drink of some mulled variety in every pub (except the mulled-less Almanac) was leading the pack.

As I sat nursing my orange juice, the windows started rattling. This wasn't something brought on by excessive sprout consumption. This was a SERIOUS rainstorm. The windows were darkened by grey thunderclouds and the water pouring down the windows made the pub interior seem even more inviting. However, it was soon time to move and we darted across the car park, jumping over the massive puddles that had formed. The Santa suits were getting heavier and heavier and Santa was getting more bedraggled. However the christmas spirit was still evident. As we hopped and dodged on the pavements avoiding the deeper puddles, the cars beeped and people waved, cars let us cross the roads in front of them and people smiled. Jodie who had her first half marathon booked in for the new year was getting closer and closer to the magic 13.1 miles ... in a training run!

Brian who had had to wring out his Santa hat from exertion, to a round of laughter, after arriving at the Saxon Mill, had the satisfying sight of us ALL wringing wet after after thunder dash. Karma …

After only 1.7 miles were all back in front of the Rose & Crown which had been our starting pub. A welcome sight, windows glowing with yellow light and Christmas tree sparkling by the door. As we all trooped in, victorious, 12 miles under our thick black belts, the landlady welcomed us warmly … and bought us a round of drinks fas a well done for our run! I ordered a cup of coffee. Something warm and delicious and it came with big lumps of sugar and a pot of chocolate smarties. I settled back into the squashy sofa with a big smile and the feeling of a job well done. 

(L-R) Chris, Mike, Jack, Jodie, Tanya, Brian, Sarah, Jo, Jo

Join Us!
This is likely to become an annual event so next year keep an eye out on Twitter for  #12milesofchristmas or follow @WarwickRocks

The Pubs Visited:
0 miles      Rose & Crown, Warwick @TheRoseWarwick
2.3 miles   Star & Garter, Leamington @Star_Leamington
6 miles      Anchor Inn, Leek Wootton 
7.8 miles   Almanack Kenilworth @The_Almanack
10.9 miles Saxon Mill, Warwick @TheSaxonMill
12.6 miles Rose & Crown @TheRoseWarwick
Disclaimer: somehow we ended up at a total of 13.2 miles!

Santas 2013: Jo, Jo, Jodie, Tania, Brian, Jack, Chris, Mike, Sarah. 

Tuesday 24 December 2013

Leamington Parkrun: Lessons from a 4 Year old

Leamington parkrun on the 21st December was to be the Christmas parkrun. This meant an excuse to bring out my red and white outfit and run around the 3 mile course dressed as Santa Claus. However, this year my 4 year old wanted to join in. Dressed in her finest Miss Christmas outfit, she was determined to teach us something about running.

Here is what I learned from running with a 4 year old:
  • Corners are more fun if you aeroplane around them. Arms out and “Mrowwwww” noises are compulsory.
  • Fartleks are started by shouting “Run, run as fast as you can, you can't catch me, I'm a gingerbread man!”
  • If you don't stop dead at the end of each interval, causing taller people to have to leapfrog you, you're doing running wrong.
  • Mud on trainers is a necessity as is mud on clothes. You should stop to inspect this at regular intervals. If you can keep up a running commentary in it so much the better. Adults LOVE this.
  • As soon as your legs feel a bit wibbly from all the running, insist on being carried. 
  • Leaves are interesting. Don't forget to stop and inspect the green ones. Especially if your parkrun is on trails. LOTS of leaves to stop and inspect.
  • Puddles are damp pools of enjoyment and should be stared into before tiptoeing through the dead centre.

AND finally and most importantly ...

