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Alton Sports Ambassadors – Dave’s Amazing April!

April landed with an injury filled bump, however after a test run on my own I declared myself fit to continue training for the greatest race on earth – the London Marathon! My first long run of April was with Coach Lambert (Alton Sports’ boss – Toby Lambert) and he took me for a half marathon around the location of the Four Marks store. It’s out in the farmland of Hampshire, this means it’s very hilly and rural – we completed this run in 2 hours and 2 minutes and I was very tired, however Coach Lambert looked fresh and ready to start running.

The weekend brought a text message asking me to do some speed work, this meant a 7 mile run with a fast 5K in the middle. The weekend also included my final distance run of the training cycle, I did a 20 mile run on the Sunday, this was not about speed but time on my feet and seeing how I coped with that kind of distance, I completed the distance in 3 hours 43 minutes, this was slower than my marathon pace but I needed to do the distance to remind my body of what was coming soon. So that’s a midweek half marathon and over a marathon run in a weekend – I am an athlete after all.

The following weekend bought my final race before the marathon, the Salisbury 10 mile race. Amazingly after following instructions from Coach Lambert not to look at my watch and just run on feeling alone. I managed to complete this race in 83 minutes, this is another personal best for me and I knocked 3 minutes off my best time. My average pace was 8 minutes and 20 seconds per mile, when I think about it I can’t help wondering if that was me! The week following was a simple recovery run of five miles and then a 6 mile run two days later, both were way quicker than I could imagine I could have done a year ago.

With Easter upon us I was tasked with a further parkrun Sandwich. The run to and from Parkrun was steady and I was to run hard for parkrun, I did this without question and got another parkrun PB of 24:28! This coaching stuff was really starting to pay off. My training was starting to wind down and the big day was getting closer, I had two training runs left that week, this was a simple 5 mile run and a fast and hard 4 mile run two days later. My training was over but I was not a Jedi yet.

I still had the Expo to contend with and the marathon itself. The Expo or Running show as they called it was amazing, not only was I going there to pick up my number but I was also working for Alton Sports on the stand for a day. After collecting my number & taking some souvenir photos I reported to the Alton Sports stand in my Alton Sports Uniform (a really cool ON t-shirt) ready to help the general public with their purchases.

I was put on the Nutrition stand, my job was to help my fellow runners with gels. I was working on the SIS & High 5 stand, I did this for the whole day, my goal was to help as many people as I could get the right gel strategy for the race, I know if you get that wrong it can have an impact on your whole race, I was quite passionate with dishing out advice and I hope I educated as many people as possible I also got interviewed by LBC Radio that was really exciting. I was almost sad when Coach Lambert came up to me and said I needed to go home and rest, talking about running is nearly as good as running itself. As I left London that evening I realised that the next time I would be doing this was Marathon day, I could not believe how quick the time had gone.

Fun fact for my first marathon in 2016 (the BMO Vancouver Marathon) I did 398 miles in that training cycle, this training cycle I also clocked up 398 miles !! How did that happen? I do believe the planets are starting to align and something good was going to happen. Marathon day is here! How can you rest the night before a marathon? I still don’t know the answer. My day started at 5:00 AM I dragged myself into the spare bedroom where I had laid out my gear. I got dressed as quietly as I could and made my breakfast, 2 slices of jam on toast, I am not a big eater on race day and this is the most I could possible manage. I needed to be on the 06:30 AM train so I left the house in good time and amazingly the carpark at the train station was empty! 

We waited patiently for the clock to tick over to 10:48, I was actually shivering I was really getting quite cold, then we heard the air horn and the race had started, 4 months of hard training and now was the time to prove my metal to not only Coach Lambert and Alton Sports but myself. The support for this event was off the charts, from mile 1 – 26 the support and cheering was incredible and very loud, I had my inspiring music on but I did not hear one beat due to the noise of the crowd. As per my training I did not look at my watch and just ran on feeling and what I was comfortable with, I did my first 5K in 26:21 and the 10K in 54:19, I was not lighting up the tarmac but I was consistent. I did the halfway (13.1 miles) in 2:00.16 I still felt good and although I was taking in the sites I was very focused on getting the job done, I have to give credit to the crowd because they really helped during the low points of the race.

