Our third day in Tokyo, and the day that we were going to spend apart from each other, as Kas went off to run the marathon and I had a somewhat less taxing walk with a bit of geocaching planned.
Kas got up and set off quite early, and I decided to get moving fairly early too, if only to avoid getting pinned into Shinjuku until the runners had all left. The start of the marathon was literally a couple of hundred metres from our hotel and they’d been closing off various bits of road to traffic since well before daybreak.
I didn’t bother with breakfast anywhere, as I wasn’t really hungry. I sort of just wanted to go out and see how many caches I could find in Tokyo in the amount of time it took Kas to do the running. I’d got maybe 35-40 on the radar.
I began my walk by skirting around the north end of Shinjuku Station and after a quick find I began to get hit by the day’s first problem – poor GPS signal. Fair enough, there’s a lot of tall buildings around this area, so there’s not really a very clear sight of many satellites, but still, huh ? At the first cache I tried I gave up with the GPS when I was a good 50 metres away and just used the map and hint. At the second one I tried I wasn’t so lucky – I couldn’t get the GPS to settle at all and the hint didn’t give much clue as to where I should go. Likewise the third.
At the fourth I was supposed to be getting some information from a piece of street furniture, I think, but I couldn’t make sense of it and couldn’t get an answer. So that was a waste, and by this time I was starting to get a bit irritated by the whole idea. I really should learn to set lower expectations when I’m caching in towns and cities. It’s always hard work.
Anyway, I eventually found one and then picked my way down to the Shinjuku Gyo-en National Garden, where I found another whilst waiting at the gate for it to open.
The next half hour was spent rather in frustration as I tried to follow my way around a multi-cache but kept getting lost as the information trail just seemed to disappear about three-quarters of the way in. I tried three times before giving up. The gardens were pretty though.
And from here, then began the second major problem of the day – missing caches. Now I know that urban ones can be hard to find, but the particular problem here seemed to be that at least a third of the caches on my radar were known not to be present (from multiple DNF logs and/or disablement) and a third more had at least a couple of DNFs or were in areas with tall buildings. A consistent lack of useful hints wasn’t helping either.
By now it was getting on towards lunchtime (or at least it was lunchtime if you hadn’t had breakfast) so I decided I’d park my butt for a while and contemplate what was going on. I stopped at a small outlet belonging to a local coffee chain and had myself a sandwich and a latte flavoured with honey, which was nicer than it sounds. I was alongside the main road running through Yotsuya, alongside Yotsuya-sanchōme Station, I think. To be honest, if I hadn’t been trying to fill time before meeting Kas I’d have given up and gone home. I wasn’t really enjoying the caching very much and the walk along here was the part where I felt the most uncomfortable all weekend. Not unsafe, but I definitely felt like stood out a bit.
I progressed my way through a couple more suburbs in the general direction of the Imperial Palace and found myself at Kudanzaka Park, where I found another couple of caches that I couldn’t find, as it were. One was inaccessible due to building works (but wasn’t disabled) and one I just couldn’t find.
I was now really despairing at the state of caches in the city and time was starting to march on, so I started to progress my way through the Imperial Palace grounds, initially failing to find a cache again at the Nippon Budokan, and then entering the proper “palace” bit. I had to get to the far side of the palace from where I was to get to where I’d agreed to meet Kas, and even this proved frustrating as I didn’t have a map of where all the paths went and I ended up going a bit around the houses (or the gardens, to be accurate).
I eventually came out onto a main road where I just had to walk a mile or so to meet Kas. There were plenty of caches on the way but I felt I was out of time, so I left all of them apart from a wherigo that I was walking right past. I did start to wonder about how come the grass everywhere seems to die back and turn beige-coloured in the winter.
From the caching perspective it had been an appalling day. I’d been caching for the best part of 7 hours and had found an extremely disappointing 9 caches. I suppose I’d done a nice long walk through a strange city and had gone to a number of places that a non-cacher would never go to, but it didn’t suppress the overriding feeling of disappointment.
What did help was sitting in the gardens at the end of the marathon course and Kas turning up with a bit of a limp, a massive medal and a smile. It had been a decent run which had been fast enough to make a “good for age” in Chicago for 2019, so that’ll be up next.
It proved to be a very easy hole-in-one trip home from here by taking the Marunouchi Line from Kasumigaseki to Nishi-Shinjuku and then plodding along the subways to the hotel.
For dinner we took a short walk at street level to the place we’d been a couple of nights previously, and this time we ended up in a Japanese speciality cafe/bar, where we were treated to a veritable feast of hand prepared foods accompanied by some very nice locally made beer. The food was generally “tapas” style, but that worked well because they served things as soon as they were ready and we shared all of the dishes between the two of us.
Our night of sleep was ever so slightly disturbed by what felt like a general shaking of the floor. It turned out that there’d been an earthquake which, had it happened 24 hours earlier, would have resulted in the cancellation of the marathon. Thankfully it happened afterwards. So we can now both describe ourselves as “earthquake survivors”, which is not something I was expecting.
Kas somehow got it into her mind that it would be a good-fun idea to run an ultra-marathon in Cumbria to finish off the summer holidays. The Grand Tour of Skiddaw, no less. 46 miles of “lumpy” terrain, with one rather massive “lump” in the middle. She must be mad.
Anyway, enough of that. What actually happened over the weekend then?
Kas and the girls had been away at Kas’s mum’s house in Whitburn all week and I travelled up on a very nice Pendolino from Milton Keynes to Carlisle on Friday afternoon to meet them. Technically, I’d been working all week. However I was in final throws of working out my notice with my employer, so both productivity and enthusiasm had been on the low side all week. Nana and Grandad were also driving over and were going to look after the kids on Saturday while Kas was racing. My plan was to follow Kas around a bit, essentially being alternately worried and bored, depending on how long I’d being sitting at each location.
On Friday night we had to go over to the event village at Lime House School, and this proved to be a highlight of the weekend, in a near-total-disaster sort of way. Google Maps thought it knew the way there, so we followed it. We ended up going down a road that was getting increasingly dodgy, and looked less and less like the correct direction. So at one point we stopped and turned the car around on someone’s drive. We’d been followed down there by a couple of other cars and it was a bit tight getting everyone around, so Kas tried to pull off the edge of the road to allow a descending car to get past us (there was no other way), but at this point we had a horrendous crunching noise as the car went over the top of a rock buried in the grass. Fair enough, further up the slope there was a line of rocks delineating a “don’t drive on my grass” zone, but where we were at the time there were no visible rocks. Should’ve got out to check, I suppose. The car essentially got beached on the top of it, and it took us a good half hour, and the help of a local resident (thankfully not the one who’s grass verge we’d just trashed) with a car jack to get us out. We had to lift the car wheel up off the ground far enough to dislodge the rock from underneath the skid-plate on the bottom of the car. Thankfully though, the rock was under the skid-plate and we hadn’t gone far enough through to get it trapped under any of the more delicate bits like the exhaust system. It wasn’t the best half-hour I’d ever had though.
Once we’d been through that, actually getting Kas’s running number and getting registered for the race was a piece of proverbial. We returned apparently none the worse to our hotel near Carlisle and met up with Nana and Grandad, and then quickly headed off towards central Carlisle to get dinner. Our first proposed port of call wasn’t open (and, in fact, didn’t open all night) so we continued right into the centre to walk around looking for a restaurant serving Italian food that wasn’t already fully booked for the whole night. It took us about 4 attempts, and we ended up in a nice little place called Gianni’s Pizzeria, right next to where we’d parked. It didn’t look inspiring from the outside, which is why we didn’t go in it straight away, but first impressions can be deceptive. It was pretty good.
Saturday morning saw me and Kas out of bed in darkness. It’s the first time I’d done that since last winter. Kas has been doing it every other day for months as part of her training schedule, but it was a bit out of order from my perspective. We were also far too early for breakfast at the hotel. Just as well we hadn’t paid for it. Kas had bought porridge and some cereal bars.
The drive round to Lime House School was uneventful (now we know the way) and we arrived bright and early for the event. Kas had forgotten to pick up her satellite stalk-a-racer gizmo the previous night but the event was small enough that the organisers could guess that she was one of three lady competitors who hadn’t done so, and she was therefore up and running before we really even got bedded into the place.
There were only 96 registered competitors and they were only expecting 88 of them to turn up, apparently, so it wasn’t exactly busy at the start area. We grabbed a coffee from the mobile pizza van and waited around, chatting to fellow competitors. Kas’s running buddy for the day, Paul, had also arrived. He wanted to “not go too fast” so had asked Kas if they could run together. Turned out to be a wise plan.
Anyway, by 8 am they were off. And by 8:15, so was I.
First stop for the runners was at Caldbeck, and I had an hour and a half or so to get there. That gave me plenty of time to grab three or four geocaches on the way. Kas and Paul came in somewhere in the back half of the field, had a quick drink and a photo stop and then disappeared off again.
From Caldbeck, I had decided not to try to meet them again at the car park at Latrigg, because we’d been up there a couple of times in May and I didn’t fancy trying to get Kas’s car up there, nor did I expect to be able to park there anyway. Kas’s car had already had enough adventure and excitement for one weekend. As well as it being a checkpoint for the GTOS there was a station for a different fell racing series in the same place on the same day. It was going to be busy.
So I decided to pick my way rather slowly round to Peter House Farm, which is all the way around at the access road going up to Whitewater Dash. This gave me an estimated 6 hours before Kas would pass me again, because from Caldbeck she’d got to run a further 8 miles into the fells, then up and down Skiddaw and then another 2 miles over the fields. I spent the first of those hours driving from Caldbeck and doing a handful more geocaches. I then got to Peter House Farm and waited 5 minutes in the middle of the road whilst waiting for someone else to vacate a parking space – it was one of the race organisers doing a tour round making sure the marshalls were ready. After I parked up the weather turned pretty foul, but it wasn’t predicted to get any better. It was windy and showery and quite cold. I decided to take the walk up to Whitewater Dash with my raincoat on, because I’d got plenty of time and there were a couple of geocaches up there. It was wet and windy all the way there, as I was walking into the weather. It was a little further than I thought too, but the views were great. The walk back was downhill and the wind was behind me too, so the world was much better. I also found a geocache that the previous three searchers had missed, so I felt a bit smug.
This still left me with a projected 3 hours of waiting before Kas might pass me. I’d rather shabbily not taken anything to eat or drink with me but I also didn’t want to leave just in case I couldn’t get back into the car park when I returned, so I decided to just wait and do some reading, whilst occasionally sponging use of a phone from one of the marshalls. Why? Because I had no signal, so the satellite stalk-a-runner device Kas had with her was no use at all to me. At third use of the marshall’s phone the painful truth had become apparent – I was going to be there for a couple of hours longer than Kas had predicted. She later told me this was because the weather up top was absolutely foul, and they were down to crawling pace, especially on the descent. Fair do’s. She does have a bit of previous where running down mountains is concerned.
Thankfully I had a big, fat book with me, and had also remembered to take my glasses. The book was Surface Detail, by my favourite science fiction author Iain M. Banks. I’d started reading it on the train up to Carlisle on Friday and was less than a quarter of the way through when I sat in the car to read it on Saturday. I was well past halfway when I stopped.
Kas and Paul eventually got to where I was at around 4:30 pm, looking somewhat dishevelled but in good heart. They stayed for a very short while and then scooted off again, leaving me to pick my way back round to Caldbeck for their next stop. This time I decided to go round slowly, and to stop for food. I’d spotted a cafe come art gallery in Uldale on the way in so decided to try it. The place was in an old school and I was a bit suspect as I walked in. It turned out to be really good, despite having no other customers at the time. Maybe it was good because they didn’t have any other customers. Anyway, I got soup, bread, a drink, and then a cream & jam scone and large coffee for not very much. I can live with loneliness for nice food at those prices.
My exit was delayed for a couple of minutes by some local bovine traffic passing by on the road, but I was still in plenty of time to meet Paul and Kas at Caldbeck again, this time looking somewhat more knackered than when they’d been there earlier. They arrived there between 6:30 and 7 pm, which gave them about 8 miles out of 46 left to do, with about 90 minutes of usable light at the most. They were going to finish in the dark. It’s a good job the kit list had head torches on. They didn’t stay long at Caldbeck this time – just long enough for a couple of biscuits and half a hot drink.
So off they plodded again. I watched them off and headed back to Lime House School to wait. During the course of the day the field they were using as a car park had transitioned from grassy to muddy, but there wasn’t really anywhere else to go given that Kas might be struggling to walk, so into the mud I went. I then spent another nervous hour and a half waiting for them, mooching about, trying to estimate where they were based on who else was finishing (not a reliable process over a 46 mile run) and reading a bit more of my book. Eventually it was too dark to read in the car so I went and sat in the sports hall amongst people who’d finished already.
After 8:30 I decided they couldn’t be much longer so I decided to just stand outside and wait, to make sure I was there when Kas actually finished. It didn’t take much longer and I was reassured by meeting a guy who’d been at Peter House Farm earlier, who told me he’d passed Paul and Kas just off the school site and they were probably under 10 minutes away. They were quite easy to spot coming down the hill into the finish, despite the total darkness, mainly because Kas’s headlight is about a foot lower than Paul’s.
They both looked surprisingly well for people who’d just run, walked and staggered 46 miles over rough terrain in less than pleasant weather, over a period of 13 hours. Fantastic effort, well done.
All that exertion required a bit of calming down, re-energising and refuelling though. Kas grabbed a massage, which also included a free lower leg clean, and then grabbed her free beer. We both needed to eat so we went and grabbed pizzas from the van outside. They were surprisingly good. And during the boring bits I did even more reading.
By the time Kas was ready to leave it was well after 11 pm, and we had to get out of the car park by taking a loop across the field to avoid the worst of the mud. We actually drove right around and crossed the start/finish line of the race. It was pretty much midnight when we got back to the hotel.
When we got up in the morning we were both in the mood to get full value out of a Premier Inn breakfast. We woke up a bit earlier than we thought we might and were ready early, so we dived into the restaurant and started on some eating whilst waiting for Grandad, Nana and the kids to come over. Actually, Grandad bought the girls over before him and Nana were really ready. We spent ages there and ate quite a lot.
Before driving home we made one more trip over to Lime House School to attend the awards ceremony. It was one of those “everyone who turns up gets a prize” jobs, but in a good way. Kas got a special award as a glamorous finisher.
The drive home looked initially looked like it was going to be a disaster. Someone at the event site told us that the M6 was closed near Preston. We toyed with the idea of crossing the Pennines and driving down the east coast, but as we travelled south we started noticing the overhead signs didn’t indicate much of a problem. Apparently they’d cleared it, and we were through the crash site after only 5 minutes or so of delay, so we were glad we chose not to divert. As it was a Sunday then we did hit some traffic further down, but it was on the section of the M6 south of Warrington where there’s always a queue. The always-a-queue was enhanced by the presence of some roadworks where they are “upgrading” the road to managed motorway (otherwise known as variable speed limit and speed cameras every 100 yards). It eventually took us the best part of 7 hours to get back, with me driving all the way, so by the time I got home I’d had enough of driving. I wasn’t finished though, because I had to drive the car back round to the Co-Op to buy wine.
