Thursday, 24 November 2011

Wensleydale Wedge 23mi. 20/11/2011.

People were saying that 2011 provided the best weather in the history of this event, which I can quite believe. Every time I’ve run it there has been one constant – cold that gnaws into you. Add to that any number of variables – frost, snow, sleet, rain, swilling mud and wind. This year it was calm, warm and sunny with cloudless blue sky. The only cloud was at ground level in the form of fog, which clung to the valleys and sometimes wafted over the ridges. The day was pure magic and Nidderdale LDWA did us proud once again with their friendly organisation and support. It was a sell-out with no entries on the day – a good accolade for an event based in Askrigg, which could be regarded as being a bit out of the way. For most it takes considerable effort to get there, do the event and get back home in one day.

Although we ran through some wet and muddy patches it was nowhere near as liquid as in previous years. The low river levels in the valleys and the dried-up stream bed reminded me once again of the lack of substantial rain this year. We don’t often get to see such low river levels in summer, let alone in late November.

Martin Dietrich arrives at checkpoint 3.

People who have done this event in recent years will have noticed the evolution of the rocky ATV track on the descent into Thoralby, which merges and unmerges with ‘our’ footpath. It finally led me astray this year. I had just been caught up by another runner at CP4. Shortly afterwards, the grassy bridleway forked left on a gentle ascent across the moor. We didn’t recognise this so we backtracked to the rocky track to continue our descent down that. He soon disappeared into the fog as we descended and I found myself alone, running down a track I did not recognise. I passed a couple of horses, one doing the usual Jake the Peg impersonation, like they do.

I came to a fork and took the left across the stream. I felt unsure so I dithered and backtracked. I finally got my map out but I could not make my plotted route fit what I was seeing. I checked my compass and confirmed that I was descending in the correct direction (NE), so I carried on. No-one had caught me up like should have happened with all my dithering, which added to my concern. The track became a tarmac lane, whereas the track I should have been on turns sharp right and left with steep rocky descent to the tarmac, where I would turn left.

I jogged on, hoping that all would become clear. Two workmen on my right were smiling as I passed. The smiles might have been leers and a sarcastic comment might have been on the tips of their tongues. I offered a friendly “Hello” to test them and got the same in return, from both of them! The warm November sun must be doing some good, I thought. I passed some discarded fluorescent fittings on my left (4' singles, tubes included, since you ask). They looked perfectly serviceable and I thought they might come in handy one day, but I was already carrying two drink bottles and might have struggled to carry them. I passed them by with a heavy heart. ;-)

Shortly I saw some other runners ahead descending from the left to the lane I was on. I realised what had happened. I had somehow found myself on the alternative right-hand parallel descent down Side Road, which I had always been aware of on the map but never taken. Now I’d taken it by accident. It was good to try out the alternative for the first time, even though it was inadvertent. I might just take it every time from now on as there is little to choose between it and the intended Haw Lane descent, and there is no proscribed route description to oblige us to take a particular route.

I arrived at CP5 in Thoralby Village Hall, a fraction under halfway, in 2:05 or so, having wasted what must have been 10 minutes with my navigational dithering. Since I always slow down as events progress, I knew already that my PB of 4:04 was way outside my grasp. Still, so what? The day was beautiful and I would get to spend longer out in it, innit?

As I crossed the main road at Aysgarth to the church drive, the bells began to peel to call everyone to the Sunday service. I have not heard this for a good few years. I must have been late enough this year to hear them once again. The lopped trees that lined the drive still had plenty of green leaves, which contrasted well with the golden colours of autumn on others – not bad for late November. The absence of frost so far has delayed the fall.

The church near Aysgarth.

There was no point in pushing for a time since it had already slipped through my fingers, so instead of turning right up the road to take the most direct line to CP7 like I and most others do, I decided to carry straight on and check out the footpath up through the woods towards the canal, to descend back down to the checkpoint from the other side. Someone in the car park at the top said: “Oh, you’re doing that Wensleydale Wedge, aren’t you? How’s it going?” “It’s a lovely day for a bimble”, or words to that effect, came my reply. I took Adrian Dixon by surprise as I sneaked up on his checkpoint from behind, having gone the long way ‘round.

