Watlington XC 10k 2013

Saturday before race day I had a cold – shivery, snotty, tired – I wasn’t at all sure I’d be running. Watlington XC 10k isn’t an early start though and I’d already decided to drive rather than cycle so I decided to restrict myself to just the one beer and see how I felt in the morning. Sunday morning I had breakfast, didn’t feel too bad, more snot than weak and feeble. A look at facebook and it seemed Vegan Runners UK member Rafal had decided to enter last minute so that made my mind up and off I went eating a couple of paracetomol for luck.

In the start hall I collected my number and was pleased I’d brought safety pins as they had run out. Rafal wasn’t so lucky but a chap had a few spare so team VRUK settled for 3 each which was enough to do the job. I was only expecting to 10 minute mile it what with the hills and 1 hour 5 minutes sounded about right as I’d taken a hour last year and had been almost last at the Watlington Skyline only a few weeks ago. We got a runner to take a photo then jogged off to the start.

Watlington XC 10k 2013

A chat then we got in our appropriate start positions, Rafal near the front, me not far from the back, and waited while more runners arrived and 10:30am – start time – came and went. Lots of people were going off for warm-ups and Rafal must have done an extra kilometre by the time a young man with an iPad leapt out of a large black vehicle at gone quarter to eleven. Technology now present the horn sounded and we were off.

I took it nice and easy up the track and along the rough surface of the Ridgeway heading north. My body seemed to have given up what with the wait and I didn’t feel at all energetic. After very gently climbing for a mile and a half we turned towards the Chiltern escarpment then climbed somewhat steeper till a bit after mile 2 I was walking the sharpest bit as expected. A couple of guys valiantly ran past me but I took the places back near the top when I started running but they’d given up.

We were hardly on the top road 10 seconds before turning right into a field and a good long, grassy,descent, a bit steep for me to let go in places but fun non-the-less. A not so young Thame Runner whizzed past me with the confidence of a fell runner. Along a bit of single track with plentiful trip hazards, skirting a wood. Then left onto tarmac, the same track we had started on but further up. Soon through a gap in large logs presumably placed to stop vehicles and soon enough I was walking the 2nd climb of the morning as was everyone around me. This one went on a bit so I got my walking speed up enough to gain a couple of places then into a field and I jogged the last bit of up before we joined the long track back down to the Ridgeway that runs parallel to the Watlington Hill road used for cycling hill climb competitions.

We’d been warned the landowner had cut a lot of wood back and moved the footpath. Every now and then the cut short stumps of coppice poked through the layer of leaves we descended through, fortunately painted orange but still demanding full attention. My specs kept steaming up which really didn’t help things. About halfway the surface improved and I opened up my stride aware from my Garmin, set only to show the time of day, that I was in with a chance of finishing under the hour. Steps fast behind and I wrongly guessed Thame Runners but he wasn’t far behind either and also passed me.

Still I was feeling good as we turned right back onto the Ridgeway and a glance at my watch when the finish came into sight suggested I had over 2 minutes to get there. In the bag I thought but still pushed my best remembering that this race was at least half a kilometre over distance. I was glad to finish but pleased.

Rafal had waited for me despite having finished in 47 minutes plus change. We wandered back to the cars both pleased with our efforts but a bit behind schedule what with the late start. When I did eventually bother to check my time on the Garmin it showed 1:00:08. Damn it how did that happen? Still a few seconds quicker than last year and a bit further up the field managing 94th of 150 finishers.

Still feeling fine I drove home. I had an unusual experience when a foreign chap I thought to be broken down flagged me down on the M40 slip road only to ask for money for petrol and food for his family. I gave him my emergency tenner – I can’t think this was the life he’d been hoping for when he headed for the UK 🙁

Jane also has this cold and didn’t fancy our usual Sunday afternoon visit to Wetherspoons but I didn’t feel too bad as I had a beer and headed for bed. Monday morning though I felt awful and took the day off. A bit better now, Wednesday, but still really tired, rather useless and mentally adrift with a fair amount of snot. Oh well – so it goes!


