Exe-rated runners!

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

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Parrett Trail REELays: a rEEL success

It’s mid-October, the nights are drawing in and Autumn is in full swing. The warmth of summer has given way to cool, crisp mornings and a fresh blanket of crunchy leaves to run on underfoot. For the Harriers this can only signal one thing: it’s time to pile into a mini-bus and head to Somerset for the Parrett Trail relay!
Organised by Crewkerne Running Club, the Parrett Trail Relay is a 6 stage event that takes teams of runners from the starting point, at the mouth of the River Parrett in Steart, Somerset, to its source at Winyards Gap, 53 meandering miles away in Dorset. Those 53 miles are divided into stages of varying lengths, with the longest measuring in at 9.5 miles and the shortest at 5.6 miles. Some stages are more technical than others, some are muddier than others, and some are hillier than others, which makes for an interesting mix that plays into the hands of different running styles... it also makes for some mind-boggling planning on the part of our team captains who must decide which runner to put on which leg to give the team the best chance of success.
This year, the weather was once again kind to us as the grey skies and few spots of rain that threatened in the morning soon lifted and gave way to clear, deep blue, sunny autumn skies. By the time the leg 2 runners got underway, the cool, sunny conditions were ideal for both running and supporting fellow team mates. Following a drier summer, the underfoot conditions were much more favourable this year. Who could forget the energy-sapping, knee deep mud and surface water that we had to plough through last year?! But enough of this talk of weather and setting the scene, what we rEELly want to know is how our Exmouth Harrier teams got on, right? And what do all these awful puns about eels have to do with anything! Read on to find out!
Usually this event is highly competitive and the 40 team spaces sell out weeks in advance. This year, for whatever reason, entry numbers were down with only 23 teams entered; three of those were occupied by Exmouth Harriers. This year we fielded a team in each of the three categories: men’s, women’s and mixed (must have at least 2 females in the team to count). Our men’s team had a lot to live up to, having won this event for the past 3 years in a row, so they were looking to defend their title. We were grateful to have Jamie Pearson back on board running for us; after his victory at last year’s Parrett Trail we haven’t seen him on the running scene since, but he has clearly been keeping himself fit by playing football and doing the odd late-night run home from a night out in Exeter! However, a late withdrawal by our leg 1 runner, Berihu, meant that men’s team captain, Adam Miller, had some last minute team re-jigging to do and some eleventh hour phone calls to make. Thankfully, Chris Dupain – despite already being entered for the Great West Run the next day – showed great team spirit in stepping in at the last minute and running leg 2 for the men’s team, freeing up Parrett Trail afficiondo, Hugh Marsden, to take on the longer first leg. Hugh, who is very familiar with this leg, got the men’s team off to a flying start by winning in a comfortable margin of 6 minutes. The team then went on to win another 4 legs in total and to come second in the only leg they did not win, giving them a comfortable victory in a total time of 5:25:36; 30 minutes ahead of their nearest rivals from the host club, Crewkerne.

Leading from the gun: Adam starts as he means to finish leg 4 - in pole position.
Leg 1: Hugh Marsden, 1st in 1:06:17
Leg 2: Chris Dupain, 2nd in 35:51
Leg 3: Marc Cox, 1st in 51:40
Leg 4: Adam Miller, 1st in 50:37
Leg 5: Dave Stone, 1st in 58:38
Leg 6: Jamie Pearson, 1st in 1:02:33
Total team time: 5:25:36
And so, for the fourth year in a row, the eel returns home to Exmouth. Ah, yes, the eel! The River Parrett is full of eels and this is the symbol on all the way-markers that you follow on the route and so, appropriately, the winning team trophy is a rather distinctive, hand-carved wooden eel.
The men take their turns to feel the eel... this is either some clandestine, ritualistic practice that they feel they must go through in order to seal the fate of continued victory or they just enjoy a good feel of the eel! ;-)

Our victorious men's team and their winnings (minus Chris Dupain, who had sloped off early to prepare for the Great West Run the next day!)

