(not quite) a dragon slayer

The Dragon 100 Ultra Marathon

“I knew you’d be hating this bit, I just had to come and find you.”

The words of my beautiful wife.

She was right. I was about 92 miles in to my attempt at the inaugural Dragon 100 Ultra Marathon and my soul was being broken by the roads and pavements leading me out of Barry, the famous South Wales coastal resort.

I’d made a small navigation error.

I was now beyond exhausted.

I’d been heckled by some young hipsters heading out for the night.

I was crying.

I was moving very, very slowly.

As Nicky got out of the car, we were both emotional wrecks.

For the previous 24 hours, I’d had a great big smile every single time she appeared on the route. Something which she’d managed so many times I simply couldn’t count any more.

It had all started the previous evening at the glorious setting of Rhossili Bay on the Gower Peninsular.

About 70 hopefuls lined up on the chilly windswept headland to set off east towards Cardiff. Alongside me was Lewis, running buddy and founder of Keywood Preston Runners, the running group where we both coach.

Nicky, Lewis’ girlfriend Gemma, and a few other hearty souls braving the icy wind, waved us off before returning to the warmth of their cars.

Following the Wales Coast Path, with its challenging ups and downs and beautiful scenery, we soon warmed up. Those of us who had put on our extra layers started to pause for wardrobe adjustments.

As we enjoyed the stunning scenery with the bright spring sun lowering behind us, we felt good.

Until Lewis caught a foot in a divot and rolled his ankle over. We’d probably only covered 3 miles and he was clearly in pain. We joked about having 97 miles to run it off, but we both knew it was potentially not good news.

The first checkpoint, at Port Eynon, was soon upon us and Nicky was there, battling the cold wind for some lovely words and encouragement. Bottles filled and snacks scoffed we headed into the evening.

The gloom started to become dark and I paused to reapply some layers and fire up the head torch. The extensive compulsory kit list may seem long, but as the night and following day wore on, I was to make use of much of it.

Lewis was keen to push on, trying to divert his focus from the worsening discomfort in his foot. As the sun set behind us and darkness fell, we made good progress towards the second check point at Southgate.

In the darkness all spectators see is your head torch approaching. We had to shout out to Nicky before she realised it was us. Again we had snacks and new drinks but best of all was the can of Coke Nicky gave us to share.

Nicky retired for the night to head off to her cold and noisy accommodation. Apparently, her upstairs neighbours sounded like they were alternating between games of skittles and tap dancing. A hair brush hurled at ceiling seemed to calm them down!

With the lights of Swansea in the distance, we turned into the Mumbles. A long, straight, flat section on hard surfaces here. I find this hard and I don’t think Lewis was enjoying it either.

We got in to stride with a number of other runners here and ticked of the miles to checkpoint 3.

Soup! A quarter of the way into the race, and way passed my usual bedtime, I found my spirits lifted by the hot food and soft bread roll. Lewis changed his socks and freshened up but he was clearly in pain. We didn’t say much, but I think we both feared for his race.

Out of the checkpoint and back to the long promenade of Swansea Bay. A beautiful location which started to lose its novelty value as the relentless hard paths started to get inside my head. We zig zagged, using the grass verges where possible to give our joints a break.

The port of Swansea was a change of focus. The route weaved around the various docks and we focused our attention on not losing the route. We ran alongside a canal for quite a while, the quiet and dark lending an eerie feel to the night.

Another road section and Lewis was really struggling now. This is a man who has covered 100 miles before, I knew it was serious. We made it to the next checkpoint and we both knew the game was up for Lewis.

I won’t dwell on this point, that painful decision was hurting him badly.

With Lewis urging me to carry on, I headed out into the night. From here the route went inland to the long dark forest trails which meant we avoided Port Talbot.

I loved the night. Through miles and miles of forest trails. I had the great company of other runners for some of it. At other times I was in solitude.

Dawn in a silent forest. The haze of day break in the distance. Birdsong, wow, the birdsong.

Only a very brief ‘dark’ 5 minutes broke the spell and I was caught by Boris and Christian, two guys I’d ran with earlier. We shared some fabulous miles as the forest came alive with light.

Something I had worried about was how I’d fare with my stomach. It was about 5 am when I asked the other two to push ahead in order to have some private time to, well, you know……

50 miles came up on the watch and I did a mental check over of how I was faring:

I’d kept my promise to myself to slow down, slow down, then slow down some more. TICK

I’d been extremely careful with my kit and hadn’t found myself hot, nor indeed cold, even though there was frost on the ground. TICK

I’d eaten and drank consistently well throughout and was feeling better after my little disappearing act behind the trees. TICK

I’d kept myself lubed in areas which would thank me for it later. TICK

I felt good. Tired, naturally, a bit sore, naturally. But good.

The seaside beckoned as I headed through Margham. A wonderful early morning telephone conversation with Nicky as she headed towards me really boosted my spirits. I joined up with another runner, Stacey, who was also on the ‘phone to his loved ones.

The dunes down to the sea were tough on the legs but we’d formed a gang of 4, with Boris & Christian catching us up again.

I wouldn’t say I was bouncing, but I had now gone further than ever before and no matter what the next 50 miles had in store, nobody could ever take that away from me.

Went through 60 miles along a great boardwalk approaching Porthcawl and there was Nicky. We were both tearful and so, so pleased to see each other. I will never stop saying it, without Nicky I would achieve nothing. We are a team.

Nicky’s role in the team was to keep supplying me with smiles, oh and welcome slurps of fizzy drinks.

As I headed to Porthcawl Rugby Club for more soup and coffee I ticked off another small victory: 100km. Blimey it felt good. I couldn’t help but start thinking about how much further there was to go. This didn’t help me much but the next section certainly did.