Geocaches found over the course of the weekend were:
Our now annual trip (apparently) to Liverpool for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half started, as such things often do, with a frantic Friday afternoon and then a busy drive up a motorway. Aside from the fact that it was a fairly typical Friday night on the M6 and we had tea at Norton Canes there’s not a lot to say about the journey.
It was getting a bit late when we arrived at our hotel, the Premier Inn on Albert Dock, and we were ready for getting ourselves sorted. As we checked in we had a bit of a scare as the receptionist commented we’d booked for 4 nights. “No we didn’t. We booked for 3” we said. Then we thought about it for a bit and looked at our confirmation. When we’d booked it, about 9 months previously, it was a speculative booking made with the intention of finding somewhere cheaper at a later date, and we sort of assumed we’d stay until Tuesday rather than rush home, so that we could spend a bit of time in Liverpool. Subsequently we’d obviously booked our holiday in the Lake District (see Up the Lakes) and had evidently forgotten about the Liverpool booking. Not to worry though. We’d booked it on the flexible rate, so we were allowed to just cancel the one night.
I had to drive miles and then walk all the way back to park the car, because the hotels on Albert Dock don’t have their own car parks, and by the time I got back we were ready for a drink, and then bed. Alcohol seemed in order. The bar was open.
Saturday greeted us with a smile a wander over into the Echo Arena to get all our race numbers for the weekend. There were quite a lot of these, as Kas and me were running the half, Ami and me were running the 5k, and all four of us were running the Sunday Extra Mile. That’s a lot of numbers. It was enough to make us ready for breakfast. A Premier Inn breakfast. Mmmmm! Not too much, though. We’ve got running to do.
The Rock ‘n’ Roll series this year decided to add a 5k event into their weekend, and put it on Saturday morning. We would all have run it was it not for the fact that they put an age limit which Izzy was sadly below. We thought that’d be fine, no bother, I can understand, and all that, until we got into running the race itself, and we saw the considerable number of runners who were shorter than Ami. Now I know that’s not always a good marker, but Ami is quite small for a 12-year-old, and the race’s age limit for the race was 11. Some of the runners were a full head shorter in height than Ami. It’s unlikely they were 11.
On the way to the start line we met a bunch of ladies dressed as Minions, with a token Gru thrown in for good measure.
Still, what do we care, huh? Except that Izzy being unable to race meant that someone had to stay with her. Ami and me both did quite well though. Ami shot round in about 28 minutes, which is the fastest she’d run a 5km distance in ages. She obviously enjoyed the sea air and the flat course. And the smell of a medal at the end. It was quite impressive to finish inside the Arena, with the lights down and loud music playing, but I’m not sure it made us run faster, as we’d finished by then, as it were.
The rest of the day disappeared in a fit of not really being bothered. I think we had lunch in Costa right next to the hotel, and then we mooched about a bit whilst being generally not bothered. I had sort of planned to do a bit of caching, but was unable to persuade either child to come with me, so I left all three girls in the hotel room on the strict instruction that mummy was to be left alone for a snooze. Yeah, like that’ll happen.
From the hotel I walked along the side of the Mersey in the upstream direction until I reached the Chung Ku restaurant. I was finding most of the caches I tried on this stretch, albeit there were many anyway. At the restaurant I had my first failure, and also noticed the time. As it happens, I was getting rather hot and thirsty too. So I turned and started walking back towards the docks along Sefton Road. This isn’t the most inspiring of walks, but I did find a couple more caches on the way, and it is a proverbially straight route into the heart of town.
In the evening Kas had arranged for us to meet up with a largish group from the various running clubs we’re in at a Pizza Express in Liverpool One. It was a pizza. As we had the kids with us, they were kind enough to serve us in advance of everyone else and bill us separately, which was good, because the rest of the party was still just finishing their starters by the time we left, and as it was well gone nine o’clock, we really needed to get off and get the kids to bed.
A Swift Half, with a Chaser
Sunday morning started warmer than Saturday, and it stayed that way. Not ideal conditions for running, but ho hum, we’re here now.
We had a swift Premier Inn breakfast again and then got ourselves prepped up and out of the door ready to find the McGreals, who had kindly volunteered to look after the girls for us while we were running. By the time we’d all met up and handed over control of the daughters it was pretty much time to get into the starting pens.
And then we had to run a half marathon. Kas did well. I didn’t. I got round, but it wasn’t pleasant, and it did some damage to my already heavily battered running mojo. I hadn’t really been training and I didn’t really enjoy the MK Half I’d done at the start of May. So whilst I enjoyed the experience of visiting the city, and I love the event, this particular race has to get filed under “experiences to be forgotten” – Move along now, nothing to talk about here.
By the time I got back, Kas had managed to find time to put the kids through a couple of years of schooling. I felt like death warmed up, so I’m afraid I excused myself for a while and went for a lie down on the bed in our hotel while the girls enjoyed some sunshine. I couldn’t manage, and anyway I’d still got to get myself up and about to run a further mile in the afternoon. Why oh why oh why ?
When I got to the start of the extra mile, having met up with the girls again, I have to say that I wasn’t looking forward to it at all. When I started the race it would be generous to describe me as “running” – everything hurt and I was right stiff after the race in the morning. I thought I’d end up walking, and I told the girls to just get a move on and leave me behind. They did. Ami shot off like a greyhound and Kas and Izzy got well in front of me quite quickly too. As we were running along the main road though, I started to loosen up a bit and ended up running a decent speed, despite having finished the half marathon at walking pace and with frequent cramps (yes, I’m that unfit). In the end I finished the extra mile in less than 10 minutes, which is faster than all but 2 of the 13 I’d done in the morning, and I felt quite pleased with myself. I also got another medal to add to the collection.
The end of the extra mile signalled the end of the running for the weekend, and therefore officially the start of “holiday rules” – as a family we have a set of ethical and behavioural guidelines (1) that apply on any day that is arbitrarily nominated as a holiday. We’d nominated the rest of the week, what with us going up to the Lake District and everything, so the start of holiday rules for a whole six days was most welcome.
(1) OK, so there’s only one mandatory rule (about having ice cream every day), and the others get made up as we go along. I think there’s one about adults having beer or wine, and another about the kids staying up late.
It was getting late enough for us to go partake of the things that the Rock ‘n’ Roll events are most famous for – live music and free beer, and in the case of every trip we’ve made to Liverpool, sunshine. We walked (hobbled/shuffled – take your pick) over to the Arena, where they set up a big stage and get various live bands to play over the course of the afternoon.
We were around at the stage through most of The Velveteins and all of Cast, and I made my way through more than one of the beers. Izzy seemed to enjoy it too. Ami got a bit bored, tired and sun-stroked though, so she wandered back to the hotel on her own and had a lie down in the bed. Wimp ! I would never do that. Oh, wait….
There was a point where all three of us sort of fizzled a bit and decided to give up, especially as we’d got an evening meal date somewhere and we all needed to get cleaned up. So we jacked it in and went to reunite with Ami. She was there, in the room, where she’d promised. Good.
For dinner we met up with a substantial group of others from Redway Runners at a small Italian restaurant in the centre of town. It was basic but pleasant and the food was good. I was rather tired though. Ami was still suffering and kept going outside for fresh air.
We didn’t stay too long into the evening, because to be honest, more than one of us had had enough by about 9 pm, and just wanted to be asleep.
It had been a busy old weekend, and we’d got some driving to do the following day to get ourselves up north.
Caches found over the weekend were :
What’s that about then ?
Kas entered the 2015 Snowdonia Marathon. It’s not in our nature to split up for events like this – we prefer to have a weekend away and call it a mini-holiday, if only so that the Gardner Family Holiday Rules (1) apply. This, therefore, obliged us to go and have a long weekend in Snowdonia.
(1) The main rule that applies is the one about having ice cream every day.
Well, it was a Friday night, wasn’t it ? A Friday night that heralded the start of the kids’ half term break too, thus meaning that seemingly every single person who ever lived was in their car and attempting to get somewhere else.
We started off on our usual route north, up the M1 and M6 and stopped at the services on the M6 Toll to grab something to eat. From here things went a bit wrong. We’d heard somewhere along the way that the top of the M6 was a mess, so we decided to bypass it by heading up the A41 through Whitchurch and joining the A55 near Chester. This part proved to be very slow, as it’s single track, it was dark, and the road is heavily used by lorries and farm vehicles, even at night. At least we were actually moving though.
The A55 was OK until we started getting near Llandudno, at which point we joined the back of a massive queue. Kas managed to successfully re-route us through the middle of Conwy, which allowed us to bypass a couple of junctions on the A55, and hence allowed us to skip past about 5 miles of queue. When we got back onto the main road the traffic wasn’t too bad, and we soon picked up speed and got to our required junction – the road down to Llanberis. We were staying at the Padarn Hotel in central Llanberis. Car parking was a bit of a joke, partly because they accept dinner guests who aren’t staying at the hotel, but we eventually just abandoned the car and got into our room. It was late and Kas had to be up quite early in the morning. If they needed the car moving they could come and ask us. The room was quite basic (especially the bathroom) but fairly spacious. It wasn’t very warm though, apparently because October in Snowdonia isn’t really counted as winter. It wasn’t warm enough to sit comfortably in the room, even with a jumper on. Ho hum ! We’re here now, and there’s nowhere else in town we could go, especially seeing as we’d already paid to stay here.
Saturday Morning. The Race is On.
Saturday greeted us with wet weather. “Il pleut des chats et des chiens” as they say in France.
Kas had to be over the road at the Electric Mountain Visitor Centre quite early to get herself registered. We all went over with her and mooched about a bit while she did the doings. The start was a couple of hundred metres away on the main road, but the weather wasn’t fit for any significant amount of standing around outside, so we spent a while milling around and we shot around the back to grab the webcam geocache in the rear garden ( Mole says “Stick ’em up” 2 ). This is a venerable old beast set up in 2005, and one of only a handful of webcam caches left in the UK. It took us a couple of goes to get ourselves into shot, but we did get into shot. One of the reasons it took a while is that the iPhone screen isn’t quite so sensitive as it ought to be when it’s covered in water.
Once it got round to a sensible time we decided to just leave Kas in the Visitor Centre and head off. The kids were getting decidedly bored.
We chose to walk the half a mile or so over to the National Slate Museum, where we were treated to a selection of fine-grained-foliated-homogeneous-metamorphic-rock-based experiences including historical films, pictorial displays, bits of old equipment and a demonstration of the fine art of making roof tiles, all of which was quite interesting and was significantly enhanced by being mainly indoors. There was also a cafe. It had cake.
By the time we were finished the weather had cleared a bit and it wasn’t actually raining any more.
From here we crossed back into Llanberis and then walked up the hill to the Ceunant Mawr Waterfall, which is the site of an Earthcache as well as being photogenic. The only downside is that you have to cross over the lines of the Snowdon Mountain Railway to get to the viewing point. It’s not that the tracks are massively busy, but there isn’t a lot of room on the viewing platform should you just happen to get stuck there when a train is coming down (or going up).
By this time Kas had been going long enough to have made a decent attempt at it, so we returned to the town centre to go and play spot-the-missus. We walked up and down a bit wondering whether she’d finished yet and where she’d be, and eventually we managed to exchange texts and determine she’d finished ages ago and was mooching about wondering where we were. We ended up meeting halfway up the main street. She’d finished in a pretty impressive time.
After we’d met up with Kas we did the usual short period of going to our room while Kas got all cleaned up, and then wondered what else we could do on a Saturday afternoon. I was up for a bit of geocaching. The girls didn’t want to, but promised faithfully that they wouldn’t bug Kas, but would leave her alone for a rest and would play on their iPads for a couple of hours.
So off I set back in the general direction of the National Slate Museum again in search of a few caches slightly further up the hillsides. I got to do a bit of challenging walking over some rough ground and generally enjoyed the caching. The weather had improved somewhat by this point too. In no particular order, the caches I found on this stretch were :
After the second one I encountered three familiar figures walking towards me – the girls had forced Kas to go out for a walk. They followed me up to the site of the third cache before deciding that was enough and going back to the hotel again.
The last one was a bit of a pain in the proverbial. It was a three-stage multi, with most of the stages over around by the National Slate Museum, and then a pointer back to the middle of town, where I had to find something based on a hint I couldn’t really understand, which lead me to a final location a good bit further up the street. By the time I got there it was basically dark, after all it was late October.
Once I got back it was getting fairly late and Kas had about had enough, so we walked along the main street and ate at Pete’s Eats, which apparently has a good reputation in the parts. It was basic but good.
Sunday Morning, Up We Go!
Sunday morning greeted us with weather that could be described as a bit iffy. It wasn’t as bad as Saturday, meaning that you could stand outside without any imminent danger of being drowned, but it was grey and quite cold.
Anyway, there was no way Kas was going to walk up Snowdon the day after a marathon, and nor, I suspect, was Izzy, so we’d got some tickets to go up on the train. Buying tickets was problematic as a result of them seemingly have limited windows for selling advance tickets, and hence it being non-trivial to get them. I walked over before we’d had breakfast but then had to return again later, as for some reason they weren’t able to sell me tickets for a train two hours in the future. I can’t remember the excuse.
The train is a good way to get up to the top if you’re not up to the walk, although it’s a bit expensive. One downside (if you’ll pardon the pun) is that you have to tie yourself to a particular return journey too, because there’s not enough of a service to allow everyone to just stack up for the last train, if you see what I mean. As a result, you get a fixed amount of time at the top, and it isn’t very long bearing in mind how busy everything is up there.
When we got to the top we were greeted with a bit of a white-out. There are a couple of caches at the top, which we duly found. One of them is an earthcache which (we suspect) would be a lot more fun and educational if we could actually have seen some of the surrounding scenery. As it happened, from the trig point on the top you could barely see your way back to the train station, all of 15 yards away. The top was in a cloud, in case you hadn’t guessed. One of them is a virtual, which required the seeking out of some information from inside the cafe, which was most welcome. The YOSM had also been up there at some point in the past. The caches at the top were :
After doing the caches and getting cold and damp, we retired inside, along with seemingly the entire population of Wales. There were lots of people milling around who looked like they’d walked up, and had got very wet and cold doing so. There was a kind of steam floating around in the air and a vaguely unpleasant musty smell.
After a few minutes of deciding we didn’t want to queue there for hot food, we grabbed some snacks and drinks and had a chat about what to do. Ami fancied the walk down, and I did too. I think Kas probably would have too but Izzy wasn’t up for it, so Kas volunteered to take Izzy down on the train so that me and Ami could have the opportunity to try walking down. We figured that a few hundred metres down we’d drop out of the bottom of the cloud and all would be sweetness and light again. The walk down into Llanberis is the longest route, but it’s also the best surfaced, easiest to follow, and has the gentlest gradients. Time estimates seemed to be around 2 hours to get down.
