Sunday, 18 October 2015

Ridgeway Run 2015 - tattooed legs and heavy feet

Never enough Portaloos!
Here's my race report from the truly excellent Ridgeway Run on 11th October 2015.  As usual race HQ is at the cricket ground in Tring, Hertfordshire.  It was a cool and delightful morning to arrive early enough to sign in and collect my race number.  Helpfully there were a good supply of safety pins!

All of the officials were welcoming, friendly and chatty.  There was a really nice atmosphere as runners prepared themselves for the race, plenty of high spirits and laughter going on.  It looked as if the majority of runners were with club mates or with friends and I think this adds to the event in having someone to share it with.  I find with almost every race, there is always a lengthy que for the Portaloos; it does matter how many have been supplied, there will never be enough for the 15 minute window in which they'll be fully used.

It was great chatting to the two officials on the left, in between checking in on-the-day bookings.  He thought I looked like Edward Fox and I think he looks like my daughter's physics teacher.  We got talking about blogs (naturally mentioning this blog!) and how Mr M wants to set his own up about the history if Rock & Roll so please do get in touch if you'd like some help.  In fact I think I could do a workshop for budding bloggers - let me know if you're interested - I'll cover all the basics in three hours giving enough practical guidance to have your own blog up and running in that time.  Just let me know.  Back to running now.

As usual there was a 10-15 minute walk from the cricket ground to the start line which is right at the edge of Tring, in a quiet little cul-de-sac and at the start of a bridleway.  Gradually everyone assembles, the Race Director arrived with his airhorn and timing officer, complete with clipboards and stopwatches galore.

Many runners seem to have GPS watches these days and these were all being checked, primed and ready for the press of the start button.  Me?  I have my old fashioned analogue £20 Timex on my wrist and my iPhone with Strava ready to record the run.

Ready, steady, go!
Last year I commented on heavy breathers and fast women: this was based on the first mile or so where we were all tightly packed with each other and the heavy breathing surrounded me.  This year the early stage was pretty much the same with everyone running closely together but this time I became aware of a different breed of runners around me.

The new breed were of the tattooed leg variety, perhaps normally quite rare.  I did notice how I was surrounded by the sound of "heavy feet" landing all around me.

These tattoos included all the latest fashionable swirling designs and also a few (but more discreet) Ironman tattoos on the backs of some runner's legs on the calf muscle.  Interestingly I spotted a number of other discreet tattoos and these also could be a sign of having completed a gruelling sporting event.  Apologies for not knowing what these are, I'm afraid that's not my world but I can understand people wanting some kind of wearable memento which entitles one to a kind of membership into an exclusive club.   Didn't spot any Olympic rings on shoulders though and I suppose it does add to the list of "wearables" we hear much about these days.

I had deliberately positioned myself a little further up the field on the start line for this year.  I dare say there were about 200 runners in front of me, more behind.  So that seemed a good place to start.  Once the race was underway and we had all done the start line shuffle, our pace picked up to one that was just right and we gradually jockeyed for position and started to thin out a little over the first mile or two.

No heavy breathers; instead I was conscious of heavy feet landing all around me. I was trying to listen out for my own but I couldn't quite discern them.  Sometimes when I'm running alone on something like a beach I will close my eyes and listen to my feet, my breathing and so on.  This tightly packed race was hardly the time to start closing my eyes but then I realised I was running lightly i.e. my footfall was light in landing on the ball of my foot i.e. towards the toes.  I often find myself doing this when I'm running quickly over rough ground, it's not a conscious thing, it generally just happens.  It does make running a little more comfortable I find and I like the extra "spring in my step" which it seems to bring.  I guess that landing lightly and in a deliberately controlled way puts less strain and impact on joints.

Howard's intervals
Once the pack had reached and crossed over the main road (and here's a "thank you" to the fabulous marshals) we turned right along the road for a short distance, through a gate and onto a path which was single file.  This was also a little slower for everyone.

Next was a little climb and I found myself tuning into a conversation going on behind me, between a man and a woman.

"You know I feel as if my training is paying off now"


"Oh have you never been on any of Howard's Wednesday night sessions?"


"It's brilliant.  He gets us doing intervals, you know fast and slow, plus running up and down a hill.  Really good and I'm feeling the benefit".