  • Coming dead last is an honourable position and as added bonus there are all the more people to cheer you across the finish line!
Picture taken by Amar Chehal

Monday 23 December 2013

Alpacas in the Rain

It was torrential rain and I was drenched within moments. My clammy jacket stuck to my arms, my chest felt tight making me breathless and the wind whipped my buff making my face cold. My knee started hurting. To compound the misery I’d wanted to do 10 miles today and I just wasn’t in any state to do it. My backpack thumped against my back, every thump a punctuation that I wasn’t getting the job done.
I ran on. The rain dripped down my neck and strands of hair escaped from my ponytail and stuck to my forehead.
As I ran I saw a blackbird having a bath in a puddle. It was dipping its wings and shaking them off in a flurry of water droplets. A squirrel clung to the thin branches of a tree pulling the orange berries from it, knocking the rain drops from the few leaves still clinging to the twigs. Looking over the fence as I passed, I saw the alpacas clustered together at the top of the field, sheltering from the downpour under the trees while still managing to look haughty aristocratic. ‘Rain doesn’t bother alpacas’ their expressions seemed to say.
I was wet, cold and sore. But it was still good to be running. 

Friday 20 December 2013

Have Turned into Mad Hoarding Running Lady

A few weeks ago, I was bemoaning my lack of organisation and how upon arriving at the gym, I realised I’d forgotten to put my kit into my bag.  Mary of A Healthier Moo asked me how I didn’t realise I was carrying an empty gym bag. A very good question. 

So last night I decided to empty out my gym bag. I knew I’d been carrying around a fair amount of non-essential items but hadn’t realised I would be able to build an awesome fort and possibly survive for quite a while living only on items in bag. Plus have clean underwear. And cups of tea. 

In my gym bag:

  • 1 kids activity set with crayons and stickers (for after those tough spin sessions. It helps as I rock alone in my corner)
  • 4 jigsaw pieces (Anyone have another 12 pieces they can donate? Can make Franken-Saw)
  • 1 Busy Bears Party book (for light toilet entertainment)
  • 6 individually wrapped tea bags (for tea emergencies for instance if snowed into gym)
  • 1 coffee sachet (see above)
  • 2 zero electrolyte sachets (for those super-long treadmill runs)
  • 1 shower gel (for fragrant showers)
  • 1 pack of plasters containing 17 plasters (important to keep plasters in prime numbers)
  • 4 tampons (for impersonating a walrus)
  • 1 train ticket receipt (nice to know where my money goes. Trains apparently)
  • 1 pack of tissues 
  • Box of ibuprofen – empty 
  • Lipgloss (for glossing)
  • 1 pen 
  • Mascara wand (Mascara Kadavra!)
  • 4 hair bands (for multiple ponytails)
  • 2 rubber bands (in case of a rubber band war)
  • 1 giant pink paper clip (no idea)
  • 7 crayons (for colouring)
  • 12 safety pins (In case I need to wear 3 race numbers at once)
  • 1 locker token
  • Comb
  • £2.50 in change
  • Running belt
  • Heart monitor strap
  • Pack of baby wipes (in case of a post-gym shower malfunction)
  • Mini gym towel (NO idea what these are for)
  • 3 cans of deodorant (Because it’s good to have differently fragranced armpits)
  • Tissue in a plastic bag (the chavvy relative of the tissues in a pack above)
  • Personal alarm (In case I feel a PB coming on)
  • 6 hair clips 
  • 1 hotel room card 
  • 2 bars of individually wrapped soap
  • 4 pairs of pants (3 adult & 1 Hello Kitty pair age 3-4)
  • 3 pairs of socks
  • 1 mini first aid kit (in case any mini emergencies occur)
  • 1 alcohol hand gel (in case the vodka runs out)
  • Pair of gel insoles 
  • 1 spare head torch 
  • 5 plastic bags (in case I REALLY need to go shopping)

No wonder I didn’t realise my gym kit wasn’t inside! Have discovered am mad hoarder and when old will be mad cat lady in house stuffed to rafters with rubbish! 

Have started to remedy this by throwing out all rubbish. And cats. 