So Ami and me set off to walk down, having first made sure Kas had all the train tickets, so she could offer the spare returns to someone who had walked up but didn’t fancy walking back down again. The top really was very murky and we couldn’t see very far, but the signposting is good and there were plenty of other people going the same way, so we figured it would be fine. It’s not like there were any advisory signs warning people not to attempt the walk. Sure enough, after 10 minutes and one quite steep little scramble over loose rocks, the air started to clear and the route down became very obvious. Our mood picked up a little here and we turned into the proverbial happy wanderers as we picked our way down the gently sloping rocky pathway back to Llanberis. At one point a little train came past us that we think had Kas and Izzy on it, but it was in the murky bit and I don’t think they saw us. Harumph ! Never mind.
One thing that did strike me as odd though, was the number of people who were walking up the mountain while we were walking down. Bear in mind this was the end of October and anyone walking up was almost certainly not going to be able to get a train back down, it seemed quite dangerous. It was well into the afternoon when Ami and me left the top, and it took us nearly two and a half hours to get back to the village, but all the way down we were passing people who looked like they were making an attempt on going all the way up, and were asking us what the path was like and how much further they’d got left to go. I don’t think I ever quite said to any of them “you won’t make it up and down before darkness” as surely they must know they were too late to get to the top, but I was surprised at the number. I was also surprised by the number of people walking up in shorts and trainers and apparently not carrying either food or waterproof clothing. Me and Ami had a couple of drinks each and some chocolate bars at least. Some of the people beginning their ascent didn’t have any bags, so obviously didn’t have anything with them.
When we got back to the bottom, Kas and Izzy were crashed out in the hotel waiting for us to get back.
Sunday Afternoon – The Island
We’d still got a couple of hours of daylight left and it was a bit early for giving up, but none of us fancied walking really, so we decided we’d drive 20 minutes or so and go for a quick gawp at the island of Anglesey and the famous Menai Suspension Bridge. Google satellite view indicated an abundance of parking nearby, so it looked a prime target for a bit of late afternoon gawping. We parked up on the mainland side and legged it all the way across to the island and back, making sure we grabbed a cache on the way over (Bridging the gap (GC20BDQ)).
And that was about it for our Sunday, aside from a quick and quite functional meal in the hotel bar.
Monday Morning, Time to Do a Runner
We were in no particular hurry to get back home because it was half-term, so the kids were off school for the week. We therefore deemed Monday also to be officially a holiday, as far as the consumption of ice cream is concerned. After breakfast at the hotel and a loose bit of planning we set off by driving east from Llanberis and up over some mountainous bits. The views were quite good. I think it was the first time all weekend that we could actually see the summit of Snowdon from down below.
After a couple of photo stops and associated geocaches, we found ourselves heading towards the A5 in the general direction of Betws-y-Coed, where we made a stop to allow for consumption of coffee and cake. We also did a bit of souvenir shopping (at least, the kids did) before we then headed back up the A5 in the direction we’d just come so that we could visit the Swallow Falls. It was pretty busy there but impressive enough to have been worth the visit, as the photos attest.
I Suppose We Ought to Go Home Then
We drove down to Lake Bala for a wee stop and a final bit of admiring the scenery before heading off on a wild drive over the hills in search of a single geocache within the boundaries of Powys. You wouldn’t have thought it would be difficult, what with Powys taking up an area half the size of Wales, but it was surprisingly difficult. All the ones on the edge that I thought were in turned out to be, in fact, out. So we had to drive right into the heart of the county to find one. Powys is probably the least urbanised place I’ve been to in Britain. It’s big, and there’s not much there.
So for the sake of general interest, the caches we found on Monday were :
We got back to civilisation (or back to major roads at least) somewhere near Shrewsbury and then had a very easy drive back around the motorways to get home again. The house was where we’d left it, which is always a bonus.
A return to the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half in Liverpool. This time it was Kas’s turn to run it and my turn to look after the kids.
It was being held in the middle of June this year, as for some reason they’d managed to find some other use for Liverpool City Centre on the second May Bank Holiday. So it was in the middle of term time, and therefore it meant that we had somewhat limited time to enjoy the experience.
We drove up on Friday night and were booked into the rather plush Jury’s Inn, right next to the race start/finish, which was good.
On Saturday we did not much in particular, except that I went caching over on The Wirral during the afternoon (see Wirral Wander). Seem to remember getting very muddy and smelly and ending up late for a dinner appointment with the family. Not good form.
On race day I was tasked with looking after our two kids and also Rob & Tina’s son Finlay (as they were both running). How hard can three be compared to two, especially when one’s a boy ? Apparently, it can be just fine and dandy.
So Kas did the running and I did the breakfast, standing by the roadside, and going for a coffee (in sequence, not concurrently). The kids did some climbing on statues.
After the race we decided not to linger around for beer o’clock, so we headed out along the riverside towards Crosby and to the beach that is home to the rather entertaining Another Place. We had ice cream, drinks and lunch up there before heading back down the motorways to get home again.
Saturday morning and a change to our usual routine of running parkrun in Milton Keynes. Why? Because Kas had an appointment with a half marathon in Leighton Buzzard – this year’s Dirt Half. From the title you can guess it’s a trail race, and the competitors are expected to return looking a bit mucky. Or a lot mucky, depending on the weather.
We all went down with Kas as the girls decided they didn’t fancy doing parkrun and then driving down to meet Kas afterwards. The race didn’t start until 10 so even with a planned arrival onsite at 9 it wasn’t a late start. As we arrived there we were greeted by the sight of a rather large number of our running club team members dressed in the club lime green. Nice. There were, apparently, 59 entrants from Redway Runners. In addition, there were also probably another 30 club members marshalling or otherwise supporting the event.
It was quite a nice morning by November standards (still, calm, a bit damp, but not cold and not raining).
While Kas was running, the girls and me decided we’d go and do a bit of caching, as you do. Well, if I’m being honest, I decided I was going to do a bit of caching and they were obliged to come with me, but they didn’t complain much and I did promise them some cakes or biscuits from the stall in the Race HQ once we got back.
We left Kas at about 9:30 and hot-footed it along the canal in search of a couple of tricky puzzles by Dave’s Piglings that I had solved a couple of weeks before. Both proved to be quite easy finds, and we followed this up with a dash up towards Leighton Buzzard town centre, where there’s a challenge cache (also by Dave’s Piglings) that I’d spent ages checking whether we qualified for. After some time I managed to find a way of all three of us qualifying for this using the same set of caches (by finding caches whose names begin with the letters of “Leighton Buzzard” and of at least 8 different cache types).
As we were walking back from here I looked at my watch and realised we’d just about be able to catch the runners passing by on the Grand Union Canal towpath. In fact, as we’d come that way, we’d have to go and wave at them until they’d all run past us, because there were enough that either us or some of them would have ended up in the water if we’d just walked back that way.
Once most of the runners had passed we were able to slip back under the road bridge and head back towards Race HQ again, but not until we’d first walked right past and walked around a short series of caches at Tiddenfoot Lake. I like that name. There were about 5 caches. Once again these are mainly owned by Dave’s Piglings. I understand some of the Piglings attend the nearby school. The walk around was quick and the caches were all found pretty quickly, which proved to be just as well, because the path around the lake was also a part of the half marathon course, so if we’d been much later we might have been trampled.
We made what proved to be a totally unnecessary walk all the way around the school to get back in and then just had time to quickly dash into the Race HQ for some cake before wandering off to try to find the finish line. This proved to be a bit harder than I would have expected, but we got there just in time to see most of the Redway Runners coming in.
Kas booked herself into the Chester marathon earlier in the year and we decided to all go up, on the basis that we were able to persuade my brother to allow us to use his flat near Wrexham over the weekend – he’s back home in Southwell at the weekends.
So off we headed up the M40 with a carload of stuff on Friday night for what proved to be a busy weekend. We made the mistake of thinking that the more direct looking route around Brackley would be quicker. It wasn’t. We then needed to stop for something to eat, so we ducked into Warwick Services for a healthy repast. That wasn’t either. It was burgers, chips, sandwiches and fizzy drinks.
By this time it was totally dark so the rest of the journey was going to have to be done in “darkness” mode. It was probably time the kids went to sleep anyway. They didn’t.
We drove up around the south side of Birmingham, then onto the M54 and along the A41 towards Whitchurch – this looked the best route for a Friday night. It wasn’t too bad, just a little slow once off the motorway due to there being plenty of lorries and not really enough long straight parts to pass them. We found the flat (near to Holt) fairly quickly and were able to get out and upstairs pretty quickly. Once we’d found where Phil kept all the bedding we were well away.
No running weekend away would be complete without a bit of geocaching. After all, why go for two days when the running only takes one? Anyway, there didn’t seem to be any parkruns around here so there was no opportunity to go do that.
You can read about my day’s geocaching at Bike or Hike.
Sunday morning started fairly early for Kas, and not quite so early for the rest of us. We had to get into Chester before they started closing the roads, which was about 90 minutes before the race started. Thankfully though the traffic wasn’t too bad and they were using big portions of the racecourse’s infield for parking, which meant we were fairly close to everything. It also meant that when we got there we’d still got something like 2 hours to kill before Kas’s race started. It was a cold morning and the various attractions at the race HQ didn’t keep us occupied for long – just a coffee van and the usual running clothes stands. So by the time we’d finished this and made the first of a number of trips to the “facilities” in the field we were starting to get a bit bored and a lot cold. None of us had taken our hats or gloves (after all, it hadn’t been at all cold so far this autumn) so the early morning chill was taking its toll a little bit. We ended up sitting inside for a while in the big marquee just to keep the cold away.
Eventually it was time for Kas to set off, so we walked out onto the racecourse, via the “facilities” again, and Kas started running around the grass field to get warmed up, closely followed by the kids, who obviously needed to warm up too for their 1 mile race that was starting over an hour after Kas left us.
In that time after Kas left we went off the racecourse slightly to grab a geocache up on the perimeter road, just to “fill in” a new county for the kids, and then we came back down and mooched about near the race HQ again until we received the call to go and get lined up.
The kids race was a straightforward 1 mile which involved running a few furlongs out around the racecourse and then a 180 degree turn before running all the way back through the start gate and then a few hundred yards further on to the finish. Ami said she’d run all the way with Izzy to make sure she as OK, but in the event she left Izzy at the turn and just sprinted in. To be fair to Izzy though, she seemed fine with it and was positively tanking it when she came into the finish straight, so I was quite proud of them both. It was also quite funny that despite all the announcements about having to run through the start gate on the way back and keep going for another 300 yards there were still several children (and their accompanying adults) who sprinted through the start gate and then simply stopped. Most then had a moment of dawning as they realised others were still sprinting past them…….
After the kids had finished and got their medals (which are very nice medals) we took a few photos and got their jumpers back on before noticing that we really didn’t have time for much else before Kas was due back. We just about had time to go to the car and make another trip to the “facilities” and then we went down to the marathon start point to wait for Kas.
She made her grand entrance into the racecourse in a very quick time and was spurred on a little by us three cheering her into the final few yards, and she finished in a stonkingly fast new PB time of 3:53.41 – Fan-dabby-tastic ! – Try reading about the Chester Marathon on Kas’s blog.
After all that exertion Kas needed a bit of a rest, so we sat at the outside coffee bar (it was now quite warm outside) and then took the kids into the play-area tent before heading off back to Wrexham.
We didn’t have much of a plan here except to get gone as soon as we could, but after a day and a half there wasn’t a great deal of packing to be done, so I was comfortable to leave the girls in the flat while I shot out to collect 7 of the easiest drive-by caches I’ve ever done in a mere 40 minutes.
The drive back was a predictably slow Sunday afternoon crawl stuck behind slow moving lorries and cars. All the way down I was looking out for a convenient place in Shropshire to stop and do a single geocache (again, to “fill in” a new county). After driving through quite a lot of Shropshire we ended up at Newport, where we thought we’d stop for a random cache and then get something for dinner before finishing the drive. The cache proved easy but then finding somewhere to eat seemed rather harder. We had Googled a couple of pubs but when we got there one of them looked rubbish and the other didn’t seem to exist, so somewhat disappointed we jumped back in the car and decided to go look in the next town, whatever that would be. Thankfully, as we were pulling out of Newport back onto the main road we found the missing pub – it was simply marked into totally the wrong place on Google Maps, as is often the case. It was a chain restaurant attached to a Premier Inn hotel, so nothing special, but it did do a decent Sunday carvery for the kids.
By the time we finished here it was straying into darkness again but thankfully not long after here we were on motorways with street lights, so it wasn’t too painful. The traffic also seemed to have died down a bit, so the drive went quite quickly, especially once the girls made me put Madness on the iPod. After a bit of that it was my turn to choose and I went for a bit of Beatles. It was surprising how many of their hits that the kids had heard of.
And that was it. When we got home everything was pretty much as we left it, except Kas and the girls each had a new medal to hang up somewhere.
Oooh ! A new running event.
I can’t remember how I found out about this one but as soon as I saw it I have to say it was a must-do. Who could refuse a start-up event that starts and ends in Wales and involves running over the Severn Bridge ? I couldn’t.
Well, it would also involve an excuse for visiting MyGeocachingProfile.com’s trickiest English county – the not-really-a-county-or-is-it City of Bristol. Another reason for going then.
We decided to stump up a few of our air miles to get a room in the Mercure Holland House in central Bristol for a couple of nights (it was a Bank Holiday weekend after all). The race was scheduled for Sunday so we were fine with spending the whole day there and coming back on Monday.
We drove down in Kas’s car on Saturday lunchtime, Kas having run parkrun in the morning. We stopped at a random service station for some lunch on the way – Membury or Leigh Delamere – and got to Bristol in good time for a bit of a chill in the hotel before going out for dinner. We had a bit of a stroll around before getting thoroughly lost trying to find our way into Cabot Circus to the local Zizzi’s. We should have looked at the photo on Wikipedia then. It’s clearly in shot. We had our usual collection of spaghetti bolognese and pizza, and then we walked back home for a relatively early night. After all, I had to be over the other side of the Severn Bridge at some awful time of the morning and there was some breakfast to be eaten beforehand.
We began race day with as hearty a breakfast as I could manage in the time allowed and we jumped into the car to make our way (surprisingly quickly) up to the Severn Bridge before it was closed for the event.
We parked up in an industrial estate to the west of the bridge and made our way up a steep grass bank onto the event area. There were a couple of other Redway Runners there, but not many.
As it was a first event, they suffered the usual problem of not having enough toilets, but thankfully I managed to time my bicycle rotation to suit and I was ready in time to get up to the start point. This proved to be halfway along the bridge, nearly under the western tower of the main bridge.
One thing you don’t notice when you’re driving over suspension bridges is the slope. When you’re running, you do notice it. The first stretch was uphill, followed by a mile of quite sharp downhill running off the bridge into England.
Once on dry land the route went north of the motorway around Elberton and thereabouts over roads which were narrow and generally “agricultural” in nature. We were warned at the start that there was a hill at about halfway, and we ran up a big one at about 5.5 miles so I assumed that had been it, until, that is, I got to the bottom of the “proper” hill. It was one of thse where I immediately stopped running and started walking. No way I was going to be getting up there at running speed. After a busy August I was feeling rather unfit anyway and was starting to struggle.
