Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Roly's Run (9th November 2019)

I was talking to someone who had done the 20mile edition of this new event, it being the farthest he had ever run. It was now Monday morning some 48hrs after this race had started and he was, in his own words, “still buzzing”. That sums it up perfectly.

Roly’s Run, a beautiful race with an even more beautiful sentiment.

I am not going to go into that here but would urge you to read the About from the race website here; https://www.rolys.run/about.html. The race HQ was Swanmore, a place I have never heard of and am thankful to the sat-nav for getting me there. This is one of those places where, for me at least, I actually have no idea where I was with any accuracy, somewhere between Basingstoke and Southampton being the best I can do.

There were three race options; 15, 20 and 40miles. Routes that were expertly devised and were predominantly on trails but with a real mix. There was woodland, exposed ridge-line, steep hills, muddy paths, farm track, an electric fence to climb over(!), stony trail, some compacted gravel path, and a small section of good old fashioned tarmac. 


Add to that fact that there was some +2,700ft of elevation gain in the 20mile race and it made for a really challenging course. That this was RD Carlos’ first race in the role was quite a feat.

The 20mile distance was quite an interesting one for me because, and this is all about context right, it’s not that far. I had the route on my watch and not having used this before saw that there was a number on the display. I wasn’t sure if this was counting up, down or even if it was miles or kilometres. It turns out that it was counting down and was in miles. Over 20miles I really liked this feature and it did give me a psychological boost on more than one occasion, “it’s less than 5 miles to go…”.

At the race briefing before the start there were some words from Carlos then Rich’s dad spoke and read an email that he had received from someone in the aftermath of Rich’s passing. The email he read was one I had written and sent to them. This floored me and I went through a range of feelings but mainly felt like an impostor of sorts. Whilst I knew Rich I didn’t know him well, something I made clear in the email, that said I did see him more or less every day and we did speak every day. There will be people that knew him far better than me which I think is why I feel a bit of an impostor. It was a lovely moment and I will be forever proud, in a small way, that I made a contribution.

The best words though were reserved for Anna, Rich’s sister. With the crowd having moved from the hall to the start line she told a story of how Rich if he heard someone moaning about how they couldn’t do something would always mutter “not with that attitude” – this got a loud cheer. Everyone stood there had the right attitude for sure.

With that we were all off – a mass start with a lap of the field before heading into the woods and off.

As much as I like to take part in events and races I struggle with them a little. I pretty much want them to be over and start counting down immediately. I do not know why I feel this way but it happens every time. I have thought that maybe it’s because I don’t race enough because when I am training I have no issue whatsoever with the running and will run all the time. I am definitely intrinsically motivated and like doing my own thing. If anyone can shed some light for me please do!

Much like the Cheltenham half I found myself running alone, not fast enough for the lead pack but faster than the throng behind me. This suits me though, I train mostly alone and am comfortable with that.

The woodland sections were a highlight for me, running along twisty trails and jumping over roots and puddles is great fun. There were a couple of sections like this and they reminded me of some of the more pleasant aspects of running the Wendover Woods 50 a couple of years ago. Running in the woods always feels fast, maybe it’s the proximity of the trees and bushes or the agility and responsiveness that you need to avoid the obstacles that come at you with no pattern. Stride length and rhythm cannot be consistent as you adapt to the terrain just to keep each step as sure footed as it can be.

The aid stations were amazing and well stocked – as was the race HQ with tea and coffee flowing, cake and enough fruit to keep this vegan happy :) – the Marshall's were all lovely and super-positive on what started as a bitterly cold day for them and ended as a bitterly cold and wet day as the forecast rain moved in. 

The rain started with a bit of drizzle and I had around 3miles to go. I did think about stopping and putting my jacket on but figured that would be hard as my hands were frozen and it would be a lot of faff for what would be, hopefully, 25 minutes. I can cope with being wet for 25minutes. It was the right decision but by the time I reached the race HQ it was coming down pretty heavily. I was so grateful I finished when I did as for the rest of the day it was relentless and would have been miserable for anyone still out there.