My Uncle Mike moved to Bridgend to work and then retire back when I was a young man. This next section of coast was his stomping ground. I have many happy memories of times around Ogmore and Southerndown. I knew I was going to run past the spot where we’d scattered his ashes and couldn’t help but be spurred on by this.

Mike was taken too soon in the same year that I also lost my sister. I ran this ultra marathon with a piece of my ‘Karen ribbon’ tied to my rucksack and with Mike and Karen very much in my heart and thoughts.

Another little navigation error as Ogmore came into view brought the focus back to the job in hand. I was back in the gang of 4 again and we found our way back onto the route before, guess what?? Nicky appeared in a little car park in the middle of nowhere!

A cuddle, a slurp of cold drink and I skipped away again, across the second set of stepping stones the route had treated us to, and along the path to Ogmore.

Here, Nicky was joined by Lewis and Gemma. Lewis very generously lending me strong support despite his massive disappointment of having withdrawn in the night.

Nicky again appeared on the next headland. I’m getting emotional just writing this. I was about 75 miles done by this point and still moving ok, but the lift I got from seeing Nicky here was just wondeful.

On to Southerndown, I ushered the other 3 on and used the beach facilities to get myself empty and fresh again before having a moment on the beach to think of Mike.

I then made another navigation error. You wouldn’t think it possible, on a coast path, but I ended up circling a headland before heading east again. Emotion was starting to get the better of me, so I walked quite slowly for a while and had a stern word with myself.

“I’m at a lighthouse, are you on a big hill?” Nicky was at Nash Point and as I crested that big hill, there she was in the distance. Another spring in my step.

You’ve got this, Kevin, c’mon you’ve feckin’ got this.

I was chatting away to myself as I descended the headland towards the lighthouse and my incredible lady.

Hurting now, and so tired, but still moving, I even ran a little up the slope to where Nicky was waiting.

No matter what the moment; good, bad, wonderful, tragic, immense, beautiful, inspiring……. any moment we share is just so precious.

Back onto the coast path again, the next section to the check point at Llantwit Major went really well. Nicky was there, what an incredibly lucky man I am. This is how we work, Nicky and I, and here we shared another emotional moment.

Christian and Boris were here and Stacey was heading out. I set off replenished with fluid, calories and emotion.

I started to struggle on the next section of coast path. The industrial skyline coming into view in the distance, the tightening muscles and fatigue were getting inside my head.

My struggle became more acute when I had a sudden and blindingly painful sensation in my big toe. I’d been feeling quite squishy in my trainer for a while. I sank to the floor and braced myself for what I was going to find inside my sock.

Sparing the gruesome details, 15 minutes later, after some self surgery, used my extensive first aid kit and half a tub of Vaseline, I was up and away.

Then came my biggest route error. The coast path (I now realise) goes up on the sea wall around Abethaw power station. Me? I headed across the ‘beach’ made entirely of boulders!

Ow! Ow! Ow!

My ‘phone rang. Nicky. What a woman. After she negotiated her way through a caravan park, and I across the beach, with Nicky’s relentless encouragement I made it back up onto the cliff path.

Fanta and a Mars Bar. How did she know?

Perfect.

With the love of the most incredible person I’ve ever known, I pushed on again. Try as I might, I think the previous few miles had already started to break me.

I arrived at the penultimate check point, at Porthkerry, quite distressed. The welcome sight of Nicky, Lewis and Gemma and their incredible support gave me just enough lift to crack on.

From here the route quickly became road, and I knew that was it for the trails now. Moving very slowly, I plotted my way through the streets of Barry.

“I knew you’d be hating this bit, I just had to come and find you.” Nicky had started to drive towards the last checkpoint but had turned around when she realised I’d be on main roads in built up areas.

Another couple of miles (with Nicky driving to every quarter of a mile or so) my body decided enough was enough.

Without going into too much detail, I seemed to go into shock. My dry feeling got worse the more I drank. I was dizzy, disorientated and broken.

I was violently sick, shivering quite dramatically and seeing double. The game was up.

A call to my incredible friend, Martin (regular blog readers will know Martin well), confirmed I was making the right decision.

Nicky wrapped me up and got me as comfortable as possible. We let the organisers know I had stopped and headed for the Travelodge.

Once I was showered and laid down, I started to feel a bit brighter and we had a late night pizza feast lying on a Travelodge bed, trying not to look at my toes!

Am I disappointed?

Not in the slightest. I’m more gutted for Lewis.

Nicky and I, as regular readers will know, are THE team. Yet again we were invincible. I covered nearly 95 miles in about 25 hours and without Nicky, I would never have been on the start line, never mind cover that sort of distance.

I’m proud. really proud.

As I leaned against the wall in the Travelodge reception, dizzy, nauseous and in a ridiculous amount of pain, I knew I never wanted running to make me feel like this again.

I absolutely love running, love challenging myself. BUT, I only ever want to run with a smile on my face.

For that reason, this has been my last 100 miles race, my last run with sleep deprivation, the last time I’ll put myself, ourselves, through that!

So, what have I learned?

I’m as tough as I hoped I would be. The mind is a wonderful thing. I have nothing to prove to anybody. I am the luckiest man alive to be half of the most incredible team, thank you Nicky x

And thank you Lewis and Gemma.

Thank you Run Walk Crawl for another epic event in South Wales. And thank you for the incredible support from the teams at all of the checkpoints.

Thank you to all of the amazing friends and family for their support for both Nicky and myself and all the wonderful messages we received before, during and after the event.

Thank you to all of the runners who shared the course, particularly those I spent time with. Special thanks the guy who offered to crawl the rest of the way with me as I was slumped on the boot of the car where I stopped.

