Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The New Forest Reccee II

The New Forest Reccee started with a swim in Eastleigh lake, 30 minutes drive away from the race venue.  It was really pleasant and great to be back in open water but my body shut down after 4 laps and I had to go straight to the hot shower.  It was too hot and I resorted to splashing myself.  It was warmer standing outside.

I was fed and tea'd up by my cousin and his wife... so well that I considered not leaving Romsey, but instead going to my Aunty's birthday party.

I chivvied.

I was disappointed to arrive at my camp site near to the race route to find there had been an earlier open water swim organised by the same company in the very same lake I was going to be drinking by coffee by for the next two days.  Still, I'd had waffles and beans with my lovely family which ended up doubling-up as lunch.  I spent such a long time faffing with the camper van and searching for a missing wallet it was getting-on a bit.

I set off out on my bike.

My newly written instructions for the course worked like a dream with only one false turn.  Despite leaving my Garmin at home so tracking the whole thing on my blackberry, burried deep in a pocket, I was able to follow the instructions to the letter.  The countryside flew by.  The hills were only hard when I accidentally found that I was riding up them in the big chain ring.  The only hill that caught me out was the one out of Normansland on the one-lap tag-on loop.  Making a mental note to eat before that climb next time, I started downing protein juice.

Next I was joined by another triathlete, just as I was out-loud talking myself through the prospect of nutrition on the go.  We rode side by side, chatting through our plans for the day and he decided to join me through another lap of the course before heading home to Salisbury.  It changed the whole purpose of the day from a reccee to a training lap as we chatted along the fast sections and I went that little bit faster on the slow ones so that he didn't have to wait quite so long for me to catch up.

The second lap of the course was even better.  Rather than reading each turn on the sheet, I remembered every one.  There wasn't much of the course I'd missed last time but there were bits that I had put together in a very odd order, including going down the Normansland climb instead of up it.

Eventually my new friend, Alistair, peeled off to go home and I went in search of a toilet.  Race day is going to be a big improvement with portaloos on the course.  The new forest is sadly lacking in the public variety so when you're out on a bike ride without a lock, you're stuffed.

The last 4 miles suddenly became a lot easier.  I showered, cooked a meal, then sat and watched the wakeboarders slewing around the lake until I collapsed on the Vanu cushions, phone in hand, halfway through calculating what time to get up in order to do my run then go in search of a knackered TSK.

At 8:30 pm I crawled into my sleeping bag, unsure about just how I was going to get up the next day and run 15 miles.

The alarm went off, the camping furniture came out and  I drank coffee whilst watching the youngsters in the wakeboarder camp line up for the first tow of the day.  It made me smile and reminded me of my ski instructor days, having been up at 6am to get up the mountain, waiting for the first lifts to lay tracks on freshly pisted snow.  The only companion I had in my camp area, a black swan, waddled by and took to the water. The best breakfast spot in the South.

It went on a bit on account of the lovely setting and my reluctance to change out of fleece-lined windproof trousers - a staple of the UK spring outdoor wardrobe - and into running shorts.  I did, in the end, get moving by 11am, leaving the Vanu at the Sandy Balls car park, ready for lunch at the cafe.

The run up the hill didn't go too bad.  It ran.  The run across from the road to what will be the first aid station was not too bad - down and up the other side of a valley.  In my instructions I used the Tumuli shown on the OS map as a reference point for the aid station.  There was some lumpy ground up there, which I assumed was a tumbled-down Tumuli

I turned left and followed the path to a woodland.  There were things on my instructions that didn't make sense but I followed my gut.  I wished I'd brought the map and compass - both of which I thought were in the Vanu - but I didn't so I followed my gut some more, enjoying the company of a runner with a black Labrador and a woman on a mountain bike with a very enthusiastic Yorkshire terrier.  Eventually I saw, what I assumed to be, the car park that I was headed for at the first extreme of my run.  It started to mizzle lightly - more of a refreshing dampness on a warm day than any kind of discomfort.

