Categories
Outdoors Running

Karrimor X Duo Bt Belt 00 running belt review (and a lesson in poor customer service from Sports Direct)

Find out why you should avoid the Karrimor ‘X Duo Bottle Belt 00’ water bottle running belt/waistbag – and probably avoid Sports Direct in general – in this review.

One of my goals this year is to run a marathon. But instead of taking part in an organised one, I’ve decided to run the length of the River Itchen – about 30 miles.

Like my walk along the same route, this won’t be an organised event. So, with miles of rural running, one of the challenges of running this distance is how I can carry enough liquid to see me through.

Clearly, a hydration sack with a bladder is essential. But I’d also like to carry some sports drinks with me for the extra calories and hydration they provide.

You might also like: How to choose the perfect pair of running shoes

Karrimor “X Duo Bt Belt 00

There are some nifty running belts with water bottles you can buy from specialist running shops. First up though, I thought I’d see what the Karrimor “X Duo Bt Belt 00” (£12.99) from Sports Direct had to offer.

Sports Direct has been useful to me in the past for running basics like water bottles, running socks, high-vis vests and the like. That said, I’ve always felt a bit guilty about shopping there with its questionable working practices.

The good news then is I won’t be shopping there again.

Before I get onto that though, let’s start at the beginning.

On a whim

I decided to buy the Karrimor X Duo Bottle Belt 00 on a whim really.

I was at my parents’ for the weekend and had forgotten my running water bottle. So when I popped into the store to buy another to use for my weekend run I also took a chance on the X Duo Bottle Belt 00. As something I could wear around my waist, I thought it could work well with a hydration sack if I wanted to carry water and sport drinks on my runs.

If all went well, I might even be able to use it on my big run of the Itchen Way.

Well designed and comfortable

On first impressions, the X Duo Bottle Belt 00 ticked all the boxes.

It looks well designed and feels comfortable when you put it on.

There are two water bottles that hold 300ml of liquid each as well as a good-sized zipped pocket that’s useful for your phone, keys and even gloves, a hat, a small banana or a snack bar. There’s a pouch in the pocket to keep things out of each other’s way.

There’s also a pouch on the outside, although anything you put in there could fall out.

The bottles are shaped so they fit nicely on your hips and there’s a little string hook to keep them in place as you run. That said, the bottles felt secure in their pockets. So there’s probably no need for the hooks, which might get in the way when you reach for a drink if you do use them.

The caps on the bottles worried me though. On close inspection, they didn’t seem to be sealed meaning there was a chance some liquid could escape before you take a swig. However, I assumed the design would stop this happening. But you know what they say about assumptions…

Good fit

All was well with the belt when I headed out on a 10-mile cross-country run. The belt was easy to tighten while running, which resulted in a good fit.

There was a bit of movement, but I got used to the sensation of the pouch and belt on the small of my back quickly.

Sticky legs

However, as per my earlier inkling, the bouncing as I ran meant the bottles started leaking just a few minutes into my run.

This probably won’t have been too much of an issue if I had water in the bottles. But, like most people who go running for more than an hour or so, I had taken a sport drinks with me. This led to the unpleasant sensation of sticky legs for the duration of my run – uncomfortable on this winter’s day and possibly a bigger problem in the summer when there are flies and wasps about.

The issue wasn’t so bad when I’d emptied about half of each bottle. But, whether it’s a design fault or problem with this batch, the water bottles on the X Duo Bottle Belt are clearly not cut out for the job.

A pity because the belt performs well otherwise. It’s comfortable and I needed to tighten it only a few times over my 10-mile run. The pouch on the pocket also meant that it protected my phone from the elements while keeping in secure so it didn’t bounce around as I ran.

Easily stained

The only other downside is that the plastic on the bottles stained easily, which made me question how hygienic they are. My previously clear bottles were bright orange after just one use with a sports drink. Ugh.

Now, I know what you’re thinking – buy cheap and get cheap.

Fair point. But as I said, Sports Direct has served me well for running gear in the past. This time, I’d just have to return a product. No big deal.