That’s why we do this though isn’t it? This is not a unique thought but we spend so much of our time sat in comfy chairs and comfy environments that to truly know what you are about and what you are capable of takes disruption. Moving from a heated car to a heated office or home is nice sure, we all like that, but really what does it tell you? It takes real determination to finish something when it hurts, remind yourself that you paid for the privilege to be there, your suffering is what you paid for. You get it done not because you paid, that’s the last thing on your mind, you get it done because it matters and because giving up is not an option. It doesn’t matter if it’s a 5km or a 50mile it’s your discomfort and what you derive from that which keeps you moving. The joy on finishing makes it all worthwhile and pretty soon you will be looking for the next event.

The people that don’t get it are missing out. 

I often find myself getting lost in races. I stop looking for the signs and switch off a little. I had the route on my watch which vibrated every time I veered slightly off course (these were minor adjustments rather than wrong turns) but there was so much signage and route marking it was pretty impossible. Again, Carlos and his helpers did a fantastic job.

The 20mile included an out and back up Old Winchester Hill. Quite a climb in two parts with an exposed ridge line joining them. The wind on that ridge was howling and cold. Fortunately it wasn’t a particularly long stretch but for those coming along an hour or more later when it was raining that would have been horrible. At the top of the hill there was a stretch over some softer terrain to a checkpoint where it was then a case of turnaround and head back. This meant that you could see other runners coming through on the 20mile course as you passed them over this 5 or so miles out and back. What surprised me most was that there weren’t more runners. I am not sure what the split was of 15/20/40 mile runners but I didn’t see as many as I would have expected. It would be a long day for some.

Back at the final checkpoint and into the last 5 or so miles to the finish there was possibly my favourite section. Having commented on how running in the woods is great fun. There was a section on whati assume was an old railway line or something similar. Flat, straight and tree lined it was a beautiful stretch of trail with just the occasional dog walker. There was time for one final sting in the tail with a short sharp climb on wooden steps up from a field onto the lanes and the way to the finish.

The finish was in the field where we started. The rain was now coming down pretty heavily and yet there were a couple of hardy souls cheering and shouting. Possibly the most enthusiastic man I have ever met shouted my finish time as I crossed the line. I thanked them for cheering as I ran in then made my way to the hall to change and get some food.

In the hall there were a few finishers sat eating and talking about their races. I grabbed a veggie chilli (really tasty!) and some coffee, sat and ate. After a litre of 33Fuel energy drink and a couple of 33Fuel gels something savoury was welcome.

I ran this race at a high limit, based on heart rate, I was certainly working hard all the way around and did the whole thing on a litre of energy drink and 2 chia gels. I keep saying it but the products from 33Fuel are just excellent. No stomach issues and easily palatable. I am running the Broadway Marathon this coming weekend and will adopt a similar nutrition strategy. As for my diabetes, I started with a blood sugar of 12mmol and finished with a sugar of 5.9mmol. Nothing too excitable all the way round and, more importantly,  no issues. I set my Omnipod to a -50% basal rate for 7hours and used my phone to read my Libra patch as  ran. Perfect! In my kit bag I was carrying the libre reader (in case my phone died), my PDM for the Omnipod and also insulin pens (both Levemir and Novorapid). I have been in a situation before where on a really cold day the Omnipod has failed and I didn’t have any pens or anything in my kit bag. I often talk about the do-learn-do mantra and this is something that I definitely learned from. The other tp, and this was from the people at Omnipod, was to actually wear the pump on the abdomen when doing something like this as it is less exposed than it would be on the arm so less likely to succumb to colder temperatures. Needless to say I did this and it worked a treat.


Back in the hall I was handed a goody bag with some chocolate, a cap (Rich always wore a cap when he ran), a discount voucher for a run store and a rock.

The rock is significant as, and this is taken from the race website;


so everyone that participates will get a rock instead! Some time ago when Rich (Roly) and I were packing for an 86 mile coast-to-coast hike I saw a huge rock next to his backpack with a smiley face on it. I asked Rich what it was and he said "...oh that's 'Boris the Rock' ... we're taking him with us". His pack was so heavy that he sometimes had to be pushed up to his feet to get him going!

No-one knows what happened to Boris, but every runner/walker will get a 'mini-Boris', as a memento of the race. Feel free to carry it around with you on your next big run/hike!

Someone near opened their back and took the rock out. Each piece of rock was personally engraved. A lovely personal touch that frankly capped (see what I did there) a fantastic race and even better event.

I did ask Carlos if this was going to lead him to a new career as an RD to which he answered no but he did say that he would continue to put this race on. I, for one, will be there next year.