It was a special, special weekend.

A Run in 27 Pictures

glorious south devon

A 5.30am start the day before the clocks sprung up, fell over, dropped back, or whatever it is they did, meant hitting the beaches of Paignton, Goodrington, Broadsands and Elberry Cove as the sun burned into the early morning mist.

Picking up the Musgrove Trail for a while after leaving Churston Village, some of my favourite local trails. from the top of the hill the views take in Torbay in one direction and the River Dart the other way.

Past Greenway and down to the boat yard on the creek there before climbing the field on the outskirts of Galmpton. A bit of road from there until you get into Stoke Gabriel.

Picking up Fleet Mill lane towards Totnes where I can never resist running to the end of Long Marsh, particularly early morning, for the jaw dropping view down the river.

From Totnes, picking up the Torbay/Totnes trail, through the traveller’s site which has been there for decades, passing the Mare and Foul Sanctuary and into the shadow of the spooky ruins of Berry Pomeroy Castle.

The trails towards Marldon are fabulous running on soft ground, woodland and fields (with a very slow mile as I tip toed through some young cattle!) before running under the gorgeous underpass to head towards Occombe.

Passing the marathon point of the run in Scadson Woods before popping out on Preston Sea Front then running up through Victoria Park and home.

28 miles of Devon’s loveliness.

The Cousin Jack Ultra

The Alarm Is Set For When?

Nicky was right to double check. 3.30am really isn’t early morning, is it? More late night.

Tucked in our rented barn near Hayle, we listened to the rain batter the roof lights. The farm’s wind turbine was getting plenty of encouragement from the brewing storm to provide fuel with. “WHOOSH. WHOOSH.” it rhythmically insisted. The accompanying, constant whine from its motor completed the orchestra.

We did sleep eventually. But 3.30am comes around so quickly.

Shower, muesli and strong coffee and I was ready for battle.

It Takes Two (or three)

My inspiration, my world, my whole reason. That’s Nicky. Regular readers will know that my beautiful, amazing wife truly is the heart and soul of everything I do.

Nicky was ready for battle too. She has left the marathons and ultra marathons alone this year in order to concentrate on her ironman ambitions.

So instead of competing, Nicky was ready for scrambling under electric fences, abandoning the car in random locations and appearing at some of the most remote and inhospitable vantage points on the Tin Coast.

Our intrepid Border Terrier, Charlie, by her side.

And They’re Off

Bys Vyken Events‘ Cousin Jack Ultra (35 miles) set off from The Surf House on The Island, St Ives at 5.30am. A trail of head torches and tail lights snaking across Porthmeor Beach under a cloudless sky. (I know it was a trail of lights as I was right at the back so I could see all of my fellow runners!)

17.5 miles away, Cape Cornwall, in all its raw, bleak, midwinter glory, awaited us.

Our mission was to conquer this most inaccessible, isolated, desolate chunk of the South West Coast Path.

And then turn around. And conquer it all again.

Let There Be Light

A flicker of my head torch, as dawn approached, suggested an equipment failure was imminent. Fellow runner, Martin, magically produced a small hand torch, like pulling a rabbit out of a hat. I was able to return it to him as both the sun and my own torch both came alive.

The weather was remarkably kind to us. Sunshine was short lived and the wind was keen but the threatened storm delayed its arrival to this remarkable place until the event was pretty much over.

Cut Off

Most events, particularly in trail running, and even more particularly in ultra marathon races, have time limits within which us competitors must reach certain points on the course. Primarily for the safety of runners and crew alike, they go a long way to ensuring we prepare as best we can before tackling these challenges.

The first cut off point in The Cousin Jack Ultra was at 9 miles and we had 3 hours in which to get there. Whilst this may seem generous, the terrain can change your day rather quickly.

I was pleased to be over 30 minutes in front of that target by then, but certainly not complacent.

How Hard Can It Be?

Very.

The first (and later on, last) section, between St Ives and Zenner is about 7 miles long and probably the most challenging on the course.

Lots of rocks, awkward paths made of boulders (even a boulder beach!), mud, special knee deep cow mud, electric fences, ups, downs and an increasingly enthusiastic headwind (not to mention the first 90 minutes in darkness) all contribute to the challenge.

Yeah, it’s tough. But maaaan-alive, it’s gorgeous.

How Tough? How Gorgeous?

The entire route is trail running heaven. As I mumbled into one of the video moments I recorded during the day, “Until I do a race that’s tougher and more beautiful than this, then THIS is the toughest, most beautiful race I’ve ever done.”

Cornwall. It gets under your skin.

It was an absolute privilege to be running here.

Lest We Forget

I raised a water bottle as I passed Levant mine. 100 years ago a catastrophic man-engine failure at the tin mine here resulted in the deaths of 31 local men. Countless others were injured.

This is poignantly remembered in the engraving on the wonderful medals awarded to finishers of this incredible event.

It was an emotional day. I found myself welling up every time I saw Nicky and Charlie (7 times, you need to come here to see just what an achievement that was!)

The land has a magic to it, as I passed these almost mythical places; Zennor, Pendeen, Gurnard’s Head, Cape Cornwall, I could feel the history.

This coast has become synonymous with epic trail running, certainly in the small world I operate in, and to be here, becoming a tiny part of that history, felt so special.

Dot To Dot

As a self confessed dot watching addict (many events fit participants with trackers in order to see their location on an online map), following the trackers of runners at these types of events, it was great to actually be one of the ‘dots’ this time around.

Suck It Up Princess

Flu (and I mean actual flu, not the ‘manflu’) had wiped out two weeks of running (and anything else) and I only passed my self-imposed fitness test two days before the race. I certainly wasn’t oozing confidence at the start line. Prior to the flu, I had prepared well, so I was hoping this fitness was still in me.

