Posted by: stokiecat | April 18, 2017

Race Report: Spring Treble Race 1: Hanchurch Hilly

I love Spring; bluebells and snowdrops, bunnies and lambs, light nights and warmer weather.  I was even lucky enough to see a pair of hares on my commute into work a few weeks ago, that’s the advantage of a cycling commute through the English countryside at the crack of dawn. There’s also the increased off-road running due to longer daylight hours in early morning and later evenings.

The other thing Spring brings is my favourite race series, the Spring Treble, organised by the Stone Master Marathoners running club.  This is three off-road races held in Mid-Staffordshire on Thursday evenings through April. It combines my enjoyment of trail running without the drawback of long distances, which seems to be something that other trail runners are inclined to do.

The first thing to say about this race series is it is exceedingly well organised. The venues are good, the pre-registration and registration on the day are both well done, the marshals are plentiful, friendly and competent. Every year I crack the same joke, now I’ve got the t-shirt I don’t have to run the races, but this year’s swag was a sports bag and water bottle. That was mildly disappointing as I do like to wear the Spring Treble tech tee on my training runs, mainly just to say “look what I did” when I meet other runners, it’s a thing all runners do so don’t deny it. However I am stressing the word mildly, race swag is always useful and anyway I’d run these if no swag was available. I should add the series fee is also a bargain.

And so to the race. I’m not in race running mode at the moment and my training is going very slowly, my aim was to get around in under an hour. This was a new start position for this race but it was a similar route one on the course and I run around the area quite often so I knew the area. I was hoping that it would be a straight forward race with an up to start and a down to finish, which is sort of what it was but then there was the middle and oh dear, no wonder the marshal at the start was laughing at my pre-race assessment. The location is Hanchurch Hills, a large managed forest on the outskirts of Stoke on Trent and as it’s name suggests it’s, um, hilly. It’s an area popular with walkers, mountain bikers, and of course, runners. (Darwin’s Dyke also runs through there if there are any geologists reading this…)

1/4 mile in. All of the people in this picture finished before I did.

The start was as expected, a quick run along about 500m of flat before the climb up through the woods happens. It levels out at the top and then undulates for a while. This is all fairly easy going and I was trundling along at a satisfactory pace. It was perfect running weather, evening sunshine, not too cold, and a picturesque location with well marked, non-muddy paths. I wasn’t even checking the watch for time, distance or pace. As we rounded the top of the course (close to the starting point of previous races) we headed down and I was pretty certain we were halfway. I was confident and happy and I was completely and utterly wrong.

At the end of the downhill we reached the outskirts of the woods with open fields to the left. The marshal described this route as “technical”, so I guess that meant boring undulating bit of muddy paths and trip-hazard tree roots, which went on forever. I kept thinking to myself at least it’s mainly flat this bit and not that far from the end. Except then I checked my watch it was 2.88 miles. WHAT? I was only just over halfway. My brain also at that point realised exactly where I was an I knew what was coming, at least a mile and a half of climbing back to the top of the hills. I was dead. I stopped to talk to a marshal, in all seriousness I asked if there was a shortcut. He laughed and told me no and to keep pushing on. I started to whine about injuries, he gave me a look so I shut up and thought it best to carry on as part of the intended race. There was another runner close behind me and he and I managed to drag each up those hills until, typically, he overtook me on the downhill. There were a couple of false dawns but, with about a mile to go you turn back onto the main sandy/gravel path and know that the route is all downhill from there.

Check out the strava link here

In the end I did manage this course in under the hour and really it was my own incompetence that meant it felt like one of the worst races I have ever run. Even so I would HIGHLY recommend these races, and if you are free on the next two Thursdays there’s two more to go, you can say hi to me. I’ll be the one at the back, whinging. 🙂

Race route, gear, swag and post race nutrition, because I’m an athlete obvs.

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Posted by: stokiecat | March 26, 2017

Race Report: Midland County Road Relays

With Spring Treble just around the corner I thought it was time to get back to the blog, and so report on my first race of this year; the Midlands Counties Athletics Association Road Relay Championships – 6 stage at Sutton Park on Saturday 25th March 2017.


*Record scratch*

*Freeze frame*

Yup, that’s me. You may be wondering how I ended up in this situation.