Watlington Skyline XC 2013

Having enjoyed  the Watlington XC 10k last December I thought I’d have a go at the inaugural Watlington Skyline 10 mile XC  organised by the same team. At less than a fiver to enter and with the clear warning that this was a self-navigated race with marshalling only at major junctions it sounded like an adventure.

I managed to get a copy of the route off a fellow parkrunner and traced it onto my Tracklogs mapping software to reveal 2 sizeable lumps and the potential for great views and some hillwalking. I can do 10 slow, hilly, off-road miles without undue suffering now but not at all fast so set myself the unambitious target of finishing in 1 hour 50 minutes, possibly right at the back.

The forecast got a bit worrying as the 27th November approached with ‘the worst storm since 1987’ ominously predicted to arrive the following day. It looked like we might stay dry though if I didn’t drag it out too long and at 11am a rather small band of runners took off from the start half-way up a track near Pyrton, the chap who started us off also running in a style reminiscent of a good old bare bones Audax ride.

Having made clear to a fellow back of pack runner that I may be depriving her of the wooden spoon a small group of us unhurried trotted along to join the Ridgeway path then turn left to start the first long climb. Not a mile done and I managed to go a bit off route, retracing when I hit a dead end and rejoining the race now right at the back. I’d planned to walk some of this hill to preserve energy but the gradient was quite even so I kept going passing maybe 5 runners in the process.

We topped out on the road near Christmas Common at about 2 miles where we were marshalled left then right to join a long and lovely descent through the woods. Tassles of red and white tape had been tied to trees to mark the route. It was dry, not too cold, not too muddy, the sun even snuck through on occasion. A chap with number 14 on his shirt was just in front, a lady from Abingdon Amblers and another chap just behind. This was fun!

We briefly followed bridleways along the bottom before our path began to gently rise in more open landscape allowing us to see the size of the lump up ahead. There were various kissing gates and stiles along the route.  Abingdon & Co set a good, steady pace and I joined them for a while but having studied the profile knew we were in for over a mile of climbing and I’d be wise to walk some of it. So, as the climb steepened around mile 6, I settled into my 50 paces walk, 50 paces run, strategy for a bit. Mr 14 was also taking it easy and I had passed him by the time we reached the road at the top and were marshalled over the bridge at the top of the Stokenchurch Gap where we could see the M40 down below.

Some confusing navigation now, at this time of year there are so many leaves on the ground it’s not always clear that the way you are taking through the woods is actually a path at all, then I emerged by the little car park for Beacon Hill viewpoint where a marshall fortunately appeared to point me the right way. Some muddled math suggested of 5 or so behind me 2 had passed and I’d passed 1 so maybe 5th from the back. I had my Garmin set to show just the time of day but it did flash up each mile time and I reckoned my sub 1:50 was in the bag.

A bit more up then along following a very windswept, narrow, path along the side of that big grass-covered hill you see on the left driving up the Stokenchurch Cut. A marshall took a photo then told me to go left to start descending. Through a gate then a choice of paths, momentary confusion resolved when a couple walking their dogs pointed me left and soon enough I spotted my red and white tape. Below I saw team Abingdon and realised I might yet catch them. Down an old grassy sunken track then a hairpin and more down, looking up above I spotted a runner several minutes back. I was a bit knackered now so not making full use of the descent, through a kissing gate with a box of Aston Rowant nature reserve leaflets and turn left back onto the Ridgeway.

I knew we were going to face a strong headwind heading back west along the Ridgeway but suddenly things got really tough. You could have used the tunnel under the motorway for testing aerodynamics! Despite being nearly flat and no particular bits of me hurting I was back to taking walking breaks. The Garmin buzzing the 9th mile completed felt like ‘on no how can I do another mile’. I thought the organiser had said we would finish on the Ridgeway and not have to run the extra couple of hundred metres back to the start, I really hoped this was true. In retrospect I had good old-fashioned bonk and should have taken an energy gel with me but you never do recognise it when it’s happening.

