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Wednesday 31 January 2024

Does It Make Up For Ants Eating My Arse?

So … after bitching and moaning about the Hilly Hundred race … and then having the nicest time doing the last event (post here) ….

… this arrived!

Turns out I was part of a winning team!

Not entirely convinced it makes up for ants eating my arse and small children eating my banana … but I could be tempted to do it again.


One day. 

Friday 5 January 2024

Hilly Hundred Mile Relay: Swans & Sunrises

If I had any race as a nemesis it was this one. 

I'd done it once before and sworn never again. 

It's a 100 mile relay with 10 runners doing 10 miles each. And it goes over the Cotswolds so it's a bit lumpy. VERY lumpy. And last time it had also been scorchingly hot which just added to my misery. 

My previous attempt had gone horribly wrong when – not knowing what pace to aim for – decided to run it at my half marathon pace, ended up in me passing out on an anthill and getting my arse eaten – but not in a good way – and waking up to find my daughter had eaten my post-race snack.

I was not a happy bunny. I was in fact a very itchy bunny with knickers full of ants and with no banana. 

However, I had been caught at a weak moment while having a pint after running The Coventry Way 40 miler with a few members of my running club. The captain of the club wasted no time in trying to talk me into running a 10 mile leg.

I was confident that I had a cast iron excuse this year. Nope. I have to start work at 1100hrs so couldn't possibly run a leg of the relay. “No problem!” Said Spencer, our club captain confidently, “I'll put you down for the first leg. It starts at 5am so you'll have plenty of time to get to work.”

Um. Marvellous.

What about all the hills and the ants? 

Our intrepid captain reassured me that ants were asleep at night so there was no chance of being attacked again and someone would save me a banana for afterwards.

I was fast running out of excuses.

I agreed to run leg 1. It would be fairly cool as it was the crack of dawn, I'd been promised no mountains, just a couple of 'lumpy bits' and I'd be done in time for work.

Ok. Go on, then.

Of course things never go quite to plan and a late finish at work the night before had meant less sleep than I'd hoped for my 0300hrs alarm. Oh well. Less time for regretting agreeing to run up hills. At least I'd had the foresight to download the GPX file this year so I would't have to try and keep up with faster runners for fear of getting lost somewhere in the middle of the Cotswolds and have to resort to building a shelter out of a club vest and a sports bra while sucking my sweaty sports socks to survive. This hasn't happened. Yet. But obvs, prepare for the worst.

I'm apparently a Little Teapot

Despite feeling reasonably prepared, I was still sitting in my car at Stratford Upon Avon's multi-storey car park at 03:45am regretting my life choices. I was trying to time it so I didn't get to the meeting point at the top of town too early and have to stand around in a club vest in the cold while not wanting to get there too late and miss the GO whistle.

According to the route map, I'd downloaded, the main hills were at 3.12 miles and 4.75 miles. Although we all know how subjective a gradient line is … it depends on the lumpiness of the scenery around it. I'd had a gradient line for the route the last time I'd done this run and we all know how that went.

I had a nice surprise when I got to the start point and there were some familiar faces! Lovely! Everything is much nicer with friends. As this was the start point for all of the relay teams, there was a nice big group of runners and as my running club, Northbrook has a few teams, there were lots of Starburst vests around! We also had the runners doing the next leg following us all in a car and giving a bit of cheering and support. No slacking off then or they'd be throwing things out of the car windows at me!

We all set off promptly at 5am from the Fountain Clock (also known as the American Fountain for some reason). The super-speedies went off like bullets from a gun … I had absolutely no desire, inclination or ability to keep up with them. I was here to: 
1.) Finish my relay leg and hand off the baton.
2.) Not get lost … even a little bit.
3.) Have absolutely NO adventures whatsoever.

