Norfolk Coastal Path FKT

All stories have a beginning.

All good stories start with an idea.

All good ideas usually come after a beer.

This one particular beer got me and my mate Leigh into what may have been the most epic run of our lives so far.

Here’s the story:

Leigh and I have a fair bit of running history between us. We’ve ran various Ultramarathons together, which usually involves us taking it in turns to have “moments” – usually either involving our legs giving up, or a quick dash into the nearest bush. Either way we’ve managed to encourage each other and push each other to the end.

Via FB messenger we started talking about a self supported run – 2018 had been a good year for both of us – we’d completed a fair few races, had some good results and ticked a few boxes off the old bucket lists. Being a Norfolk boy, Leigh suggested we go on a jolly along the Norfolk Coastal Path. Easily sign posted, local and going through areas of OSNB.

Me being me, I started taking it one step further and looking into the fastest times for the official route – perhaps unfortunately I found that there was no official time as of yet!

“Leigh mate, how about we try and set an FKT?!”

Knowing Leigh and knowing which buttons to press, we ended up agreeing that this would be slightly more serious than a “jolly” and that the 83 mile stretch of coastline from Hunstanton to Hopton on Sea would be a lot more pressured than we thought.

So we got in touch with Norfolk Trails and registered the attempt as well as getting some extremely useful info on tide times, and route diversions. Thanks to Jack Davidson for this!

We decided to keep everything under wraps until we set off, and chose 7pm on Tuesday 11th December as our start time in Hunstanton. I had some social posts for my personal account and Norfolk Trails FB/Instagram ready to go, and it was all starting to feel a bit real!

We had a lift to the start, and went to a local pub to grab a quick coffee before kick off. We were dressed for the cold, as the temperature was down to about 2 degrees, and although we knew for the first few hours our bodies would keep us warm, we would need the extra layers as tiredness set in, especially towards dawn.

The first couple of hours went by without hazard, passing through Holme, and reminiscing of the end of the Peddars Way Ultramarathon, before turning inland for a stretch at Thornham. For me this was probably the most tedious bit of the route, and I was glad to come back towards the coast. We had been pushing relatively hard considering the distance / terrain we had yet to cover, and we were feeling good.

As is standard for my bowels, I needed to get rid of some extra baggage at the traditional 30km mark so I dipped off the track for a much needed toilet break. That done, we carried onto the boardwalks at Brancaster, and into the coastal section through Burnham deepdale on the way towards Wells Next to the Sea. I felt like we could see the lights from Wells for a long time before we reached it, but it eventually came and we took the opportunity to top up with water and have a brief warm up in a local pub. We were soon shoved out as it turns out it was a private function!

As we left for the run towards Stiffkey, Leigh started to struggle with his left knee. Either the cold or the terrain had gotten to it, and he was struggling to run at this point. We decided to powerwalk for a few minutes at a time, and although this helped ease the pain, we started to get concerned about finding a boat to spend the night in, if Leigh couldn’t carry on.

Leigh soldiered on through Morston, and strapped the knee with a spare Buff he had – the compression seemed to work, and we made full use of an open public toilet at Blakeney Point to give it a good warming up, and top up water again.

The warmth was much needed as the temperature was now 0/1 degrees with frost on the ground, and we both knew that the dreaded start of the shingle beach was coming. From here on the NCP dipped in and out of beaches all the way back to Hopton, but this 4 mile section of shingle was utterly horrendous, and seriously slowed us down. We pushed on, knowing that Cromer, and the halfway point would soon be upon us, and as we left the shingle and beach behind we got through Sherringham, tackled the Beeston Bump (what a view, even at Night) and eventually made our way into the coastal town of Cromer.

Mentally this was a great turning point in the run, over half way, and daylight would soon rear it’s beautiful head! Our next target was Sea Palling, some 19 miles of coastal trails and cliff paths away. We had both wanted to reach the Mundesley area in time for dawn as we were now on the East coast and knew that we would be in for a right treat – the dawn breaking over the waves and sand made for an emotional moment, and renewed our energy.

