Training Update – February

Stormy runs and a very muddy and very hilly marathon!

If you live in the UK you’ll be aware that February was a very stormy month. On three different weekends we were visited by Storms Ciara, Dennis and finally Jorge! On the weekend of Ciara I’d convinced myself that it would be far more sensible to bring my planned long run forward 24 hours to the Saturday morning, and that’s exactly what was happening until Russell posted on the club Facebook page that the usual Sunday morning long run was going ahead. Not only that there seemed to be more than a few keen/mad takers, so of course I just had to join them!  

I can’t pretend it was the most fun I’ve had, however we managed nearly 19 mainly off-road muddy, wet and in places very windy miles, and we lived to tell the tale. We did see one large branch get broken off a tree early on, but other than that there were no mishaps. There was one memorable moment where we were flying up a hill propelled by the wind right behind us!

The intrepid Storm Ciara runners!

Dennis coincided with a trip away to Somerset to celebrate my partner’s 50th birthday, and I didn’t relish getting battered around by the wind and rain again so for the first two days I took advantage of the hotel gym and put in a couple of good hard leg-focused sessions, and then did venture out for a few miles on the final morning when the winds had died down a little.

The following weekend was, with no exaggeration, almost certainly the most challenging running experience of my life. It was the Lenham Cross Winter Marathon, a local event taking in sections of both the North Downs Way and the Pilgrim’s Way. I’d run most of the route previously on various training runs, but as it turned out that wasn’t really any sort of preparation.

We weren’t smiling quite as much 27.3 miles later!

The race started with an immediate steep climb to the top of the North Downs, which most people walked, including myself, having decided to walk the hills and then run the flat and the downs. After a couple of miles of flat trails there was a steep descent which was followed by another very steep climb (there’s a theme developing here). Eventually after 7.5 miles we came back to where the race started, and headed out on a 20 mile out and back section, which was where the ‘fun’ started.  

We almost immediately headed upwards again to the top of the Downs. At that point I thought we were going to continue along the top as I usually do when I run up there, but instead we headed down a ridiculously steep flight of steps. As I clambered down them I realised that as we were on an out and back section I could look forward to having the climb up them later on! 

The steps!
Some more steps!

The next few miles were on familiar territory, up and down with more steps to contend with, but at this point conditions under foot weren’t too bad. That all changed soon after as we found ourselves trudging through a good half mile of thick mud, and as it was clear that the reasons for the conditions was that cows were regularly herded along this stretch it was also clear that it wasn’t just mud under our feet, so I really didn’t want to fall over! 

The final few miles of the out section were somewhat less challenging and soon I was at the turnaround point at the Lenham Cross. Things took a turn for the worse after I left the aid station at Hollingbourne. I was already facing a steep climb out of the village followed by the muddy cow-path. The skies were also getting very dark ahead as well. Up to that point it had been mainly grey, a bit damp and quite windy at points on top of the Downs but all quite manageable. 

Sure enough as I hit the top of the climb the rain started (sideways) so I stopped to get my rain jacket out of my back pack, then carried on through the muddy cow-path. Having successfully negotiated that I was looking forward to running the next section, but the rain had made the paths slippery and treacherous in places, especially where there was a camber to contend with as well.

The climb out of Hollingbourne
The muddy cow-path!

As it was I ended up slipping over three times in the next few miles, all whilst walking! I had more than a few near-falls as well, and running was almost impossible as I logged a succession of 19/20 minute miles. And that was before I had to ascend those steps again! At least the finish was virtually in sight by then, although another slippery downhill path had to be carefully negotiated first. 

I was very happy to cross the line and pick up my finisher’s medal, then take off my very muddy kit and clean myself up. In the end it was the furthest I’d ever run (27.3 miles) and the longest time I’d ever run as well (6hrs 22 mins). Yes, it was incredibly tough, but having reflected over the last few days it should be good preparation for my upcoming ultra. Yes, that’s another 5 miles longer, but as it’s in May I can’t believe it will be that muddy and the elevation gain for this race was 875 metres compared to 505 metres for the ultra. 

Well, that’s the eventful bits of the month, I’ll finish with a few other bits and pieces.

  • I ran the latest Medway Winter Track series 5k race and improved on my previous performance from 22:10 down to 21:52.
  • I ticked off the second of my planned ten different Kent parkruns this year with a trip to Sittingbourne.
  • En route to Somerset we stayed overnight in Winchester, and before Storm Dennis arrived to spoil the party I got out for a little run-explore around what is a lovely city. 

So that’s February. I’ll be continuing to build towards my ultra this month, along with a trip down to the west country on the last weekend to visit my Dad, and on the way I’ll be taking in the infamous Woolacombe Dunes parkrun (see the video below) and then taking part in the Tavistock half-marathon.

Catch up with you all soon!