It was a rule of the race that the baton should be held in your hand at all times. 10 miles is a fair way to hold a baton for and I wasn't sure why they'd had to stipulate this rule. I spent a rather unpleasant 3 minutes wondering where people had been sticking batons to have this make it into the rule book before I decided I was probably better off focusing on where I was going rather than drawing awful mental pictures.

I was relieved to have the route on my watch telling me where the turn offs were likely to be. Last time I'd had to try and keep a faster run buddy in sight and it had been most unpleasant. I had been running faster than I'd have liked to try to keep him in sight and it was very lucky that he was over 6ft tall or I'd have had no chance trying to see him over the tops of the hedges. I'd have become horribly lost, probably run the wrong direction in error and ended up in Birmingham or somewhere equally unpleasant.

It was quite nice running through Stratford Upon Avon in the dim pre-dawn light. It was light enough to see and it was that beautiful blue, quiet time of the morning before the town had woken up. The only real noises were the birds and the pat-pat-pat of trainers on the road. The pavements were a bit hit-and-miss, so we were all running along the tarmac of the quiet roads, taking advantage of the lack of traffic at 5am. 

The only vehicles were the support cars containing members of the different local running clubs all cheering everyone on regardless of whether they were from their club or not. It was nice. Friendly local rivalry, but really, we all wanted everyone to have a grand day out. 

I had a bit of a chat with a lady in a Cotswolds top running club top for a while as we were running about the same pace. Neither of us knew where we were going or where the hills were, so it was quite nice to know there were other people on the run who also didn't have a clue what to expect. Good to have a natter and a bit of a chat always makes the miles go a bit quicker. 

Our paces weren't exactly the same, so after a while I was running on my own again. I couldn't really see anyone ahead of me or behind me, but the team cars and the shouting out of the windows were a bit of a reminder that I was still on the right track. Things were going well. I hadn't even lost the baton. Yet.

I was actually enjoying myself. Surprising. And considering the time of the morning, it was a lovely time to run. No traffic, just the birds singing and the pat of my feet on the road as company. 

I passed through a few sleeping villages, the church spires rising blue in the dim morning light and the mist lying low over the rivers. It was all so calm and peaceful, and I felt like I was the only person alive, like a figure running through a painting. As I looked left over towards the dim river, a shape broke the mist, a swan taking flight, it's wings beating heavy and slow as it rose upwards like it was breaking an enchantment from a fairy story. 

This feeling of simple magic didn't go away as the edge of the morning grew gradually lighter and I was treated to the sun rising in an apricot coloured burst over the fields. It was so incredibly beautiful and I felt so lucky to see it as I ran my solitary route through this quiet corner of Warwickshire.

The morning rose bright and yellow and the occasional call of a cuckoo rose above the hedgerow birdsong. It used to be rare to hear them, but I hear them often near riverbanks now, their distinctive melancholy notes. I heard the screech of pheasants now awake and strutting across the fields. 

Last time, the hills had felt relentless and awful in the midday heat, but today in the cool morning with the sunrise and the notes of the birds around me, they were not relentless, just a change of pace and muscles as I moved up them. And each time I reached the summit, I was rewarded with yet another beautiful view and a downhill to enjoy. 

The hills were not enormous. I had expected them to be. They were just hills. 

I checked my watch, I was over 8 miles now and it felt like I was just beginning. A few more fields and a few more lanes. I crossed a humped brick railway bridge and spotted another sunburst vest from Northbrook I front of me. The tall figure of my friend and fellow runner Mark, I moved to catch him, but we turned a corner and were greeted by a mass of vehicles and people. Batons were being handed to fellow runners and friends were being clapped on the back. I handed my baton to my friend and they took off, legs flying, onto their 10 miles lap. I hoped it was as lovely as mine had been. I clapped Mark on the back, too speedy, couldn't catch you today. 

I was done. No ant attacks, no hellish heat, no adventures, just an absolute treat of a run. 

And after a bit of googling, it turned out that ants do NOT go to sleep at night. Spencer, you fibber.