As I emerged from our latest fog blanket, Bolton Castle, the position of the next manned checkpoint, glowed on the other side of the valley as it basked in permanent sunshine. My legs were leaden as usual and I walked at 3.5mph or shuffled at 4.5mph for as long as I could switch my mind off the discomfort. I was enjoying taking photographs to provide some sort of excuse for my turn of slowness. I glanced at my watch and suspected that even a sub 4:30 finish was out of the question. Other runners had been overtaking me since the start but I had been alone for a while now. I walked up past the castle to CP9 at Castle Bolton, getting caught and catching up at the same time. I had company once again.

Bolton Castle basks in the late November sunshine.

Checkpoint 9 at Castle Bolton.

I wasted little time in setting off on the final 7 miles westwards to the finish in zero wind and warm sunshine. The fog bank was never far away across the valley to our left, but the escarpment to our right glowed brightly in the low winter sunshine. A group of four runners (two men and two women) overtook and slowly pulled away as I shuffled pathetically on heavy legs along the long, undulating green path. A rocky stream bed that descended from the escarpment on the right was dry. The old lead mine workings were the driest I’ve ever seen them.

Ivy Scar and disused lead mine workings.

Shortly before the final checkpoint, CP10 at Heugh, Ken and Jenny caught up with me. Jenny asked how I was doing and I had a bit of a whinge to vent my frustration about legs that had refused to cooperate for most of the day (sorry Jenny). I used Ken and Jenny as incentive to pull me into the checkpoint, pausing only long enough to get my tally clipped and take a couple of pictures. I glanced at my watch and realised that sub 4:30 might be on the cards after all, but I’d have to push hard and would not know for certain until I’d hit the road and crested the final rise before the village hall.

Leaving checkpoint 10; 1.2 miles to the finish.

I set off on the final 1.2 miles of (mostly) downhill to the finish. At last, some lovely grassy downhills and technical path through the woods to let gravity take me. I suddenly found myself bounding past the others who had overtaken me on the slog from Castle Bolton. For the first time the running was flowing relatively freely as we ran across the fields and squeezed through the wall stiles, holding the hand gates open for each other. As I worked my way through the other runners and built up a bit of a lead, holding hand gates open was no longer necessary and I could really let myself fly. It was just past midday, the sun was at full strength (such as it can be in winter) and there was no breeze. It felt like a warm spring or autumn day. The effort was making me overheat. My Buff, which had been around my head as a bandanna initially to soak up the water droplets from the fog, now had to come off to aid head cooling.

I hit the road and ran downhill to the final little rise, which slowed me down alarmingly, before descending to the final left turn. Then I did something I wouldn’t normally do. I overtook another runner just 10 yards from the village hall. I couldn’t help it. I was on a roll and wasn’t going to slow down now in the interests of good manners and gentlemanly behaviour. “You first.” “No, please, after you.” I hoped he wouldn’t mind. I checked in and turned around to shake his hand and offer my congratulations as he arrived. He was cool. :-)

My time was 4:27, which was better than I had feared. However, the conditions were the best ever, yet I have run it faster on 4 occasions and slower on only 2 occasions. It’s a case of ‘must do better’. Am I finally over the hill? Judging by this year’s virtual absence of PBs, I have to assume so.

After refuelling and chatting for an hour or two, I set off on the long walk back to the car parking area in the factory yard. On the way I passed a view that I have always admired in Askrigg but have never before seen in such a good light. I got my camera out for the final time to photograph the ancient stone-flagged footpath that winds its way up the fields towards the church with the escarpment providing the backdrop.

Askrigg in November.

Here is the crop of the pictures.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Roaches Fell Race 15mi. + Runfurther prizegiving. 13/11/2011.

The back-to-back event weekend had to be done since the Runfurther prizegiving had reverted to its roots by following 'Roaches'. I enjoyed the opportunity to run it again, which I have done every other year since 2007.

The route is an out-and back from Meerbrook Village Hall across some private farmland to access the Roaches ridge along to the end before descending through the woods towards Gradbach. We ford the river (nice and low this year) to access more private farmland that takes us onto footpaths to Wilboarclough at the foot of Shutlingsloe. We then enjoy the climb all the way to the top, around the trig point and back the way we came. Although there is plenty of up and down along the way, it averages uphill out and downhill back, which usually results in negative splits even after tiring.

Return river crossing.

