“Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist, but that’s just peanuts to space.” Douglas Adams – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
You could be accused of being over dramatic if you replaced the word “space” above with “Wendover Woods 50” but for those who did it, at times it felt like it. But anyway, I’m jumping ahead of myself…..
The wait was over, the training was done, the miles were in the bank and there was no more time for worrying. The Wendover woods 50 mile race was here and I started brilliantly by stepping out of my car, in a cold field in Tring at 7am, into a giant poo. Undeterred, I squelched my way to the start line and looked around for the other Project Trail guys. Soon meeting up with Nic and Jon, we were a mixture of excitement, compression gear and fear. Glancing around the field I could tell this was for the big boys, with the Centurion Running Grand Slam title at stake some people were going to be flying round this.
Project Trail 2016: Daniel Stinton, Nic Porter, Jon Gurney
The Wendover Woods 50 is, as the name suggests, “a 50 mile foot race consisting of 5 x 10 mile loops on forest trails, entirely within Wendover Woods”. Just for fun though, nestled within those beautiful sounding woodland trail laps was 2,900m of climbing. Which, I can now tell you from experience, is a lot. The race organisers, Centurion Running, had tactfully named some of the sections; “Hell’s Road”, “The Snake” and “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” presumably to somehow keep the spirits up!
Since winning a place in this race from Men’s Running and their Project Trail feature, the pressure was on. We’d been featured in the last five issues of the magazine to report on our progress and had training plans devised by Robbie Britton (Team GB Ultrarunner) to get us all ready for the day ahead. I’d trained hard, and had some great races and running experiences along the way, but nevertheless earlier in the week did have quite a flap about my ability to actually run 50 miles. By the time race day arrived, I’d decided to put those worries behind me and thought the best tactic was to just get on with it. I had a proper “plan” for this one; eat as much as I possibly can, drink as much as I possibly can, take it easy at the start and finish strong.
I knew that the first couple of laps just needed ticking off, and the Project Trail guys and I had suggested we start together. This was great to take it reasonable easy, have a chat, keep the spirits up and get used to the course. During the start of the third lap I slowly peeled away and realised it was time to go this alone. The laps consisted of magnificent forest trails, some mud and numerous short(ish) sharp climbs.
All very happy because we’re going downhill
I took the opportunity to have 30 seconds rest by pretending I needed to take some photos
Somewhere around the third lap I saw Gary Dalton, an ultrarunner I’d met the previous year at the Adidas Thunder Run. He was doing a couple of laps in reverse as moral support for the runners and our exchange went something along the lines of……
“Hi Dan, how you feeling?” said the self-confessed moany trail runner. I gave an honest reply saying that I was feeling pretty good.
“Well why are you walking then!?” came the response. I processed this for a few moments and came to the conclusion it was a very good question, so run I did.
… and so the day went on, taking each section as it came. At one point during the “Power Line” segment I emerged into a large open field. This is a brief pleasant change to the woodland trails and due to the time of day, the sun was coming down bathing the woodland surroundings in a beautiful light. I actually outstretched my arms and leant my head back, either praying to the Great Running God, or to take in as much vitamin D as I possibly could. As I crossed the field I bumped into my number-neighbour (284), a young lady who I can see from the results was Rachel Dench. We had a quick chat and I started wittering on about what a fantastic moment this was and hopefully sharing some of my current positivity. A short while later, re-entering the woods, we shared some jelly beans and and I was on my way.
In a bizzare mind-game I was actually looking forward to lap four. Well past the halfway point I’d already decided this was going to be a self-indulgent lap so I put my headphones on some to blast out some of my favourite songs and really started gritting my teeth to get round. I had a couple of moments of euphoria during this lap as I knew I was well on my way to complete it, and nothing was going to stop me. I was doing my two favourite things, running in the woods and listening to some crushing metal and hip hop, I had a few moments of dancing and punching the air – sorry to anyone who saw that and thought I’d gone barking mad but in some ways I think I probably had.
