Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Spitfire Scramble 2017

As a runner returning for the fourth year since the inaugural event, this time in a team of four, I was looking forward to seeing what was in store from an ever growing race that continues to grow from strength to strength. 

Spitfire Scramble is London's (using the terms fairly loosely as it is based in Hornchurch country park in the city's Essex outskirts) only 24 hour trail race, offering runners a unique experience to run a multitude of miles either solo, as a pair or in a team. 

Logistically the event has moved as it has outgrown its original home so the campsite and start/finish line is now homed in a larger field. Plus points; so much more space and better parking. Downsides; some of the most scratchy grass and uneven ground known to man, which meant irritated legs from sitting on the grass and a crooked back from sleeping on some really uncomfortable ground.

Running wise this meant the course, although the same started at a different point the main difference being the killer Ingrebourne hill now came towards the end of the lap followed by a downhill descent for the last kilometre or so. 

So how did the race go?

I was part of team 'Running in (bob) hope' a name in comedy reference to running hero Tony Auldenshaw as opposed to anything to do with the deceased American comedian. 

Following previous years where I was part of UKrunchat teams and last year where I ran solo, this year I was part of a team of four consisting of family members I have at least partly been responsible for infecting with the running bug over the last few years. As a four man team in the 3-5 man category we were always going to be at a disadvantage and so it proved as we finished sixth in our category somewhere adrift of the five other teams. 

As a team we gallantly fought through a variety of individual injuries and ailments to complete 20 team laps of the 5.6 mile course within the 24 hours. I myself managed to notch up 7 laps while struggling with a wrecked back after my first nap. Few things dampen my enthusiasm for running but a sore back that ricocheted with pain whenever I ran more than a few hundred metres just about managed it until a second more comfortable nap and pain killer eased my afflictions. 

Being part of team didn't fail to inspire a good amount of comaredie, frivolity and general banter that you would imagine would ensue when four chaps camp out together for a weekend. 

That's the beauty of this event though, it's not all about the running, it's the camping, the chilling in the campsite, the eating (mostly soreen banana loaf, malteasers and chocolate covered coffee beans), drinking (mostly iced tea and coronas) and chatting to other runners (great to meet Will @Wilberf0rce and Ant @RunEatCleepRep). 

The weekend does involve a fair amount of running though, I clocked up 40 miles which wasn't a bad effort and I was inspired by team mates Dan and Tony who stuck their hands up to run more laps than they had originally volunteered for and ran further during the event than they ever had before. 

Spitfire Scramble is a pretty special event, how many other events let you run through a country park in the middle of the night allowing you to enjoy the peaceful solitude? 
Which other event gives you the opportunity to ascend a steep hill to then be rewarded with watching the sun set over London? 

So my fourth year, still loving what is a great event, another year to look back on another unique set of experiences and I'm already making plans to come back in 2018 for my fifth event. 

The only question is in what format do I enter in next year? I'm liking the idea of going solo again or perhaps looking for a partner to share 24 hours of running with....

Thursday, 29 December 2016

2016 My Year of Running

So it's that time of the year to look back and reflect on the year that is coming to an end.

On reflection I struggle to summarise the year as successful as I didn't achieve my aims of smash any PBs but at the same time I look back on a year of running which I have probably enjoyed more than any other. 

In summary the highlights for the year were that I ran my first ultra (110K at Spitfire Scramble in August) and I became a dad! Two pretty awesome achievements!  

2016 looked something like this....

The first quarter was dominated by half marathons, three in three months, but my first running event of the year was a UK fitness bloggers 5K in support of RODS on 30th January. Great fun and great to meet some online friends in person. 

The run earned me my first but of bling in the shape of this rather cool little number. 

The very next day I celebrated my birthday with a half marathon, not the PB I had hoped for due to illness over the New Year period but an enjoyable run none the less.

February saw another half marathon and an improvement on my time but my sights were set on a great run and PB attempt at my third half marathon of the year in March.

March saw my entry into the North London Half Marathon promising the 'greatest finish line in the world' with the final few hundred metres being inside Wembley stadium. I felt in PB shape but a dodgy back the day before put pay to that idea meaning I ran the first few miles in trepidation missing out on PB pace, still my second fastest Half Marathon time wasn't too bad. It was actually really beneficial to run the same distance a couple of times in quick succession so I could work on my race strategy and targets. 

May saw the first marathon of the year with my first (but not last) running of the excellent Halstead marathon. I felt in or around the best marathon shape I had ever been in but the hottest weekend of the year quickly sapped me of any PB possibility. Still I received  a nice lobster skin tone and a giant medal for my troubles. 

