Exe-rated runners!

Exe-rated runners!
The successful Harriers team, en masse, at the Erme Valley Relays, July 2013

Monday, 18 February 2013

A winning Devon show and injury woe at Plymouth Hoe!

On Sunday 17th February just the two Exmouth Harriers were making their way down the A38 to Plymouth for the annual staging of the Brooks Plymouth Hoe 10 mile race, which incorporates the Cornwall versus Devon Peninsula Challenge. They were the same two Harriers who took part in the race last year: Roger Rowe and myself, Ellie Sutcliffe.

Roger was forced to retire and register a DNF at this race last year, at about the 4 miles point, with a tight hamstring. This year he is also on his way back from an injury lay off and so was just looking to enjoy the race and the views out over Plymouth Sound on what was a lovely sunny day - if on the windy side - to have a little jog around. As this was his longest run for several months he wasn't putting any expectations on himself. Well, when you don't expect anything, you sometimes get pleasantly surprised, as Roger trit-trotted his way round the course in a steady 76:00 for 199th place overall (out of 556 finishers) and this was easily good enough for the top MV65 spot on the day. So Roger was awarded with a £20 cash prize for his category win: not bad earnings for a nice Sunday jog in the sun!

Last year I, Ellie, was disappointed not to have been selected to represent Devon on the women's team of 4 for the Peninsula Challenge and so I ran with extra fire in my belly to try and get in amongst the Devon runners to try and prove my credentials! I managed to get ahead of one Devon runner and was the only none-team athlete in the top 8. This year I was thrilled to have been given a place, but I knew there were some talented ladies who hadn't made the team and were in the same position I was last year who would be going all out to try and prove the selectors wrong and to try and upstage me! This added lots of pressure!

The Peninsula Challenge adds a little bit of interest and ensures that the race always attracts a highly competitive field. Last year both the men's and women's titles went to Cornwall and so this year, us Devon runners had something to prove! The line up on the men's side was super-strong, with Tom Merson of Exmouth heading it up. Us women had the talented and in-form SWRR runner, Lucy Commander, leading our charge. Both Tom and Lucy had shown that they were in good shape by winning our own Fulfords Five race 2 weeks ago.

I joined Lucy, Ami Yetton (Plymouth Harriers) and Alison McEwing (Erme Valley Harriers) on the ladies team. However, after having had a good solid 4 weeks of training, pain free, I had aggravated an on-going achillies injury at the Exeter Half Marathon last weekend. I rested it all week in the hope that it would heal in time for Plymouth, but even on the warm up track yesterday I was feeling it. This is nothing new: I have been stiff in warm up with it before many races and it's always worked itself out, so I was hoping it would do the same yesterday.... unfortunately, it didn't.

I started well - perhaps a little too well (first mile in 5:41!!) and was going strong up until about mile 6. At this point I was on target for my target time of 62:00. Then between miles 6 and 7 it all started to unravel. The stiffness and pain from my achillies began travelling up my calf. I could feel the pain spreading with each passing mile until by mile 8 it was excruciating. Around this time I passed a Torbay AC runner who had dropped out and was walking back to race HQ and I had a massive internal debate in my head as to whether I should drop out too. By this point I had slowed drastically and had been overtaken by two non-team runners from Devon - exactly what I feared would happen. As I have never DNFed before, I was worried that if I pulled out it would just look as though I had done it to avoid the embarrassment of being beaten by a none-team runner, and also, I would let the team down, so I decided to carry on.

The last mile and a half was the most painful running experience of my life. I was speed-limping and wincing with every step... and slowing with every step. The frustrating thing was that other than this injury, I felt great! My legs felt fresh and I wasn't at the limits of my fitness but had more in the tank. I tried to accelerate in the last mile but my left leg just couldn't match the pace of my right and my left calf felt like a tight, knotted, ball of useless, dysfunctional muscle. I hobbled into the stadium and still had 2 laps of the track to complete. Usually, however hard I have pushed myself, I can find a final surge in the last half mile, but today I just couldn't. I was getting slower and slower and the finish line just couldn't come soon enough. I staggered across it in 64:05 - amazingly, a PB of 13 seconds, but not amazingly really as I was in much better fitness than this time suggests. I was 56th overall and 6th woman, 4th woman in the Peninsula Challenge and 3rd for Devon.