Although the weekend was mild and dry, the wind had risen and the hilltops were enshrouded in cloud. The Roaches and Shutlingsloe were not nice places to be hanging around, but the marshals had to do just that. Hats off to them. Despite the low river levels, the surface mud and some bogs were lively. Some runners went in deep, as evidenced by one who was sporting completely plastered legs at the finish. The farm close to the start and finish with its slurry tracks and hoof-hole mud-pit fields was as breathtaking as ever. Since it occurs after the second river crossing, we finish well and truly soiled. We make do with the streamlet close to the village hall for communal bathing facilities.

Post-race wash.

The out-and-back format allows me to see the real runners on their return leg. Winner Kim Collison hove into view first as I was crossing the fields just before Wildboarclough.

Kim Collison.

After the previous day's efforts my legs were feeling heavy, so I was surprised to get to the halfway point at the trig point in 1:39. It was the same as in 2009 when I hadn't run Six Dales Circuit the day before. This pleasant surprise was tempered by the fact that I did not recall my legs feeling this heavy in 2009. I tried my hardest on the return leg but I was not able even to maintain a run at all times when I should have done. Half a litre of Coke and a Nutrigrain bar limited the damage to a 1:40 return leg (my first ever slower second half). I may have finished in the bottom 22% but it wasn't all bad. I was still 2 minutes faster than in 2007 when I last ran it the day after Six Dales Circuit. We must be thankful for small mercies.

I hung around, chatted and drank tea afterwards to wait for the Runfurther presentation and cake scoffing. Karen McDonald and team have done another great job this year and the Runfurther sponsors have done us proud. There were some impressive athletic achievements from the biggest ever field of runners. Although several winners were present, it's a shame that more of them could not be there to receive their prizes.

I always know I can never win any running prizes with my lack of speed, which is why I felt especially lucky and privileged to have remained fit and healthy to complete the Grand Slam without any issues. This year went a lot more smoothly than my first grand slam in 2009, when the wheels were falling off at Pumlumon and they lost some spokes as well at the High Peak 40. It so nearly didn't happen then. Now I have two under my belt. Woo-hoo!

Comparing 2009 and 2011 I'd have to say that this Grand Slam has been the more challenging of the two, with tougher events and more of them falling on consecutive weekends. The first challenge, which I have to say daunted me, was in April to June, with Highland Fling 53 on 30/04, Marlborough Downs Challenge 33 on 14/05, Brecon 40 on 21/05, Housman 100 (my choice) on 28/05 and Northants Ultra 35 on 05/06. I find it difficult to believe now but I sailed through them unscathed, getting stronger as I progressed. Then I went away on international business travel and did nothing for a month. Come Osmotherley Phoenix, my fitness had escaped me and I bagged myself a PW.

[Incidentally, my PB for this event occurred after running Western States 100 on the previous weekend, and I PB'd on that too! There's no substitute for keeping it up (missus).]

The next challenge was running Long Tour of Bradwell 33 on the weekend after Lakeland 100. There were no issues there either. As far as my body is concerned the events are just my weekend job. It's all part of the routine that I've grown accustomed to. If I don't do them my ability to do them soon reduces within a week or two. The more I do the more I can do.

For my 2011 full set of Runfurther 'weekends at the office' I got a box of Clif Bars (always appreciated for ultra-running fuel), padded Injinji toe socks (always appreciated for comfy tootsies) and a personalised print listing this year's 12 races completed. The piece de resistance will earn me some respec wiv da yoof in the town centre and draw the attention of the CCTV cameras. The personalised Runfurther hoodie has all the races listed on the back. It will also keep me nice and warm after the winter events. It will surely come in
useful after Wensleydale Wedge this Sunday. Thank you Runfurther!

Here are the pictures.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Six Dales Circuit 25mi. 12/11/2011.

Approaching the High Peak Trail.

This is one event I have never plotted on Tracklogs so I don’t know the true distance. However, upon finishing, the universal consensus among those with their newfangled Star Trek satellite communicators was that it was 26 miles, give or take a few steps. Not being one to exaggerate (much), I make that a marathon distance technical trail & cross-country run through six of Derbyshire’s beautiful dales. It’s fast yet testing. I keep coming back for the challenge. This was my 10th completion since 1999. It was marvellous once again to return to friends of old for a low-key LDWA walk (or run).

I had just parked in the farmer’s field ‘car park’ when Dawn ‘adventure girl’ Westrum pulled up alongside. What a pleasant surprise. We were both beginning a weekend double whammy; she would be doing a long mountain bike ride on Sunday and I would be forcing my tired legs around the Roaches Fell Race. As we left the parking field the walkers had just been sent on their way, chased along the lane by a bus. Some were normally runners but were taking it slow and easy as they nursed themselves back from injury.

