Race Reports 2014
Frank Manning decides to push things a bit further than the average half marathoner........
Conwy Duathlon 2014 Ė Frank Manning
So, I entered the Conwy half. Like two thousand plus others. Seemed like a nice scenic one to do, and of course thereís the club points!
Then I had a very silly idea.
As well as running, I like to cycle. It was on the Friday before the race I was just thinking to myself it was probably less than 100 miles to Conwy, and I couldnít think there were many hills in the way. I Google-mapped it; 82 miles. I punched a route into Strava route builder; less than 4000ft of cumulative ascent each way. I checked the weather forecast; mild-ish, dry-ish.
A decent time on the half would be out of the question of course; the challenge would simply be to ride there, run it, and ride back. I wondered if I was capable.
I mentioned the idea to Clair; ĎWhy?í The kids; ĎWhat?í A work colleague; ĎYouíre mad! Why would you want to do that?í I kinda kept it to myself after that!
Route planned in detail, weather checked for the umpteenth time (light rain in north Staffs at 3am start time moving off east Ė dry thereafter), bag packed with running shoes, shirt, shorts, food, tools, spares. Bike fettled. Lights, GPS tracker and phone charged. Into bed at 8pm and lie awake too long thinking Ďwhat the @*%$ am I THINKING??í Yes, this was going to be a challenge!
2:15am. Alarm. Decision time. Mental flip of a coin. I get up, get breakfast, put on cycle clothes, helmet, check lights, bag packed. Big gloves or little gloves? Thick or thin head-scarf? Extra Gillet? I look out the window Ö road is dry Ö go light, thin gloves thin scarf, no Gillet.
3:07am. On the road.
3:15am. Congleton road. Light rain and chilly. Forecast 8 degrees but feels more like 4! I pick up the pace to generate heat and head out of Congleton through Holmes Chapel into progressively heavier cold showers. The roads are pretty much deserted apart from a nutter [that's what the police said ... Ed] on a bike!
Middlewich and Winsford pass and Iím very cold. I head out through Tarvin, the showers ease a while but the roads are awash, I consider quitting. Still time to get home, hot bath, get in the car and go. Ö No. Weather will come good. I make it to Chester at around 5am. Bit of an eye-opener; council street-cleaners out in force noisily bashing the bins about and swearing. Drunks wandering about or collapsed in door-ways, thereís shouting and screaming from more than one direction, the sound of a night-club or party still thumping away somewhere. The town-centre is all lit up and looking both quaint and classy, but the back-ground noise Ö
I stop and root out some food, take a photo and put it on Instagram. My hands shiver uncontrollably, this is not good, I should turn back. Iím soaked through but the rain has been stopped for a while Ö I press my back against a shop window to catch a little of the warmth from inside while I eat a pot of cold pasta. Back on the bike and pedalling hard.
At Queensferry the heavens opened, proper down-pour, only five minutes but it hurt! My fingers were now burning with cold, toes numb, teeth chattering; this is all for the sake of saving about 250g of extra layer! I curse myself! The rain eases then stops. [I've just put an extra layer on with reading this ... Ed]
Shortly after Flint I turn inland and pick up minor roads into North Wales through Holywell and then the long climb up to Lloc. Across the higher ground in thick mist and finally dropping back down to Rhuddlan to be greeted with yet more torrential rain. I almost laughed at myself at one point as I realised I was swearing at the top of my voice at the rain to just b***&@y#%%# OFF and LEAVE ME ALONE!!!! As if it heard me it stopped for good.
The sky was starting to lighten now as I pushed on through the last 18 miles of Abergele, Llanddulas, Colwyn, to arrive at a long line of cars queuing to get into Conwy. It was 8:40am; I sailed past the queue, over the bridge and into the town. Iíd made it. A sweets and donuts kiosk by the harbour was selling stupidly small cups of watery hot-chocolate at £1.30 a go; I had three. Life-saver!
At 9:50am I stripped off my wet gear, put on my running kit, dropped the bike and rucksack at the baggage tent and joined the back of the crowd of thousands of runners. I was self-consciously shivering in an almost comical way. A hooter went off and I could see runners streaming over the bridge and away. It took a couple of minutes for us at the back to get moving but finally we did.
Itís like a reset button. Iím now a runner. It all starts again from zero. Iím in dry clothes and shoes for the first time in seven hours and inside the first mile my feet start to come back to life. I spot Karen Murphy a little way ahead then Karen Mackintosh is right beside me! Yay! Back to reality! ĎHi!í Friendly voices and smiles, a few of the usual ĎYouíre doing WHAT? WHY? Youíre MAD!!í and I feel like itís not such a big deal after all. Two miles, three, Iím now warm; HEAVEN! The run is all about the climb around the far side of the Orme, a long climb up around a far headland to be presented with a second climb around a far headland and finally a third climb. Itís very satisfying starting at the back; Iím passing people nearly all the way round the course. At about seven or eight miles we drop sharply back down to sea level for the long drag back into Conwy. I now start to realise Iíve pushed myself too hard. The last two miles are a real struggle and Iím feeling empty. Finish time around 1:49 but Iím more concerned about making it back; I never intended to run quick but thatís what Iíve just done Ö OOOPS! Karen and Karen finish close behind me, they look like theyíve been out for a short jog in the park! Iím stinking like a dead badger now and getting cold again in my clammy running top. The shivers are returning.
