Chalgrove Festival 10k 2014

An enjoyable run for me at this year’s Chalgrove Festival 10k on May Bank Holiday Monday. Jane wanted a look round the festival so we drove out making it an easy day what with the 12:00 start. I ran in Vegetarian Cycling and Athletic Club vest for a change as I hoped to meet new club member Geoff – in fact we somehow managed to miss each other but still two VCAC vests present is good. 52:16 223rd of 441 overall which was a good bit quicker than last year and a seasons best so happy with that.

Chalgrove 10k 2014Chalgrove10k 2014 Thanks to Barry Cornelius for the photos – oxonraces.com

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Pembrokeshire Puffins & Seals

We spent the last week of April in Pembrokeshire. Jane had fancied a visit there and found a vegan B&B that did evening meals which she had booked a while ago. I wasn’t much looking forward to the 4 hour drive but we made the decision to have a proper mid-way break in Cardiff rather than just wing it which in retrospect was a great idea.

So I let the TomTom navigate us to Cafe Atma in Cardiff which offered some great – tasty and wholesome – vegan food including a good choice of cakes. Suitably stuffed Jane took over and drove us to The Gables B&B in Roch, about a mile away from Newgale Sands. Susie and her vegan dogs and cat* made us really welcome at The Gables and it was a change for me never having to double check if I could eat something, from the scones on arrival to the lovely diners she made us and the cooked breakfast – everything was vegan. Also not too expensive. Highly recommended!

Maybe the real reason Jane had wanted to go to Pembrokshire was to visit Skomer Island with a hope of seeing puffins. With a limit of 250 visitors allowed a day, and the single landing point meaning conditions didn’t always allow the boat to sail, getting there wasn’t a certainty. We were in luck though and at 11am Monday were boarding the Dale Princess then on our way.

The Dale PrincessThe boat trip was fun and took about 15 minutes then up a long stairway to a greeting area where a Welsh Wildlife Trust warden gave us the low down and in particular asked us to stick to the paths as the whole island is riddled with burrows many of which contained nesting birds including the nocturnal Manx Shearwaters – about 300,000 breeding pairs apparently. We couldn’t expect to see any in day time excepting the macabre pairs of bodiless wings scattered about the island, leftovers from when the Greater Black-backed Gulls had a few for supper.

We walked up the old farmhouse which now serves as a visitor centre, attempts at farming having ceased in the 1950’s. Then we set off in the opposite direction to the others so we could have our picnic lunch looking out over the Mew Stone which is a rock out to sea at the south of Skomer. The rock ledges of Mew Stone was occupied with lots of birds that we decided were Guillemot, we’d been told a pair of Chough had been seen earlier but we didn’t spot their distinctive red beaks and legs.

On to The Wick, a steep cliffed feature like someone had cut a thin slice of cake out the island, and there were puffins everywhere. We’d been alone for much of the time so far but loads of people were puffin watching, the birds themselves didn’t seem much fussed though a volunteer told me they could get a bit stressed having to walk across the path to get to their burrows.

Puffin9 Puffins1 Puffin2It was a fine sunny day so I managed to get some good photos despite having to rely on the autofocus as varifocals and cameras don’t mix. We also had a pair of Fulmars snuggling up high on a cliff ledge pointed out to us as well as more Guillimot and some Razorbills lower down on the cliff. It was a while before we tore ourselves away and continued round Skomer’s perimeter.

Skomer had been used for farming rabbits since the 14th century and there were still lots about, mostly your standard issue grey bunny but we also saw several black ones.

Black BunnyI had suggested we travelled to Skomer on the 11am boat instead of the 10am as the first boat back was supposed to be 3:30pm and I had visions of us getting cold and bored on a wet and windy island. In fact the opposite was true and we had to keep an eye on the time to make sure we were waiting for our boat 30 minutes before it’s 4:00pm sailing – it had been pointed out to us at the start that there was no later boat and ‘it was already rather crowded at the hostel’ (some visitors and researchers spend the night there).

A 2nd visit to the old farmhouse to use their compost loos and buy some water then back to the top of the landing stairs where we were entertained by more puffins, seals – in particular a young one that came over to our side of the bay and, on our descent to the Dale Princess for boarding, a close look at some Razorbills who hang out near the steps.

Seal3 Seals1Razorbill1Puffins3Puffins4* Life for Celine, an elegant and friendly black cat – healthy at 15 years on her vegan diet – could have been terribly different. Celine started life at Hill Grove Farm where cats were bred for vivisection until it closed, mostly down to the efforts of activists, in 1999.

Controversial cat farm closes (BBC)

Save The Hillgrove Cats Campaign (YouTube)

 

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Brill Common

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.

Brill Orienteering April 20149 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!

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White Horse Half 2014

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.

White Horse Half 2014

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.

Mugshot

Mugshot

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Wendover Woods Orienteering

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!

Wendover Woods Track

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.)

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