I have to confess it was not all plain sailing, I stuck to my gel strategy, I found one Maurten every other 5 miles and then a caffeine SIS Gel every other 5 miles worked for me to give me both energy and a boost when I started to lag, the plan worked up until mile 15 when I accidentally picked up a Lucozade Sport instead of water, I didn’t realise until I started drinking it, this did not sit too well in my stomach, however I slowed down and just let my body settle down. I was getting very pleased with myself because I had got to the 30K mark at 3:00:20 I was totally in control, so I thought, I then hit a bit of a wall I cannot explain it I just started to hurt and the more I pushed the more my hips, shoulders and legs hurt.

I did start to run-walk a bit…. A lot in fact, I let myself recover and then I tried again to get back up to speed, at this point the version of  Coach Lambert that lives in my head had turned into a drill sergeant & I was totally shouting at myself, my final 5K took me 38 minutes, this was not my most proudest moment but that was all forgotten once I crossed the line. I don’t really remember much about getting my medal and retrieving my bag . You will note I look a bit pale, I just needed a sit down and something to eat, I did feel better about 20 minutes later. By the time I had found the train home I was back to normal and was looking like a normal person, however I had acquired a London Marathon medal.

I have many people to thank for this journey, I did not do this alone, all the people who have helped me along the way were with me for the whole 26 miles & will not be forgotten

My thanks go to :

My Long suffering wife Claire who has watched me suffer and push myself.

My children for not making too much fun of the old man!

My Parents and the rest of my family for supporting me.

Nurse May for her medical advice 

The Management team at Urbis-Schreder for letting me take so many extended lunch breaks to do the lunchtime runs.

The Alton Sports team of Ambassadors for their ongoing support

The Alton Sports management team for help with equipment and general advice.

And finally to Coach Lambert for getting me through this and showing me what a 45 year old Hobbit can actually achieve & it is to him I dedicate this blog

Marathon times:

1st May 2016 BMO Vancouver Marathon 4:45.43

23rd April 2017 ABP Southampton Marathon 4:37.31

7th May 2017 Mississauga Marathon 4:31.05

7th January 2018 Walt Disney world Marathon 4:49.00

28th April Virgin Money London Marathon 4:28.03

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Alton Sports Ambassador – Serpent Trail 50k by Al Pickburn

Things have been ticking along running wise for the last month or so. My plans for this summer were to generally chill out, do more trail running and do the odd ultra distance race… Looking forward to the autumn I’ve got my eye on a 2nd marathon, which will probably be Bournemouth in early October. It was going to be the York marathon, but a overseas work trip rendered that option unviable. Bournemouth should have the advantage of being a qualifying event for the 2019 England Age Group (Masters) Marathon Championships, this is still TBC but has been the case last year and this year. It’s also very close to home, so easy for race-day!

But back to this summer, which has been quite warm…. Post London marathon I had my eye on doing some longer off-road racing to get a good change of training emphasis after months of tarmac bashing in the spring. I’ve run the 50km race of the Salisbury 5-4-3-2-1 event a couple of times in the past and that was definitely on the cards in mid-August. Then via Alton Sports I’d found out about the Serpent Trail Races organised by Freedom Racing. The races are based on the Serpent Trail, a long distance footpath on the South Downs in West Sussex which ‘snakes’ it’s way from Haslemere to Petersfield via Petworth and Midhurst. Freedom Racing organise a 100k race which does the full length of the footpath, a 50k starting halfway in Petworth, a half marathon starting near Midhurst and then a 10k on the final stretch into Petersfield. I considered the 100k option but decided instead to go for the 50k to see what level of fitness/endurance I would have ahead of doing the Salisbury 50k five weeks later.