The words “road” “team relay race” “Saturday running” are infrequent or completely absent from my running vocabulary, so this is a bit of a turn up for the books.  Although I have radically changed my opinion on cross country, from *I hate it* to *I love it*, these races take place on a Saturday during the football season which means I very rarely get to do them. So when the team captain’s email arrived with the dates for the upcoming season and the relays fell on an international weekend, I was in there like an enthusiastic puppy.  However in my excitement I failed to notice the word road in the title, or appreciate exactly what being in the relay team implied.

I’m not going to coherently describe how the relays work .  It was explained to me in the car going and it’s massively complex when described but it makes much more sense when you actually do it. There are letters and numbers, men and women run at the same time, although the women start 20 minutes after the men’s start, – that really confused me until I was told they do 12 stages whilst the women do 6. There are long legs and short legs. We had an A-team and a B-Team and you had to know who was running and in what order, and what time your team mates were coming in, so you could be in the pen not too early and not too late. I’m exhausted just thinking about it, so I really appreciate the work our team captain Debbie had to do to get us all organised, and despite some last minute hiccups she did a brilliant job.

The good news is this event has been going for years and so the organisation is excellent. Plenty of marshals, helpful event staff, good facilities including clean portaloos without massive queues, burger bar and coffee truck. It is always helpful when the event also takes place on a sunny spring day but the location, Sutton Park, a National Nature Reserve in the West Midlands, is lovely. The relays actually only take place in a small area of the Park so it’s somewhere I think that requires another visit to explore in the future.

start

Women’s Stage 1 (A runners) start – long leg


Running through Sutton Park (1)

Running through Sutton Park (1)


Running through Sutton Park (2)

Running through Sutton Park (2)

Being a *ahem* slower runner, I was running the 5th leg, a short leg of 5k. I won’t bore you with the litany of injuries, niggles and general ailments I am currently suffering with because it’s tedious but I wasn’t expecting to cover myself in glory. With relays you are required to run for the team, so for me it means do the best to your ability and run hard. My best 5k is 26 min 16 secs over 2 years ago (sobs) but I was fairly hopeful that as I am actually on the road to recovery at the moment, I could squeeze under the 30 minute barrier.

The course is all on tarmac paths and starts with a 200m downhill slope, so obviously you HAVE to sprint it. As competent runners will know, this is not a good idea but as I’m an idiot my calves seized up almost straight away and meant I was pretty much in pain for the rest of the course. My rapid (ha!) start was followed by the a sloooow climb for about 3/4 of a mile and a bit of undulation through the county park landscape, followed by a disappointing downhill and flat bit though the woods. Disappointing in that I felt unable to go any faster and then I also had to stop to tie my shoelace, I mean come on <<eye roll emoji>. Finally, a tiny climb back up to the handover. I tried to concentrate on the surroundings because the location was very picturesque but it’s a bit surreal because by the time you get to the later stages the runners have spread out weirdly. I ran on my own for a lot of the time and was overtaken by runners at different stages (Hi Jill!), some ahead in stages and some behind, so it doesn’t feel like you are in a race at all. This is further accentuated by the fact there is no traffic (good) but there are mountain bikers, dog walkers, families out for a walk, people just out and about enjoying the spring sunshine. I was surprised twice, once on the downhill when Dale, one of the male Trentham Runners was watching and shouting words of encouragement and again just before the end by Brian Dale .The latter was just the worst because I like to always smile for the camera (so that I can delude myself that running races is an enjoyable activity) but I didn’t even realise he was there until he also gave me some verbal encouragement so I obviously I must have looked really bad at this point. (However, as always big thanks to Brian for the action photo.)

The last 200 metres is the best part of the course because you run past the club tents so there are plenty of team mates to cheer you on. Of course you really have to put in the effort at that point because you don’t want to look rubbish. Top marks to Rags, one of the TRC ladies in an earlier leg, who overtook a runner in that last 200m in a spectacular effort. The runner was male and on a completely different leg, but it was still an epic take down.  My run-in was less spectacular and most of the ladies were “cooling down” (i.e. sunbathing and eating cake behind the team tent – see below) at that point but I still managed that little bit of extra effort for those who were still watching and cheering. I have to say I liked the cowbell that the Bournville Harriers in the next door but one tent, you certainly knew when one of their runners was coming through.