The beach stretches started to get longer, and by the time we arrived into Sea Palling, we were both pretty bereft of energy. We were around 100km into the run and needed a pick me up. There was a penny arcade that had just opened, so we grabbed a milky cappuccino, a bacon roll and double checked the remainder of the route. We had what turned out to be a lovely stretch next, that ran through Horsey Gap, and we had the pleasure of seeing hundreds of seals as we rolled our way up and down the coastal trails on our final push towards Great Yarmouth, and beyond to Hopton.

The stretch between Winterton and Caister turned out to be a bit bleak – the path/cliffs here are degrading, and is made up of caravan sites which are slowly being deconstructed, with large rubbish piles and fires. We kept our heads down, and pushed on, until we reached the edge of Great Yarmouth. The tarmac stretch into the town centre was around 2km long, and we were glad to finally find some shops, grab a sausage roll and drink, before the last, magnificent push to Hopton on Sea and the finish.

The sunlight was starting to dip again, so we summed up our energy and left Great Yarmouth, running through a large industrial area until we got to Gorleston, and a vast stretch of lights all along the sea front. Hopton MUST be at the end of those lights, we thought…

We ran, and we ran hard, only to be greeted by another beach at the end of the deceptive lights and for another mile or so we trudged along, desperate to find the “Beach Road” that marked the end of our 83 mile journey. We trudged up through some holiday homes, eyes pinned on the GPS until we finally reached it.

We ran and ran until we almost collapsed in front the final sign from utter exhaustion and relief.

We had an hour or so until we needed to catch our train from GY so we went into the nearest pub, ordered four pints and sat. I can honestly say that those two glasses of glorious ale, were magical.

We were in a dazed state on the way home. Tiredness and disbelief overtook and we were mostly in silence, absorbing the last 22 hours.

So we did it. A shade over 22 hours to complete, a route that has stolen my heart and mind. A route that is vastly underestimated for its utter balance of beauty and brutality.

We won’t forget it in a hurry, and it’s now stamped in our memories as 22 hours of pain, joy, and pride.

By the way, we’re very normal guys, we just had an abnormal ambition. There was every chance we could have failed, but we cracked on, we didn’t die, and we got through.

A month on and it still makes me smile whenever I think about this little adventure. But mostly, I hope it inspires others to get out and find their own adventure.

A massive thanks to National Trails, especially Jack Davidson in his pre race support and also social media updates during the run. https://www.nationaltrail.co.uk/peddars-way-and-norfolk-coast-path/trail-info/what-fastest-time-complete-trail

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Bianchi Oltre XR3 Disc – first ride review

Countervail technology combined with discs? Could this be the ultimate road going machine?

 

Bianchi’s countervail technology is said to reduce up to 80% of road vibration – a figure which is not only impressive, but rings a sweet sound in my ear. Living in Cambridgeshire can be beneficial from a gradient point of view – long flat roads to build up and maintain speed – however in some places it feels not too far off the cobbles of Paris Roubaix and the like – so when I got the chance to take out the latest model in the Bianchi range, I jumped at the chance!

First reactions:

When the bike was first dropped off, my first thought turned to just how good the bike looks. All the lines and aero forming, along with the black paint work and subtle Celeste make this one of the best looking bikes I’ve seen so far this year. I’m usually not the biggest fan of an ‘all celeste’ colourway, so I’m glad that the Oltre has gone for this less full on approach. I think it works well, and certainly stands out from the crowd. I was initially surprised that it was specced out with mechanical Ultegra, however it makes complete sense – its not overpriced, works flawlessly, and is the foundation for a great ride.

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Ride quality:

I’m a bit of a sadist, so I planned to ride the bike home along a route that takes in some fairly rough surfaces, during what may have been the wettest and grittiest week so far this year – and I wasn’t disappointed. Whilst I wasn’t under the impression I was floating along on a mattress, I was aware of the bike easing out a lot of the usual bumps and ruts. The main attraction was the consistency in getting rid of the road buzz that usually wears you out by the end of a long ride – not the big bumps or the lumpy tarmac, but the constant vibration that slowly eats away at you after hours in the saddle – it just wasn’t an issue with this bike. For me that’s a big game changer – being able to enjoy being in the saddle, for longer, with less fatigue is a win.

