Ah, well was there ever going to be a better way than to have a good run on Valentine’s weekend. Yep, this weekend was the Centurion Running One Love virtual event. It’s funny (or sad..) that I have thought about Centurion events a number of times, but have never been quick enough off the block to get entered before they sell out, and now the first of theirs I do is a virtual one. That is (hopefully) to be followed by the Thames Path in May, lockdown permitting.
Anyway, Saturday was chosen to be the day to give the 50K a rip. There were lots of options to go for, ranging from 5K through to the 50K. You also had all weekend to complete your chosen distance. I thought that was fab, and made the whole event very accessible; that was then of course enhanced further by the fact that presumably most of us were just running straight out of our front door – no worries about travel, toilet queues or the like!
It was great that Dave had also entered; always fab for the two amigos to be heading off on an adventure together. I had plotted a route on the OS map app (the best £24/year I ever spend!) that was just shy of 50K, but I was confident enough that there wouldn’t be much in it once we had finished.
The start had been scheduled for 0645, but I was uncharacteristically 5 minutes late as I had affairs of the porcine kind to deal with first; I launched a shoulder into a sea of cider and lots of lovely spices for slow cooked pulled pork later, and also had to cook sausages for important mid-race sustenance.
From the off it was clear that it was cold, very cold. I had a snood on, and was soon grateful that I had a second one too – at times through the run I was like Scott of the Antarctic, with only my eyes showing. Seriously, any exposed flesh was just so cold.
The route was a well-chosen one, even if I do say so myself; we dropped down into Hillesley and then kept low for the first 8 miles or so – Kingwood and the fields towards North Nibley. This was retracing the route that we had taken in December when we had our annual Gentlemen of Hawkesbury run; this time, though, there was no stopping for surreptitiously placed bottles of warming wine!
As is always the case on a long run, the early miles slip by happily enough as the conversation ebbs and flows between us – in one way, it’s amazing that after all of these miles together we still have anything to talk about at all I guess! In another way, though, we never are going to be short of miles to reminisce over – “it’s not as cold as…” or “this climb reminds me of…”
One thing that the bitter wind had done was firm the trails up. It was very strange to experience; underfoot, the ground was as if we were running in summer, with cracked ground and the like (although there were also some scary ruts that slowed us down as they would have posed real ankle turners and breakers if taken at speed and misjudged). However, once you got an inch off the ground, it was most certainly winter – I had heard that, with windchill, it was -12. Hmm, not sure – felt colder than that!
Then, soon enough, we were at the forgotten climb. It’s always tempting to think that the climb to Tyndale starts at the village of Nibley. As I have found before, the route that we were taking means that actually it begins in the festival fields. The good news about this is that it means the village is almost half way up.
Anyway, of course this all meant that we were now on the Cotswold Way; that in turn can only mean one thing – the flatness was over for a while, and it was time to yomp. The views from Tyndale were as spectacular as ever, but it truly wasn’t a morning to stop and wonder at the vistas across the Severn Plain; the wind was biting, and there was also the thought that there was Six Nations rugby to get home for!
The miles through Wotton woods were as welcome as ever, as flat as they come for The Way. Then the knee-jarring drop into the town itself, with Dave (as always on any descent) hurtling ahead of this none too sturdy chap. I commented that we needed to make the most of these miles, as we knew what was coming.
I stopped at the foot of Blackquarries to take a photo of “the step” and post it to Twitter – I said “those who know, know.” The hill has lost none of its brutality, and I suspect never will; wherever it comes in a run, it will always be awful. Garmin tells me that it was 160m of climbing in that mile and, as always, it felt like every one of those metres was ground out. Worse this time, we then had the wind to contend with as soon as we hit the top. If the climb up BQ is unrelenting, the drop down is soon upon you and unenjoyable for a different reason – it is steep, rocky and virtually impossible to adopt a sensible cadence on.
Once at the bottom there was very little respite before the next showcase climb, up the “Burma Road” to Tresham; blimey, tough yakka as always (and another 130m in the mile!) – slog up that concrete path to the top and then pick up the Monarch Way. Now, possibly for the first time, the wind really showed its teeth. Up on the exposed top there, there was nothing to break its effect at all and it truly felt that everything cold from Siberia had come all the way to the ‘shire to assault us!
But by now we knew that salvation was at hand – once we had got through Boxwell and into Leighterton, there were sausage baps waiting for us, along with coffee; Elisabeth had come out to meet us and it was mighty good to see her. I have felt the debilitating effects of not eating too many times on my ultra journeys and I was determined that this wouldn’t be one of them. It is a strange feeling, to be moving and eating, and to be eating when you just don’t want to. The trick is definitely to eat before you’re hungry, to drink before you’re thirsty.
Oh my, the exposed field from Leighterton into the arboretum at Westonbirt brought whole new realms of cold – pretty sure I saw some mammoths and sabre-toothed tigers coming the other way, saying it was too cold for them. It was a strange feeling running through the arboretum and seeing other humans – it’s open for exercise of course, but it was weird having hardly seen another living soul for all those miles. The slog through the trees was just that really; a slog where we both knew that the pace needed to be quickened to try and compensate for the climbs and the effect they’d had on the average pace.
If I am honest, I had been conscious for a few miles that Dave was struggling a bit – not surprising at all given the travails with his knee and the lack of running as a consequence. It’s a tough feeling, knowing that you are probably going too quick for someone; the dilemma I had was that if I went too slowly I just froze! Dave made the call to drop at 21 miles. That is one huge shift for a man with no miles in his legs from any training at all – muscle memory, grit and determination got him a lot further than many would have managed that’s for sure.
From there, then, it was just me, myself and I. No worries on that score; after all of the miles in my own company, I am more than used to it. One thing I will always do, and this sometimes works as an advantage and sometimes it works against me as it eats away at my resolve, is mental maths. Now, I calculated that if I could keep the pace below 12 minute miling for the rest of the journey (approx. 10 miles), I could come in under six and a half hours.
Mad how that little incentive can spur you on. Suddenly, I felt as if I could be home in time for lunch and shower before crashing in front of the rugby with a beer. Well, more does a Gloucester man need?! Almost at the same time, I reached Sherston. That meant that, for the first time in ages, I had the wind at my back and I would do so for the rest of the run home pretty much. Oh boy, the feeling of having that evil thing pushing at your back instead of blowing in your face was quite something I can tell you.
And so, imperceptibly at first, but most definitely nonetheless, the pace quickened. I realised I would be able to do the sub six and a half. So, I then challenged myself to bring the average pace down below 12.30 for the entire run too. And, sure enough, that spurred me on more.
By the time I hit the Badminton estate I was tired and starting to run on empty. For sure, by now I was in the “get it done” phase of the run. We all know that comes at some point in any run; I was just pleased that it was pretty much in sight of home. I had a few little twizzles of the local fields to do to bring up the distance and then I was home and hosed.
Overall, great fun. I am pleased to have got a 50K under my belt. Confidence is gaining. I know that I need to nail the TP100 if I am to hit the CW102. I made a crazy speech about “if I can’t do a flat 100 then I will give up on a hilly one…” Only words of course; I know my odyssey won’t be completed until I hit Bath Abbey once more.
On a yard, one and all.
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