Sunday, 15 May 2022

FKTs: Arden Way and Wanderlust Way

I've been out and about exploring the trails again recently, resulting in two FKTs (Fastest Known Times).  The first was an inaugural FKT (unsupported) for the 20-mile Wanderlust Way in Lincolnshire.  The second was a women's FKT (supported) for the Arden Way in Warwickshire.  Both were lovely routes in beautiful countryside, and blessed with gorgeous sunshine and blue skies to boot.  Here are my accounts of the two runs, as submitted to FKT for ratification.

Wanderlust Way, Saturday 30th April 2022 
Setting off from Bradley Woods, near Grimsby, at 10:23am on Saturday 30th April I had no idea what lay in store over the next few miles and hours! As a visitor to the area I wasn’t familiar with any of the route, or the terrain, and was relying on the waymarkers and an Ordnance Survey map for directions. But it was a lovely sunny day and I set out full of anticipation. Once out of the bluebell-carpeted woods the route crossed arable farmland before passing through Laceby Manor Golf Club. After crossing the A18 I then encountered the first climb of the day, up past Irby Holmes Wood to the village of Beelsby. Taking the path out of the village, I passed through some large agricultural buildings, a field of horses and across an arable field where there didn’t seem to be much evidence of a path at all! However, I spotted the way out at the corner of the field and emerged onto the lane and into the village of Hatcliffe. This was a pretty village, with a small stream running along the road and little bridges leading to the front doors of the houses. I passed the church and, once out of the village, took a left turn up a quiet country lane. The route followed this lane for about a mile and a half, to cross the B1203 at East Ravendale, and made for a section of good running. A track led out of the village, and zigzagged around some fields and past a few woodland plantations. I passed what appeared to be a small stone quarry, before emerging into the village of Wold Newton from a narrow path through shoulder-high oilseed rape. I passed the church, and through a farmyard before taking the path through The Valley – a lovely wooded section full of trees beginning to burst into leaf, and a carpet of yellow Lesser Celandine. This is the southern-most part of the route, and the path then skirts the edge of Beesby Wood before turning left for the return journey. As I ran along the edge of some large arable fields, full of bright yellow oilseed rape, I looked across to my right. From my elevated position there were fantastic long-distance views towards the coast / Humber estuary. 

Fabulous views towards the coast
From Hawerby the path contoured along the slope, before dropping down to cross the A18. The path then continued into the village of Ashby cum Fenby, across a couple more fields and a footbridge to Brigsley and then on to Barnoldby le Beck. Skirting round the church of St. Helen the path left the village and continued across a flat landscape of large arable fields with drainage ditches. It reminded me very much of the British 100km Championships I’d won several years ago, just across the Humber estuary at Patrington Haven! I could see Bradley Wood ahead and before I knew it I was skirting the edge of the wood and back to the point at which I’d started. It took me 3hrs 46:53, which included numerous stops to navigate as I didn’t want to inadvertently follow the waymarkers on one of the shorter circular route options! All in all, it was a really enjoyable morning’s run in the sunshine in beautiful countryside.

The Arden Way, 7th May 2022


Starting at Henley-in-Arden village cross
On Saturday 7th May, on a lovely sunny morning, I stood by the Village Cross in Henley-in-Arden, alongside my training partner, Steve.  At 10:00am on the dot we were off, up the High Street, into Station Road and soon off the road and onto the trails.  I was bowling along quite happily, ticking off the landmarks – Henley Golf Club, past a pond, through a nature reserve, past the Chapel of St. Mary and into the village of Ullenhall.  Soon enough we were crossing the A4189 and passing through Cadborough Farm.  I was slightly nervous about this section as on some of my recce runs there had been cattle in the fields that paid me more attention than I was comfortable with!  Luckily, though, no cattle this time (despite big signs saying ‘beware of the bull’) – just some really pesky gate chains to deal with!  As the path turned to the left there were some amazing long-distance views over the countryside to the south-west.  The first 4 miles were completed!
Approaching Chesters Green from Cadborough Farm

Towards the River Arrow at 7 miles
The next section took us through Morton Fisheries and across some fields of meadow pasture.  There were some cattle in one of these fields, but luckily minding their own business in a far corner!  Some of the fields were quite hard going underfoot, where they’d been churned up by hooves and now dried into ankle-turning lumps and bumps!  Soon enough we came to a track which we followed through the grounds of Studley Castle Hotel, passing people enjoying their morning coffee on the terrace!  A green track took us down to St. Mary’s Church and cemetery, before emerging onto the fields alongside the picturesque River Arrow at around 7 miles.