Ten miles to go. Feeling the burn.
Finally I was at the business end of the race and strapping on a headtorch for the final lap. This one needed a bit of focus as tiredness was setting in and you really had to concentrate to stay on track through the winding woodland paths, but it has to be said the course markings by Centurion Running were excellent. I started the lap with a nice chap called Mick and we had a good chat but I soon pushed along and ended up running most of this lap alone. The field had really spread out by now so other humans were few and far between. After a final push during the viciously steep last 2km, suddenly (well, more accurately, 11 hours, 2 minutes and 15 seconds later) I was over the finish line. My friend, and top-running buddy Michelle, had come along to the end for moral support and was probably twice as cold as I was, so massive thanks for making an appearance! Immediately people were thrusting medals, t-shirts and minestrone soup at me, which was a great way to finish. The whole Project Trail experience has been fantastic, its magnificent to have completed it, but of course I’m slightly sad its over. Not one to mope, I can now enjoy a little relax and look forward to the ultras I already have booked for next year. Game on!
Cold and needing a beer…… I was a bit chilly as well.
A few of the details and stats below for the true running geeks:
I finished in 43rd place with the laps times below:
I think the main thing I’m pleased with (other than finishing!) is that my laps were reasonably consistent. OK, I slowed down a bit for the fourth lap but then somehow negative split the last one in the dark with a head torch. Despite the inevitable tiredness I just wanted to get this lap done.
Not that I’m an expert at these things but I definitely learnt a few things during this race and got great advice from Robbie Britton. Here’s some summary thoughts, a mixture of my own experience and advice given:
- De-hydration will shut you down. Drink, drink and drink some more. I added electrolytes to my pack at every lap when I filled up.
- Lack of nutrition will shut you down. Eat, eat and eat some more. Right from the start. I really followed points one and two even when I didn’t feel like it, and have to say I felt as energised as could be expected.
- Stay positive. People had talked to me about “dark times” on these long ultra runs but I decided I was having none of that. I tried to stay happy, be positive, talk to people, have a laugh at the aid stations (which were great)and just keeping moving and enjoy each lap. Its what we’ve been working towards and looking forward to for so long, so why not enjoy it!?
- Get everything right during training. I had a definite plan on the type of foods that agree with me and had a load of it with me on this run. However, I caved in to a ham sandwich on white bread at one of the aid stations that sat uncomfortably somewhere in my digestive system for at least an hour. Know what you can eat. And eat it.
- A more personal one, but I discovered one of the best things about my running is my walking. I realised I can get a really good march on, even on the steep sections which probably helped me climb from 84th place on lap 1 to 43rd at the end.
- I’m going to go all Matrix on you, but you have to believe Neo!!! 🙂 🙂 🙂
Finally, a quick shout-out to all the people and gear that have helped me along this; Men’s Running Magazine, Rick Pearson, Isaac Williams, Robbie Britton, TrainAsONE, Centurion Running (the organisation, marshals, aid stations and route markings were brilliant), Michelle Edye for the solid running training and chat, Johnny Fuller (Sporting Therapy), Columbia Montrail, TomTom, Adidas Eyewear, Petzl head torches and High5 nutrition.
And to the other project trail guys, Nic Porter and Jon Gurney (and support and photographs from Chris) – fantastic effort all round and achievement for us all! And of course Vicky Stinton for putting up with my continuous training and talking about running!
5am alarms are usually reserved for going on holiday, but as I leap (stumble) out of bed it’s for an entirely different reason. It’s to get a train out to Hathersage for the 50km Peak District Challenge which I’m running as a duo with Michelle Edye. We’ve both been putting the miles and pork pies in over the last few months, with lots of training sessions out in the Peaks, so are hoping we’ll be ready for the challenge ahead. This is a running/walking event, so when we arrive at the registration hall I use my powers of perception to weigh up the competition and I decided they were running if they were wearing shorts…… scientific I know. Given the lack of legs on show it looked like most of the entrants were going for the walking option.