The Serpent Trail 50k is billed as relatively fast and not too hilly, with the only major ascent with the first couple of miles. After that the course does undulate but nothing particularly taxing.

In the couple of weeks leading up to the race it became increasingly obvious that race day (Saturday 7th July) was going to be fairly warm with the forecast hovering around 25-27 Deg C. My kit choice focused on keeping cool, hydration and foot comfort. I have a Salomon Advanced Skin 3 (12 litre) Ultra Vest which can carry 2x500ml soft flasks on the front and take a hydration bladder on the back. This also enabled me to carry the mandatory kit consisting of;

  • Charged mobile phone
  • Simple 1st aid kit
  • Waterproof jacket (Inov8 Stormshell)
  • Foil blanket
  • Basic nutrition (couple of gels)
  • 1 litre of water (I actually started with 2.5L)

Given the weather forecast the jacket and space blanket did seem a bit excessive, but with a final cut-off set at midnight (from a 10am start) some people could be out on the course well into the night so some protection in case of emergency could be a life saver. I’d practiced running in hot conditions without any top on under the Salomon technical vest in my long run-commutes (see below) so i knew this would likely be ok for the race. Although I did coat my shoulders in plenty of Sport Shield silicon anti-chafe. Mizuno race shorts were picked for comfort and lightweight. As the ground conditions were hard and dry I went with my Adidas Boston Boost road shoes. There were a few stretches of tarmac in the 2nd half of the race, so I figured it was going to be better to be comfortable for those bits and put up with the odd slip or loss of traction on the looser sections of  trails. My kit was rounded off with a white cap (sun reflection!) shades, sunscreen and a packet of Saltstick Fastchew electroloyte tablets. The tablets turned out to be very useful!

Since the Endure24 weekend in June I’ve been running pretty much normally averaging between 60 to 80 miles a week mostly easy runs, with a few short races including; a couple of RR10 cross countries, the Sway 5 mile race and the odd parkrun. On a side note it was the 1st time I’d run the Sway race since I ran it as my first ever race 8 years ago in 2010, back then I was 104th in 41:46. Fast forward to 2018 and I did a little better coming 2nd in just under 30 minutes! I had hoped to in with a shout of the win, but the combination of an over enthusiastic run on the Friday before and an in-form friend Adam meant it didn’t happen! Aside from the racing the only other ‘interesting’ runs I did were a series of morning run-commutes in across the New Forest from home near Lymington to my work in Eastleigh. To start off I got as far as Ashhurst railway station (about 14 miles), but the next week managed to push myself the full distance (just over a marathon) after getting to Totton station to find that there was a 30 minute wait for the next train so decided to crack on with the final 7-8 miles across Southampton. The next week I did the full distance again on foot, but this time via the Hythe Ferry and up the River Itchen. Normally cross-Forest running requires a detailed knowledge of which bits are dry and where the bogs are, which usually limits route choices going towards Hythe/Marchwood. However the total lack of rain in the past weeks means the Forest is bone dry and you can run almost anywhere you want in the open areas!

Anyway, back to the Serpent Trail…. The race was held on Saturday 7th July with registration at Petersfield Rugby Club (the finish) and then the competitors get bussed to the start just outside Petworth. When I arrived Scott from Alton Sports was busy unloading his van, I gave him a hand while we chatted about the race and stuff. Then it was time to register and get my gear on. The start was at 10am and the day was already heating up before we boarded the buses for the 45min drive to the start.

The start was a small strip of grass along the road where the coaches parked up. We weren’t there for long, a quick race briefing from Tom the Race Director and we were off down the road for about 100 yards and the right straight up the biggest hill of the whole race! With no idea about the rest of the field I just struck out at a comfortable pace and waited to see who did what. After about half a mile of running on my own at the front another runner came up alongside me. This was Floyd Ratciffe who had come up from Cornwall to do the race (the race organisers are from down that way). We chatted for a mile or two before I started to pull in front and settled into watching out for trail markers, which was a circular disc with a purple arrow containing a snake pointing in the direction of the trail. In addition there were extra course markers placed for the race.