The bike also rolls up to speed well, and holds it incredibly well. Although the Oltre XR3 disc isn’t the lightest of bikes, to me this simply does not matter. Acceleration is quick and measured, whilst keeping the momentum up is an absolute dream.

bianchi full side

Discs:

I won’t say too much on the discs, as there are countless reviews of Shimano hydraulic discs, however what I will say is that the combination of discs with this bike is a match made in heaven. All day comfort, speed and stopping power is like the Holy Trinity.

bianchi front disc

Other: 

The bike comes as standard with 28mm – however the test model I had came with 25mm – and I noticed a cut in the rear tyre after the first ride – it would have been nice to try the 28’s as I think this would have only improved the overall ride quality.

Conclusion:

Pros: – Great looks, discs, comfort.

Cons: – Tyre’s aren’t up to much, but most people will swap these out for their preferred weapon anyway.

For more info check out Bianchi direct:

Oltre XR 3 DISC

 

 

TACX FLUX SMART TRAINER

 

 

The long warm days of summer have sadly left us, and once again winter has creeped in.

Wet, cold, dark mornings.

Mudguards.

Slippery roads.

Many might suggest implementing #rule5 – but in the interest and value of training more and more people are turning to indoor training to keep up their winter fitness. In fact an increasing number of pro athletes are spending the majority of their bike sessions indoors for a number of reasons:

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Efficiency:

Lets be honest – riding outside is fun, but there are a lot of opportunities to rest, freewheel, stop, drink coffee, eat cake…..just me? Training indoors removes a lot of those variants and allows you to focus on a specific session. Whether that be intervals, an FTP test or simply mashing out an hours session, an indoor session will be much more effective that nipping out for an hour.

 

Virtual Racing:

Gone are the days of staring at your garage wall, wishing that your hour in the pain cave would end. With advancements of technology you can now race people from all over the world on platforms such as ZWIFT – and you can even set up virtual group sessions with team mates, particularly useful if you’re spread out geographically.

 

Timing:

For me, the worst thing about winter riding is getting ready for it. Base layers, long tights, long tops, jacket, buff, gloves, lights……….sometimes it can take me a good 30 minutes to make sure everything is set and ready. Compare that to throwing a set of shorts on and getting in the garage and there is no question that training indoor actually saves you time. When family time is precious, and with Christmas looming, this is especially useful!

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In this case, how do you go about choosing the right smart trainer? With so many different offerings on the market, it can be difficult to know where to turn. TACX has been dealing in turbo trainers for a good number of years, and are generally the go to brand for indoor training. Their top spec model, the NEO is a beautifully crafted, solid smart trainer that could launch you in the atmosphere if you wanted. However with even the best deals edging £1000 you might be putting your wallet back into your pocket. The TACX flux however offers an amazing package, at a less eye watering price.

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£699 (£629.99 via Rutland Cycling) is enough to buy you one of the best quality smart trainers currently on the market. With ANT+ and bluetooth connectivity, speed, cadence, and power, there isn’t much more you could ask for.

When I first set the trainer up, it connected instantly to my Garmin watch, and it only took a few minutes to connect to my tablet via ZWIFT. Opening the box, to actually training took less than 20 mins, and every future session literally takes a handful of minutes to set up. its quiet (5 month old baby next to the turbo, kind of quiet) and can be quickly packed away if I need some garage space.

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As you can see, in comparison to a running machine, it takes up virtually no space at all. Having the convenience of being able to jump on and off the bike onto the running machine means an even great scope for indoor workouts.

 

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So then, if you’re serious about winter training, your summer goals and generally ‘avoiding winter’ then the TACX flux is a proper contender!

 

Full specs @ https://www.rutlandcycling.com/accessories/turbo-trainers/tacx-flux-smart-cycling-turbo-trainer_370585

 

 

First look – Giant Neos Track GPS

“At £149.99 and with all the connectivity you could need, the new NEOS Track looks set to be a cyclists best friend.”

 

When you first think of the cycling superpower Giant, the first thing to come to mind might be great value bikes such as the well known TCR, the super stiff propel or the all day Defy. However it seems that Giant are looking to expand their repertoire of products by making a move into the world of GPS with their new NEOS Track computer.

The keen eyed of you will notice a similarity in looks between the NEOS Track and the Bryton 530 – and that would be because Giant have been working together with Bryton on this new product. That’s not to say that the device is simply re-badged – because it isn’t. Giant have worked hard to re-design the NEOS from the ground up – changing the layout of the button controls, as well as tweaking the software to make it more user friendly. Working with Team Sunweb and utilizing their feedback and user experience, Giant have come up with not only a great device, but a great valued device too.

