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Saturday 15 July 2023

Coventry Way 40 Mile Run: Goopy Mud, The Predator & Gigantic Gnomes

This event is an excuse for me to run all day fuelled by pick n mix, chat to everybody I see, enjoy the Warwickshire countryside and get treated to a hot meal at the end. And all for the bargain price of about thirty quid. 

It's always at the start of April so it's off the cards if I'm racing a Spring marathon (although I may have used it as my final long run once or twice!) but it's generally a lovely pootle on some decent tracks and a paddle through the bogs. 

Despite entering the event 6 months previously, April had crept up on me. I had a moment of panic the week before thinking that my longest run leading up to it had been 12 miles. Then I remembered the 20 miles I'd run at a Big Bear event 2 months ago. 

Yep. Totally counts.

In line with my MASSIVE ORGANISATIONAL SKILLS I'd also ordered a brand new ASICS FujiTrail run pack for the event. My ancient pack had pretty much fallen apart and it didn’t fit right any more after multiple washes which were needed after having been dropped on the floors of portaloos, covered in mud and worse and generally abused. It had had a good innings but I was concerned that using it was practically germ warfare and that it was going to reach sentience faster than ChatGPT.

So I’d gone online and treated myself to an ASICS one. It had come with 2 soft flasks (I normally use a run bladder) and I liked the idea of being able to see how much fluid I was drinking and had left. Maybe I'd be a convert. Plus if the race went to hell, I could fill them with cider from one of the multiple pubs I'd be passing.

Just to cement home the idea that I was super-organised, I’d also ordered some new trail shoes. I loved my ASICS FuijiTrabuco SKY but I’d lost the insoles while using them for a swimrun event and I wasn’t sure how comfy they’d be for 40 miles without insoles. For 12 miles they were fine but 40 miles? Also they had holes in the sides. But that's just ventilation, right?

As it turned out, the new shoes didn’t turn up in time so I so dug out the old shoes. They were a bit muddy. Banged them together. Sorted. Mostly. Some of the mud fell off anyway. 

It had been raining pretty much non-stop for the last 2 weeks. It didn't bode well for a course which is 90% trails and about 10% underwater even in dry weather (Corley Moor, I'm looking at you.) As I drove towards the start, I passed a river which had flooded its banks. It looks like today was not going to be a day for dry feet. Luckily, my foot modelling days are behind me, Even the most niche market wouldn't want to see mine.

Despite all my good intentions and because the rule of the universe dictates that the closer you live to a race start, the later you'll arrive, I rocked up after all of the car park spaces had been taken and not long before the race start was due to close. Luckily, they're pretty chilled about start times and there was even time for a loo visit and a snack check. Yep, the snacks are all edible.

I've run this event probably 4 or 5 times and had managed to get lost every time. Once you get lost, you kind of glue that turning into your head. And then the next time you run the route, you're like “Yep. I definitely turn here.” So my 40 mile route turns into a 42 mile route complete with u-turns and strange little wiggles where I've corrected my route.

There was a new starting point this year. Rather than starting from the Queens Head, the race started from The Heart of England Social Club. I'd downloaded the new route to my watch last night and was confident I could navigate my way around the changes to the course.

I turned right out of the social club and down the road. Where I was promptly shouted at by the the marshal for going the wrong way. Oh. Whoops.

Testing how awake the marshals are. Cough. Yeah. They passed the test.

I did a complete u-turn and ran back up the hill.

Spring had definitely arrived in Warwickshire. There were primroses along the verges and violets on the banks and the daffodils were waving their yellow heads in the breeze. In a month or so there will be bluebells in all of the copses and then winter would definitely be gone.

But clearly the flowers thrived in an aquatic climate. It had been the wettest March in 40 years and you could tell. The trails were an absolute mudfest and the muddiest I've ever known the route to be. It was Glastonbury without the portaloos and hippies. Mississippi mud pie without the edibility. Peppa Pig would have been in heaven. 

The mud was also a constant reminder that the Poo Fairy hadn't visited today. This is never a good sign before a race. Or during a race. A 40 mile run without a change of clothes was not the place for a toilet disaster. I didn't even have a spare sock.