The finish was beautifully low-key. A lad and a girl sat on stones at the turn-off from the Ridgeway with paper and iPad recording times. A couple of people clapped while someone gave me a bottle of water. My rival for the metaphorical wooden spoon was a little upset that some of them had accidently gone under distance, they had recorded a bit over 9.5 miles while I got the whole 10.1, I think someone had had a go at them for getting in front. It began to rain and I set off back to the car chatting with one of the organising club and spotted number 14 walking ahead of me when surely he should be behind somewhere.

So, with at least 3 accidental under-distances getting past me, maybe I was 2nd last? I was a little bit miffed that runner I’d spotted behind earlier hadn’t passed me when I was walking – I mean who wants to be 2nd last when you can be last-last? In fact the results showed me 39th of 42 with a time of 1:45:04 so 5 minutes ahead of target. The journey home was made interesting by an unexpected outburst of pins and needles in both hands and lower arms rendering me too clumsy to work the CD but fortunately ok to drive – I reckon the knackered nerves in my dysfunctional shoulders had decided to make their opinion of my efforts understood.

An excellent event and I’ve now put my entry in for the Watlington XC December 10k 🙂


Adderbury ‘Three Spires’ 10k 2013

I’ve fancied running the Adderbury Three Spires trail half for a few years now but after suffering a lot of arm pain during the back end of Otmoor I think 13 miles is just too long for comfort at the moment, however slow I run it. So spotting that fellow VRUK member Sarah had entered the 10k version I submitted a late entry and 9am Saturday morning was to be found driving down a farm track to the allocated parking on what promised to be another blazing hot day. I was knackered as usual with maybe five hours sleep if you add the bits up and an extra dose of ibuprofen to shut my arm up so I could enjoy the run – nothing new there then 🙁

The farmer asked that we line the cars up in just half the field so there was plenty of room left for the sheep we were sharing with, I notice he’d left them the shady half – good man. We cut through down the side of a house and then crossed the road to follow signs to the start. I kept my eyes on the couple up ahead which maybe wasn’t the best idea as we ended up somewhat lost. After a bit, guided by the sound of race preparations, four of us followed a narrow path over a disused railway embankment and found ourselves at the wrong end of the start field. Youth races were already in motion and already warm runners queuing to collect their numbers, I grabbed mine then sat about on the grass till I caught sight of another Vegan Runners vest and introduced myself to Sarah. As we were chatting one of the half marathoners came and said hello – also vegan but running for Witney Road Runners.

Sarah said she hoped to get under the hour, I made the usual excuses about bad arm, lack of sleep, lack of training and lined up right near the back. We all set off together with the half runners doing a lap of the field but us lot heading straight for the exit at the other end of the field. I positioned myself right near the back so I wouldn’t get dragged along in the heat.

Adderbury 10k start As usual I’d done my homework and checked the route profile based on a route gpx I’d downloaded so was expecting small hill at 1.5 miles, bigger bump at 2.5 then another small one about 5. Unfortunately the route had been changed rather late in proceedings due to some other event so instead we had gently rolling on farm and field tracks after we’d left Adderbury with a visit to Bloxham about halfway. It was nice but I’d no idea where I was going 🙂

It was really, very hot. I was glad it was a morning event and even gladder I wasn’t attempting the half marathon. I passed a few early on and was passed by many of the half marathoners as they caught us. What with stiles and gates and narrow paths it was never going to be a fast course which suited me fine. There was water after a couple of kilometres and I made sure a full cup went down, more water at Bodicote by which time some around me were noticeably wilting and I was quite glad I was obliged to take it easy. We joked with the marshals that the queue to cross a stile was really just an excuse to have a walk in the shade. Glancing at my Garmin showing time of day only it seemed from the distance markers that I was 10 minute miling or thereabouts which was fine by me.