Tuesday 17 December 2013

On the Run with Northbrook AC


It didn’t start off well. I was sitting back enjoying the traffic jam on the M1 when I received a text asking if I wanted the postcode for the running club. Postcode? No of course not. I’ve run parkrun around the Coventry War Memorial Park loads of times I said.  Thank goodness for the traffic jam. The run wasn’t at the park at all. It was a tiny village in a corner of Coventry. I’d never have found it in a million years of circling the ring road. 

I finally arrived and after parking in the frosty car park I looked around. A complete lack of runners.

Right. Can’t just sit in car hoping a club member will spot my neon and drag me out for a run. Walking into the social club, I bumped into a couple of middle aged chaps. Now I’m not one to assume about runners – we come in ALL shapes and sizes, but we aren’t usually dressed in leather and holding pints of beer. Well not before the club runs anyway. 

Backing out of the club, I caught sight of a flash of neon pink and Sarah materialised in the car park. She was chatty and welcoming and even more importantly knew where the loos were. The toilet was found and tested. Working. And as we waited in the foyer of the club, the room began to fill up with neon. Many different shapes and sizes but all in eye burning colours.   

I was told I was going to be in group 4 today and was introduced to my group leader who seemed strangely familiar. After a brief chat she said “Are you on Twitter? Do you like brightly coloured socks?” It wasn’t a strange ‘will you fit in’ initiation rite into Northbrook Running Club but was @LizPharaoh and we’d chatted several times about running on Twitter, never knowing we lived so close.

We had a short gentle run and stopped after about half a mile and did some dynamic warm ups under the orange glow of the streetlights. The warm up included skipping, high knees and kicks and was watched closely by a suspicious looking man through his kitchen window. He appeared to be doing the washing up, but he was actually keeping a close eye on the neon-clad lunatics bouncing around in front of his house in case we should develop a sudden longing for spiky plants and make off with his roses. 

Liz explained that our run for tonight was a fartlek session and would probably be about 5 – 6 miles long with several faster intervals. The first interval was “up a hill and stop at the traffic lights.” This didn’t sound too bad so I sprinted up the hill and when I got to the top the expected traffic lights were nowhere to be seen. Then I spotted a green glow about half a mile in the distance. Bloody hell. Carried on sprinting. Can’t give up now otherwise they’ll think I’m a right idiot and I won't get invited back next week. 

Finally got to the traffic lights and stopped. Attempted to look nonchalant but my ‘panting like a Springer Spaniel’ meant I didn’t get away with it. “A nice long gentle interval now” said Liz. Oh good. A chance for me to get my lungs back to where they belonged. It felt as though they were hanging out of my mouth. 

Had a chat with the other runners as we went. One of them is training for Brighton Marathon next year, another has just run in Snowdonia. Another member had only been running for a year but was pacing us all effortlessly. It was lovely to run in a group. I was used to running my night time runs in the dark with a headtorch strapped on. Like a lone miner with a penchant for lycra. Here I had 6 or 7 others running with me. We all flowed as a pack on the pavements and around obstacles. The light tread of their feet echoing mine.

“Next interval!” called Liz . And she confirmed where to stop as we all ran towards a parked car that marked our end point. “There’s a road halfway” she bellowed. “No getting mown down”. I made it to the car and the huffing and panting at my right shoulder meant that either another runner was about to overtake me or the local amateur dramatics society was practising their ‘dirty phonecalls’ breathing and pacing me. Luckily it was a runner. It would have been embarrassing having our arses kicked in the local cross country by an AmDram group. 


We ran a nice route around Allesley and Coventry, past parks and winding stone steps and old houses. Pretty but I didn’t have a clue where I was. It didn’t matter how far or fast the group ran – I had to stick with them as there was no way I’d ever find my way back to my car on my own. Fear is a great motivator if you think you’re going to be stuck in Coventry.

