28 February 2015

The infamous Belvoir Challenge

Harby Village sign marker
Hello Harby!

Oh. My. Gosh. This is the hardest race I have ever done and I'm not just saying that because it was 26.4 miles.  Not only was this a marathon, it rivalled and surpassed our toughest cross country course.  First off there's mud. Not just a little mud, there's a LOT of mud.  Ankle deep mud. Mud that sticks to your shoes with the tenacity of beggar lice on your favourite trousers (this section of mud made me curse out loud quite loudly which the guys behind me found hilarious). Mud that does its dead level best to make you slide into the ditch. Stinky mud with the eau de stench of cow and sheep poop. Mud that tries its best to steal the trainers right off your feet. I could go on but I'm sure you get the idea...mix that in with a few kick ass hills and you have got a doozy of a course.  Oh, let's not forget the seemingly endless stiles and gates to clamber over that caused huge backups in the beginning especially on those located on the uphills, I read somewhere that there were approximately 30 of those buggers in previous years, one of which this year seemed to be on the verge of falling over at any moment--we all were very careful on that one!

Marathon Runner thumbs up
Hey crazy lady, there's a bus right behind you!

Hmm, what else about the course that bears mentioning...there were more than a few brambles hanging over the paths waiting to snag you, I have several scratches on my legs and one caught in my hair then scraped my shoulder and I saw quite a few runners with major cuts from their bramble encounters.  There were a few sections that had small rocks embedded in the paths that beat up my feet something fierce--one of the perils of opting for the more aggressively lugged trainers. While most people avoided the mud puddles I looked forward to running through them because the cold water numbed my feet. There was also a somewhat fearsome near-vertical set of iron stairs with very narrow steps that we had to climb up!

Elevation Chart--Click to Enlarge

It might seem that I'm listing only negatives right now but there were some awesomely right things! There were an appropriate number of porta-loos at the start and they were some of the best ones I've seen at a race--not only were they clean, they also locked properly, you could "flush" and not have to look at the previous person's business, they were well stocked with the appropriate paper products, and you could wash your hands with soap! Ok, I might be gushing over-much about the loo situation but hey, this is something so rare it bears writing about!

row of porta-loos at race start

Other good things: the course this year even though there weren't many marshalls was very well signposted and marked out, there were only a couple of times that I had to pause a second to figure out the route (very important if you didn't bring an OS map along).  The checkpoint feed stations were amazing, very much like an ultra with the variety of foods available.  Be warned though that there are only 5 checkpoints on the marathon course and one is a water station only and a couple in the middle are spaced quite far apart.  Next year I think I might consider Nordic Walking the 15 mile option so I can partake of the massive cream tea stop!


When you weren't worried about having to stay upright in the mud there were also some gorgeous views and we do get to run quite close to Belvoir Castle. I was wishing I'd brought along the gopro in the chest harness in order to film some of this but I was having some delusions of grandeur about putting in a halfway decent time so opted to leave it home.

Belvoir Castle
Belvoir Castle

The finish line food was another plus, coffee or tea, 2 different kinds of soup, gluten free bread, quite an impressive array of puddings (pudding=dessert), water pitchers and cups on every table so you could refill as needed and enough room so that most people were able to get a seat.

Belvoir Challenge 2015 Course Map

Now onto my day...the wheels pretty much fell off for me thanks to a sensitive tummy.  I had to make 3 loo stops, 2 of which were sans loo.  Thankfully the third time I was able to make it to the checkpoint (Checkpoint 4) and not have to try to go off the course to find trees or a hedgerow to hide behind.  Wish I could say that took care of everything but my stomach continued to roil for the rest of the distance in a most unpleasant way.  I also had a few too many sideways slips in the mud and the same leg I tried to do the sideways split with at the Bakewell BDL XC started acting up around mile 7 and continued to get worse from there. I was almost in tears when it came time for the course to split off and I had to turn right for the 26 and nearly everyone else went left.

Hello Finish Line!