Adderbury 10k meAround mile 5 I took a short walk in the shade as I was beginning to feel just a little faint and sick. I was yoyoing with a couple of walk/run guys and I think we were all keeping our eye out for each other in case there was any serious heat problems. Fortunately I didn’t see any. I wasn’t expecting more water but really appreciated it when it arrived near where we split from the half marathoners. Nearly done and glad of it we passed a gang armed with powerful water guns and three good squirts left me dripping and in much better condition for a not too slow finish.

Back through Adderbury, no idea where I was heading, it did seem to be going on a bit. Then a marshal says next left and your on the finish field. I heard footsteps behind and felt an unusual urge to speed up a bit and hang onto my position. A bottle of water handed to me as soon as I crossed the line, a medal (which I had to untangle from the bunch as the young lad was struggling to separate them). I was pointed to the goodie bags which contained more water, a welcome banana and an interesting water bag type thing. I’d enjoyed myself and didn’t feel too overheated as I sat and drank my water. Someone asked me what distance I made it and I realised I’d not bother to check the Garmin so saved the run and the data suggested a bit over 6.6 miles in agreement with other runners so we’d had a bit extra at no additional cost. Got lost trying to find my way back to the car afterwards but it was a nice day for an extra tour of Adderbury.

I was surprised to find my 1:04:07 had got me 33rd of 76 runners, I think this probably reflected my coping with the exceptional heat better than some as I’m not able to run flat out. Sarah was much more impressive, 4th lady and 10th overall. I must return and run the half marathon sometime – a great local event and very impressed with how well Adderbury Running Club kept us comfortable in that heat!



Feeding The Vegan Welsh 3000s

So, having failed to actually get up even one Welsh 3000 but still wanting to be part of the Vegan Welsh 3000s adventure, Jane and I were to be found at 7:45am on Saturday the 15th June trying to erect a tent in a very windy car park next to Llyn Ogwen which lives between the Glyderau and the Carneddau mountains in Snowdonia. I’d volunteered us as a food stop where the hardy ultra runners could rest and refuel with strictly vegan calories before tackling the last stage of the race.

We had already been staying in a B&B near Llanberis for a couple of days and had enjoyed a bit of wet but pleasant walking plus a visit to Caernarfon. The veggie/vegan B&B, Graianfryn, was brilliant and did us home-made, exciting, nutritious breakfasts and evening meals complete with vegan wine or beer options. I’d had a couple of fair nights sleep for a change but Friday I’d been arm achy and knackered so I wasn’t that fresh.

The grassy area we were trying to pitch in only actually had about an inch of grass under which was stone so we tried to pin the tent down pushing the pegs in sideways. It was gusting really strongly and despite assistance from Rachel who had volunteered to help us I was beginning to despair of getting the thing to stay put even before the first runner arrived. We managed to untangle and attach a few extra guy ropes that had never been needed before and I eventually sussed that by tucking the pegs under the edge of the various boulders sharing the grassy bit I could get them to stay put. The side of the tent still blew in so far it almost pushed the table over but it would have to do.

Ogwen food stationMeanwhile food supplies and runners bags arrived from the previous food station at Nant Peris and we added vegan pizza and sausage rolls to the supply of sandwiches, cake, bananas, dried fruit, crisps nuts, 9bars, flapjacks, tea, coffee and energy drinks we were offering. It seemed like a lot of food for around 30 starters but while the faster runners just stuffed their faces, downed a coffee, filled their pockets then were off as the day went on the less hurried participants took the chance to unwind, have a decent sit down and  have a proper picnic.

Boris Gaspar, our first runner, approached from the Carneddau as he was one of only two attempting the 84k extreme event which amounted to running all the 3000s then turning round and running them again. He had started an hour late after getting a puncture so by the time he arrived around 9:30 we were ready for him. He was looking fresh despite 14 miles already done and after a munch sprung up the rocky path towards Tryfan like he’d only just started.

