Sunday, 24 October 2021

My first year of running: 2011

 

*Pic: My first race. The 5 mile Beer race, Braishfeild. 

      It’s tough to know where to start this article as it is 10 years of my life and a very big part too. I’ll briefly go over how I got into running…

I was 36 years old in 2011 and the previous year I was 18 and a half stone. I had quit a 13 year smoking habit but had replaced it with food and was quite depressed after the passing of my mum.

  I planned to lose weight as a new years resolution. I took up my very first charity event. “Swimathon”. I had 3 months to swim as far as I could and raise money for Marie Curie Cancer care. I hadn’t long ago lost my uncle Geraint to Cancer too. I was a terrible swimmer but I could swim. I started going 3 times a week with my old man doggie paddle style. My friend “Steph” from work helped me out. I was eating healthy and the weight was coming off.

*Pic: The towel I got for raising over £500 for Marie Curie Cancer Care

   One day my work friend Steph saw me trying to run home from work in my jeans and carrying a big rucksack on my back. I would barely manage one lamp post to the next. I would be soon walking with some very heavy panting. She offered to help me. She said I could run a mile if we went really slowly. She said she new a nice route too. It was really hard obviously but one day I did that mile. A whole mile! I really couldn’t believe it. I was on a high.

I ran more, but not long after, my shins were hurting. It was the onset of shin splints. I didn’t know about running shoes and injuries. I went to “Up & running” for a gait analyses and got some new shoes. Asics of course because that’s what all the new runners seem to buy.

    I was back running in no time and training for my swim. I was doing so well. I had lost 4 stone in about 4 months! People said it was way too much as I lived off cottage cheese sandwiches and a yoghurt and fruit all day. I was always hungry and I was often tired too but I was very focused at the time. I did my swim, swimming 93 lengths of the pool and raising over £500 for charity.

        I continued to run with my friend Steph. I bought a garmin watch to record my running. I still remember running a mile in 8 minutes. I was so ecstatic. Not long after I entered my first running event. On the 12th of June 2011, along came the Braishfield 5 mile beer race. I was terrified. Would I get round the whole 5 miles? Steph told me that there was a hill in the middle which made it even scarier. We stood under the trees as the rain came down and I looked around as people were “warming up”. I didn’t understand why people were running already before the race even began. I was at the start line with my hand held water bottle. That water bottle came on every run. Off we went. I ran with Steph but at “the hill” (a railway bridge) she decided to walk and told me to carry on. I was hesitant about leaving her but did so. I came in and finished in 42 minutes and 12 seconds. Getting beaten by a guy named Derek Goodchild. I didn’t drink the free beer as I was now an athlete right?

*Pic: I used to be a 42 inch waist. I had a lot of clothes to get rid of. 

I was buzzing with a great sense of achievement after that race. What was next? I saw there was a 10k race only a couple of weeks away. The Lordshill 10k. I was tempted to enter it but wasn’t sure if I would get around. It was an extra 2k in distance. I sat at home on the Saturday night before the race and battled with my anxieties. On the Sunday morning I gingerly walked up to Oaklands school to enter on the day. Back in 2011 you could enter any race on the day and races did not sell out. Running was nowhere near as popular as it is now. I paid my £10 to a Lynda Cox and got my number. I was on my own here and knew no-one. I was petrified. I walked down to the start following other runners to Redbridge lane. It was the 26th of June and a very warm one. I think I left my handheld water bottle at home too.

 I got around in a rapid time of 48 minutes and 24 seconds. I grabbed a free banana and my first Lordshill glass tumbler and sat on the grass. I watched as others came in and chatted to some other runners. The Lordshill road runners who organised the race were so friendly and supportive of everyone. I wasn’t expecting this as Lordshill was a bit of a rough area I thought when I was growing up. I was expecting bullies and arrogance for some reason? It seems so ridiculous now!

 *Pic: Coming into the finish of my first 10k race, Lordshill. 48 minutes and some change. 

What next? On a Monday night I went to the common to join in on a Lordshill training session. Again, I was very nervous and stood to the side, not making eye contact or engaging with other runners. I felt like a fraud amongst these “proper runners”. I was “Looking out for Lynda” as the Hue and Cry song goes. I think it was them anyway? All I got was a Rob Kelly. He was the Koach at the time. He came over and introduced himself and made me feel very welcome and put me at ease. I got asked a few questions I didn’t understand about running but they helped me out anyway. I can’t even remember that first training session or what we did. I still remember Rob saying to me “One day you will be able to run to training and run home as well”. I really didn’t think it was possible at the time. The concept of this just seemed nuts!

The next thing you know, I have joined the club. £15 a year which I thought included UKA membership but speaking to Mike Letheren last week, UKA wasn’t a thing yet in 2011. I even went to my Natwest bank to get a cheque book to pay the £15. Most races back then had to be paid by cheque book or postal order There were no online entries then. We sure have come a long way in 10 years! Back then, when I joined, I think I was the 88th member? Not such a big club back then but very together and supportive.