The start of July brought around the years big event, the St Petersburg Marathon in Russia, my first marathon abroad and my biggest event in terms of participants.

I never felt in brilliant shape so wasn't expecting a great time, hot and humid conditions punished me and the other runners meaning a difficult race but a terrific experience.

Unexpectedly the Spitfire Scamble in August became an even bigger event the I anticipated, instead of running a few laps as part of a team I ended up taking the plunge and running solo covering 11 laps and 110K in total. In hindsight easiest my best and most enjoyable running event I have taken part in. 

The summer ended with a highly anticipated run at the Bacchus marathon, in fancy dress with my running buddies. I wasn't really in marathon shape but a brilliant event, so much fun and a great way to run my slowest marathon ever! 

Then come October thoughts of running went out the window as life changed completely with the arrival, all be it slightly earlier than anticipated, of this little chap.

So come my last race of the year, a 5 miler in a local park I had only managed a handful of runs in several weeks and although I felt pretty rusty my legs were fresh and energised. 

The Harold Wood Running Club 5 mile event was a great event to end the year with as it started less than a mile from the flat, took place around the parks where I usually train and gave me the opportunity to meet a few online running buddies in person. 

The best thing of all was being able to hang my finishers medal around the little chaps neck when I got home. 

So the year ends with a massive change to life and running but one I wouldn't want to go back on! 

I suppose my competitive side is disappointed to not have a PB this year, unless I manage to pull one out of the bag at New Years Eve Parkrun, but looking back on ten events, three marathons and my first ultra all packed full of fun and great experiences is no bad thing at all.

I hope your 2016 has seen you enjoy your running and achieve your goals and 2017 brings you plenty of happy miles! 

Monday, 12 September 2016

Going for the full fat Bacchus option

After having a great experience running the Bacchus half marathon last year I some how found myself running the full marathon this year with running buddies Chris and Tony

In case your unfamiliar with Bacchus you can get a feel for the event from my previous post here but basically its a trail run in and around Denbies vineyard where fancy dress is strongly encouraged with wine and a whole host of snacks available to runners on route. 

So you are correct to assume that its an event that is basically a party with a bit of running thrown in. You would also be correct to assume that running 13 miles as opposed to 26 miles as part of this party would make it more enjoyable and less of a strenuous test of fitness and endurance. 

Never the less I found myself up at 5.30, out of the house at 6.30 having a lift to the station (thanks wife, much appreciated) to catch the 6.51 train. 

I soon found myself on the 8.04 from Waterloo heading deep into Surrey with a good supply of coffee and jaffa cakes as a magical transformation took place to transform three average runners into three suitably attired gallant musketeers looking the part as 18th century French gentlemen ready to defend King and Country if necessary. 

Our transformation complete we made our way into race HQ to pick up our race packs and drop our bags off. Having successfully negotiated the crowds of pirates, bees, pixies, minions, unicorns, Roman centurions chilling out before the later start of the half marathon we took our place on the start line with a little over 100 other hardy souls ready to take on the full fat marathon experience.

So the race is pretty simple, drink stops every 2 miles or so and 2x 13 mile laps for us marathon runners. 

The course is predominantly trail, very pretty in parts, some great views over rural Surrey as we ran through vineyards, fields, shady woods and up steep hills. 

The drink stops provided much needed rest bite and refreshment on what was a hotter than expected late summers day.

A full range of wines were available at the different stops along with a variety of snacks including mars bars, jaffa cakes, biscuits, cakes, fruit, sweets, crisps, popcorn and even cocktail sausages at one stop which were an unexpected treat. 

Our costumes were well received and we merrily greeted runners, cyclists, motorists and walkers alike with enthusiast cries of 'Bonjour!', 'Allez!' and 'En Guard!', well we were enthusiast on the first lap in any case!

It was great to chat with the marshals on the course and at the stops and of course with other runners on route, special mention so Scary Spice and the Stormtropper! 

The party atmosphere was definitely missing from my experience from the previous year as we missed pretty much all the bands (with the exception of the last few tracks from Paparazzi at stop 4), drink stops despite enthusiast marshals were sparse of runners as opposed to the heaving, buzzing party venues they would have been for the half marathon runners. 

We still very much enjoyed ourselves though chatting and joking  amongst ourselves and trying to convince passers by that we felt as 'cool as a cucumber!' in our costumes. (For the record they were a bit toasty but not too bad). The red wine and cheese at stop 7 and the sparkling wine and chocolate brownie at stop 4 provided a much needed sugar rush on the second lap. 

