Thursday, February 21, 2013

Of Dykes and Fen

So, two years (already?) since our last visit to Devil's Dyke.  Where does the time go?  Certainly not on foot  across the dyke between Reach and Woodditton, if it has any kind of sense.

Last time, we nearly drowned in the kind of quality shiggy that can stop a tractor dead in its tracks.  This time round, to appease the shiggy-gods Kristy, Ed and Winston were careful to perform the shiggy-shaker-sheep-and-footpump dance in advance of the run.  This ancient rite, videoed below,  is said to guarantee that all  runners will return safely, on time and free from mud, sheepshit and blood-stains.

Fat lot of good it did us.

The pre-run temperature was tested using the time-honored technique of measuring the height and number of Sarah's goosebumps

And so we set off.  As per usual, the promised 'relaxed' pace lasted all of fifty metres before Chris, Emily and Ed took off across the dyke at fractionally below lightspeed.

  Jeremy, Sarah and Pingu followed a little way behind, whilst Kristy and Winston ambled along admiring the beautiful day, the packs of brown vampire-sheep and Winston's pale-blue knees (it was by now about -40).  As the only sensible member of the pack, Hermione set off in the opposite direction, seated in the family Volvo, in the general direction of a cup of tea and a surreptitious wedge of chocolate cake the size of an Ikea  footstool.

After the super-safe railway crossing,

the ground once again decided to rise up against us, reachng the unheard-of (well in the Fens) 80m above sea-level.  Pausing only to fit our oxygen masks and cylinders, we pushed on to Wooddittion

Emily and Chris reached the village so far in advance of the pack that they had time to become proper locals.  They looked so much like a local married couple that people assumed they must be brother and sister.

On the way back, Sarah attempted to stare down oncoming trains

then pretended to be a horse

whilst, as usual,  Pingu just ripped holes in her legs and covered herself in mud.

THIS time we managed to convince the landlord of the Dyke's End to serve us, probably because we'd burned most of Chris's wardrobe in advance.

Well, that's another 16 miles of our lives we won't get back...


Full pics:

Monday, January 28, 2013

We never learn....

SO... after seven years of mud, freezing rain, pain, blisters, twisted knees, flaring ITBs, turned ankles, episodes of avoidance-childbirth, and even an honest-to-goodness case of gout, you'd have thought that we'd all have learned our lesson and given up training for Paris in favour of something more compatible with our aged frames, like knitting or golf, wouldn't you?

 Oh how wrong you'd be.

 Since we don't actually count ourselves as dead yet, a selection of the less well-adjusted marahashers have somehow yet again found themselves entered in the Paris marathon for this year. Since we don't all wish to end up dead of blisters (or feeling like Hermionie after she's run a marathon, which amounts to pretty much the same thing) in Avenue Foche on 10th April, we thought we'd better get round to doing some training... 

Which is why, on an otherwise-beautiful Sunday morning in January, six hashers found that they'd unaccountably agreed to spend the morning running to Ely along the river. The forecast sunshine was streaming forth, and the forecast southwesterly wind was ready to push us along. However, the results of the decidedly un-forecast torrential downpour of the night before were up ahead, lying in wait for us on the muddiest part of the bank.

 Sarah demanded a 'before' picture of her lovely NEW trail-running shoes (in the not-unreasonable expectation that 'new' wouldn't be applicable by the afternoon). There was little point in taking a 'before' picture of Pingu, since (true to form) she was already pretty much covered in mud before starting. Chris, Ye, Jeremy and an unexpected Jesus made up the rest of the expedition, dressed in pristine clean running gear.

The fools.

 Despite a knee-injury before we'd even left midsummer common, the expedition made it beyond Bottisham Lock more or less without incident, crossing over the great grey-green greasy swollen river cam without anyone falling in.

A few hundred metres further on, we came to a decision-point: take the slighty-longer embankment path, or the shorter but probably muddier riverside path. Given that the path was wall-to-wall shiggy, the river was flooding and the hashers were sliding uncontrollably all over the place, the right answer was obvious. Right?

So we chose the other way.