By the time we got back out onto main roads I was having problems. I was still going at a decent speed but starting to tire, and by the time I got to the end of the bridge I’d had enough. The mile up the English side of the bridge was more than my legs could manage and I ended up having to slow to a run-walk strategy. All of this meant a rather disappointingly slow 2:03 finish. I’m not sure what I was expecting but after a run of sub 2 hour halves I certainly had that in mind. It was getting painful towards the end though.
After finishing I devoured all edible contents of the goody bag and got a bad neck carrying the rather substantial medal before jumping into the car and doing a cache in my first new county of the day, Zetec, in Gwent.
Back to Bristol then for a quick wash and brush up followed by a walk over to the Floating Harbour, where we failed to find a cache (as it was inaccessible due to some re-paving) but then found a decent looking waterside pub, where we sat outside (with jumpers on) whilst eating some well-earned sandwiches and crisps and beer.
So what to do from here?
We’re always up for a bit of “active” history or geography at Gardner Towers, so we decided to walk along to the SS Great Britain to see what was up. It was really quite interesting. The kids marvelled at the (small) size of the cabins and beds and we also got to meet the real Mr Brunel, or at least that’s what he told us, and he did have the big hat and everything.
Once we’d finished upstairs we descended into the room beneath the boat, where the temperature and humidity are somewhat akin to a sauna, because apparently it’s good for the hull. Down here there was a great view of the business end of the ship. Or, at least, a restored and replaced business end.
All of this was very interesting but it wasn’t, to be honest, ice cream. The weekend had officially been designated as “holiday rules”, and hence at least one ice cream a day was on the cards.
We walked halfway back along the quayside and grabbed some from a kiosk before continuing our way back to the hotel.
When we got back to the hotel it wasn’t quite late enough to give up, so we jumped in the car and drove up to the Clifton Suspension Bridge for a nosey. There’s not much parking and in trying to find somewhere we ended up taking the car over the bridge. We walked back and did the earthcache at the bridge and then crossed it on foot to do another cache and have a quick walk up to the observatory building.
As we were walking back to the car we saw a sign announcing that we were crossing into North Somerset. So I checked for a nearby cache and there was one on a sign about 30 yards further on. Cha-ching ! That’ll be another county done then. That made three new counties done in a single day.
After this we headed back to the hotel and got tidied up (again) to go out looking for dinner. We couldn’t be bothered to walk far that evening (or, technically, I wasn’t able to walk far) and anyway we’d promised the girls we’d try to find a Sunday roast, so we mooched around the harbour area until we found a reasonable looking pub diner. We found one after walking probably three-quarters of the way around a loop. It was a decent pub though, and they had beer. And they had roast dinners. Several of those then.
After dinner we retired for another fairly early night and then got up in the morning to have a somewhat longer and more filling breakfast than we’d had the previous morning. And that was more or less it for the weekend, aside from having to drive home to Milton Keynes, which we did both quickly and uneventfully. It was just as well we did, because when we got home we had to pack up the car again for a week and head up to my folks house in Measham, where we were spending the final week of the kid’s summer holiday. Kas stayed at home to get some proper work done. I took mine with me.
We had a busy weekend planned. We’d heard from friends who’d done their other events that the Rock ‘n’ Roll running series were excellent to enter, so I was the lucky one who’s name came out of the 2-person hat and I was the one who got to run it. Kas had to make do with a weekend away. The race we planned was the Liverpool Rock ‘n’ Roll Half (there was a “full monty” as well, but only nutters run those) and we booked up nice and early to avoid disappointment. We booked early enough that it wasn’t officially a Redway Runners club trip when we booked up, and as a result we were in a different hotel to most of the other club members who went. A couple were in the same place as us, but not many. The hotel in question was the excellent little Hotel Indigo on Chapel Street. They didn’t have any family rooms so we booked two standard double rooms and hoped for the best.
Anyway, before all of that we had to actually get there. As it was a Saturday we had the obligatory trip down to parkrun first thing and then dashed home to finish packing our bags before setting off up the motorways. The drive was fairly uneventful until after we stopped at Norton Canes for some lunch. As we were heading up the M6 around Stoke it started to rain, and it kept raining pretty heavily for the rest of the way. Heavy rain on the M6 always makes it slow, difficult to see, and quite dangerous. And when we arrived in central Liverpool to park up we hit the next problem – the hotel didn’t have its own car park. We had to park in a public multi-storey a couple of hundred yards away. Fine if the weather’s nice, not so fine when it’s chucking it down. We walked from the car quickly.
After checking in and finding our rooms we chilled for a while before deciding it was time for some dinner – after all I needed a fairly early night and we were all hungry. Having failed to find a branch of our favourite Italian style chain nearby we resorted to asking the hotel for a recommendation, and they suggested we walk around the corner to Trattoria 51 – a local chain of two Italian restaurants. Meh ! How bad can it possibly be ?
Well, it wasn’t bad at all. Aside from the fact that we were early so there was virtually no-one else in the place, it was really excellent. The food was very good, the staff were friendly (always an advantage when the kids are around) and the service was really good. If you’re in the area, it’s worth a visit.
When we finished it was still fairly early, and there was still quite a lot of daylight left. It had also stopped raining at last and there was more than a hint of blue sky around, so I suggested to Kas it might be nice to take a walk down to the Pier Head to look at the big buildings and get a breath of fresh air. It was a really lovely evening by this time, to be honest. So we made a quick dash back up to the hotel rooms to grab our cameras and then off we went. We ended up walking all the way along to Albert Dock and managed to get far enough to find where I was supposed to be in the morning, and more to the point, it meant I could measure (roughly) how long it would take me to walk here again the following morning.
On the way back there were some signs that there was going to be a race in the morning, including some interesting road markings indicating who needed to run where. Straight on into that bollard for me then!
We awoke in the morning after a decent night’s sleep (for me and Izzy) and a painful, fitful night for Kas, who drew the short straw and had to share a bed with Ami the wriggle monster. Breakfast was open early enough for us to go grab something but not early enough for any lingering, so I got fully prepared for my race before going downstairs and left Kas and the girls in the breakfast room while I walked straight out and off down the road to find the rest of the Redway Runners Posse. As ever there were quite a few of us.
We met up outside the Echo Arena, which was the designated Race HQ. They had a baggage drop and some frighteningly long queues for the toilets. I was going to have to time this one well.
The race started at a very early 8am, which meant I was down at the start just after 7. It was quite cold at that time of the morning, but I had been bright enough to bring my sunglasses out of the car and pack them in my race bag. It looked like they’d be needed.
At about 7:45 we started to mosey over to the start line, and I was greeted there by Kas and the girls, who’d finished up breakfast not long after me, and had then bumped into a couple of other Redway Runners who were staying at the same hotel (but not running). They’d walked down together and arrived just as I was starting to get lined up for the off, and so just in time for a quick hug while I was relatively un-sweaty.
And so to the race…………
I can’t remember whether I’d set a target time for this but it was my fourth half of the year and I’d been getting progressively faster – well over 2 hours at the MK Festival of Running Half in March, 1:54 something at the now infamous Sheffield Half, and about 1:52 at the inaugural MKM Half Marathon on the first May Bank Holiday. The MKM Half wasn’t a PB but it felt like it should have been and I was feeling nicely refreshed and ready to try another one.
I set off on this one very quickly, running slightly below 5 minute kilometres. After the first 3 or 4, I slowed back to a more modest 5:00 to 5:10 mins/km but still fast, and I was surprised that I managed to keep this up until about 1 km from home – I had to have a short walk break then, but regained some energy and ran into the finish. OK, I knew I was going quickly so I was going to run down that last straight if it killed me because I knew I was on for a PB and I wanted it to be as good as I could manage. In the end, I finished at exactly 1:50.00 on the clock and 1:48.21 on the chip time. I’ll have that one, Guv’nor – that’s more than 2 minutes off
When I got back I felt surprisingly good. There were a few other Redway Runners around so we did a quick photo and then made our way in through the Echo Arena to get our bags and goodies.
I like the way they did it here – instead of getting a pre-packed bag stuffed with useless flyers they provided a bag and a series of help-yourself stands, so I was able to pick up a cereal bar, some crisps, a drink, a banana and another drink, but no bits of paper. Over at another desk they had all the t-shirts – I went for the largest, as ever. And then they saved the best bit until last. They were handing out beer tokens. Marvellous. One for each finisher, entitling the bearer to one of Mr Cobra’s finest, to be served outdoors in the sunshine. What could be better? Well, two of them could be better, and somehow Kas had managed to acquire one of the said beer tokens from someone else. Remember the race started at 8 am and it took me less than two hours. I can’t remember the last time I was sitting outside at 10:30 am with a beer in my hand.
Not only did they have beer, they also had music. Well, it’s a Rock ‘n’ Roll event, I suppose, so just after the half there was a half-hour set from The Christians, which was spot on for me.
After all this beer the assembled company decided it was time to retire to a nearby Weatherspoons for some breakfast. Blimey was it busy? We went upstairs – no seats. So we went downstairs and spotted some likely punters who were leaving and nabbed their seats before they changed their minds. A suitably heavy carb and lard-laden repast was had by all (especially by me) and Ami did a fine job of making the world’s longest drinking straw. Well done that girl!
By the time we’d finished breakfast I was beginning to feel the weight of the morning’s activity (and I was beginning to smell the aroma of it too) so we left the assembled company and plodged back to our hotel for a bit of a rest and a cleanup. To be honest, I could have slept for the rest of the afternoon, but it seemed to waste a beautiful afternoon when there was a) a few Redway Runners finishing the marathon at some point and b) a few geocaches available to be done. So I had a quick shower and got changed then we headed back out for a bit more. Anyway, the pros say it’s a good idea to keep moving for a few hours after a long run to stop yourself from seizing up.
So we legged it back down past the Albert Dock, this time walking along the riverside, grabbing a couple of caches on the way. By far the best was Albert Lock – a sneaky little Herbert that involves identifying which one of the very many padlocks attached the chain contains a little bit of paper instead of a locking mechanism. It’s surprisingly hard.
Once back at the Echo Arena we were obviously duty-bound to have a go on the big wheel. It’s becoming a bit of a habit (or another one of the “holiday rules”) after the trip to Brighton earlier in the year. This one sails nicely above the arena and gives an impressive view of the city centre in one direction and the river in the other. The glass was a bit mucky and scratched, which affected photo-taking opportunities a little bit, but the kids loved it (all 3 of us) and I think Kas did too. And we got to spin round a whole four circles before having to get off again.
We also went to greet a few more of the Redway Runners after their marathon exploits, and this time we got to listen to The Farm for a little while.
Eventually, we decided to wander back to the hotel, this time walking through Albert Dock and stopping in the museum place for some souvenirs for the kids, before retiring to the hotel for a brief respite and planning an evening. There wasn’t much to plan really. We needed a restaurant. The hotel came up trumps again by recommending Olive on Castle Street. OK, it’s another Italian one, but it was good. It was extremely busy so we were glad we went quite early, but even so we still had to sit at the bar for a while until they could clear us a table. After we’d finished we went back to the hotel and had a coffee and a digestif while the kids ran merry riot in their own special, quite restrained, way.
A new PB. I’ve gotta be happy with that!
And so to Monday morning, the morning after the day before. And guess what ! Nothing was hurting me. I must try running really early, drinking a lot and standing out in the sunshine all afternoon again. It seems to prevent running aches and pains.
We legged out way back down towards Albert Dock again again, and this time we grabbed a cake and a coffee at a cafe there and went into one of the many tourist-tat boutiques to buy some sweeties and other gubbins before deciding to head off. The car was exactly where we’d left it, which was good, and as it was the first ever time I’d been to Liverpool I asked Kas if she was OK to take a trip up to Anfield, not particularly to look at the football ground, but to pay my respects at the Hillsborough Memorial. I was working away in Holland when it happened but still remember watching the news broadcasts with horror, and it was, of course, my team at the other end. You don’t forget things like that in a hurry.
Not being familiar with the layout of the stadium, though, the memorial proved to be quite awkward to find. We parked in the massive Stanley Park Car Park and somehow I had it in my mind (without knowing) that the memorial would be at the Kop End, but down there it’s all gates and club shops and the like. The memorial is at the other end, which meant we basically walked all the way round and ended up only a few yards from where we’d started. Never mind. Football grounds aren’t that big, really.
We spent a few minutes at the memorial, quietly reflecting and trying to explain to the kids what it was all about., and then it was time to jump into the car and drive home. It was early afternoon and we had to get back, albeit that the kids were on holiday for the following week.
What an excellent weekend. My stereotypical preconceptions about Liverpool were as just well and truly smashed as my half marathon PB was, and we’d had an excellent couple of days. Kas is going to run it next year.
A while ago the good lady wife won a place in the Virgin London Marathon for 2014. She failed in the annual ballot but then entered a competition on a bottle of Lucozade Sport and won it. This meant deferring her place in the Manchester Marathon until 2015.
Running London requires at least two trips down the smoke – one to visit the Expo to pick up your number and one to actually run the race. We didn’t fancy consecutive days so seeing as the race was during the kids’ Easter break we decided to go down on Friday and Sunday. The kids didn’t come to the race but did come to the Expo with us.
So on the Friday morning we all got up nice and early and headed over to MK Station for the short hop down to Euston. From there we took the tube round to Bank and then the DLR over to the Expo, which was being held at the ExCeL. I’d never actually been out this way before and it’s not quite what I expected, especially the part where you approach and pass Canary Wharf and the train runs on some elevated sections. It’s all very big and modern. And, if you look the right way, you can see the ArcelorMittal_Orbit over at the Olympic Park. All very impressive and architectural.
At the ExCeL itself we joined what felt like a bit of a crush coming off the train but once we got inside the building our lack of concern for all things commercial and the relatively early time of the morning meant that we managed to get in fairly quickly and Kas had her entry pack before you could say “discombobulation”
OK, maybe not that quickly, but quicker than I was expecting.
Just inside the entrance was a great big carved out “London” that participants were invited to sign. It was also a challenge trying to find where anyone else from our club had signed it.
We did a bit of shopping, partly to acquire some t-shirts for the kids bearing a bold statement about “Mummy’s running the London Marathon” – it had to be done.
While we were in there we also found Julie, who was at the Expo on the marketing stand for the MK Marathon.
We also found the guy who makes the nice medal hangers we have at home, found the NSPCC stand as Kas was running for them, and spent some time looking at nutrition products.
We also made the necessary trip to the Lucozade Sport suite as Kas had a short appointment with them for marketing purposes, seeing as they’d paid for her entry and clothing and supplied a not insubstantial quantity of refreshing beverages over the past few months.
We also went to find the bit where you could have you portrait taken and printed immediately, which we did as a group, like you do.
All in all we probably only spent and hour and a half in there.
Having done that we needed to find a few things to fill some time before going “up west”, so we walked around a bit of Victoria Dock and tried to find a cache, but it was inaccessible due to building work.
At this point we saw a little plane fly right over us on its way into City Airport and at this point we seemed communally to try to use as many different types of transport as possible while we were here. Well, so far we’d done cars, mainline trains, tube trains and the DLR. Next up we spied the impressive looking Emirates Air Line from ExCeL over to the O2 and decided we had to give it a go. It was as close as we were going to get to flying.
