How I almost won a p**s up in a brewery
White Star Running’s Cider Frolic
This is a 12 hour race in Dorset, on a farm, with a brewery and you camp in a field. What’s not to like? It’s also organised by the excellent White Star Running. I’m a big fan of their events as they are always interesting, challenging and great fun. They also have motivational signage, a solid following of regulars and give out some of the best medals I’ve ever seen.
For the Cider Frolic the race started at 8am on a Saturday in early July and the premise is simple. Keep moving forwards for 12 hours and travel as far as you can. It is around a 6.2km loop with the path cut into the edges of fields around the farm where you can find the Cranbourne Chase cider brewery, hence the name. There is a large chunk of field available for camping and from what I could see most of the competitors took advantage of this. It was a pretty well behaved campsite and, even though there was a bar on site, it soon settled down at night. Oh, there was also a food wagon on site. I didn’t eat from it as I’m strict about what I eat in the 24 hours before an ultra, and after the ultra my stomach was totally messed up and wasn’t receptive to food for the best part of a day. With that said the food from it looked good, smelled great and lots of people were making the most of it.
As this was a White Star Running event the race instructions where the usual mix of useful information, serious warnings and genuinely funny comments. They are always a good read. There were no surprises and before I knew it 8am had rolled around and it was time to do some running.
The route was rolling with a couple of short sharp hills. It was also rough under foot with dry hard ground masked by grass in many places, with the occasional stretch along a tram line through beautiful wheat fields. As the sun rose the sheltered nature of the course meant that it became an airless sun trap in places, so making the most of the water sprays, sponges and aid stations was imperative if you wanted to keep running. The route was well signed and easy to follow though and the only aid station, other than the start, was a joy to arrive at. It was called Fernando’s Disco and featured 80’s music and lots of people in 80’s fancy dress.
For solo runners there was a tent just after the start finish for a drop box, and a couple of hundred yards after that some hoses had been setup spraying a fine mist to cool the runners off. It was most welcome. The race wasn’t just for solo runners though and there were teams of 2 and 3 running in relays which meant there was a regular supply of fresh legs on route, however even those seemed to fade in the afternoon heat.
Fernando’s Disco had a variety of savoury and sweet treats on offer, as well as water, coke, cider and a few more things. The start/finish had water and an all in one energy drink mix for those that wanted it. You were never more than 3.1km from either Fernando’s Disco or the start/finish, so logistically it was really easy to manage.
As usual with these small circuit races the teams started to figure out who the solo runners were, so there was a lot of support on course and people to talk to when you felt like it. There was also an amazing array of runners of all abilities which was really good to see. It’s one of the best things about these small timed circuit events. They are unintimidating, social and fun with no pressure to run any given distance, so lots of people rock up and give them a try.
In short this was another cracking event from White Star Running and one that I would recommend. That’s the race introduction over. If you fancy a bit more detail read on to find out why I was there, how my day went and how I almost won a piss-up in a brewery!
Before I go on. Thanks to:
A massive thank you to my coach Charles Miron of Solo Sport Systems. He keeps me pointed in the right direction, always goes the extra mile in supporting me and is the reason that I have finally found myself near the top step of a race result. Of course if I’m thanking people then it goes without saying that the BIGGEST thanks goes to my wife, and leukaemia survivor Sam who supports me in doing all this ultra running in the first place and barely grumbles when we can’t afford to do something because I just spent all the money on yet another pair of shoes, race entry or wholesale lot of energy food…..!
Why the Cider Frolic?
I entered the Cider Frolic fairly last minute. After my accident at the Dragon’s Back and a very high profile DNF I had immediately focussed on recovering and then cracking on with my backup “A” race. The North Downs Way 100 (NDW100) miler in August 2017. To lead into this properly I needed to do some longer one day races. I started with the Dorchester Marathon almost immediately, then did the 38 mile Tsunami Trail Race, and at the Cider Frolic I was aiming for 50 miles. It would be my final big race before the NDW100. I wanted to do the 50 miles in 10 hours. I would then stop running and enjoy the “recovery” cider that was on offer from Cranbourne Chase.
It was very unusual for me to have my family along for a race, but the Cider Frolic was perfect for it. The kids had a field to run around in, they could see me fairly often and we would be camping for two nights. This made it easy to manage, and not the usual slightly bland affair that is spectating at an ultra event. The race would also be quite social in itself starting at 8am and finishing at 8pm, so I could spend the night before and after enjoying the company of my family. It was also amazing to see them at the end of each lap, and they played a big part in keeping me going. I’m always telling them to work hard and not give up, so I had no choice but to set a good example.