Far too soon the session was over and we were running back towards the clubhouse where we started.  We stopped and as other runners trickled in we gathered for a group stretch. We would have looked like crazy people to anyone watching as we hopped around on one leg and wobbled, our breath misty in the cold air. At one point a dangerous wobble seemed in danger of taking down the entire group in a domino effect but we escaped unscathed.

Stopping at a petrol station on the way home, I felt I had to explain to the attendant about my bright lycra. “I’ve just been on a run,” I said as I browsed the aisles for just the right chocolate bar. 

“It was with new people. Fun but I’m starving now.” He watched me from his kiosk, craning to see over the counters. I placed 3 chocolate bars on the counter.  He eyed me suspiciously. “Fun?” I nodded. He started bleeping the snacks and I paid him. He took the note and examined it distrustfully and gave me my change. I was just leaving the shop when he asked, “So what have you done? Why are you on the run?”

Running Late: 7 Days, 7 Runners ...

I was really lucky recently to be included on a series of guest blogs on ‘Running Late’  which written by a good friend. Paul started running 2 years ago when he turned 50 and his blog follows his adventures – and mishaps – as he learns about running and himself. He has a faithful companion – a black Labrador Flo who has her own page on his blog.

Paul featured 7 runners and asked them to write a post on their favourite runs. The answers ranged from the cliffs – and mud! – of Cornwall to ‘10 Marathons in 10 Days’ to the multi stage Marathon De Sables. It was a brilliant idea and it was great being taken along for a run in each post! 

Be warned though ... some posts may reduce you to tears (Yes I’m looking at you Tinu!)

Day 1: Johnny 
Day 2: Hayley
Day 3: Lara  

Day 4: John   
Day 5: Tinu 
Day 6: Sarah  

Day 7: Susie 

Sunday 15 December 2013

Running The Essex Way: Giraffes, Mulled Wine & Fear of Grouse

I sat on the train feeling sleepy. I was on my way back from Birmingham to Rugby and after a brief stop at home I would be heading via car to the fields of Essex. It had seemed a brilliant idea when we’d planned this several months ago, but now after a girl’s night out and an accident involving my high heeled shoes, a revolving dancefloor and a certain amount of “being catapulted” it wasn’t feeling quite so appealing. 

However, Angela had promised a 17 mile run. Across fields, hills and there had been whisperings of a giraffe and a vineyard. Hmmm ... sounded interesting. After a brief stop at the services in Braintree where you’d have thought people had never seen a girl wearing lycra running gear before. In neon pink. In public. In daylight. I finally got to Colchester without getting eaten alive or burned inside some sort of wicker creation. 

I called Angela to say I’d arrived and she immediately warned me that she didn’t see the point of being a running ninja and was therefore dressed in some nice bright colours so as to be seen. Indeed she was. You had difficulty un-seeing her. And you could certainly have spotted her from a couple of miles away. However, as I unsheathed my new pink arm warmers and favourite pink socks it seemed that we were to be running as a highly visible matching pair. 

We were dropped at the Shoulder of Mutton pub and I strapped on my running pack and tightened my laces. It was time to start the Essex Adventure. I’d been promised mud and hills. Bring them on. 

The start of the path was marked by 3 wooden signs showing the route, telling us we’d entered ‘Fordham Hall Estate’ and giving us information on the wildlife we might see. Angela decided that I might miss these massive wooden posts and felt the best way of demonstrating these to a non-local was to do a Wheel of Fortune style welcome. Maybe it’s an Essex custom. 

The trail started by taking us over fields covered with long grass and with sticks tangled in it. A bit of an obstacle-course-style warm up. There was a lot of evidence of the strong winds of a few weeks ago with trees with fallen branches and split limbs. On one section of the path we passed a fallen giant but we managed to edge around it to stay on the path. 

We’d both worn our trail shoes and we soon appreciated the extra grip and the ‘let-the-water-out’ features of these as we paddled across some muddy patches on the path. At least the mud made a nice soft surface to run on. And good ET-walking noises. And it doesn’t count as trail running if there’s no mud? Right? 

