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Tuesday 1 August 2017

Coventry Way 40: Sulks & Rabbits High on Pick'n'Mix

A day of decisions … it was forecast to be very hot so I had to be sensible with the weight of my race vest.

So I decided to pack as light as possible, forgoing even the hand sanitiser (ergo absolutely no al fresco poos) but decided to be safe with food. So packed my my body weight in snacks. Normal Sarah decision making model right there.

THIS is why I'm not allowed to take the run photos ...

I had a couple of speedy friends racing the event so thought I’d run with them for as long as possible before I was dropped. The conversation would make the miles go past quicker and they could chat and I could listen while I was trying to breathe and not die at the pace they were making me go. I hadn't seen Richie or Mike for ages and they'd both had some exciting adventures recently on the Bob Graham Round and I wanted to hear all about it.

We met at the pub early at 8:30am so we could go off with the relay teams and use them as pacers. (This is one of the beauties of this race – it starts AND ends at the pub so somewhere to park up and a pint at the end while cheering everyone else in). We considered starting earlier but although we wouldn't get the hot sunshine we might also miss the opening times for some of the later checkpoints and I wasn’t going to miss my chance at scoffing chewy crisps and melted winegums. Thank you VERY MUCH. That's about 80% of the reason I race ultras right there.

We had a chilled out start while getting our kit and shoes on and we stood around and admired Mike’s solar powered shower, compared race packs and discussed the benefits of elastic lacing. (Nice and bouncy but frays in case you were wondering) … and then realised the relay teams were nowhere to be seen. They’d already left while we’d been discussing snacks.

The Coventry Way has staggered start times which means you can start at any time between 5:30am and 10am which is good for chronic procrastinators like me, but bad if you're planning on catching other teams or trying to race a buddy. It means that when you see other runners, you never know when they started their race so it can turn into a bit of a mind game. “Are they in front of me? Behind me? In a relay? Are they planning on trampling me then looting my pack for snacks?”

We decided that we'd admired the solar shower enough and got a move on to register quickly inside the Queen's Head and at 8:31am we were pegging it down the pub steps in an attempt to catch sight of the relay runners.

Me, Richie, Mike

The race starts with a steep set of steps and then up a sharp grassy field. You get no time to warm up before you're pelting uphill with your heart hammering, feeling as though your lungs are about to come up your throat before you come into the churchyard of St Laurence in Meriden. One of the benefits of this event though is that it's mainly through fields and trails which means there are multiple kissing gates, stiles and other things to climb through / over and around. While this might not initially sound like a benefit, it IS because it means you get to have a sneaky breather every couple of minutes. If you can't visualise it, imagine a running track, covered in grass and with hurdles every 100 metres … but instead of jumping the hurdles you have to climb laboriously over them, while carrying your bodyweight in pick'n'mix, 2 litres of water and assorted other bits and pieces which seemed absolutely crucial the night before when you packed your race vest.

On the plus side, the more snacks you eat, the less weight you have to carry.

I was enjoying running with Richie and Mike who were brilliant, entertaining company. Mike had recently completed the Bob Graham round in a bit over 23 hours and Richie had been Snack Monitor and pacer for sections. It sounded like an amazing adventure – if absolutely insane – and the miles flew past in a whirl of conversation about lonely peaks and howling winds. Very strange in the hot April day.

We caught up the Kenilworth relay ladies and had a brief chatter – they were running really strongly and I saw my friend Cath from Northbrook who was running the Coventry Way as training for the Lakeland 50 later in the year. I love this about this event – every mile brings more familiar faces. It's definitely a bonus to have such a great run so local to home.

Richie had been suffering with an injury and while he was speediest short distance runner between us, he wasn't enjoying the run or the faster paced miles along the Kenilworth Greenway. He dropped back at CP1 to grab a refill of his water and then caught us up a bit further along the road but dropped back again. I was a bit concerned about leaving him but Mike reassured me that he'd discussed this with Richie before the event and they'd agreed to run together as long as Richie wasn't too sore. Better to slow down than aggravate an injury. Slow down and eat all the snacks today, go on to run another day. Or something.

Mike was going for the Kenilworth Runners Coventry Way record which was 6:40 so we were aiming to stay below 10min/miles which would bring us in just below it. This sounds a very easy pace, but the terrain is deceptively tough and with over 80 stiles and kissing gates, there was the additional time spent climbing these, checking our numbers into the volunteers and refilling our water bladders which would eat into our margin of time. We decided to run between 8-9 min/miles to try and give us some leeway for when the heat rose.