We’d all received our checkpoint info about a week before and we’d had a busy route planning session linking up the checkpoints, plotting onto paper maps and studying every inch of the route, however it will soon become clear that this wasn’t true at all. Once we’d planned it I transferred the route onto Strava and uploaded to my GPS. Whilst I think we’re both pretty comfortable with navigation, the plan was to leave the maps in the bag and use my GPS watch the whole way which meant far less stopping and more time running.
“This is all very well and good, but where do we get to eat the sausage rolls?”
Team “Lost in the North” pretended that this was a reasonable time to be up in the morning
Suddenly, we were off around 8:30am and trotted down the lane merrily. The weather was pleasant, conversation was flowing, birds were singing (probably) so everything was going amazingly to plan. I think we had a few minor thoughts that this didn’t seem to be the route we planned, but being slaves to technology, completely ignored it. It was when a gentlemen told us we were heading towards Froggatt edge that faint alarm sleigh bells started jingling in the back of my mind. Froggatt edge was at the end of the route wasn’t it? We stopped and consulted the map, which I’m sure had an “I told you so” look all over it. Sure enough we’d started going clockwise round the route instead of anti-clockwise!
Having already done 7km and some not-insignificant uphill the best thing we could think of doing was sit down on a rock. Michelle phoned the race organisers who offered to pick us up, but the damage was done and there was no way we wanted any ferrying around, so we decided just to carry on. 50km is 50km whichever way round you do it!
Froggatt Edge – some five hours before we were meant to be there
The people manning the first checkpoint seemed vaguely surprised to see us, which was an entirely understandable reaction considering they were actually the last checkpoint. Nevertheless we explained our situation, ate their lovely flapjacks and continued along the route. With the initial disappointment out of the way we started enjoying the fantastic views and ticking off the miles. It actually turned out to be a good experience as sometime around halfway we started seeing other entrants coming towards us who we recognised from registration and who looked slightly surprised to see us! Clearly we were anti-establishment, the renegades, flouting the rules of the race!
Somewhere in the Peaks.
Yoga…. I think.
The deeper we got into the route, the more people we came across coming the other way, all trying to give each other encouragement that “lunch checkpoints weren’t far away” which really depends on your definition of far. Or lunch. We met various runners on other (much-longer) ultra-races and most seemed happy to pause for a quick chat to see how far we were all through our challenges. By the time we got to the last (first) checkpoint everyone had already gone home so we text them as “proof” that we made it and continued on for the last 10km stretch to the end.
Right about now, the heavens opened. I’m not talking about a little shower – this was the kind of rain you should be looking at out of your window, shaking your head back-and-forth, whilst clutching a cup of tea. After a while we probably couldn’t get any wetter so decided to try and get some kind of pace going, which we probably should have named “Slow+1”. We soon came across a wiry long haired fellow also inevitably drenched. We started chatting and he casually tells us he’s running to Sheffield and is around 40-50 miles in to a 60 mile race like this is the most normal thing in the world to be doing on a Saturday lunchtime. It was round about then I realised we are all probably insane.
I tried to high-five Michelle to get the spirits up. We missed. Twice. We considered wading through a river to get back to the end quicker. Brain function was clearly becoming difficult.
A mere 7 hours 28 minutes, 55.6km and 1,300m of elevation after starting, we arrived back at the race HQ and were instantly presented with a curry which was gratefully received. Michelle started eating everything (note how she’s attempting to conceal a large tomato in her hand in the pic below), and that was the challenge over!
Loads of thanks to the organisers who put on a great event, and to the checkpoint marshals who give up their time to stand on there in the cold for hours on end! I think we had the second quickest time for the 50km, but doubt it will stand with such a large deviation from the suggested route.
Done. Ultrarunning badge in the post.
And so the long-running journey continues…… Man vs Mountain (Snowdon) on 3rd September and the Project Trail 50 miler in November!
