The Creature from the Black Lagoon!

I love the St Aidan’s Nature Park as a place to run, particularly that it connects to another reserve, Fairburn Ings, which gives a vast network of footpaths through wonderfully scenic wetlands. Therefore the St Aidan’s Half Marathon is too good to miss.

As the days leading up to the event passed it was increasingly apparent that with all the rain that had been falling, the rivers and lakes were high and that on the day torrential rain was forecast. Now I’ve done trail races in similar conditions before and while afterwards you feel fantastic, running is pretty grim. When we did the Chevin Chase in 2015, at least we were able to shower afterwards but only just got home before the floods closed in. The prospect of having to drive home looking and feeling like the Creature from the Black Lagoon didn’t really appeal!

This morning I was expecting to wake up with rain lashing on the window but it was suspiciously quiet! There had been some rain overnight but it looked dry. Even though I had packed a plastic poncho and towel, it wasn’t raining at the venue. Nor was it too cold and I was glad I wasn’t over-dressed, having chosen to wear my running vest.

Although it wasn’t raining, the ground was extremely damp as we set off though 6 inch deep puddles covering the whole width of the path. Any prospect of dry feet went out of the window straight away (although strangely there were many runners trying to dance around the puddles). My combination of Solomon trail shoes and Sealskinz waterproof socks were definitely the business and although I can’t say my feet were kept completely dry, they were comfortable.

So, the first 5 miles felt relatively OK and I was sustaining a reasonable pace (under 9 minute miles). Then the path took a turn up a hill into the wind and this was the beginning of the end. It couldn’t have been just me because I wasn’t being passed by a herd of other runners, but my legs were definitely feeling it!

It wasn’t quite as bad as having to concentrate on simply putting one foot in front of the other but I did have to dig deep to sustain a semirespectable pace for the rest of the race. I was fortunate to be running with some other athletes with the same mindset so we kept each other going.

Running on soft muddy ground with puddles is hard and I think the effort of doing that rather than the relatively modest hill was to blame. The last couple of miles were through St Aidan’s on fairly good paths and I could pick things up again and chase down a couple of runners who had overtaken me earlier. I managed a descent finish.

At first I was disappointed being just over 2 hours for the course but looking at how hard it was (and by the organisers own admission, a bit long), I am quite pleased with today. It has been the first half marathon sized effort since I have been recovering from a virus, so overall it was a great result.

“Seven days from now I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights, and I will wipe from the face of the earth every living creature I have made.’”

‭‭Genesis‬ ‭7:4‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬

Quick

How quick is quick?  The answer to this question rather depends on your ability and fitness.  I confess to be a competitive runner and so to me (and no doubt to others) the time it takes me to run various distances is important to me.   There are certain distances I use to judge how well I am doing, so for example, if I can run a 5K parkrun in under 24 minutes I am doing OK while under 23 is exceptional.    Call me obsessive, but I have charted the progress I am making at parkruns since the beginning of August when I was first able to run after recovering from flu.  As of a week last Saturday I had gone from 33:28 at the beginning of August to 24:37 at Pontefract parkrun.

Last weekend we were invited to attend the inaugural running of Warwick Racecourse parkrun (by my sister-in-law Jill, who is a member of the core team).  This is similar to Pontefract in one respect, that both are racecourse routes.  The Warwick route is really interesting in that you run all around the path by the side of the course and then, about 200m short of the finish line, you double back and run round the course in the opposite direction! (this is because we are not allowed to run across an access road).  This makes it an out-and-back route over a really well surfaced path, potentially very fast.

Watching the team set up the parkrun for the first time brought back memories of the first running of my home parkrun, Rothwell, a few years ago.  The Warwick team did a brilliant job of keeping the opening under wraps because they had a very manageable 104 people turn up to run, a great relief from worries of the nightmare scenario of being inundated with “tourists”.  The Warwick Racecourse Core Team made an excellent job of organising the run and I am sure it will prosper.  I can’t wait to come back and run it again when they are really in their stride.

As for me, I managed a respectable 24:22, not under my “benchmark” but 15 seconds faster than I ran Pontefract.  Next week I have a half marathon; The St Aidan’s Half, an off-road route around two RSPB nature parks.  I have no idea how quickly I can run a half marathon at the moment, I will be pleased to do it under 2 hours but hay, I’ll aim for under 1:50 and see how I do.

“For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?” Luke 14:28 ESV

 

The Epic

It all started several years ago when on holiday in Slovenia. Not content with the usual holiday pursuits of the resort including mountain walking and cycling, we decided to do something different. We decided to run up the notorious Vriscic Pass, 7 miles up and a vicious 1000M assent and then, run down. (See “Passing Out”, July 2016)

Surprisingly the whole experience was totally amazing and ever since then we have made a point of doing the annual “Epic Adventure” during our summer holiday. To qualify as “Epic” it has to be something that if you were to describe it to fellow guests they would look at you as it you were from a different planet or worse, be sectioned under the mental health act.

This year for a late summer break, we visited a little piece of paradise which is the Miramare Hotel in the resort town of Agios Nikolaus (Ag Nik for short) in Crete. Around 6 miles up the coast is another town called Elounda which is stunningly beautiful and near the famous fortress island: Spinalonga. It is an easy bus trip from Ag Nik to Elounda and our plan was to run back. The problem is that the 6 mile road route is narrow, busy and has no footpath so not good for running. We therefore decided to plan a route across the network of mountain tracks, a journey of about 9.5 miles back to Ag Nik, with a maximum height gain of about 1500 feet. The average daily maximum temperature has been around 28 degrees celsius and the sun gets high and relentless early on, but we always seem to manage these challenges in the warm Mediterranean summer. So, when we caught the 9:00 AM bus this morning, we had a high degree of confidence that we could do this thing!

I had put a significant degree of confidence in the running app “MapMyRun”, which is a pretty good way of planning routes and mostly, if it reckons the route is passable, it is. I had pre-planned the route and downloaded it to my phone so, if the little blue dot remains on the red line, you are on course (all of this utterly depends on your phone not running out of battery, so be prepared).

As we started up the little road out of Elounda, it soon turned into a rough dirt track which rapidly became obviously impassable to motor vehicles, which is fine since the reason for choosing the mountain path was to avoid traffic.

The basics of the route is that the first three miles takes you up into the mountains and then the last 6 consist of a gentle downward path that ends up in the centre of town. This means that you have to be prepared to work hard for the first third of the route! I think I am doing pretty well coming back to fitness after my virus but there’s no way I could keep up with Helen my wife who seemed to skip gazelle-like up the steep mountain tracks. Even walk-running the route was brutal but we were rewarded by the most spectacular views.

Yes, the views are something really special and this here’s the really odd thing: apart from one local (whom we presume was a farmer), on all those spectacular mountain trails we didn’t see a single other soul. I haven’t got any objection to having this amazing place oll to ourselves but here we are at the height of the tourist season and I have to wonder what all these people are doing with their day. There is so much to see here yet the more attractive thing seems to be the swimming pool!

You don’t have to pay the tour operators a fortune in trips. The local buses here are brilliant and my chosen navigation app worked fine and with one slight error and correction we were able to find our way back to the little freshwater lake at Agios Nikolaos harbour where we stopped and had a large Mythos lager each.

This afternoon we deserve the facilities of the hotel bar and restaurant but after such an amazing morning, we are already planning our next Epic.

“You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”

‭‭Psalms‬ ‭16:11‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