East Farm Running Weekend 26-28.08.17

Some runners may toss and turn at night and wake early with prerace nerves however I have slept badly with postrun report worries after a comment from my proof reader and harshest critic.

Well… I guess it is okay.  I just don’t think it up to your usual standards!  Maybe you have written too many reports’

I am not sure if Mary’s criticism was truly justified or if she believes that if I can’t write a semi decent postrace report I won’t run more races and by default she will overtake me on the number of marathons run!

So it is that I find myself up at 6am not to go for a training run but to delete and start the rewriting of a report that I posted 6 hours ago.

Another weekend in Dorset.

After thoroughly enjoying last year Bad Cow Marathon our first White Star Running (WSR) event we have returned to run a few marathons with them since.  Why only a month ago we survived howling gails, torrential downpours and ankle deep sticky oozy mud of the Dorset Invader – a race report to be enjoyed although written by Mary and not me!  So it was that we found ourselves back at East Farm in Dorset for another weekend of racing.

Accommodation in Dorset in August isn’t cheap, however a large cow field, a row or portiloos and some ‘Posh Showers’ (A portable shower block) provides ample camping opportunities only a few hundred metres from the start and finish. For only £15 for three nights camping – BARGAIN!

Our previous visit required the help of a host of other runners’ to help us pitch our tent due to the horrendous weather and the risk of being carried off by the wind.  This weekend despite the decent into darkness of our late arrival on the Friday night the tent was pitched with mastery that the staff at Go Outdoors would have been proud of for a display tent.

At the race merchandising shop you can purchase hoodys and tops adorned with the slogan, ‘Nutty Races for Nutty People’ This is particularly apt when you wonder over to the race start and see so many adults adorned with feathers or carrying tomahawks or dressed in leather chaps and checked shirts and denim to help out or even run a marathon or a half.  The theme being for the East Farm event being Cowboys and Indians

The change of costumes wasn’t the only difference for this event.  Despite taking place at the same site as the Roman Invader this time all the races were multiple smallish laps – although this does mean you do any hill lots of times!

The biggest thing that had changed was the weather.  Of all the times over the summer weekends I felt I could have relied on poor weather to aid my running efforts it should be the August bank holiday!  But no the sun and blue skies had arrived with a vengeance this would be a tough race for me.

The delight of a WSR event with camping is the opportunity to have catering on site.  No need for a camp stove, or milk kept chilled in iced water in a chiller box but a 200m walk down to the marque for freshly made filter coffee and porridge made from the milk of cows that normal reside in the field you are sleeping in.

Unfortunately for me and my pyjamas there was only one portion of porridge left (more was on the way but I like to eat 2hrs before I run so I couldn’t afford to wait to eat) so being the chivalrous gent I am, I let Mary have it and I headed out to the butty van.  Although it is bad form to try something new before a race, I did anyway!  The bacon and egg banjo was delicious the yoke perfectly runny – hence me ending up demonstrating why they are banjos. One arm out stretched with the roll to prevent further egg dripping on you, whilst the other hand desperately clutches a napkin to wipe off the hot yoke from the groin of your pyjamas!

Just before 9am the marathon runners assembled for a briefing from Race Director Andy and were told of the route and the number of laps we would need to complete for a marathon – 8 before a Cowboy rode up the hill to start the race.  Half marathon runners would start about 30minutes later.

The decent weather had done a lot to dry out the mud from the invader, now the vast majority of the ground was baked concrete hard and dusty, large chalk stones and flints jutting up, ready to trip a tired and wherry runner up.  Trail shoes could be replaced with road shoes for the additional cushioning offered.

Leaving the first field the route headed sharply uphill into woodland.  The deciduous leaves providing a shady cool haven from the sun.  Once out of the woods the bright pink gazeebo of the Lovestation (an aid station synonymous with WSR) could be seen on the far distance hillside.  The trail lead away from the delights on off through a freshly harvested field.  The long downhill only spoilt slightly by the challenge of a huge straw bale to leap upon to clear the barbed wire fence.  As the laps built the bail got higher and the leaps became more of a clamber.  Turning into the next field the path slowly climbed towards a gateway.  In the unrelenting summer sun this stretch was baked dry…  and doing a good job of slowly roasting the runners.

At the gateway the trail change once more to farm tracks between fields – suitable for tractors with large rubber wheels and good suspension to avoid the bumps, potholes and chunks of stone that formed the road surface leading to the Lovestation and a smorgasbord of treats for the hungry or greedy runner – Watermelon, orange, cherry tomatoes, cakes, flapjacks, sweets, cocktail sausages and mini scotch eggs to name but a few.  All washed down with water, squash, coke, cider or vodka – it wouldn’t be too much of a hardship to visit this aid station 8 times.

After leaving the Lovestation the route gently descended passed the edge of a corn field and grassy field tracks for 0.9 miles back to the farm yard and the start for yet another lap.

The regular lap pattern was suddenly changed on lap 3!  A large loop… involving a larger and steeper hill was added – was it that the initial loop was too short? Or was it all planned in advance to make the distance correct?

As a runner, it doesn’t matter – you just have to keep putting one foot in front of another and keep going.  This for me became harder as the temperature rose as did my heart rate despite regular walking breaks up the hills.  Mary on the other hand was delighting in the warm weather.  Gone was the Darth Vader panting for breath as we run replaced by a controlled puffing and even conversation!