The next mile generally followed the meandering river, through Spernall, past a small derelict church and crossing the river to run through part of the recently planted Heart of England Forest.  We eventually emerged onto the road near the entrance to Coughton Court National Trust property at 9 miles.  On one of my recce walks we’d watched the Red Arrows give a display here, but unfortunately there was no such excitement today!  A short road section took us back across the River Arrow, by a ford which is always popular with children and dogs, and onto a stony track.  This is the first major hill of the route, and it seemed a relentless slog up Windmill Hill, before emerging onto Spernal Lane!

Approaching the end of the track after Windmill Hill

The next section took us along a ridge with views down over Alcester, over an abandoned railway bridge and past a trig point at 66m.  From here we dropped down to the road, which we followed through Alcester town centre, past St. Nicholas Church and across a small park to the old Stratford Road.  It was here that I said goodbye to Steve.  It had been great to have his company for the first half, but now I was going it alone for the second half!  I exchanged my empty drink bottles for full ones and continued on my way.  Crossing the confluence of the rivers Arrow and Alne, I glanced down to see a heron standing in the water, looking out for fish no doubt!  From Oversley Green the road steadily rose uphill, and became a track / path over the A46 and continuing uphill along the side of Oversley Wood.  At the top of the wood I took the route option for good ground conditions, as described in the official Arden Way Guide booklet, which followed the edge of the wood before dropping down along a track to Valley Farm on the edge of the village of Exhall.  By now I was about 15/16 miles and over two hours into the run and it was starting to feel quite hot (the temperature got up to about 20 degrees C) which, coupled with the hills was beginning to take its toll.  I ran along the opposite side of Oversley Wood, under the A46 underpass, and off across the fields again.

Approaching Haselor village
Going through the villages of Upton and Haselor the path then involved another steep climb through a field to the church of St. Mary and All Saints.  But at least there were some good views over the River Alne valley to my left!  After going through the village of Walcote there was another uphill section before I skirted the edge of Withycombe Wood, where the bluebells were in full bloom and looking lovely.  The next village was Aston Cantlow, which I arrived at through yet another churchyard – St. John the Baptist.
Leaving Aston Cantlow churchyard

  


From Aston Cantlow the route crossed back over the River Alne, followed by a long gradual uphill through arable farmland to reach the lane at Glebe Farm.  After passing the Dan Skelton Racing stables I found myself running though a field of buttercups where the racehorses were grazing.  Luckily they only paid me the slightest attention, as I didn’t fancy my chances trying to outrun a racehorse!  I was finding it pretty hard going by now, but kept pushing on as best as I could, through some fields of pasture with lovely wildflowers, a steep downhill through some woodland, followed immediately by a steep uphill through a paddock and onto the lane.

Reduced to a walk in Bannam's Wood!


I knew now that I was only about 3 miles from home, but those last few miles are some of the hardest on the route!  A long uphill pull through Bannam’s Wood reduced me to a walk, but I took the opportunity to take some fuel on board and admire the bluebells in this Ancient Woodland and SSSI.

 
Once at the top of the hill I managed to pick up my pace and started to feel quite good again.  I was running at a pretty decent pace, but the number of stiles I had to drag my weary legs up and over really slowed me down, and made me quite frustrated!  I think there were about 11 stiles in those last 3 miles, plus a few gates too!

Negotiating one of the many stiles 
Finally I was running past the allotments, up and down the steps of the footbridge to cross the railway line at Henley station, and the last little bit through the houses and onto High Street.  

Back at the village cross in Henley







I finished back at the village cross, exactly 4 hours, 28 minutes and 47 seconds after I’d started.  I really enjoyed the run; it was fabulous to run through some of Warwickshire’s most picturesque and scenic countryside, with lovely blue skies on a sunny spring day.  A big thanks to Steve for his company on the first half, and to my coach, Les, for constantly popping up around the route to take photos, give me drinks and generally make sure I was OK.  Looking forward to doing it all again sometime.

