Jane and I have decided we rather enjoy this orienteering lark and after a chat with a member who also does the Oxford parkrun sometimes I thought why not join the club. So it was as new members of the Thames Valley Orienteering Club that we made our way to Brill (on the hill) on 12th April to experience the somewhat different terrain of scrub, bumps and hollows left by centuries of clay digging for the local brick industry.
Despite being somewhat sleep deprived and achy courteous of the blooming frozen shoulder I decided to go for light green again and necked an energy gel before the start so at least I’d have some sugar left in my brain if I ended up taking ages again. Jane decided to up the stakes and go for the orange course where she was more likely to encounter other grown-ups. There was a new IT system being experienced in the registration tent which resulted in a bit of a queue and a wait before we got going just after 11am.
My first control seemed to be somewhere behind me facing the start but remembering the 13 minutes I’d spend heading 180 degrees in the wrong direction at the start of Wendover I took a moment to check the compass properly – then I realised the thing in front of control number 1 on the map was the car park by Brill windmill so I got there in 3 minutes using the follow my nose approach.
I was going well till number 8 though number 5 had been tricky hidden by a little pool at the bottom of a steep, muddy drop as it was. 8 was just on the other side of an out of bounds area with buildings but I think I made the mistake of overestimating the distance and also failed to check direction so ended up behind the wrong group of houses. If there is one thing I failed to learn from years of audax riding it is that the best thing to do as soon as you realise you’ve gone the wrong way is to stop, work-out where you are, and make a cool headed plan to get back on route. Instead I tend to opt for the ‘it must be over there somewhere’ technique which is probably why number 8 took me nearly 16 minutes to find while the longest any of the earlier controls had taken was under 5 minutes.
9 was a doddle but then a repeat performance for number 10 which took 13 minutes as I made some pretty basic mistakes such as following a road where the map showed a vehicle track etc. 13 was interesting as the thin but unbroken line of darkish green was indeed ‘impenetrable’ and, after going right to the bottom of Tramhill to find 12, I had to go most of the way back up again – huffing and puffing before I decided to walk instead – just to join a path that took me back down the other side of the dense hedgerow to where the control was.
The remaining controls were not too hard to find though non were what I’d call obvious. After 19 me and another chap could see the ‘Finish’ sign 100m away so without a glance at the map we just ran straight to it, I’m surprised I didn’t get a nasty rash from the ankle high stinging nettles on route! 1:11:18 was my eventual time with about 42 minutes actual running according to my Garmin. The 3.1km becoming 3.4 miles. I placed 16 out of 20 starters and 19 finishers so a marginal improvement over Wendover but still much room for improvement. I reckon if I’d got 8 and 10 right I’d have been 20 minutes quicker.
I couldn’t find Jane at first but it turned out she was in the loo in the pub when I’d looked for her there. She managed a more impressive 16th of 29 starters, 25 finishers on her debut orange course finishing in 46:28 and almost achieving the ‘Orange standard’ (whatever that is). Wittenham Clumps next for us if the weather looks good!
The best I could hope for at this year’s White Horse Half was to get in under 1:55 and after an outburst of moaning from my frozen shoulder over the last 10 days I wasn’t at all sure I could even manage that. I’d DNS’d the OX5 Run the previous weekend as I couldn’t face the ride out to Woodstock with my shoulder nagging away and stealing my sleep – the novelty of it not being non-stop painful long ago wore off. About time it just went away and left me alone!
Really not so bad when I arrived in Grove on Sunday morning though and I had a couple of ibuprofen to make sure then headed off to the start venue to dump my bag then a 5 minute wander to the start line. Despite thinking I’d run it last year I couldn’t really picture the layout which might have been because I’d not actually run it since 2011 and my memory is stuffed. I said hello to Maria who was marshalling and nodded to a few familiar faces then positioning myself about halfway down the field and we were off!
The first mile is a bit downhill if anything but I kept to the plan and resisted the temptation to chase the few runners passing me and was happy to keep the pace at 8:30 minute miles for the first half without feeling I’d overdone it. The country lanes were pleasant and the weather nice but the combination of my Asics Skyspeed ‘fast’ shoes and the farmer’s efforts to muck-spread on the tarmac made it all a bit slippery. I vaguely wondered if I was skating on residue left by the rain washing the previous day’s industrial smog out the air but this seems a bit far fetched.
About mile 7 we turned into the wind and I slowed a little. Not for the first time I managed to persuade myself I was on for a much better time than planned, 5 more miles 9 minute mileing was only 45 minutes! Pity there was 6 more miles to run I realised with a thud. I spotted Barry Cornelius who seems to be more often wielding a camera than running recently. He pointed said camera at me – later I followed a facebook post to his oxonraces website which turns out to be a fine resource.