 

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Boasting 33 hours of battery life, breadcrumb navigation and both ant+ and bluetooth connectivity the NEOS is up there with some of the big contenders.  In the box you get the basics – the device itself, out front mount, spare stem mount and charging cable along with some instructions. Setting the device up is relatively straight forward and pain free. Giant developed their own app – Giant Lab – which you can utilize to upload rides to such sites as Strava and Training Peaks and even for designing routes that sync with the device for its turn by turn navigation feature.

 

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I started using the NEOS with my TACX flux direct drive trainer which connected to the speed, cadence, heart rate and power meter within seconds. The 2.6 inch screen was ample to have all the required data fields clearly displayed.  I never felt as though I had to search around, or that the number of data fields I had on screen were dwarfing the numbers – meaning I could see clearly and quickly.

 

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After spending a good number of hours both indoors and outdoors with this device I can say I’m truly impressed with the features that the NEOS offers. From training with power through to long Audax rides I’d say that the NEOS is going to be a big hit with cyclists from all backgrounds and with a variety of needs.

 

Full specs:

  • ANT+ and Bluetooth connectivity
  • 30+ hour battery life
  • 80 grams
  • 2.6in screen
  • ANT+ and Bluetooth connectivity
  • Giant lab – mobile app
  • RRP £149.99

 

 

 

TCR Advanced 2 Disc 2017 – long term review

Giant are a company with a long history of quality bike design and manufacture, the most famous of which being the long lasting TCR. From Team ONCE, being used for time trials and still going strong in Le Tour; the TCR has a strong heritage.

The latest offering from Giant now has a disc brake option, and whilst discussions are still heated around the use of discs in the pro and amateur field I won’t be delving into this during this review. A quick search of Google will reveal all the for and against arguments for an evenings read.
Discs

So why did I choose disc brakes then? Yes, there is a weight penalty associated with disc brakes over rim brakes, however for me it comes down to the type of riding I’ll be doing. This year I’m racing the Transatlantic Way race in Ireland which is a 2600km race of roads that can be quite questionable, with weather that can change quicker than Clark Kent in a phone booth. So then, consistent braking, particularly over a long period in all sorts of weather out weighed my need to get the bike as light as possible. Would I still choose discs for a shorter, well paved race? I’m not sure. What I do know is that these brakes work a treat – the shimano STI levers are without a doubt the most comfortable set I’ve ever had the pleasure of laying my hands on. They’re a bit longer than your standard lever, but provide a great position for resting hands. The braking itself is easy and smooth, and the flat mounts for the calipers are super easy to align. Overall I’ve had no issues with the brake system as a whole since set up 7000km ago. Winner.

Wheels
Onto the wheels then. As with most bikes at this price point you don’t get anything fancy. Say that the PR-2 disc wheel set are a great bit of kit. Sealed bearings, thru-axle and not too heavy. Peel off the sticker decals are they instantly look about £500 more expensive. The thru-axle system works really well and makes the power input super stiff and responsive. It’s also incredibly easy to take the wheels in and out without worry about aligning the disc in the caliper correctly. 

I changed out my front wheel because I wanted to run a dynamo hub to power my light and charger. If it wasn’t for this I probably wouldn’t have bothered changing the wheels. If you want to offset the additional disc weight then by all means spend the money on some new wheels, however the basic PR-2s work great.

Having ridden this bike in everything from club runs to a 450km overnight ride I can quite happily say it’s a comfortable bike. It’s not so relaxed as the Defy but is still able to put the power down when needed and transfers my pedal efforts into moving forward efficiently. On my ML sized frame I have the seat post out a decent amount and it flexes just enough to provide some subtle suspension on rougher ground. Being able to use 28mm and 30mm (just) on this frame means it’s a really diverse bike, from racing to audax. 
Groupset

The bike comes with a 105 groupset and to be honest, it’s amazing. Over the last 7.5k km I haven’t had any issues. Obviously there is a weight trade off between 105 and Ultegra, but in my mind 105 is the must have groupset. Great performance for the value. If you’re looking for parts that will last, but aren’t too expensive to replace, this is the one to go for.
Overall thoughts 

So the bike has now been returned to work and if I’m honest, I’m going to miss it. For a race orientated bike it is amazingly comfortable. I honestly didn’t think that I could do rides that ranged from 100km to 450km on this bike and still remain as comfortable as I would on a more relaxed geometry. Saying that, it is still a super responsive bike. I’ve done everything from fast chain gangs to bikepacking and I’ve never felt like it was a sloppy ride. Fully loaded and weighing around 13kg it still let’s me put the power down, and climbs amazingly. 