A few stats from the route:

21 stiles

93 gates

12 bridges

1 underpass

7 churches passed

Villages passed through / edge of:  Henley-in-Arden, Ullenhall, Studley, Spernall, Coughton, Alcester, Oversley Green, Exhall, Haselor, Walcote, Aston Cantlow, Little Alne.

Approx. 1600 ft ascent.

4hrs 28mins 47 secs.




Sunday, 3 October 2021

Self Transcendence 24-hour Track Race, Battersea Park

In the words of Blur “it’s not about you joggers who go round and round and round…” Well I’d say this definitely was about the joggers who went round and round and round, and the walkers, and the speedy ones at the front end who covered amazing distances too!  Everyone taking part went through their own personal battles, their own highs and lows and, in the words of Sri Chinmoy, everyone who finished was a winner. 

24-hour running is a whole new ball game to me, and one that I’m really glad I decided to dip my toe into.  I’m not really sure who mooted the idea first – my coach, Les, or me – but it was an idea we’d chatted about on several occasions, though I was never quite convinced!  However, reaching my 50th birthday this year I decided I wanted a new challenge as I know that I’m not going to get any faster over 50km or 100km.  The 24-hour event was one of the few events recognised by World Athletics at World Championship level that I hadn’t tried during my 35-year athletics career, so I decided to take the plunge and give it a go!  I must admit I was both excited and daunted in equal measure; after all, it would be a massive jump from my longest run to date of 9 hours.  “Why would anyone want to run round and round a 400m track for 24 hours?” I hear you ask!  Well, to be honest, I wasn’t sure myself, but it certainly became clear to me afterwards, as I’ll explain later.

How many laps could I complete?

And so it was that I found myself lining up at the start of the Self Transcendence 24 Hour Track Race at Battersea Park in London.  The concept is quite simple – how many laps of the 400m athletics track could I run in 24 hours, starting at 12 noon on the Saturday and finishing at 12 noon on the Sunday.  In practice, not quite so simple when you factor in pacing, nutrition and potential injury!  I spent the months leading up to the race agonising and stressing over what to eat and drink and how often, how to know if I was taking enough / too much salt, what socks and shoes to wear and whether to change part way through, what extra layers of clothing I might need, how to keep cool if it was hot, would my headphones stay in place and what music would I want to listen to (I don’t normally listen to music while running, so even this was new to me), would I cope mentally with running round and round in circles all day, whether Les (who was supporting me) would get enough sleep – the list was endless!  I practised all these things in training (apart from Les sleeping!) and made some important purchases – a fold-up table, decent cool box, headphones and a million pairs of socks!  It felt like I was preparing for a major expedition and I certainly packed enough food and equipment for one!  I discovered Mountain Fuel drinks and started using them in preference to the brands I’d used previously.  I really love their flavours and having the variety encouraged me to want to drink during the event.  In fact, during the last 3 or 4 hours I survived exclusively on Mountain Fuel drinks with no solid food at all.

I felt like I had enough 'stuff' for a month!

Do I really need all this food?! (The answer was no, but I needed to be prepared as it's impossible to know what you'll feel like eating after several hours running.)

From a running point of view my training didn’t exactly go to plan, unfortunately.  The start of my ‘build-up’ was delayed by a couple of months by a painful cyst earlier in the year, which resulted in a few days in hospital.  Once I got going again I managed some decent runs during the summer, including practicing long runs round and round my local athletics track in Leamington.  But then, about six weeks before the race, I started having issues with my sacroiliac joint, resulting in pain in my right hip, glute, adductor and hamstring!  This curtailed my training somewhat – I couldn’t do any quicker running and I missed a few crucial long runs.  In fact, I hardly ran at all during the final three weeks prior to the race!  Thank goodness for my brilliant physio, Mark Buckingham, who managed to sort me out enough to at least make the start line!

Les setting up my 'picnic' table!
So, I arrived at Battersea Park not really knowing what to expect – either in terms of the event itself, or whether my body would hold out.  As we put the tent up, and set up the table with my drinks etc., all the months of planning suddenly started to feel real.  

Pre-race briefing







Soon enough it was time for the pre-race briefing, where we were reminded about letting faster people overtake on the inside lane, notifying the lap counters if we were going to make a toilet stop or have a break, that the maximum length of break allowed was 5 hours (you were then deemed to have retired), rules about headphones, displaying your number at all times, athletes not allowed on the infield etc. etc.

Eventually, in hot sunshine under blue skies, the horn sounded and we were on our way.