I have now officially received the training plans for Project Trail. Gone are my original visions of spending the first week gently looking up intervals on the internet over a cup of tea. Oh no, this is straight into it…. the Project Trail training programme is via. TrainAsONE which generates a plan and updates as you upload your runs via. Strava or similar. The software is currently beta so its great to be involved at this stage and see how this is developing.
Whilst clearly the aim of Project Trail is to canter around 50 miles of Wendover Woods, I currently have more pressing issues ahead of me – namely the 50km Peak District Challenge, or the PDC as us trendies now refer to it. There are some options of distance, from 10km to 100km, and I’ve gone for the 50km. This time I’m part of a duo and I’m fortunate enough to know someone else silly enough to want to do it (Michelle) and, for the record, the entire thing is her fault.
Here’s how it happened……
I just can’t seem to stop entering races. I used to get drunk and buy stuff off Amazon, but now I get drunk and enter races. Whilst on our usual Tuesday night chatting/running session I was moaning about not being sure what to enter next and later I got a text about the PDC! When I saw you could enter as a team I instantly started crafting a cunning plan to persuade Michelle to enter. As it turns out all I had to do was ask, and then spend some time convincing her that the 100km might be too far!
We’ve been busy training at various locations over the Peaks planned on Strava route-builder – I’ve put some links at the bottom of this post to several of the routes we’ve ran. Running as a team will be interesting as races are usually such solitary events and of course there is the added pressure of not wanting to let her down after all the hard works thats gone into this. Its not just been running training, we’ve been practicing our pork pie eating, our “how-soggy-can-you-get-your-trainers” sessions and most importantly perfecting the “missing-a-train-so-you-get-to-go-to-the-pub” strategy. Here’s a few pics from training….
Mainly worrying about missing essential Facebook updates whilst up here
17 miles in and a crinkly sweet potato becomes the best thing ever!
Paths? Where we’re going you don’t need paths!
I’ve never been so pleased to see Lyme Park
Team “Lost in the North”
The race is 20th August, so I’ll post about how we got on!
PEAK DISTRICT ROUTES
Macclesfield 27km (this was done incredibly hungover) https://www.strava.com/routes/4180229
Glossop 14km https://www.strava.com/routes/4313977
Staley Bridge to Greenfield 30km https://www.strava.com/routes/4994797
Hathersage 34km (route from Trail Runner mag) https://www.strava.com/routes/4994924
Lyme Park to Macclesfield 19km https://www.strava.com/routes/5179009
Macclesfield to Lyme Park 38km https://www.strava.com/routes/5947541
Chinley 16km https://www.strava.com/routes/6003656
Manchester Circular (Canal, Heaton Park, River Irwell) 32km https://www.strava.com/routes/4180083
Out-of-the-blue, I’ve been given a fantastic opportunity to be part of Project Trail after entering a competition in Men’s Running mag!!!
What is Project Trail I hear you cry! It’s an ongoing feature in the mag where 3-4 guys are entered into a race, trained up to within an inch of their lives and then featured for a few months to show their progress. The race this time is a biggie….. Its the Wendover Woods 50 miler! As well as race entry we also get training plans and advice from Team GB’s Robbie Britton and lots of free running gear!! If its anything like previous “Project Trails” then there’ll be a regular feature on how me, and the other two competition winners, are getting on, so my ugly mug will be out there in a national magazine! I’m off to Wimbledon for the first photoshoot this week so am covered in fake tan, and am plucked and preened to within an inch of my life (last 18 words not true).
Whilst I have been working hard at running, this really will be a challenge…. 50 miles…. that’s just a bit less than two marathons…… its 16 parkruns…. its…… really…… far…… am I going to be able to do this? One thing is for certain, its going to take something pretty serious to stop me 🙂
I have written the odd race report on this blog, but I do intend to do more frequent posts on how the whole experience and training is going and, ultimately, a full report on the race itself. I considered starting a new blog as this one was really dedicated to my exploration into music, sound bending and camera mangling, but then it dawned on me I really was overthinking it. Given all the content that’s been posted here since I started it in June 2012, running is just another “tentacle” emerging and another part of my life…..
