As I said in my last post I was very much ill-prepared for this race. Entering it was last minute as I didn’t think I’d get back from Dorset in time so I was really pleased to find out I could do it. I did it last year and it was fantastic. Tough terrain and hills but the atmosphere and scenery was lovely (and we were given a platter of cakes at the end…).
Sadly this year I was the only one from my club there as quite a few were marshalling at the Wyvern 10k. I felt bad for not helping out but at the same time this race was absolutely perfect for judging how I was doing in the lead up to an off-road marathon.
I already knew what I was in for in terms of how tough it was going to be but I wasn’t prepared for the weather to be so miserable. Because I was staying at my parents’ I only had what I’d packed…and what I’d packed was suited more for a summer’s day (how silly of me to presume we’d have one of those in July).
Not only did I wake up feeling fairly rough, tired and delicate (with the excesses of the wedding the day before and having being sick in the middle of the night) but the weather was against me too. Part of me thought of jacking it in but I knew I’d have to go out for a long run anyway if I wanted to take this upcoming marathon seriously and I’d much prefer to run a scenic race with other people than pounding the pavements on my own.
My parents drove us down there and the atmosphere in the car was somewhat subdued. None of us wanted to go really. It was wet, a bit chilly and just grey and miserable. I’d already pre-warned them that this was a training race so not to expect anything exciting. Well they were just overjoyed to be coming I can tell you 😉
The race begins at Stansted House. Last year it was lovely and sunny…this year, not so much. We all huddled under the marquees. My dad was planning to see me at two different points in the course so wished me luck and headed off. The nice thing about this race is it’s very relaxed and well organised with bib collection and bag drop-off. It’s a small race, which I like.
Flip-flops are also weather appropriate…
My mum had planned to see me off then head to the cafe for a hot drink and pop out a bit later around my finishing time. She’s still got a poorly back so she can’t do great amounts of walking. It was nice to have her at the start and she was able to take my bag for me…which meant peeling off my lovely layers.
It wasn’t actually that cold. It felt quite muggy and damp. I did get some looks though as everyone else was covered up! In actual fact though within 4 minutes of running I was HOT. It was that horrible clammy rain that just covers you in moisture.
Because I was so unenthusiastic about this race I wasn’t nervous at all, or even thinking about the miles ahead. I was just indifferent to what was going to happen. As I stood ready at the start I suddenly realised I hadn’t even found satellites on my Garmin!! I was that blasé about the run I’d forgotten. I had a mini-panic as I realised it’d never find it in time. But actually it really didn’t matter because pace wasn’t really anything to worry about on a hilly off-road course and I wanted to keep things easy anyway.
I remember last year I went off like a shot, trying to overtake as many females as I could and felt demoralised by being overtaken. This year I just popped a podcast on and found a nice comfy pace. I felt so relaxed! Don’t get me wrong though, I didn’t feel particularly well though. Photo credit: Alan Dunks
The miles seemed to tick by quite nicely and I just enjoyed zoning out and following the trail, through forests, across fields, up dirt tracks and over stiles. It’s a great course and keeps you interested the whole time. The only thing was that it was overgrown in certain areas so there were lots of brambles and stinging nettles whipping at you. My legs got savaged and my tummy got scratched as well.
As I knew what was coming in the course I was fully prepared for the huge hill around mile five. I had pre-planned to walk it rather than expend energy in trying to run up it. I power walked up and found it wasn’t too bad. Adjusting your expectation is key! I did have to shout to one poor bloke who was carrying on up (this is a big hill) rather than turning left, meaning he had gone up that hill further than necessary. Oops.
Photo credit: Alan Dunks
Then things became really pants. I suddenly felt a crippling stitch in my side. I tried to breathe differently and stretch my arms out (which has worked previously) but it stubbornly stayed. I felt really sick and the stitch was very painful. I had to stop. I bent over and just tried to breathe deeply. A guy ran past and asked if I was OK, I said I was, “just stitch”! I felt really disheartened and just pants. Even though it was just a training run I had been enjoying it. But this was not something to enjoy. For the next half a mile or so I had to run-walk to try and manage it. I even considering ringing my dad to say I’d had enough. But I thought I’d just keep trying and pushing forward. Time didn’t matter, but my ego did – I didn’t want a DNF!