Photo by Barry Cornelius
Mile 10 was difficult. There was supposed to be a water station somewhere about here so I ate the gel I was carrying and tried to keep up the pace as we turned into an increasingly strong wind and a gentle uphill. My Garmin let me know I was slowing to 9:30 pace yet I was pushing as hard as I dared. Too much of this and the 1:55 target wasn’t going to happen. The road turned downwards and my pace went upwards, the water station appeared, then we were back in Denchworth to turn south for the final couple of miles.
Knackered now the railway bridge was a challenge and mile 12 seemed to have it in for me as a sharp pain on top of my right foot caused me to stop twice to search for a stone or insect or whatever before discovering the tongue of my shoe had worked it’s way round allowing the edge to rub me up a sore bit. I adjusted it and tried to pick up the pace a bit for the last mile managing to regain a couple of the places I had lost stopping.
End in sight and Maria encouraging me to sprint for the line which I pointed out I thought I was already doing. 1:54:16 323rd of 485 so no records broken but I hit my target and was about 3 minutes faster than when I ran this race in 2004 as my 1st half marathon – I was much fitter then but didn’t have a clue how to pace myself.
We took a trip out to Wendover Woods on Saturday 15th so I could make a fool of myself at another orienteering event. This was another in the Thames Valley Orienteering Club’s Saturday Series where I suspect they make allowances for the inexperienced and foolhardy. I opted for the ‘light green’ course again – navigationally challenging but not as long as the ‘green’.
I registered and collected my map and emit card, proceeding to the start control without peeking at the map so I could feel I’d done it properly. Bipped my emit on the start then located control number 1 on the map and, even though it wasn’t far away, carefully aligned the compass for direction and off I went. The paths didn’t seem to be in the right place and the clearing I was looking for wasn’t evident. I arrived at the ‘Go Ape’ activity area yet I thought the blurb said we weren’t to go in there. Retraced and had an experimental detour into the woods to no avail. This wasn’t going well!
I headed back to the start and from there just followed the paths and land features ignoring the compass, the penny dropped and I realised I’d aligned the compass in the wrong direction and had been heading north instead of south. So over 13 minutes to find the first control and my confidence somewhat dented.
Getting my act together I made good progress for the next 10 controls, checking the terrain on the map and navigating the longer route along paths if it looked difficult or using the map and going direct where white or light green suggested I could run. Number 10 was tricky but it was well hidden and there were various other people who also appeared to be puzzled. Number 11 was tough as – despite going the path route – the little, tapering-out, path I was looking for just wasn’t there and I eventually found the control after 13 minutes using the stumbling about in the undergrowth approach. Over an hour gone and still 5 controls to find, I wasn’t going to make my appointment with Jane in the cafe!
12 and 13 were not a problem and 14 appeared to be a case of follow the wide track up the hill then take the first wide track on the left only I didn’t see said track and ended up at the top near the start. Having obviously overshot I decided to follow the top track then drop back down but the path back down didn’t seem to be there. I looked carefully at the map and realised I’d gone way too far and retraced then back down the wide track and on my right I spotted a disused forestry track with a tree down across its entrance. Clambered over the tree, then another one not far down the track which was quite big and I more fell off than climbed over. Then another! Time to admit defeat I thought and turned uphill to where I spied a narrow track that would surely take me back to the top near the start. On my right were a couple of pits which was what I was supposed to be looking for so I thought it worth a quick check and there was number 14, a bit over 21 minutes that had taken.
So revitalised I ran up the top, found 15 and the nearby finish and bumped into Jane returning from the cafe having fortunately remembered to get another pay and display ticket for the car. 1 hour 42 minutes, 21st out of 24 starters and 22 finishers. Not very good at all but I thought I’d dealt with most of the controls efficiently, it was just the cock -up at the start and the extended hunt for 2 of the 16 that had slowed me so much. I think there is hope for me yet and looking forward to the next one.
Jane meanwhile had finished 20th out of 35 starters on the yellow course and even beaten 2 grown-ups (though they may well have been escorting youngsters so she’s not let it go to her head.)
The Oxford 10k Charity Fun Run – to give its full title – was originally supposed to take place on 26th January in Cutteslowe Park. Unsurprisingly it was postponed to 9th March due to the flooding but as the date approached and the park continued to be so soggy that even the parkrun had been rerouted and cancelled on occasion I wasn’t convinced it was going to happen. The week before we got an email saying it had been relocated to Tilsey Park in Abingdon, the venue for the Abingdon Marathon, so a sunny if breezy morning saw me cycling south for the race.
My shoulder has been moaning away and keeping me sleep deprived, though not in any way as painful as it was last year, so I wasn’t expecting to run fast. The course description – 4 times round the track followed by 4 times round the park perimeter and a final lap of the track to finish – sounded like a recipe for confusion. I went to collect my number but it seemed to have gone walkabout so I was issued a replacement, 498. For the first time this year I decided to run in just the vest, it really was warming up nicely!