A lesson in bad customer service

Unfortunately, this was a big deal for the manager in Sports Direct in Whiteley.

First she “tested” the product, which in this case meant dismissing my account of the true test of a 10-mile run with the product in favour of filling a bottle with water and giving it a good shake.

And despite it failing the test (there was now water all over the counter), she concluded the product wasn’t faulty because she’d squeezed the water out.

However, I don’t think she really believed in what she was saying. She seemed more worried about explaining the paltry refund to her superiors than retaining an up-until-now happy customer – a customer who has just given some great feedback about one of the company’s products that doesn’t do its job.

Fortunately, I’ve needed an excuse to stop shopping at Sports Direct for ages. And while they’ll hardly notice the loss of one customer, I’ll definitely be feeling better about myself for shopping at a retailer that doesn’t have a record of penalising its staff for taking long toilet breaks.

Info: If you’d like a water bottle that leaks down your legs when you go running, you can buy the Karrimor X Duo Bt Belt 00 on the Sports Direct website. Or you can just have mine, complete with orange staining on the bottles – I’ve no use for it.

Categories
Outdoors Running

What’s in my half marathon race bag?

On Sunday, I completed the Southampton Half Marathon for the second year on the trot. (And I beat last year’s time by three minutes – whoop!)

This meant that after several bowls of pasta and countless slices of white bread on Saturday it was time to pack my bag for the big race.

My half marathon packing list

As well as remembering the obvious things like my race number, there are also a few other things I like to take to make sure I’m comfortable on a race day.

Here’s what I pack in my half marathon race bag. What’s in yours?

half-marathon-race-bagRace number

Well, obviously. No race will let you complete without your race number.

Even if any did, I don’t have a running watch. So I rely on the chip on the back of my race number for my timings.

Safety pins

I generally try to fix my race number to my running top the night before a race.

However, this isn’t possible if I have to collect it on the day or if I need to wait to see what the weather’s like before I make a call on what running top to wear.

In these cases, it’s worth remembering a few extra safety pins in case they’re in short supply at the venue.

Water

Rather than guzzle down a load of water before a race, I try to drink plenty in the days leading up to it.

However, I do like the odd sip of water on the way to the event so I’m hydrated beforehand.

It’s also good to have some water handy after the race in case I forget to pick any up at the finish line.

Sports drink and water bottle

If I’m doing a run of more than 6-7 miles I prefer to take a sports drink rather than plain water. This is because I find I usually need the extra calories it provides (approx 140 calories per bottle) to see me through.

I’m used to carrying my own drink when I go running. So I do the same when I run a race. I do this even if there are sports drinks available at the race’s water stations as I don’t like to risk drinking something new that disagrees with me on race day.

Jelly Babies

As well as the calories from a sports drink, I usually need a bit more energy from another source when I’m running for more than 90 minutes.

I’ve tried those gels in the past. But, to be frank, I find them disgusting. Plus they play havoc with my insides and I have enough trouble in that department on long distance runs as it is.

Up step Jelly Babies. As long as I can munch them with some water, they do the job admirably.

I’ve also tried Maoam “Pinballs,” which are pretty effective too. But they make a distracting racket in your bumbag or pocket as you run.

Spare top

Unless I’m sure what the weather is going to be like on the day, I take a spare running top in case I have to switch from no sleeves to long sleeves (and vice versa).

Unfortunately, I made the wrong decision to go with long sleeves at the Southampton Half and I ended up getting hot when the sun came out after a few miles.

Bum bag

My current running shorts don’t have pockets. So I wear a small bum bag to ferry my Jelly Babies.

I’ve also been known to carry my cameraphone on more picturesque races like the Camelot Challenge.

Banana

My race day breakfast is a white bagel smeared in peanut butter.

After that, I chomp down a banana for a pre-race energy/potassium boost while I’m milling about on the start line.

Vaseline

I’m lucky in that I don’t have to put up with too much chafing while running.

That said (and please don’t try to picture this), my nipples do get a battering if my running top gets damp. So, a little bit of Vaseline provides some much needed protection in case of rain.