As soon as I stopped, the pain really took hold and I was in agony. I consider myself quite a tough cookie and can ignore pain quite well, but this had me in tears! Luckily the Devon team manager, Dave Phillips, and my friend and team mate, Lucy, were there on the finish line to hold me up: thanks to them for that! With a bit of help I hobbled into race HQ to the massage table. I couldn't even walk a step, let alone run another one. The only saving grace is that I was still the third counter (3 count out of the 4 runners for the women's teams) for Devon and only one Cornish runner - GB international Emma Stepto - had beaten me, so Devon ladies had beaten Cornwall!!! The Peninsula Challenge trophy has only been won by Devon women once since they introduced the idea, and that was in the first year of it running in 2007, so it was a massive boost to be bringing it back to Devon for the first time in 6 years!

The Devon men's team were emphatic winners in the Challenge too, with 4 of the 6 runners to count, the first 4 runners across the line were all from Devon! So a good day for Devon and some great individual performances from the small Exmouth representation, with Tom Merson taking the honours in a new PB and a new course record time of 52:03, with Roger's MV65 win and with my brave-but-stupid injury-riddled PB effort for the ladies team.

The winning Devon ladies' team, L - R: Lucy Commander (SWRR), Alison McEwing (Erme Valley), Ami Yetton (Plymouth Harriers), and Ellie Sutcliffe (Exmouth)

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

6 Harriers, 16 miles, 4 Trigs, infinite mud!

If we half-marathoners were berating the overnight downpour of rain, then you can well imagine how the 6 Exmouth Harrier members who had signed up to compete in the muddy, off-road challenge, 'The 4 Trigs' felt upon waking that morning! The ground was already saturated after months of wet weather and this new deluge did nothing to make a tough course any easier.

Organised by Sidmouth Running Club, the 4 Trigs is a self-navigation event of approximately 16 miles (if runners are on the money with their navigating skills!) which, due to the level of climb involved (approx. 3000ft / the same height as Mount Snowdon!), is often categorised as a long cat. B fell race. Participants must run to the 4 Trig points that are situated on the 4 hills that surround and overlook Sidmouth: Weston, Buckton, Fire Beacon and High Peak. The route rotates direction each year, with this year's being anti-clockwise, starting with Weston and finishing with High Peak. Runners can take any route they like between the trig points (as long as it's not using too many roads), though to get a good time runners usually follow a similar direct route that brings the total mileage in at the minimal possible.

None of the Harriers participating were strangers to tough, off-road events, but Lisa Hatchard was a first-timer to this event. And boy did she pick a good year to give it a go! It was the 13th running of the race and the organisers say that the conditions this year were by far the worst encountered.... 13 ay? Unlucky for some?

And it sadly proved to be highly unlucky for Lorraine Gilson, who took a very heavy fall not far into the race, near Weston, landed heavily, shook herself up, and so took the decision to call it a day, given that further falls may be likely in the slippery conditions.

But what of the others? Well, they all ploughed on through the mud, up and down the hills, over the styles, and duly ticked off each check point, one by one. The speediest Harrier to bag all 4 was competent off-roader, Jon Croome. Jon, along with his wife Lorraine, has completed this event many times and so knowledge of the course and the best lines / routes will have been an advantage. He crossed the line in a creditable 9th place in a superb time of 2:46:50. To put it in perspective, this was less than 20 minutes behind the winners - the Axe Valley pairing of Alex Todd and Tim Lenton, both of them accomplished fell runners, so Jon's performance was excellent.

Not to be out-shone by her husband, Lorraine Croome also had a fantastic run, taking 3:36:12 to cover the 16+ hilly, muddy miles and claiming 33rd place overall and a well-deserved 3rd place in the female race.

