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Thursday 28 November 2013

Twitter Buddies & Knowing Where the Good Cake Is

Isn’t it brilliant when twitter buddies turn into real-life friends? Especially when they know where the best cake shops are. There are good friends ... then there are good friends with cake. If she ALSO knows where the good pubs are I will be adopting @TheLozzatron as new best friend.   

Bad pic: blame me for stashing cash in strange place and an old lady with a shaky hand.
I’d arranged to run with Lozza around Newbold Comyn in Leamington Spa and she had agreed – in exchange for a Cadburys crème egg – to take me to a cake shop after the run. So a run in the park AND baked goods! Is there a downside to this?

Indeed there was. Lozza had ‘forgotten’ to tell me beforehand that she had planned to make me earn my treats by running up The Hill. Not just any hill. This was Hill of Death. With a beacon on top like a taunting spiky ice cream cone. And due to a sore ankle, she had planned to take the role of ‘Shouty Coach’ while I ran up and down the hill.

Luckily she’d forgotten her whistle and shouty voice.

But I STILL wasn’t convinced. This hill looked steep. And cliff-like. And there didn’t seem to be anything at the top that was worth running up for. E.g. A cake shop.  

I’d like to say I manned up and did a blistering workout, sprinting up and down hills like a Duracell bunny in lycra. In actual fact I ran up the hill once and used a poorly calf (lower leg not suffering small cow) as an excuse to head straight to the cake shop. Sorry Lozza. But in my defence it WAS a steep hill and it’s rude to keep cake waiting.

Caaaake!! Go visit them here

Wednesday 27 November 2013

Head Banging & Hill Running

Had a head/wall moment this week.

Went to the gym and forgot my KIT. I remembered my gym bag, it just didn’t contain any kit. This was sitting on the end of my bed 30 miles away waiting for me to pick it up and put into my gym bag .


So went for a walk instead. This was fine and got me out into the fresh air which is apparently good and healthy. And cold. However it didn’t have the same element of fun as the gym. So upon finding an AWESOME hill I decided it needed running down.

So I did.


Office blouse plastered against me, handbag flying out behind and knee high boots firmly on feet, I FLEW down the hill.

BIG grin.

Friday 22 November 2013

Fed by Broom & Whipped Cream Thief: Winter Wolf Race Report

We park in a field. It’s cold. 

Jo turns to me accusingly. “No one else is wearing vests. Look that man’s got a woolly hat on. And gloves. We’re going to freeze.” What can I say? Vests had seemed a good idea at the time. A time before I’d remembered it was November. And cold. I hadn’t even brought a bin bag to wear at the start line. “Sorry.”

I looked around.  No one else is wearing vests. Except for that very hairy man. And he looks like he’s wearing it over a brown curly jumper.

There were a lot of people wearing fairy outfits though. It seemed to be almost a Wolf Run theme. Going to get covered in mud and crap? Swim some streams? Why not do it in a fairy outfit! You think you’ll look stupid doing it in normal gear? Well, why not look EXTRA stupid?! A tutu seem to be the domain of super-fast chaps and middle-aged woman. I guess that’s when I know it’s crisis point for me. An urge to wear a tutu, Sarah? You’re either gender-confused or about to hit middle age. 

Registration was simple. A signed disclaimer form was exchanged for an envelope with our names, our bib number and a coloured wristband which we assumed denoted our start time. Nice and simple. As an added touch we got our numbers written on our foreheads with a magic marker. We were hoping the marker would be magic enough to withstand bogs, mud and open water swimming, but still wash off in the shower. 

The warm up was run by a military fitness chap and involved getting shouted at, lying on the ground to do exercises and jumping around giving each other high 5s. I’m always a bit suspicious of people who shout at us to do things but don’t do them themselves. I bet I’d be good standing around shouting at people while wearing a nice thick jacket as well. Rather than in a tiny vest. Bloody hell it’s cold. 