Biggin Village Hall was nice and warm as we registered and waited for our send-off at 9am, by which time the fog-cum-low cloud had lifted a little. The informal “Go” was uttered and we jogged our way up the lane. I felt most disconcerted because I found myself in the lead, and no-one was overtaking. This abnormal state of affairs continued into the first dale (Biggin Dale) until one, perhaps two, trotted past on that first technical descent to put this pretender back in his rightful place. I enjoyed hopping over the slimy wet limestone at a pace that was slow and controlled enough to allow me to place each foot safely without slipping. By the right turn and easy run up through Wolfscote Dale, I was already feeling the exertion. I had to ease back a touch, at which point Geoff ‘speed goat’ Holburt sprinted past, never to be seen again until the finish.

The sun was warming and the air was calm. I couldn’t believe how warm it was for mid November. Scott Sadler had tagged along with me for route-finding and conversation as we turned right into the third dale (Beresford Dale). Roger Taylor did the same on and off, between stopping back for chats before catching us up again. We would get to finish the event as a threesome. I appreciated the rare opportunity to run a whole event with someone. Don’t get me wrong though. I hadn’t miraculously speeded up to their level. They had slowed down to mine. They were having a relaxed, non-competitive ‘recovery jog’ day with no race pressure. I on the other hand …. well, I’m sure you can guess.

I have “P” permanently etched on my left eyeball and “B” etched on the right. PBs have suddenly become like hen’s teeth this year. From 18 in 2009 and 6 in 2010 (my first ‘proper’ injury year), I only have 2 of the blighters so far this year, and one of those was for a cycle ride, which hardly counts since it involved sitting down. ;-) It has been a barren year like no other on the PB front. For the first time I have more PWs than PBs. More than ever before this had to be the usual eyeballs-out race, but only with myself. To race with anyone else would be quite futile and would only end in tears of disappointment, unbridled gene envy and spitting of dummy out of pram (would I ever!). [Dawn, just in case you were wondering, for “dummy” read “pacifier”, and “pram” is an abbreviation of “perambulator”. It is an altogether more substantial affair than your typical pushchair, sorry, ‘stroller’. ;-)]

CP1 at Hartington.

The scissor-wielding marshal was waiting for us at Checkpoint 1, Hartington, to clip our tallies. Since I was well supplied with my own food and drink I made an immediate getaway to get a few seconds’ head start on Scott and Roger. A minor hiccup in Hartington village (my brain was dulled from the extreme physical effort) soon had us climbing the lane towards the stile on the left that would launch us across more fields. We climbed to the wall corner before descending fell-run style to the valley bottom and right turn to Parsley Hay. Through the farm with ever-present barking dog and up onto the High Peak Trail we did climb. A left turn delivered us onto the barely perceptible downhill ‘easy’ run, during which I caught up with Vaughan and Anne. They would normally be running but Vaughan was recovering from injury and highly frustrated to be seeing us run past. You'll be back before you know it, Vaughan. The disused railway bed eventually brought us to the right turn and the relief of the next climb up more fields to the Bull I’ Th’ Thorn Hotel on the main road. Scott was hoping to meet his parents here but we were too early for them. Had I been too fast? Probably, because my legs were getting heavy already. As I shuffled on down the track opposite, Scott texted his parents. He soon caught me up again. By the time we arrived at Checkpoint 2, Monyash Village Hall, they were there to cheer him on. Excellent.

Once again no food or drink for me. My own supplies were doing me just fine. I set off down the road on the long stage to checkpoint 3 to let Scott catch up again, turning right down dale number 4, Lathkill Dale, which eventually brought us into No. 5 Bradford Dale (that almost flat running is so draining). Although the ground had been wet and muddy from recent rains, the rivers in the dales were either low or hidden in the limestone below ground, in stark contrast to last year when they were flooded. However I was amazed to see that the stream in Bradford Dale had also dried up. I have never seen this before, even in the height of summer in July when I do the White Peak Walk.

Dried up Bradford Dale in November!

As in most previous years I was forced to ‘regroup’ on the gentle ascent of Bradford Dale. By “regroup” I mean it was the first time when I was forced to a walk when I should have been running. I forced yet more fuel down my gullet in the regular weekend quest to coax some life back into the legs. The track curved right and climbed steeply towards Middleton. Marvellous – a real excuse this time to walk and recover. It’s what I crave and need on the events and it’s why I find flat ones so tough. A change is as good as a rest. You need hilly runs to get rests. At this point, Roger caught up again after his longest gassing absence so far. We took some catching that time, he said. Now if I hadn’t slowed down, how long would it have taken him then?