There was a diversion after the greenway so rather than our usual climb up the rather awful Knowle Hill at Kenilworth, we had to follow the main road while leaping into the hedge to avoid the traffic every now and then. This would miss out the golf course as there was a tournament on and it was felt a bunch of scruffy runners might lower the tone and get in the way of the balls.

The temperatures were really rising now and it was already the hottest day of 2017. People were shedding layers and looking like very garish lycra clad mummies, with race kit wrapped around their waists and shoulders. I was feeling very smug about remembering the sun cream despite it only being April. Mind, it was the ONLY thing I was being smug about. I'd dropped my pick'n'mix somewhere and had visions of hyperactive bunnies bouncing around deliriously happy in a sugar haze. I was overheating and grumpy.

I saw my husband about mile 13. He was looking even grumpier than me. Although it was probably only his usual running face. He isn't really THAT keen on running. I probably shouldn't have entered him into a 40 mile race, really. He DEFINITELY wasn’t looking happy. I passed him and turned around to ask if he was ok. He said “NO!” and then told me to go on. In a REALLY cross voice and waved the route map at me. I did what I was told for once.

A lot of the fields were ploughed but it wasn't nice soft earth, it was lumpy, high ridges which were solid dirt and hard as tarmac and which would turn your ankle if you didn't pay enough attention. I picked my way across, conscious that Mike was really moving on and I'd have to keep the pace up or I'd be running on my own. I couldn't ask him to slow down for me and jeopardise his shot at the club record.

We came up to Ryton-on-Dunsmore which gave us a bit of road to run on. I liked this bit – it reminded me of my 35th birthday which I'd decided to celebrate by running 35 miles on the CoventryWay but it was 40 miles and it was December and cold. But hell. We did it. And because it was December we got mulled wine when we finally made it back to the pub.

We crossed the road and ran a few miles down the A45 with cars and lorries zipping past, marvelling at these ragtag runners, sweating and burning in the sunshine. Over the hill and towards Brinklow and the Roman Fort. I love this bit. Yes it's uphill and I MAY have used the ultra rules and walked this bit. Y'know … if a marble rolls down it, then I'M not running up it. Any excuse for a walk and a snack! Spotted Lee in her red and white Massey top and had a quick chat then over the fort and back down towards Brinklow and CP4 …

...which had completely disappeared.

OK. Which sod has stolen the checkpoint? We spent a bit of time wandering around aimlessly before giving in and asking a dog walker for directions. The CP had been moved to a hut tucked away in a far corner of the field (bonus mileage apparently) so got ourselves moving towards it and through the door. I needed to fill up my water bladder so Mike grabbed some snacks and went and I agreed to chase him down. One of my run club buddies, Jo was in front of me for the queue for the cola. Cheeky cow pinched the last bit of cola. She totally owes me a drink next time I see her at the pub.

Sprinted out of the CP and caught Mike up on the trail out towards Nettle Hill Bridge. I was having a tough time now and actively looking forward to the stiles as it gave me a chance to slow up a bit and take a bit of a breather while I waited to climb it. What awful irony. Me who loves a run but hates any kind of cross training …

I lost Mike around mile 27 on the canal section. My least favourite bit. Several miles of unshaded, bumpy, muddy path which all looked EXACTLY THE SAME. I stopped to tie a shoelace and Mike was going on ahead. I was going to call to ask him to wait … but couldn't. It had always been the agreement that the club record was the priority.

So now here I was. On the equivalent of an outdoor treadmill. Not even a canal boat to break up the monotony. Got a proper grump on … and started walking. Then started sulking. I decided I was too hot, too grumpy, I'd lost my pick'n'mix so I was going to drop out at the next checkpoint. Stupid running. Stupid stiles. Stupid rabbits eating my pick'n'mix sweets.

I got to the next checkpoint. Which was in a field. In the middle of nowhere. With no cider OR snacks.

Screw dropping out here. I'd drop out at the NEXT checkpoint.

