Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Gordano Round Trail Marathon - Run without fear

For the last year I have been raising funds for Pancreatic Cancer UK.  I was inspired by a friend who was diagnosed, like many others, in the prime of her life and with everything to live for.   Her friends were devastated by the news of her passing on Thursday 2nd November, but all we can do is hold her memory close to our hearts.

Run and be free from everything
Run with your spirit
With your heart
With your mind
Run with passion
Run with love
Living life to limit
Loving life each minute

Run without fear
Run without worry
Without your burdens
Without any cares
Run and let go
Run and escape
With peace in your soul
With our love in your heart


“You only ever grow as a human being if you’re outside your comfort zone.”  Scott Jurek

"Navigation - It will mainly be self-navigable but marshals will be on the route in key positions and road crossings."

The rain poured throughout the Friday night, I could hear it beating against the window and when the alarm sounded (although I hardly slept) the rain was still heavy.  I made my coffee, grilled and wrapped my bagel and set off into the darkness with the car wipers on full.  By the time I reached Gordano School at 7:25 the rain had almost stopped and the clouds were already starting to break.

In the race HQ (school gymnasium) I was met with smiling races staff who offered me protein bars before the start.  Was this a hint at the task ahead?  I changed into my trail shoes, secured my bracelet and chatted with a few friends from various clubs, including Ali Bisatt, who for the past three years has run with me on the London to Cardiff relay.  This race, at 27 miles, would be the furthest race he had run although I knew he would be finished and showered before I crossed the line.

With Ali Bisatt before the start.

At 8:15 the race director gave us a brief and then introduced us to a representative from the care home the race raised money for.  We then filed out to the field in time for the start.  I had been told to make a good start, getting to the cliff path at a mile and half point as soon as possible, as there would be little chance to overtake once on the cliffs. 

We started with a lap around the school field, mostly to shake the pack out, before twisting and turning our way around housing estates, Portishead town and eventually we picked up the cliff path.  The path is undulating with many wooden footbridges, which are treacherous when damp, and follows the cliffs for some 5 miles with one water station in the middle.  The view out over the Severn was beautiful, however, the path was so uneven you had little time to take it in.

Leaving the checkpoint at Clevedon

When we completed the cliff path at Clevedon I stopped briefly at the aid station, opposite the pier, before pushing on.  Both the Long Half and Marathon started together and separated at the 12-mile checkpoint, the race numbers were the same and so it was hard to work out if the person you were trying to catch or keep pace with was doing the same race.  We followed the footpath between houses and up our first climb of the day, then down Strawberry Hill, before a long twisting climbs up into Norton Woods at 8 miles where the route runs northwest, parallel to the M5.  I chatted with Una Miles for the climb, discussing races and fueling.  From up on the hill the noise of the traffic was constant, a sound that would follow us around the majority of the course.  The route crossed the M5 near Tickenham and followed Cadbury Camp Lane West track, including a nice climb at around 10.5 miles.

Yep, it was steep.

From here the route carried on adjacent to the M5 on a steady downhill, crossing back across the motorway and across the fields into a farm at 12 miles where, like a few others, we did a tour around the outbuildings before spotting a marshall outside the farm perimeter and rectified our mistake.  Just under a mile further and we were at the "halfway" checkpoint in the front garden of the Black Horse pub.  Here we lost the Long Half runners and the field thinned, considerably.  The route headed south, back under the motorway, and then east to begin the second loop of the course along an "out and back" section that joined the two loops of the race.  At this point, I met up with Dean Shears, who had travelled down from Northampton, and we settled into a comfortable pace for us both. 

The route took us straight into a wooded area and up a steep climb before heading south at 14 miles, crossing fields before heading west again just above Wraxall.  It continued east along tracks and paths, constantly climbing and declining over the many hills, until 18.6 miles when we descended north into Abbots Leigh where we almost went off course.  We both had Garmin Fenix watch's with the course map programmed in, this gave us the ability to counter-check the turnings, something we had to do a few times.  On the outskirts of the village, we stopped at the checkpoint where I refilled my water bottles and learnt that we were about halfway through the field of runners.  Dean had set off along the A369 and I caught up with him on the next hill as the route headed west and off-road again.  

We followed farm tracks and fields back along an (almost) even section of the course, finding a few runners who had gone astray, until south of Easton in Gordano where, as we entered the woods we could hear gunshots.  A shooting "party" were surrounding the woods while beaters were scaring the pheasants out, from the shooting I saw the birds were in little peril, in fact, the overweight shooters were more likely to collapse of heart-attack walking back to their Land Rovers.

Somewhere, in the distance, are both the Severn Bridges.  Honest.

We were now at 21 miles and the last few hills before the "out and back" section, passing through more woods and fields we could see a few runners behind us but no-one in front.  Passing through the grounds of the Downs School we could hear a loud noise nearby, as we were looped around Charlton House (Children’s Hospice South West) the sounds got louder.  The children from the home were banging gongs and playing instruments of all types as the runners passed through, it was very humbling.  Dean and I stopped at the aid station for some goodies were Kate Dallas, from Bristol, caught up with us and we set off together for the last 4 miles.  We entered Prior's Woods and climbed the steep steps before picking up the footpath back across the fields towards Clapton in Gorando, as we climbed up the wind hit us, we had been sheltered from the wind by the hills but now being so now we were hit, head on. Finally back at the Black Horse pub at 25 miles and as usual, the last 3 miles seem to last forever and as we ran along Clapton Drove, dodging the puddles, a light rain threatened - brilliant.  

1 mile to go!!

Heads up and joking we crossed the last few fields and across the busy B3124 at 26.5 miles, where we followed a narrow track parallel to the main road, through a playing field and back onto the housing estate we had started from.  Eventually, we turned to see the school entrance and the three of us were suddenly through the finish.  I completed the race in 5:36:00, 69th of the 113 that had run and for such a hard course I was very happy with the time.  Ali Bisatt was waiting on the finish line, freshly showered and changed, who had completed the marathon in 4:30:03 and, finishing 16th and taking the first supervet.  

This wasn't the hardest race I've run but it certainly was high on the list.  My mind was elsewhere but I was content with the outcome.

Kit used:  Altra Lone Peak cushioned trail shoes, Injinji toe socks, Dirty Girl Gaiters and Salomon S-LAB Adv Skin3 12 Set.

Fuelling:  I fuelled on Tailwind, Torq gels and Clif Bars.

Would I do it again?  Yes, but I would do it on fresher legs.

A few lumps.

The double loop of hills.

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