Our women’s team were looking to reclaim a spot on top of the Parrett podium after a couple of years of losing out to other teams; in 2011 to South West Road Runners and, last year, to a team from Yeovil. Again this year, Yeovil ladies looked set to be our main rivals as they had fielded a strong team to defend their title. With this event, it is hard to gauge your team’s position as you go along as, unlike the Erme Valley Relays format, this does not have a runner-to-runner baton style changeover, but runners are started on their legs at pre-set times and the accumulative times for the stages are then added together at the end to give you your team time and position. 
Lisa Hatchard got us ladies away on leg 1 and, although she ran very strongly and posted a superb time of 1:23:45, she was worried as she was beaten by 2 other women. However, another unknown factor with the Parrett Trail is whether that female competition is part of a female team or a mixed team. Basically, you have little idea of how your team is doing in relation to others and so you just have to run your leg as an individual time-trial, as best you can, and hope that it’s good enough to either gain your team some time or at least limit any time losses: it’s time that counts here, not finish positions. It turned out that Lisa beat all of our direct competition and only lost time to 2 ladies from mixed teams. 

Carly certainly gained the team some valuable time on leg 2, finishing as the fastest female overall, and the other team members consolidated our strong start by posting two more leg victories and two 2nds. By the time I, Ellie Sutcliffe, took over on the final leg, I thought it was pretty tight between us and Yeovil and so I couldn’t afford to dilly-dally and admire the views; however, it turned out that Yeovil’s leg 5 runner had gone wrong and incurred a time penalty and so we actually had a 1 hour cushion! That’s another trick for ensuring success at the Parrett Trail: rekkie your leg well and don’t go wrong! It can cost you dearly! In the end our ladies team secured victory with a whopping margin of over an hour and added another trophy to the collection... no eel for the ladies though (we’ll refrain from making feminist, phallic references here...!).

Face of determination: Dawn, looking like she means business, at the start of leg 4.

And the victorious women's team. Sadly, we had no eel to feel :-(

Leg 1: Lisa Hatchard, 3rd female, 1:23:45
Leg 2: Carly Miller, 1st female, 42:18
Leg 3: Jane Macdonald, 2nd female, 1:06:11
Leg 4: Dawn Teed, 2nd female, 1:08:02
Leg 5: Lorraine Croome, 1st female in 1:21:46
Leg 6: Ellie Sutcliffe, 1st female, 1:09:24
Total team time: 6:51:26
 We have not seen success with a Harriers’ mixed team since 2009: could 2013 mark a turning tide and could we take a clean sweep of all three categories? Not quite, but we gave it our best shot and came a very very close second, with some fine individual performances from each of our 6 runners.
 Kicking off the proceedings with a fine run was Scott-2 Trigs-Jordan; fortunately 2 Trigs didn’t live up to his unfortunate reputation and made no navigational errors, allowing him to finish in 4th place overall on the leg. Lorrain Gilson consolidated their position on leg 2, by posting the 2nd fastest female time on that leg (only being beaten by the Harriers’ women’s team, in the shape of Carly Miller). Susan Hill ran a strong leg on leg 3 to keep the team in the mix and Dave Backway, despite struggling a bit on leg 4 and having to stop to be sick, showed true grit and team spirit in pressing on to the finish to limit any time losses. Dave Wright had a stormer of a run on the tricky and complicated leg 5, successfully navigating himself around to the 4th fastest time on that leg. Terry Oldham finished it all off by showing true team spirit to step in and run a that would be by no means his first choice, and fought hard up the final hill to the cheering and support by fellow Harriers who were stood at the top to welcome him in. A great effort that resulted in the team just being edged out of the top mixed spot;  the victory going to Chard AC, who, without a men’s team, were able to put their stronger male runners on the longer, harder legs and take the advantage.

Dave Backway, on leg 4 for the mixed team.

Focused on the finish line like a predator focuses on its prey: Terry with about 5 meters left to run to the pub after the hilly leg 6!

 Leg 1: Scott-2 Trigs-Jordan, 4th in 1:13:30
Leg 2: Lorrain Gilson, 2nd female in 44:05
Leg 3: Susan Hill, 3rd female in 1:07:03
Leg 4: Dave Backway, 12th in 1:09:48
Leg 5: Dave Wright, 4th in 1:11:10
Leg 6: Terry Oldham, 17th in 1:30:14
Total team time: 6:55:50
This is always a cracking day out for the club; regardless of whether or not we manage to come away with a victory, everyone enjoys themselves and the opportunity to run as part of a team and represent the club. It was nice to have a good mixture of faithful stalwarts and some new blood to the event and we particularly welcomed our "Harribelles", Jane and Susan, who showed real team spirit in giving their legs their full effort, despite the fact that they are both tackling the Amsterdam Marathon the following weekend! 