I started running. I wanted to be able to drop out as soon as possible after all. Then ground to another sulky halt at a massive lumpy ploughed field. I'd swear the ridges were as high as my knees. Well I am a bit short. I passed the time by grumbling with another runner who was also enjoying the field as much as I was. Apparently the farmer had ploughed it 2 weeks before the event. ON PURPOSE. Stupid farmers. Stupid fields. Stupid running.

I remembered the next bit so had a bit of a trot. Then the next bit. Oh ok. Well THIS bit isn't too bad. And there's a duck. I like ducks.

Me and Roy from Rugby Tri

I decided to carry on for a bit. There was a checkpoint a bit further on and it would be a shame to miss out on the chewy crisps and curling sandwiches. Saw a couple of runners who were undecided about the route so gave them directions and decided to run with them for a bit. Had a chat for a while completely not knowing that I was running with Roy who I'd been talking to on Facebook about the event – a fellow Rugby Tri member. He was running with Eddie who he'd met up with during the event and they'd teamed up as they were both running about the same pace. Ran into CP5 with Eddie and Roy and saw Amy – a really good ultrarunner who has done more 100 milers than I've run parkruns. She always looks so cheerful and is one of the most laid back people I know. She probably wouldn't even fight me for the sweets at a checkpoint.

Me and Amy at CP

We ran on out of CP5, through the roads of Bedworth and on towards Stream Junction. More miles in the fields now and I was extremely careful to avoid the stump at mile 33 which I seem to kick EVERY DAMN TIME I run this route. Very pleased to say I managed to knock THAT tradition on the head this year. Who knows, I may come through this season with toenails intact. Nah … it wouldn't be marathon training unless I had at least one toenail banging around in my sock at the end of a long run.

We saw Anne-Marie in this section – she is one of the smiliest people I know – even at mile 35 of a long run. We stopped for a quick photo and then ran on to find more trails.

Me and Anne-Marie
Roy and I left Eddie a few miles before CP6. He was having a really tough time, having trained in the damp and cold of English springtime and was struggling with a knee injury. He told us to go on and we promised we would wait at the end and spring him a pint of cold beer. Roy and I ran on, up a PLOUGHED FIELD. It seems that my 2nd wind comes around mile 35 of an ultra. There wasn't even any swearing about farmers this time.

Roy was doing amazingly well. This was his first ultra and even at mile 35, he was running and chatting away quite happily. I wondered whether he was on some sort of drugs. And if so why he wasn't sharing them.

Saw Amy again and we kept leap frogging in the race. Nice to see a friendly face. Not so nice when she kept overtaking me. I'd have sulked but she'd just too nice. Still wasn't going to share any of my sweeties with her though.

Roy and I ran through Corley Moor, soaring on our 'Almost-The-End-Of-A-Long-Run' enthusiasm and and checked in at the last checkpoint by the pub. THE PUB. Where families were sitting around in the sunshine and drinking beer. COLD COLD BEER.

Dammit running. I could be sitting there enjoying cold beer if it wasn't for you. Stupid running.

The last mile of the run is all downhill and it's such bliss to be on road. And going downhill. Well … it is for the first half a mile. After that your legs remind you that they've been carrying you for quite some time and they'd quite like a nice rest now if it's all the same with you. And then you remember that the run is over distance and it's over 40 miles and you STILL can't see the pub at the end.

And then the Queen's Head comes into view. And the food tent.

And then it's all over.

One of the best things about this race as Mike reminded me, is that it starts and ends at the pub so no matter how hellish your day is, you know you can finish it with a pint in a chair.

In fact it was a pretty decent day. I got a suntan, a pint, a couple of new friends and was 1st lady and 5th overall and got new Northbrook ladies Cov Way record :)

Me and Jo. Still friends even if she got the last of the cola ...

Plus I was TOTALLY counting this 40 mile race as 2 x 20 mile runs for London Marathon in 2 weeks.

TOTALLY counts, right?

Me and Eddie. Got my pint!

Sad to say that Mike missed his club record by ONE minute. But next year my money's on him smashing it.

More info about the event: Coventry Way
Strava link: Strava 


  1. Fantastic report, sounds like the perfect race start and end, Am I missing something....London Marathon in 2 weeks?!

    1. Haha! Nope ... just a horribly late post I'm afraid! :)

  2. Ros hi- the event was back in April two weeks before London. It looks like this post was posted 1 Aug, hence the difference. Great write up!

    1. Thanks! And yes ... you're absolutely right ... I'm a dreadful procrastinator ...