Overall my verdict would be that that the marathon is too tough as the course is actually pretty brutal and you cant afford to take it lightly by messing around with wine and snacks. Secondly you miss all the party action which is really why you sign up to this event in the first place. it was also disappointing to find most of the drink stations packing up shop on the second lap and the race HQ closing down by the time we finished in just over 6 hours. Not that slow a marathon time and certainly not a slow time when you consider the time spent stopping to chat, drink wine or eat snacks. 

For me personally the race was tough as since Spitfire Scramble 4 weeks ago I haven't really trained and have only managed 9 miles as my longest run. Compared with Chris and Tony who are both well into training for Autumn marathons posting some impressive times and distances in recent weeks I struggled to keep pace. The first lap was OK and up to around mile 15 was just about bearable but after that it became painfully tough and the last 2 miles were struggle as my knee started playing up. Thanks for slowing down for me guys, all for one and one for all! Still we weren't looking to go to fast as we were aiming for a collective worst marathon time which we smashed by 19 minutes! Woohoo! PWs all round! 

Further disappointment was with the medal and finishers t-shirt as although I really like the designs of both the medal is exactly the same as last year and the t-shirt is incredibly similar.

Spot the difference?
Minor moans aside the event is very well organised and incredibly well supported by the marshals, what a very enjoyable way to bring up marathon number 10 and a brilliant event to provide my temporary swansong from longer distances. I am very proud to be becoming a father for the first time in the next month or two so running will have to go on a bit of a back burner for the time being but I will be back!

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Making the most of the Bacchus experience

The Bacchus half marathon and marathon running events form part of an exciting day of running activities at Denbies Wine Estate in Dorking Surrey. This is no ordinary running event as it comprises a heady mix of long distance running, wine tasting, fancy dress and fun. 

I am by no means a seasoned Bacchus veteran having only taken part in the event once as a half marathon runner last year but I feel Like I got a good idea of the spirit of the event. By the way I was St George chasing my brother in law the Dancing Dragon.

To see how I got on last year and to get a feel for the event you can read my blog here, or watch this great video of last years run. 


Here's my advice on making the most of this fun filled event:  

1. Fancy dress - it's got to be done, don't worry about looking odd, this is an event where you will look out of place if your not dressed up! 

2. It's all about the fun not the run - yes it's a running event but if you were to focus solely on the running aspect you would miss out on so much, so be ready to soak in the full experience. 

3. Make sure you make the most of tasting Denbies mighty fine wine range.

Sure you will be able to taste plenty of wine during the run but try to take the time to experience a full glass as well. 

Why not incorporate a glass into a pre race stretch as part of your warm up? 

4. Eat, drink and be merry

You will get the idea very quickly that the event is pretty much a party with a bit of running thrown in so make sure you enjoy the party atmosphere! 

Make sure you replenish those calories.

From the wine stops mid race to the heavily laden tables of snacks at the fuel stops and not forgetting the hog roast burger at the end there's plenty of opportunity to fill your boots! 

Whether running the half marathon (good choice) or the full marathon (you crazy fool) you will need to consume plenty of calories to keep you fueled during your race.

Luckily there is a plentiful supply of food and snacks on the course to keep you going! 

5.Take the time to take in the views 

Its a stunning course with some brilliant scenery, so don't be afraid to stop staring down at that Garmin and take in the sights!

6. Take home a souvenir or two, and I'm not talking about the race medal or tshirt. 

A bottle or two of something to take home to help reminisce on the day doesn't sound like such an awful idea now does it?

However you approach the race and however you choose to enjoy the day I hope that you indeed do.

Bacchus is a very social race so stay in touch on social media by following event organisers Events to Live and Denbies reporter, Denbies Big Twit and follow all the goings on with #BacchusTime. I will be more than likely live tweeting my own escapades during the race  so follow me to see how it all pans out!

Sunday, 21 August 2016

My first ultra challenge at Spitfire Scramble

Last weekend I took on my biggest, longest and probably toughest running challenge to date when I took the plunge and ran Spitfire Scramble as a solo runner. 

The Spitfire Scramble is a 24 hour trail race which you can enter as a team of between 2 and 8 or as a solo runner. In the last two years I have thoroughly enjoyed my time running in UKrunchat teams but this year I decided to take the plunge and go it alone as a solo runner. 

The Scramble take place in Hornchurch Country park which was formerly an airbase in the Second World War hence the inspiration for the Spitfire theme. 

I have never really been overly keen in running an ultra marathon as such but I have always had an interest in running this event as a solo runner mainly because its so local to where I live and I have spent so many hours of training running around the course over the last ten years or so. Knowing that I definitely wanted to run it at some point I took the attitude that this year would be as good a year as any to give it a go rather than to keep putting it off for the future.