I stood out the energetic looking warm-up as the last thing I wanted was some lady trying to get me to wave my arms in the air. The announcer asked that we left lanes 1 and 2 of the track for the fast folk so we didn’t block their progress I realised I was maybe too far to the back even for me. Then we were off.
The track was congested but fast, some poor chap went flying when he ran into a warning cone in one of the middle lanes – don’t know what it was warning of but in a crowd of 160runners it was obviously a hazard in itself. I passed a lot of slower runners on the first couple of laps, some seemed to have ignored the request to stay out of the fast lanes. Soon I was disturbed to see several of those I’d passed already started on the perimeter laps. It hadn’t been made particularly clear (though was obvious when you thought about it) that we were to count our own laps so it was a bit of an ‘honesty race’. I’d run 7:31 for my 1st mile and was deluding myself that I might carry on with similar – ha ha! Was that 2 or 3 laps I’d done? I thought I’d read a lap was 500m but surely it should be 400m? Best do another to be sure! It was evident from they way I was overtaking the same faces all over again once I’d left the track that I’d done a lap too many.
The perimeter laps signalled a big change in terrain, some damp ankle length grass followed by a steep bank demanding legs of different lengths. I got a lot slower, resorting to keeping my miles under 9 minutes, and also rather warm so was glad of the drinks station and even tipped a cup over my head on the 3rd lap. The faster runners charged past us, I saw the winner back on the track and heading for his finish, I think I was just starting my second lap. I passed various strugglers and a few reduced to walking.
As I split off to rejoin the track after my 4th perimeter lap a marshall was asking if we’d done all 4. A bit ironic as my Garmin had just clocked up a full 10k. Getting back on the track was like reaching the top of the hill and starting down the other-side. I managed to speed up a bit for the last bit and settled for 54:36 including my extra 500m, 80th of 168 overall I think. A fun morning in the sun and thanks to MCC Promotions for managing to run the event in the face of the weather and venue problems.
I’d entered the Brighton Half an age ago as it seemed there was going to be a big vegan presence. Rubbish that I may have been recently, I’d used this as a focus for some training and – while my target of scraping in under 2 hours seemed uninspired for a distance I could run in 1:45 2 years ago – it was a bit of a boost to be reminded by my ‘purple’ start race number that when I’d entered I’d apparently put 2:00 – 2:15 as my expected time.
As a ‘tune-up’ race (well alright because I couldn’t resist it) I did a orienteering event up Shotover the day before. Went for ‘light green’ this time and while I took a long time again – 1:06:36 for a nominal 2.8k turned into an actual 5k – I made an attempt to do it properly and managed 9th out of 11 finishers with 3 disqualified. 25 minutes ‘stopped’ time according to my Garmin so I obviously need to learn to think quicker!
So Shotover done with mid-afternoon I was off to Littlehampton where I spent a comfy night in the Travelodge before scraping unexpected ice off the car and driving the last few miles to Brighton where I caught the special bus to the start by the seafront. Thousands of runners milling about, I bumped into Matt Woodman and Peter Simpson then deposited my bag before heading off to the ‘purple’ start area – after a bit of a warm-up we were off.
Plan was to start easy and try to keep my miles under 9 minutes throughout. This ought to be easy but I’d struggled to keep under 10 minute miles towards the end of the 13 mile training run I’d done a couple of weeks before and had been absolutely shattered for the rest of the day – it had felt more like I’d just run a marathon. Anyway I followed the convenient 2 hour paceman for a bit – entertained by his obvious urge to run a bit faster tempered by regular checks of his watch to slow down a bit. After a couple of miles I passed him though and was glad to find a bit of space appearing round me as the field opened up a little bit.
Up a long but steady slope for a mile or so watching the faster people descending the closed road in the opposite direction. A great drum band beating out a rhythm – Stix – then our turn to descend with a view of those behind. I had a half bottle of Lucozade at the 3 mile station and again at 6, it had turned into a beautiful sunny morning and I was working up a good sweat for maybe the first time this year.
Tiring a bit around mile 8 I still managed to maintain sub-9s with the help of my Garmin. I felt a little queasy from the Lucozade so washed a gel down with a bottle of water at the 10 mile station which was just at the point where we turned back east and followed the promenade back to the finish. I was seeing a chance of finishing in 1:55 and come the last mile pushed as best I could speeding up for a fast (for me) finish but not quite – 1:55:12 3047th of 6924 finishers chip time – pleased with that though and a day later I feel ok and no injuries
Afterwards I met up with some of the 15 odd other – mostly much faster – vegan participants, many of them VRUK members. Despite my earlier queasiness a chunk of V-Bites carrot cake and a hazelnut latte went down a treat!