Boris heads for TryfanCharlie Sharpe was with us for his first visit half an hour later also attempting the 84k version but starting at the other end so he’d already covered the Snowdon Massif and the Glyderau. A super fit member of team 9bar Charlie looked in better shape than I usually do after a 5k parkrun and was soon on his way up the Carneddau.

Charlie heads for Pen y Ole WenThings were getting busy for us now with Dan Page, who went on to win the 55k in 8hr 45m, followed by a steady flow of faster runners. Vegan Karl Garside had acquired a rather purple looking swollen ankle but the tape applied to support it seemed to work as he went on to finish in 4th place. A minor cock-up meant a couple of the runners drop bags had gone AWOL resulting in a disappointing end to the dream of dry socks. The excitement and feel good vibe was almost visible.

The day had turned out pretty dry and sunny despite a foul forecast and the start of the race having been greeted with a hail storm on the way up Snowdon and poor visibility on the tops. We were told it was really windy on the summits though and the organiser’s switch to an alternative route avoiding the arête of Crib Goch was a good call. Down in the valley we were still struggling to keep the tent up in the strong gusts and any spare minute found me trying to rescue another guy rope from the impossible tangle they’d become. The side of the tent would blow right in and it later turned out a couple of the poles had split. We tucked the camping stove right into a corner behind a wall and it worked well enough to keep a couple of flasks topped up with boiling water for tea and coffee. When things calmed down a bit we got the frying pan out and started a production line for vegan bacon sarnies which found appreciative consumers amongst many of the not- usually-vegan participants.

John BatesonSeveral members of Vegan Runners UK were taking part including Simon Dally, John Bateson (above with organiser Kirsch Bowker), Kate Fitzgibbon and Roger Mills. Runners families, volunteers and supporters from Sea Shepherd cheered in participants as well as welcoming various walkers and runners who were nothing to do with our event. A few people dropped out, another 14 miles starting with a 600m climb was just too much, and I forwarded on their race numbers to marshals down the line. Time flew and around 2:40pm we greeted the last 5 who had got lost and missed out Tryfan while adding on a few miles, 3 of these decided to call it a day but 2 decided to carry on after a feed and a rest.

The mountain marshals who had been stationed for many hours on the surrounding peaks in some pretty hairy winds made their way down to us – another Boris, Jake, Jeannie and Joe. A tired Te had arrived with van and we knew Charlie would be with us soon on his return leg, he was refuelled and on his way back up Tryfan about 4:30pm.

Arrival timings were obviously rather vague at this stage 12 hours after the start and we had one of several comedy moments. We set food – cold bacon sarnie, banana, 9bar, water etc etc – aside for Boris so we could leave Te and Rachel to look after him and get ourselves decamped. The hastily arranged support for Charlie’s next Nant Perris stop hadn’t arrived for his drop bag at the unrealistically early time agreed so Te went off to wait for him and when Kirsch did arrive we packed all the remaining food along with the Vegan 3000s flag etc in her car so we didn’t need to take our knackered selves to Rowen. (They were having a fine party there but I was only fit for my bed.) Boris arrived about 6pm and we realised all his supplies had somehow been taken away in Te’s van. Oh no! Jane and Rachel raided their lunch boxes and water bottles and succeeded in feeding him a feast of oatcakes and grapes and stuff which did the job.

Meanwhile I was desperately trying to stem the flow of blood from a small but unstoppable cut on my thumb I’d somehow got from a sharp end on the flagpole. Double plasters were washed off in the red flow, the finger bandage saturated in minutes – I ended up applying the eye bandage from the first aid kit with the eye pad positioned to staunch the flow. Marshal Boris and Rachel headed for Rowen then Jane and I started to take the tent down just as the wind really got going and, tent by now uninhabitable, it started to piss it down – first proper rain we’d had all day and came too quick to get the waterproof trousers on. Think I was back in my bed at the B&B before the last runners had even finished I was so knackered!