And we're off.
The first few hours, as you might expect, felt easy and I was bowling along quite happily and eating and drinking well whilst running.  Luckily several of my long training runs had been in similar temperatures so I didn’t feel that I was affected by the heat.  

Enjoying the early stages.

Evening time and darkness starts to fall.
Unfortunately, however, by about 5 or 6 hours in I was already starting to struggle with tight quads and sore hip flexors.  This was disappointing as I’d felt far better than this in my long training runs of a similar length.  I briefly stopped for a quick massage from Les and then managed to get going again for a while.  





By about 9.30pm my right hip was becoming increasingly painful and I was hobbling, with more walking than running!  I tried to keep going as best as I could, but I was also struggling to eat by now too and beginning to feel quite cold.

Sent on my way with a foil blanket for warmth!
Fellow competitors were telling me I’d get through it and start to feel OK again, but I didn’t really believe them.  How could I possibly feel better after feeling so rubbish now – surely as time goes on I can only feel worse?!  At about midnight Les and I took the decision that I needed to see one of the race physios if I was to stand any chance of continuing.  So lap number 244 took me just over 47 minutes as I lay on the physio’s couch getting treatment!  I was really frustrated at losing so much time for no distance, but I think it was necessary and it also gave me chance to warm up with a foil blanket, stop shivering and re-set my body to be able to start taking on fuel again.  The physio’s verdict was that my muscles were very tight but nothing was actually broken, so I was sent on my way again, together with the foil blanket!  I had some lovely warm soup and walked a few laps, then managed to get myself running again.  It seems the others were right – it was possible to start feeling OK again after all!  This is the weird thing about running long distances – you can go from highs to lows and back to highs again very quickly.

6.45am and dawn is breaking at last

This pattern really continued for the rest of the race.  At about 16 hours in I was hobbling again, so took another physio break, then got going again, spurred on by the faint glimmer of dawn and the slowly lightening sky.  I swear the chip timing mat was getting higher and higher as the race went on, and I was sure that at some point my shuffling feet would trip on it and I’d end up flat on my face on the track (luckily I didn’t)!  Frustratingly I had to make a third physio stop at just before 20 hours, at about 136km.  I could feel my goal of reaching 100 miles slipping away, in fact well and truly out of reach now I thought.  However, I was determined to still be moving in some form or other at the end of the 24 hours, so I set off again, thinking of the messages of support that my family were sending and that Les was relaying to me.  


9.00am and all of a sudden feeling good again!
With about 3 hours to go something very strange happened – I suddenly picked up and started feeling really good.  I felt like I was flying round the track!  This wasn’t quite true, but I wasn’t far off the pace I’d been running early on!  Les calculated that if I could keep this going I might actually reach the 100 mile mark after all.  My sudden revival didn’t go unnoticed by others either – the lap counters nicknamed me ‘transformation Sue’, one of the other competitors called me the ‘comeback Queen’ and another said I had more lives than a cat due to the number of times they’d seen me struggle but then bounce back again!  



And so it was that at 23 hours, 17 minutes and 49 seconds I passed the 100 mile point, much to my delight as well as that of Les and some of my fellow competitors who had been willing me on!

Reaching the 100 mile point, cheered on by fellow competitors (left); the sheer elation of reaching 100 miles (right)


I managed to keep going for another 43 minutes, despite a few wobbles of fatigue in my legs.  I completed 412 laps in 23:58:33 and tried to go as ‘fast’ as I could to see how much further round the track I could get.

Crossing the chip-timing mat for the final time!
  
Exhausted and relieved at the end
Each runner had a helper tasked with dropping a beanbag at the exact point where their runner was when the final hooter sounded.  This final bit of distance to the beanbags was now measured and added to the completed laps, giving me a total of 102.504 miles (164.965km) - 40 miles further than I'd ever run before.  A wave of relief, fatigue, happiness, frustration and pain washed over me!









A hard-earned trophy!

I finished in 21st place overall, 6th female and 1st W50.  I think this must have been one of my hardest-earned trophies!  I believe I also set Leamington C&AC club track records for 50km, 100km, 100 miles and 24 hours.