I remember thinking that yes, that did sound like good training by Howard, although I don't believe I know him.  I too have found reps to be beneficial in going to the limit for a couple of minutes and then jogging to allow my heart rate to come back down.  Repeating this many times is tremendous training and if I'm honest, I should do more than simply clocking up the miles as it would make me a better runner.

Going up
I like hills, as you my already know and I can just about remember the time when I used to avoid them like the plague.  I found myself looking for opportunities to over-take some other runners as we climbed through the wooded area to the Monument in the Ashridge Estate.  Gaining some time on these stretches is at least one thing I can do alright.  As I said, I like running up hills!
The first drink station by the Monument was such a welcome site and once again I'm so grateful to the marshals and volunteers for being there.  I made the most of a cup of water, so refreshing.  Then it's a case of turning left and running through the woodland area which is so beautiful at this time of year.  There were plenty of Sunday morning strollers around and everyone was stepping aside, letting us go by.  Before too long the trees thinned out and to the left you could see glimpses of wide open countryside in the soft October sun - really nice.

Going down
As I had gained a few places running up hill, now we were heading down the start of the actual Ridgeway I got over taken by quite a few.  I just don't have the right technique or form to run down hill well.  Something to improve on.

The terrain undulated and before too long another drink station, just before a short uphill slog and a waiting photographer ready to snap these exhausted runners - believe me that was a steep climb!  Next was a hazardous section, twisting and winding through a wooded area with lots of tree roots and rabbit holes.  I took this at a pretty easy pace as I didn't want to risk tripping.  Unsurprisingly I had a runner on my tail before long.  I yelled out asking if he wanted to get by and he said he didn't at all.  It seemed funny having a conversation for a few minutes with someone I could see!

Home straight
Once back down on the flat and onto the bridleway which runs straight back to Tring, I attempted to increase my speed in trying to estimate how further with the pace I would maintain.  Unfortunately for most of this straight section I was on my own.  It was so welcome getting back to the start line and knowing there was about half a mile (maximum) to go.  I gave it my all, which didn't really amount to much of an increased speed although I did feel a bit mean overtaking another runner within yards of the finish line!

My result was 1:16, about 5 minutes faster than last year.  Chuffed.  This places me at 149 out of 564 runners.

Again I find myself asking "if I lost a little more weight, trained better, did Howard's intervals, how much faster could I go?

I felt so good, having a generous dose of the Runner's High.  This was a brilliant reminder of why I run, or at least one of the many reasons.

Serious side
My running form has changed over the years and there was a definite shift earlier this year when I had a bit of an injury.  Now that I'm running with a lighter, softer footfall using more of the central part of my foot and the ball of my foot, I can feel it is better somehow.  It feels just as natural as it was before when I was a bit of a heel striker sometimes.

Once again this was a lovely race.  I like it for not being a big event.  I'd say the number of runners this year - well over 600 - was probably about the maximum for this course towards the start.  It is a tricky balance as it wouldn't be a nice race if there were only 50 runners and we became too spread out.  No, it's nice to run in the company of others and I find I enjoy running a little faster this way.
Speaking of other competitors, my admiration for the winner and other prize winners.  My admiration goes especially to those who are in their 60s who beat me (I'm 53).  You give me something to aim for!

I like also having a technical teeshirt instead of a useless medal and it's always nice wondering what it will look like.  It's nice being handed a bottle of water and a flapjack instead of the carrier bag of rubbish you get at some races. Well done to Tring Running Club!

I love the course being virtually all off road on lovely tracks in wonderful countryside.  I like the hills, even though I need to get better at running down hill.  As races go, this is extremely good value and I'm already looking forward to another go in 2016.

My thanks to Tring Running Club for the friendly welcome, great organisation (inc perfect weather conditions) and everything else which made this a great race.

No, I'm not having a tattoo, ever. Even I ever do something where I'm "entitled to" I simply won't be having one.  Not my cup of tea, sorry.

Here's a few snaps from the day:

Marshals getting ready

First aiders having their briefing

Race numbers being pinned on.  Note watercress tee shirt.

Race numbers being pinned on.

Post race drinks handed out!

More drinks!

Clubs enjoy a social side too

Lovely first aiders, they said they weren't needed

Made it!

This is a muddy splash on my leg, not a tattoo


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