Not far behind Lorraine was Harriers' chairman, Bob Keast. Like most of the race participants, Bob is in his element when knee deep in energy-sapping mud, and so he did not let the heavy rains effect him at all as he stormed around the course in a time of 3:37:24 for 374th place overall. Despite the unfavourable conditions this year, Bob's time was a staggering 26 minutes up on his time from 2011 - the last time the route was in this direction!

Running together and supporting each other through the tough conditions were Terry Oldham and Lisa Hatchard. Terry is no stranger to this race and so was able to take most of the responsibility for the navigating, allowing first timer, Lisa, to enjoy her first 4 Trigs experience. They both found good lines through the woods, but, like the race winner, Terry's time was 13 minutes down on last year, highlighting just how tough this year's underfoot conditions were. They ran 3:57:22 for joint 53rd place.

There were 85 hardy souls who managed to successfully bag all 4 trigs, with the last finisher taking 5:35:37, so for all 5 Harriers to be under 4 hours was fantastic.

And as for Scott-2 Trigs-Jordan. Well, he was originally planning to run the event, mainly to try and redeem himself from only having located 50% of the Trigs last year and to try and eradicate his nickname. However, poor Scott sustained an injury a few weeks ago and so was forced to withdraw. Now, I personally think that this injury was very badly timed as I had been planning my witty blog headline with a view to his intended participation for weeks!

So, Scot-No Trigs-Jordan, if you are reading this, rest up and get back running again soon!!

Monday, 11 February 2013

To PB or not to PB, that is the question....

That was indeed the question on the lips of every runner who crossed the finish line of the Exeter Half Marathon on Sunday 10th February in a new personal best time: will my PB count? But in order to contextualise this question, we need to rewind to the night before the event and set the scene.....

It's raining. Heavily. Non-stop. All night long. The result? The far end of the Exeter Half Marathon course gets flooded and is totally impassable to runners. What to do? Well, when the organisers, Ironbridge Runner Events, woke up to be greeted by this overnight deluge on the morning of the race, they came up with a workable alternative. Instead of completing a full loop of the First Chance 10k course, they would just send runners out and back down the tarmac section only, thus missing out on the gravel track and the bit where the flood waters lurked at the end. Initial guestimations deduced that this would make the route shorter, however, to everyone's surprise, this did not prove to be the case! The total distance in fact came in at 13.25 miles: about 120-150 meters longer than the official half distance.

And so, heading out expecting the course to come in short, the main objective for the 4 Exmouth Harriers taking part shifted from setting personal best times to getting the best possible placing in the race.

Adam, Ellie, Trevor and Emma, before the start of the race

Adam Miller continued his superb vein of form, proving that he was a totally worthy recipient of the 'male athlete of the year award 2012' and building upon his list of impressive performances. Rewind 3 weeks and Adam set a massive new 10k PB on this same course and at this half marathon event he went out hard from the gun, tailing the eventual winner - Dave Tomlin of Teignbridge Trotters - and sparring with Okehampton AC runner Andy Vallance, right through to the finish. Tomlin was away and clear but right until the last of the 3 loops, it wasn't clear who would have the strength to drop the other athlete and take 2nd. But on this occasion, Adam's strength and speed won out and he dislodged Vallance from his 2nd place last year to 3rd place this year as Adam stormed to the runner up spot in a time of 76:41. This was a massive new PB for Adam, despite the course being longer, and would likely have got him close to breaking 76 minutes over an accurate distance. Hopefully this may well happen though at the Bath Half, which Adam will tackle in March.

Adam crosses the canal bridge at the end of the first loop

And finishing strongly in 2nd place overall!