Running alongside the amazing 81-year old Pat
So why round and round a track for 24 hours?!  Well, boring as it might seem, it actually has a lot going for it.  Everything is contained within that small 400m oval – lap counters, refreshment tent, runners’ helpers and the competitors themselves.  Not only are you never far from assistance if you need it, but it also gives the event a really friendly atmosphere where everybody is very supportive of each other, offering help, advice and words of encouragement.  This is one of the beautiful things about ultra-running, the camaraderie between fellow competitors is amazing and everyone supports and encourages each other.  We were all chatting to each other as we ran / walked round; everyone had their own story to tell and their own reasons for taking part.  At one point I was talking to an 81-year old lady called Pat.  She completed the full 24 hours and ended up with a distance of 75.725 miles, setting new British Age Bests for 50km, 50 miles and 100km and World Age Bests for 6, 12 and 24 hours!  What an inspiration she was!

Because of the friendly atmosphere I never really got bored of running round in circles.  I must admit, though, I did go through a whole host of emotions during the race.  Just before halfway, before my first physio stop, I absolutely hated it and never wanted to do another one again (but I also said that during my first 100km, and went on to do another four!)  But then, in contrast, I really enjoyed the last three hours and that was probably my favourite part of the whole race!

Fantastic support from the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team - lap counters (left) and refreshments (right)
Fantastic support from my coach, Les


All in all, the first-class organisation by the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team made this a really positive experience for my first 24 hour event, despite the frustrations of so many physio breaks (and just to add a huge thank you to the physios for getting me back on track).  The support from the lap counters and volunteers manning the refreshments was amazing – thank you so much to everyone who gave up their time, and sleep, in order that we could run.  A huge thank you also to Les for managing to support me for the whole time, with only a couple of hour’s kip in the tent!  (Even though he did somehow manage to lose one of my favourite Mizuno t-shirts!)  

Thank you to Mizuno for their fantastic Wave Skyrise shoes which felt extremely comfortable for the entire race.  I’m really impressed with those shoes as I’d thought beforehand that my feet might have been an issue during the race, but in actual fact they came out of it pretty well.

So, would I do it again?!  Straight afterwards I would have said no!  But it wasn’t long before Les and were tentatively talking about “the next one”, so you never know!  It would be a shame not to have a chance to put into practice everything I learnt from this one, wouldn’t it?!



Sunday, 4 July 2021

A Taste of the Trails

From quite early on in the Covid pandemic, once I realised that all races would be cancelled for the foreseeable future, I took to exploring the local footpaths on my runs.  Up until now my training had been dictated by my racing programme and needing to hit specific time targets and goals.  But now, all of a sudden, pace didn't matter any more - for the first time in my life I was running purely for enjoyment, and I loved it!  I discovered all sorts of new routes, including the 41-mile 'A Coventry Way', a circular route through the countryside around Coventry.

Start & finish of A Coventry Way
 

Route map

I spent 10 months walking and running the route in sections with my coach, Les, to recce it in preparation for running for the whole thing.  The route is a mixture of field paths, farm tracks, some canal towpath, cycleway and short sections of road connecting it together.  With just over 1700 feet total ascent, 14 stiles, 108 gates and some lovely countryside, it makes for a challenging, but very enjoyable, day out.

 

 

 

 

Above:  some of my recce walks / runs

 



And I'm off!
Eventually I decided I was ready to attempt the whole route, so at 9:58am on Wednesday 9th June, I set off from outside the Queen’s Head pub in Meriden, straight up a flight of steps, across the B4101 Birmingham Road, and off into the countryside.  The first mile, across the fields and through St. Laurence churchyard, was mostly uphill which, together with having to walk through a field of cattle, meant it was pretty slow.  This was no bad thing, really, given I needed to save my legs for later on!  I soon got into my rhythm and was feeling pretty good as I followed the path across the fields, onto Benton Green Lane, and then across more fields towards Spencer’s Lane.  I remembered to take a crucial right turn in the path, where I’d gone wrong on one of my recce runs!  Then through a pony paddock and out onto Spencer’s Lane at just over 3 miles.

The next section of the route runs along the road before joining the Kenilworth Greenway on Waste Lane.  The path surface along the Greenway is excellent and I found myself bowling along really easily, with a smile on my face, loving being out in the countryside.  Consequently, miles 5 to 8 along this section were a bit quicker than I was intending, and I probably paid for this later on in the run.

