Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Marathon 54 of 60 - the ultra one

Yes, I know it's only 3 days since the last one and my poor feet were still a bit sore from pounding the concrete at Samphire Hoe but I couldn't resist this one. Trail marathons will always be my favourites and although they are by nature rather hilly they just don't mash your legs in the way road marathons do.

So what is an ultra marathon? Technically it is anything longer than the normal marathon distance of 26.2 miles and in this case it was 31 miles (50k). Now other the The Three Forts Challenge, which is just over 27 miles and I have done several times, I haven't done an ultra since my 50th birthday challenge back in 2007 (here & here) but I was quite confident that I'd get round OK (albeit slowly of course!).

The event was held at Groombridge Place near Tunbridge Wells and it was so close to home it would have been rude not to do it. Last time Mike and I visited there we had a wonderful time in the grounds and woods as they had giant swings in the Enchanted Forest and prehistoric creatures peeping out of the undergrowth and giant spiders' webs up in the trees which was the work of Ivan Hicks whose designs are always great fun.

Race HQ was situated close to the entrance with car parking and portaloos nearby. It was jolly cold first thing but soon turned into a glorious day; sunny, but not too hot, with a gentle breeze.

I collected my number and went back to the car to get changed. I'd brought both road shoes and trail shoes but it was obvious that it was a day for trail shoes because the ground was quite wet underfoot.

I thought it was a good idea to have a contact telephone number on our race numbers in case of emergency

Prior to the event I'd looked at the race instructions and they scared the life out of me as the route wasn't all marked and used bits of 3 different waymarked routes. I had visions of getting hopelessly lost and had to steady my nerves with a few glasses of red wine the evening before!

However, the Race Director, Stuart, had produced very detailed written instructions in an A5 booklet which I downloaded and that, coupled with the use of my GPS watch helped keep me on the right track (except for when my GPS shut itself off at mile 25 or thereabouts as the battery was getting low (note to self - investigate a new GPS watch with a long battery life asap!!!). More on that later. You can view the different booklets available in the 'routes' section of the race website. Stuart and team had gone to a lot of trouble to give us runners a fighting chance of staying on the right route for which we were very grateful.

Prior to the start Stuart, himself a speedy ultra-runner, gave instructions and one that made me chuckle was what to do if you wanted to drop out which was something like "man-up and just get on with it!"

The race started just outside the grounds and we were climbing upwards immediately. I usually take loads of photos during my marathons but I restricted them this time as I didn't want to miss the cut-off so most of them were taken on the move as I took walk breaks. Of course I regretted this decision as we passed a brilliant display of scarecrows early on- there was one with a horse and rider colliding with a hedge and I must see if anyone else took a photo of that. 

Aah, thank you Dave:

Ellan gets in on the act

There were several people I knew running it and they were running with Kate who was completing her 100th marathon. Normally I wouldn't be able to stay anywhere near their group as they are much faster than me but they were stopping to take loads of group photos which coupled with the numerous stiles en-route meant that I caught up with them occasionally. They were known as the 'Sahota' or 'party bus' and they had a fun time all the way round.

Kate, complete with balloons, & DavidC who I have to thank (and I really do mean that David!) for making me aware of this fab event.

For the first couple of miles I just followed the crowd without checking the instructions thoroughly until we crossed a bridge and the leaders went straight ahead but I thought we should be bearing right around the edge of the field. I squelched through a boggy section behind them whilst trying to read the instructions. 

Then DavidC realised that we were heading the wrong way and to correct it we had to squelch through an even boggier section. Oh the joys of running 31 miles with squelchy shoes and socks! After that I started to check each section before blindly following the crowd.

The High Weald is an 'Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty' (AONB) with many ancient routeways and we were following bits of 3 specific routes, the High Weald Landscape Trail, Vanguard Way & Wealdway, which were clearly signposted. When our route varied there were either chalk marks on the road or tape/arrows beside the path. For those of you not familiar with the word, 'weald' it means 'forest' as this whole area was once a vast forest.

We ran across grassy fields….

….fields of stubble….