At one point we had to cross a road by a tight corner. We listened hard for vehicles as we had no intention of joining the roadkill and ending up on some mad toothless hillbilly’s dinner tale. Or worse in his Rape-Shed. We avoided the traffic and made a mad dash up some stone steps on the other side into a field of long grass. 

Up a rough lane which turned into a hill with muddy puddles and a stream of rainwater running down the middle. I decided I was bound to get wet feet eventually and that part of the fun on a trail run is running through the water. So I did. Enthusiastically. I paddled my way up the hill and stopped at the top with my shoes leaking a damp little puddle around me.  

We paused briefly to take in the gorgeous red and gold sunset. It looked as though the entire western horizon had been set on fire. 

We followed a muddy path up through fields of things that smelled strongly of sprouts. May possibly have been sprouts. I was brought up as a country girl but anything that smelled of sprouts this strongly was to be avoided. And kept away from naked flames. 

At the top of the muddy path was a beautiful church. We couldn’t tell the age but a lady passing told us it was over 1000 years old. I would have loved to stop for a look around but we were losing the daylight and I had been promised mulled wine and giraffes. Hopefully not both in the same glass. 

We followed the trail and it was nice to be able to look around and enjoy the run without having to worry about pace and traffic. It was lovely. Good company and great trails. We briefly skirted a the edge of a village and had a brief run on a pavement before turning down a lane past a half-timbered house and back onto the grassy track. We were losing the light now and the countryside was turning grey-blue. 

Angela had been organised and printed out instructions from the site but the Way Markers were well maintained and the posts we were looking for – black arrow outlines with 2 red poppies - were clear and in mainly obvious places. However we didn’t want to run past one in the dusk and end up in Suffolk.  

Photo from

We went past an orchard with the odd apple still lying on the ground and hay bales, large circles of darkness against the dusk.  

Running through a ploughed field across the lumped mud and furrows, I turned my ankle over. It made an interesting crunching noise but didn’t hurt so after a quick rotation I carried on. My ankles seem to be getting more resilient the more cross country running I do. Either that or they’ve just given up and decided that crunchy and bendy is the way forward for ankles in 2014.

After a while we stopped for snacks. The beauty of running and not worrying about time and pace is that there’s always time for snacks.

I’d also wanted to practise eating proper food rather than gels on the move so I was ready for 2014 – my year of the ultras. I’d brought some flapjacks and seed bars along for this run. Had decided on a 9 Bar which was something I’d found in the supermarket a few weeks earlier. It was labelled as ‘pumpkin’ which sounded strange but it tasted delicious and didn’t appear to be packed full of processed ingedients. The ultra was also the reason I’d brought my Camelbak rather than a handheld bottle. It was time to practise carrying a couple of litres of water on my back rather than relying on pubs every few miles. I’d put High5 zero in my water bladder as I’d used this at TR24 without any ill effects. Seemed a shame to rely on flavoured water rather than beer to get me through but I wasn’t sure that alcohol as a fuelling method was entirely reliable. More fun than run. And I was pretty sure that vomit would have figured largely in the future.    

Very soon, the darkness settled enough for it to become difficult to see and it was headtorch time. I was wearing my trusty Cree which is the best one I’ve found. £25 from eBay a couple of years ago and just can’t fault it. I’ve worn it for all of my night races and multi lap races and it’s been great. Very bright and the rechargeable battery lasts for ages. 

However, had a bit of a panic and we inadvertently added a speed interval when Angela said we had only 10 minutes to get to vineyard before it closed. What?! I had been promised mulled wine! This was the incentive for my 3 hour drive! I had liked the idea of running with a good friend. I liked the idea of running a new trail. I liked the idea of a 15 mile run. But the mulled wine was what had clinched the deal. 

