A year later… and still running

It seems fitting that one year on from the last post, as I was speedily traversing the southern hemisphere to see my sister in New Zealand, that I come back to revisit this blog and try and record once again life’s little adventures and twists and turns. It also seems strangely fitting that this new post, in an attempt to rekindle an online pubic diary of sorts, also starts with a running post, just like the first post exactly two years ago. Seems February is a chequered flag month for me, lets hope this one carries on for another lap at least …..

Last Sunday saw Han and I once again waking up with the pre-dawn calling of birds, as the sun was slowing rising up from its nightly slumber to bathe the countryside between Oxford and Aylesbury with its warming glows. Han and I were up and changed, ready for our first long distance race since I had competed in Guatemala over a year ago, and were trundling along to a small town called Wendover just south of Aylesbury. We had both entered into the Trailscape Wendover full marathon, a 4 part running series that operates a 10km, half and full marathon distance trail race series through the winter months in England.

Han, being the organised girl she is, had entered months ago in the full marathon distance, where as I on the other hand had pondered whether to race at all; I had a korfball tournament the next day competing for Wales and wanted some form of freshness for that. When I finally made my mind up to enter the half distance, I logged on only to see that it was sold out, and when looking down the distance ladder, also saw the 10km had the big red sign of ‘soldout-ness’ next to it. As I slowly moved my eyes downwards to the marathon distance, hoping that it too would have no spaces remaining, allowing me a viable excuse not to put myself through the running pain, I saw that spaces were still available and beyond all wisdom signed up.

A week later I was trepiditous, I had done some training but not enough; although in hindsight I never think I’ve done enough, and knew that the running agony was waiting in store for me biding its time gleefully knowing that I was on an invetiable course for a good chat with its friend ‘why do I do this’ and ‘I really need to train more’. However the sun was shining, the air was cold but fresh and the team at Trailscape were happy, welcoming and full of happiness to get us on our way.

The horn sounded, I rushed out of the porta-loo that I was in, ran to join up the pack that had by now started off across the field, and joined up with Han along the first kilometre down a country road before hitting some trails into Wendover woods. I said goodbye to Han as our intrinsic gaits naturally widened the gap between us and slowly made my way forwards past runners as my fresh legs took me closer to the front. With my porta-loo antics at the start I had no idea whereabouts in the field I was, or how many competitors there were, so I just relaxed with the job in hand, settled into a relaxed pace that seemed sustainable and enjoyed the scenery and running. I had brief chats with people as I passed them, enjoyed some of the snow covered ground and tried not to get overexcited with the downhill trails that my legs wanted me to blur through as though on a mission to break the 4 minute mile.

As the kilometres inevitably progressed it was obvious to all and sundry that today was going to be a mud-fest of a race. Farmers fields were shoe sucking-ly quad busting as you metaphorically inhaled your feet out from the cloying mud, and the forests that hadn’t had the sun dry their earthern wares were bogs brown with sludge. For the first few km you could see us all prancing around the puddles, altering our gaits to jump over or go around the larger brown pits of shoe hell, but slowly but surely everyone realised the easiest way to get through the 42.5km was to just accept the inevitable and embrace the child-like fun of going straight through, down into, and up out of the pits of mud.

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However, not all was brown and wet, and as I neared the 15km mark I came out onto a snow covered field with the sun shining and footprints of the runners ahead nicely laid out in-front of me, the mist of thawing snow coming off the fences and hedges, and I reminded myself that the UK in spring can indeed be a beautiful quintessential serene place. I was also getting very confused at what I was seeing, counting the footprints that had been before me I could only number a handful of shoes, maybe 3 or 4 different runners. I  was double checking every field but with an A-level in maths I could figure out that 6 different feet would equal 3 different runners. Unless a runner had gone a circuitous route around the field, which was doubtful, I was in fourth place.

As though in perfect confirmed unison as I crossed one of the few roads the race held, a marshal at the tarmaced surface shouted that I was in fourth and around 10 minutes behind the lead pack. 10 minutes is a long way at only a third into a race, so I was happy and content as I replied that that was fine by me and just continued pacing up the road and into another field, slowly but surely knocking down the distance remaining.

As I entered the half way mark at 21km however I stopped at the aid station and took on some fuel in the form of water and the salty goodness of pretzels, combined with a shot block energy snack and some cliff bar lovely-ness. The aid station staff were amazing throughout the whole race, but with the slightly more continued rest at this station we joked around at me stopping, as the marshall informed me that I was in third and to get a move on before 4th catches me up. It seemed as though someone had dropped out from falling over previously, moving me up the race position ladder one more notch to the dizzy heights of podium positions.