However, the day could not happen without the logistical organisation being spot on, both in terms of the preparation leading up to the event and on the day itself. To that end, we need to thank team captains, Adam Miller and Dawn Teed, for putting together 3 terrific teams, and Hugh Marsden for his time and effort in co-ordinating the whole day and making sure it runs smoothly. On the day itself, we were indebted to the services of our driver, Paul Champion, and navigator / chief supporter, Sue Wilkin, who ensured that all the runners got to the start of their leg on time and were collected again at the end of it.
It’s a shame we have to wait another year for the next event, but that gives us plenty of time to consider our plan of attack so that next year we can return and claim victory in all three categories!!

53 miles later, at the pub at the end of the event at Winyards Gap, Dorset: a few well-deserved drinkies!

Harriers bag a sneaky swift half


Four Exmouth Harriers travelled a little way east on Sunday (6th October) to the deepest, darkest depths of the Somerset Levels. Running a half-marathon in a an area with the word ‘level’ in the title provides hope in itself that it may be a flat, fast PB friendly course, and the Burnham-On-Sea offers just that.

Hoping to bag a few extra percent for his club championship campaign before he hops on a plane and flies south to the Antarctic again, was Hugh Marsden. After an uncharacteristic shaky start to the year which, unusually, saw Hugh struggling with a few injuries, his summer and autumn season has gathered pace and seen him produce the times and performances that we are often wont to take for granted where this super-vet toughie is concerned. At this competitive event, Hugh was 14th overall in field of around 200. In what was described as “ideal running conditions”, Hugh’s time was 84:08 and he was 3rd in a talented MV50 field.

Hugh’s partner, Dawn Teed, has been celebrating her first year in the FV50 category with a string of good performances and category wins, which, after age adjustment, are on a par with any she has ever come up with. If you struggled to find Dawn in the race results, it’s because she in fact appears as ‘David Teed’, a male vet 50 runner. However, it only takes a swift glance up the results to see that Dawn was in fact the first vet 50 woman, but, unfortunately, prizes were only awarded in 10 year age brackets, so Dawn just missed out on top spot to an FV45 athlete. Her time of 1:46:54, for 103rd place, will, nevertheless, gain her some valuable percentage points for her club championship portfolio.

Adrian Kearns prefers quality over quantity when it comes to races and we don’t see his name appearing in race results on a regular basis, but he certainly likes quantity in the distances he opts for. He covered the 21Km distance here in a time of 91:09 and was 32nd.

Julie Gellender, recently returned to the area and the Harriers, is eager to add her quality to an increasingly trophy-laden women’s squad at the club. In her second race appearance in the Harriers vest since arriving back from Germany, she placed 84th overall in a time of 99:40. She was very unfortunate to just miss out on a top 3 position in the Women Aged 35-44 group, a 10 year span which she is right at the top of. With some structured training with the club now that she is back, Julie can expect to see her times steadily fall in 2014.  


 Burnham wasn’t the only half-marathon event happening on 6th October as, less than 20 miles away as the crow flies, across the Bristol Channel, Harriers’ member Lisa Broad chopped a massive 14 minutes from her Half Marathon PB. In an event which claims to be a fast, PB friendly course, Lisa took full advantage of the ideal conditions, and of her current vein of form, to run 13.1 miles in 1:48:53 in the Cardiff Half Marathon. Starting with more than 14,000 others in the field, she finished with more than 10,000 of them behind her and was in the top 500 (491st) of around 6,000 women. Well done Lisa: top effort!

Monday, 14 October 2013

Harriers do a bunk to Exmoor!

Whilst Mike Musgrove was slogging himself into the ground at the Atlantic Coast 3 day challenge, 13 other Harriers were enjoying a rather more salubrious weekend away at a bunk house near Dulverton, on Exmoor. The weekend was kindly arranged by Terry Oldham and the venue he chose proved to be the ideal location for enjoying some of the best scenery that North Devon has to offer and in the good company of fellow Exmouth Harriers.