Running in circles
A lot of you are probably thinking that running a 6km lap over and over again is pretty dull, and in some ways it is. I found the first lap really quite hard. I was going really slowly to pace myself and it seemed to drag on and on, despite the lovely rural scenery. It didn’t help that at the beginning everyone is together and running with a couple of hundred other runners all squeezed into the edge of a field really isn’t my idea of fun. Fortunately it soon spread out though and as the day wore on there was plenty of time and space running alone when I needed it.
As I was training for a 100 miler with much more complicated logistics I treated this race as such. In other words I carried quite a lot compared to the other competitors. I had 1.5l of fluid, electrolytes, first aid kit, waterproofs etc. All the minimum kit for the NDW100. I was treating the Cider Frolic as a NDW100 practice run, and I barely touched the aid stations, other than to topup on water. Due to the heat I did this at every aid station. Hydration and self care was crucial in keeping going.
After the first couple of laps it occurred to me that I could text my wife to let her know when I was a few minutes from the finish. This meant she was always there to support me, and the kids would quite often run with me to the misting hoses, where I would stand for a minute letting them reduce my body temperature to something reasonable. They were pure bliss. She was there each time with a tube of Pringles, and they tasted divine. They’ll be going in my NDW100 drop bags!
As things settled in and the conditions got more and more brutal my focus narrowed and time started to drift by. My focus would be on sipping water, moving forwards and looking forward to either Fernando’s Disco or the start/finish, whichever was next. With the sun at it’s highest attractive ladies in 80’s clothing were there at Fernando’s with big cold wet sponges. They would hug runners as they came through and squeeze the sponges into the back of the runner’s neck. It felt amazingly refreshing.
I tried not to keep a running count of laps in my head, but it was hard to avoid it. I would need to do 13 laps to hit my target goal and when you are on lap 5 and already feeling hot and knackered another 8 laps feel impossible. If my thoughts started to head in such a way I would bring them back to the current lap. Just keeping moving and thinking about either the misting hoses or the cold wet hugs.
When I got to lap 7 the course got quieter as all those aiming for marathon distance stopped running. As I ran through lap 10 the team runners started slowing to talk to me, asking how far I had been and how far I was planning on going. When I got to lap 11 my wife told me that I was 5th overall. I had to get her to say it again. I’ve never been 5th at anything, let alone an ultra marathon. For the next two laps I pondered what this meant. If she had told me I was tenth then I’d stop at my planned 50 miles and wouldn’t consider going on, but 5th!?! I was near the podium. Should I push on? Could I push on?
When I came into the end of my 13th lap I stopped at the timing tent. I was second. There was no choice. I had to go on. I couldn’t give up my first ever podium without a fight, and there were four or five people behind me that could potentially take it away. Unfortunately first place was nearly two laps ahead, so I couldn’t win but I was going to do my best to keep second.
Pause a moment there and consider it. You’ve used every ounce of willpower, running through a very hot day. Your joints hurt with every step, and your muscles are sore. You’ve hit your target distance, in your target time and this isn’t an A race. All your brain wants to do is stop. It’s that simple. It wants you to lie down in the shade, shut your eyes and simply be still. It wants the effort to end, the torture to finish. What do you do?
I looked at my kids. I looked at my wife. I opened a packet of shot bloks and poked one into my mouth. I walked slowly to the misting hoses, trying to chew, trying to get the energy in. I then looked up and very very slowly started to run…….
Ultra marathons are always dramatic, emotional and hard. The emotions are so raw and the thoughts so intimidating. It is one of the reasons I keep going back. I keep smashing myself against them. When you finally get to the finish line there is little fanfare, and barely any applause. Hardly anyone is there to see you crawl your way to a halt, but emotionally crossing that finishing line is the best feeling in the world, and to cross that finish line with a podium placing. That was just epic. It got even more epic when I was presented with a crate of cider for my efforts 🙂
Since the Dragon’s Back my training has been hard and I’ve had to dig very deep in a short space of time with the Dorchester Marathon, Tsunami Trail Ultra, and now the Cider Frolic. All of that was within 6 weeks and also included a social trip back to Dragon’s Back territory and a 9 hour day out on Tryfan, The Glyders, Crib Goch and Snowdon. It is time to wind down a bit and recover. I will be doing the Frome Half Marathon in just a few days for a bit of fun, then it’s just three weeks to the NDW100 and I need to hit it fresh. I came into the Cider Frolic already tired, with soreness still in my legs from so much climbing and scrambling in Snowdonia just a few days before. The last time I started a race fresh was the Dragon’s Back, and I’ve been solidly building on that foundation ever since failing it.
At the North Down’s Way 100 my goal is clear. I want to finish. That’s it. I’ve never done 100 miles before, and if I succeed 1 second before the 30 hour cutoff then I will consider it a success. With that said I obviously have some slightly quicker stretch goals in mind too depending on how things go. After that I will need to recover properly from what has been a tough year, so that I can look towards next years biggie The Cape Wrath Ultra with a fresh mind and fresh legs.