Monday, 12 April 2010

Shattered expectations

Saturday I woke up at the ass-crack of dawn to run the 21-mile course of the Bath Beat. Local Bath peeps organized this event which comprised countryside treks of four distances – 12.5, 17, 21 and 26.5 miles. The Bath Beat is predominantly a walk with some crazy folks, such as myself, choosing to run it. The organizers email you written directions a couple of weeks in advance and it’s up to you to map that bad boy out on an ordnance map...if you can. I tried to use MapMyRun and failed miserably, because it’s nearly impossible to detect stiles, gates and the like on a satellite image. Also, although the distance to each checkpoint was given, there was no indication in the instructions of how much distance was to be traversed between sections.

So with little sleep and a whole lotta ignorance, I headed out on the run at 7:30 a.m. Not even a mile into the effing thing I was off track. Thankfully I wasn’t alone as another runner was ahead of me and we were able to sort it out and get back on track. The other runner, M, was an Englishman in his early 50s. We seemed to be going at a similar pace so we decided to stick together.

My hopes of a flat course were dashed after the second mile as the next three miles were straight downhill—a very steep hill. Since we were making a huge loop of the countryside, we were going to have to face that god awful ascent at the end. Balls.

M was a chatterbox which was good seeing as I’m usually a bit quiet around new folk. He talked and I listened, learning about the area, his running history and the like. We made it to the first unmanned checkpoint just fine but got a bit lost halfway to the second one. Thankfully M is from the area so we took a bit of a detour along the roads to get to Checkpoint #2. We were adding extra distance to our trek, but at least we weren’t lost.
Little parish church

The friendly folks at the checkpoint offered us sandwiches, cakes, water and juice. M’s wife was there, and at each subsequent checkpoint too, offering encouragement and knowledgeable support. She’s a runner too and had run the London marathon in under three hours. Dang!

After the second checkpoint, the remainder of the course was through fields (some ploughed) and along public tracks and footpaths (some pretty damn muddy). Almost all of it was freaking hilly. Eventually, some of the faster runners caught up and passed us. Everyone was very friendly. One guy was running the 26.5 mile course with his border terrier. I had to help the dog over one of the stiles as his owner ran ahead not realizing the little guy was stuck behind the fencing.
One of about 20 or so stiles we had to cross. That number doesn't include the kissing and regular gates we had to pass through.

Until the midway point we had been running on all the flat points and the gentle inclines, but walking anything very steep or treacherous. Considering M is a lot taller than me, I was at least walking at a fast pace. But M was obviously getting tired, so we were walking more and more of the course, and occasionally getting off track. At this point, I started to consider this whole thing like a leg of The Amazing Race. As long as we weren’t passed by any of the dedicated walkers, I’d consider it a win.
One of the many villages we passed through.

If I'd had blue face paint and a kilt, I would have yelled "FREEDOM!" as I flew down the hill whilst trying not to faceplant in sheep poo.

During one of the steep climbs, we came upon a field with a bull and some she-cows. I’ve been told never to get into a field with a bull. I was proven right. At first M and I tried to give the cows a wide berth, but the bull was having none of it and came towards us. M and I took the hint, backtracked and then made our way to the barbed wire fence at the side of the field. All the cows, including the bull, followed us, but we were both able to make it through the fence in time, although both of us got cuts from the wire in the process. Better than being disembowelled by angry cows though.
Mad cows.
Note barbed wire at bottom of photo. I think it still has a piece of my flesh hanging off of it.

M and I trekked through mud and passed farm animals of all varieties. More runners passed us, but thankfully no walkers ever caught up to us. The checkpoint volunteers were kind and interested in why an American was running the course. The Des Moines half marathon shirt I was wearing (thanks again, Razz) was a bit of a giveaway to my nationality.
A great place for a spa treatment

He looks like a bit of a baaaad ass.

I hope this doesn't apply to cattle too. Or people...

Mr. Ed?

My little pony...

At one of the last checkpoints, M’s wife quietly urged me to head on if her husband was holding me back. Though I knew I could have run a lot more of the course, I didn’t want to part from M. He had really helped me out in the beginning. If I had been alone, I would have gotten severely lost and probably quit halfway through. It was only right I stick with him now and make sure he finished.
There were also sections of stairs. My thighs are still feeling the burn. At least it was scenic.

And that’s exactly what I did. The final ascent was a bit of a slog as I knew it would be. I waited for M at the top and then we ran in together. With the terrain, all the walking, getting lost multiple times and the time spent chatting at the checkpoints, it took us over 6 hours to complete the course. I had expected to finish in no more than 4.5 hours. Shows what I knew.
I really hope that's just mud I stepped in.

My feet were dirty and soaked through from all the puddles and mud. When I got back to the B&B, I discovered the biggest blister ever on my big toe. It nearly doubled the width of my toe. Yikes.

Sore, disfigured feet aside, I had a fantastic time on the Bath Beat and saw some of the most beautiful countryside in the process. And of course I celebrated afterward with some tea and cakes with Mr. Darcy.
I hope you all have a great week ahead. Catch up with you when I can.

Later gators.


Jamoosh said...

For the most part it looked like a beautiful course. Sans the sheep poop, mud and death threats on the signage.

Morgan said...

Love all the pics and what a crazy course! Great job sticking it through to the end and making a friend while you were at it!

The Merry said...

It's not just a jog, it's an adventure!

MCM Mama said...

Sounds like it was awesome in its own way! Good job!

Jess said...

Wow, that sounds like an awesome experience! And it's absolutely beautiful countryside!

And I love the "sheep worrying" sign. I think sheep needn't have to worry about a thing :)

Glaven Q. Heisenberg said...

Just give the sheep a Xanax. No worries. Then you can do whatever you want to it.

And never fear. I looked in that sheep's eyes.

He wants it.

Tricia said...

lovely pics

Glaven Q. Heisenberg said...

Re: A New Blog Name:

How 'bout:

"Spotted Dicks I Have Known: A Yank in Britain"?

But if you use that, you might want to add the disclaimer, "No, not 'a yank' in that sense. If I had meant it in that sense, I'd've subtitled this blog 'A Whoo-wer in Britain'."

Despite what toyBuM sez, I have not given up being nice for April.

I'm just being less nice. Because being too nice sucks Spotted Dick.

Theresa said...

When you first mentioned this, I was wondering how you were planning to both navigate and run. Glad you found a buddy to hang with along the way!

And yes, I am very, very envious about your tea and cakes with Mr. Darcy.

Sun Runner said...

The picture of the "little parish church" looks just like the one used in the wedding scene at the end of Sense and Sensibility. How lovely. :)

Viper said...

Looks like a great run and way to be a good fellow runner to M. Cheers!

Lily on the Road said...

Wow, now I'm really jealous, what a fantastic run!!!

Thanks for sharing with the pictorial and the baaaaaad ass!

You Rock!!!

Jamie said...

That looks like a fun experience! And glad you found someone to keep you on course.

Ali said...

Wow! to the run, the scenery, the picture and the tea!

Seriously beautiful run.

The Enthusiast said...

It all seems so amazing. I'm happy you found a friend in M. One of my biggest fears when racing is getting lost - so serious kudos to you for getting out there without really knowing where 'there' was!

And on a side note, I need to get my ass back to England! :-D

RunnuRMark said...

Not sure which is better....the beautiful countryside or the tea and cakes. Both sound quite appealing.

BrianFlash said...

I love those signs in England. From my last trip I have a photo of one at a construction sight: "Children and Thieves Stay Out!"