….up trails where you had to be careful not to lose your footing on loose rocks, whilst in the wooded areas you had to mind your step on the tree roots which of course gets harder when your legs are tired as you don't always lift your feet high enough (or is that just me?!)….

….through scrub….

….with fabulous views across the High Weald….

---I'm the blob at the back running behind a couple of marathon heavyweights (not in bulk!). First we have Dave who was completing his 610th marathon, followed by Gil who is nearly up to his 600th….

….along one of many ridges….

….to see more spectacular views like this….

Then down into another part of the Ashdown Forest which anyone who loves Winnie the Pooh knows is where Pooh and Piglet played Poohsticks.

The famous bridge

I didn't play Poohsticks as it was no fun without Mike there but I was lucky that Philip spotted me and offered to take a photo using my camera for my blog. Thanks Philip!

A mini Pooh playing in a tree nearby

A treasured memory

'Mole End', the perfect name for this lovely house nearby. I wonder how many people have taken this same photo.

More fields to cross and lovely views

Part of the route went alongside the Royal Ashdown Forest Golf Club and there's a glorious photo of part of it on Stuart's website. Just scroll down to the 'Route' section.

There were 5 checkpoints that we had to visit to record our number and I managed to stay within view of the party bus until somewhere between 4 & 5.

The party bus continues but I think I lost them shortly after this photo as I stopped to tie my shoe laces and never caught up with them again.

What I haven't mentioned so far are the stiles. Oh my goodness there were so many of them - stepover ones, v-shaped ones you squeezed through, great big high ones you had to scale, wobbly ones, some with nails sticking up and then the much more leg-friendly kissing gates

As I reached mile 25 Mike phoned to see how I was getting on so I took a walk break and had a nice chat which lifted my spirits. Then the GPS on my watch decided it didn't have enough power left and switched itself off and so I had to rely entirely upon the written instructions. I was doing OK until the bit up Fordcombe Lane when I couldn't find the next waymarker and had a moment of panic.

Thankfully Jo caught up with me and between us we worked out where to go. We ran/walked the last few miles and chatted which was nice and crossed the finish line together. As we approached the finish line we got a big cheer from the Sahota crew and he teased me shouting "marathon 54 of 100!" at me as he's trying to convince me to go for 100 marathons so I can join the 100 marathon club (I'm just not sure about that though as I really don't feel worthy of it as I'm such a back-of-pack plodder).

We missed the official cut-off time by 6 minutes to finish in 8:06:30 but that didn't matter as we still got our medal and lovely mug (thanks Stuart):


The mug was put to good use straight away as they were serving coffee. It's such a lovely memento and I probably won't use it again but will display it in my office with my other assorted trophies.

All the 100 club members were gathered around for the presentation to Kate and I stood back and watched but Paul very kindly shouted for me to go and join them (steady on Mr T*****, you were far too sweet that day and could damage your reputation if you carry on like that!!!). He then completely destroyed his reputation for being a hard man when he gave a lovely speech about Kate and how she's turned her life around to achieve such a massive milestone.

We all watched, cameras at the ready

Dee adopted a serious photographer's pose to get the best shots!

Paul invited Janet, who has completed 300+ marathons, to present Kate with her medal and special vest

Do you think she was excited?!!!

The traditional post-vest pose

But there was another presentation for Ellan who completed her 100th marathon several weeks ago if I remember correctly but didn't join the club then. Now she's another legend having completed the Brathay Windermere 10 in 10 (that's 10 marathons in 10 days!) twice and been first lady each time.

Ellan's running vest attracted a lot of attention en-route

Paul was in fine fettle again and presented Ellan with a carton of Yakult (a probiotic dairy product), not for reasons of health but because of her nickname 'Yak' which is how you pronounce the first part of her surname!

She too was presented with 100 club vest but this time it was newly-appointed member Kate who presented it….

 ….whilst Paul struck a pose!

I'm certainly standing next to giants here - I wonder how many marathons they've run between them?!

That certainly was a grand day out. Many thanks to everyone who made it such a lovely day and to Dee, Philip, Dave & Stuart for the photos.