A lovely man saw I was struggling and gave me some good advice while encouraging me forward. He told me to put my hands on my hips and keep breathing. This actually really helped (opening up my lungs?), as did the water stop that was around mile six. I fully stopped and made sure I drank enough – perhaps it was dehydration?
Then it was like I had a second wind – I felt good to go again! I caught up with the nice man and thanked him (though I did feel bad overtaking him) and eventually managed to see in the distance the guy that had originally overtaken me and asked if I was OK. Things were going well again!
The miles seemed to fly by and my legs felt strong. I didn’t feel like it was tough, it just felt like a nice run. I saw my dad at the mile 10 water stop which was nice. He looked a bit soggy but, as always, very pleased to see me and cheered me on.
I stopped again for water and told my dad I felt a bit sick but he just said “keep going” and I did.
I switched the podcast to music and pushed on. I felt myself speeding up and I went with it. The last three miles felt fantastic. Though on the last mile I finally caught up with the man and two others. We were going along a single file in the forest and I felt my speed dropping as I couldn’t get past. I was a bit frustrated as I was really into my flow. There was just about enough space to overtake if they moved over…so I shouted out as politely as I could, “Er fellas, is it OK to pass you guys?”
This didn’t seem to go down too well as they just grunted at me…but when a wider part appeared they did move over and I thanked them. Before I sound like a bit of a cow they were going significantly slower than me and there would have been enough space for me to pass…and, well, it is a race. I asked very politely and was nice about it. Anyway I said they’d probably catch me later anyway as it was likely I’d crash and burn.
^^Funny stats due to my Garmin satellite issues 🙁
Incidentally the man who originally asked if I was OK did catch up and sprinted past me to the finish. What was nice though was that at the finish he and the other two men I overtook each shook my hand and there seemed no hard feelings. Perhaps I misread the situation earlier?
My official time was 1:44:20. I genuinely couldn’t believe the time I’d finished as last year I did it in around 1:53 and was certain all my stopping and stitch issues would have slowed my time down significantly and I wasn’t racing. Because my Garmin hadn’t found satellites at the beginning my mile markers were out and I really had no idea how I was doing. I was over the moon! And I finished feeling strong, like I could have gone further. In fact, around mile 11 I asked myself if I could carry on to 26 miles and it didn’t seem impossible or daunting (yes OK probably wouldn’t have said that at mile 18!).
My mum was at the finish and she thought I was within top three females, which shocked me further. We had to wait for my dad for a bit to walk back so we were in no rush to head off. I grabbed a hot coffee and tried to keep warm in the drizzle (while obviously doing the standard post-race selfie…).
It was lovely having my mum there to chat about the race to and hear about what she’d been up to. She said she hadn’t been prepared for me to finish so quickly which is why when I ran past her on the final 100m she looked really shocked.
My dad arrived a short while later. We were all cold and decided to forgo any afternoon tea at the cafe (our original plan). Plus I felt incredibly sick and the mere sight of cake made me want to heave. I know, WHO AM I?!
As we wanted to head off I had to do a very awkward thing of finding out if I had won anything. It was such a horrible question to ask… I tried vaguely asking a marshal if she knew the results and got the standard reply “we’ll post them later” and then had to be a bit more specific and sound like a right arrogant so-and-so, “erm, no I mean, I wanted to know if I came any significant position? It’s just we’re a bit cold and need to know if we need to hang around for any prize givings…”. She took my bib number and disappeared. She returned shortly and told me yes I was due a prize. Ooooh!
I came second female! Two minutes behind first so there wasn’t any chance of getting first female! I won £25 vouchers for running gear, £10 off next year’s entry (it’s £13 to enter!) and a lovely glass diamond-shaped trophy. Not too shabby, eh!
On a slightly more negative note, I felt really sick afterwards. I couldn’t eat anything until 4pm. Though I did OK running when not feeling my best, it really impacted me in a nasty way afterwards. I don’t recommend it at all!
And my legs…oh my legs. So painful and itchy.
Have you ever surprised yourself with a performance you weren’t expecting?
Have you ever worked out/ran a race feeling hung-over?
What do you prefer: trail or road races? Hilly or flat?