Half a mile (and endless mud) further on, we came across a drainage ditch intended to allow the fields to drain into the cam. It was flowing backwards, into the small lake that had appeared between the river and the embankment. You'd have thought that this would have maybe given us a clue, right?


Jesus pointed out that it was only water, and we should just bloody well get on with walking on it.  One by one, we leapt over the flow, landing mostly in the middle of the water, then scrambled through the mud to continue. Another half-mile passed, lulling us into believing that we'd beaten the mud...


We found ourselves on the edge of the exit-channel of the massive lake of floodwater, imagining ways to get across it witout a) getting incredibly wet, b) losing any limbs, or c) drowning. Pingu's plan of leaping from tussock to tussock across the flood was quickly abandoned, as was Jeremy's shoes-off-and-wade-it idea. Since we didn't have Ed to swim across with a rope-bridge betwen his teeth, we ended up backtracking a mile down the riverbank to try and regain the high-ground.

 Never that easy, though, is it?

Just before revisiting the stream-leap, Jesus and Chris decided that it MIGHT be possible to return to the embankment by crossing the fringes of the flood by means of a dead tree over the swamp.

After much climbing through the barbed-wire and sinking into the matted bullrushes on the other side, we scrambled up the embankment to (relative) safety, and once again headed for Ely.

Since we were now running late and risked missing the return train, Pingu and Jesus raced off to the station, whilst the rest of us followed.

 Another five miles of slogging through mud, and we drew close to our goal. Jeremy and Ye were trailing by a few minutes as the final train sat at the platform - clearly not going to make it - much to the amusement of the passengers (which by now included Sarah, Jesus, Pingu and Chris)... Fortunately, the guard had an unparalleled sense of humour for a rail-employee, and held the train for two minutes so that their last-minute sprint to the station, down the tunnel, onto the platform and into the train doors with a final massive jump was wtnessed by the entire train.

 The after photos revealed that Sarah's new shoes were history, Pingu looked like a rhino fresh out of a wallow, and the remainder of the party were not in much better condition. The debrief concluded that train-travel was a jolly fine invention, and, in fact, the preferred means of travelling to Ely in future.

Like that's really going to make any difference next time....

(rest of the photos are here and the GPS trace can be found here )

Monday, April 18, 2011

Down and Out in London and Paris

Congratulation Marahashers, so how was it for you? From what I can work out:

Jesus 03:16:08
Jeremy 03:21:04
Chris 03:24:48
Steve (Australia) 03:43:30 
Winston - No chip, no time, allegedly 3:50 - 3:59 ish but who can tell.
Miri 04:52:29 
Mike 03:59:06
Josie 04:42:06
Sarah with the little dog 04:04:49
Nat 04:07:28

Julia Forman: 4:04:24

Hannah: 3:15:20
Chris R: 3:52:07
Hermione: 3:49:24
Owen: 4:08:50
Simon R: 3:57:49
Dave Timney, 3hrs, zero minutes and 47 seconds
Neil Bailey 5:51:42

There was some really great performances there - PBs despite the heat. And Dave Timney takes the hash record for closest PB to 3 hours without actually dipping under - that takes real talent.

How was it for me? - bloody awful - biggest car crash on the banks of the Seine since er....

Can't the French organise some nice cool weather for marathon day? I just don't do heat, I get so far and my body says nope, too hot, stop, and I have to stop. Mid 20s, scorchio sun, I got to 28km and that was that - lots of walking from there on in. But to be fair, I hadn't really done the training. The only bit of my training plan that I'd done enough of was long runs, and because I hadn't put the miles in in between, I was wiped out for days afterwards.

It got me thinking about what training has worked in the past.

As did Vernon, at the Blue Ball run on Friday, who asked, which Monday night hasher has the best marathon PB? I know for sure that the winner of that particular accolade is a very, very long way ahead of the pack, even if I don't know by how much exactly.

Tim Johnstone was slightly disappointed by his big marathon race in 1968. Only 2:28, and 8th, but it was in the high altitude Mexico Olympic Marathon. I think his marathon PB was around 2:13 - and around 61 minutes for the half - records for Monday night hashers that won't be beaten for a while yet.

