Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Castle Walls - a new twist to the Kenilworth Half Marathon route

Just over 11 years ago I did my very first Half Marathon and it was that race which brought me under the wing of an exceptional Running Club, that introduced me to some amazing people and inspired me to run many more half marathons, my favourite distance!

It was too good an opportunity to miss when I heard that Kenilworth Runners would be testing some tweaks to the Kenilworth Half Marathon route in preparation for the 2019 race. It was a cool Wednesday morning, and after meeting up at the War Memorial with Arthur's Allsorts Wednesday morning group we moved to the Leaders Estate Agents, sponsors of the event and where the race would commence.  

 Everyone was asked to start their watches and record the distance from that point as we headed up Borrowell Lane and onto Castle Road, but the first mile was stop-start, with a photo by the clock-tower and once inside the grounds of Kenilworth Castle, we took a rare photo opportunity and gathered in similar paced groups. My group was the 'mid-paced' group of around nine and a half minute miles which was being led by Dave Pettifer, or 'RunPops' a qualified England Athletics coach who has run over 90 marathons and has represented Team V65 GB in the European Masters Half Marathon Champs in Portugal! He also represented the V65s at the Chester Marathon in the last couple of years and won a BMAF gold medal for podium finishes!

We continued out of the Castle grounds back onto Castle Road and then headed down Brookside Avenue and on to Archer Road - a new stretch before joining the familiar Fishponds Road and round up John O'Gaunt Road, where the race historically headed out from Castle Farm. Now in our stride as we turned from Rounds Hill onto Rouncil Lane...we enjoyed a good chat and regularly compared our watch stats, distance and pacing.  The faster group led by Stu Martin had vanished ahead aiming for eight and a half minute miles, but we enjoyed the undulations along Rouncil Lane where we had a long view of the road ahead.  We stopped at the five mile point for a quick gel... 

Pushing on we turned onto Red House Farm Lane where there was a familiar cheeky hill, I recognised from the Warwick Half Marathon route and then we turned left down Kites Nest Lane, a lovely quiet section with no traffic and farmers fields all around. There was a surprisingly little incline to bear sharp right as we reached the furthest point out from Kenilworth and cut across to rejoin Red House Farm Lane and we looped back via another little loop on Honily Road.  We met Keith, a Kenilworth Runner who had been supporting on his bike but had pitched at just over halfway for us to have some water. It was lovely to see Keith as he had been one of the guys I originally trained with for that first Kenilworth Half Marathon I did back in 2008 (doesn't time fly!)  

It was great to know we were on the homeward bound stretch and our pacing was evening out - in fact it was quicker in the final five miles as we retraced our steps back up Rouncil Lane and back into town, with another gel stop at the 10 mile point.  Analysing Strava afterwards, this was the quickest section of the course, with two sections of downhill.. so it was definitely worth running slow and steady in the first half.. especially when you take on the infamous 'Rouncil Lane Hill'.  If you check out this Strava section - there are some very familiar faces in the top three women - one of which is Rachel Miller - who was running some way ahead of us!  I am currently 232nd :ol

So we turned the corner, from Fishponds onto Siddeley Avenue and then Randall Road which would take us back to the High Street where a sharp left would put the Clock Tower in our sights for the final furious stretch! My watch was stopped at the Clock Tower and it reported 12.85 miles - which was much shorter than my running companions.  I can only put this down to the auto-pause on my Garmin, particularly with the photo-calls at the beginning of the run and gel stops.  I was thrilled that it still entitled me to the KHM medal (albeit 2018) - it was a real treat and will be positioned proudly at the other end of my Half Marathon hanger, balanced very appropriately by the one I received in 2008... and a lot bigger!

Thank you so much Kenilworth Runners for making todays run a lot easier than the first one - in fact my time was a few minutes quicker and that included the stops and a good social pace!  It was lovely chatting away to Dave about races, past and future... I wish him all the best for the Yorkshire Marathon this year which is maybe one I should consider.  Nah..... stick to the halves! :D

Please watch a video of the route by clicking this link...Relive the KHM reccy

Monday, 17 September 2018

Take me to the River - The Shakespeare Hospice Dragon Boat Race 2018

I was immediately thinking after the Great Shakespeare Ride, what next?  I love learning new skills, particularly sports which bring out my competitive side.  However, I equally love feeling that team spirit, which I used to enjoy in cross-country running as part of a club.  Sometimes setting your own goals and training hard towards these results can be a lonely pursuit and I was missing that feeling of camaraderie and a shared goal.

The Purple Pirates practicing in
the Hospice Garden, Captain Gary at the front!
The next Shakespeare Hospice fundraising event seemed to come at exactly the right time and so I signed my name on the list for the upcoming Dragon Boat Race as part of the hospice team, The Purple Pirates.  I enjoyed rowing when I was younger, and I often would wonder on one of my regular trips to the Scilly Isles if one day, I could be part of a gig team.  I love the idea of rowing in the open sea, although living nearer the sea would certainly help!  Dragon Boat racing is something I knew very little about, but according to the British Dragon Boat Association, Dragon Boat Racing is

"one of the most exciting and inclusive water sports as well as one of the fastest growing water sports that you can take part in world wide."