I completed my leg in a disappointing 32 mins 16 second, which you can see on my Strava if you are so inclined. It was however an excellent effort by all team members (special mention to Deb and Jill – you know why) with our A-team finishing 22nd and the B-team 48th, so the B’s weren’t last despite the handicap of having me on the team. By the time I finished the award ceremony was taking place, despite the men’s race still having several stages still to start, another slightly odd thing to experience for my first time relay experience.

I like to think this picture of the before and after of some of the ladies team (and Dan) to show you that we take our running seriously. You will see the pre-race warm up taking place in the sun (top) including an essential pre-race nap, left of the pic. The post race cool down is a very similar routine with the addition of cake. This is why I’m an athlete #squadgoals

Trentham Ladies warm up and cool down

I really enjoyed the experience and next year I shall be much more prepared so I’ll bring a deckchair and possibly a cowbell. Fingers crossed it’s another international break 🙂

 

Posted by: stokiecat | January 31, 2017

The Janathon 2017 Postmortem Edition

Janathon has kick started 2017 in a similar fashion to the end of 2016 , with injury affecting my good intentions. It has also ended in a similar way to my previous Janathon attempts in that I really cannot blog everyday for a month. Now I’ve done this 3 times the only really successful Janathon was my first on 2015 and even then it wasn’t 100%.  Trying to find something to say everyday is really difficult, trying to find something interesting to say everyday is impossible. I like to take pictures of where I run but sometimes that even defeats me. I provide evidence in the form of a bird of prey (possibly a sparrowhawk) in the fields behind my house: 

If  I had to rate my Janathon I’d say it’s been about 70% successful this year exercise days are 24 out of 31 comprised of:

17 runs (60 miles total)

12 cycles (75 miles)

3 walks (12 miles)

I’ve also got to add injuries to that list, a calf strain, aggravation of my previous ankle ligament problems and a bruised bum and cut hand, thanks to an a ice slip on my last but one run. The other set back was the failure to blog about the excellent Trail Tuesday as both my runs were denied for other reasons. You can always read about them here: http://gold-events.co.uk/trailtuesday/

However I’m going to says this is a successful Janathon. I’m pleased with those stats and I’ve actually managed a month managing injuries and illness rather than being stopped completely by them. It might be really obvious but my best week was when I wasn’t working and I could get out to some unknown off road places and just explore in the sunrise.

To celebrate I had a Dominoes complete with yummy melting middle chocolate pudding obviously. I can say my chocolate everyday plan is absolutely 100% successful.

Oh and yesterday I signed up for my first triathlon. Better get to some proper training then.

I hope everyone else who took part had fun and was successful 👍 I might see you again next year 😄

Posted by: stokiecat | January 18, 2017

Janathon 2017 Day 18

Run

I’m a morning runner, I like the thought that I’m up and about before other people and already having a productive day. I can enjoy the run, get it done and then get on with the rest of the day. I like the crispness and coolness in the air. Most of all I like the sunrise, starting in the dark and seeing the sun come up. Except that it’s January and therefore there is no lovely sunrise. Today was grey, as it has been for a couple of weeks now and is probably going to remain.

A grey day along the River Sow

A grey day along the River Sow

However today’s run was a success. This is one of my go-to runs, it’s flat as a pancake (exactly zero ft elevation gain – check it on Strava) so I could go a bit further than I had originally planned. No foot pain, no calf pain, no ankle pain = success!  This run is a slightly modified Stafford doorstep walk (http://www.staffordbc.gov.uk/walks ) that also takes in some of the Millenium Way, a long distance route which spans the entire width of Staffordshire – from Newport to Burton. Some of my running colleagues will shortly be running it as an ultra race (http://beyondmarathon.com/millennium-way/ ). Just to warn you I came across a couple of hazards:

Millennium Way 1

Millennium Way Footpath Hazard #1: There isn’t actually a footpath, it’s a river….

Millennium Way Footpath Hazards #2: Cow blocking stile

Millennium Way Footpath Hazard #2: Cow blocking stile

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to divert around cows but it’s a lot.

Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/836452321

Chocolate

Today’s dessert is definitely a grey day comfort food, Co-Op double chocolate swiss roll with clotted cream custard. The roll is pretty good for shop made but could do without the sugar sprinkles. The custard is merely OK, I probably would prefer either normal custard or actual clotted cream. However I still managed two servings 🙂
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Posted by: stokiecat | January 16, 2017

Janathon 2017 Day 16

Run

I remember what I find hardest about Janathon. It’s not the running or exercising everyday it’s writing the blooming blog and finding something interesting to say (not that I’d particularly written anything that interesting previously). Anyway, it’s Monday so it’s back to work and back to my brief cycle commute. I also managed a short 2.5 miles around another pond in the rain, this time in Stafford. Hopefully tomorrow will be a bit more interesting.

One of the many STafford balancing ponds

Yet another pond

https://www.strava.com/activities/834215473

Chocolate

In keeping with the general meh Monday, a Tesco’s finest chiller dessert, which I was not impressed with. It was a bit underwhelming, mainly because it wasn’t a pudding with a melting chocolate middle. It was a chocolate mousse (which was the tastiest part) with a weird fudge sauce which I thought was more caramel than fudge, and some bland brownie pieces topping. This one is not a dessert I shall be trying again.

chocolate dessert

 

Posted by: stokiecat | January 15, 2017

Janathon 2017 – Day 15

If January has 31 days does the 15th or the 16th count as halfway? I think I’ll celebrate the halfway point on the 17th just to be sure.

Run

There is only one way to describe today’s run, wet. As I write this I think it has been raining for 12 hours, which means added to the melting snow the fields were sodden this morning. Luckily I only had to do a couple of miles so I didn’t have to slog too far from home but essentially I spent the second half of my run splashing through ankle deep grassy streams which had replaced the usual tracks. Still the good news is the calves are definitely better so Janathon is officially back on track.

https://www.strava.com/activities/832779372

Rain falling on Sammies Pool

Rain falling on Sammies Pool

The last of the snow melting on Fenpark Fields

The last of the snow melting on Fenpark Fields

Another view of Sammies Pool

Another view of Sammies Pool

gate

When there is no option to get to the gate except through the ankle deep mud

Chocolate

Today I have kept up with the chocolate pudding through in a slightly different way, homemade banana split. Basically this is a banana with chocolate chip ice cream, chocolate sauce and a sprinkling of cocoa powder. It’s delicious and a way to get one of your five a day whist maintaining a vague association with healthy eating. Other ways I like to get a chocolate/1 of 5 a day are:

  1. Add a banana to the “cupboard” chocolate puddings, in my opinion this improves the flavour no end.
  2. The old classic of chocolate pears – http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/poachedpearsinchocol_85681
  3. My version of Eton Mess which has strawberries, meringue, clotted cream (the only cream worth eating), honey and chocolate sauce.
  4. I do a fig, marscapone, masala (or amaretti), honey and, of course, chocolate sauce concoction. I don’t have a recipe I just serve them all together in a mix. It’s a little bit based on the Cafe Reale dessert you can get from Pizza Express which is also yummy but doesn’t contain chocolate.
  5. Finally there are also the Nakd coco loco bars  – https://www.naturalbalancefoods.co.uk/nakd-oatie-bars/nakd-cocoa-loco-bar_47/  They are one of your 5 a day but they’re not as chocolatey as actual chocolate but they provide a mild chocolate fix.
  6. There’s always the fondue/chocolate fountain option but honestly who can be bothered with that. Just get a bowl of fruit and pour some chocolate sauce on it.

Any suggestions for other ways to combine chocolate and 5 a day would be welcome. I’m sure there’s someway to use beetroot or carrot… 🙂

 

Posted by: stokiecat | January 14, 2017

Janathon 2017 Day 14

I would like to have some really important or clever reason as to why there was no Janathon day 13 but the brutal truth is I forgot. Aaaaaaanyway moving on….

Run

My Saturdays are mostly spent following the mighty Stoke City at various places.  The football season coincides with the cross country season so I don’t get much chance to run these races despite the fact that I do really enjoy cross country. However today Stoke City were today playing away at Sunderland, a ground I hate with a passion as we never win so rather than head all that way for the usual Stoke beating I thought I would rather spend the afternoon running around a muddy field in Wolverhampton (yes Stoke trips to the Stadium of Light are THAT BAD).

