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Thursday 16 August 2018

The Coventry Way: Exploding Bladders & Appalling Navigation

I love the Coventry Way 40 mile run. It’s a circular loop which rings – Surprise! Surprise! -  Coventry and it’s mostly on grassy trails, lumpy fields and tiny hidden paths. I’ve run it three times but I’ve still got only the vaguest idea of the route. My pub-and cake-radar is exemplary. But my trail-memory is truly appalling. 

How smug I was laying this out for the photo while on the kitchen counter, my water bladder was pouring orange water everywhere ...

I didn’t have the finest preparation; finishing work unexpectedly after midnight without having packed or prepared a single item. Meh ... I’ve run ultras before, right? What could go wrong?

Not checking the water bladder I was using and finding I'd used the leaky one I keep meaning to throw out and forgetting about doing it was one of the things I did wrong. Luckily I discovered this BEFORE I left the house but AFTER I’d filled it and packed my ultra vest with snacks leaving me contemplating my cake and bars floating around in a vaguely orangey smelling pool of water on the side in the kitchen. I wasn’t entirely ecstatic upon discovering this and woke up the husband with such foul language that he probably assumed that I was in a kind of swear battle with a sarcasm and profanity fluent sailor with Tourette’s specific to water bladders and ultra running. 

I rushed to try and sort the mess, not realising the sudocrem I had applied to my toes so carefully was leaking through my socks and leaving white (and very difficult to remove) footprints on the carpets around the house. 

After adding some more even more imaginative profanities to the ones current floating in the air around the house, I was discovered by my husband on my hands and knees with white feet furiously scrubbing the carpet with baby wipes while my water bladder was washing bars and snacks along the side in the kitchen in an citrus-scented tidal wave. 

Yeah. Sexy feet. *boke*

Leaving a trail of destruction in my wake and the kitchen in an appalling state, I finally got to the village of Meriden two hours later than I’d wanted and a bit concerned about whether race registration would close before I got there. As mentioned I’d run this event three times previously and the registration was in the same place as it had always been - in the Queens Head pub in Meriden. A village of approximately 100 houses. Could I find this distinctive and very familiar pub? Could I hell. After raging at myself I plugged in the sat nav which promptly directed me onto the 15 second drive to the pub. As I was so late absolutely everyone else had disappeared over the horizon having already started their races.

I set off on my own which was a novelty and actually quite nice as there was no need to justify my run speed – or lack of it. Well … it was nice for about 10 minutes, after which I promptly got bored. 

After a bit of a trot on my own, I finally saw a runner in front of me which was a relief as had thought I might not see another person all day. Often runners often set off two hours before the time I'd started and I'd resigned myself to a bit of a lonely day thanks to my dreadful organisation, leaky water bladder and terrible navigation skills. Caught the other runner up and found out his name was Andy which I promptly forgot and had to be reminded about when I called him Steve (sorry Ste- … Andy) and we appeared to be running around the same speed so we decided to run together for a bit.

I proudly announced that I had run this route three times and DEFINITELY knew the way … and then proceeded to get lost at EVERY junction until it was tactfully decided that I should run BEHIND Andy who would be in control of the race directions. 

In my defence I knew MOST of the way, just not the part 10 miles from the start as I was normally catching up with friends for this bit and listening to all their news so chatting rather than navigating … Yep. I may be rubbish at navigating but I'm brilliant at making up excuses justifying my terrible navigation.

We started coming up to walkers doing the trail at around 12 miles in. It was obvious from the gaiters up to their knees and the massive backpacks that these guys were out for a LONG day. I have a lot of respect to these girls and guys and it’s a long time on your feet walking 40 miles. 

It was a nice sociable run, we leapfrogged a lot with 'Mr Lakeland Red T-shirt ' (who later identified himself as Darren) who was running a cracking pace but having a 'dodgy tummy day' and  having to duck into various bushy bushes along the way. He'd usually zoom past us and then he'd zoom past us AGAIN … having been hidden by a bush at some point as we'd passed. 

We got a bit excited at around 11 o clock as the drizzle stopped briefly and the sun seemed like it was coming out but it was a false alarm, probably the glow from an open pub door … so we settled down to more drizzle. 