We upped the pace and after navigating a dark farmyard and what felt like acres of muddy, clotted, rutted ploughed fields we spotted a sign for Dedham Vale Vineyard.

Despite leaving a trail of mud on the nice clean floors and it being near closing time, we were welcomed warmly. We followed our noses to the vat of mulled wine goodness and soon we were sipping on something heavenly. It’s amazing how good you feel when you are standing in a nice warm room with a glass of nice warm wine in your hand. Ahhhh. The vineyard owners were more than happy to stop for a chat even with stinky runners who have just tracked in half a ploughed field. Even better, they liked the idea of running a Marathon Du Medoc style race around the estate with wine tasting stations!! Who needs gels when you can load up on wine? 

The only downside was that we’d probably run MUCH further than marathon distance when you take into account all the meandering and wobbling that legs may do after stopping at several wine drinking - tasting, TASTING! I mean tasting! - stations. Anyway, watch this space! 

We left the vineyard after a brief squint at the giraffe standing alone outside, guarding the vineyard from grape thieves. The giraffe has an interesting history. It was made to celebrate 50 years of Colchester Zoo and is on loan from Ardleigh Car Boot Sale who won him at a charity auction! A lovely landmark.   

Picture by Angela Isherwood in the daylight!
We crossed yet another dark ploughed field. We ran through watching our feet, trying not to twist our ankles or fall down a ditch. There was a sudden loud whirr of wings as several grouse flew up from the field. We may have been halfway through a 15 mile nighttime run across a dark field but Angela has an impressive turn of speed when she thinks she is going to be attacked by wildlife. Just wave a pigeon at her and she’ll be at the front of any race. 

The trail wound through a forest, which was black and white in our lights. The head torch lit up the branches stretching across the path as we sped through the winding trails and the tree limbs across the paths were leaps of faith into the darkness beyond. 

We ran past several large, dark hulking barns, silent in the darkness and past some old-style house, decrepit and rotting. Their timber frames falling into disrepair and the wooden porches were sagging and wet with damp. It was spooky. ... as though we had stumbled upon the set of a horror film which was just awaiting the monsters. We sped up and put the houses behind us and soon we were several fields away.

We turned onto a lane, quiet and still and with shaggy trees overhanging the road, dark and crooked against the night sky. We turned down a narrow path and heard dogs barking as we passed a dark house. They sounded huge, like Rottweilers or doberman dogs and we sped up and hoped madly that they didn’t manage to slip their chains and escape. We didn’t fancy being eaten. However when we’d put a safe distance between ourselves and the barking monsters, we decided they were probably Jack Russells or Chihuahuas, scared and whimpering in the dark making their voices hoarse and low in the hope we wouldn’t break in. They were putting it on in order to sound more intimidating. We weren’t inclined to put this theory to the test however. 

We continued onto another lane and stopped at a triangle of grass with a tree in the middle. Confirming the direction, we continued down the hill with high hedges on either side, looking for a Way Marker. We passed a tree that looked like a twisted person. Branches like arms thrown up and a broken trunk, a mouth howling. It stretched across the night sky as though it might crash down to ensnare us as we passed beneath its branches. We spotted the Way Marker in the hedge and managed an undignified duck under a fence, knocking our heads on the bars. 

We continued across the fields, enjoying the smoothness of the grass under our feet and suddenly two deer bounded across the path. Out of the darkness, illuminated briefly by the headtorches and then gone, across the meadow.

The path doubled back on itself coming along the field. After reassuring Angela that deer don’t tend to eat runners (apparently the neon gives them indigestion) we started the climb up to the top of the hill, where a church tower could be identified as a darker area of blackness against the dark sky. The church loomed on our left surrounded by a stone wall which was intersected by a wooden entry gate set in a porch. Glowing green eyes peered out of the porch at head height. Luckily I hadn’t had anything to eat recently so my lycra was saved embarrassing stains and a moment’s reflection showed me it was in fact a cat rather than a runner-eating churchyard-dwelling monster. 