Turning back at Cape Cornwall and looking back at the first few headlands to be negotiated again, I took a deep breath…… I noticed the organisers’ sign: “Suck It Up Princess, You’re Only Halfway”

I was feeling a bit weak, my thighs already objecting to the relentless ups and downs, but I was loving every step. Every single step of the way.

I sucked in that bracing Atlantic wind (thankfully now at my back), zipped up my man suit and set off for St Ives.

She’s Got My Back

Nicky and Charlie met me again as I left Cape Cornwall, at Pendeen Watch, then in a random location far from anywhere, before scrambling to Gurnard’s Head, Zenner and finally at the finish.

I may have been exhausted but my wonderful lady wife and cheeky chappie Charlie deserve so much credit for what I achieved.

Crossing the finish line, I couldn’t wait to hold Nicky and tell her just how incredible she had been and how much we shared that proud moment.

Did Someone Say ‘Steps’?

After following my footsteps back to St Ives, perhaps not quite as quickly as on the way out, I did try and save a little energy for the last half mile.

I knew what was coming. A leg burning trudge across Porthmeor beach followed by the climb up The Island’s steps to The Surf House.

Cruel. But fitting.

Such a perfect, iconic location to finish this tremendous day.

Bys Vyken Events Put On Quite A Show

A small, homely feel to race HQ and all the pre-event information gave way to an epic feel to the actual race. All race communication was brutally honest, tongue-in-cheek and absolutely comprehensive.

The Race Director, David, and his fantastic crew managed what looked like a logistic headache (there were three race distances on offer, the 35 mile Ultra Marathon , The 17.5 mile Classic Jack and a Little Jack 7 mile) and the whole event started as planned and felt as well managed as any ‘bigger’ event I’ve done.

There were enough course markings, but not too many. Well placed and thought out aid stations were manned by exceptionally knowledgeable and supportive crew. Similarly the marshal points were enough but not overkill.

I felt trusted to have prepared properly and to give the course the respect it so dramatically commands. But, I also felt protected and at no point did I feel I was facing the challenge alone.

And It’s Goodbye From Him

I only fell over once! I only (briefly) went the wrong way once. I was still running (using the term loosely) across the beach after 35 miles before hauling my sagging legs and beaming smile up those final steps.

Beating the time limit by just over 2 hours too. I’m rather proud of myself I hope you don’t mind me saying.

What Will I Take From The Cousin Jack Ultra?

A stunning medal, a handshake from the welcoming Race Director, a hot pasty and a heart full of memories.

But nothing will top the moment of cresting yet another rocky headland somewhere on the way back to see Nicky and Charlie awaiting me. In the middle of nowhere. Car abandoned, they’d crawled under an electric fence and made their way through the wilderness to the coast path.

My heart and soul fluttered.

From that moment on, I KNEW I would finish.

Miles Better

I ran a mile the day after giving up smoking (14th January 2007). It took me about 20 minutes. It wasn’t pretty but it was everything I had.

I’d been lucky enough to be a teenager in a sport mad house during the 1980s. I witnessed (on a colour telly no less) the great races between Steve Cram, Steve Ovett and everybody’s favourite posh boy, Sebastian Coe. All three still feature in the all time 25 fastest times by men over the distance.

They wouldn’t get away with those shorts these days……

It inspired me. But not right away…….. 20 years of fags, booze and a shocking lifestyle later, I was setting my 20 minute mile.

When I joined forces with Lewis Keywood to help him with his wonderful run group Keywood Running (see THIS blog post to read all about us), we brain stormed some ideas to inspire the group.

I’m fascinated by the mile as distance to run. We tend to talk about our runs in miles (rather than kilometers) – miles ran and minutes per mile. The process of running a single mile, particularly if you attempt it as fast as possible, is a challenge of both speed and endurance for the body. The mile requires a steely grit to convince yourself to keep going.

“It’s a long way to sprint!” quipped one of our runners the other night.

He’s not wrong.

Post run smiles in the rain

Since 1970 it has been the only IAAF world record officially recognised over an imperial distance. Whilst it hasn’t featured in the Olympics, there many highly prestigious runs and races over the distance.

The Oslo Dream Mile, The Fifth Avenue Mile and the Westminster Mile all spring to mind.

There’s even The Christmas Day Mile – my beautiful lady wife and I head to the sea front for a flat out timed mile early on the big day before gearing up for an eating marathon.

Everybody paying captive attention to pre race instructions!

Whether you’re chasing Mo Farah, or chasing my famous 20 minutes, it is a magical distance.

Well there’s a new magical event to add to that list.

The Keywood Preston Runners Mile Challenge.

In our New Years’ brainstorming session, we came up with this:

Time our runners over a measured mile. Once they’d recovered, ask them to predict what time they’ll run in 6 months time. Simples

We set the date. We printed some numbers. We did social media (oh yes, we are SO down with the kids). We ignored the rain. We set them on their way. We, er, ‘encouraged’ a couple of cars to “WAIT!”.

Even those unable to run weren’t discouraged by the weather

We timed all the runners.

My own inspiration comes from my amazing, determined and quite beautiful lady wife, Nicky. Having ridden a 6 hour hilly ride the previous day she was quite happy to don her bobble hat and record the results. Don’t worry though, she’s a steely girl and plans to time a mile another time.

In the misty drizzle, a race briefing from this dodgy pair

With ‘the boss’, Lewis (Keywood – hence the group’s name) charging around encouraging the runners and several injured and ailing members turning up to shout support, there was a fun, excited atmosphere on the night.

