Hermes Running Bewl Water 1/2 Marathon

Bewl is my second ever UK trail run (not counting school cross country!) and turns out to be an absolutely beautiful route that circumnavigates one lap of Bewl Water reservoir in Kent, conveniently just over 13 miles in circumference.

On finishing I was presented with a medal the size of a saucer. No goodie bag as such but instead a long table by the finish laden with cake, flapjacks, brownies, pretzels and flagons of squash served with big smiles. All of which I think far more welcome than a plastic bag with a collection of vouchers you will never cash in.

The day before it seemed the running Gods had heard my prayers as the forecast offered glimmers of hope suggesting heavy rain would ease during the race and may even stop before the finish. On the day itself they showed mercy and the rain stopped just minutes before we were called to the start line and race briefing.

Although the rain had eased it was still cold (by my ex-pat tropical climate thinned blood standards!) and a little windy, so I skulked around indoors, checking and rechecking I had everything until the last moment possible, then followed the crowd to the start. Walking to the start line I started to fret as to whether my kit choice was right; I had opted for shorts and a single Berghaus tech T-shirt, but a lot of runners appeared to be wrapped up and prepared for the worst. Many were in tights and long sleeves and quite a few had lightweight waterproof jackets. As I cowered behind the crowd to shelter from a whipping wind I feared my race might be scuppered by hypothermia and I was doomed to greet my first DNF! Had they got it right? I cursed myself for not layering, at least with a long sleeve top over my T. Hey ho, too late now, nothing to do but grin and bear it.

And then we were off. I soon saw people stripping off layers and tying flapping Gore-Tex around their waists. What we all quickly realised is that rain equals mud, and heavy rain lots of mud. So my chosen clobber wasn’t too bad after all as one decision that was spot on was my choice of shoe.

The effect of mud on a trail run is threefold; firstly, and obviously I suppose, it makes the ground boggy and slippery. Secondly, and particularly in the early stages when the pack is still quite bunched up, mud causes runners to suddenly side step in front of you, usually to avoid planting the box fresh Nikes ankle deep into a puddle, which in turn means you are constantly having to adjust your own path without warning to avoid ploughing into the the back of others. Thirdly, mud makes runners slip and slide, which it turns out can be as funny as the sidestep thing is annoying!

But it is not so much the mud however, that causes runners to skid all over the trail, it is the running shoe that doesn’t grip. Most were wearing regular road running shoes which have the grip coefficient of a snowboard. I was feeling more than just a little bit smug that I had opted to wear my Brookes Pure Grit I. A selection that had not occurred without much deliberation as I had not run more than 10K in them before, but one that proved perfect for the muddy conditions. My ‘PureGrips’ as they should be named, were spot on and I practically skipped through the sludge while others performed their finest Bambi impressions. OK, in truth I had more than a few near misses myself, but relative to most my Grits did seem to cope well which really helped overall.

Something you should know about me – I am a complete kit monkey, I am the first to admit it. I love kit, I always have done. From a young age kit has been vital to the full enjoyment of any sport for me. And I’ve tried more than a few… Since about 8 years old there’s been skateboarding, fencing, BMX, skiing, windsurfing, snowboarding, mountain biking, scuba, surfing, clay shooting and of course running… to name a few. And I had the tackle for all of them. If I am completely honest, so long as there is the kit I could probably live without the actual activity.

But as I nimbly trotted through the quagmire (alright, nimbly might be stretching it), I did feel slightly vindicated over my passion for having the right clobber and for my compulsive research to find the right gear. My family and friends have for many years rolled their eyes as I extol the virtues of a new purchase or defended the need for yet another new pair of trainers / bottle / belt / hat / sock / fleece… But I did not slip on my arse during this race, and mostly because I had selected the appropriate shoe. So there – wife daughter son, there was actually a good reason why daddy/husband needed the yellow pair when the green pair were only a month old, and this race was it.

The route was a mix of terrain; woodland paths, open fields, along the waters edge and some country lanes as well. Stunning views of the rolling Kent countryside the whole way round, I did feel utterly privileged as I trotted along I have to say. I had been warned it was quite a hilly run and for the first 15KM or so I was really questioning my friend’s perception of what hilly meant as we gently undulated along, probably never gaining or losing more than a couple of metres in elevation. Then we turned a corner and started to climb. And carried on climbing for what seemed like an age, at least for a flat lander like me. I managed to keep running and for every up there’s generally always down which I tried to make the most of. Then at 18KM we were treated to some more up, this time I decided to save what little I had left and walk up. Along with everyone else at that point so I didn’t feel too bad. I really wanted to run in the last few K’s and enjoy myself too, and not risk running out of juice so near to the end or struggle to make it home.

