Friday, 26 January 2018

Beyond The Far Side - what do normal people do on a Saturday evening?

If running feels good, you didn't push hard enough. It's supposed to hurt like hell.  Dean Karnazes

Race date: 20 Jan 2018
Organisers: Crooked Tracks Wiltshire -
Location: Westbury, Salisbury Plain
Weather/Conditions: Wet, low cloud and 4 degrees highs.

"You will be running in a part of the Wiltshire countryside encompassing the edge of Salisbury Plain. The route covers approximately 5.30 miles with an overall elevation of 850ft per circuit. You can choose to enter for a slightly extended circuit as a 10K option or complete as many circuits as you can in either 6 or 12 hours."

Running around the Wiltshire countryside during the winter months can be fun, there are a few hills, the odd puddle and the occasional patch of mud.  Put all 4 together, add more mud, and you have Crooked Tracks' Beyond The Far Side 10k, 6 and 12-hour endurance event.  Having run the course and the first few (11) miles of the Imber ultra course within 2018 I had a good understanding of what the race had in store, I'm glad I had invested in some Leki RCM race poles and new Saucony Koa ST trail shoes!!!

Pictures of the course from the week prior showed the course would be hard-going, the mud was thick and chalky slopes were screaming for new victims.   The cold weather, the many heavy rain showers the week before, and rain on the day would ensure race day would be "memorable", and it was.

The morning of the race I loaded the car and headed over to Westbury to pick up Denise Ellis, who was running the 6 hour race, before driving on to the race car park as walking to the leisure centre where the race headquarters were based.  We were immediately welcomed by the marshals and race staff, many of whom were friends and runners.  I immediately found Richard Corp lounging in his chair, on a waterproof backed rug surrounded by a mountain of spare kit.  I was jealous, jealous I hadn't thought about it!

Anne Kelly stealing Richard's empire.
As the minutes ticked away more runners arrived, many old friends and also some new.  I exchanged the obligatory welcoming hugs with Nicky Chrascina and Anne Kelly as we all tried to keep warm before the freezing drizzle now falling.  I chatted with Mark Barnett about planned races. With 15 minutes to go Neal gave us a short briefing before urging us out of the marquee to the start line. A brief countdown as a siren marked the start, the 10k runners completing a loop of the playing field first while the endurance runners headed out the gate and turned left down the short hill and onto the soft, waterlogged trail.  To my amazement a few of my contemporaries headed out at some speed, I wasn't getting drawn in and started easily.

Hill 1

The route

The course is basically a 5-mile loop taking in 3 steep hills, the first (middle hill) of which was the steepest and soon to be the most hated as there was no firm footing and after a few laps became extremely hard work, both up and down, even with poles.

Once through the initial woods, the route turned left along a flooded road before turning right and up.  This first major hill, hill 1, had a runnable lower section until a kissing gate, where the elevation increases and the trail become slippy as the track is just thick clay/mud.  At the top of the hill, the sign sends you left and you follow the track, that narrows and becomes muddy until you reach hill two.  This hill is chalk, with a thin layer of mud, that became treacherous in the rain..  at the bottom of the hill the route turns 360° and you head back up the hill!  At the top of hill 2, you are on the Imber range road, one of the most exposed stretches of track on the Plain.

Bit muddy between hill 1 and hill 2!

Turning right and following the range road we were able to finally run unhindered for half a mile until you reach the flag post and then turn right and down.  This 3rd hill is the longest hill with a segment of chalk steps and some externally muddy sections.  As the hill flattens out at the bottom the path becomes more waterlogged.  You reach some tank traps and turn around, heading back up the hill.  Reaching the top you turn left and back downhill 1, which by now would be easier on skies! Back to the leisure centre to the starting marquee/checkpoint and that's a lap complete.

The laps

Running a lapped race is hard to write about, after a few loops you quickly lose track of when and where events happened, but I will try.

After watching Richard Corp and Anne Kelly disappearing up off the first hill like it was a 5k road race I started chatting with Ruth Mitchell, an experienced ultrarunner who imparted some knowledge about the Thames Path 100.  The going was fairly easy on this lap but it didn't stop me falling twice, even with poles.  Thankfully it was the only time I did fall.  I did stop on the first lap, just passed through the checkpoint and headed back up the hill again.  The second lap I completed with Neal Cox, an ex-Marine, we spent the lap reminiscing about our time in forces.  As we turned at the bottom of hill 2 a teenage girl, wearing wellies, and her boyfriend, wearing desk shoes, were heading up the track with a dog.  The poor lad lasted a few seconds upright and I managed to stifle my laughter.  The rain started to fall as we finished the lap.

On returning from the second lap I had decided to change my tops, but the rain started falling harder and was due to get heavier over the next hour, so I made a quick coffee, ate and filled up my water bottle, I say I did it, the awesome marshals rushed around us. filling our bottles and making hot drinks on request.  Mark Barnett would appear in the marquee, drink & eat and then head off at break-neck speed without poles.  Time was slipping past quickly, the 5-mile loops were taking well over the hour to complete and the late start, low cloud and drawing afternoon would mean that during lap 3 the head torch would need to be carried.

An early lap as it's light and I'm not up to my knees in mud.