I have to say it’s not the cheapest way of getting from A to B but it is one of the more spectacular ways. It travels about 90m above the river level and gives great views all around on a clear day.
Once we got into Greenwich we took a quick look at the time and decided we needed to get a move on up to the West End, and pondered on the best way. One option that seemed to be available was to catch a river bus up to County Hall and leg it from there. Well it was a nice day and it added another means of transport, so why not ?
The river bus was fully enclosed and a bit bigger than maybe I was expecting, and a pleasant experience, especially when the kids raided the snack bar.
The river bus parked up by the London Eye and by now we were a bit tight for time for our appointment with Happy Hunter HP20 for a bit of urban geocaching. We’d agreed to meet him somewhere near Westminster Abbey, where there is a rather special church micro (CM4000) to have a go at. The girls were feeling a bit the worse for wear just here so we left them chilling on some grass outside the Abbey while myself and HHHP20 went off to find the church micro cache and a handful of others in the area.
From here we took a walk along Whitehall up to Trafalgar Square, by which time we were all much in need of a coffee break.
After coffee we mooched in the Square for a bit before agreeing (again) that myself and HHHP20 could go for a quick walk to do a handful of caches while Kas and the girls were chilling, drawing, sketching and generally not doing anything involving physical exertion. One of the caches we did (Nightmare (not) on Downing Street) was a comfortable walk from here, but I can’t say where because this would be giving the game away. It wasn’t far though. We also returned to a couple of virtuals just south of Trafalgar Square that I’d failed to log the previous year when I’d forgotten to take the required photos.
By the time we got back to the Square it was time for HHHP20 to scoot off elsewhere and for us to head home. We’d been up a long time and the girls were getting tired.
We walked up towards Leicester Square, as we had a requirement to buy some touristy stuff for the girls, and we took the opportunity to grab some food in one of the many chain restaurants up there, Garfunkel’s, I think.
And from there it was a matter of grabbing the Northern Line back up to Euston and getting the train home. What a busy day.
On the Saturday we were joined by Dennis and Linda, who’d agreed to come down and look after the girls on both Saturday and Sunday nights. This made our lives very easy, especially when it came to Sunday morning.
Oh dear. Sunday morning ! We had an appointment with a coach leaving Stantonbury before 6am which was going to drop us off in Greenwich Park in time for the race start. We stopped at South Mimms Services on the way down for a coffee and the bus took us into London down the M11, past the Olympic Park and through the Rotherhithe Tunnel. We arrived in good time although the bus had to drop us off a short hike from anywhere useful. We had a large group from our running club on the bus so we had a photoshoot before I said goodbye to Kas and set off on my caching day, while Kas prepped herself and started her little run. In truth I have no idea what goes through her mind on such a long run and will probably never understand, much in the same way as she probably wouldn’t understand why I spend so long looking for bits of tupperware in the countryside, but you can get a glimpse of her mindset in her London Marathon: Dreaming Big post. The rest of this post is unashamedly about my day of caching.
This began with a church micro in Greenwich Park ( CM3711 ) and proceeded with a bunch of traditional caches and virtuals in and around Greenwich. At one point I managed to get myself a little bit lost and more than a little frustrated with the number of people around, as I had to queue to get into the Cutty Sark DLR Station so that I could ride one stop to Greenwich Station just so that I could get underneath the marathon course.
There was, however, the bonus of being able to hunt for a Wherigo church micro ( CM3690 ). I’d also managed to find 4 virtual caches in one morning, a statistic which proved useful later in the year.
The fourth of these involved a walk under the Greenwich Foot Tunnel to the north side of the river and the Isle of Dogs. Whilst I was up here I checked my watch and guessed it was about time to go wife spotting. I tried a roadside spot on the Isle of Dogs just west of Millwall Park. I 100% failed to spot Kas. I saw a bunch of other Redway Runners but not Kas. It turned out that she was having a bit of a nightmare and was by this point a long way behind her original target, but I wasn’t to know this. What I also didn’t know was exactly whereabouts on the course I was, so picking where I should have been and when was tricky.
There reached a point where it occurred to me that it would be a tight run thing in a race between Kas finishing the course on London roads and me trying to get to Westminster on public transport on marathon day.
My route involved the DLR from Island Gardens to Tower Gateway and then the Circle Line to Embankment and a dash through the crowds to the top of Haymarket to meet Kas.
Kas had got there before me but then had spent ages getting through the finish funnel and it took us a while to meet up, before going into the NSPCC hospitality suite for a drink and a sit down. Kas had finished in 4 hours and 12 minutes, give or take, and looked both tired and elated at the same time. A fantastic effort despite being a bit behind plan.
It took a bit of effort to get 400 metres up the road to meet our bus on Haymarket but from there it was relatively painless getting home again, and the car was where we’d left it, as was everything else.
When we got home we had a bit of a clean up and then went up the town centre to meet some other Redway Runners for tea at the Gourmet Burger Kitchen, who were foolishly offering a free burger and small bottle of Prosecco for anyone carrying a London Marathon finisher’s medal, which meant about 8 of our party of 12. Bargain ! Although apart from us it was surprisingly quiet in there.
On Sunday April 6th I was entered into the 33rd annual Sheffield Half Marathon. It turned out to be one of the weirdest days of my life. I didn’t realise it was weird until quite late in the day, but apparently it was all quite weird.
You may have heard that the race was cancelled due to lack of water on the course. You may have seen streams of abuse flying in all directions in the aftermath. You may have seen that 4100 people ran the course and finished, and got their medals and t-shirts. Funny, all that. Somehow my day didn’t seem quite so extreme or interesting until the media (and by that I mean the social media as well as the “big” media) started telling me about it.
So to set the record straight, at least in my own head if nowhere else, here’s a quick summary of my day, and a few of my feelings about some of the stuff I’ve been reading since.
The day started bright and early at 5.15 am at my parents’ house in Leicestershire. It should only be about 90 minutes to the event from there, so we had plenty of time for me to get fuelled up and for Kas and Ami to get dressed to come to support me. It was here I noticed my first peculiarity of the day. When I came to put on my running shoes I noticed I had my old pair, not my new ones. This might not seem a big thing, but I changed them because the old ones were starting to get a bit solid under the heels and weren’t doing my ankles any good. So old trainers it is, then. The daft thing is that I didn’t notice when I packed bags away back on Wednesday (as I was on a business trip before the weekend). And I also didn’t notice when I ran parkrun at Conkers on Saturday morning – I just put on the shoes in the bag. And now, when I’m getting myself psyched up for a race, I notice I have the wrong shoes.
The drive up took the quoted 90 minutes, and after a brief flirtation with being guided into a car park that was unnecessarily far from the race venue, and then moving the car to somewhere in the same timezone at least, we piled out of the car, decided which bags Kas was going to carry and what was staying in the car, and off we set for some breakfast for the girls and a coffee for me. So far so good.
The Don Valley Bowl seemed a decent enough venue and was surrounded by other buildings that were being used to support the event, including the Ice Sheffield building, which was quoted as being “open for runners to use toilets and changing facilities and use of the cafe/concession stands” – Hmmm! The cafe actually wasn’t opening until 8:30, which is bog all use when the race starts at 9. Still, there was plenty of space to change and the added spectacle of some people practising some figure skating out on one of the two rinks. So far so good, still.
We plumped for breakfast (plump being a very appropriate word) at a little tut-tut machine out in the bowl that was serving nice coffees with a selection of sweet items that were too small to be called cakes but too big and complicated to be mere biscuits. Ami had three of those and a hot chocolate. I had coffee, as did Kas. After which time was moving on so we went back into Ice Sheffield for a quick change act and the usual pre-race turning my bike round, if you know what I mean. In a bizarre reversal of normal fortune, there was a big queue at the gents and none at the ladies. I guess running clothes tend not to have zips on the front, which makes bog all difference to the girls but makes a big difference to blokes. Got the job done and got outside in good time to go to the start area though. Still all going well.
I found a convenient fence to lean on whilst doing my stretches – Ami joined in for this part – and then Kas did a nice snappy-snap of me with Ami. After this I decided it was time I went to the starting area and started thinking about my race plan. This was the point at which it all started going a bit pear-shaped.
First of all came one of the organisers walking down the pen announcing there was going to be a half-hour delay because of “an incident on the course that the police needed to attend to” I thought “Fair enough, probably a car crash just before they had to close a road off, or something, I hope no one’s hurt”. Kas left me in the pen at about 9:10 to go find somewhere to stand on the course so she and Ami could wave at me as I went past.
But then we waited, and the pen filled up, and we waited a bit more, and no one near me could hear any announcements. Not even the bloke in the Superman costume or the 118 brothers. And then there was a bit of a slow handclap in the crowd behind me. And some more waiting. And another slow hand clap. And then I think, but I’m not sure, someone on the sideline commented that the race had been cancelled, but I don’t think anyone believed him because at that very point everyone started moving forwards. From a straw poll of people around me in the crowd there was a fifty-fifty split between “we’ve started at last” and “sod it, I’m running it anyway”
As I rounded the corner to the actual start line there was the slightly disturbing sight of the lead car parked up on the start line with the official race clock stuck on zero. Something’s going wrong then…… But all the runners were just going past it.
I found Ami and Kas about 500 yards in and I think I shouted to them that I had no idea whether we were actually racing or not, but everyone seemed to be just going for it.
And from that point right up until I came back into the Don Valley Bowl at the end you would never have known that there was an issue. What do I mean by that? Well, you may have seen some horror stories about no water, and loads of people collapsing by the side of the road with dehydration, and police blockades, and public-spirited people buying water from the nearest newsagent and handing it out and plucky locals making a fantastic day out of a total debacle, but to be honest, from a very personal point of view, I didn’t see any of that. I saw 4100 or so people running a race. My experience of the run was undoubtedly improved by the fact that I didn’t realise I was supposed to be dying of dehydration.
In truth, I really enjoyed the running. I tend not to drink much on a half anyway unless it’s hot. My first and only drink was three mouthfuls out of a plastic cup at about 8 miles, I think. By this stage, I’d passed a number of water stations, all of which seemed to have water. The course was, in any case, lavished with rather more water stations than most half marathons I’ve run – at least 6. Personally, I had no clue that the reason for the delay was a lack of water. Sure, I got passed by 4-5 people at 6 miles who offered me a swig of their water before passing it on to someone else, but even then it didn’t occur to me that there was a water shortage and at no point was water an issue for me. When we were running out and back along Eccleshall Road there was some drizzle in the air. It was quite cool and really quite comfortable to run in.
Also, there were quite a few people out supporting, and at several points I strayed to the side of the course to engage in a few high-fives. I always like to do this, especially with kids, because I know my kids love it when they hold out a hand and someone high-fives it for them. And anyway, it’s sort of a runner’s way of thanking the crowd, that and personally thanking as many of the marshals as I can manage. It costs me little and I hope it’s what makes them volunteer, or come out to support, in the first place.
The race was quite uneventful for me. I was slightly ahead of my planned speed most of the way (1.55 with absolutely no walking) and before long I found myself running back up towards the last mile thinking I was doing rather well. I bombed a bit in the last mile as I started getting tired and I lost a minute or so there, but I still finished in a very pleasing 1:54.39 on my watch, so right on plan. I went through the finish line, and I got my t-shirt and a goody-bag with my medal in it, and I then wandered over towards Ice Sheffield to look for the girls.
And when I met them we had ice cream and a drink from an Ice Cream Van while Kas told me all about the near-death experience I’d apparently just been through.
We had to dash between streams of returning runners to get back to the car, and then we jumped in and made out way home. I left the arena thinking it had been a decent race, and a decent course, and overall quite a good day, even with the delay. It was only when I got back to my folks’ house and started watching the news and reading the twitter and facebook stories that the full horror of the blood-letting fest hit me. Let’s just say that whilst there were evidently some problems, and apparently some of the competitors did not get to run, for me the experience was OK.
So here are a few of my retorts to some of the bits of feedback that I’ve seen in the press and on social media that I regard as overboard or plain rubbish.
There were lots of comments about the price being exorbitant and for that money you would expect that you’d get water. Well, to be honest, the price wasn’t exorbitant. It was £26 (£24 if you’re an England Athletics club member, which I am). That’s less than half the cost of the Great North Run. It is one of the few large events in the UK that is run by a not-for-profit organisation and which gives all of its proceeds to charity. From that alone you can assume that the majority of the fees for venues, policing, medals, medics, and the like are perhaps being paid for by the corporate sponsors and that the entrance fee is a charity donation. So cut them a bit of slack, huh ! They made a big mistake, yes. They tried to recover but couldn’t, and then in a fairly chaotic situation they had to make a decision. They elected to cancel the race, which is not a happy decision for the runners, but after an hour of people standing around they’ve got to make a decision and they decided to err on the side of safety, thereby making themselves look like incompetent idiots and precipitating the downfall of their own event. Not an easy decision to make.
I understand that they did manage to get a barrier across the start which prevented a lot of the runners at the back of the pen from starting their run. In hindsight, this was probably a good thing. Runners at the back of the field are more likely to need the water and less likely to get it.
The second issue was a lack of communication at the start line. This is the thing I had a beef with. They were running the event in a new venue (new to them) and they evidently got the PA system wrong. You could hear plenty in the bowl, but out at the start pen there was nothing. Loads of people were assembled ready for the scheduled 9 am start but there wasn’t much information at the start as to what the issue was or when it would be resolved. Which leads me on to my next point……
Because I was one of the 4100 people who ran and finished then, according to the press, I’m either a total villain of the peace who recklessly endangered his own life or I’m a plucky “ranarchist” who stuck two fingers up at the Nanny State. Utter tosh on both counts, I’m afraid. As far as I was concerned the race had started and I was finally off for my 2 hours of pleasurable insanity. I wasn’t being a free spirit or a rebel or a ranarchist or any of those things. I suspect a fair few of the 4100 were in the same position as myself. If anything I was thinking “I’m here, I’m ready, nobody told me not to run, and please get out of my way now because there’s no way I’m letting a guy in a Super Mario suit beat me.”
So thirdly, there was a video clip on the BBC website of an interview with a woman who finished in 1.56 who said she thought she’d seen “more people collapsed at the side of the road than normal”. This seemed bizarre to me. I ran at 1:54 pace, so I was a minute or two in front of her. I saw one guy on the floor about half a mile from the end (I wish him well and I hope he’s OK), but I didn’t see whole droves of people on the floor. And even if I had, then given that every water station had water when I passed it, this couldn’t have been caused by a lack of water on the course. So I sincerely feel very sad for anyone who did have a problem and I wish them a speedy recovery, but it’s important not to throw idle speculation to fuel the fire or sensationalise a story. I’m not sure you could immediately assign water shortage on the course as the reason, and I would be very interested to see whether there was a greater proportion than normal of participants in the sub 2-hour category who collapsed. Bear in mind there are always some, and there always will be some, because in the words of the immortal bard, sh*t happens. I didn’t see clear evidence that water shortage on course was causing loads of people to suffer, and given that it was about 10-12 degrees, cloudy and a bit drizzly I’d be surprised if dehydration was the single reason for any of them. I’m sorry, but someone who’s trained properly to run a half marathon in under 2 hours is very unlikely to collapse from severe dehydration on a cool spring day in Sheffield unless something else is wrong too.