Bin bag

Growing up, the only time you were allowed to wear a bin bag was as part of a crudely made Halloween costume.

Nowadays I wear one to keep me (relatively) warm on the start line once I’ve dropped my jumper off at the baggage tent.

Spare t-shirt

Many races don’t have showers at the finish line. So it’s nice to slip into a fresh t-shirt before travelling home.

That said, you get a decent free t-shirt at the end of the Southampton Half Marathon. So I didn’t bother packing one on Sunday.

Contact info

Finally, I stick a slip of paper with my race number, phone number and name in my bag so the organisers can identify it if the tag goes missing.

Over to you

What’s in your race bag? Is there anything else I should be packing to stay more comfortable on the day?

Categories
Outdoors Running Travel

Running tour of New York’s Lower West Side including the 9/11 Memorial and the High Line

Whenever I visit a new city, I always pack my running shoes.

Not only is going for a run a great way to get some fresh air and work up an appetite for a hotel breakfast. It’s also a useful way to see the sights without getting stuck in traffic or climbing up and down the stairs to the subway or metro.

I’m doing the Southampton Half Marathon in a few weeks. So, I went for a sightseeing run on the first morning on our recent trip to New York City to explore some of Manhattan’s Lower West Side and get some training in.

Thanks to jet lag, I woke early. However, the clocks had moved forward an hour overnight for Eastern Daylight Time. So I didn’t manage to get out the hotel door until 7.30.

We were staying at Yotel on 10th Avenue/West 41st Street, not far from Times Square. I headed west and picked up the Hudson River Greenway, which was about a five-minute jog away.

This shared-use path runs for 11 miles from the George Washington Bridge at Washington Heights to Battery Park near the financial district. It’s part of the 32-mile Manhattan Waterfront Greenway, which circles the island.

Once on the path I went south along the river over the Lincoln Tunnel. It was still pretty quiet on the streets. There were hardly any cars and only a few other runners, cyclists and rollerbladers using the path.

There are a few places where you have to stop to give way to traffic. Generally though, you can run for a prolonged period without stopping on this path. It certainly beats jogging along the inner city streets where you have to halt every few moments to cross roads.

As I continued towards downtown Manhattan I passed numerous piers on my right-hand side. Many of these are dilapidated with worn dock posts peaking out of the calm waters, harking back to a more prosperous past.

Hudson-River-Greenway-piersOne of these is the infamous Pier 54, where the ship that picked up the survivors of the Titanic docked in 1912. All that’s left of it now is a rusting gateway and a bare expanse of concrete jutting into the Hudson.

Had it made the journey, Titanic would have arrived at Pier 59, a few hundred yards away. This is now part of the Chelsea Piers complex, which includes sports facilities such as a golf driving range and basketball courts as well as a marina and a television studio.

Chelsea-Piers-Freedom-TowerNew York’s trapeze school is also nearby, housed in Pier 40. If you’re lucky, you’ll see the students practicing on the roof of the building. Today though, there was nobody flying through the air – all was quiet.

Away from the river’s edge, there are occasional glimpses of the Empire State Building through gaps in the cityscape to the west.

Empire-State-Building-Hudson-River-GreenwayThere are also some great views over the water to the skyscrapers in downtown Jersey City.

This group of buildings would get a hell of a lot more plaudits if it wasn’t vying for attention with the most famous skyline in the world across the river.

Hudson-River-Greenway-1Naturally, the centrepiece of downtown Manhattan’s own skyline is the new One World Trade Center tower, which fills the gap in the sky left by the twin towers.

As I progressed, it rose higher and higher above the surrounding buildings as a constant reminder that I was nearing my half-way point.

One-World-Trade-Center-Hudson-River-GreenwayThe Statue of Liberty also came into view, obscured by a light sea mist that had moved into the bay.

To reach the 9/11 Memorial I left the Greenway path and followed the road past Stuyvesant High School. “Stuy”, as its known locally, is a government-run school. But students need to pass an exam to go there. Only 800 out of more than 28,000 entrants are accepted.