When I first started hashing (15, cough, years ago), Tim was running with the Monday night hash, and I remember taking part in the occasional mid week training run... The pace would start at something that seemed impossibly slow and relaxed - the temptation was to push on ahead. But as the run went on, somehow without noticing, the pace got faster and faster, until half way round, it was quite competitive. Except the pace just got faster and faster, until you struggled to keep up, and then pushed yourself that little bit further. On one training run, I comfortably beat my half marathon PB... Tim's best advice to me for the marathon was to start slowly. But he also alluded to the level of training that was required to be competitive at the very top of athletics, and just how much difference this can make to performance at all levels. Tim left Cambridge to do something lawyer-like in Den Haag, but has been back in Cambridge since - maybe will be back on the Cantab hash one day!

Searching the web I came across this interview that I found quite interesting:

Tim's advice for aspiring champions: "move to Addis Ababa and train with your head not your computer"

For the latter, I quite agree - my best marathon performance came when I didn't follow any type of plan, just had huge motivation, and sufficient time to run whenever I wanted to - and you then run as hard and as far as you body tells you is sensible. As for the altitude training - must get round to buying that ski appartement in Val Thorens...

The moral of the story is that there is probably still a long distance between marathon PB to date, and what might be possible. That will take a perfect training schedule and weather on the day that isn't hotter than, er, Paris any time I've tried running there... Amsterdam in October anyone?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Quantum mileage

So...I ran 18.5 miles this morning, in perfect weather, spot on my correct pace for long runs and with the last 4 miles at what felt like race pace.  Thanks to liberal doses of vitamin I and some genius stretching advice from Gosia, even my comedy exploding pelvis seemed content.

So I am happy, right?

Am I b*ggery.

Everyone knows that marathons are as much about the mind as the body.  What I tend to forget is that truism is almost irrelevant by the time you get to the start line, but massively significant over the last 6 weeks of training or 'zone of fretfulness' as I think I shall now christen it.

It's becoming a familiar pattern to me after a few marathons.  If things are going normally, you enter the zone in a state of crushing over confidence - in my case, seriously contemplating following the 3.30 pace group, 'just to see what might happen'.  Then you look at the calendar and realise you only have 4 weeks to go until taper and suddenly every run becomes Deeply Significant: miss a mile, or (God forbid) an outing and you are doomed and will spend the whole of your marathon cleaning up after the runners dressed as Pot Noodles.

Usually at this point you pick up a minor niggle or your life becomes hectic and you are forced to miss not one but several outings.  So now you exist in an interesting state of duality: on the one hand you have a good outing and everything is magnificent and you are convincing yourself you should invest in a special racing vest.  On the other hand, a sneaky little voice is saying: 'but you didn't run a yard last week while you sorted out your hip...and you haven't actually done a proper, honest-to-God, non stop 20 miler yet this time round...and woman you're getting old.'

Of course, until I open the box of marathon day itself I can't know which voice is right.  Am I a wave, or am I a particle? And which is quicker?

More importantly, which would look better in that racing vest?

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

The Ring(road) Cycle - a torture of Tuesdays in several parts

Of late, young Kristy has been getting dangerously fast. As part of her increased athleticism, she has been instrumental in setting up an evening run around the ring-road, of about 8 miles. This usually hurts, because everyone does it about a minute-per-mile faster than they say they intend to.

The run is retty basic, and easy to follow:

Simple, right? Hard to get lost on? Well, it would be if we weren't hashers. The hashing element has led to a number of variations. In order of increasing deviance, these are:

1) the Kristy "oh dammit was that the turning for the hospital?" run:

2) the Gus "I'm too hairy to run that far" run:

3) The Hermionie 6-minutes-per-mile special:

4) The Winston "Where IS everybody?" run (increased scale) :

and finally,

5) the Chris Howell "shortcut" run (familiar in principle to anyone who has ever been running with Chris):

Doubtless new and exciting variants will be discovered in future. We await them with some trepidation...

Thursday, February 24, 2011

From our foreign correspondent

Some overseas news from Fumel AC. I'm confused about one word of the french - I did think 'assidument' meant assiduously, but that can't be right - anyone know a better translation - 'alcoholically' perhaps, 'randomly', 'laxidasically'...