However, despite my concerns, I felt really good. I was in a good mood, a day of running lay ahead of me, my pockets were full of pick'n'mix. Life was good. I even ran most of the hills. Unheard of in an ultra. Some sections were just not runnable as the mud was so deep and slippery, but the rest … it was good! 

I was having a grand old day. The benefits of this race being so local was that I was seeing lots of friends from various clubs and events. Everyone I passed had a smile or a friendly greeting. It was lovely. The sun even threatened to come out from behind a cloud at one point. I wasn't sure this was a good idea. We were all so covered in mud, we'd be baked in place like the terracotta warriors. 

There was a lot of wildlife about and I heard a woodpecker in the woods. These always sound – to me -  a bit like the noise that Predator from the Predator films makes. I mean, I might be overthinking this but that's not something I really want to meet in the woods. Particularly not if there's no chopper coming to save me. Although I was wearing so much mud, I appeared to be absolutely nailing the mud scene in the film. 

And I swear - hand on heart - that I heard a bird whistling a happy hardcore tune. I'm partial to a bit of happy hardcore, particularly for speed sessions and for throwing me back down memory lane, driving my trusty gold Metro around the lanes of Dorset. Anyhow. Definitely a happy hardcore tune. I'm fairly sure I wasn't having auditory hallucinations and assumed that maybe this remote field had been the site of a rave at some point. Maybe it was a delusion brought on by too much pick'n'mix.

The aid stations were lovely and I cheerfully availed myself of the snacks. The tuna rolls were perfect for ultra running and I had 3 of these, a beef and mustard roll, a cookie, a custard crème, some wine gums and an orange slice. Perfect fare for a snackish runner. I had all of this over the 40 miles … not all at once despite the temptation to fill my pockets with goodies for the drive home. I'd filled my soft bottle with MX concentrate and was taking a salt tablet every so often. Life was good. And full of good things to eat.

I started an audiobook that I had seen recommended on TikTok which meant it could be any type of weird and wonderful. I turned on Gone to See the River Man and was swept up in a tale of sacrifice, child murder and gore. Not something I'd usually listen to but the tale was compelling and disgusting and beautifully written. The miles ticked by. 

Every now and then I'd see a friend. I saw Garry, ran with him for a bit and had a chat which was good. Saw the lovely and very accomplished Liz and ran with her for a bit. It was SO nice to have a catch up. Saw Spencer, Mark and Steve Turvey and Damian from my lovely running club, Northbrook AC. Had a chat with Sophie and Paul Albon of Big Bear Events and joined them for a section and at Brinklow I saw lots of the super people from Rugby Tri on their incredible cheer station! I had been looking forward to seeing them and this cheer station for MILES! It was a real motivator and so nice to see everyone! Had a quick chat to Martin, the incredibly funny author of 'Accidental Ironman: How Triathlon Ruined My Life'. Totally didn't recognise him with his hat on – sorry Martin! You'd clearly be an EXCELLENT spy. 

Stood up at the edge of someone's garden in one of the more remote sections of the course were two ENORMOUS garish garden gnomes. They were about the size of a 6 year old child and enough to give even the stoutest heart nightmares. Sod burglar alarms and guard dogs. Just get yourself down to the local garden centre and ask for two nightmare gnomes. 

There were lots of dogs on the trail today, taking advantage of the brief flashes of sunshine between the stormy clouds. I took advantage of as many strokes and pats as I could and was rewarded with a few muddy pawprints and doggy kisses. Perfect. 

I turned a corner and saw a white pile on the floor which looked rather like the piles of ash in Red Dwarf that Lister tastes before realising it's his former crewmates. I recognise this! It's flour left by the Hash House Harriers after one of their hare and hounds runs … and it reminded me. I really did need to get along to one of their beer runs soon! Love a good hash run! 

My husband also runs this event. He gets a 2 or 3 hour head start on me and I usually tend to overtake him in one of the fields just before the big aid station whereupon he smiles and tries desperately not to tell me to f**k off as I sail past him waving like a lunatic.This year I saw him at about 15 miles in, just past the aid station. He was clearly having a good run this year!