I had the course loaded into the Suunto Spartan watch which I’d borrowed from Scott to try out (ahead of getting a new Sunnto ‘9’ watch, more on that in a future post….). This helped a lot with way-finding as the course had a lot of twists and turns which meant I needed to be vigilant with where I was going. At just after 4 miles I missed the turning down a footpath off the road I was running down a check of the watch route line showed I was diverging from the course. I back-tracked a couple of hundred yards and found the trail marker, 2nd place had caught up with me in the meantime and he ran along behind me for another mile or two as we passed through the village of Fittleworth. I had spent a bit of time studying the course on the Ordanance Survey maps website, so had a good idea about a few of the key turns. this defintely helped at times in the race, but it was impossible to memorise the whole route so I was heavily reliant on the watch GPS route. Thankfully I had no other major navigation issues. The race had 5 checkpoints at 13, 23, 31, 39 and 46km. I only stopped at the first two to ‘dib’ my race chip, as I was carrying enough water not need to take on more. Although in hindsight I wished I’d stopped to use some to cool down…

The temperature in the first hour or so of the race felt quite manageable, helped by decent sections of the course being in the shade of trees. However where we came out into the open in was clear the sun was going to be very hot. The temperature was easier over 30DegC and there were a few parts which ran across open sandy heathland where it felt really baking, which combined with the tendency for these parts to be sandy as well made for hard going, By the time I got to checkpoint three at 31k I’d finished the water in my soft flasks, although I still had a reasonable amount in my back bladder, and had had several periods where I’d seriously wondered if I was going to make it to the finish. I stopped at the checkpoint (SW of Midhurst) which was the first CP on the half marathon route as well. I doused myself with water (including dunking my cap), refilled the flasks and had some Coke. Setting off again I felt a bit revived and now had some company while running as I caught up with the back of the Half Marathon field. The other thing that really seemed to be helping was eating Saltstick Fastchews, which are a chewable tablet that is formulated to closely resemble the electrolyte profile lost in sweat with; sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium. The recommended intake is 1-2 per hour for running, so I figured a pack of 10 would be fine for the 50k. These tablets turned out to be a bit of a revolation… I starting taking them early on the race and in the mid to latter stages I reckoned I could really feel the difference in my legs after taking one! Although they are quite salty to taste they have a pleasant lemon-lime flavouring which covers the saltiness pretty well.

The last 10 miles from CP 3 to the finish was very hard work, to the point which I had to slow to a fast(ish) walk in places. I think this was due to the combination of the external temperature and the heat generated by me internally gradually causing my muscles to seize up. I didn’t cramp up thankfully, but the resistance in my legs got worse and worse. I continued to reel in the half race runners, although as I worked my way up through the field increasingly I was exchanging run/walk sections with them.

The final CP (no.5) was around 5k from the finish and there was no sign of any other 50k runners behind me. I took a decent stop for a final cool down and drink. I didn’t have anything to eat at the CPs, having brought a couple of my own gels to carry, but there was a nice range of fruit and other snacks available at each one. The last stretch involved a couple of sections running along through the middle of cornfields before hitting the last section of road into the outskirts of Petersfield. the course finished running along a nice wooded path (which seem to go on forever!) and up onto the pitch of the Rugby club. I was loudly welcomed into the finish by my family, crossing the line in 1st (and a new course record) in a little over 4hrs 10mins.

Overall it was a great race, the course is generally very interesting, with not too much road running involved and some lovely woodland singletrack trail sections. The organisation by Freedom Racing was great and very smooth. It definitely ranks as one of the hardest races I’ve ever done but that was purely down to the weather conditions on the day. I highly recommend giving it (or the 100k, half marathon or 10k!) a go. More details can be found here.

You can follow Al’s running achievements on Strava / Instagram Twitter.