We turned left at the top and down a steep lane, sheltered by trees and covered with leaves and beechnuts. We walked down this to save falling in the darkness and to give my knee a rest as turning my ankle over had made it grumpy The lane ended suddenly at some heavy iron ornate gates which we pushed open and continued down the hill. 

We were looking for a right turn but were trotting along quite happily chatting when we saw a sign telling us we were entering Suffolk.  Ooh lovely. Another county. I stopped for a quick pic of the sign and we carried on for a few minutes before Angela remembered that the route was called The ESSEX Way ... 

Steps retraced we found ourselves in the ground of a posh restaurant where we were intercepted by a woman who clearly didn’t want stinky, mud bespattered runners dirtying up the drive. We explained our predicament and looked at her beseechingly in the hope there might be mulled wine going spare but instead she directed us back to the Essex Way. Mulled wine-less. Sulk. Am sure there is something about giving succour e.g. wine to tired travellers. Runners. 

However we soon found our path and continued on into National Trust land. The land appeared flat as far as we could see which was a bonus as there were large signs on the gates warning of a bull. Angela thought this was highly amusing and did her best bull impression. She may have been terrified of grouse but a bull wasn’t going to worry Angela. I was slightly more concerned and kept my eyes open for climbable trees should a bull-avoiding emergency occur. 

After a wrong turn where I ended up in ankle deep mud having read the Way Marker wrong, we could see the church tower in the distance. This was the end of our route. Our speed increased as we realised that our dinner reservation at the pub awaited and we could get a nice big drink. 

However upon arriving at the pub we hit a snag. Our Garmins read 14.78 miles. Now what sort of runners leave a Garmin at 14.78 miles? After a couple of laps of the war memorial looking like muddy neon fireflies we were on a round number and it was time to claim our reward. A crackling fire, good food and great company in the Sun Inn.

The Essex Way: 
We started at the shoulder of Mutton in Ford Street and finished at the War Memorial in Dedham. A cracking run in the dark or light with well marked paths, rough in some places but all parts were accessible. Great for hiking, walking with dogs or running! Make sure you visit the vineyard! More information here 

Friday 13 December 2013

12 Gifts of Xmas: Shoddy Poetry & a Grovel to the Relatives

On the first day of Christmas Running Santa gave to me 

A big running vest full of pockets for treats, 
I’ll stuff them with loo roll and nice things to eat

If I knock myself out and am ill on the ground, 
Someone will see me, I want to be found!

Some non-stinky trainer inserts 
So people around me can breathe not pass out. 
My sweet smelling feet, will be happy, no doubt.

Trainers in carrier bags just don't smell nice. 
A swanky new bag, no more fodder for mice.

The brighter I am, the happier I’ll be 
And with bright glowing kit I’ll be easy to see!

I like the spotty ones best but I don’t really mind ... 
The brighter the better – And designs ? Any kind!

To help keep me running, to top up my fuel, 
I'll finish the race looking happy and cool.
My last half marathon I squirted gel in my eyes, 
it made me run faster being followed by flies.

Race entry
Mud and hills bring them on, even trails will be nice!
Just don’t make me pay – YOU cover the price!  

With vibration technology, these headphones are swanky, 
I need to get rid of my old ones. They’re manky.

Homemade shakes - I’ve no time, I’ve come in from a run!
I just want to stick food in my mouth and be done!

I’ve not much to jiggle, it’s so sad but it’s true, 
And I really do need some sports bras that are new.  

And on the 12th day of Christmas, Santa please give to meeeeee ..... !
Plenty of runs, races, fun, and some good company!!!

I feel I need to apologise for my shoddy poetry  you'll be relieved to hear that there are no plans to do any future blog posts in this way. Any complaints can be forwarded to my Mum who helped  And on a completely UNRELATED notes can anyone think of a good rhyme for 'trainer'