Next in was myself, Ellie Sutcliffe. My current half-marathon PB was set on this course, this time last year, and so I had waited one long year for the right course and the right time to improve upon it. I felt good approaching the event and had had 3 solid weeks of quality mileage to get my fitness back to where it was before my Christmas break. If the conditions were right, I knew I could PB. I found myself running with Luke Reed from Axe Valley, who, by chance, I also found myself running with at this race last year, where he finished just 3 seconds ahead of me - out sprinting me at the finish. Today we decided to use this to our mutual advantage and we encouraged each other along all the way and kept cross-checking our pacing and times to make sure we were on track. As my Garmin read 13.1 miles, I was under the 83 minute mark, but as it was I chugged on the extra 150m to the official finish line and crossed it in 83:43: still a PB, but not the sub 83 that I would have liked and would have achieved, unfortunately. This was, however, comfortably good enough for 1st place in the female race and 9th overall.

Ellie, working with Luke of Axe Valley, who really helped me through to the finish!

Me (and my alarmingly humongous thigh muscle - is that really mine?!) at the end of lap 1

Next in, having a superb run, was Emma Dupain. On the first loop, Emma was sat in 2nd place in the female race, behind me, and looking strong. However, 2 other ladies were not too far behind her and they were also looking comfortable. On lap 2, Emma had been overtaken by one of these ladies - eventual 2nd placer, Rachel Langdon - bu was holding onto 3rd. But by the 3rd and final lap, Emma was paying for her early speed on lap 1 and just slipped into 4th place. She crossed the finish line just over a minute behind the 3rd lady, in 59th place overall and in a time of 1:40:39. Emma had a spell of injury problems around the time of the Bath Half Marathon last year and so she will have been encouraged by her performance at this race, over a longer-than-true distance, but in a time of around 5 minutes quicker.

Emma pushes on along the quay side on the start of lap 2

And still looking strong at the finish: 4th lady!

Last but by no means least, the 4th Harrier taking part was Trevor Cope. Trevor has a real soft spot for half marathons and this event was his 251st half, can you believe it?! To put it into perspective, that's 3288 miles run in half marathon races alone, not including the training miles for them! Trevor was a bit worried at the start that if the course was shorter than the true distance, then this one wouldn't count towards his total, but as it was he had nothing to worry about as he got his 13.1... and more besides! Trevor ran 2:26:56 for 209th place overall.

Out of the 300 places sold, only 217 completed on the day: perhaps the other 83 took a look out of their windows, saw the weather, and decided to stay in bed?! So very well done to those of us who braved the conditions, and also well done to the supporters who stood out cheering us on in it - reckon you had the harder task!!

So, according to the Power of 10, no official PB for Adam and me, but at least we have the satisfaction of knowing that we did nail personal best times... and also, if our Garmins say so, then it must be true!!

A very boggy Bovey for the cross-country crew!

On Sunday 10th February, the "usual suspects" were in action in the next round of the Westward League cross-country series, this time held at the Parke Estate in Bovey Tracey. The ladies completed 3 laps of a very muddy woodland course, totalling a distance of 5k, and the men completed 5 laps, totalling 8k. Many consider the Bovey course to be a "true" cross-country course, as it actually involves crossing some real countryside and running through fields and woods, rather than simply going around in circles on a smooth, grassy playing field. That said, however, it makes the choice of footwear at this event more difficult as the ankle deep mud is interspersed with sections of gravel track: not overly spike friendly!

The women kicked off first and lining up for the Harriers were Westward League stalwarts, Carly Audritt and ladies' team captain, Dawn Teed. Carly had made a mad dash over there after standing river-side all morning in Exeter watching the Exeter Half-Marathon. Now it was her turn though to get stuck in and, inspired by her partner Adam's awesome run in the half marathon, she stormed around the course and placed well up the field: 23rd out of the 56 ladies, in a time of 23:45 for a tough, muddy, hilly 5k course. Carly is currently in 13th place overall in the female competition after the 5 of the 6 rounds.

