Monday, 24 March 2014

Dark thoughts

I spent last Saturday running around the woods avoiding the dead and the dying and coming close to death myself, at least it felt that way on occasion.

This was the inaugural appointment with "The Dark", the latest offering from Mud Crew Events - 13 miles or so of running, by head torch, along the Beast of Bodmin mountain bike course in Cardinham woods near Bodmin.

Simon and I got there fairly early having overestimated the time it would take and had plenty of time to get ourselves registered and race ready. I've never been to Cardinham woods before; its a lovely spot, with a cafe and toilets, a play area for the kids and paths through the woods for cyclists and walkers alike. I'd strongly advise a visit and intend to return myself with the family sometime.

In addition to the usual amenities there was a food stall and a Yurt, the latter hosting the registration and the bar.  On registering we were supplied with luminous yellow vests to be worn as our top layer. 

Have you seen this man?
Simon gearing up
As usual I was faffing about a lot trying to decide whether to wear my race pack, gloves or no, which hat and of course the obligatory trip to the toilet. Thinking I was parked close to the start line I largely ignored the calls from an official to make my way there. As I locked up the car and put on my head torch though it became apparent the start wasn't where I expected it to be and I had to run across the car park arriving just in time for the briefing.

Alongside the normal safety stuff we were informed of "strange goings on" in the woods and to be on our guard.  Then we were off, a brightly lit river of day-glo yellow runners flowing up the path and into the night. 

Lambs to the slaughter
We crossed a small river to no small amount of protest from those unprepared for the cold water and doubled back, arriving at the point I had previously thought was the start after about half a mile. So far so good. The path was wide and fairly flat and the pace slow enough that I had already started to weave my way through the pack. And then we turned into the woods and the first climb began. 

Soon it was possible to see the front of the pack switching back, but still climbing. In all that first climb was the best part of a mile, moving later onto single track, which undulated but still seemed to be climbing. This type of track made up a good portion of the race, with no option to pass or be passed except on the turns if you were quick. I settled in to a good pace and allowed myself to be dragged on by the runner in front. We dropped down a bit but soon were climbing again. Mostly there were steep banks to one side and steep drops to the other. Lots of sudden dips and camel humps, no doubt hilarious on a bike, were already taking their toll. Running by torchlight takes away a good deal of your usual depth perception and I kept misjudging the drops and could feel my footfalls were heavier than usual.

On a wide section I pulled past a few runners as we dropped down again, only to slow significantly at the next climb. With only a few miles under my belt I was all to aware of my laboured breathing and the fact that the terrain meant I was finding little relief in the down hills with all their turns and uneven ground.

By now I'd already heard a few screams in the distance. On one ascent we were greeted by some girls beating a drum and murmuring, later on we would see bleeding bodies, confused ramblers calling for help or running away from unseen horrors. This was brilliantly done and really added some atmosphere to the whole thing.

At about mile 4 I decided to down a gel which I regretted instantly. I'm not too used to running later in the day and hadn't been taking things too seriously. As such the massive pasty, chocolate browny and bananas I'd had for lunch merged with the gel and were shaken into a perfect storm of indigestion which stayed with me the whole way round. Add to this the inescapable fact that, yet again, I'd gone out way too fast, combine that with this brutal horror of a course and the results were oh so very predictable. I was starting to hurt! I'd not wanted to take this run seriously but sub consciously decided I would run every step and push as hard as I could and now it was starting to tell. Never mind, soon we hit what was, for me at least, the best part of the course - a huge downhill section, a little technical in places and with numerous switchbacks, I loved it! 

To be honest I can't really remember all the details of the course for obvious reasons, but not long after that big descent we were back at the start and ready to head out a second time. Turning up the first big climb a second time with some very enthusiastic encouragement from the sidelines, I knew I was going to struggle. Still running, but much slower I laboured up the hill and onwards. 

To add to the feeling of increasing tiredness I was caught up by a couple who were chatting in a relaxed fashion, while my breathing sounded like the death-rattle of a dying man. So it was quite surprising shortly after that I actually caught up another group of runners. Its funny how little things can change your outlook. Having had a few people pass me I'd felt I was inexorably slowing to a crawl. Slotting in behind this group though I re-evaluated; if nothing else there were others feeling the effects as much as me. As the path opened out the two behind me came past and the group ahead spread out. Much to my surprise I found myself surging past and for the next few miles I felt strong again. 