So there’s a load of people baying for blood and demanding they get a refund on their entrance fee. Refund? Why? What good will it do? If they offer a refund to me it’s going to a charity. If I’m feeling ironic I’ll give it to a charity that provides clean safe drinking water to people in developing countries. Sure, if you were prevented from running your race then fair enough, you should be offered a full refund or a free place for next year. But if you got your medal and your charity got its donation, then was it really so bad? How much outrage were you really feeling as you walked back to your car with your t-shirt and medal?
And finally, this one is worth a mention if only because it brightened up my outlook while I was reading through the blood-letting session last night. I guess it’s on the general theme of “don’t spout your opinions about something unless you were actually there” but this one was so pathetically funny I nearly wept. Kas made a post on a website about taking some positivity from the event, and how the people of Sheffield got out and helped to make it a tolerable day for the majority of runners. One of the responders to her comment basically disputed this by describing it as a desolate course and a desolate place that he’d never come back to. He didn’t even run it this year, he ran it last year. So what’s the funny part? “Desolate” is the funny part. I was reminded of a sketch from Fawlty Towers. “What was sir expecting to see on a half marathon in Sheffield? The Hanging Gardens of Babylon perhaps? Herds of wildebeest sweeping majestically across the plain?” – “I expect to be able to see Sheffield” – “You CAN see Sheffield sir, it’s over there in between the rain clouds and the tarmac” Pardon my French, but if you wanted to run a half marathon in beautiful countryside whilst listening to the gentle sounds of farm animals and birdsong then why did you enter a half marathon in Sheffield, FFS? And what has any of that got to do with the lack of water anyway? And finally finally, and you can absolutely trust me on this one, I’ve been to some pretty dull, characterless, ugly, soul-destroying places in my time and Sheffield isn’t even on the front page of that particular list.
And yes, I’d run it again in another year. I enjoyed it.
As part of her entry into the Virgin London Marathon that Kas won with Lucozade Sport they gave her entry into a couple of other half marathons (as training runs, I suppose). One was in Brighton. The second was going to be at Silverstone, but that was already full and they got her a place at Reading instead. As it happens, I think Reading was the better deal.
Reading isn’t exactly close to our house, though, and Kas needed to be there at some uncomfortably early time of the morning, so we decided we’d try to grab a Premier Inn nearby. The closest sensible one was in Bracknell, which was only a few miles away from the race. We rolled up there on the Saturday night and discovered that (this time) we’d have plenty of time to get breakfast in the hotel before leaving. There was also the small matter of finding a Zizzi’s for dinner. The closest was a few miles away in Wokingham, but it was close enough. This is becoming a bit of a habit.
Back at the plot, we parked in our designated parking location, which was some distance away on the office site of a large commercial organisation. So we had a 10 minute bus ride back again before then having to mooch about through lots of traffic to find where Kas was supposed to be checking in. The race centre was up at the Madejski Stadium. One of the attractions of this particular race is the big stadium finish. They have several thousand entrants, and I guess the stadium is the best place to host all the friends and families that want to come and support the runners.
The start of the race seemed an unreasonably large distance away from the stadium, so the girls and I left Kas to it and went off to grab a few nearby geocaches, like you do. We found three in total.
We also spent ages waiting by the side of a road that I thought was the outbound route for the runners. Some time later when I saw thousands of people streaming across a roundabout 500 yards away I realised that we were standing at the inbound route, so no-one was coming here for ages. D’oh ! Must read the map next time. At least where we were standing there was a steel band playing away to keep us entertained through the relative cold.
So from there we plodged back towards the stadium, having suitably missed Kas’s start. We made a dodgy dash between the waves of runners and proceeded to the car park of a nearby DIY store (who’s name rhymes with Wee and Poo) for another cache before retiring to the stadium for mid-morning snacks and to wait for Kas.
In the event, waiting in the stadium was OK and the kids seemed quite happy. And Kas finished in a new PB of around 1.48, despite the course being “somewhat more hilly” than advertised.
Grabbing the bags was easy, getting the bus back to the car was easy, and getting out of Reading was also easy.
From there we drove up to Henley round to see Kas’s old work friend Sarah, who lives there now with her husband and two boys. She’d done us some very nice lunch, which hit the spot nicely.
The Trip Down
The long awaited trip to Brighton for Kas to do the Brighton Half Marathon, entry to which she won as part of her Virgin London Marathon package from Lucozade Sport.
We did our usual parkrun in Milton Keynes in the morning and then dashed home for a quick clean up before heading out on the highway, looking for adventure and whatever comes our way, as it were. Whilst the prime objective of the weekend was Kas’s run, we were loaded up for a general weekend away, and were calling it a mini-break as much as anything else. All good mini-breaks have to involve some form of posh coffee and cake (or pies) so once we thought we were approximately halfway there (Cobham Services) we thought we’d better park up and do the doings. While the doings were being done, I thought I’d check the locality for caches, as you do, not really expecting anything nearby. Indeed, according to Google Satellite View, the services aren’t there. So imagine my total (lack of) surprise when a Motorway Madness cache appeared a mere 200m away from where I was sitting. Got to be done. So while the girls were finishing up their lunch I ventured over what looked like fields, but was actually a car park, and made an easy find under a bench near the bus park. It’s a new county for me too. Never been caching in Surrey before.
It turned out that we’d stopped a lot further on than halfway. Once we got back in the car expecting another 2 hours or so we were very surprised and quite happy to be entering Brighton a mere hour later and trying to pick our road down to our hotel in Newhaven. The hotel was easy to find but not so easy to get into. There’d been a lot of rain and the car park around the front was totally flooded. We had to park down the side of the hotel, where there weren’t really that many spaces.
The hotel itself was a fairly standard Premier Inn of the variety that has an attached pub for the provision of food. The room was spacious enough and we began what we hoped would be a gentle evening. It was about 4:30pm and the light was all but gone. This is where we hit upon a bit of an issue. As Kas was unpacking she noticed that she’d failed to pack one of her key pieces of running equipment. The one that is, shall we say, more necessary for a lady than for a gentleman. So we had to make a dash up to the nearest running equipment shop, which turned out to be in central Brighton, and yes madam, we’ll be open until 5:30 pm so you should have plenty of time. Driving into new places in the dark isn’t my favourite thing in the whole world so I was glad that Kas was doing it. We managed to get parked fairly easily and find the relevant shop easily too. So far so good. It was a bit warm inside the shop for me, what with me wearing shirt, thick jumper and ski jacket, but thankfully Kas found the necessary item fairly quickly and we were out.
Which left us wondering what to do about dinner. Neither of us really fancied the hotel pub so we did a quick search for the nearest Zizzi’s (always good before a race because they do pasta and pizza, and they do stuff the kids will eat, whilst maintaining a reasonably grown-up restaurant feel). Oooh ! There’s one about 300 yards that way. That’ll do us then.
After which it was time to get kids and wife to sleep ready for what promised to be a long day.
A Bit of Running and Some Complicated Caches
Sunday morning greeted us with a nice warm radiant smile. Well, it was sunny, which is about as good as you get in the middle of February.
We needed to be leaving the hotel at 7.15 to avoid road closures but the pub/restaurant resolutely didn’t open for breakfast until 7. It’s the rules, don’t you know. So we dressed, packed and prepared everything first and then carried everything we needed into the pub with us, ready for a swift exit. It’s impressive how much the kids actually managed to eat in the 15 minutes we had in the breakfast room. Well done girls.
And so off we went for the short drive up to our designated parking spot at Brighton Racecourse and a fairly hair-raising (if I had any) bus ride down some very steep hills to the race venue on the sea front. We were dropped off a hundred yards or so from the bag drop and general corral areas, so all going to plan so far. At this point we decided to pretty much leave Kas to her own devices while we went off for a spot of light caching to pass the time. While Kas was waiting to start we grabbed a couple of easy-ish ones on the sea front and tried to solve the fairly complicated, but rather excellent Parallax View II. We mis-counted one of the stages so walked up to a place which looked hopeful until we got there. Botty !
By this time the runners were pretty much on their marks, and had got set, and were just waiting for a “go” – there certainly were quite a lot of them. Which meant that we had to wait a while before we could get over the road to the pier. On the way there the kids decided they were hungry, so we had to wait outside a stall at the end of the pier for 10am so that they could grab an ice cream. The we entered the pier to do The Parallax View (also excellent) and about 3 others. I thought I had the calculations wrong for this one too because it seemed a long way away, but off we went. And it wasn’t there. So I recalculated and realised the problem, but by this time we were running out of time, so we looped back through the middle of Brighton back to where I now knew was the location of Parallax View II (it was an easy find) and then made our way back to the finish line to discover that not only had Kas finished, she’d run a (slight) PB. And the sun was still shining. A good morning for her and a reasonable if slightly frustrating one for us. Still, at least we got a few decent photos.
We jumped back on the double decker bus and took a different but equally steep route back up the hill to the racecourse, and an end to the morning’s frivolities.
Catching the Big Fish
If you look at a geocaching map of Brighton you can see a great big fish shape with the head being a series of traditionals around the outskirts of Saltdean and the body and tail being a series of puzzles stuck out in the sea. Obviously they’re not really in the sea, but… All these puzzles are actually the same thing, near enough. They are all Hidato puzzles, of increasing complexity as you move in numeric sequence through the series. These seem fairly easy once you apply a bit of deductive reasoning to them. So I was armed with the solutions to about 25-30 different puzzles, plus all of those traditionals to go for too.
By my estimation, I could just about get around in the afternoon before darkness descended. Kas had plans to get cleaned up at the hotel then go back into central Brighton to meet an old workmate for a spot (more) of ice cream, posh coffee and crazy golf. So I had an afternoon of beautiful sunshine, a GPS full of unfound caches, and no one to stop me. My walk started at a YOSM next to Roedean School and continued over the downs around the back of the school and towards Saltdean. I also started collecting information for a multi that started at the same place. I still don’t know why they’re called “Downs” because they seem mainly to be “Ups” every time I’ve been there.
The finds were all very straightforward and I was going great guns really, although maybe a little slower than I thought I might. There was a lot of upping and downing. But the conditions underfoot were generally good. I trundled my way through Rottingdean on the coast road and into Saltdean, and eventually right through to the far side, whereupon I looked at my watch and decided I better get my skates on.
Thankfully the route back was faster than the route out and I made it back to my start point at about 5:30 pm just as the sun had finally disappeared. I measured out my route when I got home and I’d walked about 11 miles. So when I add in the distance I covered in the morning with the kids I’d actually covered at least as much ground as Kas did, just a bit more slowly.
Down the Pub
We tried our very hardest to find a fairly posh restaurant in Newhaven. We really did. But we failed. Not to say that where we ended up was bad, it just was a kind of place I don’t think we’ve taken the kids before. It was down by the harbourside and looked from the outside like a typical English seaside town old pub. It was called the Hope Inn. From the inside it was decorated simply, with a lot of wood, but was set out with dining tables and looked fairly comfortable. It turned out to be really rather good for what it was. Given the general state of us I think it was actually perfect. We’d all spent most of the daylight hours outside and all of us, in some way, had covered a lot of ground and caught the sun. We didn’t really need “posh”. We needed “relaxed”.
It had a simple menu that was a bit heavy on the old “fruits of the sea” theme, but with a few notable (and hence to the ladies of the house “edible”) other things. I think I ended up with a substantial pie and some chips. The kids had a roast dinner, I think, although we had to wait a few minutes so they could have fresh roast potatoes. The other thing of note there was the pub dog. “Dog” is a bit of an understatement. More of a hairy horse, if I’m being honest, but it was softer than a pack of Andrex that hasn’t been put in the freezer, and what was really remarkable is that Izzy was brave enough to go stroke it. Blimey!
And we had pudding as well, because it would have been a sin not to.
The Morning After the Night Before
Monday morning, and no hurry to get away because it was half-term week, so we planned a leisurely breakfast followed by a leisurely few hours doing some bits and bobs in Brighton.
Breakfast was certainly leisurely. And once we’d finished eating it our rate of progress over the ground was somewhat more leisurely too.
We decided to drive down into the centre of Brighton to see what took our fancy. The price of parking didn’t take our fancy very much. We stuck the car on the side of the road near the pier then baulked at the price of £7.50 for 3 hours, and moved on to a public car park further inland. It was a bad choice. The same 3 hours was going to cost us £15 in there. So we moved back again to the roadsisde near the pier.
The kids were gagging for a go on the big wheel thing, so it had to be done. A for once the “picture of yourselves on the tourist attraction” stall got some business out of us. The photos were actually quite good (see below).
After this we crossed a couple of roads to have a bit of a gawp at the Brighton Pavilion. As with many things it seemed much smaller in real life than I imagined, but at least it wasn’t covered in scaffolding. By this stage it had turned into quite a pleasant morning too. The sun was shining and the (early) birds were tweeting away. We sat outside for a coffee in the gardens. Outside, in February. What’s the world coming to ?
We still had a bit of time left on the parking when we’d finished coffee, so we took a walk westwards along the beach from the pier, taking in a couple of caches as we went, including the correct resting place of The Parallax View that I’d given up on the previous morning. There were a few interesting little thingummy-bob and whatsamajig sellers along the beach including one that had an impressive collection of wooden sculptures. There were also a whole host of stallholders attempting to chuck all the stones off the promenade and back onto the beach after the most recent storm.
This took us nicely up to lunchtime, and lunch consisted of chips, on a plastic tray wrapped in paper, eaten with a wooden fork (or fingers) whilst sitting on a wooden bench on the pier. In February. This couldn’t have been more stereotypically English unless St George had been actually killing a dragon on the beach while we were doing it. With a knotted hanky on his head.
And then we drove home. In stages. Firstly I made Kas stop at a church in Pyecombe just so that I could colour in West Sussex on my caching profile map (along with Surrey and East Sussex that made three new counties for the weekend).
And then driving back towards Crawley Kas needed a stop for a posh coffee. I didn’t, so I did the old random “where’s the nearest geocache” search on my phone and discovered a TravelBug Hotel that was fully 25 yards away from where we were parked.
It would have been rude not to.
Funnily enough, after a long weekend away like that, neither of us felt like going to the shops to buy food or cooking anything, so we didn’t. We went to the new Chiquitos in Kingston Centre instead. Good choice.
If you can’t fight, wear a big hat…………
We booked all of our flights and our hotel using some of my many thousands of BA Air Miles ( or Avios Points, whatever they’re called now ) as this seemed to be a sensible option. What wasn’t so sensible, though, was that the direct flights to Berlin that weekend were all booked up for Air Miles already so we ended up having to take a less direct route, which involved a BA flight to Dusseldorf and then a change to partner airline Air Berlin for the flight over to Berlin. Not only did this mean an unwanted landing and take-off, but it also pushed the price up to a level where EasyJet might actually have been cheaper (normally they aren’t, once you add in bags, and wanting to sit next to your wife). Why? Because each leg of the air miles flight requires payment of the taxes, and the taxes are about 99.99% of the normal listed price anyway. Chunter, chunter. Next time we should either book earlier or fly with someone who doesn’t do air miles.