However I did survive the distance albeit with a new personal worst time, quite a let-down considering I clocked in four 20-milers at just over 3 hours each and this is the only race I had budgeted to do but I knew going into this event that it wouldn't be a fast one. I just didn't expect so many issues...ah well, live and learn.  A huge thank you to my partner and a friend who also ran the marathon today for taking such good care of me afterwards!

My favourite photo of the day

One thing to note about the Belvoir Challenge, if you expect bling then this isn't the race for you.  We did however get very lovely certificates that the local schoolchildren personalised, I think that is quite a meaningful finishing token. Speaking of bling, good luck to all the Arkansas friends running the Little Rock full and half marathon tomorrow!

Belvoir Challenge 25th Anniversary Finisher's Certificate and Badge

11 February 2015

Trainer Travails

Inov 8 Terrafly 277 trainers
Love the quote!

2.5 weeks out from the Belvoir Challenge and I'm having a bit of a challenge with sorting out what shoes to wear! Admittedly I've left it a little late but can't change that now so just have to get on with it.  My problem lies in that my normal trail shoes are well over a year old (Brooks Cascadia 7) and are pretty much broken down so even Nordic Walking in them is becoming uncomfortable plus I'm on an extremely limited budget.  The shoes I wear for cross country (Inov-8 Bare-Grip 200) and shorter fell runs (Inov-8 Trail-Roc 255) do not have near enough padding in them to get me over 26.2 miles of trails and tarmac.

This had me going to my usual source of reasonably priced fitness gear SportsShoes.com and deciding on the Inov-8 Terrafly 277, a road/trail hybrid.  Shipping took a little longer than normal and I was beginning to get impatient because I was really looking forward to trying these out!  Once they finally arrived and I re-laced them to my preferred method I was out the door for their maiden run.  Initially they were very comfy for a minimalist shoe but within a mile I noticed a problem I'd only encountered with cycling shoes--a hot spot was developing on my left foot.  Thinking it was the socks I was wearing (not one of my preferred pairs) I waited a couple of days then paired them with the Injinjis, same thing, only much worse in the exact same spot.  Still thinking that perhaps unlike most of my other trainers they were going to require a break-in period, I gave them a go a third time with yet another style of sock on Monday.  Absolutely not happening, this was the worst occurrence yet of the hot spot, I was hobbling by the time I got home.  In between the runs with the Terraflys I was running with other trainers and not having this issue so in my opinion there is a defect with this particular shoe.  It's a shame because they really do seem to transition between the road and non-technical trails with ease.  As of yet though I've not had a reply from SportsShoes about what my options are despite contacting them via email and facebook.*

Sorry about the mud in the tread but I do think it gives a good indication about how well the shoes do or don't shed it

So now with even more limited funds I took to ebay and found a pair of brand new Adidas Kanadia 6 going for cheap and they arrived the day after I paid for them (rather than almost a week).  They are not minimalist and have more of a heel drop (11-12mm) than I normally favour but for a substantial looking shoe they are surprisingly lightweight.  Last night's club run was a good initial test for them because of the mix of canal trail and road and they were quite comfortable for both.  The Kanadia's seem to shed the mud quite decently, not anything near the Bare-Grips but they are certainly far more comfortable!

 Adidas Kanadia 6, another mud in the tread pic

I do prefer the looks of the Inov-8s over the Kanadia (I likened the latter to orthopedic shoes) and I certainly like having a lower heel drop but the Terraflys are just not working for me, at least this particular pair isn't.  An interesting observation is that I actually ran more on the forefoot with the higher heel drop Adidas which goes against the conventional wisdom.  The trail shoe I am most looking forward to trying though is the Brooks Pure Grit 3, I adore the 2s, they feel like slippers once they are broken in but their failing is shedding the mud and that is one thing I have in abundance here.  Brooks is great about listening and acting on constructive criticism and it looks like they have gone with a more aggressive tread on the Pure Grit 3.    