It seemed that everyone who ran gave their all and were keen to predict faster times for the summer. A seemingly simple idea which has captured the imagination.

Lewis and I completed our miles straight afterwards. We love a challenge too. I hope the runners were encouraged by their coaches sinking to the floor at the finish line.

Keywood Preston Runners – an eclectic, eccentric and bloody marvellous group of humans

Coach Kevin – everything spent!

Baggy Trousers

You’re new to running races. You’re stood on the start line at your debut event. You nervously look around at the whipper snappers in their team vests and sparkly running shoes and start to question why you’re there.

Everyone has 4 safety pins, and a determination to finish. Everyone Belongs.

You have what we writers call ‘imposter syndrome’

You’re wrong.

If you run, you ARE A RUNNER

(I know the CAPITALS are shouty, but I wanted to SHOUT IT)

The second in my “Yup, that happened to me too” series of running blogs, here’s a summary of MY first race.

After battling through being a newcomer to running (see last week’s blog), I took the plunge and entered my first 10k race.

I chose a low key village race, in another county, hoping that I’d be completely anonymous.

That part of my day was a success. Nobody knew me there.

Actually my goal for the day was to finish all 10 kilometres. Also a success.

And I learned so, so much from the mistakes I made on that first race and I hope I’ve never stopped learning since.

It poured down during that March morning. I wore baggy cotton jogging bottoms, I must have doubled in weight as the race went on.

AND finished holding my trousers up.

So, looking back, did I belong? Hell Yeah!

Sporting chaffing which brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it now, bleeding nipples, blisters and black toe nails, I was utterly spent as I crawled across the finish line.

The event was a fund raiser for the primary school where the race was based.

In lashing rain, a child shouted “You did it!” and waited for me to bow my head before hanging a medal around my neck.

“Thank You” I whispered through a lump in throat.

It’s a WHAT run?

For any new runners reading this, please be assured that we’ve all asked this question.

Back at the start of my own wonderful running journey I didn’t have the confidence I might mistakenly display these days.

Having started to help out at the wonderful Keywood Runners (see this blog), I am now having the pleasure of helping runners who are at the beginning of their own journeys.

Find a special place to run

Well, when I first started I wasn’t in the rather wonderful place I am now in life (see pretty much any other blog post to see how I embarrass my beautiful, amazing, inspirational lady wife, Nicky, by telling the whole wide world just how I feel about her!) and I didn’t really know anybody that ran.

I just put some old trainers on and went running. It wasn’t pretty. Some say it still isn’t. One well respected local running coach once described me as ‘running like a drunk man herding cats’!

I used to go out late at night. In dark clothes. Puffing and panting around the streets. Several times in those first few weeks I was asked if I was alright by concerned late night dog walkers. 25 years of smoking took some time to cough up!

But it started to come together, a mile of non-stop running, then half an hour, 3 miles….. and so it went on. I was starting to enjoy running. If you’re reading this and aren’t sure, trust me, it gets easier. (And please get in touch with Keywood Runners for advice and group hugs)

Find a happy group to help motivate you

It was then that I asked the question “It’s a WHAT run!?” after reading my first generic training program in a running magazine. You know the sort of thing Monday – rest Tuesday – 5 miles steady Wednesday 3 miles recovery run 

I could not for the life of me imagine a world where the words ‘recovery’ and ‘run’ could be used in the same sentence. I was quite into running by then and even had my eyes on a 10k race (which is another story!). But every single run felt like I was at my maximum. I couldn’t picture there being any other type of run.

And then there’s ‘easy’ runs. EASY!! Were these people pulling my doo dah?

Here I am 12 years later (pretty much to the day) and I can honestly assure all you new runners it IS possible to enjoy running!

I wish they’d been Keywood Runners when I started, I might have learned a bit quicker that varying pace and distance would help me develop into a stronger runner.

Be sure to use top quality, well fitting kit

5 TIPS FOR A NEW RUNNER

  1. Find A Fun And Friendly Group – there are lots of lovely groups and clubs as well as our own gang at Keywood Runners
  2. Take Regular Walk Breaks – Don’t run until you are gasping, even if this means running for 20 seconds and then walking for a minute. Before you know it those 20 seconds will become 30, 40, a minute….
  3. Don’t Try And Run Every Day – As your muscles, joints, ligaments and tendons get used to the new form of exercise, give them time to heal between runs. They WILL get stronger but avoid over straining, any injury would be demoralising.
  4. Wear some well fitting, comfortable kit and running shoes – most running shops will do a running gait analysis. Poorly fitting kit could result in unfortunate chaffing. I learnt this the hard way.
  5. PARKRUN- Find your local Parkrun, a free weekly timed 5km run/walk. Not a race just a run with a smile on your face. A great way to build up your running without the potentially intimidating atmosphere of a race.
Running – not to be taken too seriously

As for those ‘recovery’ and ‘easy’ runs? We’ll talk about them next time……

The Chard Flyer 10k

Always keen to see just how much impact a month of gorging ourselves on seasonal food might have on our athletic prowess, we pitch up in Chard on New Year’s Day for the third year running.

Chard Running Club‘s seasonal show piece has become a firm favourite of ours.

Based at the football and cricket club grounds there are marvellous facilities – plenty of loos, pre-match coffee and even a rather cute Serbian rescue dog to pet in the club house.

 

Having played a touch of local football myself back in the days when I could still climb out of bed without sounding like a meccano toy creaking into action, I always enjoy a look at these grass routes style grounds. No poncy millionaires having their Aston Martins parked by a valet here.

We parked the trusty Mini, enjoyed some of the afore mentioned, bargain priced coffee, attempted to off load some festive fare from our tum tums, reluctantly shed some warm layers then joined the other 200 or so rather athletic looking chaps and chappesses in the half mile trot to the start line.

