Ed Catmur you say? was my reply to the tenacious Sasha…Well I’ll be honest at that point I shit myself but it wasn’t the first time that had happened across a series of recent events.
But let’s roll back a little bit. July 19th and there’s a rap on the door, it’s 8.30am – ‘stick the kettle on son’. It was Pops arriving in sunny Kent to do a bit of babysitting while UltraBoy dusted off the wetsuit and swam the Great London Swim. After a bit of a catch up we headed off to the train station and meandered towards the ‘swim village’. Getting to the Millwall docks was no easy feat with all the improvement work going on there and with a buggy it was remarkably slow progress but we finally cracked the nut and in font of us we saw a succession of Great Swim signage.
We ambled around the start line for a while watching a couple of waves hitting the water and saw that the waves of people entering the dock were rather smaller than I remembered from 2013. I spoke to a chap who had clearly just finished and he confirmed that the earlier waves had been much fuller but that the afternoon had been rather quiet. ‘Bugger’ I decided to head up to the finishing area and see if is was any busier and thankfully there was more happening and swimmers were bimbling about in their wetsuits or stripping themselves out of wetsuits. I sat down on one of the public benches outside the main arena and already having my swimming shorts on simply stripped off and jumped into my wetsuit (using my newly acquired knowledge of putting a carrier bag over my hands and feet to make getting into the wetsuit so much easier).
At this point my dad, UltraBaby and I headed to the start line but here my family rather than aiding me with my nerves got rather over-excited by the appearance of Brendan Foster, former champion middle distance runner! My dad became giddy with joy and started discussing running and swimming with him – he was a warm and genuine gentleman though and it was lovely to meet him – I just wish it hadn’t been while I was sweating in a wetsuit. I left my dad to his hero worship and entered the acclimatisation area in the water, the water was warm and pleasant and nothing like the last time I had done open water swimming, the concern was that the field of swimmers numbered about 20 and I was going to be slow as I had completed about 20 lengths of a pool since UltraBaby arrived. This mile of open water swimming was looking like an increasingly stupid idea.
Still I did the warm up, abandoned all ideas of pulling out and when the klaxon fired I ran to the water – leaping in and I put on my best ‘freestyle’ swim stroke – that lasted all of 50 metres and I began breast stroking my way to the finish line. Here it got both brilliant and crappy – the water was pleasant, the view was interesting and I’d picked up ‘Bridget’ on the safety boat as my conversational aid. This was the best and worst bit of my day – I was at the back and didn’t have the resources to catch the swimmers in front of me. Less than 200 metres I made the sensible call to adjust my targets. ‘So Bridget, success today is a) finishing and b) not needing to hold onto your kayak’ and then we chatted all the way round and thankfully she was a brilliant and lovely woman.
Without her and that awesome sense of humour I doubt I’d have made it but with the safety boat always within earshot I was able to push on even when the waters were against me. I was now about 1000metres in and I spotted my dad and UltraBaby on the dockside, they both waved enthusiastically and while my dad was more interested in chatting to the ‘lovely ladies’ he did get me a cheering parade all the way back and I could hear my name being called from far and wide.
With 50 metres to go Bridget and I parted ways – she had seen me safely home and all that remained was for me to haul myself up on to the ramp. I ran up to the chip timing station, waving at ‘my adoring crowd’, as quickly as my weary legs would carry me and thanked the lovely volunteers for their efforts.
