July 2012 Archives

Muddy to Marlow

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DTUF Finish.jpg

As a change of pace from my initial string of races in London, I headed out to the English countryside this past weekend. All the way to Berkshire. Which, it turns out, can be  reached in a mere 26 minutes by train from London Paddington. Despite its proximity to the Big Smoke this is most definitely Wind In The Willows country. Suzanne and I stayed at a lovely country inn (The Olde Bell which is the oldest coaching inn in England) which is a short walk from the Thames. On Saturday we walked the six miles from the Inn to Henley-On-Thames which is the home of the Henley Royal Regatta, and will also be the host site for sculling during the London Olympics. One of the highlights of the town is the boating museum which features not only excellent displays on the history of boat racing, the history of the Thames Valley, and the history of Henley, but also has a wonderful Wind In The Willows exhibit.

The reason for this jaunt out of town was for me to participate in a race called the Down Tow Up Flow Half Marathon. The race is an annual event and is usually run between Windsor and Marlow. The direction of the race reverses from year-to-year, thus the name. This year was meant to be Up Flow which should have been from Windsor to Marlow. However a portion of the Thames nears Windsor is already closed off for some Olympics prep, so this year's race actually started in Slough. The race proceeded along the Millenium river for a bit, and then joined the Thames to cover as much of the usual course as could be fit in. We had learned at the boating museum that the Millenium river is a completely man-made river, so it was then interesting to discover that it was now part of the race course. The other thing we had learned on Saturday was just how muddy the Thames towpath was after the incredible amount of rain we have had. This knowledge definitely cemented my plan to wear my VFF Flows for this race. Nothing like neoprene shoes to make running through mud more palatable.

The day started with an early wakeup followed by a fabulous breakfast at The Olde Bell. The highlights definitely being the inn-made items such as granola, muesli, and banana bread. Definitely an effort to not overeat! Then I took a cab to Marlow where a coach awaited to take race participants to the starting line. At the start I picked up my race pack and did some stretching while I waited for the rest of the Run Dem Crew gang to show up. After not too long a wait I found the RDC West gang. While we were talking we were surprised to see a few people from RDC East coming our way. So we had a bit of an RDC gathering until it was time to start. The race was kicked off in three waves, and I was the only RDC person in the middle wave, so I ended up running the race on my own. Good thing I don't mind solo long runs! We started off with a lap around the park where the starting line was, then headed up a hill, over a bridge, and into some hilly terrain near the Millenium River. I was trying to keep my time around 5:20/km, but found that I was quite comfortable running closer to 5:12/km so I just went with that. For the early portion of the race I used the current pace information on my Garmin watch to calibrate myself into a set pace, then I switched over to lap average to make sure that I maintained consistency over each kilometer.

The hilly section was at least fairly dry as it was quite exposed. Which was an issue as it was finally a bright sunny day! I was wearing my hydration pack so I focused on staying hydrated and on maintaining pace. It was definitely not as brutal as the Bupa 10k had been. Hot and sunny yes, but not punishing. Most of the way along the Millenium river was dirt path, with some gravel and rocks mixed in to bother those of us with minimal shoes. I was quite happy when we hit a stretch where we ran along a road for a little bit as we transitioned to the Thames. I was definitely much faster on the road, closer to 4:55/kilometer, and more comfortable. As we ran along the road, and then joined the Thames towpath we started to see small groups of people who were cheering us runners along. I tried to clap for each of these groups and say thanks. Always good to encourage supporters.