Impressionnant début de saison de Steve ,avec un podium  sur un 33 Kms trail,
Il prépare assidument le marathon de Paris qui se courra en avril.


Monday, February 21, 2011

Mud-wrestling dykes

A little to the East of Cambridge, there exists a seven-mile-long, 20-metre high scratch across the fens called the Devil's Dyke. Made largely out of shiggy and brambles, in the summertime it is a lovely place for a stroll across Anglia with views out to the gently-curving fenland horizon as it rises to meet the blue of the sky.

In the winter, however, things are... different. The shiggy-component rises to the surface and lies in wait for passing marahashers, whispering sotto-voce to the brambles of victims to be snagged and brought down into the mud. Which is why Chris Howell (renowned for his sense of humour in this respect) decided it would make the perfect February training run. A carrot was, however, presented - in the form of lunch at the Dyke's End afterwards.

After protracted email faffage, a division of the bravest (ie stupidest) hashers met outside the pub in Reach on Sunday, at more or less completely different times based loosely around the theme of 10:15am, there to tackle the run. Approaches differed - Hannah equipped herself with lycra, gels and performance electronics, Winston with a bolshie 11-year-old on a bicycle and the fond hope of getting at least a couple of miles of running in before the cries of "I'm COLD and TIRED and BOOOOOOOORED!!!" forced him to turn back (in the event, we managed to keep Hermionie quiet until we reached the A14).

There is something particularly satisfying about starting to run towards a distant horizon through a fine mist of freezing drizzle, discovering almost immediately that the previous day's rain has turned the path to something resembling over-thickened gravy. If anyone discovers exactly what it is, I'd appreciate knowing, because within 500 yards, most of the marahash suicide squad looked like someone had fired cow-dung at their legs from a blunderbuss.
The Dyke consists of a number of uphill sections of narrow path, separated from more sections of narrow uphill path by abrupt and steep descents into deep ravines, the better to appreciate the forthcoming crawl up the muddy side of the ongoing dyke. The comedy aspects of these were only be enhanced by the need to get an 11-year-old on a bicycle down one side and up the other without using violence or a helicopter.

After the A14, the Dyke crosses Newmarket racecourse. Then again. Then again. Newmarket, in fact, appears to consist largely of racecourses connected by dykes. On the whole, this is none too surprising really. A few of the troops decided to take advantage and pretend they were horses, but abandoned the effort when they saw the odds being offered on them.

After crossing the railway line using one of Network Rail's super-safe pedestrian crossings (a small white sign by the rails saying 'err... take care now..'), the going changed from thin gravy to thick slimy axle-grease with embedded tree-roots. The terrain also decided to add 100m in height over two miles, and best of all the path proved itself to be attractively cambered in the adverse sense, providing the faster runners with the opportunity of skidding off the path into the 30-foot ravine beside it. Chris Howell forged ahead at 7m30 per mile through the tree-roots and slime, and provided the best (witnessed) comedy moment, only narrowly avoiding a spiky plunge by scrabbling in the mud like a roadrunner cartoon and JUST regaining traction in time. Nat apparently went one better on the return trip, managing a full face-plant into the shiggy, but this was only witnessed by a couple of locals that referred to her as 'the young lady'. Fortunately, we understand that her concussion isn't permanent.

At the far end, Chris and Jeremy forged ahead into Woodditton across a field of what Chris refers to as 'quality shiggy' - the kind of mud that can add a kilogram to each foot within four strides. The intended loop through a farm track was thwarted by the presence of barbed wire and CCTV, - it appeared that the locals had been warned about us in advance. The marahashers resisted the temptation to visit the Three Blackbirds for a pint, and headed back to catch the rest of the pack on the return trip. Blood was drawn by the Dyke on the return, when it lured Jeremy into a patch of brambles by sharpening a corner unexpectedly. Brambles 1, Jeremy 0.

On returning to Reach, some of the less sane members of the contingent decided to head off down the lode towards the river to 'add a couple more miles'. Chris R., Jeremy and Hannah were justly punished for this by being refused service at the Dyke's End on their return, on the basis that the pub was 'full' - a decision that probably had more to do with the fact that they were covered in shiggy and blood, smelled truly rank, and worst of all, happened to be accompanied by Chris H's wardrobe selection for the afternoon - oversized brown docs, tight lycra pants and a dodgy bomber-jacket, which made him look like an escapee from a re-run of 'The Sweeney'.