Having said that though, both legs were nice short one-hour hops with a drink and snack included, and essentially unlimited baggage, and the terminal wasn’t busy, and the bags made it OK.
Incidentally, while we were doing this, the kids were being looked after by my parents.
We arrived in Berlin in some semblance of daylight and jumped fairly quickly onto a regular service bus that was going where we needed, the Best Western on Kantstraße. It took about 15 minutes and then a further 10 minutes to walk from the bus stop.
So far so good. The room booking was in place and the room was OK, and we had a bit of time for a quick snooze.
In the evening we met up with the “tribe” from Redway Runners, most of whom were staying “out east”. To get there we caught the S-Bahn from Charlottenburg into Zoo Station – queue some quoting of U2 lyrics on Facebook. I most certainly was “ready for what’s next” by that stage, although it was more silly juice than laughing gas.
We met the Redway Runners posse on Kurfürstendamm and went to a fairly busy restaurant-pub. I ordered a local delicacy that involved some sausages, sauerkraut and mashed potatoes. It was lush and it accompanied my beer very nicely.
Kas was doing her best to not look jealous as she was sipping her way through non-alcoholic beverages.
We grabbed a decent breakfast at the hotel fairly early, as we’d got to get ourselves off to the Marathon Expo, for collection of numbers, purchasing of unnecessary running equipment, and things like that. It was also Kas’s birthday. Happy birthday to you, etc!
The Expo was being held at the old Templehof Airport on the south side of the city centre. It was a par two or three by S-Bahn and U-Bahn from where we were staying so it took a while, and Kas wanted to be there fairly early to beat the rush of people trying to collect their stuff. Fair enough.
We arrived there on a beautiful morning and joined what could probably be described as a throng of people (how many people are needed to constitute a “throng” – or does it depend solely on how much noise they’re making?) waiting for the doors to open. When they did open there was, quite frankly, a faster start than there was going to be on the morning of the race.
And Templehof being what it is, we also had some considerable distance to cover before reaching any bits of actual “Expo”, and then the number collection point was at the very furthest end. I was glad I didn’t have a marathon to run the following day.
Anyway, shopping in a crowd of runners for things I don’t really need or want isn’t my idea of a fun morning, so I agreed with Kas to meet her back at the entrance in “a couple of hours” while I went off caching. Once I’d found the end of my ball of string and followed it back to the entrance, that is. Except the ball of string trick didn’t work because I wasn’t allowed to leave through the same rooms I’d entered by (in case I got trampled by the throng, presumably), and I had to leave via a different route. This new route took me a bit further along some of the old airport infrastructure. For the first but not last time of the weekend I marvelled at the monstrous scale of the architecture. It really is a huge building but, in my opinion, not a very pretty one. It’s not very nice to look at, even if it is big. In fact I think that was the point. Such things were designed and built to look and be permanent rather than pretty.
I eventually managed to find my way to the door where we’d come in and so was then able to follow a more or less clockwise route around the old airport doing the tupperware-shuffle. This part included walking the entire length of one of the old runways and it enabled me to take some pretty good photos in the bright autumn sunshine. The now closed airport hasn’t been chopped up and redeveloped, but instead has been turned into a public park and more or less left to its own devices. All the original taxiways and runways are still there, albeit a bit weed-covered in places, and it’s full of people running, walking, jogging, rollerskating, sitting about drinking beer and any number of other things that are traditional in urban parks. Including hunting for tupperware. I won’t say it was a rich vein of tupperware for me though. I’d solved a load of puzzles beforehand (with considerable support from the CO) but failed to find quite a few of them, and overall I had the feeling that I’d walked much further than my find count indicated.
The race was due to start on Straße des 17. Juni in Tiergarten with the course initially running out west (away from the Brandenburg Gate). Kas decided she’d like to go and check out the form up there to make sure we knew where we were trying to get to in the morning, which seemed fair enough.
To get there from Templehof Airport we took the U-Bahn straight up to Stadtmitte. This is one of those weird stations that was shut during the Cold War as it’s on a line which links the American Sector with the French Sector but happened to cross underneath the Soviet Sector, and hence during the Cold War it passed under the state of East Germany, I rode on that section once on my only previous visit to Berlin in late 1987. It was strange. Anyway, you can now exit the station and it’s a short walk over to Pariser Platz and the gate. It was too long a walk for us to complete without taking a coffee and sandwich break though. All the coffee shops here were packed, and we were fairly lucky to find a small table at the back of a “local” coffee shop (rather than a big American chain one).
From here we wandered through the Brandenburg Gate and had a mooch around the start/finish area. I tried to find a couple of caches but to be honest everything was closed off with barriers ready for the race so I thought I would look far to suspicious trying to do much up there. Kas was carrying a teddy bear that one of the kids had gained custody of for a period of time (one of the school bears, awarded for good achievement or efforts during the week). So for some reason the kids wanted us to bring this one to Berlin rather than looking after it themselves, so it travelled all the way over here with us and had its photo taken at the Brandenburg Gate.
At this point we decided to separate for an hour or so. I wanted to go grab a few geocaches in Tiergarten and Kas didn’t want to do much if it involved walking, so she mooched up and down the start aea and found a coffee stall while I dashed off into the park southwards to grab a couple of nearby caches, with somewhat more success once away from the race area.
When we met up again we decided to have a leisurely and slightly touristy wander down to Potsdamer Platz, which takes you through areas that have changed radically since the wall came down. They have laid a set of brass sets into the roads and paths so that it’s possible to follow the line that the wall used to take. When you’re at Brandenburg Gate you can’t help but notice how close the wall actually was to the gate.
On the way down the street you also pass the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. This is a very modern structure consisting of a number of concrete blocks of differing heights but roughly the size of a coffin. They are laid out in regular arrays with walkable paths in between and the effect is quite spectacular if you walk through the centre. The idea is to induce a sense of disorientation. It takes up a big chunk of a city block and is well worth a visit, but after reading the Wikipedia page it’s obvious there was, and still is, a lot of controversy about it.
We took the short trip back from Potsdamer Platz back to the hotel and when we got back Kas was ready for a bit of a late-afternoon snooze so I scooted off caching again, this time planning to try a few urban caches to the west and south of our hotel. Aside from meeting a German woman who was holding one of the caches I went looking for, and apart from standing in a massive dog turd, it was another unremarkable and fairly unproductive session of 4 finds but at least as many DNFs.
At some point I realised the time and had to say goodbye to my temporary caching buddy and get back to the hotel, where I had time for a quick shower before we went to a fairly simple Italian restaurant along the main road from the hotel. It hit the spot, and we were done early enough to get back for a nice early night. We had to get up frighteningly early in the morning as Kas’s wave set off at 9am, so she needed to be up and ready in the marshalling area by 7:30am at the absolute latest.
Race day started disgustingly early for a Sunday morning, but not, apparently, too early for the hotel breakfast bar. I think they might have had a few other marathon runners in the building. We had to be up at the start for around 7:30am to allow for general crowd confusion and still get up to the start line for 9 am. Well, Kas did, I didn’t.
We took the U-Bahn up to Brandenburger Tor, the closest station to the Reichstag and the event area where we’d agreed to meet our club running buddies. It was a bright morning, but very cold. Very, very cold. I don’t think we’d catered for it being quite that cold. Nice for running. Rubbish for standing around.
The club running buddies all turned up quite late, so Kas was busily stretching and keeping warm and eventually decided that she was going to have to go into the event village to hand in her bag. Just as she decided that some of the running buddies arrived, so we had a brief group discussion before they decided it was time to go. Once they went to the baggage drop they were inside the event village and I couldn’t go there, so we said our goodbyes and I set off on my geocaching expedition while Kas was doing her running.
There wasn’t much of a plan, except that I had a copy of the course map, a phone full of caches to look for and an online “stalk-the-missus” app that wasn’t working. I only got it to work after uninstalling it and reinstalling it. It seemed as if it needed to be installed while the race was actually in progress – I initially installed it the night before and on the morning of the race as I was plugging in Kas’s race number it came up with a scheduled starting time and then confirmation of actual start time, and then it stayed that way until I decided to try the uninstall/reinstall technique, which was about halfway through her race. It was also a bit rubbish in terms of the information given. Initially, I had that actual start time, but after the install I had Kas’s running time through various checkpoints but didn’t have her start time any more, so whilst I knew she was progressing well I wasn’t able to tell the time on my watch when she’d be passing particular points on the course.
Anyway, my route took me along the River Spree, and then down onto Unter den Linden, down to Französischer Dom, along the Spreekanal onto Leipziger Straße, then down past Checkpoint Charlie, the Jewish Museum and onto Yorckstraße. Somewhere along Yorckstraße I tried to wait to see if Kas ran past me, but after 20 minutes wait I concluded I must have just missed her, so I moved on feeling slightly disappointed with myself for having taken so long to get here. It was at this point that I decided to reinstall the “stalk-a-punter” app on the phone, and this time it worked straight away.
I was now getting to the point where I wouldn’t see Kas at all unless I got a shift on, so I hot-footed it over to Hauptstraße, where I thought I’d be able to catch her at around the 37km point. In the event I got there maybe only 10 minutes before she did, but thankfully I got close enough to the front of the crowd here to be able to see her, and for her to be able to see and hear me. So I managed to give her a final shout of encouragement as she entered her last 5km.
At that point, I also realised it would be highly likely that she’d get back to Brandenburger Tor well before me. She had 5km to run, I had to get into a U-Bahn station through the crowds, wait for trains to take me 5 stops on 2 different lines, and then climb out and get through the crowds at the finish to find her in the waiting area. No hope for me then. It’s just as well it took her a while to get through the finish line and back to the waiting areas, else she’d have been waiting ages for me.
As with the previous day, I seemed to have walked a very long way for not very many finds. There were hopelessly busy spots, concrete canyons with no signal, obviously missing ones and a couple of just horrible locations that I didn’t pursue for long. I guess urban caching is a different game to countryside caching.
I did eventually meet up with Kas at the waiting area, where I discovered she’d finished in a new PB of 4 hrs, 3 minutes and something, and we then fought our way through the crowd around towards Brandenburger Tor where we gave in to the need for lunch and had a large beer and an equally large chunk of pizza. Lush!
After our pizza and beer, well earned in my case and very well earned in Kas’s, we sauntered down to Potsdamer Platz again (“sauntering” maybe sounds a bit speedy, let’s correct that to “moseying”) and rode the U-Bahn back to our hotel. It was busy with sweaty runners. Back at the hotel, Kas had planned a gradual cool-down involving the bed and several packs of Party Rings.
We had a Sunday evening appointment with the official race party, which was being held in an old East German theatre now converted to a hopelessly trendy nightclub place over on Karl Marx Allee on the eastern side of the city centre.
To get there we caught an S-Bahn around the top and through the Hauptbahnhof and down to Alexanderplatz. We had to change trains here and as we were in no hurry we decided to go look around for something to eat. Neither of us fancied anything posh, so we ended up in one of the least posh places you could imagine, eating sausage and chips, a Currywurst in my case. It was ideal preparation for beer.
We found the venue for the party and mooched about a bit, waiting again for running buddies to arrive. This time they were sufficiently late that Kas and me retired to a nearby bar to shift a beer or two while we were waiting. It was a weird kind of a place. The staff had an apparent aversion to smiling and later on, when all the others joined us and decided to order food, they had a surprisingly unhelpful attitude towards a group of ten (OK, slightly loud) people sitting in their otherwise totally empty establishment on a Sunday night. You’d have thought they’d got somewhere better to be.
Anyway, you can tell from the photos here that the bar and nightclub venue were well placed for nice urban landscapes.
The after-race party itself proved to be an extremely sweaty, quite noisy and seemingly endless series of queues for getting to the bar, or the toilets, or the bar again. And I had to pay to get in – something about me not having run the race. But once we were all suitably provisioned with beer we made our way into the main hall just in time to see the official award ceremony, which included a good light show, lots of self-congratulation, and then lots of applause for the leading men and women, and especially for Wilson Kipsang of Kenya, who won the men’s race in a new world record time of 2:03.23.
After the awards though we both started to feel a bit the worse for wear so we took the decision to scoot back to the hotel, leaving the running buddies there for a few more beers.
The morning after was a bit slow as Kas was feeling rather stiff, so we had a leisurely breakfast in the hotel whilst deciding what to do for the 3/4 of a day we had to fill before our flights home.
Initially we decided we’d go for a look at the Charlottenburg Palace, which had a couple of quick caches and some very grand gardens and buildings (once we’d found the way in). It also had a nice little coffee shop over the road, which we were ready for after a couple of hours. It was sunny again but breezy and really quite cold, and neither of us really had much in the way of warm clothes with us.
After the palace we decided on a trip to the Olympic Stadium. It was a bit of a hike up there on the bus and then a bit of a walk from the place the bus dropped us off, but once there it was quite impressive in that neo-Roman block style that Hitler was so very fond of, and that we’d seen the previous day at Templehof Airport. We were surprised by the amount of money they charged to visit what is essentially an empty stadium, but we decided (again) that having come here we shouldn’t shirk over a few Euros.
Once inside it justified the expense. The contrast of the newer fit-out of the blue running track and the roof against the massive pillars and blocky stone style of the stadium superstructure is very stark. They’ve left a few of the other original features in place too such as the swimming pool and the open parade area, plus an absolutely huge bell. These older items enhance the historical feel of the place and serve to emphasise the strangeness. From the outside it is most definitely from the Nazi era. From the inside it’s much more difficult to tell that. It could be almost any stadium in any European city. I read that the design of the 1972 Munich Olympic Stadium was deliberately flowing, open and random to emphasize the “new” Germany in stark contrast to the stern and heavy looking architecture of the Berlin site.
At this point though, we became conscious of the time and decided we really needed to get away, so we walked as fast as Kas could manage to the nearby U-Bahn station and sped over to our hotel, where we picked up our bags from the left-luggage cupboard and proceeded directly out to the bus up to the airport.
Airport check-in was all fine but somehow we were late into Dusseldorf and would have missed our connecting flight except, of course, that they had our bags on board and it was an “official” connection, so they had to wait for us. We were going as fast as we could through Dusseldorf Airport but we still sensed some grumpiness amongst the other passengers when we made it to the plane, as we’d made them all wait for a while. We were slightly surprised and relieved to see our bags being stuffed into the hold beneath us as we sat down too.
From that point onwards it was all fairly easy. We got to London, the car was where we left it, the kids and my parents were where we’d left them, and home was very much home.
That was an excellent weekend by most standards. I found 25 geocaches in a country I’d never cached in before and Kas smashed her marathon PB by some huge amount. And we had some good beer, sausages and cake.
We had a quick dash up to Kenilworth so that Kas could run the half marathon there. I toyed with the idea of running too but then Kas told me there’s no medal. No medal ? No run.
So Kas ran and I looked after the kids and did a bit of geocaching.
It was by all accounts a fairly hilly course but Kas managed to complete it in a personal best time, so it can’t have been too bad.
There’s not a lot else to say except that the girls and me found about 5 or 6 geocaches while Kas was running. And Nigel had a handful of Freddos in his bag, as ever.