The horn blew and the very first obstacle was immediate. A splashy jump-into-and-wade across a lake. Cold water, but at least I wasn’t wearing heavy layers which would weigh me down. Off and out the other side and onto a bit of nice muddy trail running, tree-trunk-jumping and dodging through the woods. This is the bit of these challenges I enjoy the most; running on an interesting path knowing there are people to chase down ahead. Jo and I were first women in our wave but we knew the next wave was only 10 minutes ahead. We just had to make sure we stayed in front of anyone else wearing pink wristbands. Competitive? Us? Of course not. (Cough) We just want to make sure it’s safe for everyone else. By um ... checking it out first. 

A decision. A choice of two paths through some thick bushes. I took the right, Jo took the left and we converged at the start of a windy, muddy fun-to-run trail. This is trail running at its best. Fast, fun and muddy. The path went over a series of high hills and deep ditches. No flat parts and had to keep the momentum going to get up the other side. It was strength sapping. But fun.

Notable points of the challenge:

Taking Up Permanent Residence in the Bog. 
I got myself stuck in the bog. Properly stuck. In mud about waist height. A nice chap tried to help me out but had to give up as I was securely embedded in thick black muck. I had a moment where I thought I’d have to stay there, surviving by being passed food and drink on the end of a broom lowered out over the mud. Ended up pulling self out using handy tree. Suspect may have had to have help getting out without tree. Such as tractor, length of rope and extreme embarrassment.  

Really smelly bogs. 
I don’t know whether several runners had soiled themselves in fear of never extricating themselves from the mud or whether the bogs were made with the help of manure but they stank. As a result, I stank. But on the plus side if I took a wrong turn on the course the marshals – supposing their sense of smell hadn’t already been completely destroyed – should be able to sniff me out and rescue me. Rescue possibly after a hose down. 

Am a Foamy Sliding Machine!
A massive slide down the side of the hillside made out of polythene sheets with water and washing-up liquid. I managed to get a good speed up and took 2 people down with me. Luckily they’ll never be able to identify me as the marshals got overenthusiastic with the washing up liquid and I look as though I’ve been hit in the face with the most unfunny custard clown pie ever. 

Trail Running Vs Obstacles.
Overtaking people on the trail running bits and GETTING overtaken on the muddy bits. It was obvious where my strengths and weaknesses were. Strengths: Running in mud and on trails – yes please! Weaknesses: pulling self out of bogs, climbing up cargo nets, swimming in lakes. Basically ... the obstacles.

Pyramid Cargo Net ... of DEATH
The pyramid cargo net is my nemesis. I just don’t like climbing to a height on what is basically plaited hair, swinging my leg over the top and trusting my life to the mud encrusted, slimy strands at the top and then climbing back down the other side with the possibility of being hit by a hurtling body as another climber misjudges their grip. The ropes at school in PE? No problem. Abseiling? No problem. Cargo net? No thanks. Although there is apparently a trick to it. Jo showed me quickest way to climb cargo nets: keep one of the vertical rope parts in front of you and climb like a rope at school at PE. Doing it this way means it’ll stay taut and not move around. Still didn’t solve the ‘hurtling body’ body dilemma. 

Have Discovered Amazing New Swimming Style
The Winter Wolf had a lot of water obstacles and included were several wades up a stream, swim/wades across lakes and a ditch swim. For the taller runners this wasn’t a problem, waist-high water – no problem. For someone of my shorter stature this was nipple-height freezing cold water and was as fast to swim as to attempt to wade. I tried several different techniques with varying success. Front crawl involved putting face into brown murky water which had the muck coming off the several hundred runners in front of us in; spit, mud and urine. Backstroke was slow and had the big disadvantage of not being able to see where I was going. Wading was just splashy and slow. I ended up using a less-than-graceful stroke I like to call the Breast Paddle. Rather than an S&M device it sounds like, it was a cross between Breast Stroke and Doggy Paddle.