Our Captain and hospice Facilities Co-ordinator, Gary Pryor, organised a training session for us with Pershore Phoenix Dragon Boat Club over in Defford one evening after work. Four of us joined a team of 11 others, one at the helm and the rest crammed two by two along the 40ft vessel!  Had we not done a thorough warm-up, I may have cramped up immediately as I sat down on the left with my hip tight to the edge, and my left leg awkwardly bending around and extending and my right one bent and pushing back on a small ridge under my seat.  As we pushed off, I was trying to remember the three important instructions, my number (10), my buddy (11) and returning to the boat - this was in worst case scenario of capsizing! We had buoyancy aids as well so safety was well and truly covered!

The session flew by, and I learnt that key to the success of a dragon boat race is synchronized paddling.  The power comes from getting locked into the rhythm of the boat, with all oar hitting the water together.  Our tempo was controlled by the helmsman who moved up the tempo at one point to racing pace, almost 55 strokes a minute.  The propulsion and the energy in the boat was exhilarating! We were on the river for over an hour and I tried and lean as far forward as Tim (a member) did in front of me and mimic what he did although this became exhausting. It was hard to concentrate on keeping my lower arm straight and on more than a few occasions I miss the stroke and either accidentally punched Tim in the back or splashed Gary sitting on my right. After the final race pace effort where we are almost carried along by the Pershore crew, I think all the Purple Pirates are feeling weary and we certainly felt ready for the sandwiches, biscuits and tea back at the club house.

After such an amazing training night, I felt sad that Pershore was so far away as their team spirit and hospitality was enough to make me want to join up to the club!  I enjoyed chatting with the group about their different races and competitions and when I found out that a couple of members would be helping us out at the race, I was brimming over with confidence.

The Village People claim
their much deserved
best costume prize. 
Brooks the buccaneer
- with a very large parrot(!)
There was a total 26 teams on the day, representing big and small companies in the area as well as some more experienced rowers... and they were all looking good! Adorned in everything from corporate technical t-shirts, to sailor hats, stripey shirts, a(nother) pirate team (arrrrrrr!) and... The Village People. I quickly realize that my cheap, last minute pirate buccaneer costume from Stone the Crows would not hold up to the heavy demands of rowing a dragon boat and the zip had already bust from trying to wear it over a technical base-layer. Despite my strong competitive streak wanting to have a shot at the costume award, I  relinquished to the power of the full set of Village People (who did win), but I was still optimistic about our team spirit and embraced the fun of the day!

I kept remembering the training session advice that, the strongest looking guys don't necessarily get that steady momentum going to successfully push the boat into the lead.  We had some time to impart our knowledge of the training evening to the other Purple Pirates and we had a small training session from our more skilled crew members. We were really sad that our Captain, Gary was very poorly so couldn't make the race, but we quickly rallied round and recruited some extra crew members including a couple of our Young Ambassadors. I chatted to one of the Hospice at Home nurses who had been on-call during the night before and she had been called out in the early hours of that morning, so I couldn't help but feel total respect for her and that she was still helping our team!  Di, our hospice's diversional therapist had created purple bandannas for the team and adorned with various pirate props, we were in the zone!

The Shakespeare Hospice Purple Pirates, ready to row!
Our first race, in hindsight, was pretty impressive, given it was our first ever go as a new team.  The inexperienced crew quickly learnt the ropes and we stroked out away from the Boat House and the bank of the Avon, with buoyancy aids and oars gripped tightly.. having been instructed by not less than three different people at this stage exactly how to correctly hold the oar! We rowed confidently to the starting point on our very first voyage and it felt coordinated and strong!

We turned just after the RSC and waited the signal to race the 150m stretch back to the finish by the Boat House. It was all systems go after three strong strokes, then a rhythm of 1, 2... 1, 2.... as we shouted out the numbers along to the drum-beat of our young drummer, Henry seated at the prow.  However, the other boat was close.... very close, and the slightly out of sync drumming and timing shouts from the opposing team was disorienting.  Hands wet, feet wet, faces sploshed and arms aching we pushed and pushed to get ahead of the other we passed the roaring crowds on the riverside and the finish sign, it was unclear who had won but the other team had clinched the lead by one second!  Our time of 1 minute 22 seconds was certainly respectable, although some way off the leading team, 'Ship Happens' (great name) who had an amazing 1 minute and 9 seconds!

We had two more heats to go, although where all the other teams seemed to get faster, with the one exception of 'The Village People' who dipped in the second round (but then made a spectacular comeback in Heat 3).... our team seemed stuck in a gear as our next time was only a fraction of a second better than the first time!  The final race we were five seconds slower - as our desperation to finish on a high turned into sloppiness and our co-ordination melted as we saw the other team steam ahead!  We said our final 'hip hip hurray' to the winning team and waited to spectate the grand final!

What an amazing site this was... six dragon boats lined up to battle it out in a furious race to the finish.  There was no obvious team out of the six in the lead, and the dragons were almost neck to neck as they were cheered to the finish... but the results show really how close they were!  All six boats came in at one minute and 10 seconds.... separated by fractions of a second!

After much scrutiny of the finish line video, the winners were announced, the Twyver Tigers!  Everyone cheered this had been an incredible day and a spectacular final!  I would certainly recommend anyone should give Dragon Boat Racing a go - it was fantastic for team building and just really good fun! Keep an eye out for the date of next year's race.

If you enjoyed reading this blog and would like to donate via our sponsorship page, we would be really grateful.  It is here: The Purple Pirates Just Giving Page