As a bonus for me going on for so long about trainers, you get a cute Ben picture, he was feeling quite playful yesterday and eviscerated the penguin toy.  There were piles of stuffing downstairs and then he carried it upstairs to finish off the job in the office and took the squeaker out of another toy.  At least it wasn't trainers...

*After writing this I did finally receive a response on facebook saying to send them back with a note explaining the issue and they would inspect the shoes to see if there is a defect.

09 February 2015

Marathon training fatigue and BDL XC

Yesterday was a return to the Holme Brook BDL cross country race, our final one in the winter series. I must say that despite the weather conditions being much better the course was only marginally easier and it still ranks as my least favourite.  It certainly didn't help that I was running on very fatigued legs after completing my last long run for Belvoir on Wednesday and putting in a respectable time for the club handicap on Tuesday, it's safe to say that I was completely out of gas (that's definitely an Americanism) by the time Sunday rolled around.

Yes, that is snow in the background

Last year's weather was horrid: it was windy (25mph plus winds) and it was alternately sunny then completely overcast. If memory serves I think we even had a bit of sleet interspersed with rain and prior to the race we were all standing around inside the building shivering and postponing heading out for the warm-up run. This year it was debatable about whether the park was going to be runnable at all on the grass due to the heavier than usual snow and ice the previous week (one section still was ice covered yesterday) but the conditions on the day were almost perfect for a winter xc--bright sunshine and dare I say it, an almost balmy 42F/5.5 Celsius.

This course features a mean set of uphills, they are (mostly) fairly short but they are wicked brutal on the legs, combine that with ankle deep shoe squelching mud and it can be almost soul-destroying knowing that you have to go around it TWICE! There seemed to be an unusually high number of runners dropping out on the first lap after the first big hill, it would be interesting to know what the attrition rate is for this race.

Run-by wave on the 2nd lap

Abbreviated description of the route: Muddy grass, little bit of footpath, sharp right back onto the grass for a little downhill, sharp left to run alongside the football pitches, smile for the camera, more downhill, watch out for the low tree branches being whipped back into our faces, little more downhill into the trees and through the slalom course of earth mounds, start climbing, look at the cars driving by over to the right and wish you were in one of them instead of running xc (not really, lol), the uphill climb gets steeper, thank the marshall, and get a breather on the little downhill before you start running uphill again, still going up...still climbing, omg is this hill never going to end, notice with interest and a slight bit of smugness the number of guys walking off the route to call it a day right before you realise you still have more hill to get up, onto some footpath (ow that hurts with luggy cx shoes) and then in between the football pitches where you (read I) get passed by one of the women in your club like you are standing still, more footpath, right by the visitor centre which looks like a great place to take off the gloves and toss them to the side, left alongside the field where the start/finish line is just over there (cruelty), sharp downhill, back uphill, try not to fall on your arse in the iced over field, curve to the left, curve to the right, and curve back left while enjoying the slight decline and trying to catch your breath and not lose your shoes in the quagmire of mud, steep downhill, even steeper uphill, run by the finish line because you have to do all that over again! Ok so maybe that wasn't quite so abbreviated.

Not sure why I was looking so worried, the race was finally done

I would like to say that I didn't walk at all during this one but unfortunately on one of the hills on the second lap I succumbed to the screaming legs and the little voice in my head that was whispering "You can't make it, just walk already."  Thankfully the girl I encouraged to keep going that was right behind me returned the favour by getting me running again after a few steps.  This is where Caz from the running club also caught and passed me which is the same place that Catherine did last year, the old adage of history repeats itself comes to mind.

All in all, this wasn't one of my better performances of the season, I struggled far more than what I would have liked but I ended up bettering last year's time by over 2 minutes on a course almost a quarter of a mile longer and managed to place 2nd in my age category.  Not sure yet if I'm happy or sad that the woman who took 1st in our category was almost 5 minutes faster than me yesterday instead of the 9 second difference between us in the previous XC race!  Well done to everyone who ran yesterday, our club put in some VERY respectable performances, even getting around the Holmebrook course is an accomplishment to be proud of.

