So here we are – the end of May (beginning of June by the time this goes out) – and number 5 in the 12 half marathons in 12 months challenge!
This one is a bit different – a trail half marathon. And I have a bit of a ghost to lay here. I ran this race 2 years ago and was fit enough for a road race but unprepared for the demands that running off-road would bring. I remember it was hot, and hilly (of course). I got lost – in my defence someone had removed some of the signage – and it is the only race I have entered where I would have succumbed to the dreaded DNF if only I could have found a marshall to put me out of my misery. In the end it was easier to finish (well you have to get to the end somehow) than to stop – I ran nearly 14 miles (I told you I got lost) when I was barely half marathon fit and spent the rest of the day being somewhat “under the weather” – on bed rest!
So Sunday 28th May sees Gill and I off to the start of the 2017 Weald Challenge. Trail half marathons seem to have their own rules – where did that extra half mile come from? – 13.6 miles (rather than 13.1 – maybe I didn’t get as lost as I thought I did last time!) – is sold to us as a bonus – a treat – another glorious half mile of Sussex countryside (hills)! But looking back to January and HM1 – what a contrast – an 8.15am start (a lie in!) in the light – it is warm and only a 15 minute drive required to our start in Chiddingly – East Sussex. Everyone is friendly here (well they are runners) and it is a relaxed lead up to the start – Gill meets Olivia – an old friend and ex- Heathfield Road Runner – who is looking forward to the 13.6 miles in contrast to the 30 mile ultra that she usually runs (they were off at 8 am so are long gone by now).
Our route is about 75% off-road – following the Weald Way and the Vanguard Way. There has been some rain over the last few days so I am wearing my trusty trail shoes – although it is dry underfoot and road shoes would have coped. I remember that 2 years ago the stiles were hard work – there are lots of them! This year I seem to take them in my stride – I have got used to the climbing up and down again – but they do slow me down. And that is probably the biggest change from 2015 – I just don’t expect to run this like a road race – it’s totally different – and just takes longer. Tractor tracks, rutted ground, rabbit holes, foot wide paths through shoulder high crops, cows, stiles (have I mentioned them before?) and tree roots. Not to mention the sun (it is blazing down) nettles, brambles and the odd Sunday school rambling group (three year olds just don’t get “excuse me” when they are on a hike and have found the most beautiful wild flower that they are desperate to share with someone……………………….).
I am pleased that I made the decision to wear a back pack with water reservoir – not so pleased to find that it has sprung a leak – as there are only 2 drink stations on the half – at 6 and 10 miles. Again there is the contrast to the road race. No grabbing your water on the run here………….. water stations are a chance for a stop and a chat – coke, jelly babies and a chocolate digestive if you fancy – “how’s it going?” – “you look great” – “well done!” and we’re off again.
It’s hard work and it is hilly – but I’m feeling good – somehow I have managed to take the pressure off myself and just enjoy it.
Eight and a half miles in – I stumble – catch my foot on a tree root but recover and right myself – “pay attention – look where you’re going” – deep breath – concentrate! And that’s it – as I’m steadying my stride I hit another tree root and don’t even have time to defend myself before I hit the ground. Thoughts………………..
“Am I okay? – yes – I think so!”
“S**T – that’s going to hurt when the endorphins wear off”
“Can I stand up? – probably – in a minute…………….”
I look up to see the kindly face of a man in a white shirt (Mr 425) – “are you okay?” “can I give you a hand up?” and he does – Thank you!!!!
“I’ll be okay in a minute – I’ll just take a breather – blimey it’s a bit different falling over at 58 – I can remember when I used to bounce!” Plan…………………….
“I’ll carry on to the next water station (10 miles) and see how I’m doing.”
“I’m bleeding – where from? Not sure…………..”
So – off I go again – one foot in front of the other – actually fine. I have one or two moments in the next mile or so that probably all runners can identify with – I’m lighter than air – bouncing on my feet – relaxed – running free – why doesn’t everyone run? (double endorphins?)
At the next water station I’m offered first aid – but I’m fine. My white shirted rescuer checks up on me – thankyou again! I’m fine to go on….. I’m going to finish! So from then onwards its one mile at a time – Mile 11 (I’m overtaken by a couple of ultra-runners – travelling at high speed 28 miles into their runs), Mile 12 (got lost here last time), Mile 13 – just half a mile to go and the finish line! And the best bit – a medal and a handmade mug that you can take to the kiosk and get filled with tea – and unlimited homemade cakes!! What a race – why doesn’t everyone do it?
David and Rosie and Sam and Sam (yes there are 2) turn up to see me home and we cheer Olivia and Gill (delighted to have seen a barn owl) over the finish. How have I done? Okay I think – 2 hours 39 mins (15 minutes faster than 2 years ago). 14th in my age group – mid table mediocracy – but then a Bolton Wanderer’s supporter is used to that! But the most important thing is that I enjoyed the run – accepted it’s demands and my limits – it was the best I could do………………..
I’m sore but not exhausted – my ribs are badly bruised (deep breathing, sneezing and rolling over in bed are a challenge) 5 days later I can just about manage to jog – but nothing that requires deep breathing. Trying to follow Sarah Russell’s advice – “strap it up – take loads of drugs and keep your breathing shallow”. Other cuts, bruises and stings are superficial – nothing a hot bath and a large glass of dry white wine won’t improve……………………………… Let’s hope I can breathe again soon – June’s half marathon is three weeks on Sunday……………………..