It has been a good experience today, even if I wasn’t really at 100%. I loved the journey – and it was a journey; hanging with the girls (or hanging out in one case), talking running pretty much non-stop (which I aren’t allowed to do at home), and actually running after a brief period of not running due to the calf pull. I had a brand new pair of spikes, I really liked the course and I had on both of my compression calf supports, I was going to rock this run. I managed a brief warm up, which went well enough including the team taking a pee in the bushes, which when I looked up we were all pretty much in a line in a group moon (luckily for you there is no photo).  I lined up at the start but decided for the first time in my life to be sensible and at the end of the 1.5 mile loop that was enough and I dropped out. I made the right choice because the calf was still twingey (i.e. actually painful but I am suppressing because it’s getting better) and I don’t want to spoil the enjoyment I am currently having in just running at the moment. I still feel a bit of a fraud with the “well done team” comments on Facebook when I didn’t actually finish the race though but it also turned out Stoke won 1-3 as well so I’m in a happy place right now 🙂

https://www.strava.com/activities/831797648

Trentham Ladies XC Team

Midland Women Cross Country League Race 3 Aldersley Stadium, Wolverhampton

Before and After

The after shots aren’t that bad considering the last few days’ weather

Chocolate

Also today I don’t have a dedicated dessert to review but that doesn’t mean I didn’t have any chocolate. Our little cross country trip included a visit to Costa beforehand so I had the opportunity to eat breakfast before the race. As I noted at the time, a large latte and a chocolate brownie could be one of the long list of reasons why I’m not very good at this running malarky. However the chocolate brownie was pretty good considering it was gluten free. I then followed this up after the race when I got home with another coffee but this time with a chocolate twist pastry, which was also rather nice. I might have failed on the running part of Janathon but I’m definitely winning in the chocolate stakes.

Posted by: stokiecat | January 12, 2017

Janathon 2017 Day 12

Is it possible to designate an official rest day after the fact? Of course it is. I intended to run a mile today just to try the calf because I have cross country on Saturday. But then I got a text from the OH suggesting a visit to the flicks to see La La Land. A musical starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling as a jazz pianist in sharp tailoring? That is so far up my street I said yes quicker than Paula Radcliffe running a marathon. I mean come on….Anyway resting from from exercise definitely but maybe not from chocolate as a trip to the cinema gives me a chance to eat this: 

It’s chocolate biscuit with chocolate ice cream in the middle, double chocolate whammy, what’s not to like? Anyway I would highly recommend the film together with the snack. I swear I’ll run tomorrow, unless I get another impromptu date night invitation 😄

Posted by: stokiecat | January 11, 2017

Janathon 2017 Day 11

Busy, busy, busy so super short blog today, mainly to keep up the commitment to Janathon, and no location photos. Another day not running so 11 miles on the bike instead. https://www.strava.com/activities/828788049

I did however get my daily chocolate ration at Starbucks with a slice of yummy chocolate marble loaf (the picture doesn’t do it justice, sorry Starbucks).

Starbucks Chocolate Marble Loaf

Starbucks Chocolate Marble Loaf

Posted by: stokiecat | January 10, 2017

Janathon 2017 – Day 10

My plan for day 10 was to write about how great Trail Tuesday is. Even with my injury I was determined to show up to the group run because I had planned a great route, I could walk it and still take some photos to compare with the ones I took earlier in the week. Well you know what they say about the best laid plans, they’re often regularly derailed by the terrible traffic in North Staffordshire. I left Stafford at 5pm giving me an hour and a half to travel about 27 miles, I thought that it wouldn’t be that bad. After an hour I still had 10 miles to go, by 1 hour 20 I still had 10 miles to go. At that point I thought it best to go home and go for a walk instead. So no Trail Tuesday on the blog tonight, it will have to wait until Day 24 but you can check it out online http://gold-events.co.uk/trailtuesday/

My actual activity is what I had planned, 5 miles commute on the bike and a 3 mile walk. The walk was fairly uneventful although I did head up Glebedale Park hill to see if I could get a decent photo of the bright lights of Stoke. The answer is no.

Stoke from Glebedale Park Hill

Stoke from Glebedale Park Hill

https://www.strava.com/activities/827805100

Chocolate Pudding

Last one of my puddings before I move onto something different (but still chocolate of course), this is the Cadbury’s milk chocolate sticky pud (£2 from Tesco)

This is by far the best of store cupboard chocolate puddings (although still not as nice as the chiller ones). The sponge is chocolate and the sauce actually tastes like Cadbury chocolate.

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