In previous years I’ve lined myself near the front of the narrow path in the hope of a fast start. Regular readers may recall how this tactic resulted in me enjoying the sensation of having people stream past me as my wobbly legs declined to accept that I was capable of the crazy pace my brain was asking them to run.

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Not this year. Oh no. This year, Nicky insisted on being left at the back as we had a ‘who can predict the least speedy time’ dual. We were both to be pleasantly surprised.

The race started with a whistle. Just like a good old footy match. Having elbowed my way backwards rather than forwards I found myself running at a pace that felt right. Again, those that have read race reports before will remember this is a most unusual development. I’m normally gasping and looking around as lithe young whippets glide past me by the end of the first mile.

So as the first 10 minutes or so of ‘comfortably hard’ running brought us to THE HILL, I felt good. No really. I felt good.

I overtook some people going up the hill. Yup, I overtook them. As in, halfway into a race I felt strong enough to run past people. I learned this from Nicky. Regulars will know how I dote on this awesome lady, and starting easy is one of the million amazing life skills I’ve learned since we first held hands that balmy September evening….. AAhhhh

So I pushed on. Another skill I’m enjoying is keeping information on my watch to a minimum. I don’t know how fast I’m running, so I don’t worry about how fast I’m running. Funny that.

The hill to the finish is still there, yet it didn’t feel bad today and I ran past the football pitch, over the speed bumps and to the line. Happy. Spent, naturally, but happily spent.

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Quick fumble with the watch revealed I’d ran within a minute of last year’s time. Not only had I enjoyed this run more than in previous years, mainly due to me not attempting to emulate Eliod Kipchoge in the first mile, but I’d also ran a time beyond my expectations.

Having predicted that I would run about 10 minutes slower than this I started to realise that it was highly likely that Nicky was also ‘sandbagging’ and would be along sooner rather than later.

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Rushing back to the car, a quick removal of the sweaty layer before collecting Nicky’s Team Keywood top to match mine, some chocolate brownie money and our bobble hats I hot footed it back to the finish line. I removed my phone ready for pictures and tried to nonchalantly appear as if I’d been there for ages.

Sure enough Nicky appeared, blasting down the finishing straight exhibiting a skill I haven’t yet mastered – THE SPRINT FINISH! Big smiles, big hugs and some watch fumbling to reveal she was 30 seconds quicker than last year. Blimey. We’re fitter than we thought.

Slick organisation, an absolutely gorgeous route for a ‘road’ event – lots of paths and hard trails, plentiful and cheerful marshals, cheap snacks and drinks, loads of parking and a vibe to suit any athlete – there were some pretty hot times up the front – what a lovely way to start the year.

A lovely way to start the year indeed. 2018 had some amazing moments but they will always be overshadowed by pain and grief that blighted our family.

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2019 is going to be like this. Taking our endurance challenges seriously enough but remembering to enjoy and treasure every moment along the way. The journey and the process are where the real fun is. Outcomes will be what they are and we have set ourselves some toughies this year, but as long as we have fun along the way, we’ll be ok.

Onward people, onward…..

 

Keywood Running – new kids on the block

There are some tremendous running clubs around Torbay. Be sure to check out (in no particular order) Brixham Harriers, Riviera Racers, Torbay Athletic Club, Torbay Tri Club or South Devon Athletic Club. All of whom offer a variety of training, races.

We’ve many a running friend at each of these clubs and they also host some fabulous events between them.

But.

There’s a new kid in town.

The Running P.T.

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In our seaside town, sometimes with a reputation for not keeping up with the times, one of them there new fangled 24 hour gyms (Anytime Fitness) appeared. Well, it didn’t suddenly land in a haze of shimmering light like a tardis, it more steadily evolved from a bit of an historic public house over quite a few months.

 

 

And long before the doors opened to Anytime Fitness, one of the personal trainers, Lewis Keywood, whilst awaiting the facilities to be ready, decided to start a running group. Initially organised under the umbrella of the gym, but establishing itself quite quickly to be a stand alone group.

 

 

Advertising came via word of mouth and social media, the numbers swelled quickly with an unlikely alliance of souls from all walks of life rapidly became a close knit unit. Our ages ranging from early twenties to those, like my wonderful lady wife, Nicky, and myself in our, ahem, fifties – there’s always plenty of witty but respectful banter.

Lewis’ strength and conditioning experience is combined with his passion for running to give every session a feeling of being worked, and worked hard, but with a nod to keeping fit and strong too.

So what is it that attracts this bunch, most of whom were strangers to each other before the group started back in April, to pitching up on a cold wet Monday evening? I went nosing into other peoples’ lives to find out.

For me personally, I’ve become so used to training on my own or with Nicky that I think I speak for us both in that we’d become ‘outsiders‘, doing all our training early mornings as it fitted better with our lifestyles. But when we heard about the group we decided to pitch up and give it a whirl.

Lewis made a quiet introduction and we lined up alongside the youngsters, feeling awkward (pretty standard for us) and heading off for some running and drills in the evening sun. One new recruit admitted that she’d done a few drive by’s before having a word with herself and taking the plunge.

To cut a long story short (and to focus on the matter in hand), as a pretty torrid summer for Nicky and I became Autumn, we were able to start joining the group more regularly for their Monday night work out.

So who are these Keywood Runners?

There’s Vicky who believes she has ‘gone beyond what I thought was possible‘ as she continues to improve her fitness and distance, casually wiping 30 minutes off her half marathon time.