More recently I decided to put 28mm gatorskin tyres on the bike and what a difference it made again in terms of comfort. Great for longer rides without sacrificing too much speed, and still plenty of clearance.
If you want a great value, comfortable road bike that seems to do everything, then the TCR is the one to go for. Spec it with 105 or Ultegra and you’ve got a performance ready bike that won’t break the bank.

Ortlieb bikepacking bag set – long term review

Ortlieb has always been known for its quality engineering when it comes to waterproof commuter/touring pannier bags. When the company announced its new bikepacking specific range then, its fair to say I got pretty excited.

Having signed up to the Transatlantic Way race for this coming June, I was keen to find a lightweight, robust bag set that would meet a few of my criteria. Firstly it had to be fully waterproof. The west coast of Ireland is notorious for its changing weather, and the last thing I wanted was to end up with wet kit! Secondly it had to be lightweight – pannier bags are simply too heavy and bulky (it is a race after all!) and the bike I had chosen as my steed was a Giant TCR Advanced 2 Disc, which deserves something slightly more elegant.

I approached Lyon Equipment, and they very generously sent me the full kit to use long term and review. I’ve had the setup in various different forms over the last 5 months, and two weeks out from the race, here are my thoughts.

Ortlieb train

Durability:

The first thing I noticed with the bags was the quality – tough, waterproof fabric, that isn’t just your standard black material. The bags are as pleasing to look at as they are to use. All the straps and buckles are super strong, and even when stretched to capacity they remain tight and locked in place. The Velcro strappings on all the bags are thick, heavy duty style strips, and give a real confidence when locking them down to the frame. I tried filling the bags up to their capacity, with heavier than usual items, and found that everything still stayed secure in place. Good stuff.

ortlieb profile front and rear and acc

Design:

Seat pack:

Capacity – 16.5l

Weight – 456g

IP rating – 64

The seat pack is probably my favourite part of the four piece kit. It has a massive capacity – 16.5 litres! You could probably get by with just this rear pack for a 1 or two day trip, however, if you wanted to do a shorter style Audax for example, it will roll down so that you can just put the basics in, e.g. jacket, tools, peanut butter sandwich. (Just me?) The pack also has an air release valve so that you can essential vacuum pack your bag, meaning you can reduce the overall mass and not have a balloon sitting underneath your saddle. It has a really useful elasticated string on the top of the bag which I found was excellent for storing your jacket when it needed to be accessed quickly. Also great for storing baguettes. The Velcro straps that connect to the seat post are wide, thick and incredibly strong. Easy to tighten and adjust, and when combined with the clips that connect to the saddle rails, makes for a super strong connection. Again I filled this pack up to the brim, and only found the slightest of side to side wobble when climbing, but even then it was kept to a minimum. I use a carbon seat post (quite a long way out of the frame actually) and have had no trouble with weight etc. The only thing I have done is wrap the post up in electrical tape, just to protect it from any marking that may occur.

Overall I was super impressed with the seat pack. Versatile and cool – suitable for a multi-day ride, or for a one day jolly to get some fish and chips.

ortlieb front rear sunset

 

Handlebar pack:

Weight – 420g

Capacity – 15l

IP rating – 64

I really like this front pack. Its the sort of bag that you can put items in that are essential, but you don’t need to access very often – for example my was only ever used for my sleeping bag and my bivvy bag. I did have some concerns at first about the width, and using the bag on my road bike with drop bars, however I shouldn’t have worried as it fitted like a dream. Both ends roll up and can be packed down quite small. Interestingly enough I also found it made quite a comfortable pillow when stuff with something soft! I was a bit concerned about how it would fit along with my aero bars, however the thick Velcro straps are quite flexible and I managed to place them in such a way that they worked really well. I didn’t get any movement from the pack at all, and even when filled to capacity it was well away from my front wheel. It has Velcro straps, and also a secondary buckle strap to keep it secure, and extra loops for securing other bags, including the accessory pouch.