For me running the Scramble has always been about pushing my limits and seeing what I was capable of. Two years ago as part of  a team I was apprehensive about whether I could run multiple times in a 24 hour period, could I run in the early hours of the morning and how far I could push myself. It turned out my fears were all in my mind and I reveled in running 6 laps in 2014 and 4 laps last year and I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of running laps late at night and in the early hours of the morning and actually managed to knock out some decently quick times. 

So with my experiences from previous years in mind I put my fears aside and took on the challenge of running solo. 

I set myself the aim of 100K in the 24 hours which would equate to covering 11 laps of the 9.8K course. 

In the build up to the race I realised if I was going to be successful I needed to plan out my strategy. How fast should I run each lap? How should I structure the 24 hours? When and how long should I rest in between laps? When would I rest? When would I eat?

I very much took the philosophy that failing to prepare was preparing to fail.

So I devised myself a schedule of running for the 24 hours. 

The plan was pretty simple: 
  • two laps up front, followed my a break to change and eat
  • three more laps to be completed before 7pm with breaks as needed.
  • A two hour rest after lap five to allow me to have something substantial to eat
  • two more laps before getting some rest for the night (meaning I would have completed 7 of my target 11 laps)
  • four laps required on Sunday morning - I didn't know what state I would be in by this point so just figured they would be slow and I would need plenty of rest so my plan was start early to give myself plenty of time to complete my required laps and to give myself the cheeky option of a few more laps if I fancied it!
I know this isn't the most hardcore of ultra marathon schedules as many competitors will plan to keep moving for the vast majority of the 24 hour period. This tactic never really appealed to me and I knew for my first attempt at an ultra distance I would certainly need the breaks mentally and probably physically as well. 

Race weekend

So on Friday evening I arrived to pitch my tent and pick up my race registration. It was kind of weird not meeting up with team mates as I had in previous years but it was nice to see a friendly face in Paul (AKA Thomo74) who was camped close by and I was very grateful for him lending a hand in helping me with my tent. 

Saturday morning soon swang around and pre race nerves kicked in and I felt stressed and moody mainly because although I had planned out my running I was nowhere near as organised with my kit as I should have been. Anyway I was soon back at the race campsite with a mountain of kit and a mountain of food kind of feeling ready for what lay ahead.

After race briefings and the usual pre race carb loading it was time to begin.

Stood on the start line before the race start with Spitfire by Prodigy, the unofficial Spitfire Scramble anthem blaring out on the sound system was pretty spine tingling. 

I held on to the line 'cos I know that I can' as motivation to help me through the challenge that lay ahead.

At the risk of turning my race recap into an epic read here is my reflections on each lap:

Lap 1 - Starting off at the back of the field it was great to set off at a gentle pace and to chat with Paul for the first mile or two. The course was pretty congested with all runners setting off together and I concentrated on taking it easy. 

Lap 2 - A short walking break to take on a whitworths dried fruit pack and concentrating on a steady pace, good breathing and technique.

Lap 3 - After a break for a change of top, some juice and jaffa cakes I headed back out. I felt strong and kept a steady pace going as the heat started to intensify. My break in between lap 3 and 4 coincided with Spitfire flyover and meeting with running buddy Artur who was a team mate from last year. 

Photo courtesy of Spitfire Scramble
Lap 4 - After some snacks I headed out for lap number 4 accompanied by Artur. The heat started to become an issue and I was taking on a lot of water as I ran with my hand held High 5 bottle, my pace slowed as I took the odd walking break mainly on the hills or when the heat started to become overbearing.

Lap 5 - This was my last lap before a substantial break and that provided my motivation to get out and run, not that I needed it as I still felt strong. At the end of the lap I was pretty elated to see my wife who had popped back to see me and drop off some supplies including my drink of choice in Iced Tea. 

Lap 6 - After forcing myself to eat some pasta from the mobile catering and a few jaffa cakes I headed out at about 8.15pm for my first head torch lap as night began to fall. I felt re-energised by seeing my wife, having some food, knowing I had ran in excess of a marathon and by the change in running conditions brought on by the dying of the light.
Photo courtesy of Spitfire Scamble
Anyone running during sunset were treated to a truly spectacular sunset of gorgeous pink. 

Lap 7 - This is where things started to get a bit tough as tiredness started to kick in, I had covered around 60K and it was now past 9.30pm. I had also started to get a pain in the outside of my left ankle which was causing me a bit of concern. I still felt that I was running strongly and my pace hadn't dropped as much as I had anticipated. I toyed with the idea of getting another lap in before bed but in the last mile or so I was overcome with a strong hunger so decided I needed to stop to eat which would mean a longer break and therefore I might as well stick to my plan of trying to get some rest over night.