All in all, the Dyke can be recommended as an excellent training-run, if you happen to be entering any event where mud and peril are prominent. For the foolhardy or deranged, the trail can be found at, and for those of strong stomach, the full pictorial horror may be found at

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Thursday, February 10, 2011

A modest proposal

So this morning I was getting dressed when I remembered that I had to take our PR agency out for a nice lunch (PRs, like toddlers, behave much better when well fed).  The first thought that crossed my mind was: 'Oh bugger, I wanted to do those hill sprints at lunchtime.'

This is what is known in the trade as a Prioritisation Fail.  Something that marahashers seem particularly prone to.

The classic example is, of course, spending sunday morning redistributing shiggy up and down the fens north of Bottisham, rather than lounging in bed with a pain au chocolat and a loved one, but I have observed many other manifestations of the phenomenon over the years - purchase of ill advised lycra over much needed sensible trousers, choice of holiday destination by availability of flat, off road routes and/or decent physiotherapists, a tolerable level of child neglect.

This year, uniquely, I am experiencing Prioritisation Fail by Proxy.  The mysterious arrival of an entry for the London Marathon 5 months after the less mysterious arrival of child 3 (provisionally labelled The Dowry Problem) can only be attributed to someone waking up and genuinely thinking: 'I know what Hermione would like more than anything right now.  More than, say, a week at Babington House or a free pass around Rigby & Peller's more avant guarde collection, what she really wants an entry in the London Marathon!'


Still, I am not alone.  I know there are a number of marahashers out there, doing the marahash thing over the next few months.  Maybe it's time to pull up the chairs into a supportive online circle and start the talking cure?

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Is there anybody out there?

The magic links are:

Obviously nobody would be silly enough to sign themselves up, so I believe the standard approach is to sign up someone else...

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Spring has sprung, and so a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of ....

Here in 'la France profonde' something strange has happened to the weather. It hasn't rained for weeks, and every day dawns brightly without a cloud in the sky. Daffodils are in profusion and butterflies are a common sight. The prospect of a little light training seemed quite attractive, so I slipped out of the house this afternoon planning to spend about an hour trotting through the surrounding forest. I headed south initially, and after 30 minutes I spotted an interesting looking chateau high on the hill above me. I figured a short hill climb wouldn't do me any harm so I ran up to have a quick look. Just another fairy tale castle, one of hundreds in the region but still an impressive piece of engineering given its antiquity. I didn't want to run back the way I'd come, but I figured I could drop into the next valley, and heading east and then north I'd be home in about an hour. It was such a beautiful setting, so quiet, no cars and no people, that I slipped into a sort of a trance .... hello sky, hello trees, hello sun ... hello sun ! I was running towards the setting sun. Having lived in Australia for a while I sometimes get a bit confused about the sun, because at midday in Australia the sun is in the north, which takes a bit getting used to .... but it still sets in the west ? ... which is the same here in the northern hemisphere right ? I'm running west, and I need to run east ... and the sun is setting and it will be completely dark in less than an hour. At this stage I was running through thick forest with tracks leading off in all directions. I figured the best thing to do was to head downhill ... so I did, and after about 30 minutes I found myself back below the chateau (I later discovered that I had run a 10km loop). Now the sun had set it was getting cold. I was wearing a tee-shirt, shorts, and fortunately a light-weight fluorescent vest. I wear it all the time over here because it makes it less likely that the regularly inebriated local gun club will mistake you for something edible. There was no way I was going back into the forest. The shortest way back to the house was along a fast 'D' road that hugs the side of a steep sided valley. Dodging the traffic in the pitch dark was no fun but I managed to avoid any major conflict. I got home after 3.5hrs (about 35km) and I hadn't realised how cold I was until I found that I didn't have feeling in my fingers to turn the key in the lock. Now feeling much better having consumed half a bottle of local plonk, but I might need a bit of a lie-in tomorrow morning.