In all races longer than a half marathon I don’t ‘race’ per se; I don’t care about my position during the race and am just generally happy to finish, enjoying the spirit and camaraderie of the competitors, the overwhelming excitement and encouragement of the marshals and the organisers, and the general spirit of racing at the longer distances. And so it was that I waited around a bit longer for some of the other racers to catch up with me, chatting to the aid station staff, joking around and enjoying a rest, before shooting off with an Italian London-based runner who was enjoying his second race of the series. However, third did had a lovely ring to it, and with my competitive nature intrinsic in everything I do, and my body still feeling relatively relaxed and strong, it was with an extra bounce in my step that I took off from the aid station with some glimmer of hope that I could maybe finish this muddy beast in that coveted third spot.

For now though it was back to business and to keep on putting that over-used mantra of one foot in-front of the other to soak up the miles and enjoy the scenery, mud and joy of running as much as I could. However it turns out that neither I nor Italians are that good at reading the amazingly marked trails, and it was soon apparent that we had climbed 300m up a hill the wrong way, straight after the aid station. We backtracked knowing that we were both hot favourites now from the 43.1km race distance that we had both just entered, and soon found ourselves climbing up a mud strewn path with 6 runners strewn out ahead of us.

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With the race hosting a tri-series of distances, the second half of the race was also host to all half-marathon distance runners and partly the 10km runners. Delighted and happy at the extra company and chats that this threw at me (often reviving and pushing me on), it also meant that 70 or 80 extra people had trodden on the paths before my mud-caked shoes and legs had the pleasure of churning up more of the already over-churned mud. This race had just got muddier, and had taken the coveted spot of the ‘mudiest race I’ve ever raced in’ top position! At first being able to recognise the half marathon distance runners from the full marathon distance runners by the cleanliness of their shoes, legs, shorts, tops and faces, this soon failed as those runners also came to the inevitable conclusion that we had previously, and another 10km passed by as the 32km mark came up to greet us all like a welcome warming ‘only 10km left’ hug, enveloping my tired minds and legs.

I ran the next 3km before pain really started to have some serious talks with my mind, and it was around 35km that the watch looking became a 400m interval session rather than a more stately and enjoyable 5km interval workout. This was hard. The mud was deep, energy draining and relentless. My legs were tired, I was in running territory I hadn’t been in for a long time and the kilometres just weren’t dropping away like lemmings next to a cliff, but were crawling along like a slug in the mud – a suitable metaphor for the current conditions and pace I was crawling along at. 35.5km came by and went, before slowly being followed by 36, then 36.3km …. I had to stop clock watching and get to grips with the situation.

I passed a runner in a pink top (who also later claimed a spot goody prize for being super happy) who beamed with energy and gave off a enjoyable glow of happiness that trail running was amazing and what we were doing was super enjoyable and she was loving every minute off it. Suddenly I found some energy and stopped clock watching, and tried to enjoy the scenery and challenge of it all. I chatted away, thanked her and said that she’d put an extra bounce in my step. I galloped up the hill we were both on and soon found myself enjoying what a kid told me was ‘the last climb’ at around 40km. Well kid, let me tell you, maybe, just maybe the next two climbs don’t seem like climbs to you, but they sure seemed like it to me!

As I neared the top to wonderful vista’s over the surrounding countryside from atop Lodge hill, I looked around and saw a few runners behind me. Unsure of my current position in the leaderboard stakes was my competitive mind kicked in and I decided to finish the race without allowing anyone to overtake me. I zoomed down the hill running at some of the fastest splits I’d done of the race, trekked up a muddy small incline before running down the final hill, along a road and to the finish.

I’d done it! I’d finished the full marathon distance, the farthest I’d run in over a year. My legs were as always screaming at me protesting that I never train enough and that they don’t enjoy it, yet my mind was congratulating me telling me job well done, it had a been a great race and I’d be grateful for it later, that the beers during the evening were going to sit on my tongue like sweet honey nectar. As I checked in at the final checkpoint I also found out I’d finished 3rd (although somewhere strangely a day later on the internet results someone finished ahead of me to put me in 4th), and I was super stoked at my position and time. I hadn’t gone out to race but just to enjoy it, soak in the atmosphere and scenery, learn some more about my body in prep for the Jurassic Coast Challenge next month, and to see some more of rural England, but the 3rd position did give me a little extra joy in the whole scenario.

Han came home also in joint 3rd with a suitably amazing time, looking fresh as always and also with an extra training run in tow – she really can just run forever. We both stayed and chatted to some people, talked to new friends, ate some of the wonderful food that Trailscape had arranged, and enjoyed the post-race buzz with everyone else.

Trailscape had put on an amazing event, one that reminded me of my favourite trail races over in Canada that I had competed in. The marking was top-notch, the marshals all amazingly happy, friendly and encouraging, everyone seemed enthused, lively and jubilant at the whole affair, and we drove home with a sense of job well done, stopping off at a brewery before finding some good pub grab back in Oxford. With the Jurassic Coast Challenge in less than a month, the race was more of a training run than an end to anything per-se, but the sense of achievement and accomplishment still was as fresh and enjoyable and always.

Strava analysis can be found here: https://www.strava.com/activities/257894047