Finishing lap 7 soon after 11.00pm I sat down on my camp chair and hungrily devoured a protein shake, a peanut butter wholemeal wrap, several jaffa cakes and orange juice. I rested for a while as I caught up on the support from Twitter before getting into my sleeping bag to try to get a bit of sleep.

I set myself an alarm for 2.30am so I had about a three hour rest period, although I rested with the campsite still being very active and noisy I didn't get much sleep.

Lap 8 - I was out running again at around 3.30am after some coffee and yet more jaffa cakes. I felt pretty good, my back which had started to aggravate me felt much better after a lie down and I was confident I had plenty of time to finish the four laps I required. I had raped up warm expecting chilly conditions but was soon stripping off as it was still fairly warm.

Lap 9 - It was now starting to get light and it was quiet and peaceful on the course, the pain in my ankle had started to worsen and I was walking all the hills by now but still running well and feeling confident, I took my time and tried to enjoy the tranquility of the course.

Lap 10 - After a quick break for a coffee I was keen to get back to it knowing less than a half marathon stood between me and my target. My knees were now really sore from the long periods of running and my ankle was becoming more problematic. I had so far managed to complete every lap in under 1hour 30 so my target for my last two laps was to maintain this.

Lap 11 - I was well ahead of schedule so I took my time getting ready for my last lap and sat for a bit enjoying the buzz of the campsite. I decided it wise to visit the medical tent to get my ankle looked at. The first aider diagnosed a slight pull to my ligament and I got my ankle lightly strapped and iced for my final lap. 

Off I set for the last time at around 9.15 scarcely believing the race was almost over. My mind struggled to comprehend the distance I had covered and that I was about to complete my challenge with a degree of ease. 

The final bend coming into the home straight for the last time made me feel pretty emotional and I was glad that by finishing at about 10.45 there wasn't a fanfare finish that there would have been nearer to the race deadline of 12.00 either wise I probably would have gone full on teary! 

My wife had again reappeared to cheer me on to finish my final lap and it was great to sit around in the sunshine in the campsite enjoying the excited buzz as teams frenzied to complete the last few laps. I set about trying to polish off my mountain of food and very much enjoyed a post run curry and chips before it was time to pack up my tent.

I proudly collected my medal reflected on the event leader board and was surprised to see myself in 5th position out of 19 solo male runners. 

I was brought down to earth from the jubilation of this achievement when I came to change my socks and discovered the soreness on my big tow on my right foot was being caused by this beaut of a blister.

Thank you ever so much to the first aider for the care and attention in bursting and treating this hideous thing, I wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy! 


So what did I learn from this challenge? 

Firstly I absolutely bloody loved it! Spending practically a whole weekend focusing on running was pretty much a dream weekend for me. I found the experience completely immersive, spending so much time with a clear mind just enjoying each lap and each mile without the distraction of what housework I need to, the pressure of work or the constant attachment to my mobile phone. 

I think I am a way off completing an A to B ultra as having the opportunity to stop at regular intervals definitely assisted me in the completing of the distance. 

Running the distance down in laps meant I didn't concentrate on the distance I had covered as I was just concentrating on laps, concentrating on running 4 laps seems a lot less daunting than running a marathon! Also having a clear plan in the form of my schedule meant the race was broken up into manageable chunks which I just focused on rather than focusing on the full distance.

What I learnt

I certainly learnt a lot from the experience, mainly around the fact that the longer a running event the more the planning and organisation becomes less about running and more about the logistics around the running. 

Before the race I was apprehensive about whether I should take on such an event and challenge. The furthest distance I had ran prior to this was only a marathon, I didn't have any fancy kit and I don't even own a Garmin! But I did it and I did it in my own way.

I set out my target, I planned how I was going to achieve it and I did it! 

I did it my own way, my snacks included maltesers, dried mango and pringles and I stuck to what I thought would work for me and thankfully it did, despite my chocolate coated coffee beans, maltesers and jaffa cakes all turning into their own respective sticky balls of congealed chocolaty messed. 

I'm still struggling to comprehend what I have achieved despite blister ridden feet, swollen ankles and achy knees still providing me with reminders a week after!

Thank you as ever for all the support I have received before and during this race especially from Artur and Paul who supported me during the event. People of Twitter thank you also for your support, encouragement and words of congratulations.  

As always I'm looking forward to the next challenge, the full Bacchus marathon in September and my ongoing quest for a sub 21 minute 5K.