Karen and Karen invite me to join them for fish n chips Ö. Oh so tempting but I know if I stop now Iíll lose an hour of daylight and Iíll soon start to seize-up. Got to get back on the road. I pick up my bag and bike and make my way back along the harbour front to a spot sheltered from chilly the breeze. I pull the still soaking bike clothes from the bag and change into them. Push my bike up through an old stone archway to a cobbled street where a long line of stationary traffic is queuing to escape the town. I pedal slowly past them, past the last half mile of the running route where people are still streaming in, and off towards Colwyn Bay.
The sun is out, sky clear, clothing slowly drying and I feel myself warming up again. 82 miles to go.
I cycle for a few miles following the coast quite close to the A55. Just spinning the pedals, my speed flattered by a gentle tail-wind. The GPS computer on my bars displays distances covered, distance to go, moving time, current speed, average speed, gradient, altitude, rate of ascent etc. etc. etcÖ I count down the miles to go, the miles covered, constantly working out the percentages of vertical feet per mile left, ETA at current average etc, bit of a nerdy habit, always chewing over the data and statistics and putting into context of the job in hand. Funny really, Iíve never been any good at maths, my dad used to despair of me, but here I am, 50yrs old and turning into him!
Rhuddlan Castle appears suddenly on my right. Built in 1277 by Edward I, itís now a ruin standing quietly alone surrounded by roughly mown lawns and encircled by a simple wooden fence. I stop to take a couple of pictures; the sun is low over the horizon immediately beside it, putting much of the bulk of it in shade and shadow. It looks dark, lonely and unloved. It has the look of an old horse stood motionless in a field waiting for the end of time. My first reaction on seeing it is Ďwhy put it right beside this 1970ís housing estate?í
I immediately realise how silly that thought was but it was a wake-up call. My number-crunching had been getting difficult over the last few miles and now thisÖ Iím dehydrated! Iím carrying two 750ml drink bottles; since starting out at 3am Iíve only drunk about 500ml from one of them and had three small drinks in Conwy. Iíve also barely eaten; small pasta in Chester and two energy bars at Conwy before the run! I give myself a good mental kicking then tuck into various pies, energy bars and much of the rest of the drink. I feel re-inflated [perhaps the tyres needed pumping-up too? Ed ] and a lot more alert. Only 65 miles to go; for the first time, I begin to feel I might actually be able to make it home!
Bag packed and Iím back on the road.
I sketched out quickly the day before on Garmin route planner, taking slightly different out and return routes. Itís displayed to me as a thin black wiggly line on a plain grey background on the GPS on my handlebars: if the line kinks left Iím looking for a left turn Ö or maybe a left bend in the road Ö a little arrow crawls along the line to denote my position and alerts me with a beep if Iím off course. The route crosses a few hills along lanes Iíve never used. Without spending hours before-hand meticulously scanning Google street-view Iím pretty much trusting that a road is a road and I can ride it!
So here I am, a few miles now past Rhuddlan and the wiggly line tells me to turn right, off a nice fast smooth A-road onto a very unlikely looking little lane. The gradient rapidly increases and I climb 600 feet over the next two miles back onto the ridge of hills I crossed a few hours before. The lane becomes single-track. Moss and weeds in the centre, high hedges close in on both sides and there is a thick layer of wet mud and cow muck! Just as I think this couldnít get much worse I realise the hedges have just been scalped in the last few days littering the road with a carpet of thorny twigs!
My speed falls as I try as best I can to avoid the worst looking debris but the sun is rapidly fading and it gets harder to discern the texture of the road ahead. After a couple of miles I just think ĎSod it!í and blast through. Miraculously not a single puncture! Good tyres and good luck :-)
A long descent through Carmel and Holywell returns me to the Dee estuary just north of Bagillt. I turn South East along the A548 to Connahís Quay where the route takes me through a housing estate and industrial units to join a cycle-path along-side the Dee. This is a bit I was dreading. An off-road cycle path is a complete unknown until you ride it; it could be tarmac, it could be gravel, it could be muddy, it could be strewn with glass, needles and dog mess! Up a ramp, over a railway bridge, through a gate and join the path. Itís smooth tarmac. Level, flat silky smooth with not a soul in sight. Mile after mile, arrow straight, boring as hell Ö but just what I need right now!
Iím tired Ö very tired, mentally and physically. I do the sums. At the end of the path thereís only about forty miles to go. I know now I can do this but itís really starting to hurt. My left knee is starting to click with each stroke and my neck aches. A chip shop on the left Ö oh what a fantastic smell! Fat = calories = energy! Iíve got hunger pangs but for some reason I donít want to stop to eat; a couple of hours, perhaps three, and Iíll be home. No delays now. Press on!
Through the centre of Chester Iím surprised to see so much traffic for a Sunday night. Iím now starting to out-run them on the A51 as they queue to leave Chester towards Tarvin. Mile after mile of cars, hundreds and hundreds of them heading East.
My front light is out. I know itís out, Iíve known for a while. Why havenít I stopped? I stop. Half get off, half fall off the bike! Root out the battery pack, plug in the light to re-charge. Watch car after car after car slide past. Iíve a piece of pie left and some energy gels; they disappear along with the remainder of my drink. 30 miles to go. Not far. I text Clair that Iím not far now. Not that sheíd be interested Ö[she thought you meant Conwy Road, Knypersley no worries - Ed] more something to do; she thinks the whole thing is mad. Sheís right of course.
Now on auto-pilot I head home counting down the miles. Spinning the legs, working out the percentages, keeping it smooth and straight. Winsford, Middlewich, Holmes Chapel Ö Congleton; home-turf Ö home.
Park the bike. Up-load the GPS to Strava. Shower and into bed.
I thought I could do it Ö but I had to find out Ö
Phew - anyone knackered just reading that? Nice one and big "WELL DONE!", Frank.