Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Hellrunner 2011

I awoke Sunday morning unaware of the weather waiting outside. Rain, Wind and Cold...Marvellous! The scene was set for a wet and cold Hellrunner!

Hellrunner South takes place at Longmoor Army Camp, Bordon, Hampshire. It is part of a national series of events that take part yearly up and down the country sponsored by Brooks.

I didn't know the course but I did know to expect the infamous 'Bog of Doom' and the 'Hills of Hell'.

When it comes to running, I'm a bit of a purist, I run because...well, I like to keep running! I've done a similar event 'The Grim' (which I'm doing again next Sunday) which like the Hellrunner, features water obstacles along the way. To me this is more like competing in Total Wipeout than a running race.

As long as you go into these type of events with a different mindset, ie: Time means nothing and I'm going to get wet! then you will be fine. I had this in my head that this was more a training run than a race.

With 2000 people running, and the run starting at 10am, I would advise to get there at 9am. I was running this event with running partner Brian, and we were not parked up until 9:15am, which wasn't a problem and made for less waiting around but meant queueing in traffic for a while.

Miraculously the weather had broken into clear blue skies and not as cold as expected for the time of year. At the start area there was the usual stalls set up selling running apparel and the Clif company selling their energy and recovery products. They also had bite size tasters of their products to try, which was a welcome pre race boost and very popular with everyone.

Lined up at the start we waited for a devil on stilts to make his way down the road ahead wielding canisters of green smoke, followed by fireworks and a large explosion which I assume meant that we were off.

The course is, and I quote from the official web site 'Somewhere between 10 and 12 miles'. Not the most helpful but I'm guessing that it is nearer to 10 than 12....I'm going with 10.5 miles.

Brian and myself, early on...dry and clean!
The first couple of miles is pretty much flat or heading downhill along quite well drained terrain, but what goes down must go up and from there on in that is what you can expect....hills!

The course is challenging not only with the hills going up but coming down can be quite hair raising too and very unpredictable under foot. This would be a great course to run on your own one weekend because with the amount of people running, from the very first hill you hit a queue and are forced to walk. This was the biggest problem all the way round, every hill for the best part of the race was a bottleneck.

There are some hills that were very tough not only because of the gradient but also a lot have sand under foot making it doubly hard to get up. The water features are probably the highlight of the race because they are so different to what you're used to on a Sunday run. The good thing about the water features are that they come towards the end of the race, so there are no silly water obstacles along the way put in for the sake of getting wet.

The Bog of Doom is the first of the water to overcome, a stretch of black, stinky water that you have to wade through with the level above the waist. There are roots underfoot that cannot be seen and can easily be tripped on, and yes right towards the end I tripped, luckily my arm partly breaking my fall.

The Bog of Doom

After this it's more hills to cope with and with wringing wet trainers and shorts to drag you back. It's not long before you're back in the water again, this time with the lake crossing. This consists of reaching the top of a 20 ft sand bank that you have to slide down before wading across a quite large expanse of water before attempting to climb the same sized bank back up again.

With the water features out the way it's then the final couple of miles back to the finish, which again consists of...you guessed it, hills and also the sand dunes, an undulating trek across the sand before hitting the tarmac and crossing the finish line.

The sand dunes

I finished with a chip time of 1:39:52. If this was nearer 12 miles or 11.75 miles as someone told me on Twitter today then that would give me a mile pace of 8:30. When running I was probably running close to this if not a little faster, but with the stops at most of the hills and the water obstacles there is no way I was maintaining this pace. If I go with 10.5 miles that gives me a pace of 9:30 which overall is probably nearer the mark. If anyone has the precise distance, please let me know.

Overall this event was better than I expected, as I said at the beginning, you are best going into this race with no expectations and treating it as a really good testing, training run. The organisation was generally good, a scattering of Marshall's, one water stop (It needed no more) and a great goody bag at the end which included a Brooks tech training T-shirt.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

The night run

This was one of the best runs I've done in along time for the following reasons:

1) It was on the spur of the moment.
2) The novelty factor and a bit of an adventure.
3) I couldn't see the big hills I had to run up!

Sunday, early evening, I'd spent the afternoon sat freezing watching my son play football desperate to get out for a run to get my legs warm. I text friend and regular running partner Brian to see if he was up for a evening run. He was having the same kind of afternoon and was as keen as me to get going.

The fog had not lifted all day, so we went out on our run at 4 o'clock which gave us about half an hour of remaining daylight. With head torches at the ready we head out across the Ash ranges (a mix of stony and woodland trails plus hills).

It wasn't long before the daylight turned to dusk but the eyes adjusted well to the ever fading light. The fog was quite thick and so the landscape was just silhouettes of trees and distant hills. It was a brilliant sensation to be running in what felt like the middle of nowhere in the dark and fog.

We took the pace fairly steady but was slowed by the gates and cattle grids along the way, which meant we could have a good old chat. 90% of the conversations Brian and me share on runs or at work are about running (much to the disappointment of work colleagues!) It felt like we were running in the middle of the night and we imagined how this run would compare to running in an all night Ultra race. We were soon put off the fact by the thought that it was only 5 o'clock which would mean there would still be probably another 12 hours of running in the dark ahead of us!

There is a few challenging hills along the way but because of the dark and fog, you could not see far enough in front to see how far the hills went on, which seemed to make them easier.

The head torches were ineffective against the fog and the light just bounced straight back at you. Most the time we spent with the lights off which gave a bit of adventure to the run and it's amazing how the eyes become acclimatised to the dark. In the final few miles we did work out that putting the head torches on the side of the head gave a dull light in front of us that was easier to run with against the fog.

I'd done this run many times in the day, but it was amazing how different it felt at night. This is something I would recommend if you are tired of the same routes, what feels like two different runs for the price of one.

After spending an hour and a half of running in the still of night across the trails it was actually frustrating to come back to civilisation, street lights and waiting at the road for cars to pass!

No Google Images, I typed in Night running not Knight....doh!

Friday, 11 November 2011

Winter Training Looms!

It's been 6 weeks since my Marathon triumph, I use the word 'triumph' in the sense that somehow I managed to complete the hilly 26.2 miles albeit a mixture of walk/running in the final 5 miles.

Thoughts now turn to Winter training and ultimately destination London, and the Marathon in April. In between then, two races that I have booked in are The Hellrunner and The Grim. The races are within a week of each other, 12 miles and 8 miles respectively. The first of which is 2 weeks away. For those who have not heard of these races, they consist of a lot of water! The bog of doom is the name of one such obstacle, so you get the idea. When booked up on a hot summers day, these races sounded quite appealing, now it's November...not so!

Since the Marathon it was always my intention to have some down time but at the same time not losing what I had built up to through training for my last Marathon. I've been running a lot less recently but hopefully the base fitness remains.

Today it felt like Winter training had finally begun, a 9.7 mile run to work with colleague Brian, equipped with head torch, gloves and a long sleeve top but I have not resorted to the running leggings yet, I'll save them till the real cold weather takes bite.

Winter Training
The plan now is to slowly build back up the mileage and get to somewhere between 30 - 40 mile weeks come the new year. I reckon on that being just about right for me and get me to my goal of a sub 4 hour Marathon.