There were still plenty of "happenings" - a "dying" girl in the middle of the path scared me half to death and more blood stained teenagers ran past us through the trees. Later a group of girls screamed out at a runner ahead and I tried to get my own back, running up quick and shouting at them as I came round the corner. I don't know if I made them jump but it gave me a good laugh.
At the finish

The last couple of miles were a blur, I shambled along, mostly alone and was soon crossing the river for the third and final time. In the last half mile down to the finish I became aware of someone approaching from behind and pushed hard to keep him at bay. In the end it was a fruitless attempt and I was passed in the last few hundred metres but at least I finished strong.

I must take a moment to commend the marshals who were excellent throughout and whose words of encouragement meant even more as the night wore on and the legs began to tire. This was just another little piece of the puzzle that makes an event great and something Mud Crew always do well.  In fact the entire route, lit at times with glow sticks, was sign-posted and marshalled to perfection. Its a pretty tall order to direct 200 plus people through the woods at night and at no point did I feel lost or confused as to the route.

With the race done I grabbed some delicious curry and a beer and met up with Simon who'd had a good run and come in a few minutes behind me. Unfortunately my stomach found the curry disagreeable and I knocked the beer over when I sat down at the table so not a good finish. 

All in all though a thoroughly brutal, utterly enjoyable night and one for the diary for next year.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Make do and mend

At the bottom of a hill on a narrow trail during the initial miles of the South Devon Ultra, I stumbled, literally, on an inescapable truth: lightweight fabrics come at a cost. Be it financial (it be!) or through sacrificing other properties, you pay a price for the lightest garments.

And so, in crashing wildly across the path in the face of a howling gale I, or rather my newly purchased Montane Minimus Smock, came into sharp contact with a still sharper bush; the bush won and I ran from the scene with a T-shaped gash in the arm of my latest purchase.

Needless to say at the time I was pretty annoyed; especially as this was four miles into a thirty two mile race in hideous condition but also because I knew I couldn't afford to run out (sorry!) and spend another hundred plus pounds on a replacement.

In the hours following the race I thought of Duct taping the hole closed, but reckoning this was likely to be temporary at best and unlikely to pass muster at certain upcoming events I aspire to running, I decided to see what Google had to offer.

A quick search suggested LSR (Lancashire Sports Repairs) would be my best option and so I completed the form and sent off my top to be worked on.

Now admittedly it took two weeks, though they did warn me of this up front, but I have to say I'm pretty bloody pleased with the result. Stitched and taped, the repair is as good as any seam on the jacket and cost me twenty eight quid. I think that's worth it.

Just hope I don't rip the other arm next week!

Friday, 7 March 2014

Brooks Pureflow 3

I've recently handed back a pair of Brooks Pureflow 3 trainers after running around in them for a week as part of the Brooks Try It On promotion.  Basically, Brooks let you have a pair to try, you pick them up from participating stores and get a 25% of voucher at the end of the week to use against the cost of a new pair should you like them.

This is a bloody brilliant idea.  More companies should do this. Take note, shoe companies, this is the way forward! Breweries too maybe? Ok, so maybe that wouldn't work.

This particular offer was limited to the Brooks Pure Project range comprising of the Cadence, Flow, Connect and Drift. These shoes are designed to promote "an efficient and natural foot strike", with the Cadence offering most stability and cushioning and the Drift the least.

I got a pair of the first version of the Pureflow a little over a year ago. I love 'em. I've run over 600 miles in the first pair I bought and have a second lined up and ready to go. Not bad for a shoe which Brooks say, due to its light weight construction, is only good for 200-300 miles.

With this offer coming along, I was keen to find out whether Brooks had screwed up what has been, for me at least, one of the best road shoes out there.  Because let's face it, "new and improved" isn't always what it says it is now, is it? New, yeah no problems there, but improved, well that remains to be seen.

Well the good news is that Brooks have stayed close to the original design. Although there are some differences to the shape and some tweaks to the features that make the pure range unique, I couldn't really tell the difference between version 1 and version 3. Which is a good thing.

So, to summarise why I think these are an awesome shoe here are a few of the things that make them stand out:

Roomy toebox (though you will need to go up to one size up from normal to really see this)
Low drop (4mm)
Snug, comfy heel
"Nav Band" grips the mid foot keeping everything secure
Well cushioned - sufficient to run as far as necessary, certainly marathon distance.

Go try a pair, you might be surprised.