Ami had an athletics event up at Stantonbury Stadium this morning. We nearly didn’t go as a result of an unfortunate event involving someone banging their head and then a lot of lying about who did what (or who didn’t), but eventually the guilty party owned up to blaming the other for something that never happened and all was sweetness and light once more. Except that one of the kids went out without breakfast, ‘cos she was too busy sitting on the grumpy stool. In fact, it was the “sitting on the grumpy stool” that indicated which child was lying. ‘Nuff said.
In Ami’s age group (school years 3 & 4) they had to do 4 events – a 50m sprint, a foam javelin throw, a standing long jump and a 400m.
I would like to say that she tried her hardest, but let’s settle with “she tried”. But she had fun anyway. What I mean by “she tried” was that by the time we got to the 400m, she was mucking about a bit – engaging in typical competition athletics tactics of running backwards whilst winding up someone who’s walking, and having a natter with the “girls” halfway down the back straight. She still somehow finished 400m in 1 minute 54, which is faster than her average parkrun speed. Heaven knows how fast she’d have got round if she have just run, instead of getting distracted.
But all in all a good morning out, and better than sitting around in the house.
And in the afternoon we went as a family to watch football at stadium:MK to watch The Dons play Scunthorpe – Shame about the result, and shame about the girls moaning about the heat, but they say they enjoyed it, in which case next time we’ll buy better seats and sit somewhere where we’re out of the sun. I got a nicely sunburnt head though.
A busy old day this. Under the “old” scheme of things, it was a day for doing a bit of caching to contribute to “The Matrix”, so we planned a bit of caching in Newcastle after Kas did Parkrun. We had spare clothes for Kas in the car and off we went.
At Parkrun, Kas was running alone with the intention of running as fast as she could. It was a nice cold morning and what is known to be a fast course around the Town Moor. I’m not sure how many people were running but it looked like around 200.
Kas settled into the middle of the pack at the start. When she did get back she had run a PB by about 12 seconds. Top effort.
The kids occupied themselves by getting their boots and trousers muddy and collecting up sticks. Something about building a nest.
The next stop after this was breakfast and warming up. We drove over to Gateshead and parked at the Sage, then crossed over the Millenium Bridge and queued outside a likely looking pub/restaurant until they opened at 10 am. It proved to be a good place to stop. The kids ate heartily. As usual, not being familiar with the portion sizes, we ordered a bit too much. Izzy had bacon, and the beans off my Full English. Kas had toast. Ami had a jam bagel, some toast, and some more toast and hash brown off my Full English. And I had the non-carbohydrate parts of a Full English, including sausages, bacon, mushroom and fried eggs. An Atkins feast.
After initially sitting by the bar, where there was an open door and a “disco bloke” installing extra speakers and cables, we relocated to the other end and sat on a table with two great big upholstered chairs, right next to the fire. Just as the fire got going the sun came out, so we were being doubly toasted from the fire on one side and the sun on the other. Mmmmm!
And so to a bit of caching and walking.
We dropped off Kas’s bag at the car and then proceeded to pretend we were tourists. It’s a while since I’ve been to central Newcastle, and have never really explored any of it with a cacher’s eye, so the experience was quite new. In caching terms though, it wasn’t so hot. Three finds and three DNFs.
First find was by a sculpture behind the Baltic Centre. Excellent spot for a cache.
Next up was a failure outside the Sage and then a walk over the Swing Bridge and then up to the Castle – the kids were intrigued that this castle could ever have been new enough for the city to be named after it.
Just here (where we stopped for a cache on the end of the High Level Bridge) Kas noticed a suspicious-looking bit of railway hardware on top of the nearby viaduct. A bona fide steam train. It was accompanied by a couple of enthusiasts who were following it around (but not riding on it) for the day.
If we’re being absolutely proper about this, it had two locomotives, one pulling and one pushing, and a good selection of venerable carriages in the middle.
For the real purists, the locos were the LNER Thompson Peppercorn class K1 62005 “Lord of the Isles” at the front and the LNER class K4 61994 “The Great Marquess” at the back. By far and away the biggest steam locos we’ve seen running.
At the castle we managed to dissuade the girls from going inside. Paying £8 to walk up the stairs seemed excessive. They would most likely not have wanted to look at any of the museum exhibits.
Next cache was supposed to be around the back of the cathedral, but we couldn’t find it. Nice Vampire Rabbit on the building though.
And then another failure before finding A Daring Defenestration, which celebrates a famous elopement.
After this the kids had had their fill, so we retired to a nice little coffee shop on the Quayside and then back to the car and home to Whitburn. It was nice to spend a day with the girls and to enjoy wandering about slowly, and generally meandering.
What’s that about then ?
We both entered the 2012 Lisbon Half Marathon, which meant (obviously) that we had to go to Lisbon. We decided to take the kids with us – their first ever time on an aeroplane – but because someone would need to look after them while we were running, we invited Grandad and Nana to come with us.
Thursday Night, Flying Out
It was the first time the kids had ever been on an aeroplane. They were a bit excited by the whole thing.
We were booked on an early evening flight out of Heathrow Airport and had arranged to meet Dennis and Linda somewhere in the terminal, as they were flying down from Newcastle to meet us in London. I hadn’t noticed beforehand that their flight in Heathrow landed at a different terminal than the one departing for Lisbon, but thankfully they had enough time to get across. I think they may have stayed airside the whole way through, so they were fine. We managed to meet up in the departure lounge at Terminal 5 and grab a quick bite and a drink before taking off.
By the time we got to Lisbon it was properly dark, so we jumped into a couple of taxis (having first inflated the two “Bubble Bum” inflatable kids seats) and proceeded down to our selected hotel, the Holiday Inn on Avenida de António José de Almeida. It was a Holiday Inn. They gave us two rooms that were big enough to sleep four people, which was great because it meant we could get the girls to sleep in the room with Dennis and Linda on race morning, to avoid having everybody get up at the early hour we needed to get going. Excellent ! I seem to remember Dennis and Linda were given the larger of the two rooms though (with a double and two singles instead of two doubles) and they kindly agreed to swap so that the four of us were all together in the larger room for two of the three nights we stayed.
I think we went down to the bar for a swift half before bedtime.
Friday, I’m in Love
With Lisbon, that is. I’d been there many times in the past (but not since about 2001) as a result of working on a project with Petrogal. I have to say that it’s probably my favourite of all the European cities I’ve been to, and I’ve been to quite a few. I love the architecture, the Portuguese culture, and the slightly shabby but modernising rapidly chic of the place.
We got up in no particular hurry and I think we went out for breakfast, which we had at a little coffee and pastry shop by the side of the road on the way down to Saldanha Metro Station. Our plan for the day was to do a bit of touristy stuff in the morning and then scoot out to the Expo in the afternoon to pick up our race packs. Our touristy choice was to head for the Castelo São Jorge. I’d been up here before with Kas on the one and only weekend she got to come to Lisbon while I was working there ( see Porto and Lisbon post ). We got there by grabbing the Metro down to Baixa Chiado, I think, and then looking for the correct tram line to get up the hill.
The weather was a little warmer than we’re used to in the UK at the end of March, so it looked like it might end up being quite a tiring day. This started to hit us more or less as soon as we got to the top of the castle. We still made a pretty good job of walking around it though.
After we’d done the walking around it was pretty much time for lunch. We also split up from Dennis and Linda, and they hot footed it off for an afternoon in the city on their own. Can’t say I blame them. We sat for lunch at a cafe by the roadside that had a terrace overlooking the river. Top view for a lunchtime gander.
After lunch we had a bit of an adventure, for all kinds of reasons. We had to get over to the event Expo to collect our stuff. Well, we didn’t have to go on Friday because we could have gone on Saturday, but we decided we would go. It was held on a bit of flat land down by the riverside near Belém near the Museu da Electricidade. We got there by taking a tram back down off the castle to Praça do Comércio and then catching a tram/suburban train along the coast from Cais do Sodré.
The Expo was the usual collection of tents filled with stalls selling running clothing, isotonic drinks and various forms of high-calorie cereal bars, and there were desks for picking up your race entry pack. Ours were there. So were those belonging to a few of our Redway Runners buddies, who were also there. A number of these had just arrived directly from the airport and had as yet not been to their hotel, which for a few, proved to be the same hotel we were in. Small world, innit ?
The sport came when we tried to get back again. There were no trains for ages when we arrived, so we grabbed a bus, which I am convinced the geezer in the uniform said went to Praça do Comércio, except it didn’t. It went up to Praça do Estrela instead. It took us a little while to realise, and by the time we did, we hadn’t got the faintest idea where we were or why. We followed this bus to the end of the line, assuming it was just a slightly deviant stop on our way to Praça do Comércio, but were then instructed to get off. Eh ? What ? Where are we ? Why are you making us get off here ? Once we’d established that the bus we’d got off wasn’t going anywhere, we started looking for others, but I think they must have been on a mid-afternoon snooze break of some variety, because none were scheduled for ages. I think we sat around up there for 30 minutes before another turned up. We checked where it was going and jumped on it so that we could at least get back down the hill into the old town.
Once we got down there I fancied doing a few more caches, but after a few walks up and down quite steep hills (Lisbon has lots of these), the girls were starting to look like they were done, so Kas took them home on the tube while I went for a bit of a walk. My walk took me from the bottom of the castle along to the rather impressive Praça do Marquês de Pombal and then up to Saldahna and round the back of the Instituto Superior Técnico before returning back to the hotel.
Saturday is Expo Day
But not the Expo for the race, we did that on Friday. No, on Saturday we went to the site of Expo ’98. We went as a family of four, with Dennis and Linda having scooted off to have a day exploring again.
The Expo site is on the riverbank north of the city centre and just south of the Vasco da Gama Bridge. It covers a pretty big area.
We didn’t have any particular plan for visiting the place beyond that it would probably take us all day, and there was a new (for us) geocache type available (a WherIGo named after the Expo’s official mascot, Gil). In general the site is an ultra modern bit of urban development consisting of a bunch of pavilions interspersed with gardens, and surrounded by walkways and trendy urban-chic blocks of flats (as opposed to cheap, tacky ones). It also has a massive cable car running the full length of the site along the riverside. There seem to be a very large number of fountains too, many of which were tested for wetness by the kids, despite it being a bit of a grey morning when we arrived.
After lots of fountains and a couple of pavilions we say down at a cafe and had a bit of a rest. Well, we did. The girls needed to run off some energy so they ate quickly and then went to play on the surrounding grassy banks, which were very uppy-downy.
From here we walked into the centre of the site to find the Nations Park. It’s more of a square than a park, but it does have the proverbial “Flags of All Nations” on poles around the outside. There’s a virtual geocache here where you are supposed to find your own national flag and do a selfie next to it. I think we hurried through this a little bit because the weather was getting drier and much warmer.
From there we decided to ride along the site on the cable car, quite possibly because the WherIGo told us to do it. At the far end we got off and walked back down a little way into some gardens, which proved to be the final resting place of the WherIGo geocache. That particular one had taken us pretty much all over the Expo site looking for clues, and the girls actually seemed to enjoy the exploration, so it was worthwhile.
We’d had enough after all that, so we made our way home on the train. In the evening we went out for a team meal in Lisbon with the other Redway Runners. It was OK aside from some general lack of communication over the menu format and a bit of what I thought was unnecessary “they don’t cook it like this at home” from a couple of our party. Well, we’re not at home, are we?
All of which was followed by kicking the girls out into Dennis and Linda’s room so that we didn’t have to wake them up in the morning.
Race day began in relative peace and quiet as the kids were next door in Dennis and Linda’s room. It wasn’t peaceful for very loing though, as we had a race to get to, and getting there was a bit of an epic journey.
To get to the start line we had to walk up to the station at Entrecampos. The half marathon course was a point-to-point starting on the south side of the river and finishing down in Belém, where we’d been on Friday afternoon. It’s a suburban railway line from Entrecampos which takes you around the north-west side of the city centre and then into the girder structures of the Ponte 25 de Abril and into the station at Pragal, which is essentially a southern suburb of Lisbon and is home to the massive Jesus on a Podium that can be seen from the whole of Lisbon’s centre.
Once we got to the station we got ourselves into a right mess. It was sunny, so we needed water but didn’t have any, plus the place was absolutely heaving with runners, and the start was over a mile away, and the toilet facilities were, shall we say, some way short of the requirement. The queue for the ladies was basically huge, and Kas being what Kas is on the morning of a run, spent pretty much the whole time queuing, using the loo, and then walking straight to the back of the queue again to wait for the next time. The gents wasn’t much better, although as ever a number of gentlemen had taken to turning their bikes around against any wall or fence they could find.
Pedestrian traffic towards the start line (on the motorway near to the toll booths) was moving incredibly slowly, in part because they seem to have thought better of any need to marshal the street or direct people to the right place. By the time we got down the access ramp to the start area they’d already started the race, which was a major disappointment. Another disappointment was that they’d mingled the half marathon runners in with a bunch of people doing a 10 km fun run, which in most people’s case seemed to be a fun walk. I have no objection to the people, obviously, but the problem it caused was that a lot of them were going very slowly and pushing buggies with kids, and because we crossed the bridge on the road deck, quite a few of them were stopping in large groups to take photos that are normally impossible to take. This meant that there were a lot of snarl-ups going over the bridge deck and it took us 25 minutes or so to get across, despite it only being 3 km. As it turned out, though, we needn’t have worried, because we soon started encountering some other difficulties.
Three weeks earlier we’d run a half marathon in Milton Keynes, and being the first week in March it was cold. I think 2012 was the one where the constant rain during the race turned to snow just as I finished. Whichever ! It was cold and wet. We were completely unprepared for Lisbon. As we crossed the start line (at 10 am in the last week of March) it was about 25%, with bright sunshine and no wind. It was a little breezy on the bridge, because it’s a bridge, but once we got onto the Lisbon side and descended onto the long, straight roads that run up the river’s edge, it turned into an inferno. It was one of only a couple of races I’ve run where I took a drink at ever stop and actually drank all of it. By the time I finished I think I’d drunk 2 litres of Lucozade Sport and another two of water, but somehow I still didn’t need a wee. All that drinking also took it’s toll on our running speed, because we pretty much stopped and walked for a couple of minutes at each drink station. By the time we finished it had taken nearly two and a half hours to complete the course – a good half an hour more than the Milton Keynes race. still, the weather was quite nice at the finish, and the course itself was a flat tour of Lisbon’s waterfront between Praça do Comércio and Torre de Belém, which includes some quite scenic bits as well as some more commercial parts. It does make me wonder how well I would have run if it had been a bit cooler.
We chilled in the nearby gardens after we’d finished, waiting for all the Redway Runners to come in (yes, we weren’t quite the last) and consuming even more fluids, before grabbing trains and metros back to the hotel.
In the evening we went out for another team meal in Lisbon with the other Redway Runners, but this time the atmosphere seemed to suit better, if only because we weren’t all on the same table. The four of us sat together for much of the meal but then things started to loosen up a bit towards the end and there was a bit more moving around and socialising.
No, not the crap 1970 England World Cup Song, just our return after a long weekend away.
There’s not much to say except that we grabbed a big taxi, made it to our flight home, flew home, and then drove home, pretty much without incident.