Then there’s Corinna, also in her late 30s, she hadn’t run for over 6 years, she’d always felt a traditional running club would feel intimidating. Corinna works around a medical condition and feels this group is the incentive she needs to keep on winning that battle. Squeezing 2 runs and a pilates class into a hectic family life she says ‘I always feel great when I’ve completed a run….. And sometimes we get treats!

 

 

I think the picture of our permanently smiling Freddie at her last 10k – from having been a complete beginner – sums us up perfectly.

It is true about the treats, the afore mentioned Vicky often appears with home made cake and brownies after training. She has also been appointed ‘HR’ by the group as she relentlessly organises the group’s kit, social media, race entries, Parkrun volunteering duties, breakfast….etc…..etc. Oh, and she is a busy wife and Mum too.

For some this is the only chance they get to exercise each week, for others it has sparked a love of running and the group can now be found in healthy numbers at local events.

There’s a bond among the group. Jill, like us in her 50s, came along not knowing anyone ‘The group spurs me on, I’ve made so many good friends, EVERYONE supports everyone.’

And they do – The group start together and finish together, Lewis ensuring each runner is supported. there are ultra marathon runners and complete beginners, but there is never a sense of anyone being ‘better’ than anybody else.

 

 

 

Sonia, 42, hadn’t run before joining the group and didn’t think she’d be good enough, she saw the group advertised and went along, like most of the others, not knowing anyone. She’s since ran many events and completed an impromptu marathon, supporting a charity run. ‘We have a laugh and support each other. We’re achieving so much and Monday evening has become the highlight of my week.

Sonia isn’t the only one to use the word ‘misfits‘, or to suggest that without the group, our paths simply wouldn’t have crossed.

It really feels like a group of people who didn’t belong, but now do. Aside from Nicky and myself there are 3 other couples, one of which came about as a result of Zak and Becky meeting at the group.

Tracey, in her 40’s, finds the group shares a passion, shares banter, shares laughs and finds it refreshing that there isn’t room for bitchiness or back stabbing. She is on an incredible journey, accelerated by the group. Running is for her, and for so many of us, a therapy, it’s our time. She’s glad she didn’t keep on driving by that first night!

We are all grateful to Lewis for starting the group. He’s a quiet, shy soul and has a heartbreaking tale. His own running challenges are in aid of the incredible charity, Tommy’s and he is not the only member of the group to have suffered this way. Read all about his journey HERE.

Zak, at 25 one of the younger members of the group, has found love, found motivation and friendships and, like everybody I’ve spoken to is particularly taken by the lack of judgement among the group.

Like many of us, Zak has found ‘himself’ as much as finding each other.

People have shared some extremely personal information with me in order to write this blog post and I was going to flood it with gushing words and revealing quotes.

BUT, actually, I feel the whole group will forgive me for speaking on their behalf and not share such intimate details but I think it is a measure of the group’s trust as a unit that we all feel we can be honest and revealing with each other.

I am privileged to call Lewis a friend and honoured that he’s invited me to help him with the training.

I invited comments about Lewis himself and he’d be mightily embarrassed if he ever read them. Everybody agrees that he knows when to push and when to back off, he revels in everybody and every achievement, he has a way of making the sessions about us all.

He’s a legend’, ‘Always willing to help’, ‘The most genuine chap’, ‘He wants everybody to believe in themselves’, ‘An inspiring role model’.

Lewis is attempting to run 2000 miles this year as part of his Tommy’s challenge and I’ve had the pleasure of doing quite a bit of running with him. I’ve been able to show off the wonderful run routes we’re blessed with around here.

 

He also tackled a 24 hour non-stop challenge which he finished by completing our local Parkrun. The members of our running gang rallied round and he didn’t go without company for the whole 24 hours (and 101 miles!).

Those that know me are aware that I normally run in a group of either ONE or TWO with my only running partners being my wonderful lady wife Nicky, or our intrepid Border Terrier, Charlie, so it has been a leap of faith for me too, but one I’m so happy I took.

I think we’re suited to each other as Lewis is the first person I’ve met who looks just as awkward as me in a running piccie!

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#teamawkward

 

 

 

 

 

Country Miles (Dorset Invader Marathon 2018)

 

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Nearly 29 miles of this! Mmmmm Mmmmm (as grandson, Olly, would say)

If you’re looking for the finish line in a trail marathon, you won’t find it at 26.2 miles! Certainly not at the fabulous Dorset Invader. We’ve tackled many White Star Running events and you’re never short changed on distance. More muck for your buck, as it were. I whole heartily approve, we’d soon be moaning if it was short!

In a break from tradition, our wingman, Martin, was chauffer for the day, his new stead a step up in size from our mini. We settled into the Volvo luxury and headed east. Yet again, it was destination Dorset for #TeamBonfield and our sugar fetishist running chum.

As the main man at White Star pointed out in response to a couple of social media grumblings, these wonderful country routes which trail events companies map out for us depend on the good will of the people who own the land we have the pleasure of skipping through.

With farmland being at the mercy of climate and delicate crops needing to be avoided, routes will be varied and negotiated on a race by race basis. This year’s Invader route being quite different to the one we ran two years ago. A clever quirk of this year’s route was the loop which was repeated, the way it was set up, it never felt as if we were running laps.

With the forthcoming storms holding off until after we’d finished, there was only a wild wind to contend with. So much of this gorgeous route was on trails through woodland and alongside tall hedgerows that we were only intermittently exposed to the howling breeze.

“Are you two going to do ANY running?” Martin briefly turned to ask. The three of us started together, Martin speeding off as we, at best, sauntered up the first field. There’s plenty of time, we assured him, fully intending to use it.

dsc_12174040429068873134989.jpgA big centurion, and indeed a little centurion, both on horseback, ceremoniously set us on our way for this Roman themed event.