5 Harriers made their way up early on the Friday night and managed to fit in a sneaky 5 mile rekkie run of the area before the rest of us rocked up later in the evening. Our accommodation was a characterful old barn, down a very rickety farm track that proved quite difficult for many of us to find, even with maps and sat-navs. After at least 30 minutes of trial-and-error style searching down various nearby country lanes, we knew that we were to be in for a peaceful weekend, getting up close and personal with nature! The bunk house might have been rustic and simply furnished, but it was certainly cosy too with a very welcome log-burning stove to heat the place up. It wasn't long before we were fed and watered - well, in the case of some of us who would prefer to remain nameless, not so much watered exactly but sloe-ginned - and heading off to bed. Getting into bed was a workout in itself for those of us who had bagged top bunks - a well-timed, rather deft, swing-and-launch manoeuvre was required in order to land safely within the welcoming arms of one's mattress and sleeping bag, but once in, the beds were very comfy and snug.

Northcott Farm camping barn near Dulverton: our home for the weekend

The next morning we split off into three groups, depending on what sort of distance and type of run people fancied. The fast boys - Tony and Adam - headed out first for a brisk 8 miler on the nearby river and forest tracks. For us parkrun addicts, the chance to try out the new Taunton parkrun that was launching that morning was too tempting to pass up and so Carly, Matt and myself headed off there to run a swift 5k. Alison is nursing an injury, so she had a leisurely stroll down to Dulverton to buy some tasty treats at the local bakers and the remaining Harriers - Stan, Joan, Lorraine, Terry, Lisa and Chairman Bob, all set off on a tough 12 miler.
What goes up must then come down: Lisa and Bob at the beacon above Dulverton

Their 12 mile run turned into an epic 3 hour slog: the refreshments sign only rubbed salt into the already seeping, sore wounds!

Chairman Bob navigates a stream: stunning running around Dulverton.

Terry, Stan, Lorraine and Bob wash the mud off their legs and try to breathe life back into them at the same time with a fresh water ice bath!

In the afternoon, we all jumped into cars and drove to the nearby Wimbleball reservoir, where we enjoyed a stroll at a more leisurely pace down the trails to the dam. Having a 4 year old with us, in the form of Tilly Hatchard, proved to be the perfect excuse for us adults to join her in acting daft and playing on all the fun equipment in the adventure playground on the way back!

Group shot of the merry campers, on the dam at Wimbleball Reservoir.

Carly wasn't making Adam's acrobatic display any easier by tickling him!

Yeh, I conquered this beast of a boldering rock, without ropes. I also run in my spare time. It's no biggie. ;-)

After all that fresh air, we all had very hearty appetites and so the pies and pasties that we bought at the local Dulverton bakery were a very welcome treat. Accompanied by a huge vat of mashed potato and various veg, all cooked on the wood burner, we dined like kings and queens. Most of us were in bed by 9pm that night, tired but with full and satisfied bellies, we all slept like logs!

The perfect end to a day filled with fresh air and exercise: pie and mash!

The next morning, some people headed out for a last early morning run before packing up our things and vacating the bunk house, whilst some of us had to drive to Dorset to rekkie the last leg of the Parrett Trail relay for the following week.

All in all it was a great weekend in a lovely setting and at only £20 each, it was a bargain. Big thanks go to Terry for organising it all. Where to next time then?!

Mike's epic 3 day Cornish coastal ultra run!

On the weekend of 4th / 5th / 6th of October, Mike Musgrove was down in Cornwall for, not just one day of racing, but 3. The 3 races in 3 days format is not new to Mike, as this July he participated in the inaugural 3 day 'Tour of Exeter' event, but his latest challenge was on a quite quite larger scale.

Mike was in Cornwall for the Votwo organised 'Atlantic Coast Challenge'. In essence, this involves running 3 marathons on 3 consecutive days, along the North Cornish coastal path, starting in Padstow and making its way south west to Lands End; however, each stage is not a perfect marathon and all of them come in slightly over distance, with day 3 being the longest and toughest at 29.5 miles. For the less adventurous, Votwo also offer the option to just enter one or two of the stages, but Mike-the-Mighty-Musgrove wasn't about to pussy-foot about with that: he was going for all three!

There were 150 competitors tackling the 3 day challenge and all of them were staying at a campsite/caravan park in Hayle, making for a bit of a festival atmosphere. From there, the organisers ferry runners to the different starts each day and then set up various checkpoints along the way, where a timing chip had to be "dibbed in" to make sure you were safe and accounted for: all part of the Votwo care package! 