Actor Tim Robbins is one of many successful alumni. Other former students include four Nobel prize winners.

When I arrived at the 9/11 Memorial at the base of the tower the streets were still deserted. Strangely, the tower – the tallest building outside of Asia – didn’t seem that big alongside the many other colossal buildings that surround it.

I was more awestruck by the memorial itself. Here, two sunken pools with waterfalls are set within the footprints of the original towers. The names of those who died in the September 11 attacks, as well as the victims of the 1993 bombing at this site, are inscribed into the parapets around the edges of the pools.

911-memorial-north towerI paused for a while at the site of the north tower. There was still nobody around and I felt an enormous sense of desolation as I read some of the names of the people who died that day. It was incredibly peaceful down there.

Early morning visitors began arriving at the plaza as I strolled over to the south tower memorial. As I got closer, I could see that many of them were firefighters.

Soon, there were tens then hundreds of them circling the memorials and putting flowers and small US flags into the inscriptions of fallen colleagues. It was an amazing sight.

Firefighters-911-memorial-2

US-flag-911-memorial-south towerThey were there for the second annual New York City Firefighter Stair Climb. This honours the 343 FDNY firefighters who died on September 11 as well as others around the world who have died responding to disasters.

More than 300 firefighters were taking part in this year’s event. Their challenge was to climb the 72 floors of 4 World Trade Centre – a nearby skyscraper – in full firefighting gear. Suddenly, my own challenge of running back to my hotel after a few hours’ sleep didn’t seem so difficult.

The event eventually raised $72,000 for charity.

Firefighters-911-memorial-1I could have stayed to soak up the unique atmosphere at the memorial plaza for hours. However, I was also keen to get back to freshen up and make the most of the day. So, I was soon retracing my steps north along the Greenway path.

The city had woken up a bit more by now and there were a few more people out enjoying the fresh Sunday morning air.

About half way back, I decided to duck into the Meatpacking District to pick up the High Line, an elevated urban park that traces part of a former railway line.

The city demolished most of the railway after it closed in 1980. However, a 1.5 mile section survived the chop. Over the years, this became a haven for wild flowers and grasses and was a favourite haunt of urban explorers who would access the structure illegally.

Then, after a long campaign spearheaded by a group, Friends of the High Line, a section of it opened as a park in 2011 with another section opening three years later. Yet another section is due to open in 2017.

I joined the High Line at its southernmost tip on Gansevoort Street, just past the Whitney art museum. There are access points at various intersections along the way.

High-Line-Entrance-Gansevoort-StreetThe park’s designers have sought to protect the wild charm of the line following its demise. The pathway is made up of light-coloured concrete slabs that complement the grasses and plants that border it.

Long stretches of railway track are still in situ as a reminder of the park’s former incarnation. There are also several lawns and even a sunken viewing area with glass windows set into a viaduct.

Spring arrives late in New York. So the park looked a little bare today. However, it was still interesting to follow the path as it snaked through a mixture of residential and commercial buildings. It offered an unusual perspective of the Chelsea streets it crossed every few hundred yards.

High-Line-New-York-3 View-From-High-Line High-Line-NYCAt one point the High Line passes underneath the Standard Hotel. Later, it goes through the second floor of the Chelsea indoor market.

Here, hiding in the shadows, there was a gent selling an odd mix of artwork, t-shirts and scrap iron.

High-Line-New-York-Chelsea-MarketAs well as the benches you’d expect to see in a park, there are also wooden sun loungers scattered along the route.

This definitely seems like a great place to escape the hubbub up the streets below and soak up some rays in the height of a New York summer.

High-Line-New-York-Hudson High-Line-New-York-4 High-Line-New-York-2 High-Line-New-York-1When I hit the building site that signals the end of the High Lane, I rejoined the streets of Chelsea and negotiated the several blocks that stood between me and my hotel.

The city that never sleeps still hadn’t fully woken up. But I still had to stop regularly while I waited for the lights to change at each junction.