Holmebrook 2014--even the same shoes just much colder and muddier

06 February 2015

Something different--Bzzagent product review

Cute tape on the box

Recently I signed up with BzzAgent (shouldn't be an affiliate link) because I like trying new things and if I can do so for free so much the better.  Oh, the possibility of earning Tesco clubcard points probably played a factor in that as well. Remarkably the site doesn't spam you with an over-abundance of email, it's almost the opposite, I've found I needed to check the site periodically in order to find the surveys in order to be considered for a campaign (the free stuff!).  After a short while of stalking for new surveys I was finally invited to a campaign--the Air Wick Life Scents.


First impressions about the Life Scents:  I'm not terribly impressed with the plug-in sort of air fresheners, I used to be all about the B&BW wallflowers but that was before becoming more concerned about the recyclability of the products and of course I was spoiled to the cheap prices of US electric rates.  Next, these scents are STRONG!  It's almost not necessary to plug them in at all, I found even on the minimum setting that after a few minutes in the entryway area it was almost overwhelming--which is sort of convenient because I can then switch off the outlet they are plugged into and still reap the benefits of the air scenting/freshening.

What I do like is that you can mix and match scents and it's not a constant single note.  I do not tend to go for floral fragrances unless it's the real thing (mmmm, hyacinths) so even though I received a packet that has white flowers as a note it is offset with the melon and vanilla.  Will I purchase refills? That's iffy, if I do it won't be to use in the plug in unit but more as a mini diffuser without the reeds, it's certainly reduced the reek emanating from the cabinet containing all my running trainers.

Disclosure: I received this product for free from BzzAgent, the above link for them doesn't garner me any affiliate compensation but if you do want to sign up and use me as a referral, I use gabbyh as my username and the gabsatruckerATgmailDOTcom email.

04 February 2015

Let the taper begin!

Today was my final long run for the Belvoir Challenge and it was a test of mental toughness to even get out the door this afternoon.  The timing wasn't exactly great because we had our monthly club handicap race last night and I managed to squeak across the line with a pb of 21:57 for 3 miles.  I'm well pleased with that because I almost skipped the run because of feeling tired but have absolutely no clue how I managed to get that time.  It is proof that marathon training doesn't have to equate to running slower at all distances.

So why did I get out and run 20 miles the day after running hard? Well, that brings me to another race...our final winter BDL XC* race is on Sunday so if I wanted to get the long run done and be somewhat recovered then it had to be done today or tomorrow and they are predicting a temperature drop overnight so this afternoon had to be the time.  I'm not going to lie, it was difficult today. Running solo on a hillier route than the previous three 20 milers into a very cold wind meant there were a few times when I wanted to just call it good before I even got to the half-way point.  It did get better once I got to mile 12 but then struggled through the last 2.5.  The damn relentless wind meant I was having to constantly blow my nose--snot rockets are not in my skill set--so that was always throwing my pace off.  I also should have my sanity questioned as to why I included the mile long uphill of the aptly named Long Lane into my route.  One thing I did right was to route myself near the motorway services "just in case" around the 5 mile mark because it became an "Oh yeah, gotta find the loo NOW!"

Please don't get the impression that today was a horrible experience, it was just a challenge in several aspects and I definitely needed the experience of having one long run done all on my own.  However I'm fairly sure I'm not going to be one of those runners who are grumbling about the taper, I am READY for it...although feel free to come back and say I told you so if I do turn into a cranky runner one week out from Belvoir.

*No way am I skipping the final cross country unless it's absolutely necessary, there is only one point separating first and second place in my VF45 age category!

01 February 2015

Hello February

Hello February! Yes, it is the month of my birthday and this year I've decided to be a bit more celebratory towards it than my usual norm of trying to ignore the day.  Alas, I really hadn't thought about it until a week ago so haven't come up with any special challenges and 46 isn't exactly a milestone birthday other than it means I'm closer to 50 than I am 40!!!!! If you have any suggestions (cheap, free, frugal preferred) please leave a comment :-)