We had to cross the first obstacle again – a splashy-wade-run through a lake to get to the finish and we posed for our pictures by the poster and made the obligatory ’grin and ‘arms raised’ pose as is demanded at the end of races. Our beautiful smiles and triumphant poses which are somehow transformed by the sneaky photographers into ‘gurn and zombie poses’. 

We collected a goodie bag containing Clif Bar (which was very welcome – like a chocolate hug!), technical t-shirt and water and space blanket.  It was at this point Jo realised that the wristbands showed T-shirt size NOT wave time. That made sense. Despite running like crazy ladies we had been wondering how so many people in our wave got such a good head start on us ...

We stood there dripping in front of the Wolf Run sign and looked at the amounts of mud we had collected. Jo turned to me. “I think we were right to wear vests.” We looked around and saw the groups of spectators wearing thick winter coats, scarves and woolly hats. “Maybe it’s time to put something dry on now though.”

We stopped only to collect a thick hot chocolate with whipped cream AND a flake in. The proper way to enjoy hot chocolate. I paid the poor chocolate van man with quite possibly the soggiest tenner ever which I held ever so gently in case it disintegrated before I palmed it off on him. The beautiful hot chocolate moment was only spoiled by a sudden gust of wind decorating a nearby bloke with my whipped cream. Cream thief. He was also covered in mud so couldn’t even attempt to siphon it off with a straw in an attempt to retrieve it. At least he didn’t get my flake. 

It was less than a 10 minute walk to the car, but we were shivering and covered in mud, manure and straw although a significant proportion of this had been washed off by our last splashy wade through the lake. 

We had been organised enough to remember a towel each and a change of clothes thankfully as it was very, very cold and we needed to get changed into warm, dry clothes as soon as possible. Not having the room in the car, I stood outside and whipped off my vest and tied my silver space blanket around my waist like a girlie space man. 

I got my damp gear off by degrees although the gusty wind threatened to lift the space blanket and flash my arse. It wouldn’t have been a good sight with the mud and straw - the sort of thing only the strange, strange people turned on by Worzel Gummidge would have found attractive. I pulled a top on and tried to get my jeans on. Skinny jeans are NOT the best idea when hands are cold and legs are damp. I got the jeans halfway up my legs and they stuck fast. Great. I was going to have to get in the car, apologise profusely to Jo and explain that she was going to have to drive me home while I was wearing a space blanket skirt, a pair of jeans ‘penguin style’ and a pair of damp knickers with straw and mud stuck around. 

Worzel Gummidge Picture Source

Crap. How was I going to explain that? Tugged harder on jeans and my frozen fingers responded and I finally got my jeans over my arse. Phew. New t-shirt on and a warm top over it and I was starting to feel less Mud Monster and more Slightly Grubby Runner. 

Top run! Although I did take a few things away from it:  

Learning points: 

  • Don’t wear skinny jeans to change into. Unless you want to scare friends or flash arse at strangers.
  • Practise swimming in full running kit. After next cross country run should attempt to hurl self into nearest body of water. 
  • Get yourself Wolf Run Slide-ready by inhaling washing up bubbles while cleaning plates in sink.
  • Don’t drink hot chocolate when it’s windy. Unless you’re prepared to lick muddy strangers.

Thursday 21 November 2013

Bleeding Eyeballs & Strawberry Shoelaces: English National Cross Country Relays Race Report

I wasn’t sure I was doing this right. It would be a 2 hour drive to Mansfield, for a run that would last 15 minutes. Not sure that’s the right way round. However, I’d been told there was cake so I was in.

I’d run this race before and I had vague remembrances of mud, elbows and swearing that I would never do it again. I dismissed it. My memory is unreliable. I LIKE running. Besides it’s only 3km and that’ll take me a few minutes then I can go and find this cake that I’ve been promised.