Dawn put in another solid performance too and posted a time of 26:05 for 36th place. At the moment, Dawn is lying in 1st place overall in the FV45 category, having completed all of the 5 rounds so far. However, the ladies behind her have completed 4 rounds or less and so if, say, Caroline Hewitt of Tiverton Harriers, who is currently sat in 2nd place, runs the final round at Plymouth next month - which Dawn will have to miss, being away - then she will likely take the category honours. Nevertheless, our ladies' team captain has done us proud and led by example, giving her all in every round so far.

In the men's race, there were only 4 runners and riders, with men's team captain, Adam Miller, cheering on from the side lines and resting his legs after his mornings' efforts. Anchoring the team home was Marc Cox, who is really getting to grips with these XC events (following some invaluable team advice at the Exeter round that for the spikes to work you actually have to screw the studs in first!!!). Marc recorded a time of 40:16 for the tough 8k course and this gave him a commendable 35th place out of the 94 runners.

There was then a bit of a gap before the rest of the "lads" were packing tight towards the rear of the field, with Dave Eveliegh getting the better of a category rival to take the 6th MV55 spot and 89th overall in 56:36. Jim Wyatt and Kurt Margison then brought proceedings to a close posting times of 58:37 and 59:39 respectively.

Very well done to all the Harriers that ran in what were certainly NOT the easiest of conditions: cold, wet, muddy, very grey and grizzly.... but then, that's what cross-country's all about: character building / soul-destroying (delete as applicable...)

The ladies team... all 2 of them!

And the men's team: double the size!

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Fulford 5 fully lives up to expectation!

On Sunday 3rd February the Exmouth Harriers hosted their annual Fulfords Five mile road race. Financially supported by Fulfords estate agents, the race sees runners take on 5 miles over two laps of the promenade and town centre, starting and finishing at the LED leisure centre and pool. From the start at the sports centre, runners head down Victoria Road and onto the sea front. At the one mile point they turn left up Rolle Road (the steepest hill on the course, but it is very short) and then they pass through the Strand before starting off on their second loop. This time they head all the way down the promenade as far as Maer road before returning via lower Douglas Avenue and the town centre. Over 200 runners completed the event - well up on last year - and this year those 218 finishers were blessed with ideal weather conditions: a gentle tail wind along the sea front on an overcast but mild and dry day.

The need for marshals meant that only a few of the organising club took part. Exeter based South West Road Runners had designated this as their first race in their 2013 internal club championships and as a result a couple of dozen of their distinctive luminous yellow vests were out in force on the day. This number was matched exactly by south Devon’s Torbay AC, who won no less than six of the 12 team prizes on offer: 3rd Senior Men's team, 3rd Senior Women's, Veteran Men 1st & 3rd, and Veteran Women 1st & 3rd. There was also a good turn-out from Tamar Trotters, who also scooped up some of the individual and team prizes.

EXMOUTH HARRIERS performances:

Local boy Tom Merson is in a rich vein of form at the moment. While he is from the town and remains a second claim member of Exmouth Harriers he now runs for Bristol & West - a big city club able to provide the competitive opportunities that will help him get the best out of himself. Exmouth Harriers though were pleased to see that for this race, Tom had dug his old Harriers vest out from the bottom of the drawer and did the royal blue and yellow colours proud by crossing the line first in it! After some early sparring with Exmouth Harriers' Eithiopian guest runner - Berihu Tesfay - Tom made good use of his hill climbing skills to do some damage to his rival on the steep climb up Rolle Street and from then on he never looked back as he stormed round the course in 24:50 (just over 12 mph). This time is the second fastest ever on the course, and the fastest since 2001, and was over 1 1/2 minutes clear of runner-up, James Denne (26:17), form Exeter Harriers.

Next Exmouth Harrier in was Dave Stone who was 14th overall and 3rd Man aged 40-44 in 28:44. This was 10 places lower than his position in 2012, highlighting the strength and depth of the performances at the top end of the competition in this year's top class race. However, were the distance another 21 miles longer, then we bet Dave would overhaul a great many of those 13 athletes in front of him!