Some speedier runners were descending from Middleton as we climbed the out-and-back to Checkpoint 3 in the village hall. My only checkpoint food was taken here in the form of a handful of Satsuma segments. The climb had rejuvenated me a little and I was ready for the run back down the hill and right turn to continue our journey to the finish. According to Scott’s and Roger’s GPS, we had done 20 miles, so we had just 5 left and a little under an hour in which to do them to equal my PB of 4:23. The race was on as we three powered our way up and down the fields and lanes via dale number 6, Long Dale. “Powered” might not be entirely accurate. OK, it’s a lie. The reality is this: I struggled and failed to make two dead, heavy, leaden stumps do a half decent impersonation of a pair of runner’s legs, while Roger and Scott dutifully slowed and waited every so often for me to catch up. The time marched on ominously and I began to realise that, even at my pace, the distance must be more than 5 miles. PB time came and went as we were passing the Friden works. From then on it became a case of damage limitation to avoid being slower than in too many other years. Though Scott and Roger may find it difficult to believe, I never stopped pushing right to the end.

The final section was more like 6 miles and total GPS distance was 26 miles. Our time was 4:40. I have run four faster years – in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007 (PB year). Never mind. A PB is merely the cherry on the icing on the cake. I never much liked glacĂ© cherries anyway. Most important are the personal challenge, camaraderie (thank you Scott and Roger for your company) and the wonderful countryside at our disposal in which to run. For legal access and scenery, there is nothing to compare in any other country. I’ve said it before and I shall say it again – we are truly blessed in this beautiful country.

Across the Tissington Trail to the finish.

Geoff romped home second in 4:03 or thereabouts (I think). The winning time was 4 hours (not that there is a winner in these events).

The post-event meal had three courses – soup and bread (best if you were salt deficient; even the butter seemed laden with the stuff), stew and veggies, and cold rice pudding and a selection of tinned fruit for dessert. Lashings of tea aided the rehydration. Staffordshire LDWA always does us proud, all for £7.

Roger, Dawn, Helen Skelton and I found ourselves sharing a table for post-event laughs, jokes and refuelling. Helen is this year’s female winner of the Runfurther series. She was another runner who had walked as she recovered from injury. As we dined, Helen brought up the subject of what speed would be deemed acceptable to fire off a snot rocket. Racing cyclists and runners do it with nary an eyelid batted. Being dressed for speed helps with the acceptance. Even shufflers and plodders may get away with it if they 'look the part' (take it from me). However, on this day, Helen was a walker. I never did gather whether she actually caused shocked revulsion or nearly did, but my guffaws must have caused a disturbance in that village hall. In the words of Dick Emery, “You are awful, but I like you”. :-)

The pictures I took are here.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Snowdonia Marathon. 29/10/2011.

Once again I'd long planned to make a weekend of it in Llanberis, with a bit of a run in the middle of the proceedings to justify the gut-bashing and vocal exercise. I checked in to the Padarn Lake Hotel on Friday afternoon and immediately saw notice of our post-race entertainment. (By “our” I mean the Runner's World forumites from the 'SNOD' thread.) Stuart had joined me for the obligatory meal in Pete's Eats with any other runners we might have happened upon, after which we went to the sports centre to get registered.

I had arrived in mild, calm, sunny conditions with clear views of the summits (very rare at this time of year, in my experience). By nightfall the wind was rising and the cloud was rolling in. By Saturday morning, true to Snowdonia Marathon tradition the gale was blowing and the drizzle had long since been launched upon it. Forget the summits, even the foothills were obscured.

After pre-race photographs I walked with Blofeld (not the baddy off James Bond with fluffy white cat whose heavy-handed stroking amounts to a mauling, but Stuart) uphill to the start area. I had adopted my normal brisk walk to keep warm and was overtaking everyone else (shame I can't run faster than everyone else as well). I heard a restrained yet emphatic “Nick” from behind. Jez! The Braggster was sauntering in chilled fashion to the starting area, wrapped up against the elements with hooded waterproof and gloves. This will be the ONLY time I get to overtake Jez. We exchanged a hand-to-glove greeting and chatted for a few minutes to fill each other in on progress after our UTMB DNFs, during which Ian 'Dark Peak' Winterburn caught up and extended his greetings. He was on the look-out for Iain Ridgeway to say ‘ow do. All these people are way outside my league. As we walked and chatted I found myself in a place I had no right to be: five yards from the start line. “Oh well, what the heck”, I thought. “They’ll never know.”