Of course we were just a place on the way for these mountain runners – the real event was going on hundreds of metres above us in sunshine and wind and sometimes cloud. This photo by Patrick Lewis gives you a better idea of what it’s all about, click on it to visit Flickr and see many more.

Up On Top


Otmoor Challenge 2013

Checking back to my report on last year’s Otmoor Challenge I see that this year I was definitely going to go under 2 hours. Very funny! I settled for a target time of 2:15 instead with no certainly I could even manage that.

Come the day I was knackered what with my shoulder having moaned non-stop for days and the knock on effect of only managing to sleep in brief shifts between doses of ibuprofen and tiger balm. Friday night I accidentally made matters worse by deciding on a return to the paracetamol and codeine during the night but the blooming stuff didn’t seem to work.  I had to get up though as I was on the Oxford parkrun volunteer rota and needed to be there at 8:15, I breakfasted and set off bleary eyed muttering that I wouldn’t be doing Otmoor today. I was marshalling and was glad I took the camera as it was sunny enough for some decent photos and my victims were very game.

Oxford parkrun GorillaSo 1pm I was on my bike cycling to Horton cum Studley for the start having decided a nice dawdle round at the back in the sunshine would be more fun than sitting at home moaning about my arm. I wore my ‘Stop the Cull’ t-shirt over my vest and this got an approving comment from the lady handing out the race numbers. An energy gel, a couple of ibuprofen and a big drink of water then I positioned myself right at the back for the start and dead on 2pm we were off.

A nice slow start as we jog out the entrance, right down the road then onto a rough track at the end of a cul-de-sac in Horton. Few as slow as me though as I keep it real easy for those first couple of miles cross country till we join the road just before Murcott where the Hash Otmoor Elite Squad were already on their first beer outside the pub. Several miles of minor road now through Fencott, Charlton and Oddington where the same chap as last year standing outside the same pub told us to get a move on again. We’d spread out quite a bit by now and while I’d passed a couple and been passed by a few I was still keeping the pace very easy in the hope of saving some energy for the ‘endless field’ and the hill after it.

It was good to turn down a little avenue then back off tarmac onto field paths again. There was a tricky little wooden bridge and some gnarly surfaces though and my arm was starting to throb as the painkillers wore off. I was pleased to walk a few paces at the Noke water station, drinking a full cup to wash another gel down with. It was getting a bit too warm for comfort – Otmoor Challenge always seems to manage a sunny day – and some of my companions at the tail end were showing signs or wear as I’m sure I was. Shouting and hullabaloo behind announced the approach of the Hash Elite Squad who passed me in a fragmented state of exuberance and exhaustion.

The field went on and on with it’s narrow bits of path with awkward camber and surface. My arm hurt and I wanted to walk but had to keep reminding myself that, unlike sore legs, it would feel no less painful walking or running. The plan was to run everything except Otmoor Lane hill which climbed along the route of the old Roman road from Otmoor nature reserve to Beckley so a couple of miles was spent really looking forward to the hill. When it came to it a walk 3 telegraph poles then run 3 strategy worked fine and I think the only runner who passed me was a straggling Hasher who invited me to join him at their beer stop near the top. I declined and carried onto the last water stop. Then a bit more hill and we were almost home.

The grassy downhill was great as my legs were still good enough to enjoy it, it’s a pity about the stiles. Then a little path and a bit of track before coming out on the road for the last flat mile to the finish. The official walkers route rejoined ours along here so knackered runners, backpacked walkers and traffic gave a busy feel after all that countryside. Soon but not soon enough I reached the turning into the finish field and crossed the line in just under 2 hours 20 minutes – 310th of 353 runners. I was very glad I’d bothered to be there but also pleased I’d thought to bring the tube of ibuprofen gel to rub on my shoulder and ease the cycle ride home over the hill. Definitely going under 2 hours next year 🙂