I used each pause to snatch a glance at the menus of the various bars and bistros that line this up-and-coming part of the city. A mixture of lethargy from my run and my jetlagged body telling me it was lunchtime (rather than 9.30am) soon had me salivating.

In all, it was a great start to my few days in the Big Apple.

Info: The 9/11 Memorial is open from 7.30am to 9pm every day. The High Line is open from 7am every day. It closes at 7pm in the winter and 10/11pm in spring and summer. Yotel New York is at 570 10th Ave, New York, NY 10036.

Route

Categories
Outdoors Running

How to choose the perfect pair of running shoes

I’ve been running for pleasure (an oxymoron if ever I’ve heard one) for more than 12 years.

When I started out, I didn’t put any thought into my footwear. I simply rocked up to the nearest out-of-town sports shop and chose a shoe from a well-known brand that looked the part.

A few years later I finally got the message that not all running trainers are the same – it’s important to spend some time choosing a shoe that matches your foot shape, running style and the environment you’ll be running in.

For example, do you have wide or narrow feet? Do you land on your toes or heel when you stride? Are you going to be running on roads, on a treadmill, cross-country on trails or an athletics track?

You need to take all this into account – and more – when buying your shoes.

If you don’t, running will be more of a struggle than it should be. You’ll also be risk of more injuries, from the occasionally blister to long-term joint problems, if you wear the wrong shoe.

Getting fitted by the experts

Choosing the perfect running shoe sounds like hard work. Luckily you can can expert advice for free at the many specialist running shops that are dotted around the country.

One chain of these shops is Runners Need. I’ve been going to its Port Solent outlet in the Snow + Rock shop for the last couple of years for my running shoes. I’ve also had good experiences in the past with Alton Sports in Eastleigh.

File 21-02-2016, 13 28 46I returned to Runners Need last week recently to replace my Brooks shoes, which were starting to look a bit ragged.

Here’s how you can choose the perfect pair or running shoes with the help of a running shop’s experts.

Identifying your needs

First, they’ll want to know where you plan to do most of your running. This is because different trainers are suited to different surfaces – there’s no point buying a pair of lightweight trail shoes if you plan to do most of your running on roads.

There are even nuances between the same category of shoe. Some makes or styles may be more suitable for treadmill running, for instance.

They’ll ask you about your current shoes too, to find out if they cause you any issues. I always bring my old pair along so they can see them first hand. Occasionally, they’ll be able to spot uneven wear, which can be a sign that your shoes are inappropriate for the way your natural running style.

Getting a gait analysis

Next they’ll want to watch you running (technically called a “gait analysis”).

At Runner’s Need, they do this by taking a video recording of you running on a treadmill while you’re wearing your old trainers or a pair of the store’s new shoes.

File 21-02-2016, 13 27 59Identifying your pronation

They then watch the recording back in slow motion to determine your “pronation” – this measures how much your feet roll inwards or outwards after they touch the ground as you run (and walk).

Underpronation is when your feet roll outward, while overpronation is when your feet roll inward. A neutral pronation is when your feet neither roll outwards or inwards as your feet land when you run.

I used to overpronate. Nowadays I have neutral pronation, which shows how important it is to get a gait analysis each time you buy a new pair of trainers.

It doesn’t matter how you much your feet pronate as there are shoes available that suit all types.

File 21-02-2016, 13 29 19The shop’s experts will also look at whether you land on your heels or toes as you run – some shoes are more suited to “heel strikers” and vice versa.

Making your choice

Following your gait analysis they’ll recommend suitable shoes for you to try based on your running style, foot shape and budget.

It’s best to try them out on a hard surface if you can. At Runner’s Need, you can use the treadmill again to give them a test drive.

File 21-02-2016, 13 28 24Once you’ve found some trainers that suit you, you need to make sure you get the correct size. The shop’s expert can give you specific advice and let you know if you have enough “wiggle room” for your toes.

Generally, the longer distances you run the more you feet will expand. So it’s important to bear that in mind when you’re deciding which size to get.

Wearing your new shoes in

Once you’ve bought your new shoes, it’s best to wear them in gradually, even if you’ve bought the same ones you had before.