The next morning I felt surprisingly good when I did my traditional post-marathon run of just over 3 miles to stretch my legs out. My next marathon is a hilly route on country lanes in a couple of weeks with Beachy Head (my favourite trail marathon) soon after.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Marathon 53 of 60 completed - The Tolkientastic One!

The day before the marathon had been vile with torrential rain and strong winds and the arthritis in my  whole body had really been getting me down as it was so sore - it seems to seep into your bones and make everything creaky and achy. Ouch and double ouch! But the nice weather lady said it would be warm and bright the next day so when I got up the next morning I was hopeful for a better day.

So here I am again, at beautiful Samphire Hoe, standing around on a grey and slightly windy day waiting to start another marathon. It was cool to begin with but soon warmed up and turned into a glorious day.

That bit of blue sky looked promising

This being the Tolkien marathon, Traviss had encouraged people to dress up accordingly and he was sporting a very dapper waistcoat - Rachel had a matching skirt which you'll see later.

He looks so innocent doesn't he? But beware, this man can convince you to do very silly things (in the nicest possible way of course)!

Here we have Gandalf, aka Karen, chatting with James. James is a very speedy runner but had a couple of injuries so was taking it easy yesterday. He even ran a lap with me so now he's experienced life in the slow lane!

James's mum Becky who always comes along an helps out at the feed station

On the left, wearing his newly-earned blue and yellow 100 club vest,  we have Lord Vader, aka Paul (amongst other names!) the self-proclaimed Ambassador for the 100 marathon Club.

Maryanne sporting her traditional wig and fab leggings (I love them!) hoping that she will soon be like Gary who was running his 100th marathon there

Before the start Traviss made the usual announcements. Here he's holding up a race number 100 which both Gary, seen in the foreground, and Karen would be wearing on the day. They'd chosen to celebrate their amazing achievement together although Karen actually completed her 100th marathon last weekend.

On the right is Lisa sporting what I think as a pink flamingo on her head and wearing  a rather fetching sequined skirt but I can't find my photo of her even though I was sure I'd taken one. We exchanged banter each time we passed and at the end she commented that I had genuinely smiled all the way round which was probably true as I loved every minute of it. Lovely to meet you Lisa.

The next few photos show Karen being presented with her hard-earned celebratory medal and new running vest:

Fab his 'n' hers Tolkien fabric on waistcoat and skirt!

Gandalf get's her medal….

.…but then there was the running vest to contend with….

….which was rather tricky when you're a wizard with a very long beard….

….but help was on hand!

She is indeed 'Bionic' as she had broken so many bones in falls during yet still carried on to finish. Fabulous achievement Karen!

A melee of runners before the start (with thanks to Dee for this and the next 4 photos)

May Chan gives me her pearls of wisdom. We then realise that we're right at the front which is inappropriate!

I wasn't aiming for a time but wanted something beginning with a 5 rather than going over the 6 hours mark although I wasn't going to push because I've got a 31 miler in a few days. I decided to just run at whatever pace felt good.

Up the first incline

….out onto the cinder path….

….over the hills and far away

It looks like a real Hobbit adventure doesn't it! I thought I wouldn't need to take any more photos this time as it's the third time I've run this route but there's always something different catches my eye. I promised myself that I wouldn't stop to take photos until my last lap.

The sun came out almost as soon as we started running and lots of us peeled off our layers. Everywhere looked glorious in the sunshine - the sea and sky were the most amazing colours. The section of concrete along the sea wall was so hot although the wind helped take away some of the heat (thankfully it wasn't as a strong as last time!). I kept making a mental note of things I wanted to photograph later.

The next 2 photos are courtesy of Philip and show Rik Vercoe pushing a babby buggy with dear little Phoebe inside. 

It's hard enough just running a marathon let alone pushing a buggy, dealing with nappy changes etc and still finishing in a stonking time of 4:34:31. Amazing! 

What an absolute sweetheart!

Rik is yet another inspirational runner who in 2013 set the British record for the most marathons completed in 365 days when he ran 152 races of marathon distance and more. He also organises his own events at Phoenix Running and it looks as if all the Race Directors are catching on to our need for bling - just check out the one on his homepage!

