#Race – The Fowlmead Challenge, the most fun you can have with your (running) clothes on?

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2014 has for me brought a lot of exciting challenges, lots of races where I’ve come away and thought ‘I fancy that again’ or ‘I know I can do better and next year I’ll prove it’. With a week before the Winter100 I’d opted to have a final significant run at the Fowlmead Challenge both in the hope of a new medal and more importantly an opportunity to see how far from fit my hamstring was. I’d heard a few bits about the organisers and how hugely friendly and intimate these events could be – and this was very much paramount in my thinking when I was looking for an event of this type.

Before I go into full race review you might want to check them out at saxon-shore.com – especially if you’re Kentish way, but even if you’re not these might be just what you’re looking for.

6.00am UltraBaby has slept for more than 7hrs, this is bad – we needed her up an hour ago to get her into the right zone for the day.

6.06am The GingaNinja dealt with our super powered offspring and I hastily threw on my Hoka, my new Salomon compression shorts and teamed them with my beautiful soft touch tech shirt from the Snowdonia marathon and a classic Ronhill top. I’d already applied what felt like a good slathering of Vaseline around my ‘downstairs madam’ and my nipples where feeling greasier than a Friday night kebab but this was all good.

6.24am Breakfast for three, for me it was a hearty ibuprofen, cuppa, yoghurt and a fun size twix – not the stuff of champions but it was being that type of morning.

7.30am I’m now ready… but I’m running round grabbing baby things, the GingaNinja still has her ‘on the tit’ and I’m now in that pre race nausea that I so often suffer with.

7.52am
Pre-race nerves have now evacuated the building via the toilet, thank god I didn’t have the hot burrito last night. That was perhaps the only benefit of not getting home from work until after 10pm.

8.03am
GingaNinja slides stealthily into the shower, I lock UltraBaby into the car seat, grab dogs extendable lead, grab dog, load car

8.14am Vroom, we’re off – but garmin says go the route that’s closed so we follow iPhone route instead.

9.06am The GingaNinja is getting a little tetchy because we could well be late, she doesn’t know where she’s going and she’s worried the baby is hungry – actually just 23minutes later we arrived and everything was okay. Proof positive that it is possible to run marathons even when you’ve got a five week old baby!

Anyway enough baby chat, we arrived at Fowlmead Country Park and its both excellent and ample parking, the start line and lap point were at the top of the hilly entrance overlooking the very pleasant cafe (and hose) with children’s play area, activity trails and awesome looking bike rides.

I rolled up to be greeted by the guys from the event and from the moment I gave in my name I felt like part of a family – they’d never met me before but it was just so friendly.

I grabbed my number and trundled back to car. The GingaNinja had now prepared UltraBaby for her first taste of bigger distance races, soak up some atmosphere – I did ask if the course was suitable to do a lap with the buggy but the RD suggested it wasn’t and he was very right (conditions were challenging from the off).

The race briefing started a few minutes later and was casual but surprisingly informative. Traviss, our RD was laid back and continued the friendly theme that seemed to be the hallmark of these events. Post briefing we were given a little while to steady nerves (or create them) and then, as the bell tolled, we were off!

The Loop
The course was about 2.7miles of undulating trail – this description doesn’t do it justice. The route started out on gravel track for a couple of hundred metres to be swiftly replaced by ‘proper trail’ with puddles, mud and all the filth you’d expect from a country park founded on an old coal pit. The quick wet descent was replaced by a stretch of path and then up some mildly rocky hills before back into the depths of mud fuelled fun! As the laps wore on and the ground became more cut up this section became heavy going but nothing a reasonable pair of trail shoes wouldn’t be able to handle. As you swung a hard left back onto the track the course became a bit more technical on rocky paths and the descent needed a little care before you reached the hill of despair where you climbed at pace if possible. Now, with about 1 mile of the loop left to go the course went back to a fine gravel track but this was beset by oodles of deep, dark and awesome puddles – I went through every single one (testing the new drymax socks!), this was probably the mentally toughest bit of the course, especially as the laps wore on as it didn’t have the visual interest of the rest of the route but it’s never ending corner worked well to build mental strength. With the final 400 metres upon us there was a fast uphill and you’d completed a lap.