The wearer of the next blue and yellow Exmouth vest to finish was that of Marc Cox who was 29th in 29:47. This was a massive 4 minutes quicker than at this race a year ago, showing just how much Marc has improved since joining the club around this time last year!

John Garrity did well to finish 7th in the always tough and competitive Men aged 40-44 category, with an overall 44th positionm just outside the magical 30 minute mark, in 30:48.

Next across the line for Exmouth was Lisa Hatchard 104th in 36:19 and placing 3rd Woman aged 35-39 along the way: the first of many trophies for the cabinet this year we're sure, as Lisa continues to improve race on race. Lisa was in the sights of club-mate Carly Audritt who took 1 1/2 minutes off her best 5 mile time, set last October at the Churston Flyer event, with 36:29 for 105th overall. A minute or so behind Lisa and Carly in 119th and 38:06 was Caroline Gentry and she was 3rd in the 40-44 Veteran women’s age group. Caroline is a graduate of last year's Harriers' beginners' running course and so she is doing superbly well to be placing top 3 in her age category already! These three runners also claimed the 2nd senior female team prize, behind an ever-competitive South West Road Runners' squad who took 1st.

Just 30 seconds behind Caroline and with almost a hundred runners behind him was Ray Elston, competing for the men age 70+ prizes. On this occasion Ray had to be content with 2nd place in his age category as unattached runner Phillip Vaughan came in just 60 metres in front of him. Phillip is surprisingly unattached it should be said as he would be a welcome addition to the veteran ranks of any club. So Phillip, if you're reading this, download a membership form off our website - we'd love to have you!! Ray was overall 126th and his time 38:39.

Kurt Margison (age 40-44 category) was less than a minute short of going under 40:00 as he finished 141st in 40: 33. At last year’s Fulfords Five, Lisa Broad ran while pregnant! This year, without the bump, she ran 3 minutes faster, recording 42:44 for 159th place. 

The time when all you had to do to claim a place in a category of age 60+ was to turn up is now a thing of the past. These "super-vet" age-groups are now as competitive as ever. Mick Allen of Exmouth Harriers is a bona fide, highly competitive athlete and he ran 43:50 in 167th place and yet was only fifth man over 70! Though slightly younger (65-69 group) the same might be said of Les Turner who was 188th in 46:21. 

Thanks must go to all the Harriers, their friends and families, the cadets and the St. John's Ambulance crew who marshalled and assisted the event and ensured that the runners stayed safe out on the roads and had a carefree run. 

Some of the proceeds from this race will go towards the Wukro-Devon Runnng Porject: an extremely worthy cause that the Exmouth Harriers continue to support and which aims to provide financial support and equipment and clothing to talented athletes in a poor region of Ethiopia. 

Men's race:
1st: Tom Merson (B&W / Exmouth) 24:40
2nd: James Denne (Exeter Harriers) 26:17
3rd: Dan Rodgers (Launceston RR) 26:33

Women's race:
1st: Lucy Commander (SWRR) 29:11
2nd: Ami Yetton (Plytmouth Harriers) 29:35
3rd: Alison McEwing (Erme Valley) 30:02

Some rather amateur photos of the race taken by wannabe-but-not-quite-there-yet photographer Ellie Sutcliffe (me!) can be found on the Harriers' Flickr page: 

Some more professional and rather-better-quality-all-round photos can be found here, courtesy of Charles Whitton photography: http://www.charleswhittonphotography.com/fulfords-5-322013-expires-3513

Below are just some snaps I took of the Exmouth Harrier runners. Enjoy!

Tom pushes the pace on the first hill and starts to pull away from his rivals

Jon Garrity - always looking like he's having far too much fun!!

Lisa having a strong run for 3rd FV35 and leading the ladies' trio to the 2nd female team prize

Ray Elston - strong as ever, fighting for the 2nd place MV70 spot

Kurt Margison - tackling the steepest hill on the course with ease

Mick Allen.... looking very menacing with his stare and pointed finger!! (Sorry for taking your photo on the toughest part of the course Mick!!)