8 and 9 of 12: Ekiden and Brantham 5

I’ve been quite busy recently, so missed the chance to get my Ekiden report in, in my usual timely manner. So here it is… bolted on to my Brantham 5 report.

Ekiden is a bit of a pilgrimage for me; I’ve done it now three years in a row. My first year I had a stonker of a 10k, and really popped my cherry for racing as part of a team. Last year it was one of the three races I attended, and while the atmosphere was just as electric as 2015, I had a dreadful 10k. My wheels totally fell off, and I was in a world of pain. This year I was determined to enjoy it.

Every year I’ve gone to Woodbridge for Ekiden, I’ve cycled out with Robin early to stake a good spot for the gazebo. And this year was no exception… except this time around the ritual had snowballed to include the formidable Mr Solomon, and Action Man himself and one the the best taxi drivers in Suffolk, Ben Jacobs. These boys play hard, and we set out with an aggressive pace. I knew that if I tried to sustain this type of pace on simply getting to the race, I was going to blow up. Take it social and slow. In fact I managed to stay on their collective coat tails for about 4/5 of the distance, pulling back a little as we drew closer to the Woodbridge boundary.

We parked up and secured prime position for the fast part of the c-bend. We had a while to camp up, before the race proper, so time to chill! I took on plenty of water, and generally took it easy as the FRR family began to congregate.

Soon the Junior race was on. It was a proud moment to see all those youngsters pasting themselves round the course. Some awesome performances from some of the youngsters, and the senior crew were making plenty of noise to encourage them round.

I checked Robins spreadsheet, and I was down for the 2nd Leg, a 5k segment. I knew I was good for this distance, and could easily trot it out. I was taking off Simon Hedge and handing on to Sally Solomon for her 10k. By the time I was edging up to the startline it was getting very warm. I’d doused myself in sunblock, but even in the start pen, there were two runners who needed medical assistance (aided by FRR’s very own Nick Williams). Simon was obviously suffering, and had dropped off his pace during the cricket field segment quite significantly. I was going to try and make some time back.

I picked up the pace as we crossed the mat together, and even as I drew in for the rawkus noise of the FRR support crew, I was feeling quite good. It wasn’t till I hit the cricket ground that my nemesis (chest pain) returned with avengence. I really haven’t had much in this department for several months, so it took me somewhat by surprise, but it really was debilitating. I slowed to a walk and was desperate to run. I started saying to myself “Let me run. Let me run.” Justin came speeding past with his zero-gravity stride. “Come on. Keep up. You’ve got it”, I said to myself, but every time I even took to a plod the pain became unbearable. I’d just have to wait it out.. As I came around for my second lap, the pain started to ease, and I could start putting a little more effort in. Ok, this was good.  Stick on this pace and it’ll be fine. I did, and all was good. Handed on to Sally, and recovered back to the gazebo.

I then sat back and watched more FRR athletes paste themselves round this course. The “Len Saunders Show” was particularly entertaining. As he sped round the c-bend at breakneck speed, he basically shoulder barged his way through the pack as his feet slipped and spun their way round the corner… what a display?! My jaw dropped at the spectacle. It turned into a beaming smile as I glanced at Robin, who was staring dumbfounded at the display too. Brilliant!

I took some water on board, and soon after had a prawn sandwich and some pasta to help recover some of the sugar and water I’d lost out there on the course. I let that all settle a bit, and made my way home on the bike. Nice and slow, enjoy the scenery. Perfect end to the event for me. Till next year!

I had a tough week at work, several long days in London. And knowing I had Brantham at the end of it, I took it easy on myself. No pressure.

I got the 16:00 out of Liverpool Street, which got me home for about 17:35. A quick change and I was ready for a pick up from Robert “Coalman” Kemp. He had already picked up Brad before arriving at mine for 18:00. Off we went. Regular banter ensued. Brad was convinced that I was going to trounce the both of them since he hadn’t done any running for about 3 weeks. Rob was just looking to break the 50min barrier, or at least break below his PB from last year of 53min.

Lots of red out there, both on the course and in the support crew. It’s great to see us support this brilliant low cost local event with such embrace!

Again the Juniors set off on their own little fun run first. I say “fun run” with my tongue in my cheek: 6min/mile pace for the first finisher is not “fun”! Great to see the youngsters taking a great big bite out of the racing action out there.

Soon we were jostling at the start line. Great to see Jason “Gripper” Taylor and his wife Heidi out there; Gripper missed out on Ekiden action due to a foot related mishap. But he looked ready to break this course in half and eat it for dinner!

With an unusually timbred countdown we were off. The first mile I was finding my pace, and once we hit that first hill I was getting signals from the watch that I needed to pull back the pace due to the heart rate peaking. I started walking, and saw Caroline Stafford and Daisy pull ahead. Daisy was struggling, and was run-walking. A few barks, and she was back on the pace she needed.

I opened up my pace as I came down that first hill, and almost wished I hadn’t… it was stunning up there. To the left you could see the water glistening with craggy buildings being reflected with the low sun. To the right golden fields were being brushed by a lovely cold draft. It was just beautiful. It made me want to stop and drink it all in… but no, we’ve got to get this race done.

I pushed on, I had a little twinge in my left foot. Probably a result of a recent injury, but nothing severe. I was wearing my New Balance Minimus shoes, as my Vibram Five Fingers don’t do too well on tarmac, and I knew there was quite a lot of that to come.

Soon we were hurtling past where the race had started and up through the housing estate via the second hill. This was very drawn out, which in fact played to my favor. Since the incline was shallower than the first, I was able to maintain a steady pace without needing to drop back to a plod. As I cruised up I saw Mark Goodwin hurtling towards me “Smash it Mark”, I said. “Keep going JJ”, he replied. The hill was now drawing on further than I thought it would. Hose-dude was there; a legend I heard of but never seen. What a welcome sight and experience that was! A friendly voice called out “You’ve got about 300meters to go to the top JJ”, it was Peter Woods. Up to the left, and back round before we’re now hurtling down towards the finish. A few air punches and words of encouragement for other FRR athletes now making their way up the hill and creeping up slowly on Andrew Cocker, before pulling left into the finish.

As I pulled into the spectator lined corridor, I could feel a smile creeping across my face. I’d genuinely enjoyed this race. No, really. It was fantastic. “He’s bearing down on you JJ. He’s right on your tail” shouted someone from the support crew. Jeepers, I’d forgotten this was a race. I lengthened my stride and pushed for the finish. Boom I’d done it. And I really had no idea what time I’d done it in. I’d been so engrossed in the experience, I really had no idea about my time. 47:45. Boom! Nicely done.

There at the finish were Peter and Brad. Brad had stonked a 44:44 time! Wow! I don’t think I’ve seen him so pleased to be wrong! #backyourself

Where’s The Coalman? This was going to be close. I saw him just as he emerged from the finish line to collect his blue t-shirt. He missed his stretched goal by 39 seconds, but I could see he was overheating and broken. Peter and I plied him with water, and further banter ensued.

I really couldn’t get the smile off my face though. I’d really enjoyed my inaugural Brantham outing. I was ready to run it again. Right there. Right now… but no, it’ll have to wait till next year.

Thanks must go to Robin for his exquisite organisation of the Ekiden teams, and to the Brantham 5 organisers on a thoroughly brilliant event.

Next on the list is Twilight 10k… will I beat the sun?! This penultimate race in the series will tell!

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