This bag just works. Reliable, strong and again lightweight!

Ortlieb front front shot

Accessory Pouch:

Weight – 205g

Capacity – 3.5l

IP rating – 64

Now Ortlieb are just showing off: a fully waterproof, easily accessible pouch, that locks onto a bag already on your bars? Well played. There’s not much to say about this bag in all honesty – like most Ortlieb stuff, it just works well. It straps directly onto the handlebar bag and sits at arms reach. My preference for this bag was food (more PB sandwiches) gloves, and a packable gillet for quick access. The only downside to this bag is the actual opening mechanism. It a metal buckle that you have to slip in a cord strap, and it’s just plain fiddly – a better option would have been another clip buckle, or even just some Velcro. I got used to it, however I did have to stop every time I wanted to get a snack out (which is quite often for me).

Aside front he buckle, this accessory pack is a great little bag. Not much additional weight, but a great bit of extra space.

ortlieb wall centre and rear

Frame pack:

Weight – 185g

Capacity – 4l/6l

IP rating – 64

Now comes the hard part of reviewing something – the bad bits. For me this frame pack wasn’t a useable bit of kit. I had the 6l version, and when fitted to the frame it negates one of my bottle cages meaning I only had one water bottle, and even that was a squeeze. I’m not sure matters would have been helped with the 4l version as the shape of the bag itself seems designed to take up the maximum space in the frame gap. The bag itself is great quality – as with the rest of the kit – however it feels like an after thought rather than an essential bit of design. The internal part of the pack has no compartments – so unless you’re stuffing clothing in there, there is no way to organise anything in that 4 or 6 litre space. It would be a bit of feeling around to find anything you may have packed away in the bag. On a hardtail MTB this frame pack might work really well – out for a day on the trails, its a great way to get your weight centred and low to the ground, however for a multi day race or even tour, I’m not convinced that you can make full use of it.

For me, Ortlieb would have done well to follow in the line of Apidura and Topeak and creat a frame bag that is long, and leaves space for water bottles, with a few compartments inside.

ortlieb cockpit shot

Other thoughts:

The only thing I felt was missing was a top tube bag – not a big issue but something to store a phone, cables and a multi tool would have been a nice finishing touch to the set.

Value for money:

(all prices in the region of, from standard google searches)

Seatpack – £110

Handlebar pack – £85

Frame pack – £100

Accessory pack – £45

As with most Ortlieb products, they are not cheap. Which for me is a good thing. You get a 5 years guarantee – which is amazing – and a quality of design and manufacture that you don’t often see in other products. However, have a serious think about what you’ll be using them for and the type of riding you will be doing. You may not need the whole set or might even just need the seat pack. There is nothing wrong with mixing brands and buying packs that suit your needs.

Conclusion:

Ortlieb have created a fantastic bike packing set – with a few modifications and perhaps an additional bag or two they will continue to be a serious contended in this relatively new market in the cycling industry. Please keep an eye out for another review post race, and also a review of the TCR ADV 2 disc coming soon!

ortlieb wall sunset

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cambridge Half Marathon – Sunday 8th March – Race report

Cambridge Half Medal 2015
Cambridge Half Medal 2015

Well.

Sometimes the unplanned events turn out to be the most fun.

Initially I had planned to do another duathlon on the same day as the Cambridge Half, however when I realised that so many people from Ely Tri Club had entered I started to wonder if I should sign up too. However my efforts were thwarted when I realised all the places had sold out months ago!

I shouldn’t of worried however as a friend of a friend had a place up for grabs, and my spot at The Cambridge Half was confirmed.

I’ve done a few Half Marathons in the last couple of years, so I wondered how I could ‘spice’ things up a little bit, and being the sucker for a challenge that I am, I decided to cycle 20 or so miles to the start, and then back again. So I proposed the idea to Ben and surprisingly he said yes!

In terms of training I didn’t really do anything specific apart from throw in a few medium runs (around the 10k mark) and lay off cycling/running in the run up to the event. The Thursday before the race I did a hill threshold session with Ely Tri Club to gear the legs up. I felt confident that I would get a PB on the day as I had heard it was a good course, the weather was looking good, and my fitness was still there from winter training.