This strategy seemed to work and I did indeed enjoy every mile of this run. It is an absolutely beautiful route. And the mud was kind of fun! At least it wasn’t raining or too windy, the sun came out from time to time even. The atmosphere was great and it was also an extremely friendly run, I chatted with lots of people at the start, along the way and at the finish too. There was much cheering at the finish line with many runners hanging around to cheer in the slower ones like myself.

My only tiny gripe was one particular chap who thought it fine to play his Iphone on loudspeaker out of his Camelback… Hmmm really?? Good running etiquette? Personally I’m not so sure, he might like to pace himself to Ace of Base but keep it in your earbuds mate!

That aside it was a great event, thank you to everyone involved in organising and supporting the day, and I will definitely be back next year.

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In the middle

This is the inaugural post of my blog about running, health and good food. I hope it will beĀ about the things I love, things I find interesting, the positive directions I am attempting to follow in life, and how these are perhaps connected.

Early one morning in June last year, I signed up to run a 1/2 marathon. Not a wholly random act, I had been toying with the idea for a while. But it wasn’t particularly high on my agenda and I wasn’t a regular runner then. I was living in Singapore and the ‘race’ I had opted for was the Standard Chartered Singapore 1/2 Marathon.

This triggered a new obsession, one that might well be some kind of midlife crisis. Not the classic cringeworthy kind; no new sports car, no hair dye, no mutton dressed as lamb. Just lots of pairs of running shoes, running magazines and brightly coloured ‘technical fabric’. My own midlife crisis seems to be manifesting as a need to feel fit and healthy.

So I trained for that 1/2 marathon in Singapore, and I completed it. I ran alongside 12,000 other people, most of them seemed to have only put on running shoes for the first time that morning, but that’s another story. I finished 1,565th, hardly amongst the elite hardcore at the front but neither along side the stragglers at the back of the pack.

My latest craze has taken hold, over the last 6 months or so I’ve trained for and taken part in three 10km races and 2 half marathons. And now I have a compelling urge to run further, to run long distance, long distance through woods, across fields, over hills, along riverbanks, maybe up and down mountains one day.

This is not simply about vanity; getting fit to lose weight, look slimmer or younger (ok maybe a little!), this is about how I feel. I’m tired of feeling tired, of feeling sluggish, stressed, anxious, addled and a little bit beaten. If I am lucky I might be at ( or just over) the half way point, if I am very lucky I might know my children into their middle age. But, slightly morose reflections aside, more than anything I am no longer content with just being alive – I want to feel alive, to feel alive! I want to feel fit, healthy, alert, clear and energised.

I’ve had an on-off affair with running for most of my life; school cross country teams hacking across the dales and valleys of the Lancashire countryside, Hash Harrier runs over desert wadis of the UAE in my twenties, and most recently dripping along jungle trails in Asia. Running always felt like a kind of freedom, now it is that and much more; it is meditation, it is achievement, it is connecting with the ground beneath my feet and the world around me. I have never won a single race, that’s fine, for me it’s more about enjoying the trip than simply getting there first.

Food is the stuff of life; eating out, cooking in, reading about food, growing food and most of all sharing a meal. Breaking bread with friends plays a central role in our family life. All of my childhood memories involve good food, my mother was a foodie long before the term was ever invented, she instilled that passion in me. I am lucky to have traveled and lived abroad, I’ve tasted local food across Europe, the US, Asia and West Africa. One of the joys of travel and my favorite way to experience different cultures.

Recently I have started to think more about food as fuel, and about the effects the stuff I put into my body has on it. I am increasingly intrigued by how the food I eat affects the way I feel generally. I know if I want to run further I must have the right nutrition to support training and provide energy to go the distance. But I also believe that aside from providing nutrition, food must nourish; it should always feed the soul and raise the spirit.

Eat right and run free might not be the whole answer to unwavering vitality, but maybe it’s a good place to start. Let’s see where it leads….