After stopping at the checkpoint I was cooling down too quick and it took a quarter of the lap for my fingers to warm up enough to hold the poles again properly.  I headed out for the third lap with Richard Corp, now a regular ultra running buddy, and we struggled up the first hill, trying to find alternative routes to avoid the mudslide which had evolved over the past few hours.  By the time we had climbed hill 2 it was 15:15 and the rain had finally subsided and the cloud lifted for a short time, allowing us a view of Westbury and the surrounding countryside.  By the time we finished the lap at 16:00 there was no alternative but to wear a head torch, but not before refuelling and a change of tops. I set out with Richard again and the light rapidly faded into the gloom.

Meeting in the dark - Richard, Anne, Me and Nicky

One nice thing about running a looped circuit is seeing other runners progressing in their own races, being able to give encouragement, abuse or hug a friend.  As we climbed hill 2 yet again the light had completely gone and the low cloud through the beam of the torch back at you, the visibility dropping down to 20 feet or so at times.  As we turned and started to descend downhill 3 the cloud cleared and we picked our way along the treacherous path to the turn-around point.  The rain that had been falling most of the day was now laying in deep puddles along just about every section of the course.

A veggie hotpot, bread, and cheese had arrived and I had a good helping, warming from the inside.  I have no real recollection of the fifth lap, let's just say it was dark, muddy and wet.  I tried to change my socks at the end of lap 5 but struggled with undoing my gaiters.  Ian Harryman, a mentor and today a marshal, reminded me not to waste time - "If you can't do it, don't do it".  I stopped swearing at my feet, had another peanut butter wrap and headed back out into the night, this time alone.

Rich is ahead there, somewhere. 

It was now 19:45, the 6-hour endurance runners had finished and the remaining 12-hour runners were few in numbers and spread around the course.  I still had energy and was able to run every "runnable" section but felt the temperature dropping as the skies cleared.  I reached the top of hill 2 and ran along the top range road, passing two competitors who were now walking even the easy bits, I wished them well and carried on.  I turned and heading downhill 2 passed Nicky and Anne coming up, after a quick hug we parted and carried on.  I finally returned to the checkpoint just before 21:00 and decided to go out once more with Nicky and Anne at a fast walking pace, I could have run it but would be more enjoyable with some company on the last lap as time was running out.

We headed uphill 1, by now a complete mess, and turned left at the top towards hill 2.  Once clear of the woods we could see the lights blazing over Wiltshire and wondered what normal people did with their Saturday evenings? Hill 2 was as uninviting as ever and the climb back up but we kept a solid pace.  The range road seemed to go on for miles but eventually, we turned off and downhill 3, the trees giving us some cover from the cold breeze.  At the bottom of hill 3 we turned and started climbing for the last time in the race, only the slippery hill 1 and back through the woods before entering the car park of the leisure centre for the last time.  Neal and the remaining marshals cheered us in.  At this point, there was only Dean Talbot still out on the course.

Finished, with Anne and Nicky

I changed top but would have to wait until I got back to the car before changing trousers and shoes as I had left my "dry" shoes in the car - schoolboy error stuff!  The temperature was only just above freezing and waiting for Dean to return we started to chill quickly, eating the whole time from the remaining spread.  Eventually, he arrived, closer to the 12 hours cut off point than he would have liked but the lap counted, and we cheered him in before heading back to the car park and on to waiting showers and warm beds!!!

Again, I feel I could have pushed harder and achieved possibly another lap by doing so, but I enjoyed the course, the staff and the company of running companions so felt no need to push any limits.  Brecon to Cardiff in February may be a little different.   

Mick Farrar - 7 laps - 37.1 miles - 5,950 ft elevation - 11 hrs 6 mins
2nd Place

Main Kit
Saucony Koa ST trail shoes
Leki Micro RCM running poles
Decathlon Forclaz 400 jacket
Dirty Girl Gaiters
Black Diamond Spot 200 head torch
OMM Ultra Waist Pouch (borrowed)

Amazing spread supplied by Crooked Tracks

Hell, yea!!!  Hard work but outstanding support and many friendly faces.

12 hour race finishers
Mark Barnett - 9 laps - 47.7 miles - 7,650 ft elevation - 9 hrs 54 mins
Mick Farrar - 7 laps - 37.1 miles - 5,950 ft elevation - 11 hrs 6 mins
Dean Talbot - 7 laps - 37.1 miles - 5,950 ft elevation - 11 hrs 48 mins
Mary Devally - 6 laps - 31.8 miles- 5,100 ft elevation - 7 hrs 21 mins
Richard Corp - 6 laps - 31.8 miles- 5,100 ft elevation - 9 hrs 58 mins
Anne Kelly -    6 laps - 31.8 miles- 5,100 ft elevation - 11 hrs 6 mins
Nicky Chrasinca - 6 laps - 31.8 miles- 5,100 ft elevation - 11 hrs 6 mins
Robert Gale - 5 laps - 26.5 miles - 4,250 ft elevation - 6 hrs 45 mins
Neal Cox - 5 laps - 26.5 miles - 4,250 ft elevation - 7 hrs 48 mins
Margaret Hill - 5 laps - 26.5 miles - 4,250 ft elevation - 8 hrs 28 mins
Ian Chidgey - 5 laps - 26.5 miles - 4,250 ft elevation - 8 hrs 28 mins
Neil Wheeler - 5 laps - 26.5 miles - 4,250 ft elevation - 8 hrs 49 mins
Helen Bennett - 4 laps - 21.2 miles - 3,400 ft elevation - 4 hrs 27 mins
Sarah Cowburn - 4 laps - 21.2 miles - 3,400 ft elevation - 6 hrs 14 mins
Tracie Baines - 3 laps - 15.9 miles -  2,500 ft elevation - 6 hrs 15 mins

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