Breakfast

The morning of the half I set off towards Ben’s and we started the ‘gentle’ cycle into Cambridge. It was a bit windy, but the gentle pace and general social chatter made for a great ride in. We parked in a top secret location (work car park) and changed into running gear, before heading off to the local shopping centre for a last minute toilet stop. I have the bladder of a child! We headed off towards Midsummer Common where the start was and the atmosphere began to rise. People started gathering and the music started playing. My excitement only got more intense when I saw what I believed to be a beer tent!!

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We decided to use the toilets available (Bladder of a child) so we queued up briefly before meeting up with the rest of the Ely Tri gang for a photo and a natter.

tri club

Ben and I then had a swift run around the start before making our way over to the start line.

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We found ourselves a position around 20 metres back from the start line and started the process of trying to keep a little bit of space between other competitors. The wind was quite chilly so I was desperate for the race to just start, and finally after what seemed like an hour the countdown started and we were off! As usually lots of people near the front stormed off, however Ben and I managed to start off at a good pace of around 4.00km per mile. We had agreed to roughly stay together until one or the other decided to break away. If a breakaway had been possible it would have been tricky! The route quickly narrowed and bottle necked and we found ourselves being bumped and nudged by a rampage of people trying to get ahead. This settled down after a while and we made our way towards the backs and central Cambridge where the route went through town, and around the river. It was a lovely route, and the fact that it was so nice almost took your mind off the pace! The first lap came and went with us getting back to the start of the 2nd lap within around 41 Minutes (9km) and we made our way through the start line for the second time.

Now running on familiar ground we settled into concentrating on the pace and taking on some fluids which were available around every 3/4km – we didn’t talk much at this point as we were both concentrating on the race in hand. We entered the centre of town again and round a hair pin at around 15 kilometres and I signalled to Ben that I was going to up the pace slightly and go for it. He gave me the nod and I upped by cadence. It was at this point that I couldn’t stop looking at my GPS watch, willing the distance down, as I concentrated on forcing my arms forward, and keeping my leg cadence where it needed to be. My feet were starting to burn a little, but that was in the back of my mind as everyone was cheering all of the runners through the last few kilometres.

I had raced under someone else’s name, and so every time someone shouted ‘Go Ashley!!!’ I knew they were egging me on (Our names were printed on our numbers) and this gave me great encouragement. We approached the river and took a new detour from the loop and around a hair pin, before a straight section towards Midsummer common. The route finally turned onto the common and looped around before entering the last home stretch of a few hundred metres at which point I remembered the cold beers I saw earlier and put my sprint legs to the test all the way to the end finishing in a decent PB of 1 hour 32 minutes and 1 second! Not quite the sub 1.30 I was hoping for, but still a PB of over 5 minutes.

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As I staggered through the finishing tent I was handed a bottle of water and the beer – you can guess which one I opened first!

Ben and some others came through the finish around a minute later and we all gave each other the obligatory manly nod of achievement before collapsing on the grass to eat and drink.

The finish!

We said our congratulations and farewells and went to collect our bikes for the journey home. Ben had an alternative route planned through White fen so we set off and boy did we feel good! Lovely Fen countryside, and gorgeous weather meant for a lovely if not tiring ride back, (with some trespassing involved at some point I’m sure!)

I got home and ate everything in sight, and later that day had two roast dinners.

Yes, two.

So all in all a fantastic day. Only in it’s fourth year, the Cambridge Half Marathon is a fast and very friendly route, with the lovely Cambridge residents giving amazing support and atmosphere. The support that everyone had from Ely Tri Club was amazing, and it is a privilege to be part of such a fabulous club.

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I’ll almost definitely be returning next year – maybe without the bike ride!

Monster Duathlon – 22nd February 2015 – Race Report

Well first of all welcome to my new blog! The focus of this blog will mainly be training updates, race reports and the general madness of endurance/multi sports.

Lets kick off with the first race of the season; the Monster Duathlon organised by Monster Racing. This race was a 5k run, 25k bike and 5k run format.This is the first time I’ve competed in this event, so I was unsure of what to expect on the day. Registration opened at 6.30am at the event HQ – Witchford Village College, and since I live so close I decided to cycle down to the start, with my race clothes on, and also some joggers, t-shirt and hoody, plus two hats – the weather was a little chilly to say the least!