There was little more to do now other than collect my medal and shower and as ever the guys at the Great Series had a nice medal and a decent T-shirt. What was missing was my own personal sense of elation, I was tired, I was sore and I’d been last in my wave – but with no training and bad prep what more could I have expected. Thankfully the Great Series of events really is well suited to the novice/under trained as it is to the elite athlete and the amount of safety crew about was s testament to the care they show to their entrants. I’ll be back for a fourth Great Swim next year because it’s a great event and I might even add in the Great Newham 10km which is where we are headed next…
Pops hadn’t just come down to the South East for a bit of gentle babysitting, no, he’d also come down to run the Great Newham 10km. To add a bit of history to this my dad raced at the Olympic Stadium at one of their 2012 pre games test events and to this day says he beat Usain Bolt by three months (the old ones are the best ones). Now it was 2015 and three years later – a lot has happened in that time, some good things, some bad but Pops wanted to run this one in sight of his granddaughter – UltraBaby. We set off nice and early and arrived at the Olympic Park with both time to spare and time to take some souvenir pictures, especially as both of us were proudly wearing our Virtual Runner UK shirts. As we meandered down to the starting area a voice called out to my dad ‘what are you doing here?’ In typical fashion my dad saw someone he knew – another runner and we all ambled down together to the main thrust of the event, chatting merrily about the run.
‘Tea?’ I offered ‘sun cream?’
‘Both’ was the reply.
It was a hot, sunny day and the start was still an hour away, we mooched around the Start Fitness store, bought a few bits and grabbed as much free lucozade, water and other goodies as our little hands could carry (it was a warm day after all). As the clock ticked down my dad headed to his wave (as he described it ‘the slow wave’). Thousands of runners lined up waiting for their final instructions, words of wisdom from my dads new best pal Brendan Foster rang out over the PA system and Paula Radcliffe offered some encouragement to those about to race BackToTheStadium. UltraBaby and I ran up and down the crowds in the buggy grabbing photographs and eventually waved a cheery goodbye to Pops as we stationed ourselves about 200metres beyond the start line.
And then it all went off – runners flying towards us – thousands of them in the shadow of the Olympic Stadium. I stood with my camera poised to grab the snapshot of my dad coming through but there was no sign, more runners came through and then more – still no sign. Suddenly in the distance I could see him wandering through – running gently behind a very attractive young lady and his eyes firmly cemented around her bum – it seems he’d found his inspiration to complete the distance. With Pops having passed us by we headed straight to the stadium to soak in the atmosphere. We were politely if inefficiently sent to the ‘buggy park’ were UltraBaby and I deposited the UltraMobile Mk II and then we went off to find our seat. We were housed near the runners entrance into the stadium and either side of us were the big screens displaying the runners names. Pops have indicated that he’d like a photograph of his name in lights – as the chaps back home would never believe him.
With baby on one knee and DSLR and giant zoom lense on the other we waited patiently. To fill our time UltraBaby and I tweeted several photographs under the hashtag #BackToTheStadium and sure even the dinosaur clad child appeared giant size on the screens around the stadium but with the race reaching the hour mark we needed to concentrate and wait for Pops. The problem now was that despite all the noise and the general hoopla – El Babio had fallen asleep on my arm and was resting like a dead weight on me.
Bugger. Still she wasn’t going to miss her Pops arrival into the stadium and when he came thundering around the corner I pulled up the camera – grabbed the shot of the big screen, woke up UltraBaby to join in with cheering and then photographed him ambling round the track to the adulation bring thrust upon all the awesome runners. UltraBaby went straight back to sleep. My dad collected his medal and joined me for a little bit atmosphere soaking and he described it as a fun and enjoyable race. It was well organised and well supported and he felt this was a good bookend to his ‘Olympic Park’ running career. I know there was some criticism (especially from long distance runners) that the course was a bit boring but it seemed that mostly people enjoyed it and especially the spectacle of coming into the Olympic Stadium – as Pops said ‘what a feeling, what a roar!’
He may well be back.
Thankfully this was not the end of July running – far from it – there was the little matter of the inaugural Twilight Ultra. The GingaNinja had already advised that I’d be out on my own for this one (especially in terms of getting there) but given the track nature of the event I felt this was a decent final event as I wait for the start of the CCC and so I signed up.