 

Kenilworth Greenway

 

Kenilworth Greenway

Emerging off the Greenway at Dalehouse Lane there was then a short steep pull uphill and onto a narrow path running behind the houses.  There were places along here which were quite overgrown with stinging nettles, but nothing like what was to come later!  This path took me across Kenilworth Golf Course – I was really wary here as on one of my recce runs I’d very nearly been whacked on the head by a golf ball!  Across a few more fields and then out onto the top of the A46 slip road at around mile 10.  Another short road section (Stoneleigh Road) and then back onto the fields towards Stoneleigh.
Fields towards Stoneleigh
This is one of my favourite sections of the route, crossing the River Sowe, through some new tree planting, across the Stoneleigh Road and then a lovely downhill run, over the River Avon and out onto Stareton Lane at mile 12.  The countryside here is lovely and there was also some welcome shade through a wooded section, as the temperature was already beginning to get quite warm.

Another quick mile on the road, past Abbey Park business park and Tantara Lodge, to take another narrow, overgrown footpath alongside a barbed wire fence and off across the fields again.  This mile (mile 14) must have the highest concentration of gates and stiles on the whole route – I think there’s about 12 in this one-mile section! 

Bubbenhall church
Consequently this was another slower mile, but I was soon back into my running as I approached Bubbenhall, through St. Giles Churchyard, and through the village to the village hall where I met my coach, Les, for my first re-fuelling stop.  I swapped my empty drinks bottles for full ones, replenished my stocks of GU energy gels and food, and was off on my way again.  The underfoot conditions were still conducive to decent running – a stoney track, then a couple of fields before crossing the Oxford Road and a good path into the village of Ryton-on-Dunsmore.  From here it was an underpass under the A45 London Road (17 miles), and a very short section along this road, before taking a flight of steps and back into the countryside again.  The next section, through an old gravel working which has now been restored as a wildlife habitat with pools and reed beds, was very tranquil and a pleasant change from the farmland scenery.  The path then winds its way around Wolston Community Centre and through the centre of the village, before joining Priory Road and heading back off across the fields again.  Across some sheep fields, and a wooded section along the River Avon, the path then emerges onto the B4455 Fosse Way at around the halfway point (20.5 miles).  This was where the fun and games started!  The path runs adjacent to the B4455, on the other side of a hedge, in a narrow section hemmed in between the hedge and a wooden fence.  As I entered through the kissing gate I found myself, quite literally, up to my armpits in vegetation!  I battled my way through, cursing and swearing with every step as I was stung by nettles and ripped to shreds by brambles and thorns.  In addition to this I knew from my recce runs that concealed beneath all this vegetation were hundreds of large rabbit holes!  It was impossible to run, which was probably a good thing as at one point my foot went down a hole but thankfully, because I was moving relatively slowly, I didn’t do any damage to myself.  It was with great relief, and much pain, that I emerged from this path almost in tears!  Just after this I crossed Bretford Bridge and was cheered up by the workmen carrying out some repairs to the bridge, when they all wished me well on my run.
Cheered on by the workmen, Bretford Bridge

Into the second half now, and the next mile was gradually uphill, along a bridleway enclosed by hedges and trees.  Luckily the ground conditions had dried out considerably from when I last ran this section a few weeks ago, when it was ankle-deep in mud!  Now it was very rutted but, luckily, much more runnable.  I then had to negotiate another field of cattle before running around the Motte and Bailey castle in Brinklow.  The route doubles back on itself through the picturesque village of Brinklow, before setting off across the fields again to join the Oxford Canal at Grimes Bridge just before 25 miles.  It was starting to feel harder now and, although the canal towpath was flat, it was a very uneven, rutted surface which made it hard going.  A steep flight of uneven wooden steps leads down off the canal and I had to be very careful not to trip and go hurtling headfirst down them!  At mile 27 the route crosses a large arable field, which was the only wet section underfoot that I encountered.  It was like running through a paddy field, splashing through mud and ankle-deep water.  Although it was quite refreshing for my hot, sweaty feet, it was very hard running and afterwards my feet were slipping around in my squelching, soaking wet shoes and socks.  This wasn’t great through the next section, beyond Ansty, which was through very rough fields of knee-high thistles and overgrown brambles.  My toes were getting battered as my feet slithered round in my wet shoes, and I had to stop and disentangle my t-shirt from a vicious thorn!  I was relieved to get to Barnacle, at just before the 29-mile point, for my next re-fuel stop.