I was a bit concerned that I was in the wrong team. I liked my team mates but I was definitely the weak link in this relay. Emily was the club’s cross country star and one of their top ladies and was more than capable of a brilliant sub 18 time on a hilly 5k course. And Angela Copson who held multiple running WORLD RECORDS!. And me. Me who falls into ditches, is unreliable on any distance less than about 5 miles (and even then I stop to take pictures of alpacas) and who has done precisely 3 cross country races in her life. Including the one where I was 13 and gave up after ½ a mile. Although in my defence I started running again once I’d scored a sweetie off the marshal.   
We arrived in a field full of young people in running shorts and craggy old men with white hair and thick coats. The clatter of spikes, the queues for the portaloos and the sound of a horn signalling the start of a race. There was mud, wind, rain and enthusiasm. We moved through the field, a colourful mess of team tents, club colours and flags and finally found the team tent in the usual chaos of bags, unattended trainers and under 17s. And 2 giant boxes of strawberry shoelace sweeties. Brilliant.

Strawberry shoelaces Source

The weather was undecided so I wasn’t sure which shoes to go for so had brought my Salomon Crossfire 3 and New Balance spikes although it was the first time I’d raced in these. I asked the more experienced runners what they’d recommend and the result was unanimous – spikes.  

My nervous energy was keeping me warm as I jittered from one foot to the other. Emily was on the first leg of the relay and was running the first 3km. We ran a warm-up together and decided to run the lower half of the circuit. We got just to the open part by the lake when the skies opened. It was the throw-a-bucket type rain which meant you were drenched within 30 seconds. Oh well. At least if I fell in one of the bogs I’d already be wet.

Walked up to the starting pens with Angela and we caught sight of Emily waiting to go. We waved and bellowed to wish her luck. They called them all through onto the field, the gun fired and they were off in a jostle of elbows, spikes and flying mud.

Ladies at English National Cross Country Relays Source
The marshal, weathered and ancient called the 2nd leg through and told us we’d hear our team mate’s number being called over the tannoy as they came up the field. There was no baton or anything like that. Your teammate finished on one side of a barrier and you set off on the other. No cross over at all. And what the marshal meant when he said you’d hear it on the tannoy was “The tannoy doesn’t work but if you’re lucky you might hear it muttered.”

I had 2 seconds warning of Emily coming in. Checked it was her then dashed through the hordes of girls in front of the line and pegged it across the line.

Run as fast as I can while trying to keep pace maintainable. Overtaken by the first person. Crap. Don’t try to catch them now, pick them up near the end when they tire. Just keep running. Check Garmin – am running at 5:56 min/miles. Crap, can’t run at 5:56 min/miles. Passed by second girl. Crap crap. Splosh through a boggy muddy bit. Wet feet. Just keep running. Ooh into the woods. More mud. Round the duck pond. Where are the ducks? Mud! Argh! More people coming!! Just run Sarah! Don’t let Emily and Angela down! Argh! More mud. Stupid wrong spikes don’t have much grip and feet are doing spinning roadrunner impression. Up the hill. Puff, pant. Ooh downhill. Argh slippy leaves. Uphill. More woods. Eyesight is actually going blurry. Am running as hard as I can in these conditions and with roadrunner spinning feet. Just keep running (to tune of Just Keep Swimming in Finding Nemo) just keep running. Ok, mustn’t kill self by going too hard now and fading at end but have to keep pushing. Out of the woods. Hooray!! Someone with a tannoy shouts “Go on Rugby & Northampton”. Feels as though I am running in slow motion but going fast as I can. Stupid uphills. Stupid running. Push push. Just keep running. Stupid grass. More woods. Stupid woods. And downhill!! Stupid downhill. Legs hurt and it feels as though eyeballs are bleeding. Just keep running and final uphill. Girl just in front. Must overtake her. Stupid slippy hill. Push push and there’s the finish!! Phew! Can sit down.

Sit down. Check eyeballs. Relieved to find not in actual fact bleeding. Legs appear intact despite what senses are telling me. Stupid short distances. Stupid cross country. And it was raining.        