Firstly, I wear my shoes around the house so I can be doubly sure I made the right choice.

I’ll then wear them on short walks. Finally, I’ll start wearing them on shorter runs.

I find it usually takes a few weeks until I’m confident to wear them on a longer run. Make sure you give yourself enough time to wear in your new shoes if you’re buying them for a race or event!

Further tips for buying the perfect pair of running shoes

  • Try shoes on later in the day because your feet swell as the day goes on.
  • Don’t buy for fashion purposes – there’s no use having shoes that look good if they’re causing you issues or affecting your performance.
  • Replace your running trainers every 500-600 miles – that’s once a year if you run 10 miles a week.

Over to you…

What are your top tips for buying the perfect pair of running shoes? What shops do you recommend? Is there anything else I should consider?

Info: Runner’s Need, Port Solent is in the Snow+Rock shop at The Boardwalk (near the cinema) at Port Solent, Portsmouth, PO6 4TP. Phone 02392 205388.

Categories
Outdoors Running Work and career

Why you should consider run-commuting in 2017

Need a New Year’s resolution? Here are seven reasons why you should give run-commuting a go in 2017.

What’s your new year’s resolution for 2017?

If you’re like a lot of people, it’s “get more exercise”.

We know how that turns out though, don’t we?

You start the new year with good intentions. You join the gym and buy some new gear. Hell, you might as well sign up for a few classes too.

You go to the gym a few times. You feel great. You’re motivated. You tell anyone who’ll listen how much exercise you’re doing now. You might even take a selfie of yourself in the gym and post it to all of your social media accounts.

Then, as January turns into February, reality hits. You’re too tired to exercise after a long day at work and too comfortable in your bed in the morning to hit the gym for an pre-work session.

Before you realise what’s happening, exercise-free days turn to exercise-free months. Like everyone else who vows to get fit in the new year, you’ve lost motivation.

Lazy work out

I used to be exactly the same. And when I did make it to the gym, I’d do a few sit ups or have a gentle run on the treadmill and convince myself that the bead of sweat on my brow was the result of a strenuous workout.

The turning point for me came when, after four years of working from home, I got a new job that required me to drive to the office every day. The problem was that Tiff and I share the one car and she needs it most days of the week.

Fine, I’ll get the train. However, the nearest station is a 40-minute walk with another 20-minute walk at the other end. I don’t have the time or the patience to do that, especially as I also walk my dog Tilly in the mornings before I leave for the office.

For a long while, my trusty trail bike took care of the first leg of my journey. Then, after getting a flat tyre, I was forced to run instead of cycle to the station.

Now, several months down the line, I’ve stuck with it. I’m now getting more exercise than ever and I rarely miss a “session”. And no, I never did get round to fixing that puncture.

Why you should give run-commuting a go in 2017

Run-commuting is a great way to keep fit. Here are seven more reasons why I think you should give it a go in 2017.

File 23-12-2015, 14 52 301. It’s motivating

Let’s face it, going to the gym or going out for a run before work is always optional. If you don’t feel like it, you just won’t do it. End of.

However, when the alternative is being late for work or not getting home at the end of the day, you have no option but to grit your teeth and get on with it.

And, there’s no quitting mid session either. Unless you want to call for a cab to get you the rest of the way.

2. Running is (pretty much) free

All you need to run to work is a good pair of trainers, some basic running kit and a small rucksack (mine cost me £12).

There’s no insurance, no fuel (apart from a light breakfast), no wear and tear, no lights and no MOT to worry about. And, if you’re lucky enough to be able to run all the way to work, no bus and train tickets to buy.

3. Run-commuting saves you time

Incorporating exercise into your commute saves you time.

Sure, it will take a you a little longer to get to work if you go under your own steam. But there are no extra trips to the gym or an exercise class to think about before work or once you get home.

4. It’s good for the environment

Judging by the number of people I see jumping in their cars to make short trips, I’m not sure that many people worry about this anymore.

If you’re one of those that does still care about, you’re not going to find many more environmentally friendly ways to get to work than running.