Training was on Monday and we did a social run on the Thursday from Oaklands. I loved the Social runs more and they were still pretty well paced unlike the last couple of years I went along. You would have Jim Shepherd (then Chairman), Sioux, Helen, Derek Goodchild, Mike Letheren, Patrick and Angela, Mike Dukes, Di And Mike Mattingly, Roger Bradley, Luke Cole, Ian Rutherford, Dan Campion, Lawrence Chen, Ellie, Gary Painting, Kevin Yates, Darren Foy, Adam Wills, Rob Benham, Stuart Smith etc.. Luke would usually lead these runs and we would chat and be running 7.30’s. Sadly, the last time I went I couldn’t even get a group to run at 8 minute mile pace.

 
*Pic: My 2nd 10k race, Hengistbury head. 

I discovered so many new places on my doorstep too. Testwood lakes, Eling tide mill, Toothill etc.. I always looked forward to Ian leading as the pace was faster and the routes more scenic. Then everyone went to the pub. They always said it was a “Drinking club with a running problem”. Brilliant. I was one of the youngest at 36. I also met Tamysn and Stuart along with Larry Chen back then. There was lots of other faces too but my memory ain’t so great.

The proper training sessions were done with Rob Kelly (Koach) and Jim Davies (Captain). They would push you hard but always encourage you personally. Something I think that got lost over the years by those who subsequently filled the roles . There would never be a coach like Rob or another captain like Jim. Jim would know your race times. He would message you before a race and going through your plan. He gave his ideas and made you believe in yourself. He would be at every race to cheer you in and push you. No other captain did all that in the club when I was there. So much commitment. Cheers Jim. Great carmaderie and fun too. Always short shorts and vest on race day.

 *Pic: Still carrying that water bottle at Hegistbury 10k. 

There were some fantastic training nights at the club and lots of variety too. We did Sports centre hills. I’ll never forget Roger Bradley yelling at me to lift my head up when running up the hill by the pub. “Dean, how are you supposed to get oxygen in your lungs with your head down there?”. My first hill session was a mess as I didn’t quite get the concept. Stuart Smith had to explain it to me in the end as I was sprinting the downhills and jogging on the ascent..lol.

One of my most memorable sessions was running in a big circle with someone of similar pace. At the time it was the lovely Phil Dimech. We have to try and catch each other running in one direction and then that direction would change. So that the hunter became the hunted. No-one ever caught anyone because there was too much determination in both runners!

Angela Lee once asked me why I carried a handheld water bottle with me on an 8 mile social run. I never used that bottle again.

The 1k reps of Nursling industrial estate were legendary as well. A 1k loop around the estate dodging articulated lorries. I used to try and stay with Stuart Smith but I never could. I was close a few times though. Obviously, I barely even saw Campion or Mike Bisson.

 
*Pic: My first parkrun at Lakeside and possibly my first time in a LRR vest.

Over that summer of 2011 I did a few more low key races. The Sway 5, the Everton 10k, Hursley 10k, Hengistbury 10k and Stockbridge 10k. My times were certainly improving!

Then I got told about the HRRL. The Hampshire road race league. A league for the club runners of Hampshire. You were running for yourself but also for your club for a place on the leaderboard. My first HRRL event would be the Victory 5. It was the 18th of September. It was starting on a running track. My first time running on a proper running track. I warmed up with the speedy Mike Letheren. Lawrence and I were still trying to catch up with this guy in training. He was over 20 years older than us, but he was so fast back then. It would take us about 3 years before we passed him in a race! I saw a few other Lordshillers including an unknown then. “Who’s that?” I nodded in the direction on this lean dude with cool looking shades and muscles. “That’s Mike Bisson. He’s our speedy guy”. He doesn’t really talk to the likes of us”. I couldn’t tell if Mr. Letheren was joking or not. Apparently he was… Mike Bisson is a lovely and supportive guy. 

Anyways, I did the race in 33.44. Everyone was so nice and congratulatory towards me. I was on a high for ages. Being a part of this club now meant so much to me. It was so consuming but in the best way possible.

 The Solent half marathon was my first half marathon on 9th October 2011. It was another HRRL race. I came in with a time of 96.13, beating Stuart Smith in a sprint finish. I was over the moon. I also made the A-team for the Hampshire league. Nowadays, I probably wouldn’t make the “D-team”. That’s how much things have changed!

 *Pic: Stuart Smith and myself at the Solent half.

The week after was my introduction to parkrun. There was this place called Lakeside in Eastleigh and they held this low-key parkrun thing. I remember Lynda Cox picking me up with a very fat Lawrence Chen at the time. She drove us there and it was cold. We parked and there were quite a few Lordshillers there. In fact, I think it was a take over day full of Lordshill marshals and various Hampshire running gingerbread men were made for the occasion. Today would be another battle with Stuart Smith, but not really as he was super fast and I was miles behind him. I certainly got lucky at the Solent half! I came in 11th place with a 19.54. It was so painful that I vowed never to do a parkrun again. Stuart smashed it with an 18.53 that day and came in third. This new dude from Yeovil called Ben Pitman came first that day with an 18.49.

There were 172 runners that day. It was a busy one back then.

 

*Pic: Solent half sprint finish. That one time I beat Stu. 

After the pain and horror of parkrun. I had 15 days until my first 10 mile event. The Great South Run. By now I was entering races left, right and centre. I had the racing bug. I was running for the British Heart foundation as my Dad had recently had Heart surgery at the time. It was such a big event with the crowds, celebrities and being shown on T.V too! Such a fantastic day out. Every time I see South today though, I am reminded that weather girl Alexis Green beat me by 5 seconds. She also ran for Lordshill back then. 69.22 for me.

Then I did the Gosport half marathon and got a half marathon PB of 93.24. Almost 3 minutes off my Solent half time. This time I made the B-team. Another great day out with the club. A week later, I took Mike Mattingly’s place at the Downton half marathon and got another PB of 92.29. I remember telling everyone on one of our Thursday night social runs about my recent PB success at the time and Derek Goodchild said “Nevermind, that’ll soon pass”. We all laughed.

 

*Pic: Lorsdhill Road Runners in full effect. 

Then I tried to be sneaky. Searching for more races before the year was out. So, I ran my first half marathon in October and then I went a bit mad and entered a marathon in December! I had entered the Portsmouth coastal marathon but I didn’t tell anyone. I was keeping it a secret as I wasn’t sure if I could get around the whole thing. But nearer the time, someone found out. Next thing you know, I wasn’t alone. Gary, Ellie and Tim Withers had entered too. My name was seen on the entry list by someone. It was a great way to end my first year of running. 

It was a very cold and icy December morning. It was ok though. A lot of us went wrong that year on the course and ended up climbing over a road barrier up a steep bank. It was only when I did the race again that I knew this. The distance was still accurate despite this. 

*Pic: My first marathon. Southsea promenade. The Ice had melted and the sun had come out.  

I was struggling at 24 miles and walking. People were encouraging me and other runners told me to run a bit with them. It was so hard. I ran a bit and walked a bit. I was going through so many emotions. And with about a mile to go.. I saw Jim Davies with a tray of jelly babies. It made me cry, Jim made me cry..lol. I was super emotional. Anyway, I carried on and got it done in 3 hours and 39 minutes. I couldn’t use the steps to retrieve my bag from the Pyramid centre so had to use the wheelchair ramp minus a wheelchair. 

It had been a great first year of running. What a year for me. Running had opened me up to so many new things, people and places. It would inspire me and make me more positive and help manage my depression and anxiety better too. 10 years on and it still gets better.

Wednesday, 4 August 2021

Winchester parkrun revisited

          

           With the legendary Vegan runner Mike Harper moving away to North Devon, there was one last chance to meet up locally before his move. Winchester parkrun was the choice. It wasn’t an official Hampshire vegan runner’s meet up but a few of us were heading there anyway. I still had some unfinished business with this parkrun. This would be my 6th run at Winchester and I had never “Gone sub 20” on this course. In November of 2013, I had got a 20.30 and finished in 9th place.

It didn’t get much better either... 20.39 in 2014 with 11th place, and that time I went there thinking I was going to “smash it” and came away with a disappointing 20.28 and 28th place. That was in 2018. I can’t blame the course or the conditions, as on that same day, legendary Andy Greenleaf set a course record of 15.35 which still stands. My mates Kev and Paddy also ran. Kevin Willsher in 3rd place with 17.17 and Patrick Connors in 6th place with 17.48. Poor guys had to wait a good 3 minutes for me..lol. I still remember my upset at not even getting close. What had gone wrong? It may be a bit of a twisty course with some sharp turns but it was dead flat and pretty quick still.

 

Enter 2021. The second parkrun after the Corona virus pandemic (not that it’s over). I got up early, didn’t eat breakfast. Caught a bus at 7.30 to the train station. Got a train into Winchester for 8.17. I casually walked down to the North walls and Leisure centre. A few photos and into the Vegan vest for a warm up of a mile on the field. My breathing already seemed laboured. I told myself to stop worrying. It’s only a parkrun right? My 212th in fact. I carry on jogging whilst smiling and saying good morning to the happier looking folks. All the while, random thoughts come and go… I should have been collecting my 250th shirt by now. Stupid pandemic. I wonder where we are going for breakfast or coffee afterwards?

I spot a couple of the infamous Black and Green Vegan runner vests and hone in. Mike and Jon are the first to arrive and then James, Jhon, Matt and Ceci. Not a bad turn out at all for an unofficial meet up. We head to the start and Mike tells me to get to the front. Mike and Jhon say they are running together. Both are faster than me but today they are going to enjoy the easier pace, unlike me who will suffer and wish for my life to end on the way around.


Good to see that Tim is still a big part of Winchester parkrun. He is race directing again today and counts us down to start. I feel a lot more confident about the course today and I shouldn’t get lost like last week at Itchen valley. Off we go…

Ok, a sub 20 requires.. 3 miles at 6.26 pace and we allow 45 secs for the 0.1 of a mile. Yes, I still “talk in old money” as one vegan runner told me the previous week (not Jhon or Jon but John). That’s miles and not kilometres. This made me laugh a lot. I start off okay following the plastic discs on the grass of the field as we skirt around the outside. The grass feels a bit wet underfoot as the concrete path we are now on feels a bit slippery but all is good as we run into the next field and I thank the marshals. This is hard work! I sadly pass the first mile in 6.33. Maybe not on for the sub 20 but I can still go for a course pb which is currently at 6.35 pace. I am 2 seconds up on that at least. Take the positives! It doesn’t get any better though as I jump a few muddy puddles and dance around the roots of the shadowing trees above me. Mile 2 in 6.37. This now gives me an average pace of 6.35! which will equal my 20.28. No good. Now is the time to push harder even though I am already really suffering. On the final mile there are also now people to dodge as I lap the slower runners. I overtake on the left when it’s possible.

Keep pushing Dean. I struggle a bit mentally as I couldn’t remember if it was 2 or 3 laps. Even though (as Matt tells me afterwards) there are Kilometre markers on the course. Anyway, it’s 2 and a half laps and I finish my 3rd and final mile in 6.25. 3 times 6.25 would have been ideal but at least I should get a course pb but by how much? I run harder, a majestic sprint finish.. or so I think. I probably haven’t gone much faster but it feels like I have. The course isn’t necessarily short as all the parkrun courses are accurately measured. Yet I come in with 3.03 miles on the watch. To my surprise, this not only gets me a course pb but also a sub 20. The sub 20 I have been trying for. At last. I make it 19.54 but have to wait for the official time by text message later.


In the meantime, I walk back onto the course and cheer others in while waiting for my fellow Vegans and taking a few bad photos of them. Mike Harper blasts his way in with a sub 22 leaving Jhon behind. 21.56 for Mike in 43rd place but the most impressive thing is his age grading of 73.10%! Even with my time I only manage a 71.84%. Mike’s 403rd parkrun too. His PB here is 18.42. Well done Mike. Next was Jhon Cosgrove who was obviously jogging around and having a great time in 21.57 and 45th place. Jhon has run an 18.24 here! Two speedy Vegans indeed.

Then in came James Pittman looking quite comfortable and relaxed I thought. 22.35 and 53rd in position. His first time on the course too. Jon Taylor to follow with a course PB of 23.51 and 73rd place. This was Jon’s 252nd parkrun. The next day he managed a 22 mile run as well! Matt Salisbury next with a time of 26.38 and 147th. Another first timer here. Matt was taking it slightly easier today as he had run a pretty good half marathon time the day before for marathon training. Ceci was not far behind with 26.56 and 156th. Another first timer on the course. She may have been the last of us but she sure looked like the happiest out of the lot of us. Smiling on the way around. Well done all.

 
           It was then time to get a group photo and head into town for Coffees and a chat. We grabbed a stranger to take the photo and she said “say cheese” she instantly realised what she had said to a bunch of vegans and looked a bit embarrassed as we laughed and saw the funny side of it. She quickly followed up with “Say Tofu”. It was a lovely morning and I was so happy to get that sub 20 despite the pain and suffering all the way around. My official time was 19.53 in the end. That is now a sub 20 at 14 different parkrun locations. So close at many but some nowhere near. The adventures of parkrun continue… Go Vegan and don’t say cheese.



Monday, 26 July 2021

The return of parkrun

      

           I was in two minds whether or not to run a parkrun. There would be a lot of people attending after all. The plan was to possibly meet up with Mike Harper and a few other Vegan runners at Itchen Valley Country park. Even on the night before, I couldn’t decide. At least there would be fewer people at this location. I would wake up in the morning and see how I felt and if the weather was going to be kind that day. I heard there may be some more storms and it was going to be a 6 mile cycle each way at least.

 
             I woke early and looked outside. It was raining but very lightly. I could tell that I was secretly excited about the return of parkrun. My last one had been at Southampton on the 14th of March 2020. 16 months had passed by with the pandemic and continues to do so. Restrictions had finally been lifted though.

Itchen valley would be my 57th different parkrun location and I would gain an “I” for my parkrun alphabet. It would also be my 211th parkrun in total. That’s 211 weekends of getting up early and travelling around the U.K just for a 5k run! I love it. Pretty tame in comparison with Mike though who would run his 402nd parkrun and his 119th different location. I had some work to do.

 
               I sat on my mountain bike and decided to go back inside for a rain coat as there was a light drizzle. 7.40am already. What had I been doing since I woke up at 5.30am? It took a while to find my parkrun wristband and my trail shoes which I also hadn’t worn for 16 months. Toast and coffee were essential of course. I also looked at my cycle route on google maps. I had never been to Itchen Valley apart from when I passed part of it on the Itchen navigation trail a few times. I studied the route and realised it was similar to when I cycled to Queen Elizabeth Country park for that parkrun.

          

              Winchester road, Bassett, through Woodmill, turn left into Townhill park. Through the school cut way and then I was getting a bit lost in Chartwell Green. I just needed to find Allington lane which I did eventually and then into Itchen Valley Country park. It wasn’t too hard to find at all but I did do an extra mile and made it 7 miles. I got there at 8.30 and had plenty of time to lock my bike up at the “Go Ape” place. I changed into my running stuff and had a nice warm up looking for the start. I chatted to a few people. I spotted “Hammy” the legendary photographer who was already snapping away. I went over for a chat and a catch up. It was great to see him. It had been a long time. I saw Mike and a few other Vegan runners, plus I spoke to Daniel Baker. We joked about getting lost and following each other as the course seemed quite technical. It was a single lap and this was a new course, unlike the previous 3 lapper. They were low on volunteers but there was parkrun tape around the course to help us out with the route.


        Luis was our race director and got the race briefing under way. He was hilarious and made everyone chuckle. We should have listened to the instructions and directions closer though. The course details were a bit too detailed for some of us runners to remember. The numbers looked small here and there was a very wide start in a big grassy field. It was perfect and everyone seemed at ease and in good spirits.   

 

            3-2-1… Off we went. I couldn’t believe we were actually back at parkrun. I followed the pack and my breathing felt heavy already. I wasn’t used to running a 5k. I had been doing half marathons lately, so the pace was a bit quicker than I was used to. We did a lap of the field and towards the car park. We turned off but some of us out in front went right instead of left across a wooden bridge. It wasn’t long before the marshals were telling us so. It got a bit chaotic as we stood in various locations wondering which direction to run in. It didn’t really matter though as everyone was laughing and taking it in good spirits. It was suggested that we just run the first bit twice in reverse. This we did as we jumped over muddy puddles and dodged tree stumps. It was a proper trail course and I was glad that I had made the decision to wear my trail shoes.

 
      

           There were now other runners coming in the other direction. The right direction in fact! They were looking more confused than us now as we knew what we had to do. Some stopped and we’re trying to work out which way to run. We told them we were running the wrong way. Somebody told me I was running the wrong way too . We were going the wrong way but having the most fun..lol.

   


     After 2 miles, we were back out into the field where we started. We now went into another part which was much easier to navigate with signs. It was a lovely course through the woodland. It was dark and sheltered. Nice and cool. I had sped up a bit now as there was less mud and fewer puddles. 4k in I was thinking… time to put in a bit more effort? I didn’t know the course or if I would be running 4 or 5 miles due to the start or if it would be shorter than 5k. Step on it Deano, I told myself. Last K to go. It felt good and then I was back out onto the field and racing for the finish line. I then hear Hammy shout “Someone’s closing in on you Deano”. I don’t look around. I just put all my effort into a sprint. I can’t hear or see anyone though. But then, I get out-sprinted by someone nearly 15 years younger than me. No excuses though, I always lost in sprint finishes. I shamefully smiled and congratulated him on his victory. My finish token handed to me as the jovial volunteers applauded my efforts. I squinted to read my bar code. 6th place! If I’d known, I may have tried a bit harder I told myself. The great thing was that there were only 116 runners. My time was 21.46. First Vegan home but still 2nd in my V45 in age category. The winning time was only 20.47 as well. Mike came in 24th with a time of 23.38. Mike’s age grading was far superior though with 67.84% and mine 65.62%. I had compared the distance with a few other runners and all was good. I made it 3.03 miles which isn’t uncommon on a trail parkrun even though they are accurately measured. I always made Netley parkrun 2.9 miles. Something to do with the satellite getting lost in the woods, or so I’m told.

 


   It was a fantastic event followed by coffees and vegan sausage rolls at the Itchen valley country park cafĂ© where we sat outside and chatted about life, the universe and everything. Then a slight detour through Fair oak and Bishopstoke on my cycle home in the rain. Another 14 miles later I got home, ate again and napped while still on a high from the return of a great day and the return of parkrun and the loving parkrun community. Thank you parkrun, you have been sorely missed.

 

 

Tuesday, 6 April 2021

Good Friday's 29

  


      I wake up early on Good Friday and I have already decided that I am going to go running. Although, I’m not actually in the mood at the present time. Maybe I’ll run later? Where should I run? I’m thinking I want to do a long run but not fast, just enjoy a day out. An adventure run as I call them. I haven’t done one for ages. I drink cups of coffee and ponder upon ideas and options. 20 miles would be nice. Can I jog 20 miles slowly? My longest run this year is probably the 14 miler I did with Di and Mike Mattingly a few weeks back. I did do 40 miles of cycling too that day though.

Later on, an idea I like the sound of hits me.. I’ll get the bus to Romsey and run from there. I could run a 20 miler and do Ampfield woods, Braishfield and Slackstead. I always wanted to go back to explore Slackstead a bit more. I look at a map and work out a circular route. I know most of the route from cycling anyway. I have never run through Ampfield woods or around the Hillier Garden centre though. This was recommended to me by a couple of old ramblers I got chatting to at Baddesley Common. I say old, but they were probably only Septuagenarians. All the people around me seem to be getting younger nowadays!


I look at bus times and get my backpack ready. Spare socks, t-shirt, thermal vest, coat and extra shorts. Headphones for my music on the bus. Should I take a bottle of water on a 20 miler? Seems like a lot of weight to carry? I take it anyway, I can always bin it if I need to. I don’t have any food to pack though but then I remind myself it’s only a 20 miler! I stand at the bus stop donned in hat, coat and gloves. It’s nearly 11am already but it still feels cold. I go through the justification of my bus use. We are allowed to travel now. It doesn’t have to be essential but it does have to be minimal. 5 miles to Romsey seems ok to me as it’s the first public transport I’ve used this year! There are only two other passengers on the bus anyway and we are spread out as much as we can be. I have my headphones on and a playlist is playing from my phone. The sun is shining on the window and I can feel its warmth. I am really enjoying this journey. I feel very relaxed and at ease. 


I decide to get off the bus at the top of the hill by Romsey cemetery. I walk down the hill and take off a pair of long shorts to reveal my running shorts underneath. My running backpack seems a bit full. I am a bit worried about getting cold and ill as I am still suffering with what I believe to be long covid. The heart specialist thinks that my heart is enlarged and it is what is causing me hours of chest pain. My lungs also suffer some days and I have a lot of phlegm on my chest and lungs. Some runs I struggle to relax my breathing and my lungs burn, other days I am fine. I am told not to run too much or too fast. I ignore the advice as I can’t see the point of just sitting around and waiting for the good days of health. I have had my heart MRI but am still awaiting results. My chest pains are less frequent at the moment and always seem worse at work in the cold weather. The warehouse never gets warm. Anyway, I have 24 hour heart rate monitoring next as they found an anomaly in my original ECG test. Enough about being ill. I am bored of it after 5 months! The main thing here, is that I keep my body warm.

  I have decided to start my run at Tadburn meadows. There are a few people walking around and enjoying the good Friday sunshine. I still have my coat and gloves on though. I follow the river and run through the park. The path narrows. Walkers in front hear me coming and move aside for me to pass. I thank them all while smiling and saying my good mornings. Everyone seems responsive and in good spirits. Out in to the housing estate at Crampmoor and over the railway line, up the hill and I am at the Hunters pub. Straight on into Woodley and towards Abbotswood and Braishfield.


      I did invite my mate Kevin Willsher to join me today but he had a 10k time trial to do. It would have been nice to have the company but I also love all the thoughts and ideas that pop up on these longer runs. I swear I could have invented a million things and written 50 books, if only I had the motivation and drive! Anyway, Kev smashed out a 10k PB. 34:40 was his time. This was achieved while I was still in bed drinking coffee and feeling unmotivated.


I’m getting close to Braishfield and the garden centre when I see a sign for a permissive path. I take the unknown path and end up running through the garden centre. The old(ish) lady from Baddesley common told me that there was a nice figure of 8 to run around the garden centre grounds. I didn’t do it all and somehow ended back up on the Braishfield road and near the Dog and Crook pub. I was going to do Ampfield woods first which is further down the lane but now it will be Braishfield first and then Slackstead and back through Ampfield woods if I can find the route back through.


        I run through Braishfield with great memories of my first ever race. The 5 mile beer race. I decide to turn left and do some of the race route in reverse. I’m not sticking to my planned route and I’m adding on extra miles maybe. I am really enjoy my run though as the memories come flooding back. Almost a decade ago I stood under a line of trees, in an attempt to shelter from the rain at the start of the race. I remember feeling so nervous. My first ever race. Could I complete 5 miles? I heard there was a hill too!

My friend Steph from work drove me here and got me into running. We ran together during the race but I found I had to leave her as we got to “the hill” which was just a railway bridge. I was running up this road in reverse and realised that I was so lost in my own thoughts that I had already ran over the railway bridge and didn’t even realise it.

I finished that 5 miler in a time of 42.12. I was beaten by then unbeknownst to me… running legend Derek Goodchild of Lordshill Road Runners. I think he was just a sprightly V60 in those days. In fact, he shares my Dad’s birthday and is a year older than him.


         I think I did the 5 mile beer race 3 times over the years. The second time I raced it, I was a Lordshiller myself and obviously got an easy course PB. Myself and Mike Mattingly just stood around at the Beer tent happily taking everyone’s unwanted Beer and Cake tokens. I think Mike was more focused on the latter while I got as drunk as I could on London Pride.



Another year, I sat in blistering heat while Andy Griggs sat there with 3 tankards complaining that there was no competition and wanted his money back. He had beaten second place Ben Pitman by over 2 minutes. I also got to hang out with my heroes like Dan Campion and his family. Rob Benham who I ran it with one year and many others from the Lordshill family. I used to love sitting in that field, getting drunk and watching runner’s faces change when they had sprinted to the field and then realised they sprinted too soon and had a long way to run around that field yet. Kind of evil I know but great entertainment all the same. I was one of those runners 10 years ago.


       I get to the Braishfield pond and decide to take off my coat and gloves. I am actually sweating a bit now. I’ve only done 4 miles. I remind myself that this run isn’t about pace. It is an adventure run. I take a few photos and sit down on a bench with a view of the pond and ducks. Not long after, a cyclist joins on an adjacent bench. We get chatting about routes and where we are going. He shares my hatred for irresponsible dog walkers and dog crap. He’s from Winchester and is meeting a friend at the church in Little Somborne for Coffee and sandwiches. His friend is taking the sandwiches, but he says he’s running late and has forgot to bring the coffee. Despite his tardiness, he doesn’t seem in a rush to head off as we continue chatting.

I then decide to get going and wish him a great day as I run off towards Slackstead. It’s a lovely, quiet long country lane. There are no cars, just a flat road and fields either side. The run feels hypnotic and calming. I stop at Lower Slackstead and find a footpath. Should I take it? Could possibly be the Ampfield woods path? After a while, I make my mind up and deicide that I am really enjoying the quiet roads. So now I will run to Hursley. This means that I will not be using my return bus ticket from Romsey. Looks like I will be running home. I’m glad I have brought the water now as there are no shops for a long time.

 


For some reason I think I am going to come out at Ashley. The roads look similar. I have done so many roads around Hampshire that I often get them mixed up. I am never lost though. I realise where I am when I get to a junction and realise I have a massive hill to run up. I take more photos and look around. I haven’t seen a single soul since I left the cyclist at Braishfield. I can hear my footfalls up the hill and an increase in the speed and sound of my breathing. My head is down and as I listen for the intermittent calls of a woodpecker who is drumming away somewhere in the background. I am now being told off! My mind flashes back to another memory. I am hill training at the sports centre and the person shouting at me is another running legend. “How are you supposed to get any oxygen in your lungs if your head is down there?” It’s Roger Bradley. This moment has stuck with me for the past 9 or 10 years. Every time my form falters uphill his voice enters my head and I can see the Sporting view pub in the background. Head up, shoulders back.

I make the top of the hill and arrive at the castle wall when my phone rings. I don’t usually answer my phone when I am running but it could be the Heart specialist with some news of my results. It’s a mobile number but no name appears. It’s not the specialist. It’s my old friend Julian Molyneux who asks if I want to go skateboarding as he is in the area visiting his Dad. Julian used to live in Southampton but now lives in Lyme Regis. He has always been quite spontaneous too. Never any planning on his behalf. I am often busy when he visits as I always plan stuff if I can. I think we chat for 30 minutes and have a good catch up. Every now and then I look up and around as a pheasant squawk nearby. I tell him I have to go as I am getting cold now.

I put my phone away and think about my route ahead. I have a nice big downhill now but will be coming to a main road to get into Hursley. I shrug off the thoughts of the fast cars on the main road and blast the downhill but being aware that a car could be coming up on a blind bend. I can see the road but have found a footpath sign which heads towards the right. This must go to Hursley I am thinking. I climb the stile and run along and follow and narrow dirt path. It skirts around the outside of the field and then down to a wood and another stile. There is now a Hursley sign and a path beside the road. I feel pleased with my discovery and achievement.

I run into Hursley and think that I don’t want to run on the Ladwell road as it’s pretty dangerous. Although, I have run down the dual carriageway of the A337 at night before. Probably the scariest run ever. (Thanks to Google maps!). I’m up to my old tricks of adding mileage on. I decide to run up Port lane and towards Oliver’s Battery. Now I am reminded of the hardest part of the Winchester half marathon I did a few years back With Paddy Connors and Paul Carpentar. I pass the Oliver’s Battery sign but turn right across the fields which I know will take me towards Otterbourne. I will run home through Chandler’s ford that way.

I think I have only been this way once and was on my bike. I see a Private land sign but realise it is also a public right of way. A bit confusing for me. I get to Yew Hill nature reserve and enjoy the views and reap the rewards of the climb up to Oliver’s Battery now. Lots of green fields for miles. I now see a few people around. Ramblers, Dog walkers, families etc.. This bit looks popular but not too busy still. I see a man, his wife and kid come up from a gate to my left on the hill. I ask where is goes. He tells me and I decide to take it. It is downhill again but a lovely dark shaded run through dense woodland and overhanging trees. There are paths everywhere but I just pick one and keep running. It’s a lucky dip. I don’t quite come out where I thought I would but know where I am and decide to do another detour across Shawford down. Worse mistake ever! I wish I hadn’t bothered. Dogs running around everywhere. I am too scared to run. There are big dogs running loose and they look out of control. A pitball type dog runs up to me and starts sniffing me. I walk on slowly. Another dog jumps up on me and is very playful. Further down a dog growls at me and the owner explains that his dog is “just nervous”. I got bitten twice last year and twice the year before that. I am thinking about getting some pepper spray of something similar. How do I protect myself from these out of control dogs? I am starting to get really annoyed by them.

Anyway, I end up in Compton. I am getting hungry and I am also out of water now. I know there is a garage coming up, so I’m going to stop there. The place has had a big make over. It has a proper shop there now. You could probably do a weekly shop there. I put on my mask and buy more water, an energy bar and a banana. I sit by the river and eat my banana and get myself hydrated. I am about 18 miles in and feel ok. I could always get a bus from Chandler’s ford if I needed to or a bus from North Baddesley.

I run through some woods next to the garage. I don’t even know where they go to. What am I doing? I come to the end of the trail and end up on Poles lane. I know Poles lane is a busy, long road. It wasn’t actually that busy but it is very long and cars do drive fast. So I am running down the 2 -3 mile road and crossing accordingly due to blind corners and traffic. I know I am heading back to Hursley again and will have to take a left up to Chandler’s ford. I seem to be taking the really long way around. I get towards the end of Poles lane and discover a road I was looking for. I recognise the Victorian postbox (2nd edition) and see the sign for Silkstead. I then realised that I got Slackstead mixed up with Silkstead. The Silkstead trails will have to wait for another day now. Nevermind.

I find a field next to the road I want and run through it. I come to the end of the field. Do I turn left up the hill or right onto the main road? The main road looks too busy, must be left, right? Up the hill I go and wonder if this is a private estate ahead. There are big black gates but a little wooden gate to the side. I see a man cycling with his kid, so I make the decision to go in and run down the road. I follow the signs and turn left into a field. I just keep on following the “Public path” signs. Another field, which is a bit muddier. I turn right into a third field. I come to a gate and a road, the public path sign sends me left and up a hill. Where the hell am I? I seem to be heading in the wrong direction. Is it taking me back to Winchester? Will I end up in Alresford? 

I pass a massive house and up another big hill. I follow the road and the sign tells me to turn left onto another trail and then a road. I see an elderly lady (Octogenarian?) and ask her where I am. We get talking for ages. She is local and we look around and share the peace and beauty of the place. She tells me the history of the estate and the landowners. Will this place be gone in 5 years time? It would be a shame for sure. She tells me she had a fall in the winter and is a bit weary and cautious ever since. I am impressed with her mileage as she often walks to Hursley and back. “Are the cows out in the fields?” she enquires. “Yes” I say. Although there is only a few at a distance and they are shading under a tree. I am not keen on the cows when there is a lot of them and they try to pick up speed and charge at you. I tell her they were fine and I felt no threat. “Where am I going?” I ask. She tells me that I will come out at Otterbourne Waterworks. This information makes me happy. She asks me where I am going. She thinks it’s a long way. I decide not to tell her that I started in Romsey. It seems so far away and so long ago. I smile and wish her a good day. She says it was lovely to meet me. I run off smiling wishing that there were more people like her in this world.


   Yay. I’m on the main Otterbourne road. I run under the subway and I am soon running into Chandler’s ford. I used to work in Chandler’s ford so I know that I only have 10k to get home now. I had just ran that downhill to the station. My 21st mile was run at 7.38 pace per mile. I remember my legs aching a bit at 14 miles when I got to Hursley but now they feel fine again. Some may call it a second wind.



I decide to sit down and take a little rest. I need to take on more water. The sun is pretty warm now and my cap is soaked with sweat. I sit on a raised drain cover and eat my energy bar on the cycle paths of Chandler’s ford. I am doing calculations now. I will be home at 27.5 miles. Or I could do 26.3 and walk the rest?

        I get up and stretch a bit. My legs have stiffened up. I try and loosen them. There is still that option of the bus at North Baddesley I think. I run gingerly but the legs soon start to loosen again. I remember all my commutes back from work to home. I am on the route now and I remember how much uphill there is. Even though this side of Hampshire is really flat. Living in Cornwall, Devon and Wales had made me realise this.

     I have been running harder and faster towards the end. I remind myself that this is an adventure run again but I seem to want to run faster and harder anyway. I am still keen to run sub 8’s per mile. It would be impressive if I hadn’t stopped so much. In fact, I am really impressed with my own stupidity. 23 miles in and a parkrun to go until my first marathon of the year. I am just coming out of the climb of Valley park and into North Baddesley. Another hill coming up. This time I ignore Roger Bradley and keep my head down. I now have the worst running form. I am kicking my own calves again. My back hurts like hell. I didn’t even use the spare socks, t-shirt, long shorts. Thermal vest? It kind of reminds me of the time I cycled a 1000 miles and packed some books to read. I was way too tired to read after 100k a day..lol. I remember leaving a copy of J.D Salinger’s “Catcher in the rye” in my first hotel room and leaving other books at each hotel room afterwards. It’s weird what memories and thoughts come into mind on these long solo runs. I never get bored or lonely. Although I’m not sure it does any favours for my sanity and well being.



  I may as well make it up to 28 miles. I’ll do Balmoral road. Nice downhill. I am definitely stopping at 28 miles! I am really tired and super achy now. I guess I could get 29 miles if I ran through the Ordnance survey though? Luckily I arrived home and quit at 29 miles. I couldn’t tell you why I wanted to carry on running despite the pain and suffering. To be fair, I felt pretty decent for one of my long runs. I could have done 35 miles that day. Was it that I haven’t had any alcohol for over 5 months plus being Vegan? Who knows. Let’s just say, it was a good (Fri) day.

The first thing I did was go to Tesco and buy a can of coke and a Vegan ice-cream. Then followed 4 vegi samosas and whatever was in the cupboard. I had done 29 miles. It was an adventure run and I loved it. 6 hours had elapsed. I didn’t really get lost, although I didn’t know where I was at times. Hampshire is a wonderful place. Go and explore it.x