Chatting with Stuart we came to the conclusion that it was too warm for wind-proof jackets because we were already comfortable while standing still. With less than two minutes to go I took mine off and stuffed it into my bum-bag. It proved to be the right decision because my long-sleeved technical top with club vest over the top, shorts, white Inov-8 cap to keep the worst of the rain off my glasses and Buff around my neck to keep wind chill at bay would serve me well and keep me comfortable throughout the race. (No, I wasn’t the barefoot runner. I did have shoes and socks on as well.)

While I enjoyed my minutes of fantasy ‘at the sharp end’ we waited for the announcements and the S4/C television crew to allow our send-off. Unlike in recent years, the air horn was sounded almost early. I started running at a pace that felt comfortable to me and found myself keeping pace with Stuart for a minute or two. I knew it could not possibly last. They always start this way. I had to ignore those around me and get on with my own race. And so began a steady overtaking for the next 22 miles.

Our route ahead up the first pass disappeared into a black pall of windblown cloud and rain. As I ran upwards I was feeling confident of a good performance and likely PB. I had got a virtual PB on the Round Rotherham and had 2 weeks to recover, with daily running to work to maintain the edge. My heart rate was at its optimum of 165bpm for maintaining decent pace and it proved that I wasn’t overdoing my early pace. I would just keep up this effort and the PB would come automatically (wouldn’t it?).

My starting so near to the front turned out to be a good move. All those I know, most of whom are faster than I am, were able to exchange a few words as they glided past me during the course of the race. Never before have I experienced such a friendly and familiar SNOD. It was brill. I even exchanged a few words with Karl Hinett when he overtook me on the first climb (see my Dovedale Dipper report). (He finished in 3:52 and would be running the Dublin Marathon on Monday 31st to keep his year's worth of weekly marathons on the go.)

I took the first descent carefully, not wanting to push the pace too much and trash myself. As in previous years a stitch started on my right hand side, but it only slowed me slightly for a minute or two before it was gone. The sharp right turn brought us into a strong head wind, which only lasted for a few yards. The off-road section that followed was welcome. I was in my element as I picked my way down the rough, technical track, letting gravity take me. Other runners were suddenly blocking my progress as it became my turn to glide past. Near to the bottom, the track became a narrow lane before climbing steeply back up to the road, after which point normality resumed and I began to get overtaken again.

The undulating road through Bryn Gwynant to Beddgelert saw me slowing a little but still making decent progress, or so I thought. I passed the halfway point in around 1:55. I was shocked that it had taken me so long after seemingly running well in the first half. I knew immediately that a sub 4 was probably out of the question because the second half of this race is slower for most, certainly for me. My legs had begun to feel heavy and stiff from the hips, just as in previous years. Although I was fit as far as heart rate went, the legs must still have had a bit of the Round Rotherham in them.

The support we received from spectators was amazing considering the rain and wind. At least we runners were keeping warm by running. They didn’t have that luxury. The sound of applause, usually the muffled wet slap of glove on glove, was never far away.

As the miles ticked by I monitored the time and began to suspect that a PW was unavoidable. 4:15 must surely be exceeded. From expecting a PB to predicting a PW was coming as a bit of a shock but I wasn’t really bothered by it. I would just do the same as I always do – always keep plugging away as best as my body allows. What will be, will be.

I had to enjoy brief walking breaks as I consumed my four gels along the way to keep myself fuelled. The last one was on the final climb at Waunfawr, which I was unable to run as much as I did last year (a PW year). Alternating between walking and shuffling I caught up with Barny C again, who had passed me some miles earlier (I can’t remember where). That came as a bit of a surprise. I thought he was gone for good.

Climbing that final hill brought us into the teeth of the ever-present gale from the right, which is worse now that most of the forest has been cleared and we can no longer enjoy its shelter. Wind chill was approaching its maximum so I started to run to keep warm as soon as the track began to level out and undulate before the slate quarry. My final gel had kicked in and I was overtaking again. Woo-hoo! By the summit a lean to the right and compensatory staggering were required to remain upright. I didn’t stop running though.