There was happy banter with fellow runners throughout. It's lovely running with such friendly people. I looked on in awe as Maria completed lap after lap on crutches having worried at the start that she'd even complete one.

Marvellous Maria who completed 6 laps, 23.1 miles on what must have been rather challenging terrain, especially on that cinder slope!

Helen kept her elfine dress and cape on throughout and won a prize as a result.

The railway line runs alongside one section and so we frequently saw trains going past. I waved at most of them and even got a blast on the horn from one driver. Didn't see any passengers waving back though.

I felt really good throughout and could probably have got in around 5:30 if I'd run the last lap but I wanted to walk the concrete section and take in the beauty of the place so that's exactly what I did. The photos start after the first incline:

The Car Fellowship of the Ring

Maryanne coming towards base camp before heading out for her last lap. I told her she'd soon be overtaking me, and she did!

The long and winding road

How pretty the sea looked

Rust-coloured reeds stood out amidst the greener foliage of grasses and other plants

This was taken at the top of the cinder slope which leads to the start of the sea wall and the dreaded concrete

As you round that first bend the expanse of concrete looks interminable - feels like it too after 7 laps!

But the cliffs looked stunning

My eyes were drawn to the patterns, shapes and colours. To the eye of a knitter they would make interesting Fair Isle patterns.

Oh my goodness, those colours! The turquoise of the sea, azure-blue sky and the almost metallic-beetrooty-aubergine of the seaweed viewed against the lichen on the concrete.

In close-up there are so many colours and patterns within it.

So many shapes and patterns.

Just look at the different colours of the rocks too and that rusty-colour that's leached down the side of the chalk.

Now, what am I supposed to be doing? Oh yes, completing the last lap of a marathon. Sorry, I got sidetracked!

May and I took photos of eachother (as you do!)

There had been new rock falls since I was last here. Again there's a rusty coloured tint and I wondered what had caused that?

Rounding the corner of the last bit of concrete I noticed something I hadn't seen before; what looks like the entrance to a hobbit house! It's that dark circle right in the middle. I zoomed in on it but it hasn't come out well. You runners might well roll your eyes but I bet you'll look for it next time we're there (which will most likely be for The Usual Suspects in December)!

I finally trundled home in 5:42:43 and Philip kindly took this photo of me with my medal.

Happy girl (thanks for the photo Philip)

Isn't that a fabulous medal? We expect nothing less from Traviss and Rachel now though!

The fun didn't end there though as there were still celebrations. Here's Karen beside Dee in front of her special cake, made by Heather as always.

Karen and Gary had shared a cake so half of it was vegan for Gary and the other was normal. I love the little figures - Karen's has a crutch and a sling!

Look at the cake on the right too. It's in the shape of a ring.

And this amazing creation was to celebrate Kirsty's 40th birthday (photo taken by Jonathan Ryan). It was organised by her friend Liz Vassell. In her own words "I wanted to try to get 40 different medals/tshirts for different challenges and planned 1 marathon which then turned into 8!! I was only introduced to Traviss in January". This just goes to prove that his events are addictive!

Now Gary had completed his 100th marathon it was time for the presentation. 

I think Traviss just likes climbing up onto things!

Here comes the special tee shirt

Here he is with his lovely lady, Mandy.

Many thanks to Traviss and Rachel for another fabulous event.

Now technically this should mark the end of my 2015 challenge for Alzheimer's Research UK because it was based on the number of years I've been running, 13 years, which coincidentally was also the sum total of my age this year, 58; so 5+8 = 13. This satisfied my inner maths geek and also made it challenging enough to attract sponsors old and new who have generously donated to my cause yet again. Thank you to everyone for your continued support.

In the meantime, however, I had met Traviss and Rachel and experienced so many of their wonderful events where I've met some truly inspirational people that I started to believe that I could push myself even harder and so it was that I started my 60 by 60 campaign this year (which I was going to launch next year thus giving me 18 months in which to reach my 60th marathon when I turn 60 in 2017).

One thing inevitably lead to another and I realised that as I've been running quite well this I could aim to get to 60 marathons by December this year. Still 7 more to do this year though……...