5. It helps you burn off those office treats

Donuts, cakes, chocolate, sweets, biscuits. Almost every day in my office, someone brings in a load of sweet treats that are impossible to resist.

I used to either avoid them or feel guilty for giving in. Now I help myself, save in the knowledge that I’ll be burning off those pesky calories on my run home.

6. Running sets you up for the day…

Believe it or not, exercise gives you more energy, not less. So it’s a great way to start your day, especially if you’ve had a bad night’s sleep.

Exercise before work also leads to less stress and higher productivity. As well as this, running releases those all-important chemicals called endorphins in your brain, triggering a happy feeling that will stay with you throughout the day.

7. …and helps you unwind

Running at the end of the day provides a great outlet for clearing your mind and working through any work problems you’re having.

It certainly beats sitting in traffic or dealing with impatient drivers on the motorway.

Challenges to run-commuting

Clearly, not everyone is in a position to be able to run to and from work.

For example, it’s easier to run-commute if you have showers and changing facilities at work. If you don’t, however, you could always just run home.

If you want to look presentable in the office, you’ll also need a way to get your clothes into work. I get round this by taking in clean clothes, including pressed shirts, on the days I don’t run in. (I’m lucky in that my employer provides showers, lockers and a dry room.)

And, don’t try to do too much too soon. Running regularly can be tough on the legs if you’re not used to it. Start off running one or two days a week. Then ramp it up when you feel like it. Or only run some of the way initially.

Over to you

How are you going to get more exercise in 2017? Would you give run-commuting a go?

Categories
Outdoors Running

The Camelot Challenge half marathon 2015, Sherborne, Dorset

I’ve never watched the film, Monty Python and the Holy Grail. But I know about the famous scene where the Dark Knight, having lost both arms (and later, both legs) to King Arthur’s sword, vows to fight on while stoically exclaiming that “it’s only a flesh wound“.

After my experience last Saturday on the “Camelot Challenge” cross-country half marathon, I now have an inkling of what it’s like to suffer at the hands of King Arthur.

About half way round, as I slowly climbed the hillside of Cadbury Castle (the legendary king’s supposed home), I felt like he had won – with heavy legs, a throbbing hamstring and exhaustion setting in, there was no way I was going to make it to the finish, especially as there were more long climbs to come.

However, when I finally reached the plateau at the top of the ancient hill fort, not even managing a smile or a wave for the photographer who was waiting on the brow of the hill, my attitude changed. Maybe I could carry on a few more miles. Maybe I wasn’t as tired as I felt. Maybe this was just the runner’s equivalent of a flesh wound.

Whether this was down to the blood rushing to my head after the steep climb, the amazing views over north-west Dorset and the Somerset levels or the shouts of encouragement from fellow runners, I don’t know.

But, before I had time to feel sorry for myself, I was running back down the other side of the hill and looking forward to some water at the next hydration stop at the Camelot pub in the village below.

Beer prep

To be fair, my preparation for the race wasn’t by the book. I spent the preceding week on holiday in Cornwall consuming fish and chips, pasties, cheese, fry ups, beer and wine. Plus, I’d only managed a handful of training runs. That said, I was feeling surprisingly spritely when I arrived at the Gryphon School in Sherborne to collect my race number on the morning of the event and meet Hench, who was also taking part.

Registration was quick and well-organised despite an influx of people about 25 minutes before the 9am start time. Then, after another quick glance of the map of the route, Hench and I headed over to the start line on Redhole Lane. People were walking the route as well – they had the added advantage of being able to stop in the pub for a cider mid-way round.

File 26-09-2015 09 43 29Some competitors were doing the course with dogs and I was amazed by some of the canine-related running kit on offer. Not that I could ever do a race like this with my border terrier Tilly – she’d be stopping every few yards for a sniff and to mark her territory.

Hill start

A little after nine, the starting horn sounded and we were off. The hill start wasn’t welcome but it was nice to know we’d be running down this stretch to the finish. Anyway, there were much bigger hills lurking – my running app helpfully informed me that I’d be climbing 2317 feet (706 metres) today.