I was flying along, especially on the paved sections of the course, but also making sure to appreciate the beauty of the scenery. Lots of stretches of calm river and tree-covered islands. Just lovely. Around 7 or 8 miles in we hit a nice patch where we took the streets of the village of Cookham and ran along tree-lined streets for a bit. Really started flying at that point, and was definitely entertaining the possiblity of coming in around 1:47 or so. Then we hit the last patch and the course started eating away the time. First we returned to the dirt path, and started hitting some mud. Then there was the bridge. This was only reachable via a narrow stairway which brought everyone to a walk. Then the bridge itself was narrow and the pace was whatever the people in front of you wanted to do. Which, in my case, was not as fast as I wanted to go. Then stairs back down on the other side. Followed by a long patch of very narrow path with no possibility of passing. All in all I lost close to an entire minute on that one stretch, Finally things widened out and I could swing around the slower people and pick up some speed. But from that point on the course got muddier and muddier. I definitely made better time than many simply because I was prepared to run straight through the mud puddles if the alternative was to slow down. At one gate a race marshal was encouraging people to take it slowly because it was so wet, and many people slowed way down to avoid dirtying their trainers. I just ran straight on and kept going. Very satisfying. But even running straight through the mud was not enough to keep up speed. Too much energy was lost on every stride due to the lack of resistance. There just wasn't any bounce to the terrain. Where it wasn't muddy it was grassy. Nice thick grass. Lovely to lie in. Lovely for cows to graze on. (And yes, there were cows grazing! They didn't seem to think much of us racers.) Slow for runners. In places there were thin tracks of harder dirt through the grass, but that was narrow enough that sticking to it was a challenge in itself.

Gradually I felt that desired time slipping away. I just lost a bit with every kilometer. Struggling to keep up the pace, but just losing too much to the terrain. I revised my hopes downwards and pushed for sub 1:50. Sadly not even that was doable. I hit the final stretch, was ready to push to the finish, and discovered that the last couple of hundred metres were an unbroken field of that plush grass. Just couldn't get the speed I needed on that. I did have a little push for the very end, and finished with a quite satisfactory time of 1:50:13. Which was more than seven minutes faster than my previous half marathon PB.

While the course was muddy, the race organisation was excellent. Hats off to the folks at Purple Patch Running for this one. Very clear communication before the event. Very organised pre-race bus and race packet pick-up. Smooth start. Lots of friendly marshals along the course. And a really nice medal. I definitely suggest checking them out if you are looking for a race for yourself. I also have to give a shout out to Sussex Sports Photography. The picture above is one of theirs, and I think they took some of the best action shots of me running I've seen so far. I don't usually even think about buying race photos, but this was so good I had to have it.

And finally, big ups to the RDC crew, including one of the youngers, who completed their first half marathon. This was a tough course, and they stuck it out to the end.

Proper British 10k

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A couple of days ago I got another chance at my sub-50:00 10k time. The occasion was the 2012 British 10k, and this day I was not to be denied my goal. The day started with a very early wake-up as my friend Melissa had strongly advised me that a key to this race was an early arrival. They don't have starting pens arranged by projected finish time, everyone just gathers in one mass and starts in no particular order. If you are too far back you can spend the whole race just trying to get around a field of walkers and slow runners. So I got myself out of the house and on the way to arrive shortly before 8:00 when the bag drop opened.

As I left the house I was greeted by proper British weather: cold, grey, wet. Significantly better running conditions than the baking weather we had had for my last race. A quick bus and tube ride got me to the bag drop, where I dropped off my bag of warm clothes, and headed straight for the start line. About half a kilometer from the start was a rope where we were to be held until just before the start of the race. I was one of the first twenty people there, and was standing right next to the rope. A good payback for the early rising. Also following Melissa's advice I had brought a bin liner with me so that when the rain became heavier I could keep myself mostly dry.

While waiting I had some good chats with the runners around me. Mostly other people trying for a fast time and wanting to avoid the crowded start. Finally the stewards starting moving us towards the start. Our route would take us past the start on the opposite side of the street, then do a U-turn to end up just before the line. Right at the start was an open-top double-decker bus with the race announcer doing thinks like interviewing celebrities. And as we came down who was being interviewed: Charlie Dark! Founder of Run Dem Crew. Woo hoo! I caught his eye with a gun-finger (an RDC tradition) and got a big double-gunfinger back! A very cool moment.

When we finally fetched up near the start we could see a bit of clear space and a whole bunch of VIP runners ahead of us. I immediately realised that these were the international urban running crews who had all come in to London for a Bridge the Gap weekend. Hosted by Run Dem Crew! Thanks to Nike we were able to have representatives from ten different countries on hand to represent urban running in this race. Bridge the Gap (the name is in part an homage to the original urban running crew The NYC Bridgerunners) is the name we give when we assemble representatives from urban running crews in different countries in one place to hang out, party, and run a race. The first even was the Berlin Half-Marathon earlier this year (which I was not able to attend). The next event will be in Amsterdam in October (when I will be running the Amsterdam Marathon).