Cheered in Angela and got back to Rugby & Northampton tent. Which wasn’t there. It had been taken down in my absence and some git had eaten all the strawberry shoelaces.

Walked back to the car and stopped at the stall to buy a ‘English National Cross Country Relays’ hooded sweatshirt ... which was now only available in 14 – 15 years. Sigh.

Got to the car and finally started getting feeling back in my hands. My face returned to a normal colour and my vision started coming back. 

Emily turned to me in the car: “How did you find that?”

“Brilliant.” I said. “When can I do that again?”

RESULTS: 51st club
0:37:53.80 Rugby & Northampton AC
0:11:03.10 Emily
0:13:27.45  Sarah
0:13:23.25  Angela

Apologies and Bogies

An apology … I'm so sorry for the lack of posts recently. Don't blame me! Blame the stinking cold and the prodigious amount of bogies produced!! (Points finger of blame at cold)

Friday 1 November 2013

The Skeleton Run - Massive Cow Fear & Night Hill Running

Running through the darkness, my breath was ragged in my throat and it seemed like the hill would never end. I was running hard, but in the small white circle from my headtorch, all I could see was the trail stretching upwards, steeper and steeper. Then all of a sudden a huge, shaggy monster rose in front of me. In the light of my headtorch, a rolling eye and huge, wide horns tipped with a devilishly sharp point were suddenly visible. 

“Bugger me” said the skeleton who was running next to me. 

I didn’t have the breath to respond but I understood the sentiment. When I signed up for The Skeleton Run, I was expecting darkness, massive hills and awesome fancy dress, but hadn’t expected Highland Cattle to be among the scary beasts on the trails. I had expected zombies, corpse brides, skeletons, superheroes and Grim Reapers but hadn’t thought I’d need to worry about becoming kebabed on the horns of a huge cow. Or burying my feet up to the knees in a (monster) cow pat.

Edging around the cows who were standing in the middle of the trail, it gave us an extra incentive to find some more speed up the first hill. I’d started off far too fast and as the hill became steeper and steeper I was beginning to regret some of my earlier enthusiasm. I knew that the first mile was all uphill, becoming more sheer towards the top ... but surely I must have run at least 2 miles by now? I was panting like a dirty caller and even with the Massive Cow Fear I knew I was slowing down.

I could see orange lights sparkling on my right, far below and knew them to be Loughborough and realised that coming up on my left would be the Old Man, the rock formation shaped like the profile of an old man. It was far too dark to see anything, but I was sure that a patch of black was slightly less black than the darkness around it. Around me skeletons, corpse brides and ghosts were grinding to a halt and starting to walk. I knew there couldn’t be much further to go of this hill ... pride and Cow Fear kept me running. 

Suddenly there was a feeling of space then the path cut through a narrow gate and then – gloriously – a steep hill below. The next mile was all downhill and it was a chance to try and regain some of the time lost on the first steep uphill. The path was corroded and bumpy but my feet flew over it. I tried consciously to relax my shoulders and to persuade my body that this was it’s recovery. Despite doing a sub-7 minute mile.

I flew down the hill, stones rolling under my feet, chasing the small white circle of light my headtorch cast on the ground. Occasionally there was a glow stick hanging from a tree to mark the route and sometimes you could see the headlights of other runners through the trees, glowing like werlights. It was too dark to judge the how far away they were, you could just see the circles of light like an eerie procession through the gloom. 

There was a drinks station at the bottom of the hill at mile 2 but I didn’t stop and swerved sharply to the right following the path down a gentle hill ... then up. And up. And up. I’d started too fast on the first hill from enthusiasm and from not wanting to be trampled in the stampede of witches and skeletons and I could feel my legs wanting to slow now. The hill felt never ending, I’d raise my head and spot a landmark on the path ahead – a pale nettle, a stick on the path, a dark tree trunk and focus on that, then look for the next. I had company, someone running with me at my shoulder but neither of us had energy or breath to spare to speak, we just ran together on and on ... and on. If there was a runner’s limbo, this was it.