This run should have been tough and tiring and grotty and grumpy. The conditions underfoot were so clotted and muddy and flooded which slowed everything down, but today everything just worked. I had no niggle or blisters. The kit was great, the legs felt fantastic and everything was good. My prep had been poor but everything had come together to give me a lovely run. I didn't even need the marble rule today.

The parts that I usually find tough on this course; the never-ending canal section and the housing estates flew past. Everything just ticked past and the running felt easy and comfortable. Like it almost never does on ultras. Even with the ankle-deep mud and slipping around, I was having a lovely time. What horrors did the universe have hidden? Karma has to balance, right? Am I going to be involved in some dreadful weasel attack? I could see the headlines now “Plucky Ultra Runner Completes Race with Leg missing After Rabid Ferret Attack”. Or maybe I'd fall into the canal and be found 3 days later, bloated and floating along with my mouth full of pick'n'mix and my trainers looted by dog walkers.

But things carried on, mostly uneventfully. I got lost about 6 times, mostly on the old bits which I really should know by now but I turned around and got back on course. It was practically tradition by now that I get lost at least twice. Bonus miles. Didn't have to pay for these.

I saw someone I’d run the course with previously, just past the canal. Not only was he doing it again, he was doing it on crutches!! Wow! That's pretty impressive!!

I saw Spencer, Damien and Mark from Northbrook about 5 miles from the end of the course absolutely storming along with a great pace. It was great to see them and see how fresh they all looked. 

I had a run with Liz and the miles flew past. It's always lovely having a catch up when you haven't seen someone for a while and Liz had had some wonderful adventures and it was so nice hearing about them. The fields and trails flew away under our feet as we talked about pst adventures and adventures planned. We slowed a little coming up to the hill and you know that feeling when you're feeling good and just want to fly? Liz recognised it. You can go if you want, she said. So I did. I love the days when running just feels effortless and they're not to be wasted when they come along.

After Corley Moor, I always love the look of the Red Lion pub. There are usually people outside drinking nice cold pints and I'm at that point of the event where it would be nice to just sit down for a moment and enjoy a drink. But as it's 3 miles to go, I never stop. I just wish I could.

I ran on up the hill, down the familiar winding trails … and then I get the point where I can't quite remember which path to take. Luckily today there was someone to point out the hedge gap. It's a stile too … never a huge amount of fun with 39 miles in the legs (the course is a little bit long plus the bonus getting-lost miles). As soon as I see the signs for the caravan park, I know I'm practically back...

...although today I had The Fear. The Fear that as the course had been changed a bit this year and the end was different, it would be a bit longer. Not something you really want to worry about at mile 39 and change. 

I ran down the hill, passing a road closure for an accident – luckily everyone was fine! - and heading towards what I HOPED was the finish. There was a diversion off the usual course as I'd feared and I hopped into a field and around the field edge and popped out the other side onto a main road. 

Hang on. I recognise this road. Finally, the final half mile! I put on a bit of speed, passing the duck pond and turning left up a hill – which I had tried incorrectly to run DOWN first thing this morning – and in sight of the social club and the end. 

I presented myself to the table whereupon someone – after a bit of a chat – peered at the time on a digital alarm-style clock on the time and wrote my time and number down and presented me with a ticket for a drink and for a dinner which I promptly swapped for a cup of coffee and jacket potato with cheesy beans. And 2 slices of chocolate cake. Seemed a fair swap to me.

Scoffed the food in record time and went to chill out with my Northbrook buddies whereupon Spencer promptly talked me into running the Hilly Hundred which I had avoided for 7 years due to passing out and having my arse eaten by ants last time. (Hilly Hundred Race Report: Ant Arse )

After an ultra marathon, delirium had clearly set in as doing the Hilly Hundred sounded a lovely idea and I agreed and set off back to find my car which I had parked half a mile away to find I'd left the headlights on all day. 

Happy with 7hrs 41 and 1st lady. And the car started first time.