With the evil pincers of available time closing in on me, I have unfortunately taken a break from my piano lessons as over the last few months had been able to dedicate less and less time to it, and really want (and need) to dedicate the required time and effort to run a fifty mile race just a few short months away! There are still a few songs in the pipeline which will get finished eventually. At least I can blame one of them on Mat because I’ve been waiting since October 2015 for him to send me a bassline, but these things can’t be rushed eh? 🙂
I set up a new Twitter account more geared towards running, so follow it HERE @allhailthetrail
In honour of this momentous time, I have drawn a stick man running up a mountain…..
I spent some time in Coniston in the Lake District last weekend, predominantly to run a marathon (which I report on below), but first up are a few photos I took over the few days.
First up a lowly gate combined with the fantastic evening sky
The beautiful calm of Coniston
This is Grange-over-sands where we stopped off on the way. I initially wasn’t too taken with this shot, but the more I look at it the more I like it. Nice sky, great brickwork and a summery girl at the bottom to bring in a bit of colour.
A field, a couple of hills and some drama
Race Report: On to the run itself. Having recently run the 50km Canalathon followed swiftly by Manchester marathon, I was reasonably confident for getting round the Lakeland Trails Coniston Marathon. Its only a few extra hills isn’t it? In my head I’m already a long distance trail runner, but the reality is quite different. I’ve ran a marathon distance three times (all during 2016) and done plenty of trail running but never actually combined the two, so this was my chance to get out there and prove it! I had about 8 weeks since Manchester marathon so no sooner had I recovered and started getting the distances up it was time to start ramping down again, my longest run being a hilly 30km in the Peak District. Was I going to be ready for this?? Well here I am ready to go, 8am with a lovely stroll down to race HQ where it’s a hive of activity. Its worth noting now that even pre-9am it was already looking to be a scorcher of a day.
Living in Manchester I’m an expert at rain running, point me along a canal towpath and I’ll splash along for as long as I need to, but running……. in this heat?! We were off around 9am and I got into a reasonably comfortable pace but as we entered the first climb many shifted into a “power-hike” and I shortly followed suit (with hindsight I’d have taken it a lot easier at the start). It was tough running, mainly as very little of the route was shaded so the sunshine was quite relentless, but things were going reasonably well and I got to halfway around 2 hours.
The picture above was taken from near enough the highest point in the race at around 15 miles, so whilst there was a reasonable amount of climbing (my watch said 920m) it was pretty much several “ups and downs” rather than one large climb, but the views up here were fantastic and make this type of running so much more rewarding than pounding the pavement. I really had begun to tire by this point and knowing there was another 10+ miles to go in 25 degree+ heat was quite a challenge on the mind. I’m a stubborn bastard though so I kept repeating my mantra “The finish line doesn’t move, you do!” to get me through it. I also put some music on (hip hop of course) but that did kind of ruin the natural vibe of the run.
Five or so miles later I found myself approaching a dead body face down in some “scrubland”. I was quite unsurprised given the heat but thought I had better investigate just to make sure that they were either dead or doing the finest “planking” session in the north-west. Rather than death, the unfortunate runner had got something worse – cramp. Planking seemed to be his cure for it and he assured me he was ok, so given it was nearly lunchtime and all I continued on into the heat.
The view above, whilst fantastic in it own right, I found quite soul destroying. I had around five miles to go and running had become almost optional with the vast majority of people around me resorting to trekking along feeling sorry for themselves, and what could we see? Mainly nothing but a long dry path, not a water station or shady forest in sight. But as I mentioned above, the marathon organisers were hardly likely to bring the finish line up here to me so jog on I did. I did come across a small stream so I filled up my hat and poured the lot over my head which did seem to invigorate me somewhat!