As ever my keenness and paranoia at being late meant that I was the first to arrive and rack up my bike – however I was greeted by the ever friendly Peter at the entrance – it was nice to see a friendly face to start the day! I chose a space for my bike and kit relatively close to the transition entry/exit and then went to register and get my kit sorted. As people started to trickle in, there were nods of the heads and a sly look at the other bikes/kit that people had chosen for the day, and as the sun rose and the transition area began to fill with chatter, a great sense of anticipation filled the air.

After I had gone to the toilet for the third time (no easy feat when wearing two tri suits) Ben turned up. Ben is one of the people I train with most, and I had been waiting for him to turn up so we could go for a quick jog to warm up the legs. As we chatted about the race and trotted around my adrenaline started to build up and I was really eager to get going. Eventually everyone gathered for the race briefing, at which point I started stripping off the extra layers to get race ready.

Ben and I lined up at the start for the first 5k run leg, and found ourselves right at the front – no pressure! Then go!!! We sped off the front, and for the first 1.5k I found myself leading the pack, running on the frosty pavements out of the housing area, and out towards an old airfield – as we hit the track I was over taken by some of the more seasoned athletes however I managed to hang onto a decent pace. As we looped the airfield we ran through mud, Ice and water and back out towards the track again, through the housing area and then back into transition. I finished the first 5k in a time of 18 minutes 2 seconds – a new PB on my part. 

At this point I was fairly sure that I was in somewhere around 10th place, and wanted to keep it that way. Transition 1 took a little longer than it should have as I chose not to leave my cycling shoes on the bike, and instead opt for a slower start. However once I was on the bike it felt great to have a change of pace for the legs, and we pushed out of Witchford towards the A10. Here I managed to overtake another competitor whilst on the straight, and turned into Little Downham, and then Coveney. During this section I was overtaken by another athlete, and I could hear the dreaded sound of an aero wheel creeping up on me. After that I vowed to not let anyone else past!!

Through Coveney was windy and frosty, however I had chosen to leave my winter tires on the bike, so was able to give it a little more through the bends. As I approached the end of the Coveney wind tunnel (semi-serious) I turned onto the A142 and started really giving it some. I could see two others about 30 seconds ahead. I overtook one as we approached the Lancaster Way round about and turned back on ourselves – with the wind behind me I decided to finish off my bike legs and give it some up to the turn off, down towards the college. I saw Ben on the return leg and gave him a big roar of approval – although he had his race face on so I’m not sure he saw! I managed to finish the bike leg in a reasonable time of 45 minutes and 16 seconds.

Into T2 I managed to fling my cycling shoes off, drop my helmet and slip my elastic tied running shoes onto my feet in almost half the time of T1! Ben later commented that when he arrived into transition (he was racked next to me) that it looked like a bomb had gone off in my kit. Sorry Ben!

As I ran from the transition area I realised that my legs didn’t feel painful or tired. This was because I couldn’t feel them at all!! For the first few hundred metres I was running on jelly legs, egged on by Ely Tri Club supporters who were marshalling and gave me a great boost. I was over taken by someone, but decided to keep my pace consistent for the return leg so I could give it my all. Again up the track and through the ice and mud – this time trying to count the number of runners that I could see on the return leg of the run. As I made the turn around and headed back towards the village I could feel a runner behind me, and stepped up my pace, down the hill, into the housing area. The finish line approached, and I knew it would be a sprint finish – however the guy behind had crept up slowly and sprinted past me just at the last moment. My second run leg was finished in a respectable time of 20 minutes and 37 seconds – giving me a total time of just over 1 hour and 25 minutes and 12th place!! I waited for the other competitors to come in and drank some water and ate some of the free sweets (thumbs up!) and saw Ben turn the last corner and cheered him in as he gave a super strong sprint finish!

All in all it was a great race, with great support and organisation. I felt comfortable for most of the race, and felt I was able to push myself more than I have done before. With a few transition tweaks and brick runs I can hopefully improve future performances.

Needless to say I ate anything in sight for the rest of the day.

 

To check out a selection of amazing photos to purchase from the event, check out Ian Green Photography.

Thanks for reading!!

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