 

Brinklow

 

The 'paddy field' near Ansty!

Barnacle to Bedworth was fairly uneventful, apart from another section of painful overgrown nettles.  By now I was beginning to struggle, paying for my over-ambitious early pace and finding it hard in the heat.  Winding my way through the housing estates in Bedworth I thought I might make up some time, but I had to keep stopping for traffic when crossing roads!  This is the only really urban section of the route, and has become more so with more and more housing being built in recent years.  And then, as I passed under and along the Bedworth bypass at mile 32, there was yet another section of overgrown nettles and vegetation!  I vowed never to do this route at this time of year again as my poor legs were subjected to yet more scratches and stings!

After Bedworth I set off across the fields again, but was struggling with fatigue, a bad stitch and finding the uneven underfoot conditions and overgrown vegetation hard going.  The second half of this route is definitely harder running than the first, however I was determined to finish - there was never any doubt in my mind about that.  I had a few slow miles where I was alternating running and walking and trying to take fuel on board and stay hydrated.  One particularly hard section came at mile 34 - a huge arable field with some kind of very course grass crop.  The path was non-evident, but luckily I knew which way to head to reach the gate at the top from my recce runs.  However, it was like wading through water!  The grass started at about knee-height, but got longer and was up to my thighs as I got further in.  Added to this it was all uphill!  Needless to say, it was impossible to run and I ended up walking as it was too energy-sapping to try to run!  Seeing my support team at mile 35 was very welcome, and I tried really hard to make my tired legs run!  The run / walk combo continued to Corley Ash, then there was a lovely downhill section through grassy meadows which got my legs going again.

Up and over the M6 motorway, then downhill across the tussocky grass of the common to Corley Moor.  I knew by now I was nearing the end and this uplifted me and seemed to give me a bit more energy (or maybe it was just the energy gel I had!).  A bit of welcome shade came as I ran round the edge of Birchley Hays Wood and from there I managed to run pretty much all of the last couple of miles, apart from one field of horses at mile 39.  I’d had an altercation with one of them previously and certainly wasn’t going to risk being kicked at again!

 

Meadows near Corley

 

The horse didn't seem to like me being in its field!

And then the final part, and another of my favourite bits of the route, down through the birch woodland of Meriden Shafts to the road at Eaves Green.  I’ve seen this woodland change from the browns and russets of autumn, with its Fly Agaric fungi, to the vivid mass of bluebells in spring.  Today it was the varying greens of early summer, and some more welcome shade, but I had to watch out for all the tree roots waiting to trip my tired legs!  And then the final downhill stretch along the road to the finish, back where I’d started 6 hours, 32 minutes and 15 seconds earlier, outside the Queen’s Head pub in Meriden.

The finish!
Despite the struggles with an ongoing stitch for most of the second half, and the battles with vegetation, I loved the run and am delighted to have completed the whole route.  I’d like to say a massive thank you to my coach, Les, for all the recce trips he did with me, as well as his support on the day, and to my parents for their support too.   

I decided to put all this trail running to good use, and entered the North Downs Run 30km trail race in Kent, which also incorporated the British Masters Championships.  The race started and finished at the Cyclopark in Gravesend, and wound its way through farmland, vineyards, orchards, woodland and beautiful wildflower meadows on the North Downs Way and other local footpaths. 

 

Covid-secure start at 2m spacing

 

The start of my wave

Despite somewhat misty weather it was a really picturesque route and I felt very uplifted by the scenery (quite literally at the top of the hills!).  My runs in the rolling Warwickshire countryside didn't really prepare me for the hills of Kent and, whilst I coped with the uphills quite well, my lack of technique was very evident on the downhills.  My quad muscles were screaming for the next few days!

 

The only bit I wasn't smiling!
(copyright Dawn Granger Photography)

 

Smiling again!

All in all, as a novice trail runner, I was really pleased with my time of 2hrs 33:48, finishing 6th female and picking up a British Masters silver medal in my age category. 

 

Back at the Cyclopark, nearing the finish

 

Crossing the line

So I wonder where my new-found love of trail will take me next.  One thing is for sure though, I need more training on those hills!  Finally, a huge thank you to Mizuno for their fantastic support and their Wave Daichi trail shoes which are amazingly comfortable to wear and got me round both these runs, as well as numerous training runs, without a single blister.