An hour or so later and this is me in the last 50m, incredibly relieved!! Wind-on about 2 minutes later and I was in the lake, oh the lovely cool lake. I finished in a time of 4:42:21 which to put into perspective is a whopping increase from my Manchester marathon time of 3:27:37, which goes to show what the hills and heat can do to you! A fantastic organised race with a really good crowd. “Interestingly” I finished 62nd, which was also my race number so clearly I carefully planned my time and finishing position 🙂
Its done, dunno what all the fuss was about!
I learnt a lot about pacing (slow slow slow) and a lot about my own abilities. I know I have loads to work on to build up for some long races later this year and all being well some even longer ones next year!
Soothing marathon feet!
Goodbye for a while Coniston.
All it took was a quick email to “Men’s Running” magazine saying how I needed a night off the beer, and somehow I was in their team for the Adidas Thunder Run and had won a load of free running gear from Adidas! Needless to say I am now a walking advert for them – you’d see less stripes on a tiger! For the uninitiated, the Thunder Run is a 24 hour trail running event where you compete either solo(!), pairs, or other combinations to run continuous 10km laps around Catton Park in Derbyshire. Our team consisted four men and four women, three of each competition winners and two experienced ultra runners (Gary and Anne-Marie) to make it seem like it was a run round the park. Which in effect, it was.
I rolled up early on Saturday morning to a bustling campsite and managed to find our team with a well established campsite, a kettle on the go and a selection of muffins and flapjacks baked by some of the ladies. Gender stereotype alert, but as you would probably expect, the men’s baking contribution was ….. er…. nothing. Although I did bring some teabags.
Here’s the team:
Laura, Dan (me), Paul, Anne-Marie, Gary, Jade, Steve, Alexy.
Noon soon rolls along and Paul had jumped forward to do the first lap which he completed in a mud-busting 38:50 which was a fantastic time for the course. The lap was followed by some frantic shouting for Jade who had a remarkable skill of not being found during changeover 🙂 I was next up and set off in the warm sunshine. Gently jogging along the first field, it was all looking very comfortable but a sudden sharp right straight up a steep woodland path left any thoughts of this being an easy run right there at the bottom. I’m a relatively new runner so this was actually one of the tougher routes I’ve done with lots of twists and turns, mud, narrow woodland paths and short sharp hills. Defying the laws of physics I am convinced there was far more “up” than there was “down”. I came in under 50 mins which I was pleased with considering the terrain. I passed on to Laura, followed by Gary, Anne-Marrie, Steve then Alexy. And so it went on.
Purely for reasons of me having a camera, I soon became the official team photographer. We soon got into a routine with Paul being chief ‘spotter’ which meant standing a bit further up from the finish line then frantically waving when one of our team came in. This was a cue for me to stop thinking about bacon sandwiches and sleeping and to quickly get my camera ready to get a picture of the incoming runner.
My second lap kicked off around 9:30pm, so it was time for the head torches as by the time I finished the woods were pretty black. This was my favourite lap and best time too (49:03), it just all came together and I got a nice comfortable rhythm going. Shower, food and time for a quick sleep as I was up again at 4am in preparation for my final lap which started around 5:30am, but I still somehow managed a smile:
The weather was kind to us apart from the final couple of laps for Alexy and Paul when it was completely tipping it down. We finished up doing 25 laps (3 each and 4 for Paul), and it seemed everyone had a great time, each of us with our own level of experience and personal goals for running, from the ultra runners to …..er …… me.
Here’s us with our medals!
Thanks to Men’s Running mag and Adidas for the opportunity to do this along with the free gear, it’s all great stuff. Thanks of course to all my team mates (and Stephen, our support crew) who were all a pleasure to do this with and made it a thoroughly enjoyable experience all round!
Check out my running page HERE on this blog for my running history.
The girls were busy posing for a photo, but it was front camera on all the time, sorry ladies: