Saturday, 16 July 2016

Mersea "Round the Island"

So on Sunday 26 June, I returned to the scene of one of my most difficult ever race experiences, determined to lay a few demons to rest. I'm not sure I quite managed that - it was just as tough as I remembered, even though this time I wasn't attempting to race it - but I'm glad I went, and the Mersea Island Lions Club is a great charity that will have benefited from the event. The following is a brief write-up of the day.

The beachfront start. Running well on sand is a real skill. Sadly one I appear to lack.

Multi - Terrain

I've never tackled the big ultras, or one of those horrific mountainous races - not even an obstacle race - so for me, Mersea 2013 ranks as the hardest race I've ever done - tougher even than the couple of marathons and the 30 miler I've struggled through. It's not the distance - in 2013 it came up just under half marathon distance, this year it was a little more, but normally that would be easily manageable. It's the multi-terrain nature of it which is the real difficulty. The race follows the perimeter of the island as closely as it can, so of course there are beach sections, and also sections alongside the estuary that separates Mersea from the mainland - and these are generally through long grass and nettles, etc. The route also takes you through one or two fields, a few very muddy dirt tracks and a very small road section - something of a relief. So a bit of everything - and none of it feels at all nice! Not even the road, by the time you get to it!


Previous blog posts can be found using the menu on the right
So why the toughest race I've done? This was the first race where I felt the groin pain which was to drag on for the next 3 years or so, and has only recently been sorted . If you have no idea what I'm on about, you've clearly not read any of my previous blogs. I'm not saying you should by the way. I'm not that cruel. You're reading this - that's more than enough for one day. If you do want to read previous blogs, the injury gets mentioned a fair bit, so I won't bore you with the details here. But effectively it meant I found the whole race deeply unpleasant, and what I'd hoped would be a decent race performance near the front of the field ended up being a struggle to get round in sub 2hrs, running in constant pain throughout. One of the very few occasions when, on reflection, I think I really should have pulled out. 

No matter - I got to the end, and vowed never, ever, to go back. Ever. 


So, there I was. Back. The recent operations seem to have sorted the problem finally, and I'm in need of increasing mileage and time on feet as I try to build up my base fitness and move into a period of marathon training. So what better way than to run just over half marathon distance, with my good friend Bernadette, with both of us taking it nice and steady? Having enjoyed a fantastic evening in the company of Lionel Richie the night before (at a concert I mean -  we're not mates or anything) we turned up at Mersea ready to take on the worst the island could throw at us. That finishing medal was going to be collected, come what may. Call it our Destiny if you like. (Apologies in advance, I may feel the need to sneak in a few more Lionel songs here and there - for some reason, it's the kind of thing I find funny. Remember, you are not contractually obliged to read any further.)

Is it really an island?

It really is an island! And you do pretty much stick to the edge
Glad you asked that - and perhaps not in the traditional sense, in that it's part coast, part estuary - but it does look like a real one on my Strava route picture display thingy. It's not far from Colchester, and is reached by - erm - just basically driving on to it using a road. However, that road - the Causeway - does get covered at high tide, at which point it all feels a bit more island-ish. It's actually a very beautiful place, with some great views, and would make a lovely day out. Trouble is, I've only ever been there to run round it. Which is hell. Truly.

Tough irrespective of pace

So whether racing or taking it a bit more steady, I think you really just need to ignore pace for this one. That probably holds true for most of these multi-terrain races, and certainly for all the off-road ultras that so many of my friends do. You couldn't even have compared times to previous years, because I think the route alters slightly every time depending on various factors - I understand damage to the sea wall was the reason the distance was about a mile further this time than 3 years ago. And there was me hoping coastal erosion may have helped my cause somewhat. It's hard to overstate how far the distance actually feels - never mind round the island, it felt like we were running All Around the World (yeah, I didn't know that one either, but it fits nicely.)

I remember in 2013 being hugely frustrated when I hit the beach sections and saw my pace drop off dramatically - but that's obviously the case for everyone, and I think had I been racing well it might have been the kind of race when I concentrated more on position than time. As it was, everything went out of the window that day. It certainly wasn't Easy. Although it was on a Sunday morning.

This year, pace was even more irrelevant as we had decided we just wanted to get round - but to be honest that didn't seem to make it any easier! The beach was just as energy sapping, and the long grass sections seemed to drag on for ever. Fairly early on in the race, we hooked up with two more friends - Kevin, who I know a little through Bernadette, and Ruth, who we've both known for a while through parkrun in Colchester. After we'd all said Hello (sorry about that one) the four of us decided to tackle it together, and there was a fair bit of gallows humour on the way round as we took it in turns to try and convince ourselves we were having fun. This may or may not have involved such childish antics as jumping in muddy puddles - socks were already soaked at this stage so why not?! The rain held off for most of the race, and at times it actually got pretty hot and muggy, but some heavy downpours overnight and on that morning meant the course itself was already pretty sodden.
Although we ran side by side for most of it, this is me, Bernadette, and Ruth (in the pink) just trying
to get through one of beach sections. Kevin had buggered off somewhere by this point. Understandably.

Time on feet

We wanted time on feet. We got it. At one point I began to wonder if we were going to be there All Night Long. (Oh come on, that was a good one. Sort of.) In the end we finished in around 2hrs 50 - over an hour longer than I'd run for in any one session since my final operation, and only a very small amount of groin discomfort, so pretty encouraging. I've been warned by my physio to expect a bit of this, and that it doesn't mean the operations weren't successful, just some kind of referred pain from the hip since it's not fully healed yet. In theory it will be after 16 weeks - which must be in a couple of weeks from now - but my consultant has said that in terms of racing, I should really expect it to take 6 months before I can consider myself to be competitive again. This ties in with what happened after the first op, when it took half a year to get back under 20mins for 5km, (and almost under the 90mins for HM) - so I have another couple of months really before I have any right to anticipate decent times again. 

The most positive part of my Mersea Island expedition was that I felt great the next day - whereas at the height of my injury I would have struggled for days afterwards - so I was actually pretty happy, all things considered - if not exactly Dancing on the Ceiling (that's the last one, I promise.)

What's next?

Following Mersea, I was feeling really encouraged about my mileage and my fitness was improving all the time. A few good speed sessions had led me to believe I may do quite well at the upcoming Civil Service Sports Day, where I was entered in the 1500m and the 5000m. Spoiler alert - the day didn't quite go to plan - but as with Mersea, I reckon I can drag that particular story out into a whole blog post of its own (and I've practically already written it for a work newsletter article, so it's just a cut and paste job really.) That, and the injury that arose from it - yup, another one! - will be the subject of my next effort. 

In the meantime, my marathon training is well under way, albeit predominantly cross-training due to the aforementioned problem - and I'm feeling surprisingly positive about Chelmsford, which is less than 16 weeks away.
Targeting a sub 3hr 30 marathon. Wait, there's a 5k option?



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