In addition to the race being a big part of the Bridge The Gap weekend, this was also the graduation race for the current crop of Run Dem Crew Youngers. This is a program that does a 'couch to finish line' training program to take young people and use running to teach them to positively channel their energy, reach a goal, and learn to have more belief in their own abilities. A lot of these young people really have a lot of obstacles to success in their lives, and it is amazing to see the time and energy that people in Run Dem Crew put into helping them all take this big step towards personal success. A lot of people were running this race just to be there to help one of the Youngers reach their personal goal. Every single one of these people, the Youngers and the people running with them, accomplished something in this race that is much bigger, and much more important, than my just turning up on the day and running a decent race.

I was close enough to the front that I was able to wriggle forward and join the Run Dem Crew contingent. Which is where this picture was taken of me with a couple of the real heroes of the day. Both of these wonderful women ran with Youngers and really made a difference on the day (and thanks to Jackie for the fabulous photo).


Finally we had the National Anthem (I think I did a better job of singing along than at least some of the members of the English football team during Euro 2012!), and then it was race time! I was pumped full of adrenaline and took off quite fast, but gradually dialed it back to my planned race pace of a little under 5:00/km (8:00/mile). I spent a bit of time running with Algy and one of the Youngers, and then realised that they were dropping their pace a bit so I had to get moving to make my time. Which is one of the ways in which the people pacing today totally rocked. There I was thinking about my time, and they were all just focused on helping someone else along. I'm already making plans for one of my upcoming races to be one of those people who commits the race to someone other than themself.

The course is fairly tough as you have a few hills, and you have a few places where you actually have to do a U-turn. And of course you lose some time whenever you reverse direction. On the plus side, this means that you pass by either those behind you, or those ahead of you, at several points during the race. This meant that I got to high-five Nathaniel at one point, and give shout-outs to Shameek and many others from my RDC family. At one point I lost a little silly time because I looked down and saw that my timing chip had come unstuck (it's supposed to be stickered into a circle). No sticky stuff left, so I had to just tighten down the velcro on my VFF and hope for the best. Fortunately it did stay in place for the rest of the race. Phew!

At around 2.5 km, and again around 7 km I went by the Run Dem Crew supporters section. What a fantastic group! Waving signs (and even had RDC banners hanging off of one of the bridges), ringing cowbells, yelling, high-fiving. Big lift from these guys. Special thanks to Paul and Clare, big big props to all of you. I just didn't have time to figure out who everybody else was as I went by. After the second time past the supporters it was uphill a bit to Westminster Bridge, then another U-Turn and on to Parliament and then Whitehall for the finish. I was definitely starting to feel the strain a bit at this point, but big yells from Shameek and Nathaniel up ahead of me really lifted my spirits at this point. I kept thinking I was going to just cruise to the finish, but when I caught sight of the finish line I channeled Melissa and kicked it into high gear and finishing strong.

Right after the finish I got lots of love from Charlie Dark and the rest of the fast RDC crew who had finished ahead of me. What a great feeling to congratulate the fast Youngers, and to feel that I had done justice to my RDC shirt. Both my Garmin running watch (a birthday present from my wife's amazing family!!!) and the online Nike+ tracking said that my time was 49:22 which made me very happy. Goal accomplished. I was solidly happy about this time, and then got a very pleasant surprise. I received a text with my official race time and it was 49:16! Woo hoo! Of course I want to do better next time, but for now I am just thrilled to have done so well. And even more thrilled that all of the Youngers finished the race, and some of them had amazing times (yes, Michael, I'm talking about you here!! Well done mate).

That's it for short races for me this year. Next up, in two weeks, is a fun race called the Down Tow Up Flow Half Marathon along the Thames from Windsor to Marlow. After that it will be all about long runs and prep for my big October.

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This page is an archive of entries from July 2012 listed from newest to oldest.

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