UltraBoy Ran…
I sadly ended up completing only 10 laps, not the 11 I had been aiming for… this is what happened. I went out too quick – my aim had been 4.75mph, nothing too silly but I started with closer to 8mph for the first hour and that with my hamstring effectively killed the run as a race but what it did do was allow me to have a sense of how I’ll feel later this week as I push on during the Winter100. By lap 4 I could really feel my body warning me against pushing any further and I did contemplate giving up at half marathon distance but then I fell upon a plan – I’ll take the dog to distract me because I wanted that next marathon distance for my assault on the 100 marathon club. So after completing lap 5 I grabbed my beloved Spaniel and we headed out – only one of us was allowed jelly babies and it wasn’t him. The fifth through eighth lap felt incredibly hard and my hamstring pulled with every move, the hound was also feeling it and again I felt like stopping but as I charged up for lap 9 there was a bit of a second wind and I improved my lap time a little. Each of the hills, each rock, every puddle felt that bit lighter knowing that I wasn’t going to see them again soon and so we pressed on until I could see the finish line and my final lap. With 400metres to go the hound and I decided that our running pride was on the line and so we belted out our longest stride and flew towards our medal! I was spluttering over the many delicious treats available but as I reached for the bell and I was simply grateful I’d done it.

Traviss passed out my medal and placed it gently around my neck – which was handy as it weighs about 10kg!

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But what you wang to know is would I recommend this to you? The answer is simply ‘cor blimey yes’, this is my favourite marathon I’ve run and as a laps challenge it is such a hugely entertaining event.

The things to look for as ever (for me) are the following;

Organisation and information
First rate, regular communications via email and Facebook and a very good website. On the day the event was handled with a deft touch, the RD and his team look like people who a) love running b) care about runners and c) care about their event. This section scores 10/10 and its richly deserved, when the race result and thank you email came in about 4hrs after the event you know this is a great race team!

Aid Station
Quality Street, homemade cakes, snickers, squash, water and lots of other stuff – this was an aid station to die for and it was stocked to bursting point. 9.5/10 (could’ve killed for a sausage roll by lap 8)

The Route
I enjoyed the route and if you’re a trail runner you’d have a great time bombing round the course (and in fairness the park). Despite being a nature reserve and extensively used as an extreme mountain bike venue, we were never bothered by other park users. The guys marked out a challenging but manageable course that tested our mettle. 10/10

Small and Beautiful
You can go and run London if you like but this challenge had about 50, maybe 60 runners, there was no ego, it was a really good feeling and we all supported each other – this kind of experience is becoming harder to find in the sponsored, corporate world of ‘Big Racing’. Traviss has crafted an event (a series of events) that you’d go back to time and again. 10/10 for a great time and atmosphere

The Bling?
Sometimes in life you get a bit of a shock – when I saw the medal hanging off the neck of one of my fellow runners I knew this was special. It harks back to the heritage of the run location and it feels like a medal should – other race directors take note please. 10/10

Value for money?
As regular readers know ‘value for money’ is something I’m always on the lookout for – especially in races. So how much was this? £35. That’s right, cheaper than most half marathons with half the bling, it’s cheaper than almost any OCR race and you could see that the cost was invested in the race and the runners. The aid station, the food, the medal, the communication, the donation to the country park, the organisation – this was a bargain. 10/10.

Conclusion
A great race, run by great people – please visit http://www.saxon-shore.com or find them on Facebook. I’ll be going back to Fowlmead and I’ll be joining them for their Tolkien Run next year as well as several others, sadly my physiotherapist has barred me from the Saxon Shore marathon saying that the W100 has to be my last until new year, but otherwise I’d already be entered. And if you’re looking for another reason to sign up to one of these extraordinary events then check out that awesome goody bag below. Sign up, you really can’t go wrong and you certainly will never forget it!

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