At 4 laps we passed the halfway point but I had already recorded well over 14 miles.  A quick estimate made me realised that 8 laps would be well over 28 miles as the new laps were a significant chunk longer than the initial laps.  In fact I could see us crossing the line after 7 laps with my Garmin showing 26miles but with another loop to go!  A rather depressing thought especially when you are already suffering under the summer sun!

Over the course of the day we ran through the lap start and finish gantry we noted more and more runners turning up and erecting their tents in the field in preparation for the main event of the weekend, the 12hour team race.  Run as many laps as you can in 12hours either.  The sprawl of the campsite spread to fill the field and colourful team flags hung limp from poles as there was no breeze to offer rest bite from the heat.

On the way to the Lovestation we heard tell of the lead lady complaining of a runner cutting the course and cheating!  Thinking where the route could be trimmed I looked back to see another runner appear from the side road…  Had some decided to trim the course?  Were we the only ones to run the full distance?  These thoughts preyed on my mind as we completed our fifth lap.

Crossing to start again we were informed that we only needed to do 7 laps…  the number of laps had been revised. Later we found out that the runners cutting the course had been told to do so as they had already started their 8th (and unnecessary lap)  apart from the leading runner who was so quick she had gone past before they could redirect her!

The joy of discovering we only had 2 laps to go was quickly eclipsed by the heat.  Managing the pace to the conditions to run again tomorrow became paramount.  So a slow and steady run / walk ensued to make sure I collected the first medal of the weekend.

All thoughts of running the 10km race 3 hours later were disregarded as I sat in the cold water pool – made from tarpaulin and straw bales.  Despite the call of a horse medal (Mary’s favourite of the weekend) and the cold bath easing my tired leg muscles I decided to be sensible and get my prebooked meal and prepare myself to run the next day!

Clubs formed clusters of tents and really got into the team spirit possibly that sentence should be reordered to read Clubs formed clusters of tents and really got into the spirits as a team!  Much fun was had by many at the bar, so much so the cider and one local bitter ran dry.  Our perfectly chosen pitch was suddenly surrounded by campers we didn’t know, some of whom even came with their own portable projector so they could have their own outdoor surround sound cinema!  Thankfully they went quite before midnight!

The East Farm Frolic race again saw many runners in costume but also many dressed in lycra and vests ready to race!  Teams could consist of a four, trio or pair – how you split the running up was down to team tactics – Change every lap?  Run a couple and swap?  But of you wanted to try for a 100 marathon club recognised marathon you had to enter the team event as a solo runner  but you had the whole time to complete the race and you could even have a meal and a nap part the way through if you wanted!

The 12 hour race kicked off at 8am, however the breakfast didn’t start serving until just before 7, my golden 2hr before running totally out the window.

Mary and I had formulated a race strategy during the previous days run – well we had over 6hrs to consider it…  Start at 8am (we had the option of starting when we wanted but we had to have started our last lap before 7:59pm.  So if needed we had over 12 hours to race!) when it would be coolest and do as many laps as quick as possible before it warmed up too much for me.  Then slow or if needed stop and cool off and when ready or when the temperature in the day dropped if we wanted start again – it would mean that lap would be very slow but it would count.  We only needed one lap to get the medal so we would see how we felt before deciding how far to run!

All this strategising went out of the window with the late breakfast.  Rather than delay our start we went with the 8am start.  With porridge still firmly resting heavily on our stomachs we set out at a gentle walk – at least today we knew what we had to do from the start if we felt up to a marathon…  One big lap and 7 small laps.  The first two miles went slowly past but by the fallen tree, my start to run point from the previous day, I broke into a gentle trot and was followed by Mary – getting to the bales I lept with balletic grace getting my leg over with ease.  It looks like a nice gentle ease into running really does work for me as I felt far better running this day than the last.

During the previous day, as the race went on we saw fewer and fewer other people on the course as they finished their 7 or 8 laps (4 for a half) and went to the bar.  At my pace lapping another runner on a marathon is unheard of.  Although over this weekend I did manage to do it a few times 😀  However the joy of the 12 hr event is that new or refreshed runners from teams are added in every lap – so it was not just the solo winner (22laps!!!) passing us but others frequently.  Seeing so many others on the course and their words of encouragement really kept me going.

Much to my distress and Mary’s joy, teams were given a special baton to run with to signal who was the designated runner – not a metallic tube like the world championships but a squeaky animal (a dog toy!) Solo runners didn’t need to have a them – so I didn’t get to have one to squeak constantly for the whole race L  Although I did request everyone passing to give it a squeeze!  Some runners are far more fun than others!

After just two laps I knew another marathon was on the cards for me as I felt so much better than the previous day despite it being significantly hotter.  My strict run / walk strategy monitoring of my heart rate was working despite the temperature shooting up rather than having a break between laps I kept going – okay I may have stopped at the farm shop for a Magnum but that was only because they didn’t have any ice lollies.

For many laps I did consider doing one or two extra just to say I ran an ultra especially when a cloud passed in front of the sun and you could feel the temperature noticeably dip BUT I really wanted a postrace recovery Costa so I had to finish before the shop shut!

Finishing just before the 7 hour mark I collected my medal and goody bag before having a lovely warm shower.  To my delight inside the goody bag was a box of Dorset biscuits, a bottle of Dorset brewed real ale and a squeaking cow toy.  I have yet to stop squeezing it – unless it is tidied away by Mary I can see it being squeaked around many marathons in future.

Hopefully my proof reader will show signs of greater approval of this version of the report than the last.  If not I might be going back alone to my next WSR event as I mysteriously forget to enter her into any future races.