Through the gateway at the top, the path continues to undulate once or twice more before the final descent, which I'd been looking forward to all race. That final gel and the change of muscle use on the climb had left me feeling fully revived. I involuntarily reverted to fell-running mode. All the mid-race dragging my ar*se along those 'flat' bits was forgotten as I blasted downhill, weaving between the mincers and wincers, gliders and sliders, stumblers and grumblers. My new Brooks Defyance shoes were giving me amazing confidence on the wet, muddy, stony, grassy path. I didn't slip once. I was astounded to be feeling so strong, as if on a short fell race, at the 25th mile of a marathon I had run so slowly up to now. I was spotting, chasing down and picking off other runners I'd seen disappearing into the distance miles earlier as if they were now standing still, yet it was all seeming so effortless. I was just letting gravity do its job.

I hit the Tarmac and it became even steeper, such that even I had to apply the brakes a little to avoid runaway, but my well-seasoned leggies stood me in good stead to continue the overtaking all the way down to the High Street and right turn to the line, on this best of finishes of the best of marathons.

My time of 4:11 got me 638th position, which was pretty mediocre and not what I was hoping for, but at least it wasn't a PW after all, and my legs (quads, calves and knees) exhibited not one iota of soreness, DOMS or any sensation of having been used in the days that followed. 15 years of Ultras have had one benefit at least.

And how did the others do? Rather well it has to be said. Several marathon PBs were achieved among friends and forumites, on THAT course in THOSE conditions. Stuart finished 114th in 3:26 for a marathon PB. Ian finished 108th also in 3:26 on his first marathon. Iain finished 12th in 2:51. Jez finished 7th in 2:45. WHIPPETS!

The winning time was 2:36 by Rob Samuel. Second was Murray Strain in 2:38. Last year's winner Richard Gardiner finished third in 2:41.

First female was Kelly Morgan in 3:11. Hot on her heels in second was fellow Runner's World forumite Ruth Johnstone in 3:12. Hot on HER heels in third place was Ellie Sutcliffe in 3:13.

Did I mention whippets?

Pete's Eats was well patronised once again for post-race refuelling. After that came the bit I'd been waiting for all year – the Karaoke party in the Padarn Lake Hotel lounge bar. On the assumption that we would have run another wet one (we weren't disappointed) I had been dreaming all year of singing “It's Raining Again” by Supertramp. I recall looking through the MC's book of songs last year and failing to spot it. A check this year confirmed it, so I asked him. He replied that he had virtually every song we could wish for in his database, and that the list was only a small snapshot. He checked and there it was. . I hadn't sung a note since that very party a year earlier, the vocals on this one go rather high and I wasn't sure how the voice would perform, but it was so appropriate it just had to be done. I returned to our SNOD gathering to top up the Dutch courage in the form of more red wine and wait for my name to be called.

I suspect it was the first time that track had ever been accessed. It's not exactly a top Karaoke hit after all. Things were going swimmingly until the music started to falter, miss the odd fraction of a second here and there and the lyrics on the screen began to disintegrate into alien characters. Aargh. The moment I had dreamed of all year was about to fail in tatters. Luckily it didn't give up completely and we muddled through to the end. I suspect his bits must have become corrupted – seized up through lack of use by cobwebs and fluff. I'm an expert. I know these things. ;-)

Our Runner's World forumites' post-SNOD party, planned all year, rocked like never before until 12:30 (11:30 after the clocks had gone back). There were several rather excellent performances by other singers. I managed to squeeze in a few more – Elton John and Kiki Dee "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" (duet with Andrea), Neil Diamond "Beautiful Noise" (I think that was when the first of the 'laydees' got up onto the dance floor and demanded male attention; I didn't know where to put myself; she would have eaten me alive if there hadn't been witnesses), The Monkees "I'm a Believer", Queen "We Are The Champions" (a massed mauling by all the runners). X-Factor eat your heart out. It was a blast. I can't wait for SNOD 2012.

The rain had stopped, the stars were shining, the wind had dropped and it was very mild by the time we emerged. Much to our amazement the burger fan outside in the carpark was still open and serving. Being very close to the finish line it had served the crowds well during the day. Now it was aiding the runners' refuelling process, post revelry and post (ahem) imbibing. 'Dirty burgers' were consumed with relish to aid a good night's sleep and farting (there's nothing like ale and cooked onions for that, is there?).

What a weekend. I don't think it can be topped. Can it?