I headed out to Hainault nice and early with the intention of grabbing some supplies and breakfast and then meandering to the start line. However, a succession of train delays and a lack of suitable shops meant I arrived at the Redbridge Cycle Track having not eaten and with only a Cadburys fudge for company. I grabbed a cuppa from the track reception and then signed in. Martin from Nice Work (the organisers) greeted is warmly and advised there was a starting line of 12. Not a great number but substantial enough to make it a bit competitive. We were walked out to the start line of the course as 10am closed in on us and advised that the aid station at the start of each of our 31.5 laps would do there very best to get us whatever we required to finish the race and simply let them know and they’d arrange it for your next lap (a nice little extra I thought).
As the horn was fired to denote the start I saw the blazing sun rising higher and higher and wished I’d been more sensible and used sun cream but I hadn’t and by Sunday I was looking like a well cooked Lobster. I was running with Toby at the beginning and we got to know lots of stuff about each other – we’d never met at any race and had very differing experiences but he was a great runner and we powered well around the course together. At this point we were jostling between third and fourth place behind Ed Catmur who managed to lap us before our third running of the track (what a runner)!
The course itself was basically 0.8km downhill 0.5km flat and 0.8km bitchy uphill with some horrid switchbacks thrown in for good measure – if you followed the running line – I wasn’t quite so good at following the run line and managed to add a couple of extra miles but nothing significant. The real challenge for this was going to be securing your knees on the fast downhill and getting up the hill as fast as you could. Some of the runners described the surroundings as a bit dull but actually I found it an engaging, interesting and pleasantly difficult course with the added bonus of being able to see your fellow runners doing their thing. By lap 10 I was speed walking the top half of the hill and it was proving a mental drain knowing you would have to face it again. But interestingly by lap 10 the marathon runners were ready to join us and this made for a greater degree of enjoyment, it was also an opportunity to final meet the truly awesome Karen Summerville who was taking part in a weekend marathon double. At about lap 3 I was feeling a little queasy from a combination of heat and a lack of food and I decided that I need to solve my problem quickly. The food selection was decent and I chowed down on a couple of oranges for the juice and kept pouring water over my head and soaking my new ‘Anton’ buff but I needed something else ‘Tea please’ As of lap 4 I drank a cup of tea every lap – much to amusement of the awesome volunteers and spectators but this kept my race alive as I simply couldn’t eat anything solid.
The real problems came mid race though, I turned my ankle at lap 14 and this was quite unpleasant to run on, slowing me much more than I had hoped it would. There was also the added distraction of the queasiness I had felt earlier in the race which, upon returning, made me feel incredibly sick for a few laps near the 30 mile point but thankfully I shot through both of these with some deep breathing, clear thinking and bloody mindedness. As I was entering the final few laps we were joined by throngs of half marathoners, who all looked fresh and fast, but they soon slowed in sight of that bloody ascent! The arrival of fresh legs gave both the ultra runners and marathoners a bit of a lift and we all pressed that little bit harder for a while. I caught Toby up a bit and we ran together again for a while as he’d had a few rough and ready laps but was looking composed and in good shape.
At lap 26 I called for a change of liquid and requested a chicken cupasoup – which may well have been the stomach settler I needed because I hit the next lap faster and better than I’d run much of the previous few and from here I knew the finish line was infront of me. Soon I would witness Jools and Toby both finish and I wasn’t a million miles behind but as I entered the final lap I gave it some proper welly – even running the final ascent and offering up a sprint finish to cross the line. I quickly grabbed my medal and technical t-shirt (both of which were pretty good) and offered my unending thanks to most of the marshalling and medical team – all of whom had made my finish possible. I even got a little wave from UltraBaby as she had arrived just in time to see me complete the last few laps.
Now a few days later – the ankle is slowly healing and I’m feeling more prepared for the CCC and although I’m underprepared and still not quite right in the glutes I’ll arrive in France with decent self belief. These three races (and Bewl) have fuelled my desire to do well in my first attempt at an ultra on foreign soil. And thanks to a series of well organised events with lovely atmospheres I go in with a big dollop of positivity. If you get a chance do look up Nice Work they run races all over the UK and they are beautifully low key, local and fun races and of course if you fancy dipping your toe into swimming I can’t recommend the Great Swim series highly enough.