The first part of the race to the quaint village of Sandford Orcas was on tarmac. This gave most of the field the chance to overtake me before we went off road. At this point, a black labrador decided it had had enough and belly flopped into a large muddy puddle. It was a good move, I thought.

File 26-09-2015 09 42 14We got our first taste of off-roading as we cut across behind some nice-looking gardens as we entered the village.

Then it was through a picturesque valley along a stretch of the appropriately named Monarch’s Way – a long footpath that follows the route King Charles II took to escape after he was defeated in the final battle of the English Civil War. I hadn’t really noticed the mist and fog until now – the silhouettes of other competitors faded in and out of view while the sun shone brightly overhead. Oh, and I managed to slip over and get covered in mud.

File 26-09-2015 09 41 57After our first water stop, the route headed up a track to Corton Ridge on the west side of the village of Corton Denham. Here I nipped into the entrance of a quiet track for a visit to the little boys’ room (I’d drank far too much water earlier).

Unfortunately, the lad behind me thought this was part of the route and followed me. So, I wasn’t as discreet as I wanted to be. The course was well marked overall though, with signs and red flags highlighting where to go. The organisers had also highlighted badger holes where possible. A few competitors did get temporarily lost. But they corrected themselves after shouts and whistles from those behind them.

File 26-09-2015 09 41 22After the descending Parrock Hill into the foggy landscape below we ran through an orchard, teeming with trees heavy with bright red apples, in the village of Sutton Montis. Then came the steep climb – avoiding the cows – up to Cadbury Castle.

File 26-09-2015 09 41 01 File 26-09-2015 09 40 41 File 26-09-2015 09 40 22After my rejuvenation at the summit and much-needed water at South Cadbury there was another short climb before we cut across some fields to the medieval village of Whitcombe – nothing more than a few farm buildings in present times. I shared out some of the sweets I’d sneaked into my bum bag.

File 26-09-2015 09 39 05With wet feet owing to a small ford that ran across the footpath, I then tackled arguably the toughest climb of the race to the top of Beacon Hill. I managed to run most of the way up, but had to pause to allow a tractor to pass. (The roads weren’t closed to traffic but they were very quiet.)

At the top of the hill, we turned left before we reached the beacon itself so we didn’t get another chance to take in the views back over Cadbury Castle, Glastonbry Tor and beyond. Instead, we glimpsed Corton Denham’s church tower poking out of the village with another blanket of fog providing the backdrop.

File 26-09-2015 09 38 19 File 26-09-2015 09 37 45The hill down to the village was steep and I had to be careful not to lose my footing. The route then continued along another stretch of the Monarch’s Way to the hamlet of Holway, where some friendly llamas waited by the fence to greet us as we ran past.

The finish

By now, I was struggling again but I was on the final stretch. The 12-mile mark was in some woods on yet another upward slope on the fringes of Sherborne Golf Club. Then followed what seemed like the longest mile I’ve ever ran – the “home straight” back along Redhole Lane felt never-ending. Finally, suddenly, the finish line came into view and that was it – done.

I ended up completing the race in two hours and 21 minutes, in 54th place. I was just glad to complete the course, but I later noted that four dogs competed the route ahead of me!

Hot soup, rolls and an amazing array of homemade cakes greeted us when we arrived back at the registration point. Hench was waiting too – he’d finished in sixth place so had been hanging around a while.

I’ll definitely be doing the Camelot Challenge again next year. It’s a well-organised event with an amazing route that showcases the beauty of the landscape in this part of the world and a friendly, encouraging bunch of competitors. Dare I say, it’s fun too, despite the pain that King Arthur forced upon me.

Info: The Camelot Challenge is on 17 September in 2016, starting at The Gryphon School, Bristol Road, Sherborne, Dorset, DT9 4EQ. You can enter on the Eventbrite website.

Route:

File 26-09-2015 09 38 45 File 26-09-2015 09 38 19 File 26-09-2015 09 38 03 File 26-09-2015 09 40 06 File 26-09-2015 09 39 51