About 250 runners were soon spread out as the course picked its way through the fields and tracks of the host farm. After a couple of miles (bearing in mind, my memory is rarely chronological and certainly not detailed) we reached the one road crossing in the event. It was expertly and safely manned by a team of marshals, with clear and precise instructions as to how and when to cross.

Oh, and some 6 hours later, when we were on our way to the finish, the same crew were still there, still cheerful and still as attentive. A massive thank you to them and all of the fabulous volunteers, marshals and aid station crews on the day. Above and beyond as ever.

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Martin, on his way to 3rd in his age group, despite starting with us!!!

After the road crossing, we started to make progress as we warmed to the task. Nicky is a serial start-at-the-backer, much to Martin’s chagrin. His argument is that if you start behind somebody who is going to run at exactly the same pace as you throughout the event, you will end up behind them by the amount of head start you gave them. My argument is: SO?

Nicky’s thinking is a tad more considered. If she starts too far forward in the pack, then runners covering the ground quickly will be scuttling past. Potentially demoralising.

We always say, as runners disappear away from us early in the race, if they are that much quicker than us, then we won’t see them again and good luck to them. If they are a similar pace to us then they may be setting off too quickly and we’ll catch them later on anyway.

BUT, we won’t have had a stream of faster runners whizzing past us.

It didn’t do us any harm, despite starting with a saunter up the hill, behind everyone, there were over 100 behind us 28 miles later. Actually, it didn’t do Martin any harm either, he finished an hour in front of us and third in his age category. And we ALL got stonking great medals at the end, regardless of where we finished.

There was a quite flat and runnable 2 mile section along the old Somerset and Dorset Railway which is quite unusual for a White Star event and some of this featured twice. A cracking section to tick a few miles off and fascinating to run through what used to be stations.

If you enjoy running on corn fields, gravel tracks, wooded trails, quiet lanes, old railway lines, farmyards, bridleways and like a good few hills, then this is definitely for you.

We took the whole thing VERY seriously….

Well, we’re off to Cornwall for my favourite ever event in just over a week. The R.A.T. festival of coastal trail running (read all about last year HERE). With this in mind, completing a lovely long trail marathon has given us both a confidence boost about our fitness as we start to, er, ‘taper’……..

You can check out our Dorset Invader performance on Strava HERE.

So much to say, so little time…. stay tuned and keep on keeping on folks…..

21 Days

Well, an email plopped into my inbox. “THREE WEEKS TO GO!” Blimey, it’s here already. The (in)famous lime green vest will be handed to me at some point in the evening of Friday 11th August.

What is this nonsense of which you speak? I hear you gasp. Well, those of you that are regular consumers of this world of wonky wittering may well be aware that I’m a bit of a fanboy when it comes to the Roseland August Trail (R.A.T.) festival of trail running on the fabulous Roseland Peninsular in Cornwall.

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Proudly showing off our Black Rat medals last year with blog regular, Martin

Check out Mudcrew’s R.A.T. event HERE

Having ran the 32 mile Black Rat for the last 3 years with Nicky (who also ran the Red Rat, 20 miles, 4 years ago), I have taken the plunge and am tackling The Plague, an out and back version of the Black Rat. Yup, starting at 5 minutes past midnight on Saturday 12th August, a couple of hundred of us will step into the Cornish darkness and attempt to get to St Anthony’s Head and then back to Porthpean before they bring the curtain down on this fabulous event.

wp-image-25068009Read all about my love for this event HERE.

The furthest I’ve ever been in one go was The Gower 50 (Read all about that HERE – be warned, may feature fooked ankle pictures!) and I’ve not ran through the night before. I may not have done all of the miles I’d hoped for in this build up and I may not be the weight I’d hoped to get down to, blah, blah, blah, sandbagging, woe is me, blah, blah…

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Nicky skipping down some of the million steps in last year’s event

Here’s the thing guys and girls, I’m going to pull that lime green vest on and set off and give it everything I’ve got. And THAT will be enough for me to be proud, proud to be on the start line and proud to be taking on a CHALLENGE. If it was guaranteed I could ‘complete’ it, it wouldn’t be a challenge.

So, the mojo socks are being readied and they’ll be pulled RIGHT UP, I’ve oiled the zip of my mansuit so that too will be TO THE TOP……….

I’m going to run the runny bits, walk the hills and steps and try and enjoy every single moment of it.

Nicky will be getting off the coach at the St Anthony’s Head Black Rat start line and setting off at 8.30am. If my night has gone well I’ll have already turned by then and be heading East again. I have until 9am to make that turn, but if I’m close to that at halfway, I could well be struggling to make the following cut offs. And if that’s the case then so be it.

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The Lime Green vest is mandatory kit for Plague runners.

Check out the route HERE. There are A LOT of steps. And I’ll doing the all up and down (hopefully). See last year’s blog for how Nicky told everyone who’d listen that this was her last year on these steps…….

Mudcrew also stage the epic Arc Of Attrition on a bleak winter’s weekend every year. Nicky and I witnessed some of this incredible event when we were in Cornwall on holiday when this blog was in its early days – I mentioned how I’d never considered running 100 miles on a coast path, in winter. Nor indeed tow a caravan – Check out that bizarre wordery HERE.

You’re not going to believe this, BUT anyone who successfully completes all 100 quad busting kilometers of The Plague gets presented with a scroll inviting them to take up a guaranteed place in the following year’s Arc Of Attrition………..

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Charlie, he’s ready……. 

Anyway, I ran 4 miles on the coast path with Charlie this morning, so I’d say I’m pretty much ready!

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A rare RRAAAAHHHHH, COME ON!!!!!! moment on crossing the finish line in last year’s Black Rat