Uncomfortably I cut across quite a lot of moorland, heather, bracken and brush to get to this place.  I ran to the top of the hill, only to suddenly recognise the building as a cricket pavilion where I'd been yesterday, in search of a public loo.  I'd just done around 8km in a big, inexplicably incorrect direction circle.  Shit.  I was so distraught I stood behind the pavilion  head in hands and Oh THIS close to jacking it all in and heading out to pick up TSK.  I mean, they can't actually tamper with the run course on the day can they?

The chap with the black lab came over to ask if I was OK.  We discussed at some length where I had gone wrong but I still couldn't figure out how, when I believed I'd done nothing but turn left, I'd run around in a right-handed circle.  Even worse, I couldn't understand where I should've been and therefore where I would go when I went back!  The drizzle intensified and I cowered from the breeze behind the Pavillion.

"What're you gonna do?" asked the guy.

I sighed.

"I'm going to put on another layer, man the fuck up and go and have another try".

"That's the spirit" he said.

I retraced my steps to the first aid station.  I passed a mother helping her son tie his shoelaces.  The father, ahead, cupped his hands to his face and called out across the moorland, "HEEEELOOOOOOOOOO!"

Then he turned around, saw me running by and went, "ooh hello!"

His wife and child collapsed on the grass in fits of giggles.

This time, instead of following my path-by-path instructions I headed off towards the woodlands on my left, knowing I couldn't miss them and they probably wouldn't move.  As the miles clicked by, I knew I'd chosen the wrong woodland to head for as it was miles away and back on the road so I adjusted my direction and finally arrived on the path I should have been on alongside the woodland I should've been in.  It took some running through the woods with the rain intensifying around me, pattering off the leaves and the smell of leaves filling my lungs.  I was happy again.

By the time I reached the top of the hill, described in my instructions as Hissocks Hill, I was desperate to see a Hissocks Hill sign yet all I got was, "Fritton".  Frustrated, I asked someone if they knew if that area was more commonly known as Hissocks Hill, but she was as unfamiliar with the area as me.  I was spurred on by a text from Genevive Whitson right where I needed it.

Convinced I was probably on the right track, I retraced my steps and followed my instructions again.  This time they all started to make sense.  When I reached the spot for the actual aid station, it was perfectly obvious there was a Tumuli there, standing around 10 ft above the surrounding ground level.  Proper tumuli.

At a distance check I was a healthy 10 miles into my 15 mile run.  At this rate I would only need to reach the other extent of the course and then I could go back to my Vanu and the fulfilment of the Sandy Balls caf.  Thankfully the run to the other extent was simple - flat and obvious paths across the moorland followed by a drop-off of around 100m to Abbotts Well, a pretty village on a snaking steep road.

I reached the end as two ponies passed and a Duke of Edinburgh leader patiently awaited the arrival of his two teams - the ones I had seen a good 30 minutes (run) earlier in the woodland.  They were just sitting down for a rest.

I joked that I was seriously considering trying to tame a wild horse, just as right on cue, a herd of around 40 came cantering and galloping by.  The DoE leader and I stood stock-still as they thundered by us and out on to the moors, kicking, bucking and thrashing about.  Wide eyed, I muttered, "maybe not".

Once the Blackberry had caught up with my progress, I was relieved to find that I had completed 21km of my 25km run.  No need to re-climb the hill.  I descended the road, back up the other side past the really posh houses of Abbotts Well and into Godshill again. The reassuring sign of Sandy Balls appeared just as the clock ticked over to 24.7km.  Did I care about the last 300m?  Not a fucking jot.  Fish and Chips were calling.

I changed into respectable clothing and set about basking in the sun watching a bee, high on pollen, slowly clean itself in the sun.

Recce done, hard bike ride done and longest run of my life done.

Time to go and pick up a tired tiger and try a different camp site.

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