The hill just wound up and up and it felt like a horrible déjà vu. Every section looked the same, the hill reaching up as far as the headtorch could reach. My companion slowed and said “I can’t run any more”. I told him “It opens up ahead, we’re nearly there.” He started running again, my invisible companion at my shoulder. I had been persuading myself as much as I was persuading him, but I knew the hill had to be nearly finished. Please. No more ... We turned another corner and there was more uphill and the path just looked the same. Dark, treelined and stretching upwards. The path was blocked by a fallen tree. We jumped it and suddenly - like a spell had been lifted - the trees disappeared and we crossed an area of darkness which had no trees that despite the pressing dark, felt like a wide open space. We passed through a gate and finally, finally the path sloped ... downwards. 

I tried to consciously ease my breath and relaxed my shoulders and took advantage of the downhill to push the speed and try and regain some of the time spent plodding up the hill. The next mile was undulating - which as any runner knows means it’s hilly, horribly hilly but it was a change from the never ending uphill and I tried to keep pushing the speed and take advantage of the downhills. I knew I wasn’t going to be breaking any PBs on this course, but I wanted to push myself. And I was damned if I was going to be beaten by some bloke dressed as a pumpkin. 

The path curved round a corner and into a sharp uphill. My quads groaned, but I remembered this hill! This was the last uphill! The LAST one!! I coerced my legs into as much of a fast run as they’d allow and pushed on. I spotted a marshall lurking suspiciously behind a tree and remembered that last year one had leapt out at me with a bloodcurdling howl. At the time I’d been extremely impressed with not wetting myself at the apparition. That was the REAL win of 2012. I kept my headtorch focused on the lurker, determined not to be caught by surprise this year. I was wearing a cop outfit and felt that the effect may be ruined by a pervasive smell of urine. 

I rounded the corner, through the gate and onto the final mile. From here on it was ALL downhill to the finish line! I tugged my police officers hat straight, straightened my handcuffs and kept a firm grip on the truncheon ... right. Time to test the legs. I flew down the hill, following the winding path in between the trees, trying to keep going, to eep the speed up. As I ran I was conscious of a light behind me, another runner closing the gap. I pushed harder, increased the speed, tried to widen the gap. I didn’t know whether it was a man or a woman, but I didn’t want to be overtaken by anyone this late in the race if I could help it. I hadn’t checked my pace at  any point in the run but I’d kept pushing and had hoped it would be enough to stop anyone catching me up. It wasn’t. The light behind me came closer. I dug deeper and pushed harder. The light receded slightly. I saw lights in the trees and knew the finish line must be close. A sharp corner and deep mud took me by surprise and I nearly lost my footing. I regained and saw the bright lights of the finish and a row of people watching. Not now! I can’t lose my place now. I sprinted for the line. Push! The final stretch should be the easiest bit but it felt hard and I was conscious that I could be overtaken by the other runner at any moment. And THROUGH. Across the line. 

Me and Superwoman ... also known as @Vickyemmamurphy

I collapsed on the cold grass with my arms full of goodies: a lovely medal shaped like a skull, a tshirt and a toffee apple. I heard a “Hello” and the runner who had chased me down the last hill introduced himself (Waves at Andy). I was thankful to meet the person who had kept me pushing the speed although not as relieved as having the opportunity to finally stop running up hills. Mustering the energy, I dragged myself up off the grass and went to cheer on the other runners. There’s nothing quite like watching Dracula and the Grim Reaper battle it out in a sprint finish. Except possibly trying not to look to closely as a group of blokes in ‘Sexy Santa’ dresses try to reach the finish line without flashing their Halloween Horrors at the crowd. 

Buff, water bottle, t shirt, skull medal, helmet/hand/ bike torch - my awesome haul for being 2nd lady!
Hope Skeleton run
2nd woman/121
23rd / 245

Full Garmin info here

You can get further information on the Skeleton Run or view further pictures by James Kirby on their Facebook page here here