Leg 1 started at Trevose Head, near Padstow, and from there the runners made their way to Perranporth. This section was very enjoyable to run as it wasn't too technical; the hardest bit was navigating through Newquay! There were a tough last couple of miles awaiting runners as the coastal path goes all the way along the soft sand of Perranporth beach, at the far end of which was the finish line of day 1. By this point, Mike had run 27 miles, and not on flat, tarmac roads. Most people would venture home at this point, put their feet up, pull the cork on a nice bottle of wine and stuff their faces with whatever they fancied as just reward for completing a tough marathon. Nope. No such luxuries for Mike; he had to head back to his tent and fuel up on more carbs ready to do it all again the next day!

Mike running through the spectacular coastline at Bedruthan Steps, on day 1 of his epic challenge

Day 2 and leg two started in Perranporth. All the runners set off at different times on this second day, according to their splits from the previous day. This section was similar to the terrain covered on day 1, with some lovely beaches and towns, like St Agnes, to pass through. This stage conveniently finished at the campsite in Hayle, but not before another energy-sapping, 2 mile long stretch of beach at Hayle sands was run over: hard going on already tired legs and after another 26.5 miles in the bag. Bet that tent was a welcome sight that evening! 
Enjoying the sun and superb scenery on one of the less technical sections

And so day 3 dawned and the already leg weary Mike was preparing himself to tackle not only the longest stage of the event, but also the toughest in terms of terrain and climbing. Setting out from Hayle, just a mere 29.5 mile ultra-marathon lay between them and the finish line at Lands End. Mike reports that the first six miles were very nice underfoot, as he made his merry way to the picturesque seaside town of St Ives. Once beyond the town, everything changed! The meandering grassy slopes run over so far come to an abrupt end and are replaced by more rugged terrain, making for some rather technical sections underfoot, with lots of rocks, boulders, mud and steep inclines/descents to try and catch the leg-weary runner out. However, there was a reward for the effort in the form of the most spectacular views of the whole challenge, with the turquoise waters crashing into the sides of the granite cliffs below. This section is also a run through time and Cornish history, as the coastal path takes runners right through the ancient workings of some of Cornwall's tin and copper mines, at Levant and Botallack. Mike reports that with all these stunning views to distract him, it was easy to lose focus and concentration: not advisable when running along these uneven, technical trails. 
At a place called Brandy point, designated as checkpoint 2, Mike came around a corner, high up above the waves, to be greeted with some welcome smiles from the Votwo events team, who were handing out much needed food and drink supplies, all perched precariously high up on an outcrop of rock, miles from anywhere: how they got the supplies there, Mike has no clue, but very welcome they were! From there on, Mike continued to beat his trail along the cliffs to Cape Cornwall, passing through various other tiny settlements and deserted beaches along the way. Coming around the point at Gwenver was quite a moving and emotional moment for Mike, who has surfed here for many years and states that it is quite possibly the loveliest surfing spot in the UK. People were out enjoying the lovely autumn sunshine and surfing or relaxing on the beach. This was all he needed to dig in and make his way through Sennen and on to his destination at Lands End. After 29.5 miles of tough, hilly running that day, and around 80 miles in total over the weekend, Mike was exceedingly glad to cross the finish line and to be presented with a delicious hot Cornish pasty: after all his efforts over the past 3 days, I think he had earned himself 10 pasties!

Mike is in his element with tough, off-road endurance type events and once again did himself and the Harriers proud here as his talent, speed, strength and determination earned him a very well deserved 4 place overall, 3rd male and 2nd MV40. His overall time for the 3 days of running was a staggeringly impressive 13 hours and 13 minutes. This broke down into the following times for the days: 3:52:20, 3:55:18, 5:25:49. Of the 150 starters, 99 completed all three days and so Mike did amazingly well to be up in the top 5% of finishers. Challenges like this require so much dedication, not simply in terms of running them on the day, but with all the training miles that are needed beforehand. Most impressive is that Mike has managed to juggle this around his full time shift work as a fireman, full time role as a husband and Dad, and without losing any of his speed as he's still managed to set some PBs over the short distances during the training schedule. Well done Mike: top effort!