Some of the trail went over wooden bridges which were a bit slippery, the wooden planks sodden due to the previous rain and mud trodden into them from other people passing across them. The trail can be tough sometimes as it goes across rough – for Warwickshire! - terrain. However, a plus side of starting later was that the trails across the lumpy ploughed fields had been mashed down by the previous 200 walkers and runners so this  made progress much easier than hopping from clod to clod. 

It was nice to see Claire and her friend Hilary from Lancashire at around mile 20 heading along a stony track coming towards Brandon. We stopped for a brief catch up and the promise of a pint at the end. Always good to have an incentive to finish a race strongly … and with the promise of cider.

Jo Steele, one of the most trail-loving people I know was at the checkpoint in Bulkington and we had a chat and she didn't even pinch the last glass of cola this time. Things were looking up!! (I'd seen Jo last year and she'd been quicker than me in one of the aid stations and had nabbed the last sip of cola …!) I'd been a bit worried this year as I'd started so late and was concerned that the aid stations would be closing up or not replenishing their food as a lot of people would have already come through but my fears were unfounded … every one was still as well stocked as if there were 150 more people behind me in the last stages of starvation. 

I had packed myself some food this time and had gone with peanut butter and avocado wraps. Separately though. Together sounds like a taste sensation but not a good sensation. A retching sensation. They were good and still tasted ok squashed flat in my run vest. Andy was probably grateful too as the peanut butter stuck my teeth together for a while so he had a couple of minutes of quiet. 

The weather last year had been very hot, but coming up to the Coventry Way this year there had been some substantial rain. Up until the start time, there had been several diversions in place due to course flooding and I had been a bit concerned as wouldn't know the way with the diversions … however it appeared I didn't know the way without the diversions so that was ok. And just to get really confusing, the diversions had been cancelled as the water had gone down so now I really, really still didn't know the way. So that was all right then.

However, it was still a bit mushy in sections and I managed to step in pretty every sheep poo in Warwickshire so I wasn't leaving the course with dry feet. Or any sheep dung untrodden. 

I'd asked Simon if he wanted to meet me where the Coventry Way passed onto the canal at about mile 26 by Nettle Farm. Last year this us where I'd started to find the run tough and I'd done the adult equivalent of throwing my toys out of the pram (throwing my handbag out of the car window on the M6?) so I thought it would be nice to have some company at this section. As it was, I was running with Andy and Darren for this part which was nice so we all had a good chat for this section which is usually a bit of a boring drag  after the pretty fields and lanes.

After dreading the canal for so long and actually finding it fine, the next 10 miles flew past. As an additional bonus, I had forgotten about the caravan checkpoint which came as a lovely surprise and I scoffed as much food as I could in delight for having an additional opportunity to. Sweetie-ed up, we set out on the last leg and the final checkpoint which was 3 miles from the end. 

We found Richie at mile 38, who I've previously run 1.5 Coventry Ways with before so that was nice and we spent a happy few minutes having a catch up and before we knew it we were all flying down the final mile to the pub at the end. It sounds lovely having a final downhill mile at the end of an ultra, but actually it's never as nice as it sounds as by that point my legs are all “get me into the pub at the end, dimwit” and I have a hard job persuading them that the best way to get there is by running as they've gone all jellied with excitement as being able to stop shortly. 

One of the great things about the Coventry Way (have I mentioned the pub?) is that it starts and finishes at the Queens Head pub. There's usually a crowd of supporters who cheer you in loudly and with enthusiasm and with their pints in their hands. It's another reason to get there as quick as you can before the support crews drink the pub dry.

Another bonus is getting fed at the end. I get a hot meal and the chance to catch up with the other runners under a nice dry marquee as I scoff a hot potato and cake with my shoes and socks off. Plus it's a local race so there are lots of familiar faces so I get to have a nice catch up and hear about everyone else's exciting races. 

Me, Darren and Andy at the finish. 

I'm lucky to have such a nice race local to me and it's one I look forward to every year. Used it as my last long run for marathon training last year. Might do the same next year. Coventry Way, you're a cracker. 

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